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Time To Replace Your Battery Mate?


It's crunch time in the 2019 fantasy baseball season and as we head down the stretch everything can feel like it is magnified. Every win, point, or stat accrued feels more important than it did back in May. If your team is still competitive you've likely settled on the primary guys that have gotten you to this point and feel a sense of loyalty. If that's the case it's likely been a while since you've evaluated your catcher situation, and for good reason.

Picking a catcher is the dregs of fantasy baseball. With all the real-life defensive responsibilities and the physical toll nine innings behind the dish takes on the body, it's hard for most catchers to contribute with the bat. That being said, upgrading the catcher position in fantasy can become a huge advantage down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.

Big catching names from earlier in the season have cooled off. Mitch Garver is batting .186 in the past month. Travis D'Arnaud hasn't homered since July 30. Heck, even Yasmani Grandal has struggled lately with just a .240 batting average and one home run since the All-Star break. Despite that, Grandal is still the number-two ranked catcher according to Yahoo's player ranking which illustrates just how low the bar is for a catcher to vault his way to must-start status in fantasy. If your backstop is struggling and you need to win now consider replacing your battery mate with one of the names below who could be a massive upgrade when it matters most.

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Francisco Mejia, San Diego Padres

It's been a tale of two halves for the Friars' starting backstop. Mejia battled injuries and shared playing time with Austin Hedges for the majority of the season and as a result, played only 33 games in the first half. He wasn't effective in those games either posting a measly .211 batting average and only two home runs. His .599 OPS was had owners who drafted him as a sleeper sprinting to the waiver wire to find a replacement and anyone who dropped him surely wishes they had him back.

Since the All-Star break, Mejia has been on a tear, he's slashing .353/.396/.553 and shows no sign of slowing down. He's upped his fly ball rate from 38.6 percent on the first half to 49.3 in the second and is making hard contact at a 37.7 percent rate while batting fifth or sixth in a good Padres lineup. Most importantly, Mejia has cut his strikeout rate from 25.2 percent in the first half to 17.6 in the second which has helped his spike in batting average.

He won't be a .353 hitter going forward as that is supported by a .400 BABIP but he should continue to provide plenty of RBI's and above average home run power from the catcher position. He is only 23 years old and was the top catching prospect in the Cleveland system before the Padres gave up a top-notch closer in Brad Hand to acquire Mejia at last year's trade deadline. He has the pedigree and batted ball profile to be an elite catcher. The results have taken a while but they should be here to stay now that he's getting regular playing time.

 

Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

Here we have another former top catching prospect that is thriving in his chance with a new team. Kelly was the "catcher of the future" for the Cardinals for a long time but was always blocked by sure-fire Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. Now with Arizona, Kelly is taking his chance to start and running with it.

Where Kelly really stands out is points leagues or any league that uses on-base percentage. His .352 OBP is fifth among all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, but he's no slouch in the power department either. Kelly has 17 homers on the season and is slugging an elite .537, third among all catchers.

The best part about Kelly is everything he's done to this point seems sustainable. He sports elite plate discipline with a sub-20 percent strikeout rate and a stellar 12.1 percent walk rate. When he does swing the bat he makes hard contact a whopping 51.9 percent of the time and sports a 90.1 percent average exit velocity per Statcast. He's still available in roughly 75 percent of Yahoo leagues and that number needs to be significantly higher.

 

Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds

The name "Tucker Barnhart" doesn't generate much buzz in fantasy circles as he's played over 100 games each of the past three years and only has a .251 career batting average. Unlike the other names mentioned here, Barnhart doesn't have top-prospect pedigree and is a little older at 28 years of age. What he does have is a career-high 87 percent average exit velocity and a 1.020 OPS since the All-Star break which is second among all catchers in that time.

Like Mejia, Barnhart has been tearing it up in the second half. Unlike Mejia, the only real difference in Barnhart's game is he stopped striking out as much. Barnhart struck out 26.7 percent of the time in the first half and it resulted in a .191/.290/.315 slash line. Since the break, Barnhart cut his strikeout rate in half and is walking at an elite rate as well. His .441 OBP in the second half leads all catchers and he's hitting for power as well with a .246 ISO. If you're looking for a hot-hand play, Barnhart is as hot as any catcher not named Will Smith.

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