Fantasy Baseball: Early catcher rankings for 2017

Early 2017 rankings: 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | C | OF | SP | RP

Finally, we arrive at something terrible.

With the surge in offense across the leagues, most every position is looking a little too good to be true.

That may not sound like a bad thing, having more talent to go around, but one of the keys to succeeding in Fantasy is figuring out how to differentiate yourself from the competition. Maybe catcher is the way to do it.

Unfortunately, it's a position with inherent pitfalls. Those guys take a beating back there, making injuries commonplace, and even when they're healthy, they require regular rest. You can't expect any catcher to perform up to level of a first baseman, shortstop or whatever else.

Still, if your catcher is outperforming your opponent's catcher, that's an advantage for your team regardless of what's happening at some other position. And five catchers in particular stand out from the rest.

Top 10 catchers for 2017:

1. Buster Posey, C, Giants
2. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Rangers
3. Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees
4. Evan Gattis, C, Astros
5. Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
6. Russell Martin, C, Blue Jays
7. Salvador Perez, C, Royals
8. Brian McCann, C, Yankees
9. Yasmani Grandal, C, Dodgers
10. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins

How much they stand out from each other is a different matter and one that's sure to meet with some disagreement. Personally, I don't see how anyone other than Buster Posey could be the top-ranked catcher next year, but some might point to Gary Sanchez's success since taking over for the Yankees and claim he's clearly the top guy.

And yeah, he has throttled Posey on a per-game basis, but here's the thing: Sanchez isn't hitting 60 home runs next year. He's not hitting 50, and I would bet he's not hitting 40 either. If you agree with any one of those premises, then you acknowledge he can't sustain this year's production. It doesn't mean you think he's bad. It simply means you're a reasonable person with a reasonable understanding of what mere mortals can accomplish.

Gary Sanchez C / New York Yankees (2016 season)
BA: .303 HR: 20 OPS: 1.050 AB: 195 FPPG: 4.01

Is Sanchez the best pure power hitter at the catcher position? Probably. Will he hit 30-plus home runs in 2017? Most likely, yeah. Will he be better than Posey in Fantasy? Hey, there's a chance.

But why run the risk of him doing what Carlos Correa, Jason Heyward, Eric Hosmer, Yasiel Puig and countless others, including Posey himself, did in their sophomore seasons: i.e., regress beyond the mean as part of the adjustment period every young player has to endure? Why do it when the alternative is Posey, who has been a near lock for No. 1 at his position since ... well, since that sophomore season? Even in a year in which he has hit only 14 home runs, he has still managed to pull away from Jonathan Lucroy and Wilson Ramos, who have both hit 20-plus home runs and are both strong peripherally. Yes, Sanchez could outperform him, but you simply can't go wrong with Posey, which counts for something in the early rounds especially.

I could see Sanchez over Lucroy, maybe, but again, the downside argument wins out for me. Lucroy is basically a poor man's Posey, with a little bit more of an injury history.

For most of this year, the position offered a clear top three -- Posey, Lucroy and Ramos -- and as recently as three weeks ago, I figured that's how it would look heading into 2017. A few things have changed that, though, one being Sanchez's second power surge. Also, Evan Gattis has catapulted himself into the discussion with a monstrous last two months. He's the only catcher other than Sanchez who I think is a good bet for 30 home runs next year.

Evan Gattis C / Houston Astros (2016 season)
BA: .249 HR: 32 OPS: .827 AB: 442 FPPG: 2.67

The most notable development, though, is Ramos' torn ACL, suffered in the season's final week. It clouds his future for sure, not only by complicating his free agency but also by compromising his availability for the start of next season. The minimum recovery time for that injury is six months, which basically spans from now to opening day, so you have to think next April and May are in doubt.

How could Ramos still rank fifth at the position, then? Well, who would you slot ahead of him? Granted, Nos. 6-10 aren't complete zeros. Each contributes in his own way. Russell Martin, Salvador Perez, Brian McCann and Yasmani Grandal have a reasonable chance of hitting 20 homers, and J.T. Realmuto is about as good of a contact hitter and base-stealer (he said ironically) as you'll find at the position.

But they're not the well-rounded hitters you'll find at most every other position, and at this position, it's particularly damning. Teams have ways of keeping the best-hitting catchers in the lineup even when the demands of the position force them out from the behind the plate once or twice a week. So not only do these back five fall short in ability, but generally speaking, they do in playing time as well.

That's not true for Perez, who manager Ned Yost abuses in the first half every year only to see his numbers decline in the second, but it's especially true for Grandal, who both Dave Roberts and Don Mattingly before him have opted not to play more than three days in a row. Otherwise, he'd probably rank sixth on this list.

Next 10 catchers for 2017:

11. Willson Contreras, C/OF, Cubs
12. Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
13. Stephen Vogt, C, Athletics
14. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
15. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets
16. Nick Hundley, C, Rockies
17. Cameron Rupp, C, Phillies
18. Tom Murphy, C, Rockies
19. Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
20. Sandy Leon, C, Red Sox

I know what you're thinking: "Where's Kyle Schwarber? He got hurt, and you forgot about him. You forgot about him, you fraud!"

Relax. He'll be outfield-eligible to begin 2017 because that's the only position he played in the two games he was healthy this year. And while you may think a special exception is warranted here, I'm going to say it's not for a couple reasons:

  1. It never is when it comes to eligibility. In-season requirements are loose -- only five appearances at a position -- so if a player really is a trusted option at the position, he'll regain eligibility there soon enough.
  2. Willson Contreras

No, the Cubs didn't just sit on their hands after losing Schwarber. They introduced another up-and-comer to the catcher/left field role, which should make for some serious crowding in 2017. Miguel Montero will also be under contract and still seems to be the Cubs' preferred option behind the plate. Coming back from knee surgery, I think it's reasonable to wonder if Schwarber will catch at all.

That leaves him to play left field ... which leaves Contreras ... where, exactly?

Willson Contreras C/OF / Chicago Cubs (2016 season)
BA: .278 HR: 11 OPS: .828 AB: 248 FPPG: 2.42

Probably in a part-time role, which is a shame since he's at least hypothetically capable of the big-time production this position lacks. He was a prospect about on the level of Sanchez, after all -- not as much power, but a more disciplined hitter, sort of like a young Victor Martinez (or at least that's how he profiled in the minors). And look, maybe his 350 at-bats are worth more to you than McCann's 450 just on the off chance he works his way into more. But as things stand now, I see him being one of the biggest victims of the Cubs' abundance.

After that, who cares? Yadier Molina gets the 12th spot because his low strikeout rate and excessive playing time keep him out of the muck in Head-to-Head points leagues, but he's not the reason you're winning your league. None of these players are. Stephen Vogt at least isn't far removed from being in the Martin-Perez-McCann tier, but as a 32-year-old in an oppressive ballpark and with an extensive injury history, I'd say his All-Star days are over.

If there's hope for anyone in the back 10, it's Travis d'Arnaud, the former prospect who was on an upward trajectory until this year. And looking at his peripherals, I don't really understand what went wrong unless he just reached a breaking point with all the injuries. Last year, it was a broken foot and a hyperextended elbow. This year, a strained rotator cuff. I could see how the steady onslaught might derail him, or perhaps he just pushed himself to come back from the latest one too soon.

But while he has stopped hitting for power, he has continued to strike out at his usual low rate and has actually had a higher rate of hard contact, according to FanGraphs.com. So yeah, maybe an offseason of rest could get him back in the top-10 discussion. But after giving him the benefit of the doubt about his health concerns last year, I would be surprised, and considering he's a defensive liability, I wonder if the Mets will even give him the chance.

OK, so I also think there's upside with the Rockies catcher, whoever it is. In fact, Nick Hundley has outperformed Martin, Perez and McCann in Head-to-Head points per game this year. But he's a free agent this offseason, and with Tom Murphy all prepped and ready at age 25, I'm of the belief Hundley will be moving on. If that's true, I'm not sure he'll be in my top 20 at all. The 33-year-old seems like a textbook Coors Field creation, having produced a career .680 OPS before joining the Rockies last year.

It's Murphy who really interests me. Not only has he had a strong September, showing off his power stroke in the thin air, but he's coming off a minor-league season for the ages. His .327 batting average and 1.008 OPS are impressive enough at face value, but when you consider he was hitting .208 with a .684 OPS on July 1, well, here's the way his last 41 games looked:

Tom Murphy C / Colorado Rockies (last 41 games, minors)
BA: .442 HR: 12 SLG: .831 OPS: 1.316 AB: 154

I'm hedging my bet with this two right now. Safe to say that when the Rockies decide on their catcher for 2017, one will be moving up and the other down.

If you need upside any way you can get it at catcher, Devin Mesoraco is also still an option. But seeing as he'll be coming off shoulder surgery and his second hip surgery in as many years, I just don't have the stomach to put him in the top 20 even though I don't have any real hope for the whiff-tastic Mike Zunino or the BABIP-bending Sandy Leon either. And yeah, it's probably a leap to assume Leon will be the Red Sox's starting catcher next year, but I'm pretty sure they won't go back to Blake Swihart, who they were transitioning to the outfield before his season-ending ankle injury.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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