2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview: What’s The Catch?

by Dennis Sosic
2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview: What's The Catch?

Yes, sadly, football is over!  However, the Fantasy Six Pack staff has you covered in your next Fantasy adventure. That's correct, it is time to start your Fantasy Baseball research! Just like our outstanding efforts and insightful fantasy football analysis, we are here to help Fantasy owners win their Fantasy Baseball championships!

Our fantasy baseball drafts will be here before you know it,  so I will stop rambling and start our Fantasy Baseball draft prep with the most demanding and important position in baseball, catcher.

Defensive worth often takes priority, so the offensive expectations are set low for catchers. The league batting average for the catcher position in 2018 was .232. Of the 27 catchers who had at least 300 plate appearances, only six of them hit better than .267! As a group, MLB catchers posted an OPS+ of 87, the lowest OPS+ by any position since 2002.

Fantasy owners always wrestle with whether to play the scarcity game and take a catcher early or grab one or two guys late and pray for the best. On average, there isn't a single catcher finishing inside the top 100 fantasy baseball players. Only four to six catchers finished inside the top 300 players. In essence, the 12th-15th ranked catches are replacement-level and/or streaming options.

So who are the top-tier catchers that I can reach for? I am in a two-catcher league, now what?  Are there any rookie catchers that I should go after late in my drafts?  The answers to those questions and a whole lot more will be answered here in the 2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview.

2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

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Who are these top-tier catchers that MIGHT be worth taking early?

Here are six catchers that could be an option for safe fantasy players that don't want to play the streaming game with their catcher position.

PlayerTeamWhy is he a top-tier Catcher?
J.T. RealmutoMiami Marlins (for now!)Realmuto is the safest elite catcher regardless of what team he finally calls home in 2019. Plus, he is just entering his prime at the age of 27.
Yasmani GrandalMilwaukee BrewersThe best power hitting catcher in the bigs, and now he goes to Miller Park, a haven for left-handed power hitters. Look for 30+ homers this season.
Gary SanchezNew York YankeesSanchez will probably come as a nice discount this season. He had a horrible season (.186 batting average) but slugged .406 with 18 homers. Look for a rebound to 2017 power numbers (33 homers).
Yadier MolinaSt. Louis CardinalsMolina missed basically two months last season and still hit 20 homers with 74 RBI. I take that from my catcher. Expect a .270 average, 20+ homers and 70+ RBI.
Salvador PerezKansas City RoyalsPerez led all catchers in homers & RBI despite only playing 129 games.
Wilson RamosNew York MetsRamos has durability issues, however he still hit .306 with 15 homers and 70 RBI. If he can stay healthy, watch out!

Looking for who we think are the best catchers? Take a look at our 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings that we will continue to provide weekly updates throughout the 2019 season.

I am in a two-catcher league, how does the strategy differ from the one-catcher league?

The rationale behind the development of two-catcher leagues was to accumulate more value from the catcher position. In your typical 10-12 team leagues, requiring just one starting position for catcher left value on the waiver wire. Single catcher leagues dramatically depreciate the position, since very little separates the value of catchers outside the top options.

The catcher position is generally the worst position in fantasy baseball. In one-catcher formats, there are really only three strategies--draft early, middle, or last.

In two-catcher leagues, there is noticeable strategic variance. Let's take a look at which options fantasy owners can utilize:

  • Overpay to acquire two of the top catchers. While you gain a huge advantage at catcher, is it worth it? This option weakens your remaining roster and forces you to hit on the majority of the cheap sleepers that you will need to take on to fill up the rest of your roster.
  • Select one top-tier catcher and a lower tier/cheap option. This option should add up to an average production total. Nothing fancy but it won't kill your team. The low tier option is an easy opening to upgrade and streaming alternatives.
  • Grab two mid-tier/mediocre but useful options. Boring but the most widely used and acceptable option.
  • Draft two catchers from the same team. Neither catcher might not be good enough to start by themselves. However, play the catcher that is starting that day, and combine their stats to provide you with a top-five option.
  • Punt the catcher position. Focus on the more productive positions while selecting risk/reward, sleeper-type catchers who may boom. Otherwise, you gain two streaming spots.

Which rookie catchers will make an impact in the 2019 season?

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Rookies can present very nice draft values for the fantasy owners with the nerve to select them over more proven players. Normally, the rookies are like shiny new toys with the interest and projections for them is often exaggerated to their actual on-field production.

Ideally, fantasy baseball owners should be looking for a game-ready player with a chance to contribute immediately to a lesser team.

Here are three rookie catchers that should make an impact for their team and your fantasy rosters:

Francisco Mejia, San Diego Padres

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Mejia, who owns a career .293/.347/.452 slash line and 54 home runs, has been a hitting machine in the Minors, which includes his 50-game hitting streak and .342 average in 2016. He showed what the hype was all about by hitting .328 with Triple-A El Paso on his way to making his San Diego debut.

Mejia has been viewed as the top catching prospect in baseball. He has plus raw power and has shown the ability to drive the ball consistently. However, he has a poor batting average in his first taste of MLB pitching and has not shown his plus hit tool at the MLB level. His BABIP over his two call-ups were .200 and .206 respectively. In 2017 with the Indians, he only hit for a .154 batting average. In 2018, his strikeout rate was over 30%. He never posted a rate higher than 19% in the minor leagues.

With his excellent bat skills, he provides potential to become a Top 5 catcher in fantasy as soon as this season. However, there are roadblocks to his rise to fantasy stardom. Mejia is currently in a part-time platoon with Austin Hedges with the Padres to start the season. In addition, the Padres have been very active in trade talks with the attempt to trade for JT Realmuto. Any attempt to obtain Realmuto will result in the Padres trading either Mejia or Hedges. Mejia's stock should rise significantly with his at-bats increasing substantially regardless on who gets traded.

Mejia profiles as a .285 average and 20-homer player. A catcher with upside that you can utilize in one-catcher formats as a late-round cheap option. While in two-catcher leagues, he is the perfect selection as your second catcher. He could boom but if he doesn't produce, the costs are minimal.

Willians Astudillo, Minnesota Twins

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Astudillo is probably the most discussed catcher as a fantasy sleeper this season. He has essentially been a minor league journeyman who took the fantasy world by storm after making his MLB debut at the end of June. In his nine seasons in the minors, he hit over .300 six times while never hitting below .250. Additionally, he has never had a strikeout rate above 5.0% along with posting a 91.7% contact rate.

With the Twins already having two MLB ready catchers in Jason Castro and Mitch Garver on their roster, Astudillo might have to make the Twins roster as a utility player. Although he did appear as a catcher in 16 games last season, he is also eligible at third base (6), second base (2), and even in the outfield (1). The Twins are currently indicating that Astudillo will be slated to come off the bench.
The 26-year-old hit an astonishing .355/.371/.516 in 93 at-bats. This includes three home runs, four doubles, and one triple while knocking in 21. Furthermore, he struck out just three times in nearly 100 plate appearances. Astudillo has proven the ability to put the bat to the ball consistently, he just needs to find a way to get plate appearances. He is a valuable stash option or a great cheap option as your second catcher in two-catcher formats. He has the ability to hit .300 while hitting 15-20 home runs. Who couldn't use that from your catcher position?

Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants

In Joey Bart, the Giants have their long-term solution behind the dish to replace an all-time great and future Hall of Famer Buster Posey. Bart was the Giants' top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft at No.2 overall and is entering the 2019 season as MLB Pipeline’s top overall catching prospect in all of baseball. He has also been named the No. 39 overall prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, the lone Giants prospect in the top 100.

Bart is a traditional power-hitting catcher, standing 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, and brings the strength of a right-handed bat the Giants desperately needed. In his first taste of professional baseball, Bart split time across 2 levels with Arizona and Salem-Keizer, he posted a .294/.364/.588 slash line with 13 home runs and 40 RBI.

Bart arrives in San Francisco in the perfect situation for the Giants. The thinking is that Bart may soon replace Buster Posey at catcher. The Giants will attempt to reduce Posey's workload gradually over time, including possibly even moving Posey to first base.

Bart has the potential to hit 25+ home runs annually, however, the challenge is going to be if he can routinely make contact (12.3% SWStr%). He did post a 19.7% strikeout rate compared to a 5.9% walk rate last season. There is a swing-and-miss to his game but the power will make up for it. Of course, the obvious caveat with Bart is if and when we will see him playing games at Oracle Park this season. The Giants will try to preserve Posey, who is the heart and soul of the team as much as possible. Bart is a great stash option in dynasty formats but might not be conducive to owning in seasonal formats yet. Stay tuned.

Player(s) On the Rise

Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays

Danny Jansen has diligently become one of the best hitting catching prospects for over a year now after correcting his vision by getting prescription glasses/goggles. Last year between three levels (A+, AA, and AAA), he produced a .323/.400/.484 line with 10 home runs while walking more than he struck out, and that was a worth a 150 wRC+.  

Jansen, who turns 24 years old just 16 games into next season, exhibited elite contact skills with just a 4.3% swinging strike rate (MLB average last season was 10.7%), which provides him a higher floor in terms of projecting his contact profile to the majors.  

Now with Russell Martin being traded to the Dodgers, there will be very little competition on the Blue Jays for Jansen to garner more plate appearances at catcher. Jansen is a piece of a huge stream of minor league talent hoping to initiate the Blue Jays rebuild. Their farm system is loaded with baseball bloodlines. You can’t have a Fantasy Baseball conversation without talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio.

Jansen was an International League All-Star and played in the Futures Game, earning his first Major League call-up to Toronto in August last season. He hit .247/.347/.432 with six doubles and three home runs in 95 MLB at-bats, while posting a .347 OBP with a 115 OPS+. More impressively, he only struck out in 17.9% of plate appearances while walking in 9.5% of his plate appearances.

Finding an offense at catcher in 2019 is no easy task. Taking Danny Jansen will provide your roster a weapon at a weaker position. I project that he will hit .260ish with 12-15 homers. Those numbers will give you a top 12 catcher and a player that you can select in the later rounds of your draft.

Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers

Grandal hit the free-agent market after turning down a $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also reportedly turned down a four-year offer for nearly $60 million from the New York Mets. His defensive lapses in the National League Championship Series appear to severely affect his value. Grandal ended up settling for a one-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for a cool $16 million.

For fantasy purposes, this was the best landing spot for the switch-hitting catcher. No catcher has hit more home runs over the last three seasons and is a tremendous bet for better power numbers now that he plays his home games at Miller Park. Playing for the Brewers, he will be in a lineup for a strong contender in the NL who already ranked sixth in the league in on-base percentage and second in home runs.

He has slugged 73 home runs the past three seasons despite playing home games in spacious Dodgers Stadium and many other games in pitcher-friendly parks in the NL West. Most of his pop is from the left side-he hit 20 of his 24 homers vs. righties last season. The Brewers covet left-handed hitters with power, see Travis Shaw, Christian Yelich, and Eric Thames at Miller Park.
 His 2018 slash line was .241/.349/.466. He is a patient hitter that draws a lot of walks (BB rate of 13.9%), and no catcher topped Grandal's .225 ISO. The Brewers upgraded over the previously projected pairing of Manny Pina and Erik Kratz. He will be a substantial boost in the same lineup that proved to be one of the NL's best in 2018.  Combining all of these factors, I forsee Grandal to have a career year with 30-plus home runs not out of the question.

Players(s) On the Decline

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

The Braves are welcoming Brian McCann back to Atlanta to join a young roster to provide leadership. McCann is in the twilight of his career.  He is coming off the worst season of his career at age 34. He played in just 63 games with the Astros last season, hitting .212 with seven home runs and 23 RBI to go along with a 79 OPS+.

McCann, who holds a .263 career average, missed two months after arthroscopic knee surgery. This is the second consecutive season that McCann has played less than 100 games. Given his recent injuries, he is no longer an option as an every-day catcher. The Braves are hoping that McCann can be a serviceable backstop and to keep Tyler Flowers fresh and healthy.

McCann's projected numbers for 2019 aren't promising,  and honestly, I think they are too optimistic! McCann, who played for the Braves from 2005-13, should provide a locker room spark but I don't see him helping much on the field. Additionally, the Braves are one of the many teams still linked to All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto (which team isn't?), that addition will change everything and make McCann almost expendable if he is not already.

Russell Martin, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers brought back an old friend Russell Martin via a trade with the Blue Jays a day after losing free agent Yasmani Grandal to Milwaukee. The 36-year-old  appeared in 90 games the last season and slashed .194/.338/.325 with 10 home runs, 25 RBI and 82 strikeouts in 289 at-bats.
He collected career lows in batting average (.194), OPS (.663) and established career-high rates on balls hit on the ground (51.2 percent) and pop-ups (19.4 percent of his fly-balls were pop-ups). He also recorded a .133 ISO which checked in the south of the mark of a league-average catcher (.141 ISO).
Martin still displays strong defensive skills which will the Dodgers utilize him as a stopgap until catching prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith are ready for the big leagues. In 2019, he will platoon with Austin Barnes and help mentor the pitching staff. His age and a batting average below the Mendoza Line would preclude him from making him an everyday catcher. Please make sure Russell Martin is not your starting Fantasy catcher.

Player(s) on The Horizon

Sean Murphy, Oakland A's

There's no question that Sean Murphy is Oakland's catcher of the future. I believe we will see Murphy this season as the A's backstop. The A's will start this season with the left/right bat situation of Chris Herrmann and Josh Phegley, not exactly household names. They are both inexpensive options at the position where glove-first players are usually the norm.

The 23-year-old Murphy slashed .288/.358/.498 with eight home runs, 26 doubles, and 43 RBI in 68 games at Double-A last season. In addition, he possessed a modest 16.3 strikeout percentage and a very reasonable 8.0 walk percentage. However, Murphy missed a good portion of last season with a broken hamate that curtailed his development.

Murphy will get to the majors on his defense. His defensive ability is game-changing. MLB Pipeline calls him the second-best defensive catcher in the entire minors, but among the Top 10 overall catching prospects he’s the best of the bunch on that side of the ball — he’s a 65-grade Fielder according to them, and 60-grade via Baseball America, who says he has “Gold Glove potential.”

Obviously, the question for fantasy owners is if Sean Murphy will ever develop into an above-average hitter?  Murphy, appointed by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 catching prospect in the game, does flash above-average power and draws walks. His offense continues to improve and the potential is evident. He will start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, but Sean Murphy will be in the starting lineup for the A's this season and for years to come.

Keibert Ruiz, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ruiz is listed as the Dodgers #2 overall prospect in the organization behind Alex Verdugo. He has racked up an eye-opening .330/.372/.461 slash through the first three years of his minor league career.

Ruiz has climbed his way through the Dodgers farm system. At just twenty years old, he has shown what he is capable of in just four seasons of work. He owns an elite barrel control and a rare offensive ceiling for a catcher.

The minor leagues are flooded with catching prospects right now, and Ruiz is near the top of that list. He is also projected to possess above average to plus power with more physical development. Home runs may never be a feature he’s prominently known for, but overall offensive catchers like this don’t come around every day.

The Dodgers are looking for ways to save money. They let go last year's starter Yasmani Grandal via free agency and are still bidding for the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. One area that they can save money is at the catcher position. There are tons of organizational depth at the backstop position. Currently, the Dodgers will have Austin Barnes and newly signed retread Russell Martin hold down the catching duties and both hitters flirted with hitting below the Mendoza Line last season.

Ruiz has the tools and potential to eventually become the next crown jewel of the Dodgers' Minor League system. His upside paired with Barnes' versatility could create a fascinating catching combination down the road. It probably won't happen at the onset of the 2019 season but highlight Keibert Ruiz in your deeper formats and place him in your queue in dynasty leagues. He will pay off for you.

Player(s) to Avoid

Jonathan Lucroy, Los Angeles Angels

Jonathan Lucroy will be selected as a starting catcher on an inexperienced fantasy owners' roster. Please do NOT be that owner! Drafting Lucroy is a classic example of paying for the name and NOT the stats!

Lucroy is still a great defensive catcher, he threw out an above-average 30 percent of would-be base stealers, but that doesn't help fantasy owners. However, it does allow Lucroy to continue to get jobs as a backstop.  In 2018 with the A’s, Lucroy slashed just .241/.291/.325, a career-low for him in all three of those categories.

Of hitters who racked up at least 400 PAs, he ranked sixth from the bottom in ISO (.084) and ninth last in wRC+ (70), continuing a sudden fall from grace for someone who was a formidable offensive presence as recently as 2016.  His 0.6 FanGraphs WAR makes him slightly above a triple-A replacement and his -19.7 Off rating (which measures offensive efficiency relative to league average) made him the second-worst offensive catcher with at least 400 plate appearances.

Lucroy will be joining an Angels team that batted .220 as a team at the catcher's spot last year. The 32-year-old has never batted worse than .241 in a season. He will likely have the official role of backup catcher, but he might even split time with starter Kevan Smith, who Los Angeles claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox in October. Smith actually posted better 2018 stats than Lucroy, slashing .292/.348/.380 with 21 runs knocked in on 50 hits over 171 at-bats in 52 games.

The signing of Lucroy comes with little to no risk to the Angels, however counting on Lucroy to regain his once-elite catcher status is asking too much for fantasy owners to rely on for their fantasy teams.

2019 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief Pitcher

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