Catchers Set to Break Out in 2017

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Catcher is a position that is in severe need of a breakout from some guys in 2017. While last season did give us a nice breakout like Yasmani Grandal and an eye-popping debut like Gary Sanchez, it’s a still a light position that is pretty much Buster Posey and everyone else.

Since only one team in your fantasy league is going to draft Posey and the chances are it will be someone else, it’d be nice if you can score on one of the breakout catchers. Some of these guys won't be drafted until the later rounds if even at all, so you can even grab one of these guys as your backup catcher and see what happens.

This year's list of potential breakout catchers include an up-and-coming youngster getting a full time big league job for the first time, a catcher who had a mini-breakout last season and a power hitter who has struggled with other parts of his game but is looking like he's ready to put it together. Here are the three catchers who I believe have a good chance to break out for fantasy owners in 2017.

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2017 Catcher Breakouts

Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres

Austin Hedges has long been regarded as an elite defensive catcher, but he didn’t really reach top prospect status until he started tearing up the high minors at the plate in 2015. In two seasons at Triple-A in 2015 and 2016, he slashed .326/.361/.583 in 413 plate appearances, after hitting just .225/.272/.314 in 532 plate appearances in Double-A from 2013 to 2014. His ISO went from .112 before 2016 to .255 in 2016, and he started driving the ball more, with a groundball rate of 35 percent, down from 45 percent in years prior.

That was so big of a jump that the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League couldn’t possibly explain all of it. This looks to have all the makings a guy making adjustments and figuring things out at the plate, taking his offense to the next level. Hedges earned eventual call-ups to the big leagues in 2015 and 2016, and has only hit .161 in 64 games at the major league level, but that didn’t stop the Padres from clearing the way for him to become their starting backstop this season and trading veteran Derek Norris to the Nationals.

Now it’s Hedges’ chance to show the fantasy world what he can do with an everyday big league gig. I’d hesitate to call him a sleeper at this point as the expectations for him are not exactly flying under-the-radar. Everyone loves the idea of getting a young up-and-coming player and pairing him with a veteran catcher on your fantasy roster could pay dividends if Hedges’ power translates to the major league level in 2017.

 

Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies

Cameron Rupp has been around the big leagues for a while, muddling through the last few years on last place Phillies teams, but last year as the team got an infusion of young talent and didn’t finish in the N.L. East cellar for the first time in three seasons, Rupp had himself a mini breakout, hitting .252/.303/.447 with 16 homers and 54 RBI in 419 plate appearances.

There is reason to believe we haven’t seen Rupp’s ceiling as far as counting stats and he could be in for a true breakout in 2017. He improved his HR/FB rate in 2016, with 16.8 percent of his fly balls leaving the park, and he saw an increase in exit velocity as well. He hit more ground balls last year than he did in previous years, but if he can turn that around back to his career average, the stars could align for 25+ bombs and turn Rupp into a top 10 fantasy catcher.

Rupp also reportedly played through an arm injury much of last season, which mostly affected his work behind the plate throwing out runners. But a guy on an upward trend and fully healthy going into 2017 is a good recipe for a breakout candidate.

 

Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners aggressively promoted Mike Zunino, whom they drafted in the first round in 2012, pushing him to the bigs by 2013 after just 96 minor league games, so he has been taking the trial by fire path to the fantasy relevance, and it really hasn’t been pretty most of the time. Fantasy owners have shuddered at his batting average, which was as low as .174 in 2015, but he’s always held some intrigue as a home run hitter and is still only 25 years old. After a cringe-worthy 2015, Zunino improved in a lot of areas last season that shows that he has made some adjustments to his game, giving us reason for optimism that he is close to finally figuring it all out.

In 2016, Zunino showed improved plate discipline, swinging at fewer pitches and – more importantly – swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone, cutting down his swing percentage on those pitches from 33.7 percent in 2015 to 27.7 percent in 2016. This helped get his walk rate up from just 5.4 percent in 2015 to 10.9 in 2016, and he improved his OBP from .230 in 2015 to .318 in 2016. His HR/FB rate jumped up to a likely unsustainable 23.1 percent in 2016, but his home run rate of a homer every 13.7 times at bat is closer to what he’s shown at the minor league level.

And, despite the addition of veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz to the squad this winter, he is still very much the Mariners’ starting catcher, as he’s well regarded for his stellar defensive work behind the plate. Ruiz will provide a veteran presence on the team and could spell Zunino if he goes into slumps, but fantasy owners can expect Zunino to get around 120 games in 2017. If the new and improved Zunino we saw last year is the real Zunino, 120 games could result in 25+ homers, and even 30 is not that outrageous of an idea.

 

More Potential Breakouts



2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings