Welcome back to Catcher Week! Here is your link to all of our content so far. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if there is a player we haven’t discussed that you would like to hear about. Now let’s get to some fantasy baseball sleepers!
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP:223)
Barnes was one of many Dodgers players to breakout last season. With a 4.7% swinging strike rate, 87.2% contact rate, 16.4% strikeout rate, and a 25.7% line drive rate, Barnes should offer a big boost in batting average for any fantasy owner lucky enough to claim this young sleeper. Although he will have a high batting average, it is not the only thing he can offer.
Barnes’ 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 him 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 Barnes hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, Barnes is only one of two who has a swinging strike rate below 10% and hits at least 35% of his batted balls with a minimum exit velocity of 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 Dodgers’ primary catcher.
James McCann, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 326)
McCann’s 2017 was nothing special, but at least it was a big improvement from his 2016 campaign in which he hit .221/.272/.358 with a 29.2% strikeout rate. Although his 2017 wasn’t great, he has shown signs of improvements that could make him a top 10-15 fantasy catcher,. With him being 27 years old to start the season, now is the time for him to prove what he can do offensively.
While doing my projections there was one number that really stuck out to me about McCann. That number would be the 28.2% line drive rate he posted in 2017, which is way above the major league average. This should help him maintain a relatively high BABIP. So even if he strikes out at a 23% clip, he should put up a decent batting average. If McCann can have a 38.2% hard contact rate, 34.2 fly ball rate and 8.8% infield fly ball rate like he did last season, we could see 20 home runs and a .260 batting average.
With the loss of Alex Avila and John Hicks scheduled as the backup, McCann will most likely catch the majority of the games behind the plate. This will help him get more plate appearances, and hopefully get him over the 450 mark for the first time in his career.
Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (ADP: 318)
d’Arnaud was a top 25 prospect just 5 years ago, but an abundance of injuries has kept him from ever reaching 450 plate appearances at the major league level. This has kept him from living up to that top 25 prospect rating we gave him back in 2013.
With a 16.7% strikeout rate over his career, there is no denying his ability to make consistent contact. Although he has had such a low strikeout rate, his career batting average is just below .250. This is due to a .267 BABIP, which is much lower than the league average .300. Now I don’t expect to see d’Arnaud post a .300 BABIP due to his low line drive rates. These low line drive rates would most likely give him a BABIP around .280-.290, which could be good enough for a batting average around .260. This would at least make him relevant in standard leagues, but only if he is able to also hit for power.
Travis d’Arnaud’s 35.3% of batted balls hit at least 95 mph may not seem all that impressive, but it is actually a lot better than you think. d’Arnaud’s low walk rates and strikeout rates will end up giving him more batted ball events. So he could actually end up getting more batted balls with at least 95 per plate appearance than someone like Eric Thames or Trevor Story.
Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 355)
Barnhart proved himself as one of the top defensive players in the game as he took home his first gold glove last year. Offensively he was no bore either as he hit .270/.347/.403 with 7 home runs.
Barnhart won’t be anyone who puts up extraordinary numbers offensively. With a 26.2% line drive rate, 16.1 strikeout rate and 33.2% hard contact rate he could be someone who posts a batting average around the .300 mark, but will most likely never reach more than 15 home runs in a season.
Barnhart only hit 25.5% of his batted balls at least 95 mph, which ranks him among players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brandon Phillips. Now even though his raw power may be below average, with a hitter-friendly home park it is a possibility that he reaches double-digit home runs.
In conclusion, if you like Yadier Molina, then Tucker Barnhart could be a guy to pay close attention to moving forward.
Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves (ADP: 334)
Flowers was suppose to be the future behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox, but after a disappointing six seasons the White Sox decided to let him go in 2015. In his time with the White Sox he hit .223/.289/.376 and had a horrific strikeout rate of 33.3%. It is no wonder why the White Sox let him become a free agent, so why should fantasy owners even want to think about putting this man in their catcher spot?
Since signing with the Atlanta Braves he has hit .276/.368/.433 and lowered his strikeout rate to 24.9%. The drop in strikeouts is what really caught my attention as it continued to improve in 2018. By the end of the season he had a strikeout rate of 22.2%, which is only 0.6% above the major league average.
Less strikeouts did not affect Flowers’ power output, as he had a hard contact rate of 37.1% and hit 39.2% of his batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. There were only 17 batters with at least 300 plate appearances to have a better exit velocity and swinging strike rates than Tyler Flowers, and only one catcher. This ability to make hard contact is what ultimately helped him average a home run every 30.8 plate appearances. This would give him around 20 home runs if he were able to reach 550 plate appearances, which is possible if he gets the majority of starts throughout the 2018 season.
Flowers’ ability to hit for average and power should help him become a top 10 catcher as long as the Braves give him the plate appearances.
Which sleeper do you think will have the best season?
This poll is closed
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
James McCann, Detroit Tigers
Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds
Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves