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Mid-Season Dynasty Rankings: Catcher

For the longest time, if you could find a shortstop who could hit, you found a rare commodity. Nowadays, the shortstop who can hit is starting to become much more common and the offensive-minded catcher is becoming extinct. If a catching prospect can hit, more often than not his defense is going to be poor. Just look at Kyle Schwarber and Peter O’Brien. Two prospects, loaded with power, but can’t defend behind the plate well enough to stick at the position.

That is why catchers in dynasty leagues can be such an x-factor. Anyone can have a team with a couple of backup catchers who can scrap together a few hits every now and again and occasionally run into a dinger, but the Silver Slugger catcher is rare and can often be the difference between a good fantasy team and a great one.

These articles are going to be sorted by who I think is the best option for dynasty owners based on a combination of estimated time of arrival and potential upside. I will include their stats from their current level, their age, their ETA and lastly a talent grade. The talent grade will be an all-encompassing grade designed to inform dynasty owners of how big of a fantasy impact a player will realistically have. It will take into account how long it takes to reach the big leagues and will be on a scale of 1-10.

Editor's Note: Check out all of RotoBaller's dynasty prospects, rookies and call-ups columns, for lots more great dynasty league analysis.

 

Catcher Dynasty Rankings

1. Gary Sanchez (NYY, AAA)
Stats: 162 PA, .291/.340/.530, 7 HR, 3 SB, 14.8% K rate, 4.9% BB rate
Age: 23
ETA: Late 2016/Early 2017

Everything about Sanchez involves power. He has a 25+ home run bat and a power arm behind the dish that ranks among the best in professional baseball. Everything else beyond that is a bonus for dynasty owners and for the Yankees.

What do I mean by bonus? Well for the longest time, there were a lot of questions about Sanchez’s plate discipline and therefore his ability to hit for an average at the big league level. He has responded by maintaining a strikeout rate below 20% in every season since 2012. This season, he has taken it a step further, lowering his strikeout rate to below 15%. Though the walk rate has taken a step back, he still has shown tremendous progress and should be able to hit for a respectable average in the Big Leagues.

His glovework behind the plate has also taken some steps forward over the past couple years. At once seeming to require a possible switch to first or DH, Sanchez now appears to be a solid bet to stay behind the plate for good.

With Brian McCann still going strong behind the plate for the Yankees, Sanchez does not appear to have a clear path to playing time at any point this season unless he comes up to help at first base. It is possible that McCann is dealt at the deadline if the Yankees decide to sell at which point Sanchez would have immense fantasy value, but what is more likely is that dynasty owners will have to wait until next season to reap the rewards of the 23-year-old backstop.

Talent grade: 8

2. Willson Contreras (CHC, MLB)
Stats: (from AAA) 235 PA, .357/.447/.603, 9 HR, 4 SB, 13.6% K rate, 11.9% BB rate
Age: 24
ETA: NA

I was so tempted to go with Contreras at number one, ultimately I settled on Sanchez’s power upside over Contreras’ batting average upside. But that doesn’t mean there is a massive gap between the two.

Contreras was always a solid looking catching prospect, but he really exploded onto the scene last season. At Double-A in 2015, he slashed .333/.413/.478 with eight home runs and a 0.92 BB/K ratio in 521 PA of work to rank him among all of the top catchers in the minors. He has done nothing but build on that success in this season and now looks like the future behind the dish for this young, talented Chicago Cubs team.

For those of you worrying that this is another Kyle Schwarber, have no fear, he will remain behind the dish. He will be no Gold Glove-caliber defender back there, but he is respectable enough to hold his own.

Scouts praise his advanced plate discipline and his gap-to-gap approach with the bat. As an added bonus, the Cubs’ catching prospect has started to hit for more consistent power in the past couple seasons and has developed into a low double-digit home run type guy.

Fantasy owners may not be in love with him at the catcher’s position like they were with Kyle Schwarber or they are with Gary Sanchez simply because he lacks the incredible power, but Contreras should be one of the better offensive catchers to own. He was recently promoted to the big leagues and could begin to make his case to be the Cubs’ starter behind the dish in 2017. For this season, he will have to battle with two other catchers for playing time.

Talent grade: 8

3. Jorge Alfaro (PHI, AA)
Stats: 178 PA, .310/.322/.488, 6 HR, 0 SB, 20.2% K rate, 1.7% BB rate
Age: 23
ETA: 2018

Gary Sanchez 2.0 is arguably the best way to describe Alfaro. Except, he is a slight step behind Sanchez so I guess Sanchez is Alfaro 2.0? I don’t know. What I do know is that they both have very similar player profiles: a lot of home run pop, top of the charts arm strength and some defense that needs improving.

The big thing that separates the two of them is plate discipline. While Sanchez has made steady improvements each season, Alfaro has taken steps backward at least in the walks department. After walking at a 4.3% clip last season in Double-A and 6.1% in 2014, Alfaro has now maintained a dismal 1.7% walk rate this season. His strikeout rate has dipped nine points, going from 29.5% last season to 20.2% in this season, but the lack of walks is alarming.

But with that said, Alfaro still possesses some of the best pop among all catching prospects. The former Rangers’ farmhand has hit double-digit home run totals twice in his Minor League career, which is promising considering the fact that he has only had four seasons with more than 200 plate appearances due to injuries.

The defense behind the plate still could benefit from a few more years of development, but there is now much less doubt that Alfaro can remain the dish. The 23-year-old catcher has a promising bat and could be at the top of this list if not for some injury concerns and some steps back with plate discipline. Expect him to start for Philadelphia as early as 2018 and to be firmly entrenched in 2019.

Talent grade: 7.5

4. Jacob Nottingham (MIL, AA)
Stats: 221 PA, .260/.323/.395, 7 HR, 4 SB, 24.9% K rate, 6.8% BB rate
Age: 21
ETA: 2017

There were a lot of questions as to who the successor to Jonathan Lucroy would be in Milwaukee. Those questions were answered when the Brewers dealt left fielder Khris Davis to Oakland in exchange for Jacob Nottingham and another minor leaguer.

Offensively, Nottingham is about as promising of a catching prospect as you can find. While his plate discipline leaves a little bit to be desired, he certainly comes through in the power department and has hit for a solid average in every season of his minor league career. In his minor league career, the 21-year-old catching prospect has hit .279 with 30 home runs since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft.

While scouts are sold that his offense is for real, Nottingham does have some questions defensively which is why even if Lucroy is dealt at the deadline, he will not reach the big leagues until at least next season. Nottingham is a lackluster defender and needs to continue to work there to become the Brew Crew’s franchise backstop. Dynasty owners, however, should be able to wait as he appears to be a future middle-of-the-order bat as a catcher.

Talent grade: 6

5. Andrew Knapp (PHI, AAA)
Stats: 199 PA, .263/.332/.441, 7 HR, 1 SB, 21.6% K rate, 9.0% BB rate
Age: 24
ETA: 2017

Alfaro is the franchise backstop for Philadelphia, but Knapp will be the first of the two Phillies to reach the big leagues. That is not to say that Knapp will be a backup in his big league career, however, as he certainly has proven over the past few seasons that he can hit with the rest of them.

The rare switch-hitter at catcher, Knapp has shown a reliable ability to hit from both sides of the plate and recently has begun to tap into his raw power. The 24-year-old hit just 10 home runs in his first 652 plate appearances over two years, but has since blasted 20 in his next 785 PA between 2015 and 2016. He has also lowered his strikeout rate from the consistent mid-20% range to now hovering around 19-20%.

Defensively, Knapp is capable of holding his own, but won’t win a Gold Glove at any point. Fantasy owners who own Alfaro should also consider snagging Knapp if they haven’t already as they could possibly own one of the best offensive catching duos in baseball in the next couple of years as the two of them could be 1a and 1b to each other. Knapp doesn’t have the upside of the four guys ahead of him, but he has demonstrated enough pop and offensive promise to make him stashing.

Talent grade: 5

6. Reese McGuire (PIT, AA)
Stats: 173 PA, .241/.351/.324, 1 HR, 1 SB, 7.5% K rate, 13.3% BB rate
Age: 21
ETA: 2017

Taken 14th overall in the 2013 draft, McGuire is an athletic backstop. He stole 15 bases last season as a catcher between two levels and could actually be counted on to swipe more than five in the big leagues. The Pirates’ backstop prospect also possesses some of the best plate discipline in the minors as evidenced by his consistently low strikeout rate and high walk rates.

The problem? McGuire can’t really hit right now. In a full level of the minors in which he had at least 100 PA, he has only hit above .260 twice and only above .300 once (but that was in the rookie league). To make matters worse for dynasty owners, he has shown virtually no power as he has only four home runs over his 1250+ MiLB plate appearances.

Scouts project that he may eventually be able to hit for average with a few more years of development. His promising plate discipline and smooth lefty swing bode well for future success, but it may require a few more years of development. His Gold Glove-caliber defense will get him to the majors at the very least as a backup so for dynasty owners looking for safe guys guaranteed to reach the big leagues, McGuire could be a solid option.

Talent grade: 5

7. Tyler Stephenson (CIN, A)
Stats: 102 PA, .196/.267/.272, 1 HR, 0 SB, 30.4% K rate, 8.8% BB rate
Age: 19
ETA: 2020

Since being taken with the 11th overall pick in last season’s draft by the Reds, Stephenson has had a lot of hype surrounding him and has yet to deliver on it. He showed promise in the rookie league last season, slashing .268/.352/.361 with a home run and a 0.52 BB/K ratio, but has failed to repeat his success in his first full season of professional ball. Don’t worry though dynasty owners, there is still plenty of time for him to come around.

The youngest player on this list, Stephenson has arguably the highest upside of any of the prospects here. He has drawn comparisons to Matt Wieters for both his size and offensive upside. The defense, most believe will come around and he should have no trouble staying behind the plate. Of course the big draw for Stephenson has always been his bat which scouts rave about. They praise his consistency in hitting line drives and ability to spray the ball all over the field. The power has not shown up yet, but many believe that it will be only a matter of time before he starts turning line drives into home runs.

Dynasty owners are encouraged to approach this high risk/high reward catcher with cautious optimism. He has failed to hit at A-ball this season, but it was a big step for him to skip Low-A altogether and shouldn’t entirely scare away owners. He has several years away from reaching the big leagues so dynasty owners in shallower leagues or with fewer keepers could probably just wait and see how he finishes out this year and next before owning him. But don’t take too long to decide because he could be the next big thing behind the dish.

Talent grade: 5

8. Zack Collins (CWS, NA)
Stats: NA
Age: 21
ETA: 2018

Another catcher drafted by the Reds out of high school, Collins opted not to sign with them and instead went on to play at the University of Miami and was drafted in this past draft with the 10th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox.

Offensively, there is very little that Collins can’t do. In 60 games as a junior, the former Hurricane catcher slashed .357/.538/.649 with 15 home runs, a stolen base, and 75 walks to only 51 strikeouts. Most scouts viewed him to be not only the best offensive catcher in the draft, but one of the best bats overall in the draft.

It is a good thing too that his bat is so powerful because what he has in offensive talent he lacks in defensive ability. He is not swift behind the dish and lacks a general feel for the position and the general consensus among scouts is that he is bound for first base or as a DH. For the time being, however, he is going to train as a catcher with the White Sox. If he remains at the position, Collins could be one of the best catching bats since Kyle Schwarber qualified for the position. But as of right now, it is highly unlikely he stays at the position.

Talent grade: 4

9. Dom Nunez (COL, A+)
Stats: 204 PA, .251/.358/.310, 1 HR, 6 SB, 19.1% K rate, 14.7% BB rate
Age: 21
ETA: 2018

The Rockies have struggled for a long time to find a franchise catcher. They thought it was Wilin Rosario, but he couldn’t stick defensively. Obviously it’s not Nick Hundley, but there is a good chance it will be Dom Nunez. And for dynasty owners, that is a very good thing.

Nunez is one of the better defensive backstops on this list, ensuring that he will stay at the position moving forward. He possesses above-average arm strength and above-average blocking ability behind the plate. Offensively, the 21-year-old signal caller not only demonstrates a very advanced approach to the plate, but also spRays the ball all over the field. Though not as powerful as Tom Murphy, another Colorado catching prospect, Nunez should hit for a much higher average and Coors Field might help him to hit for more power.

A sixth rounder taken out of high school back in 2013, Nunez has immense upside for dynasty owners. As tempting as it was to put Murphy on this list instead of Nunez, ultimately I believe Nunez is more of the complete package whereas Murphy is really only a power hitter. It could be a little bit until he is ready to regularly face big league pitching, but Nunez has a guarantee of staying behind the dish and enough offensive upside to warrant owning in most dynasty leagues.

Talent grade: 4

10. Max Pentecost (TOR, A)
Stats: 122 PA, .259/.320/.306, 1 HR, 1 SB, 16.4% K rate, 8.2% BB rate
Age: 23
ETA: 2018

Usually when you see a prospect as old as Pentecost, they are knocking on the door of the big leagues, usually at Double-A or Triple-A. The Blue Jays’ backstop probably would be there already if not for a torn right labrum that cost him all of 2015. Though Pentecost is an older prospect, he still brings a lot to the table for fantasy owners.

Scouts love the bat on the former Kennesaw State Owl. Though he has not been able to tap into his raw power, Pentecost has shown a quick, compact swing that scouts believe should allow him to hit for a .270+ average when he reaches the big leagues. The general belief around Pentecost is that while he has not yet displayed the power, it will eventually show up as he continues his development in the minors.

A lot of the catchers on this list struggle defensively behind the dish, but that is not the case with Pentecost. The 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft profiles as a strong defender at catcher and should emerge as the franchise catcher eventually for Toronto. Expect him to spend a couple more seasons in the minors and for him to reach the big leagues in 2018.

Talent grade: 4

 

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