Back we are for the position breakdowns, starting with the catcher spot. This year’s backstop rankings won’t be quite as controversial as last year’s, but there is one subplot to start with before we get to the underrated and overrated players.
The subplot: Carlos Santana is catcher-eligible in Yahoo! Leagues, even though he isn’t in leagues with standard 20-game qualifying. And there wouldn’t seem to be any chance of him gaining catcher eligibility during the season in standard leagues, at least not in those use five-game qualifying.
So, while I won’t be treating Santana as catcher-eligible in my rankings or writings, I would place him over Buster Posey as the No. 1 fantasy catcher in any league in which he does qualify. Posey grades out higher on a per-at-bat basis, but Santana, as a first baseman and DH, will be a better bet to stay healthy and won’t need regular days off. In my mind, Santana is a top-30 pick in one-catcher Yahoo leagues and a top-20 pick in leagues that use two catchers.
One other note before we get started: the Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide is now live. It's the product of several months of hard work from a handful of people, and I think it's better than ever this year. Yours truly has done 1,645 projections, about 490 pitcher writeups (I'll have to get that up to the 500 mark soon), a top 300 list for mixed leagues and top 280 lists for AL- and NL-only leagues. And all of those will be kept updated through Opening Day. I think it'll help you win your leagues, and you'll be supporting the site at the same time.
Evan Gattis (Astros) - Gattis isn’t retiring his catcher’s mitt just yet, but with the Astros paying a substantial price for Hank Conger and holding on to Jason Castro, it sure doesn’t look like he’ll find himself behind the plate often for Houston. The guess here is that he’ll be Houston’s regular first baseman early on, with Jonathan Singleton returning to Triple-A. That’s give him his best chance of staying healthy, and he could be poised to put up the best power numbers of any catcher while taking aim at the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. Gattis has 43 homers in 723 career at-bats despite playing at a park in Atlanta that isn’t very favorable for right-handed power hitters. Minute Maid is quite a bit better in that regards, so while I don’t expect him to Gattis much better than .240, he’s my No. 3 catcher in between Jonathan Lucroy and Devin Mesoraco.
Brian McCann (Yankees) - McCann was a favorite target of many last year because of the idea that Yankee Stadium was perfect for his stroke and that he’d hit 30 homers in his new surroundings. I wasn’t that ambitious, but I did have him ranked fifth among catchers prior to his disappointing campaign. A year later, I again have him fifth among catchers. While McCann hit just .232 last year, he ranked second among catchers with 23 homers, third with 75 RBI and tied for fourth with 57 runs scored. My usual thought process in the projections is to ding a player, particularly in average, when jumping from the NL to the AL and then expect a little more in year two. I don’t believe we’ll ever see McCann hit .280 or slug .500 again, but he doesn’t need to reach those heights to justify a 10th- to 12th-round pick in mixed leagues. Right now, he’s a 14th-rounder and the ninth catcher off the board in Yahoo leagues.
Stephen Vogt (Athletics) - Like Santana, Vogt doesn’t qualify as a catcher in 20-game leagues. He is going to be Oakland’s primary catcher this year, though, so he should regain eligibility just a week into the season (also like Santana, he already has the eligibility in Yahoo leagues). I might have liked Vogt a little better had the A’s kept Derek Norris and continued to give Vogt starts in left field and first base. That he’ll catch most of the time takes away some of his upside and makes him more of an injury risk, though it will ensure that he stays in the lineup if he gets off to a slow start offensively. Vogt hit .324/.353/.514 with nine homers through 210 at-bats last season before plantar fasciitis took a heavy toll on his numbers for the final quarter of the year. He most likely would have fallen off anyway, but since he’s shown the ability to hit for average and power and he’ll most likely find himself in a prime spot in the Oakland lineup, I’d place him 12th among catchers.
Travis d’Arnaud (Mets) - A .196 start got d’Arnaud sent down six weeks into last season. After he rejoined the Mets on May 29, he proceeded to hit .258/.313/.452 with 10 homers in 283 at-bats. Even including the awful start, he finished the year ranked in the top half of starting catchers by OPS and OPS+, a pretty nice accomplishment for a 25-year-old rookie. This is also a guy who hit .344/.411/.633 with 24 homers in 101 career games in Triple-A. D’Arnaud is a significant injury risk -- maybe the biggest of all of the league’s starting catchers -- and hitting low in the Mets lineup will take a toll on his run and RBI numbers early on. However, if he stays healthy, he has a great chance of being a top-10 catcher. While he’s my No. 13 right now, I’m actually giving him a slightly better OPS projection than Gattis or McCann.
Yan Gomes (Indians) - Gomes isn’t necessarily someone to avoid, but I rank him eighth among catchers while Yahoo has him going sixth (even with Santana as the No. 3 catcher in their mix). My suspicion is that his average will drop a little more; I have him at .264, down from .293 in 2013 and .278 last season, and I also wouldn’t want to count on him starting 129 games again (121 at catcher, eight at DH last season).
Yadier Molina (Cardinals) - Molina’s off year doesn’t seem to have hurt his standing at all; he’s the fifth catcher picked in Yahoo leagues so far, and he’s getting taken much closer to Santana and Mesoraco than Gomes. I just don’t see a rebound is all that likely. Molina is 32 with a great deal of mileage on his legs. Last year’s strikeout rate was his highest ever, and his average and slugging were the lowest they’ve been since 2010. He should be a player in decline, given his age and wear, and while I don’t think that means he’ll be worse than his 2014 numbers, I don’t expect him to be much better. I have him at .278-10-58, making him my No. 10 catcher.
Wilin Rosario (Rockies) - While Rosario still has top-10 catcher upside, his bat stopped making up for his glove last year, leading to another offseason of speculation that the Rockies would trade him or try him at another position. Unfortunately, they asked for more in return than anyone was willing to give and they failed to open up a spot for him elsewhere with Justin Morneau slated to play first and Corey Dickerson and Carlos Gonzalez occupying the outside corners. They also brought in the defensive-minded Nick Hundley as a catcher option and retained Michael McKenry, who outplayed Rosario both offensively and defensively last year. Maybe Rosario will show he can handle another position and get to step in if/when Morneau or Gonzalez gets hurt. However, until then, I don’t think he’ll get the playing time to be useful in one-catcher mixed leagues.
Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers) - Grandal, a lifetime .260/.358/.443 hitter away from Petro Park, got the fourth highest OPS projection among catchers from me (trailing Posey, Mesoraco and Lucroy), but there are enough questions about his playing time to keep him down at 15th in the position rankings. That’s because Dodgers pitchers just love throwing to A.J. Ellis, and it remains to be seen whether Grandal’s bat will be able to carry the day. Also, Grandal figures to bat eighth initially, further cutting into his fantasy potential. If he gets to start four out of every five games, I think he’ll be at least a borderline top-10 catcher. I’m not willing to bank on it happening, but he does make for a really nice second catcher in mixed leagues.
Michael McKenry (Rockies) - Sure, McKenry’s .315/.398/.512 line in 168 at-bats last season was a fluke, but the power is legit and he’s a better defender than Rosario, not that that is saying much. Before the Rockies signed Hundley, I had Rosario and McKenry near even in the catcher rankings. Now, though, I’m not at all sure what the Rockies are going to end up doing. There wouldn’t seem to be much reason at all to keep both Rosario and McKenry unless they’re giving up on Rosario as a catcher. If that were to happen, McKenry could be the perfect No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues. As is, I have him 27th at the position, but it’s a situation well worth watching.
Geovany Soto (White Sox) - Tyler Flowers’ breakthrough campaign resulted in a solid .241/.297/.396 line, but it took a .355 BABIP to get him there (that was the 16th highest mark of the 209 players with at least 400 PA). He struck out a whopping 36 percent of the time, which is even higher than his career average. Soto had to settle for a minor league contract this winter and is only going to be competing for a spot as Flowers’ backup this spring, but it’d be no surprise if he proves better than Flowers both offensively and defensively. Of course, there is the injury factor with Soto -- he’s played in just 78 games over the last two years -- but he’s a career .248/.334/.436 hitter, compared to .218/.287/.382 for Flowers. He’s my favorite $1 catcher in AL-only leagues.
Peter O’Brien (Diamondbacks) - I don’t think O’Brien can catch, and I also don’t think he’ll prove ready to hit in the majors this year. The Diamondbacks, though, are going to give him every chance to prove me wrong on the former, and it’s not like they have anything standing in his way; their top three catchers are Tuffy Gosewisch, Gerald Laird and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez. O’Brien, picked up from the Yankees for Martin Prado, hit 34 homers in the minors last year, 10 in high-A and 24 in Double-A. Since it came with a 111/21 K/BB ratio and he wasn’t young for his leagues, having turned 24 in July, expectations should be kept in check. The guess here is that he gets a chance to come up and start for Arizona in June or July. I don’t think he’ll be very good, but the power makes him a name to know anyway.