Catcher is usually one of the shallowest positions in major league baseball, and unless a fantasy owner is willing to shell out top dollar for a star, finding a good sleeper (or two) at the position is key to dominating your league. I'm rarely one to take one of the top three catchers on the board, and this year will be no different. It's my luck, then, that there are some quality depth options, three catchers in particular whom I think have major upside, but won't require the immense cost that Buster Posey or Yadier Molina will. Here are my top three catcher sleepers for 2014:
1) Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
2013 Stats: 303 PA, .272/.307/.470, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 29 R, 0 SB
Current 2014 ADP: 166 (17th round)
2014 Projection: .270-.275, 25-27 HR, 80 RBI, 50 R, 1 SB
When Wilson Ramos hits the ball, he hits the ball a very long way. In 2013, his average fly ball distance was 309.51 feet, good for fourth-highest in the majors-- above that of Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Adam Dunn and Giancarlo Stanton. That's how he was able to hit 16 home runs in only about a half-season's worth of plate appearances.
The last two seasons, Ramos has been held back by injuries, to his knees in 2012 and his hamstrings in 2013. For the first time in a long time now however, he's looking healthy, and a healthy Wilson Ramos could be a fantasy force. If he can get a full season of plate appearances, he has the potential for a .275 batting average, 25-27 home runs, 80 RBI, and 50 R. To compare, look at what Carlos Santana did last year: 642 PA, .268 BA, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB. Santana is going in the eighth round right now. Ramos is going nine rounds later in the 17th. That is some serious value. For more on Wilson Ramos as a sleeper, check out this piece by fellow RotoBaller Scott McCloy.
2) Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats: 382 PA, .243/.291/.480, 21 HR, 65 RBI, 44 R, 0 SB
Current 2014 ADP: 193.1 (20th round)
2014 Projection: .245-.250, 28-30 HR, 100 RBI, 65 R, 1 SB
The biggest thing that holds Evan Gattis back are his strikeouts. He struck out 21.2% of the time last season, and it's very difficult to sustain a high batting average when you combine that with a 44.6% fly ball rate and very little speed. I have hope, however, that he can improve as he adjusts to the league. Keep in mind this is a player who took half a decade off from baseball, working as a janitor at one point, before deciding to give it another try with the Braves. Some practice and repetition at the big league level might do him more good than most. Regardless, he's unlikely to be more than a league-average contributor in batting average next season.
Once you accept that part of him, however, the rest of his game shines through brilliantly. Especially for a catcher, the power Gattis offers is monstrous. Playing in only 105 games last season, he hit 21 home runs. The Braves were impressed enough by his bat to let Brian McCann leave for New York, after a season in which nearly every other player on the team was handed a long-term extension. Now that he's in line for a full season of at-bats, I can really see 28-30 home run potential coming from him. Only 14 players in the major leagues hit at least 30 home runs last season, and none of them was a catcher.
3) Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
2013 Stats: 322 PA, .294/.345/.481, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 45 R, 2 SB
Current 2014 ADP: 229.2 (23rd round)
My Sleeper Prediction: .265-.270, 15-18 HR, 75 RBI, 60 R, 3 SB
As starting pitchers have gotten better, and relievers have become more specialized and harder-throwing, major league batting averages have fallen in recent years; the average BA is even lower for most catchers. Last season, Yan Gomes hit .294, the exact same batting average that Buster Posey finished with. It is true that a large part of what made that batting average so impressive at year's end was Gomes's .395 second-half BABIP (batting-average-on-balls-in-play), and it's highly unlikely that he can repeat that. I'm not expecting Gomes to hit .294 next season, but with his skill set featuring a good line drive rate (17.8%) and a ground ball leaning batted-ball profile (43.5% groundballs vs. 38.7% flyballs), all it would take is a small improvement in his strikeout rate to make a .270 batting average a real possibility.
What Gomes will give you along with that .270 batting average is 15+ HR power and a good mix of RBI and R. While I don't think he has the potential to emerge as a top-10 catcher by season's end in the way Gattis and Ramos do, Gomes could be a very high-end second catcher in two-catcher leagues, or a great option for AL-only and deep mixed leagues. There's a lot of value in a player like that for many fantasy owners, and his name is one that you should be pay attention to on draft day in the late rounds.