Previewing 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 20 catchers led by J.T. Realmuto, but where does Gary Sanchez land?
Just how far does Gary Sanchez slide after his disastrous 2018? Well, who's moving ahead of him? Scott White struggles to find 20 players worth ranking at Fantasy Baseball's weakest position.
What a great big pile of garbage.
In these days of positional parity, where seemingly everybody who's anybody can put together a 20-homer season, there's only one position where there isn't enough bats to go around. And this is it.
You like you some Tucker Barnhart? Of course you don't.
But you care about Fantasy Baseball, right? You're already thinking about next year's draft? Well, even the unsexiest position should light a fire in you then.
If you can get excited about anyone outside of the top nine, though, I dare say your fervor exceeds my own.
In a year when Gary Sanchez and Buster Posey failed to deliver, J.T. Realmuto has been a distant No. 1, and it's partly to his own credit. He has upped his power production in a way that appears natural and sustainable, making his success no longer so dependent on volume. And judging by his home-away splits, his value would only rise if the rebuilding Marlins deal him away this offseason.
For as much as Realmuto has stood out in 2018, Gary Sanchez still has the most upside at the position, and for as bad as he has been in 2018, batting under .200, he's still in the top five in Head-to-Head points per game. It shows just what kind of power hitter he is, and it's a reminder what kind of damage he can do when his BABIP isn't freakishly low. He'll be catcher-eligible in Fantasy even if the Yankees move him off the position, though there's some question how much he'd play in that scenario.
Yes, another shameful underachiever hardly sees his draft stock change from one season to the next, which should tell you a little something about the rest of the position. It should also tell you a little something about Willson Contreras, whose batted-ball profile has hardly changed from 2017 with one glaring exception: the home run-to-fly ball rate is way, way down. I'll bet on the 26-year-old bouncing back in that regard, though it would be nice to see him finish on a high note.
Where Wilson Ramos ultimately signs will have some say in how high he's drafted, but getting him out of Philadelphia would be a good thing. The Phillies have forced him into a timeshare with purported up-and-comer Jorge Alfaro (who you'll notice isn't in this top 20) even though Ramos has been the best-hitting catcher other than Realmuto this year, having recaptured his 2016 form after struggling to make it back from a torn ACL last year.
Even at 36, Yadier Molina is showing no signs of slowing down, actually rediscovering his power stroke over the past two seasons, and his line-drive and hard-hit rates in 2018 are both career highs. He's at a point in his career where it could go at any time, but you know the Cardinals are going to give him all the at-bats he can handle. There won't be enough promise later in drafts to pass up on a potential best-case scenario here.
As someone who long stood atop the catcher rankings, Buster Posey could turn out to be a great bargain here since it's clear the hip injury that ultimately ended his season had a great deal to do with his decline in production, sapping his power even as his batted-profile — the rate of contact and ground balls vs. fly balls — was largely unchanged. But there's a chance he isn't ready for the start of 2019 or isn't back to full strength, which warrants caution.
No doubt, Yasmani Grandal will finish higher than this in 2018, but that's largely because he has managed to stay healthy. His per-game production is merely above average. Then again, he'll most likely have a new home in 2019 and doesn't figure to play any less than he did with the Dodgers, who have historically started him only about two-thirds of the time. The margin between him and the three ahead of him is thin enough for him to leapfrog all three if his destination is particularly favorable.
He hasn't gone about it the same way in 2018, actually needing a strong second half to redeem his first-half numbers, but the year-to-year production for Salvador Perez remains remarkably steady. You know what he is: a poor on-base guy who'll play more than most catchers and hit 20-plus homers. It makes him a high-floor player at a position where such a thing hardly exist, but it also gives him only a moderate ceiling.
Francisco Mejia bridges the gap between the catchers who'll actually be worth some level of investment on Draft Day and the ones who won't. There's hope he develops into the former, of course, but it depends what share of the role the Padres give him alongside defensive standout Austin Hedges, who himself would offer top-12 potential if not for the presence of Mejia. Even with just a 60-40 split, Mejia could do some damage, his impressive bat-to-ball skills making him the game's best catcher prospect three years running.
Danny Jansen doesn't have quite Mejia's pedigree but finds himself in a similar place: ready to take over for a rebuilding club. Like Mejia, he profiles as a contact-first hitter who nonetheless offers some power, but unlike Mejia, he doesn't really have anyone standing in his way — not with the Blue Jays experimenting with Russell Martin in other spots. There's at least hope for standout production, which is more than I can say for what follows.
Then again, Kurt Suzuki has been a solid contributor with the bat over the past couple years, and now he has a chance to escape the timeshare that has confined him in Atlanta. Seeing as he'll be 35 next year, there may not be a team willing to make him its full-time option, but a Yadier Molina-like season isn't far-fetched if one does.
Francisco Cervelli still stands out for his plate discipline, but his efforts to elevate the ball earlier this season have normalized, reducing him again to a below-average power hitter. Losing a month to a concussion didn't help, but he's not going to be any healthier at 33 next season. Man, could catcher use an infusion of youth.
Won't find it here with the 34-year-old Robinson Chirinos. May find it with his interloper, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but the 23-year-old is a straight-up Slappy McSlapperson and of no great interest to Fantasy owners. The two couldn't be any more different, given that Chirinos is consistently among the ISO leaders at the position, but with contact issues and no real hope for better than a 60-40 split at his age, he's nothing more than the best of the fallback options.
The White Sox signed Welington Castillo to a two-year deal prior to the start of 2018, so he'll be back after losing most of this season to a PED suspension. But in his absence, the White Sox uncovered a couple of worthwhile options in Kevan Smith and especially Omar Narvaez, which gives Castillo fewer assurances than when he first signed. He still has a track record of hitting for power, though, which should play well in a small park if he gets the at-bats.
The Indians are so committed to Yan Gomes behind the plate that they never seriously entertained the idea of replacing him with Francisco Mejia, instead using their top prospect as trade bait. So he has that going for him. He isn't a nothing power-wise and has done a better job of making solid contact in 2018, getting his BABIP up to a normal level. But it's only made him usable in Fantasy -- nothing more.
It's not a yo mama joke: Mike Zunino strikes out so much that he needed a .355 BABIP just to hit .251 in 2017. My great fear at this time a year ago was what would happen if he regressed to a league-average BABIP. Turns out he has regressed to far less — something closer to his career norm, actually — and the result has been predictably awful. Yet he's still among the home run leaders at catcher, which keeps him relevant at a position where you'll settle for anyone who does something.
At 35 and coming off a career-worst season, Brian McCann may find few suitors this offseason — at least ones willing to offer him a full-time role -- but I'm not quite ready to turn the page on the perennial top-10 catcher. His season was marred by a knee injury, after all -- one that dated back to last season and eventually had him going under the knife in July. So I'll forgive the lack of power, especially since the plate discipline is still solid. We'll see if there's a team that feels the same.
Remember the excitement surrounding this guy heading into last offseason? Austin Barnes caught most of the Dodgers' playoff games in 2017 and was supposed to steal more and more starts from Yasmani Grandal this year before becoming the full-time starter in 2019. But an elbow injury ended that plan in spring training, and whether it's because he's still harboring some soreness there or because he never got a chance to get comfortable at the plate, the production couldn't be any more night-and-day different. And yet he's still in line to inherit the job with Grandal leaving, so we'll see what an offseason of rest does.
If there's one way to sum up the state of the catcher position in 2018, it's this: Tucker Barnhart has been a top-12 Fantasy option virtually from start to finish. Part of it's pure, dumb luck — he has managed to stay healthy at a position with great attrition — but part of it's just because he doesn't do anything especially poorly. He's the most boring of catchers — one who you'll have no reason to draft but who'll almost certainly be a fixture in someone's lineup before season's end.
A look at Jonathan Lucroy's batted-ball profile still shows a path to success. He makes a ton of contact, hits a ton of line drives, hits the ball to all fields and hits it as hard as he always has. But we're going on two years of him being utterly useless. You'd think the batting average would stand out even if his power has faded at 32, but even the most optimistic of outlooks depend on another team giving him a full-time gig this offseason, which is far from a given.
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