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Deeper Draft Sleepers - Catcher

When we do analysis here for deeper leagues there is some semblance of universal acceptance on the parameters. While there is no definitive rule on what constitutes a "deep league", that isn't really the point. This series aims to highlight players not normally drafted but can offer value in leagues where more than roughly 300 players rostered.

The position of catcher is an outlier that rests outside of the rules of engagement, compared to the other positions. According to NFBC ADP, there are only 22 catchers considered to be top-300 players, and just three of them are ranked inside the top 100. You can see the issue almost immediately.

Every team needs to start at least one catcher, which means only three owners will get a good one (hyperbole added for the sake of argument). And if the league in question is a two-catcher league, there aren't even enough worthy catchers to fill the daily starting lineup across 12 owners. That leaves catcher in a dark place when it comes to finding deep draft sleepers, so let's get out our flashlights.

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Deep League Issue

The other issue with the catcher position in deep leagues is a bit self-fulfilling. Every team needs a catcher or two. That means those players must be drafted before the draft concludes, forcing them inside the top 300 rankings whether their talents are worthy of that spot or not.

For example,  Tom Murphy (241 ADP) is not a better player than Daniel Murphy (250 ADP), in a vacuum, but teams are going to often need a catcher more than the 25th first baseman on the board. It's like looking at the ADP of kickers in fantasy football. Each team needs to draft one eventually, meaning those players' ADP will be higher than a load of more useful players.

That said, we are going to stick with deep sleepers referring to anyone outside of the top 300. But know that a deep sleeper catcher could be considerably deeper than at other positions. In other words, the bar is far lower to find value here. For catchers, the potential values we are looking for usually fall into one of two camps. Either they're set to play a lot and thus rack up counting stats, or they're skilled enough to earn a profit even while in a time-sharing situation.


Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays (490 ADP)

There is no hidden meaning to find in his .165/.232/.312 slash line; Mike Zunino was very bad at the plate last year. However, two things are working heavily in his favor in 2020, with the first being that 2019 seemed more like an aberration for the veteran backstop.  Zunino has never made a lot of contact but what contact he did make was usually hard. His 36.9% hard-hit rate was the lowest since 2015 and represented an eight-point drop from 2018.  His barrel-rate was also down after being in the 94th percentile in both 2017 and 2018.

His 19.2-degree launch angle wasn't out of line with previous seasons but Zuninio exchanged too many lines drives for pop-ups in 2019. While his overall fly-ball rate was up two points, Zunino's line-drive rate dropped five points and his 18.2 % infield fly-ball rate was a five-point increase from 2017.

If Zunino can again find the power zone he had for much of his time in Seattle while getting appropriate playing time, he'll be a 20+ home run hitter again. This brings us to the second thing working in his favor; while Tampa Bay may have a lot of moving pieces and flexibility in their lineup, the catcher position is not one of those areas. With Travis D'Arnaud now with Atlanta, no other Rays catcher on the 40-man outside of Zunino has more than 46 major league games played in his career, meaning he should see the field more than he ever has before - relative to the percentage of games played in a shortened season. With there being a good chance of a bounce-back coming at the plate and oodles of playing time likely in store, Zunino is in prime position to flourish as a deep sleeper.

Stephen Vogt, Arizona Diamondbacks (554 ADP)

Vogt only played in 98 games last year, returning to action in May after missing all of 2018 recovering from rotator cuff surgery. That time away caused most people to forget about the talented - if past-his-prime - backstop. Vogt had a .804 OPS and 111 OPS+ in those 99 games, more reminiscent of his All-Star days previously in Oakland. With Carson Kelly in front of him now in Arizona, he isn't guaranteed full-time duties, but he should make the most of all the at-bats he does get.

There were some notable changes in Vogt's return year, both positive and negative. Vogt's 36.1% chase-rate was the highest of his career and he subsequentially posted a career-high 23.6% K-rate to go with it. But Vogt was also hitting the ball harder, with an 89.4 mph average exit-velocity that was also a career-high - and a 4.6 mph increase from 2017. That resulted in Vogt posting a 41.1% hard-hit rate that was 11-points higher than his previous best.

And he wasn't just hitting the ball harder, his batted-ball profile had changed dramatically as well. Some of these changes may have been due to a 22.4-degree launch angle that was up five degrees from the 17.1 LA he posted in 2017. Along with the angle raise, Vogt posted a 35.2% FB% (according to Baseball Savant, which does not include pop-ups) and 39.9% Pull% that were both career-highs, and his 27.5% ground-ball rate was a career-low, representing a 10-point drop from 2017.

It's also worth mentioning that Carson Kelly has just one full season under his belt in the majors, and has played in just 111 games as the "starter." Given his relative inexperience, there should be loads of opportunities for Vogt as Kelly's backup, especially if his improvements from 2019 carry over to 2020.


Reese McGuire, Toronto Blue Jays (602 ADP)

(Necessary, non-fantasy caveat: Reese McGuire was arrested over the off-season, and we still await any update on whether this incident will impact his standing with Toronto.)

For the past two seasons, it has been everyone's assumption that Danny Jansen would be Toronto's top catcher, and McGuire would slot in as nothing more than a backup. After an impressive 2019, however, year, it seems clear that McGuire has proved himself worthy of splitting duties behind the plate, even if his and Jansen's roles don't completely flip.

McGuire was stellar in very limited duty, but just as importantly, Jansen was awful. Jansen should bounce back, but he has opened the door for McGuire to see more playing time, especially since the latter rates as a high-quality defender. With the bat, McGuire shows a batting profile that aligns heavily with an interesting group of up-and-comers, including Tommy Edman and Oscar Mercado. Though this group makes poor contact rather often, they make up for it with a high flare rate. It helps explain his high BABIP and may be a sign that it can continue.



It won't be easy to find quality, deep sleepers at the catcher position. Heck, it won't be easy to find catchers to use every day in a standard league either. But it could be worth using one of your last draft picks on one of these players as they have the skills and/or the opportunity needed to vastly outperform their current ADP.

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