The 2017 MLB season, like the vast majority of campaigns that have come before it, figures to feature a weak catcher position. Not to worry - today I'm here to help identify some early catcher draft values and potential sleepers for the 2017 fantasy baseball season.
Catchers who can hit at all require you to take a hit elsewhere on your roster, as they are taken where the game's best players leave the board. The scrubs you can take later on are worse than leaving the spot blank. Add in how many leagues demand two of these, and you can only conclude that fantasy baseball is intended for masochists.
Thankfully, there is some upside available later in the draft. Here are five catchers who may not make you cringe every time you check your league's standings.
Editor's note: make sure you also visit our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It already has lots of great staff rankings articles and draft analysis. You will find tiered rankings for every position, 2017 impact rookie rankings, AL/NL only league ranks, dynasty prospect rankings, keeper league rankings and more. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.
Catcher Draft Values - 2017 Fantasy Baseball
Wilson Ramos - Tampa Bay Rays
Ramos had one of the better 2016 seasons for a catcher, as he hit .307/.354/.496 with 22 bombs in a breakout campaign. He also tore his ACL, preventing him from playing until May 2017 at the earliest. He seems to be recovering nicely from the knee injury by all accounts, and Tampa intends to use him as a DH while he gets healthy enough to go back behind the plate.
The DH thing is huge. Most catchers pale in comparison to other positions because the frequent days off limit their PAs and counting stats, but Ramos may be able to outperform his position mates just by batting more often. Using Ramos and somebody else in April could give you more PAs from your C than everyone who did not draft Buster Posey or Jonathan Lucroy.
Those PAs should be a plus from a batting average perspective. His .327 BABIP last year may seem high, but between Ramos's low FB% (25.3%) and sustainable 2016 LD% (20.4%), he projects as a plus-BABIP guy moving forward. Ramos's eye also improved last year, as a career best 30.2% O-Swing% helped to produce an excellent 15.1% K%. The low FB% and inflated HR/FB (21.4%) make me pessimistic about a power repeat, but a catcher that can help with anything toward the end of the draft is welcome.
Stephen Vogt - Oakland Athletics
Vogt's .251/.305/.406 line with 14 HR wasn't sexy, but the bar for catchers is pretty low. He is a little better than his surface stats suggest, too. His BABIP on ground balls was just .153 last year against a career average of .218. The shift was not the issue, as Vogt hit .287 against it. A few more singles are all it would take to bring his average to respectability, as his 15.6% K% is already strong.
He also offers power upside. His HR/FB has never been great (7.4% last year, 8.9% career), but Vogt makes up for it by hitting a ton of fly balls (46.5% FB% last year, 45.1% career). A true breakout could occur if Vogt is acquired by a contender midseason, as 29 of his 45 career bombs have come on the road.
PAs inflate Vogt's fantasy value as well, as Oakland frequently DHs him on off days from catching. The 532 PAs he recorded last year were a ton for a catcher as a result. The team also bats him in attractive batting order slots, leaving Vogt with more counting stats than most catchers can hope to put up.
Travis d'Arnaud - New York Mets
TDA was a popular sleeper pick heading into 2016, as his .268/.340/.485 line with 12 dingers in 268 PAs had fantasy owners interested. A shoulder injury bit into his playing time and limited him to a .247/.307/.323 with four homers, however, removing him from the fantasy radar. He is expected to be fully healthy by Spring Training, giving him some post-hype sleeper appeal.
A mechanical flaw in d'Arnaud's batting stance has also been cited as a potential reason for the nosedive in FB% (41.7% to 30.8%) and IFFB% spike (16.3% to 19.4%). The Mets are aware of the problem, and plan to correct it during Spring Training. If these rates return to 2015 levels, 2017 fantasy owners will turn a significant profit on their investment.
When in doubt, try the Coors player(s) no one has ever heard of. Murphy offers the most fantasy upside in this duo with 19 bombs in 321 Triple-A PAs last year before clubbing five in 49 PAs with the big club. He hit 23 homers across three levels in 2015 as well, so the pop seems genuine. His 25% K% in the upper minors represents significant risk, and the 38.8% strikeout rate he posted in his brief MLB tenure is alarming. Still, he makes an intriguing flyer if called on.
The principle alternative is Tony Wolters, who would get the lion's share of the playing time should a platoon develop thanks to his left-handed bat. He hit .259/.327/.395 with three big flies in 230 PAs last year, and has nothing in his minor league history to suggest offensive upside. Still, you could do a lot worse than a Coors regular in a second C slot.
Dustin Garneau could complicate things as another catcher on the roster, as his .292/.367/.595 with 15 blasts in 211 Triple-A PAs seems great. He is almost certainly a product of the hitter-friendly PCL, however, as the rest of his minor league history reads like a right-handed version of Wolters. Still, Coors is desirable if he ends up with an opportunity.
Francisco Cervelli - Pittsburgh Pirates
When all else fails, you should look to acquire a cheap catcher who will not actively harm you. Cervelli's .264 batting average last year accomplished exactly this despite a down year, and his 1.6% HR/FB has nowhere to go but up. His .329 BABIP may seem inflated for a C, but he can run a little (six steals last year!) and avoids popping the ball up. The combination of a 24.1% FB% and 1.6% IFFB% is difficult to top in the pop up avoidance category.
His average may actually have room to increase, as his 19.8% LD% last year was less than his 20.8% career mark. His batting eye is elite, so be sure to take advantage if your rivals sleep on him in an OBP league. Those in traditional formats will at least benefit from a low K%.
Cervelli has almost no power potential at all, but started last year in the heart of the Pirate order anyway. The club's fondness for their spiritual leader could give him more counting stat opportunities than you might suspect, too.
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