Catcher is one of the most important positions in the game of baseball, but when it comes to fantasy it is often an afterthought. This can be for many reasons which include the lack of depth, plate appearances or overall contact ability among the position. Since 2010 the strikeout rate among catcher has jumped from 17.8% to 22.3%. This lack of contact could really hurt fantasy teams, especially when for those who play in points leagues.
Last year the catcher position had a slash line of .245/.315/.406, averaged a home run every 31.3 plate appearances and only stole a total of 80 stolen bases. This lack of contact and speed could really make players like J.T. Realmuto and Austin Barnes quite valuable, as they have the ability to be 15/15 guys while also hitting for a high batting average.
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Sanchez has proven he deserves to be considered one of the top power hitters in the game. Whether you look at his 53 home runs in just 756 plate appearances or watched him knocked out Giancarlo Stanton in the home run derby last year, there is no denying his ability to hit for power. With a 36.6% fly ball rate, 43.1% of batted balls hit with at least 95 mph, and a 36.9% hard contact rate, Sanchez has the ability to put up another 30-homer season.
The one question going into the season is Sanchez’s batting average. With a 12.5% swinging strike rate, 73.8% contact rate, and a 22.9% strikeout rate it is possible Sanchez struggles to maintain a high batting average. Still, with his 21.1% line drive rate and his ability to make hard contact, a batting average around .260 or .270 is still probable for the 25-year-old in 2018.
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
Barnes was one of many Dodgers players to breakout last season. He played a big role for Los Angeles in the playoffs and actually got the call behind the plate over Grandal. With a 4.7% swinging strike rate, 87.2% contact rate, 16.4% strikeout rate, and a 25.7% line drive rate, Barnes should be a plus in the batting average department for the Dodgers and for fantasy owners lucky enough to claim this emerging star.
A high batting average is not the only thing Barnes can offer. His 17.4% O-Swing% and 36.5% Swing% were some of the lowest among batters with at least 250 plate appearances. This plate discipline should help the Dodgers catcher have a walk rate around 12%, which when coupled with his above average speed could also allow him to steal double-digit bags. It is also worth noting the 30.9% hard contact rate and the 36.6% of balls he hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. This ability to make hard contact should help him hit a home run around every 40 plate appearances (and possibly more if he is able to post a higher fly ball rate than the 29.1% he posted last season). The only real question concerning Barnes is his playing time. He may be in a platoon with Yasmani Grandal, but I have heard rumblings that Barnes could see more time behind the plate, making him the primary catcher.
The Player to Avoid
In 2016 Grandal was known as one of the best power hitting catchers in the league, but now it is questionable if he will even be an Opening Day starter. With the emergence of Austin Barnes, Grandal’s playing time could be cut.
Not only is Grandal’s playing time questionable, but since 2015 his swinging strike rate rose 3.7%, his O-Swing% rose 9.0%, his strikeout rate rose 6.4% while his walk rate decreased 7.0%. All of this shows a decline in his overall offensive production, and with a younger (and better) offensive catcher on the Dodgers roster, Grandal may be on another team come Opening Day.
The Prospect to Watch
Mejia will start the season with only DH eligibility, but after he plays a few games behind the plate he should become the number one catching prospect in fantasy. With a 13.8% strikeout rate and a 21.6% line drive rate in the minors last year, he should be a good source of batting average once he reaches the majors.
Mejia also broke out in the power department last year as he averaged a home run per every 27.4 plate appearances at Double-A. With a GB/FB around 1.20 the past three seasons, I don’t see him continuing this pace in the majors—but a home run every 35-40 plate appearances would not be an absurd projection for the 22-year-old.
With Roberto Perez projected as the opening day starter, we could see Mejia emerge as a valuable asset for the Indians as soon April. Keep a close eye on this potential breakout star as the season progresses. He could be exactly what your fantasy team needs down the stretch in 2018.
Which Dodgers catcher would you rather have on your fantasy team in 2018?
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