MLB Position Power Rankings 2018: B/R's Top 30 Catchers

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2018

MLB Position Power Rankings 2018: B/R's Top 30 Catchers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    There's a reason top-tier catchers rarely hit the free-agent market.

    Finding a franchise backstop who can provide a steadying presence for the pitching staff and produce offensively while withstanding the wear and tear that come with playing the toughest position on the diamond is not easy. 

    To put it simply: When a team finds a Buster Posey or a Yadier Molina, it doesn't let him get away.

    Ahead, we've set out to identify the top 30 catchers in the league heading into the 2018 season.

    A few things to consider before we get started:

    • League averages: For the sake of reference, the average slash line for a catcher last season was .246/.315/.409, and the average caught-stealing rate was 27 percent.
    • Eligibility: To be considered for inclusion, a player must have been at the catcher position for at least 51 percent of his games last season.

    For draft fans, think of this as a big board for the position if the entire league were doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2018.

    Someone like Austin Hedges has more upside than Brian McCann going forward, but is he going to be better this coming year?

    Let's find out.

30. Evan Gattis, Houston Astros

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    2017 Offensive: 110 OPS+, .263/.311/.457, 34 XBH (12 HR), 55 RBI, 41 R

    2017 Defensive: 10% CS (4/39), 2 DRS, -0.6 DEF, -2.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.2

                         

    Player Outlook

    Concussion issues and a breakout season from Marwin Gonzalez limited Evan Gattis to 84 games and 325 plate appearances last season on the heels of a 32-homer, 3.0 WAR campaign in 2016.

    He's still better suited as a designated hitter than he is in the crouch, and he had a hard time controlling the running game last season after surprising more than a few people by throwing out 46 percent of base-stealers the previous year.

    Still, he's a legitimate power threat, and putting him behind the plate two or three times a week allows the Astros to keep veteran Brian McCann fresh without losing much in the way of offensive firepower.

                                                        

    Honorable Mentions: Francisco Cervelli (PIT), Travis d'Arnaud (NYM), Caleb Joseph (BAL), Sandy Leon (BOS), Jeff Mathis (ARI), Bruce Maxwell (OAK), Devin Mesoraco (CIN), Omar Narvaez (CWS), Roberto Perez (CLE), Kevin Plawecki (NYM), Stephen Vogt (MIL), Matt Wieters (WAS)

29. James McCann, Detroit Tigers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2017 Offensive: 92 OPS+, .253/.318/.415, 29 XBH (13 HR), 49 RBI, 39 R

    2017 Defensive: 30% CS (24/81), -6 DRS, 6.8 DEF, -30.2 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.4

                          

    Player Outlook

    James McCann set career highs in OPS (.733), home runs (13) and RBI (49) last season, and he made strides in plate discipline.

    He made modest gains in his walk rate (6.2 to 6.6 percent) while trimming his strikeout rate considerably (29.2 to 22.8 percent), cementing his place as the everyday guy behind the plate for the rebuilding Detroit Tigers.                         

    The 27-year-old has likely reached his ceiling at this point, but he's shown the ability to handle a staff, even with questionable framing skills. His modest power and improving approach are enough to make him a slightly above-average regular.

28. Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 94 OPS+, .279/.327/.424, 30 XBH (9 HR), 43 RBI, 45 R

    2017 Defensive: 36% CS (21/59), 14 DRS, 12.5 DEF, -7.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.6

       

    Player Outlook

    The Milwaukee Brewers' starting catching job appeared to be a two-horse race between Andrew Susac and Jett Bandy heading into spring training last year.

    Instead, 30-year-old rookie Manny Pina ended up seizing the opening created by trades of Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.

    Aside from his stellar work behind the plate that made him the sixth-most valuable defensive catcher in baseball, he was also a steady offensive contributor.

    He'll likely split time with veteran Stephen Vogt, but his defensive chops will keep him in at least a part-time role and are enough to earn him a spot in these rankings.

27. Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    2017 Offensive: 129 OPS+, .318/.360/.514, 11 XBH (5 HR), 14 RBI, 12 R

    2017 Defensive: 24% CS (4/17), -5 DRS, 1.1 DEF, -5.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.9

                             

    Player Outlook

    Dating all the way back to the 2014 season when he was a member of the Texas Rangers organization, Jorge Alfaro has been one of the game's top catching prospects.

    The 24-year-old finally got his first extended action at the MLB level last season, and he'll receive every chance to overtake Cameron Rupp for the Philadelphia Phillies' starting job.

    Despite his impressive numbers over 114 plate appearances in the majors last season, it's tough to overlook a 33-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and it would be wise to temper expectations.

    Defense has long been the question mark for Alfaro, who has a cannon for an arm but is limited athletically and still working on his receiving skills.

    Still, he's a legitimate 20-homer threat, and he has the tools to be a solid all-around defensive catcher.

26. Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    2017 Offensive: 224 OPS+, .333/.455/.778, 4 XBH (2 HR), 4 RBI, 3 R

    2017 Defensive: 0% CS (0/5), -1 DRS, -0.7 DEF, -2.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.4

                                            

    Player Outlook

    After signing Welington Castillo as a stopgap last offseason, the Baltimore Orioles are set to turn over starting catcher duties to top prospect Chance Sisco.

    A second-round pick in 2013, Sisco has hit .311/.390/.426 in parts of five minor league seasons, and his seven home runs in 388 plate appearances at the Triple-A level in 2017 represented a modest uptick in over-the-fence power.

    As for his defense, MLB.com wrote: "Improvements to Sisco's catch-and-throw skills late in the Triple-A season helped drive his call-up, although it, along with his blocking and receiving skills, will require further refinement for him to profile as an everyday option defensively behind the plate."

    He'll likely find himself in a platoon with Caleb Joseph to start the season, but expect his role to expand as the campaign progresses.

25. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 83 OPS+, .232/.309/.399, 29 XBH (14 HR), 56 RBI, 43 R

    2017 Defensive: 42% CS (24/57), -1 DRS, 10.3 DEF, -4.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.3

                                                

    Player Outlook

    Yan Gomes won Silver Slugger honors during the 2014 season, when he posted a 117 OPS+ with 25 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBI on his way to a 4.2 WAR.

    However, his offensive game has dried up in the years since.

    Over the past three seasons, he's hit .215/.266/.377 for a 67 OPS+ while posting a combined 1.3 WAR.

    That said, he's still a stellar defensive catcher and an effective platoon option who slugged 14 home runs in 383 plate appearances last season.

    The big question: How long can he and platoon mate Roberto Perez hold off top prospect Francisco Mejia?

24. Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta Braves

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Age: 34

    2017 Offensive: 130 OPS+, .283/.351/.536, 32 XBH (19 HR), 50 RBI, 38 R

    2017 Defensive: 24% CS (13/55), 4 DRS, 6.5 DEF, -6.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.8

            

    Player Outlook

    Kurt Suzuki proved to be a terrific bargain on a one-year, $1.5 million deal last year, making his $3.5 million contract for the 2018 season a no-brainer.

    Expecting the 34-year-old to duplicate his 2017 offensive output will be asking a lot, though.

    A significant increase in his fly-ball rate (38.5 to 46.6 percent) certainly contributed to his career-best power output, but his 17.1 percent HR/FB ratio will be tough to replicate given his physical tools.

    Even if he reverts to being a 100 OPS+ player offensive, his ability to handle staffs and his solid contact skills make him an excellent part-time option platooning with Tyler Flowers.

23. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    2017 Offensive: 114 OPS+, .254/.354/.511, 36 XBH (17 HR), 43 RBI, 38 R

    2017 Defensive: 24% CS (8/33), 1 DRS, 5.4 DEF, 0.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.8

       

    Player Outlook

    After hitting .210/.303/.329 with seven home runs in 338 plate appearances for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, Chris Iannetta didn't receive much free-agent interest last offseason.

    He ended up landing with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, and that proved to be one of the best bargains of the year.

    Splitting time with defensive-minded Jeff Mathis, he raised his OPS a whopping 234 points from .631 to .865, and his 17 home runs were his highest total since he hit a career-high 18 for the Colorado Rockies in 2008.

    Now his career has come full circle and he's back with the Rockies on a two-year, $8.5 million deal that includes a $4.25 million option for 2020. 

22. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2017 Offensive: 92 OPS+, .290/.330/.404, 25 XBH (5 HR), 32 RBI, 43 R

    2017 Defensive: 42% (21/50), 12 DRS, 9.6 DEF, 8.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.1

       

    Player Outlook

    Christian Vazquez began the 2017 season behind regression candidate Sandy Leon on the Boston Red Sox depth chart.

    While no one doubted his defensive ability, there were questions about whether he would ever hit enough to be an MLB starter.

    Those were answered this past season when he was roughly a league-average offensive player with a 92 OPS+. He also hit five home runs in 345 plate appearances after tallying just two longballs in 385 plate appearances his first two seasons.

    Behind the plate, he's a terrific pitch-framer, and he's thrown out 43 percent of base-stealers over the course of his career.

21. Jason Castro, Minnesota Twins

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 93 OPS+, .242/.333/.388, 32 XBH (10 HR), 47 RBI, 49 R

    2017 Defensive: 26% CS (15/57), 10 DRS, 7.8 DEF, -9.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.5

       

    Player Outlook

    Jason Castro signed a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins last offseason on the strength of his defensive skills and modest power.

    After posting a .660 OPS over the previous three seasons with the Astros, he had a .720 OPS in his Twins debut while also cutting his strikeout rate significantly from 32.7 to 26.5 percent.

    Perhaps the most telling stat was the fact that the team's ERA improved from 5.08 (29th in MLB) to 4.59 (19th in MLB) with him anchoring the pitching staff.

    Rookie Mitch Garver could start to cut into his playing time if he swings a hot bat, but for now, Castro is an integral part of the Twins' hopes of returning to the postseason.

20. Brian McCann, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 34

    2017 Offensive: 109 OPS+, .241/.323/.436, 31 XBH (18 HR), 62 RBI, 47 R

    2017 Defensive: 13% CS (8/62), -8 DRS, 3.1 DEF, -2.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.2

       

    Player Outlook

    Brian McCann posted a 109 OPS+ in his Astros debuthis highest since his final season with the Atlanta Braves in 2013.

    However, if they had a mulligan, the front office might reconsider trading rising pitching prospects Jorge Guzman and Albert Abreu for the aging veteran.

    McCann struggled controlling the running game, throwing out just 13 percent of base-stealers, and his 18 home runs were his lowest total since 2007.

    With the Yankees paying $5.5 million of his $17 million salary, he's still capable of living up to his contract. The Astros will need to start thinking about the future at the position, though, especially after trading promising prospect Jake Rogers in the Justin Verlander deal.

19. Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 35

    2017 Offensive: 92 OPS+, .221/.343/.388, 25 XBH (13 HR), 35 RBI, 49 R

    2017 Defensive: 20% CS (12/60), 3 DRS, 6.9 DEF, -8.4 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.5

       

    Player Outlook

    Russell Martin signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2015 campaign, and the back-loaded deal pays him a hefty $20 million in each of the final three seasons (he has two seasons left on the pact).

    While he doesn't provide much in the way of batting average and he's had a tough time controlling the running game the past two seasonsthrowing out just 23 of 132 (17.4 percent) base-stealers—he's still a solid contributor.

    He's still a threat for 20 home runs if he can stay healthy, and he's been widely regarded as one of the better handlers of a pitching staff throughout his career.

    The Blue Jays would be wise to find someone capable of absorbing a couple of starts a week in an effort to keep him fresh during his age-35 season.

    That someone could be breakout prospect Danny Jansen, who reached Triple-A last season and was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason.

18. Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres

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    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2017 Offensive: 74 OPS+, .214/.262/.398, 35 XBH (18 HR), 55 RBI, 36 R

    2017 Defensive: 37% CS (26/71), 20 DRS, 9.0 DEF, 18.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.9

       

    Player Outlook

    A second-round pick in 2011 on the strength of his defensive skills, Austin Hedges showed steady improvement at the plate before breaking out in 2016.

    In a full season with Triple-A El Paso, he hit .326/.353/.597 with 21 home runs and 82 RBI, opening the door for him to take over as the San Diego Padres' everyday catcher.

    His 5.5 percent walk rate and 29.3 percent strikeout rate will both need to improve for him to come anywhere close to duplicating those numbers at the MLB level.

    Still, he hit 18 home runs in his first full season, and his defensive game was as advertised as he threw out 37 percent of runners and graded out as one of the league's best pitch-framers.

    Entering his age-25 season, he has as much upside as any young catcher outside of the game's elite.

17. Alex Avila, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2017 Offensive: 119 OPS+, .264/.387/.447, 28 XBH (14 HR), 49 RBI, 41 R

    2017 Defensive: 31 CS% (17/55), -4 DRS, 4.3 DEF, -16.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.7

       

    Player Outlook

    A Silver Slugger winner during his age-24 season in 2011, Alex Avila was never able to take the next step after he appeared to be on the doorstep of stardom.

    Instead, he hit .222/.337/.362 for a 93 OPS+ over the next five seasons, before enjoying an excellent offensive season last year split between Detroit and Chicago.

    A 16.5 percent walk rate helped him post an excellent .387 on-base percentage that ranked 16th among players with at least 300 plate appearances.

    Still just 31, he signed a two-year, $8.25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to replace the departed Chris Iannetta.

16. Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 98 OPS+, .260/.290/.447, 17 XBH (11 HR), 35 RBI, 19 R

    2017 Defensive: 17% CS (6/35), -5 DRS, 2.3 DEF, -0.6 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.1

       

    Player Outlook

    Wilson Ramos didn't make his 2017 debut until June 24 as he continued his recovery from knee surgery.

    That injury brought his breakout 2016 season to a screeching halt and cost him significant money in free agency, as he wound up settling for a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Ramos was hitting .307/.354/.496 with 25 doubles, 22 home runs and 80 RBI in 131 games during the 2016 season when a home-plate collision on Sept. 26 resulted in a torn ACL.

    Could he return to that level this year?

    He posted a .293/.324/.496 line with eight home runs and 22 RBI in his final 41 games last season, as it did seem like things were starting to click again down the stretch.

15. Martin Maldonado, Los Angeles Angels

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    2017 Offensive: 74 OPS+, .221/.276/.368, 34 XBH (14 HR), 38 RBI, 43 R

    2017 Defensive: 39% CS (29/75), 22 DRS, 12.8 DEF, 9.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.7

       

    Player Outlook

    Martin Maldonado was one of the league's best backup catchers during his time with the Milwaukee Brewers, averaging 219 plate appearances and 0.6 WAR during the five-year span from 2012 to 2016.

    The Los Angeles Angels saw enough to give him a chance at a starting role when they acquired him in a trade last December, and he rewarded them by winning AL Gold Glove honors.

    As an elite pitch-framer and stellar all-around defender, anything he contributes at the plate is a bonus.

    His career-high 471 plate appearances led to personal bests in doubles (19), home runs (14), RBI (38) and runs scored (43), though his .276 on-base percentage and 3.2 percent walk rate left a lot to be desired.

    The Angels' starting staff is finally healthy, and it will be up to Maldonado to get the most out of them.

14. Jonathan Lucroy, Free Agent

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Age: 31

    2017 Offensive: 84 OPS+, .265/.345/.371, 30 XBH (6 HR), 40 RBI, 45 R

    2017 Defensive: 27% CS (20/75), -15 DRS, 10.1 DEF, -8.2 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.6

       

    Player Outlook

    Is anyone going to sign Jonathan Lucroy?

    At this time a year ago, he was coming off a career year and all signs pointed to a major payday awaiting him in free agency.

    Instead, he slumped badly, posting a .242/.297/.338 line over 306 plate appearances with the Texas Rangers, before heading to the Colorado Rockies in an August waiver trade.

    He rebounded to hit .310/.429/.437 in 46 games with the Rockies, but it appears that wasn't enough to rebuild his free-agent stock.

    While guys like Welington Castillo, Chris Iannetta and Alex Avila have found new homes and starting jobs, Lucroy is still looking for a job.

    On Jan. 31, Mark Polishuk of MLBTradeRumors listed the Astros, Athletics, Mets, Nationals and Orioles as speculative fits for his services.

13. Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    2017 Offensive: 100 OPS+, .247/.308/.459, 49 XBH (22 HR), 58 RBI, 50 R

    2017 Defensive: 32% CS (21/65), 17 DRS, 12.6 DEF, 18.9 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.2

         

    Player Outlook

    As a 29-year-old catcher with 20-homer power and stellar defensive skills, Yasmani Grandal would be a cornerstone piece for a lot of teams.

    However, on the Los Angeles Dodgers, he found himself slipping behind rookie standout Austin Barnes on the depth chart in the second half of last season.

    While he was still the second-best pitch-framer in the game and reached 20 home runs for the second consecutive year, he also saw his walk rate dip significantly (14.0 to 8.3 percent

    He's still capable of being a top-10 catcher, it's just a question of playing time.

12. Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    2017 Offensive: 137 OPS+, .289/.408/.486, 25 XBH (8 HR), 38 RBI, 35 R

    2017 Defensive: 23% CS (7/31), 4 DRS, 3.8 DEF, 8.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.6

           

    Player Outlook

    Austin Barnes made a much bigger impact for the Los Angeles Dodgers than expected last season.

    With A.J. Ellis gone, he stepped into the backup catcher role, where his ability to also play second and third base made him a valuable bench piece.

    However, as he kept hitting, his playing time kept increasing, and by the postseason he had emerged as the team's primary backstop.

    A 14.9 percent walk rate and 16.4 percent strikeout rate speak to his contact skills and plus approach at the plate, and even as more of a utility type, he's a terrific defensive catcher.

    It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers handle the catching situation in 2018.

11. Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    2017 Offensive: 122 OPS+, .255/.360/.506, 31 XBH (17 HR), 38 RBI, 46 R

    2017 Defensive: 25% CS (15/61), 2 DRS, 4.9 UZR/150, -14.9 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.7

           

    Player Outlook

    How good was Robinson Chirinos at the plate last season?

    A part-time player throughout his career, Chirinos posted a 122 OPS+, good for fifth among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.

    Jonathan Lucroy's surprising struggles opened the door for Chirinos to see more playing time, and he seized the opportunity with a breakout season.

    He signed a two-year, $4.3 million extension last March that includes a $2.375 million option for 2020, which now looks like a brilliant move by the front office.

    A late bloomer, he was originally acquired from the Rays in exchange for cash considerations in 2013 after he was designated for assignment.

10. Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    2017 Offensive: 117 OPS+, .281/.378/.445, 28 XBH (12 HR), 49 RBI, 41 R

    2017 Defensive: 23% CS (16/71), 11 DRS, 3.4 DEF, 28.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.2

          

    Player Outlook

    Tyler Flowers has been one of the best pitch-framers each of the past three seasons:

    • 2015: 22.5 RAA (2nd in MLB)
    • 2016: 13.3 RAA (4th in MLB)
    • 2017: 28.1 RAA (1st in MLB)

    He's also taken his offensive game to another level since joining the Atlanta Braves:

    • Pre-2016: 84 OPS+, .223/.289/.376
    • W/ATL: 113 OPS+, .276/.368/.433

    He'll once again fill a platoon role with fellow veteran Kurt Suzuki, and while he might not top 400 plate appearances, he can be just as valuable as any of the league's second-tier catchers.

9. Welington Castillo, Chicago White Sox

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    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 115 OPS+, .282/.323/.490, 31 XBH (20 HR), 53 RBI, 44 R

    2017 Defensive: 49% CS (24/49), -9 DRS, 11.5 DEF, -13.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.1

          

    Player Outlook

    The Chicago White Sox made a surprise dive into the free-agent pool this offseason when they signed Welington Castillo to a two-year, $15 million deal that includes an $8 million option in 2020.

    While the rebuilding team might not be ready to contend, the veteran backstop will be instrumental in aiding the development of the team's young pitchers.

    He has below-average pitch-framing skills, but he does a terrific job controlling the running game, throwing out an AL-high 49 percent of base-stealers.

    He's also one of the best power hitters at the position.

    His 53 home runs over the past three seasons rank fifth among all full-time catchers, trailing only Salvador Perez (70), Yasmani Grandal (65), Brian McCann (64) and Russell Martin (56).

8. Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2017 Offensive: 96 OPS+, .270/.347/.403, 33 XBH (7 HR), 44 RBI, 26 R

    2017 Defensive: 44% CS (32/73), 11 DRS, 14.9 DEF, -22.2 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.4

           

    Player Outlook

    Tucker Barnhart got an opportunity to prove he can handle starting catcher duties for the Cincinnati Reds as a result of Devin Mesoraco's inability to stay healthy.

    After a decent 2016 season, he took his game to another level last year:

    • 2016: 86 OPS+, .257/.323/.379, 0.7 WAR
    • 2017: 96 OPS+, .270/.343/.403, 3.4 WAR

    His value is largely driven by his defensive ability, despite poor pitch-framing skills, and he took home 2017 NL Gold Glove honors as a result.

    The Reds saw enough to give him a four-year, $16 million extension with a $7.5 million option for 2022, as he's now clearly the catcher of the present and future in Cincinnati.

7. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2017 Offensive: 123 OPS+, .251/.331/.509, 50 XBH (25 HR), 64 RBI, 52 R

    2017 Defensive: 24% CS (17/71), 4 DRS, 9.5 DEF, -9.6 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.3

           

    Player Outlook

    It was a tale of two seasons for Mike Zunino.

    The 2012 No. 3 overall pick struggled to the point of being demoted to the minors on May 5, but he exploded offensively upon returning May 23:

    • Pre-demotion: 80 PA, .167/.250/.236, 0 HR, 2 RBI
    • Post-demotion: 355 PA, .270/.349/.571, 25 HR, 62 RBI

    There's still some reason for pause, though.

    Even with the improved overall numbers, he still struck out at a 36.6 percent clip once he was recalled, and those swing-and-miss issues have plagued him throughout his career.

    If everything finally clicks, a 30-homer campaign and a strong case for Gold Glove honors could be in his future.

6. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Tim Spyers/Associated Press

    Age: 35

    2017 Offensive: 96 OPS+, .273/.312/.439, 46 XBH (18 HR), 82 RBI, 60 R

    2017 Defensive: 36% CS (24/67), 7 DRS, 12.7 DEF, -0.4 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.0

           

    Player Outlook

    Even at 35 years old, Yadier Molina is still one of the best in the business.

    The longtime St. Louis Cardinals backstop caught a whopping 1,125.2 innings last season, which accounted for 77.6 percent of the team's innings behind the plate and trailed only Martin Maldonado (1,146.1) among all catchers.

    He also launched 18 home runs—the most he's hit since tallying 22 in 2012—after hitting a grand total of 19 over the previous three years.

    The Cardinals will likely start to work top prospect Carson Kelly into the mix this season in an effort to keep Molina fresh, but the veteran is still as important to the success of his team as anyone in baseball.

5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    2017 Offensive: 105 OPS+, .268/.297/.495, 52 XBH (27 HR), 80 RBI, 57 R

    2017 Defensive: 27% CS (20/74), 0 DRS, 7.1 DEF, -26.4 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.5

           

    Player Outlook

    There are some glaring holes in Salvador Perez's game.

    For starters, he's never drawn more than 22 walks in a season, as he has a 3.6 percent walk rate and .301 on-base percentage for his career.

    He's also regularly one of the league's worst pitch-framers.

    And yet, few would argue he's one of the game's premier backstops.

    His durability is unmatched, he's averaged 20 home runs and 73 RBI in his five seasons as an everyday player, and he's thrown out 34 percent of base stealers in his career.

    As the last man standing of sorts in Kansas City, he'll be asked to help usher in the next wave of homegrown talent.

4. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    2017 Offensive: 109 OPS+, .278/.332/.451, 53 XBH (17 HR), 65 RBI, 68 R

    2017 Defensive: 32% CS (25/78), -5 DRS, 12.4 DEF, -22.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.6

          

    Player Outlook

    J.T. Realmuto has not yet gotten his wish to be traded by the rebuilding Miami Marlins.

    The 26-year-old posted career highs in OPS (.783), home runs (17), RBI (65), runs scored (68) and total bases (240) last season, while also making strides with his defensive game.

    He's an elite athlete for the catcher position, and it shows in both his receiving skills and his speed on the bases, where he's tallied 20 stolen bases in 26 attempts over the past two seasons.

    With a $2.9 million salary for the upcoming season and team control through 2020, he's an incredibly valuable asset.

    Time will tell if the Marlins decide to cash in that chip.

3. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2017 Offensive: 119 OPS+, .276/.356/.499, 42 XBH (21 HR), 74 RBI, 50 R

    2017 Defensive: 27% CS (23/84), -1 DRS, 13.0 DEF, -19.6 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.9

          

    Player Outlook

    Willson Contreras might be the most important player on the Chicago Cubs roster.

    After posting an .845 OPS with 12 home runs in 283 plate appearances as a rookie in 2016, he proved his offensive game was the real deal with a fantastic first full season in the majors.

    The 25-year-old ended spent a good portion of the season hitting in the cleanup spot, where he posted a .307/.404/.608 line with 13 home runs in 44 games.

    And if it wasn't for a strained hamstring that cost him a month, his numbers would have looked even better.

    With plus athleticism, improving overall receiving skills, a rocket arm and the tools to be an elite offensive player at the position, he looks the part of a superstar in the making.

    The fact that he can play some left field only further adds to his value.

2. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    2017 Offensive: 126 OPS+, .278/.345/.541, 53 XBH (33 HR), 90 RBI, 79 R

    2017 Defensive: 38% CS (23/60), 1 DRS, 10.6 DEF, -3.8 Framing RAA

    WAR: 4.1

         

    Player Outlook

    Gary Sanchez hit 33 home runs last season; here's the list of catchers with more home runs in a single season prior to age 25:

    • Johnny Bench, 22 years old (45)
    • Johnny Bench, 24 years old (40)
    • Mike Piazza, 24 years old (35)
    • Rudy York, 23 years old (35)

    That's it.

    He still has work to do on his defensive game after he allowed an AL-high 16 passed balls last season.

    His walk rate also moved in the wrong direction, dropping from 10.5 to 7.6 percent, and returning that to his rookie-season rate will be the next step for his offensive game.

1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    2017 Offensive: 129 OPS+, .320/.400/.462, 46 XBH (12 HR), 67 RBI, 62 R

    2017 Defensive: 38% CS (22/58), 2 DRS, 9.1 DEF, 1.6 Framing RAA

    WAR: 4.0

          

    Player Outlook

    Buster Posey is still the gold standard at the catcher position.

    He's a .308 career hitter, and his .320 average in 2017 was good for fifth in the NL as he took home his fourth Silver Slugger award.

    The 30-year-old saw more time at first base (15 to 38 games) and less time at catcher (123 to 99) last season, a trend that will continue in the years to come.

    For now, he's still the best two-way catcher in the game and a serious threat for both a batting title and a Gold Glove Award.

              

    Standard stats and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball Reference. Defensive stats (DRS, DEF) and other advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs. All pitch-framing stats come via StatCorner.