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Catching up with catchers

By Al Melchior | Data Analyst

Even with a relative shortage of playing time, Derek Norris is making a case to be more widely owned. (USATSI)
Even with a relative shortage of playing time, Derek Norris is making a case to be more widely owned. (USATSI)

In updating my rest-of-season rankings, I noticed there were more catchers than usual who gave me pause to reconsider their value. I was especially surprised to find out that the two catchers who have done the most to boost their value have pretty much flatlined in terms of their ownership and activation rates in CBSSports.com leagues.

Before revealing the two catchers whom I have catapulted into my top 10, here are four catchers who have been moving the needle for many other Fantasy owners. Each has his merits, but none has caused me to do a double-take with his recent performance.

The most-added catcher currently is Caleb Joseph, and that's hardly a surprise given that: a) he was practically unowned prior to last week, and b) he is just coming off a streak of five consecutive games with a home run. I had been skeptical of Joseph's power potential, since his power hitting in the minors didn't really pick up steam until his third go-around in Double-A. While I'm still not totally convinced, he's been hitting enough deep flies and making enough contact for me to move him up into my top 20 for catchers.

J.P. Arencibia has cooled off recently, but his post-break power binge has earned him plenty of new owners. He is a more proven power source than Joseph, but he's also shown himself to have shaky plate discipline. That has Arencibia still on the outside looking in at my top 20 list.

I did move Tyler Flowers up a few spots, but he still doesn't make the cut for the top 30. Over his last 20 games, Flowers has hit .397 with four home runs, but a strikeout in more than every four at-bats over that stretch makes it hard to buy into the notion of a breakout. While Flowers is capable of busting out for power every now and then, he hasn't done so consistently, and he's leaned heavily on an outrageous .488 BABIP during his hot streak.

Then there's Yan Gomes, who has been steadily gaining ownership and growing his activation rate over the past six weeks. While he, too, has been increasing his production through a high BABIP rate (.448 over his last 24 games), there's no disputing his power or his status as a must-own catcher.

I have bumped Gomes up my rankings, but as he was already in my top 12, he wasn't one of the biggest movers. That distinction belongs to Travis d'Arnaud and Derek Norris. Since returning on June 24 from a minor league rehab stint following a concussion, d'Arnaud has accumulated the fifth-highest Fantasy point total among catchers in CBSSports.com leagues. Over 133 at-bats, he has hit .271 with six home runs, 20 RBI and 20 runs, as it appears he is delivering on the power and run-producing potential he showed as a prospect. I now have d'Arnaud ranked as my No. 9 catcher, and given the relative lack of upside in typical waiver wire options, there is little risk in trying him out in a one-catcher league if you need an uprgrade. With a 57 percent ownership rate, d'Arnaud is highly available in standard mixed leagues.

Derek Norris is a bit more popular, as he currently has a home in 73 percent of our leagues, but more owners could stand to try him out as their No.1 catcher. He hasn't produced like one going back to the beginning of July, as he has provided only six extra-base hits, but with four of those coming in his last nine games, Norris is showing signs of heating up. Even more encouraging is the dramatic improvement that he has made in his strikeout rate, and this comes on the heals of the substantial progress he made a year ago.

Norris doesn't get as much playing time as many other catchers, but that hasn't stopped him from being a top 12 catcher in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie formats this season. With a high walk rate (13.9 percent of plate appearances), a decent strikeout rate (20.0 percent of at-bats) and the potential for even greater power, Norris just might be able to maintain his lofty ranking, even while stuck in a timeshare situation with John Jaso.

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