2018 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview: Cliff Diving

by Jonathan Chan
2018 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

Another season, another year where the catcher position is a Fantasy wasteland. Once Gary Sanchez is taken off the board there is a dropoff in the kind of category juice you want out of an early pick. Once Buster Posey, Willson Contreras and Salvador Perez are off the board, the cliff dives straight down.

J.T. Realmuto will be playing with no help in Miami. Yadier Molina is coming off one of the best offensive seasons at age 35 and shouldn't be expected to put up those types of power numbers again. After these two, every catcher available will come with one of the following problems:

  1. Injury Issues.
  2. Batting average issues.
  3. Uncertain playing time.

If there's an early run on catchers in your draft, don't get suckered into reaching for one. Instead of panic drafting Realmuto at 137, until pick 200 to draft Wilson Ramos, who (health permitting) will put up similar numbers at a much better price.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

Will Buster Posey Bounce Back with a Revamped Lineup?

In last season's catcher preview Joe Bond went over Buster Posey's struggles. In short, Posey's power contributions are diminishing due to consistent drops in his HR/FB. It fell once again last season, and Posey ended up with just 12 home runs. Despite a rise in his .SLG, LD% and FB%,  Posey's .ISO declined for a third straight season.

Joe was right on the money about Posey's average, as he brought his average back over .300 with a bounce back (and then some) in his BABIP to .347.

With the addition of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen to the lineup Posey will have more opportunity to score and drive in runs.

Posey will keep hitting for a high average and be an absolute wonder in OBP leagues. His counting stats should bounce back a bit, but the consistent decrease in his power puts a cap on his ceiling.

If I miss out on Sanchez, should I wait until the late rounds to draft a catcher?

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Sanchez has an ADP of 30 right now, which looks just about right for a catcher who provides upwards of 30 home runs and 90 RBI.

After Sanchez you're looking at Posey and Contreras as the next available options. While they are excellent options at catcher, their production doesn't hold up to the players being drafted around them. Owners in two catchers leagues should invest heavily in one of the top catcher options, but investing such a high draft pick in mediocre production is a tough pill to swallow in standard leagues.

At the end of the day, picking a catcher in the early round depends on your ability to stomach a poor batting average and inconsistency from the late round options. If your cornerstones have issues with their batting average (Justin Upton, Brian Dozier, and Cody Bellinger come to mind), drafting Posey to help offset them isn't the worst idea.

What do I make of Jonathan Lucroy's poor season?

The 2017 season was an awful one for Lucroy. He hit just .265 with six home runs and 45 RBI. Even a mid-season trade to the Rockies couldn't bring back his power numbers, as he hit just two homers in 46 games with the Rockies.

Lucroy actually improved his plate discipline last season, posting the second best career BB/K of his career. However, his .SLG was the lowest it's been since his rookie season. The biggest issue seems to be in his batted ball profile. His GB/FB ballooned to 1.91 and his LD% dropped six percent to a career low 18.6%.

Lucroy went through a similar down season in 2015, and managed to recover well with a career season in 2016. Unfortunately, the career year is likely an outlier, as he managed a HR/FB of 15%, five percent higher than any other season in his career.

If Lucroy signs with the right team, he could provide value as a later round option who won't kill your average. However, owners shouldn't count on his power coming back.

Player(s) On the Rise

Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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The former No. 3 overall pick floundered through parts of four seasons before putting it together in 2017. In 124 games, Zunino hit 25 HR, with 64 RBI. His strikeout issue is still holding him back, as he whiffed at a 36.8% rate. Fortunately his walk rate has nearly doubled since his last full season.

Something to be wary of is that his BABIP was significantly higher than at any other point in his career. His improved LD and lowered FB percentages indicate that his BABIP improvements are somewhat sustainable, although the .355 mark he set last year isn't a realistic expectation.

As far as catchers go, Zunino is one of the highest upside options available late in the draft. If you miss out on the top four or five options Zunino is a great power option in the later rounds.

Players(s) On the Decline

Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays

Martin's 2017 was an ugly one to say the least. After two great seasons with the Blue Jays, Martin fell off just as hard as the rest of the Toronto lineup. In 96 games, Martin hit 13 HR and drove in just 35 runs.

His slash line (.221/.343/.388) looked remarkably similar to his 2016 marks (.231/.335/.398) so that doesn't explain the massive drop off in production. The most likely candidate is his GB/FB which increased from 1.31 to 1.71.

Without Josh Donaldson for a huge part of the season, the Jays were awful, scoring 66 fewer runs and dropping from fifth to last in the American League in that category. With no punch in the lineup, Martin wasn't able to produce as owners are accustomed to.

Martin will be 35 by the time spring training rolls around and it's safe to say that his best days are behind him. A bit of positive regression could happen with Donaldson back in the lineup, but owners should expect production closer to that of his years with the Yankees and Pirates, without the speed.

Players(s) On the Horizon

Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians

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The Indian's prospect was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2012. Since then he has risen through the ranks and is now rated as Baseball America's No. 20 overall prospect. Last season in Double-A Akron, Mejia slashed .297/.346/.490 with 14 home runs 104 runs + RBI. Mejia also showed good speed for a catcher in 2017, stealing seven bases.

Cleveland is dedicated to getting Mejia into the lineup, and they plan on moving him around the diamond in order to do that. To prepare him for the major league season, Mejia has been playing third base in the Arizona Fall League.

Mejia had his cup of coffee in 2017, playing 11 games with the Indians towards the end of the season. His strikeout rate in the majors spiked to 21%, but his walk rate was consistent with his Double-A numbers at 7%.

Mejia is going undrafted in redraft leagues but he's someone that everyone should monitor at such a thin position.

Players(s) To Avoid

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Posey's current FantasyPros ADP sits at 62 overall. In that same area, you could draft Justin Turner, Tommy Pham, or Rhys Hoskins.

As mentioned earlier, Posey has been in a multi-year decline. He finished last season with comparable numbers to Yadier Molina, who's being drafted over 100 spots later in early mocks.

Last season, Posey's ADP was 57th overall. After another season of declining performance, his ADP remains in the same area. At his current ADP, I don't think he can produce at a level high enough to justify his lofty ADP.

Let me be clear, I'm not saying Posey is a "do not draft" player. He is the second best Fantasy catcher in the league. I'm saying that personally, I would avoid Posey because I wouldn't want to sink a 4th or 5th round pick into someone whose main contribution is his batting average.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

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