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With the holidays in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the upcoming fantasy baseball season. (Or, if you’re me, it’s finally time to start writing about it now that people aren’t focused on the vastly inferior but more popular fantasy sport that is football). Our first round of rankings comes to you courtesy of Pierre Camus and Jeff Kahntroff, in addition to yours truly.

The opening round of rankings presents the highest degree of difficulty, for a variety of reasons. With four months until the regular season begins, there’s typically a fair amount of uncertainty around roles and playing time. That problem is exacerbated by a slow-developing offseason like this one. This may be the first time ever that this many marquee names remain on the market in January. There’s also this:

Suffice it to say there will likely to be a lot of tinkering with our rankings between now and when the final preseason installment drops in March. That doesn’t mean the exercise can’t be instructive, just remember to take this initial foray with a grain of salt. We’ll begin, as always, with a look at fantasy baseball’s thinnest position.

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all of our staff's initial 2018 fantasy baseball rankings for mixed leagues, including tiers and auction values. Analysis columns on all positions are coming soon!

 

2018 Fantasy Baseball Tiered Rankings: Catcher (January)

Ranking Tier Player Position Kyle Pierre Jeff
1 1 Gary Sanchez C 36 40 53
2 1 Buster Posey C/1B 64 78 66
3 2 Willson Contreras C 79 100 173
4 2 Salvador Perez C 98 141 187
5 3 Evan Gattis C 149 198 110
6 3 J.T. Realmuto C 131 191 181
7 3 Yadier Molina C 192 193 208
8 3 Yasmani Grandal C 140 224 265
9 3 Brian McCann C 200 248 #N/A
10 4 Mike Zunino C 216 213 252
11 4 Wilson Ramos C 164 278 251
12 4 Jonathan Lucroy C 184 245 281
13 5 Welington Castillo C 210 270 282
14 5 Robinson Chirinos C 258 #N/A
15 5 Russell Martin C 270 #N/A #N/A
16 6 Austin Hedges C 294 259 292
17 6 Austin Barnes C 284 #N/A
18 6 Jorge Alfaro C 285 #N/A #N/A
19 6 Tom Murphy C #N/A 286 #N/A
20 6 Matt Wieters C 313 300 #N/A
21 6 Travis d'Arnaud C 321 #N/A

 
Tier 1

No surprise here. Gary Sanchez was never going to maintain the monstrous pace he set as a rookie, but last year’s sophomore effort was still far and away the best to be had at the position. Even if this is his ceiling, the 25-year-old has already established himself as the game’s best offensive backstop. Buster Posey is no slouch, of course. He’s logged at least 140 games in each of the last six seasons, averaging 18 home runs per year and never hitting below .288. Given his minuscule strikeout rate, there’s a strong argument that he remains Sanchez’s equal (or perhaps better) in points formats.

Tier 2

Not exactly sure what Willson Contreras did to Jeff to merit such a low ranking. The Cubs’ catcher built on his strong rookie showing, maintaining a virtually identical slash line over a greater number of plate appearances while slightly upping his walk rate and isolated power. He’s similarly bearish on Salvador Perez, even though the veteran has increased his HR total every season and been one of the most durable catchers in baseball, despite Ned Yost actively trying to murder him with heavy workloads. True, his OBP is trash, but that’s of minor importance in standard leagues.

Tier 3

Only four catchers accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in 2017 – both guys in our top tier, and two of the five in this group. J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina had basically identical seasons. Go ahead, try to tell them apart without cheating:

G AVG HR R RBI SB
141 .278 17 68 65 8
136 .273 18 60 62 9

 

Realmuto is, of course, nearly a decade younger. Molina will be 36 this year, and the risk of decline accounts for the large gap between them in my rankings. The other three players in this tier all played in the World Series last season, though Yasmani Grandal didn’t see the field much after the Dodgers elected to ride Austin Barnes in the playoffs. I still think he’s the primary catcher in Los Angeles, though, and only Sanchez has hit more homers at the position over the last two years. The Astros’ duo of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann come in fourth and fifth, respectively. This may be Gattis’ last season with catcher eligibility, but his expected role as the primary DH in 2018 should make him one of the highest volume options behind the dish. Both are on the wrong side of 30 and will likely drag a bit on your batting average, but they remain solid value picks for those owners disinclined to invest heavily in a catcher.

Tier 4

The high-variance tier. Do you want to bet on Mike Zunino’s power keeping him afloat despite a strikeout rate approaching 40 percent? Maybe you’re more inclined to roll the dice on Wilson Ramos staying healthy and recapturing his 2016 form (.307/.354/.496, 22 HR, 80 RBI). Or you could cross your fingers that Jonathan Lucroy’s cratering last season was a blip on the radar rather than the start of a steep decline. Pros and cons to all three options; personally, Ramos feels like the best balance of risk and reward here.

Tiers 5 and 6

We’re into deep, two-catcher, and/or AL/NL-only territory. The most intriguing name here to my eyes is Robinson Chirinos, assuming the Rangers finally hand him the starting job. He’s been productive as a backup/1-B to this point, and last season he hit .255/.360/.506 with 17 homers in 88 games. If you believe in the batting average boost he experienced in 2017, Welington Castillo is a fine option as well. The remainder is a collection of fading vets and guys for whom playing time is a question mark.

 

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