2017 MLB Player Rankings for catchers: Posey is still the best catcher in baseball

Spring Training is only one week away. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to camp in just a few days, and in less than three weeks, Grapefruit League and Cactus League games will begin. Soon real live baseball will be played.

So, with the offseason coming to an end, it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming season. And to do that, we’re going to break down the top 10 players at each position over the next several days. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The players are ranked according to who we’d want for 2017 only. Contracts and salaries don’t matter. Simply put, if you are trying to win the World Series this year, who do you want at the position?
  2. These rankings are the result of voting by your four CBSSports.com baseball writers: R.J. Anderson, Mike Axisa, Dayn Perry, and Matt Snyder. We ranked the players individually and averaged them all together.
  3. These are not fantasy baseball rankings. You can find those here. It’s not just about offense. All-around play matters.

Our positional rankings begin behind the plate, with the catchers. These guys play one of the most critical positions in all of sports. Here, as expertly ranked by the CBSSports.com scribes, are the 10 best catchers in baseball for the 2017 season.

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Buster Posey is still the best catcher in baseball. USATSI
2017 MLB Player Rankings: Catcher
1
Buster Posey San Francisco Giants C
Although the 2016 season was Buster Posey ’s worst offensively, he was still a force and far better than the league average catcher, hitting .288/.362/.434 (112 OPS+) with 33 doubles, 14 homers, and nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (68). On top of the offense, he also grades out as an exceptional pitch-framer, and over the last two seasons he’s thrown out nearly 40 percent of all attempted base-stealers. Posey will turn 30 in March and is still very much a dominant two-way presence at the catcher position. He remains the cream of the crop and the San Francisco Giants owe much of their success in recent years to him.
2
Jonathan Lucroy Texas Rangers C
Injuries hampered Jonathan Lucroy back in 2015, though he rebounded very well in 2016, hitting .292/.355/.500 (123 OPS+) with a career high 24 home runs. He was good with the Milwaukee Brewers (121 OPS+) before being traded to the Texas Rangers at the deadline, where his performance ticked up (128 OPS+) despite being thrust into a postseason race. Like Posey, Lucroy grades out as an excellent pitch-framer and has also thrown out close to 40 percent of attempted base-stealers the last few years. The league average is 28 percent.
3
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals C
Two years ago it seemed Yadier Molina ’s days as an elite catcher had ended. The longtime St. Louis Cardinals backstop authored an 80 OPS+ at the plate in 2015, his worst offensive season in a decade, and he did it during his age 32 season, when many catchers begin to decline. Especially catchers who have been workhorses like Molina.

In 2016, Molina rebounded to hit .307/.360/.427 (110 OPS+) with 38 doubles and eight home runs, which answered any questions about his possible decline. He also remained a top of the line pitch-framer. Interestingly enough, last season was Molina’s worst throwing out base-stealers. He threw out only 21 percent, far below his career 42 percent rate. Runners stole more bases against Yadi in 2016 (67) than they did in 2014 and 2015 combined (60).
4
Russell Martin Toronto Blue Jays C
A brutal start to the season dragged down Russell Martin ’s overall production in 2016 -- he hit .197/.259/.272 in April and May, then .247/.368/.458 the rest of the way -- though he still swatted 20 home runs and provided top notch defense behind the plate. Also, Martin’s teams do nothing but win. He’s helped his club get to the postseason every year since 2011 despite going from the New York Yankees to the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Toronto Blue Jays .
5
Yasmani Grandal Los Angeles Dodgers C
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the game’s top catchers, probably because he doesn’t hit for a high average. His 27 home runs led all full-time catchers in 2016, however, and he drew enough walks to put up a .228/.339/.477 (121 OPS+) overall batting line. Add in outstanding pitch-framing and a league average arm and you’ve got yourself a sneaky good backstop.
6
Salvador Perez Kansas City Royals C
On paper, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez doesn’t do much well. He has power, swatting 43 home runs over the last two years, but he’s been a below-average hitter overall (89 OPS+ in 2016) and the defensive stats say he is just okay behind the plate, if not below-average. And yet, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Perez definitely seems like someone who would benefit from a “works with pitchers” stat.
7
Gary Sanchez New York Yankees C
Normally, ranking a player with only 55 big league games under his belt among the top 10 players at his position is unheard of. Then again, most players don’t come up and club 20 home runs in one-third of a season -- at a position as demanding as catcher, no less -- like Yankees youngster Gary Sanchez did a year ago. This didn’t come out of nowhere either. Sanchez has long been a top prospect with big power potential. Add in a cannon arm and it’s entirely possible Sanchez will be atop our catcher rankings list in a year or two.
8
Brian McCann Houston Astros C
Brian McCann , who lost his job to Sanchez last year and was traded to the Houston Astros earlier this offseason, is the only active player to hit at least 20 home runs every season since 2008. ( David Ortiz did it too, but he’s retired now.) That McCann did it at the most demanding position on the field makes it even more impressive. With his 33rd birthday right around the corner, McCann remains a good defender and a very good pitch-framer in addition to being able to hit the ball out of the park.
9
Willson Contreras Chicago Cubs C
Two years ago Willson Contreras broke out as a top catching prospect, and when he reached the big leagues in 2016, he put up a .282/.357/.488 (125 OPS+) batting line with 12 home runs in 76 games while also seeing time in the outfield. Both his caught stealing rate (37 percent) and pitch-framing metrics were better than the league averages too. Contreras shared time with David Ross and Miguel Montero behind the plate last summer. He’s now poised to take over as the No. 1 catcher for the Chicago Cubs in 2017.
10
Francisco Cervelli Pittsburgh Pirates C
Francisco Cervelli ’s follow-up to his breakout 2015 seasons didn’t go quite that well. Hit .264/.377/.322 (90 OPS+) in 2016 while missing time with a hand injury, and also threw out only 19 percent of attempted base-stealers. The pitch-framing numbers still love him though, and with a healthy hand in 2017, the Pirates backstop should return to being a solid catcher who plays with a ton of energy.

Also receiving votes: Wilson Ramos , Tampa Bay Rays ; J.T. Realmuto , Miami Marlins ; Matt Wieters , Free Agent

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