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Top 10 Dynasty Catchers - Fantasy Baseball Prospects

In 2018, the average catcher in fantasy baseball posted a WRC+ of 90. That means that, on average, a catcher in the Majors was ten percent worse than any other position. If this does not show the dearth of talent right now for fantasy owners at the position than nothing will. This, in fact, keeps a trend moving. Some blame the role of defense for the drop in offensive production; others say this is just a bad crop. Whatever the case, catching is still key for all owners no matter the format.

Owners can then take one of two steps to address the position. First, they can punt the position, draft the Kurt Suzuki-style player, and hope for average production. Why waste a draft position on a player if they are at best going to be hurting most stats anyway? While there is some value in this approach, on the other hand, with the lack of value, it makes more sense to dive in. While the average catching prospect will be a few years away from a starting role, having then on a dynasty team now means adding a player with a higher floor than the rest of the league. Adding a player with 102 WRC+ means a more substantial surplus here than at first or third.

Concerning dynasty prospects, there is always some risk, but this column should help owners take a stab at who to draft and buy-in on now. Some names are known, others are not. Some will hit, and others will not. Some will move off the position, and others will not. At the very least, the top players at the catching spot offer compelling tools to dream on for long-term value.

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Kiebert Ruiz (C, LAD)

ETA: 2020

Most of the debate around Ruiz entering 2019 is will he be the top fantasy catching prospect or a top-three option. There is a consensus in the industry that Ruiz is a special talent, but also, that there might be questions about him sticking at catcher long-term. That should not scare owners off yet, and perhaps, is a question for 2020 and beyond if he moves based on eligibility. Regarding production so far in his professional career, Ruiz has raked at every stop until he got to Double-A.

Even there, the drop was only to a .268/.328/.401 slash with 12 homers and 44 runs in 101 games. The average rebounded after a slow start, so only good signs as the season progressed. Besides, the power numbers were up, so some of the drop in average can be attributed there. At the weak offensive position, Ruiz offers one of the only above-average bats, and that makes him elite as the position. He is an easy top prospect until he proves otherwise.

 

Francisco Mejia (C/OF, SD)

ETA: already debuted

Mejia falls into the same category as Ruiz, with some risk long-term that he will move off catcher due to his size, but until he does, looks to be an elite catching option for dynasty players. The good news with Mejia is that if he does move off catcher, the bat should still play even if it is more an empty contact option at third or in the outfield. Mejia ranks behind Ruiz for a few reasons. First, the K rate is close to double that of Ruiz, with numbers closer to 20 percent, and posting a 30.6% mark in limited changed with the Padres in 2018.

This rate has also increased with each step up the minor league ladder, so a potential red flag for owners to watch. Second, and connected to the K rate, his walk rate is consistent with an overly aggressive swing, which is one of his calling cards. While not a great comparison, Javier Baez has been a mixed fantasy option due to his lack of patience at the plate and only now is beginning to click. If Mejia is an average bat at catcher, his stock drops a ton, as this is why the team might be moving him off catcher. He needs to stick behind the plate to be a fantasy asset, so even with the excellent skills so far, there is more risk in the profile that most might expect.

 

Andrew Knizner (C, STL)

ETA: late 2019

For a third prospect on the list, staying at catcher might be an issue for Knizner. At the same time, reading game reports, it seems that Knizner impressed even the Cardinals this past year with jumps he made with game calling so perhaps that risk is fading. Concerning baserunners, at Double-A Knizner threw out  20 percent of runners, which was a marked improvement from earlier in his career. Knizner has the chance to be the top prospect on this list, and the production has been there so far.

In a double move in 2018 to Double-A and Triple-A, he was able to keep a .300 batting average with a steady power line as well. He was also able to add points to the OBP line, which again is only a good sign. The other good sign was that to begin his professional career, Knizner was a definite pull hitter, with a 44.9% rate. The batting approach has changed, and between the two top levels, his pull rate was closer to 36%, while jumping his opposite field mark six points. If he can keep hitting to all fields, and maintains that power, Knizner might be the best bat on this list.

 

Miquel Amaya (C, CHC)

ETA: 2022

Amaya is a  bit of a mixed bag for the position as early reports marked him as a well-below-average defensive option, but 2018 was a strong year from that perspective. He threw out 41% of attempted runners and showed excellent skills as a receiver and framer. If the defense was holding him back from prospects lists, then this might be the year that he jumps due to a potent bat as well. Spending the entire season at Single-A for the Cubs, Amaya slashed .256/.349/.403 with 12 homers and one steal.

The report is that he runs well for a catcher, but will not be a stolen base threat. And yet, the 54 runs show that the speed can help him score on a single from second and other scenarios. While he kept the K line similar to the line at Low-A, a doubling of the walk rate was something to notice and adds another piece to the profile. Amaya is a player that keeps having marks thrown against him and responds by proving the opposite, so this is a player with a ton of helium. While perhaps still a few long years from producing for a dynasty team, if there is one player on this list to jump in on early, this is the pick.

 

Joey Bart (C, SF)

ERA: 2021

Bart was the top catching prospect in the 2018 MLB draft and has so far lived up to the billing. The issue that many had warned about with the profile was that he would be a power over contact batter, but so far, and while still rooted in the minors, has managed to hit well enough. In 45 games at Low-A, he slashed .298/.369/.613 with 13 homers and two steals. The K rate was below 20% which is a good sign for the approach, and while the walk rate is not ideal at 5.9%, this is not the end of the line for Bart.

There are few, if any, questions on his defense, and so far he is averaging close to a 45% caught stealing rate to go along with only five total errors. There is still some development in the profile, but of all the catchers on the list, Bart might be the safest option as a defensive asset. The best case scenario for Bart is a .240 batting line with 30 plus homer power, and if this is what he looks like, fantasy owners will be quietly happy. While others have him higher on their lists, owners should wait to see if the bat continues to develop before buying in at the full price.

 

Sean Murphy (C, OAK)

ETA: 2019

Murphy turned in an excellent 2018 campaign at Double-A and looks to be set to start 2019 at Triple-A. In fact, and this is pure speculation, but, he might have a chance to make Oakland coming out of spring training with their lack of depth at the position right now. If Bart is the safest option at catcher on the list, Murphy might be the best overall defender according to scouts. According to MLB’s Jim Callis, he had some of the fastest pop times and deterred base stealers based on his arm alone.

The reason he is lower on this list would be the bat, as while Murphy seems to have the contact skills, the power numbers need to improve to make his a top fantasy option. While most of the scouting reports like his raw power, so far that has not translated into regular game offerings yet. Still, the batting average jumped to .288 at Double-A, which is a good sign with the increasing competition and allows owners to overlook to .208 at the level the previous year. Murphy is a safe fantasy option with the lower ceiling, but perhaps the best contact and defensive floor on the list. For owners not willing to spend for the top player, this is a nice consolation prize.

 

William Contreras (C, ATL)

ETA: 2020

The brother of current Cubs backstop Wilson Contreras, William looks to be cut from the same cloth. While only finishing 2018 at High-A, this is a name to add now before his stock shoots any higher. At A-ball, Contreras slashed .293/.360/.463 with 11 homers and 54 runs in 84 games. The K rate was a bit high at 21.3%, but if he can keep that power, there will be little concern about long-term production. The 136 WRC+ shows just how impressive these numbers are for the level, and at only 20, this is an advanced bat for the position.

The other good news is that there will be a clear path to playing time, as Atlanta has no one ahead of him in the queue, and tends to like to sign veterans for one or two-year deals. This will help him ease into the team once he is ready, which while a few years down the road, sets him up well in the team’s competitive plans. While he might not be the same player as his brother, he does not need that to be a key fantasy option.

 

M.J. Melendez (C, KC) 

ETA: 2021

Another high risk, high reward prospect on the list, Melendez will be splitting opinion in the next few months as other rankings come out. Like Contreras, Melendez is still a few years away from being in the fantasy conversation, but grabbing him now, might be buying him at his lowest price. A second-round pick of the Royals in 2017, he looks to be starting 2019 at High-A, but should be at Double-A by the end of the campaign is all goes well. In 111 games at Single-A, he slashed .251/.322/.492 with 19 homers and four steals. The red flag was the K rate, which stood at 30.3% for the year.

If that number stays that high, the power will need to get even better to keep him on a track to the Majors, as without, the OBP alone will kill his fantasy worth. The good news is that while only 19, he rates as one of the more advanced game callers in the game, and while there are questions on his overall defense, this is a good sign for the development of the profile moving forward. If he can be an above average defensive player, then Melendez will at least earn playing time with the team. Still a lottery ticket, for now, the payoff is good enough that owners should be buying if they can get a reasonable price.

 

Danny Jansen (C, TOR) 

ETA: 2019

Coming into 2018 draft season, Jansen was one of the top sleeper picks, who expected to get playing time with the Jays this year. Sadly, for owners who bought in, that did not play out as he only played in 31 games. And in those games, the production was limited with just a .247/.347/.432 slash to add to three homers. The minor league numbers had been much better, so perhaps owners can expect a bit more production with a longer stay, but also should temper expectations.

The only reason he is on this list is the proximity to the Majors, as he might break camp with the team in 2019. Other than that, Jansen looks to be an average hitter who might play at the position but offers limited fantasy return for owners. The calling card will be a good plate approach which should translate to a decent OBP line, but with the lack of power, will need to hit above .280 to make an impact. Owners should let others buy into this hype for now.

 

Will Smith (C/3B, LAD) 

ETA: late 2019

A former first-round pick by the Dodgers in 2016, Smith is not even the top catching prospect in his system but offers enough intrigue to make the list for dynasty owners. While a common theme on this list, Smith will perhaps not be a catcher when he makes the majors, but also might move to a split role after playing the infield. This would be Mejia without the elite bat, but still enough there to make him a fantasy option. Smith struggled at the end of 2018 with a promotion to Triple-A hitting only .138 in 25 games, but this is the clear outlier on his resume.

The power is the real selling point for Smith as the batting lines are usually sub-.250, but 19 homers in 73 games at Double-A show the real power that is there and translating into game situations. He also walks at a double-digit clip, so there will be a solid OBP floor here as well for owners. A handful of steals might even carry over to the majors, but something in the six to eight range would be a good target. Overall, Smith is not a sexy target for owners but offers the right skills to make this a valuable stash for the floor at the very least.

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