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Rookie Catchers that Could Help You in 2019


It’s not enough to just be overflowing with talent to have a good rookie season. You also need to have an opportunity. And $1 buys, or late-round selections likely won’t win you a championship on their own but most championship seasons in fantasy baseball need a little luck from those picks or a lucky waiver wire selection.

Today we’re going to look at rookie catchers (and one sophomore) that may very well help you in 2019 that may have been overlooked by other fantasy managers in your league. Chances are good that Toronto’s Danny Jansen and San Diego’s Francisco Mejia are going for some decent coin or at a solid draft slot in your league given their talent and playing time projections (although Mejia’s are a little muddier than Jansen’s) but there are some other key names to know.

Some rookie catchers that have helped fantasy owners over the past few seasons include Jorge Alfaro, Mitch Garver, Austin Barnes, Omar Narvaez, Manny Pina, Gary Sanchez, and Willson Contreras. And while there is no clear Sanchez or Contreras in the 2019 group, but there are a few that just might surprise you.

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Grayson Greiner, Detroit Tigers 

Detroit has been trying to develop an in-house starting catcher for years… and have invested many, many top-five round selections on college catchers with little success. Greiner, who was a third-round pick in 2014, could be ready to put all that history to rest.

The first thing to keep in mind with Greiner, who turned 26 in October, is that at 6-6 and 240 pounds, he’s a big dude. And those players with long arms have naturally long swings and polishing hitting mechanics for players with long levers tends to take more time, which might help explain why Greiner has had some offensive performance inconsistencies since turning pro. But he’s also shown flashes of promise and his contact issues aren’t anywhere near at a Joey Gallo level. And as you might expect from a 6-6 player, the rookie catcher is loaded with power potential.

If he can hold up to the rigors of catching every day in the Majors. Greiner has a chance to surprise some people, and also become a valuable low-dollar option in fantasy leagues… if you jump on him before people start to take notice of him. 

 

Garrett Stubbs, Houston Astros

Houston reportedly made a play for Martin Maldonado early on in the free agent courting process but were Boras-blocked and subsequently moved on to form a less impressive catching tandem of Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi. And while the former may provide some decent pop from the position, I’ve never been a big fan of the latter who doesn’t really hit or defend well.

All of that is good news for Stubbs, who has an outstanding defensive reputation and has hit better than expected as a pro. He’s coming off of a Triple-A season that saw him hit more than .300 with gap pop and strong on-base numbers. He’s also a rare young left-handed hitter that doesn’t struggle against same-sided pitching. If the Astros get tired of the listless Stassi show or Chirinos gets hurt then it should open up a shot for Stubbs, who might never give the job back.

 

Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers

The issue with projecting catcher playing time in L.A. is that there are a lot of bodies, from Russell Martin to Austin Barnes to top prospect Keibert Ruiz… as well as a few hangers-on like veterans Josh Thole and Rocky Gale, both of whom are likely headed to Triple-A or to another organization. Ruiz is the Dodgers top catching prospect and probably ready for Triple-A after a year in Double-A in 2018 but Smith could easily be a top catching prospect in at least 20 other organizations.

He’s had some healthy playing time in spring training and while his bat hasn’t been overly strong, it’s his athleticism and defensive abilities that might just get him an opportunity in the Majors before Ruiz, who is arguably the better all-around hitter. But once he earns a shot, Smith could win over fantasy managers with his raw power potential, ability to steal an odd base and versatility. He played 43 games at third base in 2019 and has also dabbled at second base during his pro career.

 

Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants

You won’t get Bart for $1 in dynasty leagues but he’s definitely a deep sleeper to consider in re-draft leagues. He was selected second overall in the 2018 draft out of college but could open the year in High-A or Double-A because of how advanced his overall game has been this spring. Now, the Giants have a pretty big investment in some guy named Buster Posey but they’ll also want to consider giving him additional rest to preserve his body as he moves through his early 30s.

In the National League, without the DH for now, that means shifting him over to first base more and more (bumping first baseman Brandon Belt to left field). The emergence of a strong, young backstop like Bart could encourage them to do just that. And the Giants are always in win-now mode so if Bart is hitting well and the Giants have a shot at the playoffs, look for them to pull out all the stops.

 

The Sophomore: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers

I was on the Austin Barnes bandwagon for a number of years before he got a fair shake in Los Angeles and Kiner-Falefa could be the second coming of the versatile backstop with a solid bat. The Rangers backstop has followed up his surprising 2018 performance with a strong showing in the spring and he’s even showing a little more pop without sacrificing his approach at the plate.

Veteran defensive whiz Jeff Mathis was brought in this winter to help with the catching but he hasn’t played more than 70 games in five years, is 35 years old, and has a career .198 batting average so he’s not going to play every day. And the remaining collection of catchers in camp with the Rangers, such as Jose Trevino and Jett Bandy, don’t instill much confidence.

It's really Kiner-Falefa’s versatility that makes him additionally attractive as he’s likely eligible at both second base and third base. So if he’s embraced more of a fly-ball approach to his hitting, which the small-sample numbers suggest, and continues to play all over, he could be a real steal for 2019.

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