In a continuation of my last piece on overrated catchers, now that ESPN has released their early season player rankings, I'll be taking a look at which catchers seem to be underrated by the expert community so far this season.
Steamer Projection: 552 PA, .255/.334/.452, 24 HR, 74 RBI, 68 R, 2 SB
ESPN Rank: 117 (12th round)
Where I'd Rank Him: 71-80 (8th round)
It genuinely puzzles me to see Brian McCann getting so little love by the expert community this year. He's coming off a season in which he was the 12th-best catcher in the majors, despite missing the first third of the season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Going forward, injury is of course always a concern with him, as his average games played the last five years is only 126, but it's very easy to over-hype this risk. Catching is demanding business, so any catcher you draft is going to come with considerable injury risk. Regardless, it is a fact that Brian McCann is more likely than not to take a trip to the DL next year, but even assuming that, he's still incredibly underrated considering where he's being ranked.
The biggest asset Brian McCann brings to the field in fantasy baseball is monster left-handed power. He'll be going to Yankee stadium next year, one of the friendliest parks in the majors to lefty power hitters. If you're a believer in park factor statistics, Yankee Stadium is among the most friendly stadiums in the major leagues for home runs by left-handed batters (113), only a single dinger behind Coors Field (114). Contrast that with the Braves home ballpark (100), which comes in as dead neutral for lefty power, and throw in the fact that for the first time in the last few years, McCann's shoulder is fully healthy again, and you can see the makings of a big power surge coming. A projection of 24 home runs is too low for Brian McCann, in my opinion. If he can stay healthy enough to produce the 552 plate appearances Steamer has him projected for, (something I think is very doable), then I can see him easily as a 30+ home run guy. I'd take the over on his RBI numbers as well, as I think 80-85 is much more likely with his new team.
If injury risk and the expectation of about 10-12 more run -scored is the only reason Carlos Santana (619 PA, .252/.366/.435, 20 HR, 76 RBI, 79 R, 4 SB) is going 39 spots and almost four rounds ahead of Brian McCann, then I'm more than happy to take that risk. All it takes is bit of BABIP luck and some health, and Brian McCann could be a top-three catcher this coming season. His floor, short of a catastrophic injury, is probably fifth or sixth. That's a player I want on my team.
Steamer Projection: 460 PA, .256/.309/.469, 21 HR, 62 RBI, 54 R, 2 SB
ESPN Rank: 241 (25th round)
Where I'd Rank Him: 211-215 (22nd round)
Gattis won't be relevant in standard league drafts, but if you play in a deeper league (14-team and up) or a league that requires two catchers, I think he's a really exciting player for 2014. In my opinion, he's probably the 13th-best catcher going into this year, but with his power he's definitely got top-10 upside. He crushed 21 home runs in only 382 plate appearances last season, and that power is no illusion. With Brian McCann moving to the Yankees, he'll be getting the lion's share of the catching opportunities with the Braves (he'll still retain his OF eligibility in most formats however for those of you concerned with position flexibility), so that number is primed to take a big step up with the increased opportunities. He's of course still fairly young, and if the 21% strikeout rate he had last season carries over into 2014, he's unlikely to be a contributor in batting average, but Gattis is still probably the only catcher outside of the top 10 with real 25-HR potential.
Steamer Projection: 456 PA, .260/.314/.433, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 53 R, 2 SB
ESPN Rank: 277 (undrafted)
Where I'd Rank Him: 245-250 (late 25th round)
Gomes is another player not relevant outside of very deep or two-catcher leagues, but if you play in one of those formats, I see a lot of value in him. His breakout season last year, during which he hit .294 with 11 HR in only 322 plate appearances, was a very impressive showing for a player who's still only 26 years old. With his strikeout tendencies (21% last season), his true batting average is probably closer to .260-.265 than the .294 he put up last season, but I agree with Steamer in predicting that the power can take a nice step forward next year. 15 home runs and 50+ RBI and R from your second catcher is a lot better than most owners can hope for, and a lot more than higher-ranked guys like A.J. Pierzynski and Devin Mesoraco will give you.