The minor league season has entered its' final month, and with that I always like to start taking a look back at how my rankings went during the preseason. The first position on the list is catcher, which has seen some rather sharp changes this year.
The (Brief) State of the Position
Catcher always remains one of those positions where, in general, you're better off waiting until the players at least reach AA or higher to invest heavily for dynasty formats. There is so much development needed for catchers as they progress through the minors that they tend to take a long time to get there and establish themselves. Even when they do, they don't always establish themselves as useful hitters in that same timeframe.
The position at the major league level has undergone a bit of a shift, as we have seen the emergence of prospect Kyle Schwarber into a top 5 option at the position, both for the rest of this year and long-term. Jonathan Lucroy has had a terrible year, Yan Gomes and Yadier Molina both appear to have turned back into pumpkins, and injuries have derailed Devin Mesoraco and Travis d'Arnaud this year. Add in that two of this year's current top 10 (according to Yahoo) will both lose catcher eligibility in Evan Gattis and Carlos Santana, and the position drops off a cliff pretty fast.
Preseason Top 15 with Current Level
1. Blake Swihart - Red Sox (MLB - Graduated)
Swihart has been the primary catcher for the Red Sox for most of the year (at least when he's been healthy), and is hitting .249/.281/.333 with a home run, a stolen base, eight walks and 48 strikeouts in 53 games played. The team did not anticipate at the start of the year that Swihart would be plugged in this fast, but injuries earlier in the season forced their hand. He's probably going to continue to develop over the next couple of seasons, but he may not be a top 20 option for 2016.
2. Kyle Schwarber - Cubs (MLB - Graduated)
Well, hope you grabbed him when you could. Schwarber has been an absolute monster since his call up, hitting .341/.429/.604 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI in 28 games. As long as he continues to have catcher eligibility (which he has 16 games already for this year), he can potentially compete with Buster Posey for the top overall spot. The Cubs are doing everything they can to keep him in the lineup, to the point where they have benched All-Star SS Starlin Castro to do so.
Alfaro was injured back in June and has missed the remainder of the season, but was also traded as a part of the behemoth Cole Hamels deal. Alfaro is probably the lottery ticket from that trade, as it could still take him a couple more years to develop into a major league catcher. The bat will play regardless, but it may end up in a corner outfield spot as a result.
4. Gary Sanchez - Yankees (AAA)
It feels like we've been hearing about Sanchez forever now, which I guess is sort of true since he debuted in 2010. The questions about whether he can play catcher remain, but the bat still has a ton of potential for both average and power. If the Yankees were comfortable using him in a similar manner to Schwarber in 2015, he could be an excellent fantasy pickup even without everyday playing time. That said, Schwarber is probably still a better defender behind the plate than Sanchez can be, so a position move seems pretty likely.
5. Francisco Mejia - Indians (A)
The overall numbers don't look so hot for Mejia this year (.256/341/.380, 9 HR), but he's been on a tear over the past month, hitting .374 with a .908 OPS over 24 games. The reports on Mejia point to a potential impact player on both sides of the game, but it's probably going to take a few more years for him to develop to that point. The best case scenario is a top 5 fantasy catcher.
6. Max Pentecost - Blue Jays (Has Not Played - Injured)
It's hard to get a good grasp on what Pentecost can still be at this point, as he's missed the entire year due to injury. Seeing catchers who are already dealing with injuries is definitely not ideal, but hopefully there will be good reports from the fall instructs.
7. Kevin Plawecki - Mets (MLB)
The Mets brought up Plawecki fairly early in the season when Travis d'Arnaud was injured, and had primarily used him as the backup with d'Arnaud back before demoting him last night to AAA. Whether they end up trading one of these catchers during the offseason remains to be seen, but if they are playing together on the Mets in 2016 it's probably going to hurt both their values.
8. Andrew Susac - Giants (MLB)
It's a tough break being drafted into the one organization that has its' catcher position sewn up for the foreseeable future. With that said, Susac does play a fair amount for a backup catcher as the team moves Posey to first base to keep him fresh, but unless he is traded in the offseason, he's probably only useful in the deepest of leagues. There is power potential there also, which is always nice from catcher.
9. Reese McGuire - Pirates (A+)
McGuire is having a solid season at the plate at High-A Bradenton, but it's not clear whether he will develop enough power to be interesting for fantasy purposes. He should be a solid NL-only and deep league catcher, providing a solid batting average and is a lock to stay behind the plate.
10. Chance Sisco - Orioles (A+)
Sisco has the potential to be a special hitter, providing a high batting average with decent power. The problem at this point is that he's not really viewed as being able to stay behind the plate long-term, which means he has to hit that potential to provide enough value.
11. Peter O'Brien - Diamondbacks (AAA)
The questions about O'Brien staying behind the plate were answered, as he requested a move to the outfield fairly early in the season. He still has enormous raw power and can be a contributor for fantasy teams, but he may need another trade for that to be realized.
12. J.T. Realmuto - Marlins (MLB - Graduated)
The Marlins made the unique move of cutting bait on Jarrod Saltalamacchia with well over a year left on his three-year deal, and opting to go with Realmuto behind the plate. He's been slowly improving as the season has progressed, and while he may not be a top 10 option going forward, he's probably a starter in all two-catcher formats and deep leagues.
13. Tyler Marlette - Mariners (AA)
Marlette has hit better since being promoted to AA Jackson, with a .261/.311/.414 slash line in 32 games there. He's probably most likely a backup in a lot of formats, but the power potential makes him at least a little bit interesting going forward, especially given the struggles of Mike Zunino at the plate.
14. Julian Leon - Dodgers (A)
The numbers at the plate this year for Leon have been bad (.206/.265/.298, 4 HR in 70 games), and he's striking out at a 30% clip as well. There have been questions about whether Leon will outgrow the catcher position, but despite these struggles he's expected to provide solid production at the plate.
15. Justin O'Conner - Rays (AA)
O'Conner's value to a team is going to be with his defense behind the plate, which is good since his performance at the plate has been lackluster. He's hitting .222/.247/.367 with 8 home runs in 85 games, and it would not surprise me if the team ended up keeping him at AA again to start the 2016 season.
Potential Names for 2016's List
Tom Murphy - Rockies
A commenter asked when I published my original rankings where Murphy was, and all Murphy has done this year is hit between AA and AAA. He has 17 home runs this year between the two levels, and could be eased in during the 2016 season behind Nick Hundley.
Tyler Stephenson - Reds
The first catcher taken in the 2015 draft, Stephenson has the potential to provide solid production at the plate and stay behind it defensively. A high school draftee, it could be as many as five years before we see him in the majors as he continues to develop.
Chris Betts - Rays
The Rays grabbed Betts in the 2nd round this year, and his bat is considered more advanced than his defense at this point. With that said, he also will miss this year and a lot of next season after having Tommy John surgery after signing. Even with that, he's likely the best hitting catcher out of the 2015 draft.
Stryker Trahan - Diamondbacks
Trahan had been moved to the outfield previously, but has since returned to catcher, although there are enough questions about his bat right now that even with the positional bonus it's not clear yet whether he would make the majors at this rate.
Willson Contreras - Cubs
Converted to catching from third base, Contreras has emerged this season on the strength of a .343/.419/.496 slash line with 6 home runs, 45 walks and 51 strikeouts in 101 games at AA. The Cubs are fairly well set at the position for the next couple seasons, so Contreras can be given the time to develop if needed.
Jacob Nottingham - Athletics
Acquired by the A's in the Kazmir deal, Nottingham has gone out and hit all year long between two Single-A levels. The potential is there to be an impact hitter at the catcher position, with 2017 or 2018 as the most reasonable debut year.