Position scarcity has been a fantasy consideration since the game was invented. If you could get first baseman numbers from a shortstop, that shortstop was worth way more due to the relative lack of production at the position. With the rise of offensive middle infielders and the corresponding decline in great corner options, scarcity is not affecting 2017 drafts as much as it has in the past.
The one exception to this general trend is catchers. Catchers are almost uniformly terrible while recording fewer PAs due to the rigors of their position. Scarcity dictates that the few catchers who do not embarrass themselves at the plate be taken far earlier than their production alone warrants. Is this really the best course to take? Let's look at Miami's J.T. Realmuto and New York's Gary Sanchez to find out.
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The Fantasy Jury is Out
J.T. Realmuto (C, MIA) ADP: 130.3
Realmuto was unquestionably one of 2016's top catchers, as his .303/.343/.428 line with 11 HR and 12 SB will attest. The speed is unexpected from the C slot, and his success rate (four CS) and track record suggest that he should continue to swipe bags.
His .300 average does not seem quite so repeatable though. His .357 BABIP seems inflated, as there is no sane reason to expect a catcher to run a .310 BABIP on ground balls. He was also prone to pop-up, posting an IFFB% of 16 percent. Add in some liner luck (.738 vs. a career mark of .690), and Realmuto displays all of the signs of batting average regression.
Note that batting average regression does not mean a bad batting average. Realmuto rarely strikes out (18.3 percent K%), a feat supported by a solid 8.5 percent SwStr%. Realmuto therefore puts the ball in play more often than not. He also figures to sustain a slightly plus BABIP by generally avoiding fly balls (30.3 percent FB% last season), mitigating the BABIP damage his inflated IFFB% can do. This also limits his power potential, but his 8.2 percent career HR/FB suggests that he does not offer much pop anyway.
Overall, Realmuto should hit about .280 with a scattering of homers and steals. There are reports that he will platoon some at first base in addition to his catching duties, giving him additional PAs to rack up counting stats while making his batting average more beneficial in fantasy. Considering the fantasy landscape for catchers, Realmuto seems to be worth his current ADP.
Gary Sanchez (C, NYY): ADP: 49.7
If you did not hear about Sanchez during the 2016 season, allow me to be the first to welcome you to planet Earth. He hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 bombs in just 229 PAs last year, earning Rookie of the Year consideration despite playing for only a third of a season. No one thinks he is going to maintain last season's 40 percent HR/FB, but he is projected to hit for plenty of power if his ADP is any indication.
Indeed, his power seems real. He clubbed 10 homers at Triple-A before his call-up last season, and hit 25 homers across three minor league levels in 2015. Statcast adored him too, as Sanchez led all of baseball by producing a barrelled hit in 18.8 percent of his batted ball events. He is a clear pull hitter in a stadium favoring power, so the homers should keep flying in 2017.
Sadly, his batting average figures to drop like a stone. Most of his damage was done in August, when Sanchez hit .389/.458/.832 with 11 homers on a BABIP of .413. September still saw Sanchez smash nine dingers, but his .225/.314/.520 line was not nearly as pretty. His .226 BABIP in September may seem like an over-correction, but I'm not sure it was. Sanchez pulls a ton of grounders, leading to plenty of shifts that held him to a .239 average last year. His 16.4 percent LD% was also significantly lower than league average, a troubling sign if it proves to be his norm. He has no wheels to speak of and seems destined to try to hit as many airborne baseballs as possible.
Add in a propensity to strikeout (24.9 percent K%, 13 percent SwStr%), and you get a guy who might struggle to stay above the Mendoza line. Sanchez is fine at C if you can handle the batting average risk, but he leaves the board so early that you cannot protect yourself from it before selecting him. The addition of Matt Holliday could limit his DH time on off days from catching too, biting into his counting stats. Don't waste a top-50 pick based on one hot month.