Now that the season’s over and we’ve all read “The Green Fields of the Mind” once more, it’s time to look towards 2014 … Fantasy Baseball 2014. Not the one where Your Favorite Team trades it’s third, fourth and sixth best prospects for Giancarlo Stanton and he hangs out with you on off days. No, the fantasy where you draft baseball players with your friends or co-workers or internet confederates and probably pay way more attention to them than is healthy. Probably.
This offseason I’m going to rank which prospects will have an impact on fantasy rosters in 2014, by position. Today we’ll look at catchers. It’s really important to note that this isn’t a ranking of the top catching prospects in Major League Baseball — you won’t see Jorge Alfaro or Stryker Trahan on this list. I’m looking for players that have a reasonable shot to accumulate 250 or more plate appearances in the majors next year, and potentially produce at a level that warrants fantasy consideration. Things would have to go incredibly right for Trahan or Alfaro — and/or incredibly wrong for their big league clubs — for them to get close to that threshold.
Before we get started there are some guidelines I followed when putting this list together. You should know them:
Andrew Susac would rank higher if he was in Tampa Bay or Atlanta, but he plays for the San Francisco Giants, so thanks to a young Buster Posey he is going to have every opportunity to hone his skills in Double-A and Triple-A next year.
Runs and RBI are only self-generated on dingers, and they’re 50 percent of fantasy baseball. Good players surrounded by good players have more value.
Finally, I should point out that not all of these players should be drafted. In fact, unless you’re in a deep league, only a handful of these guys warrant your consideration. We’re looking at catchers, and catchers take glacial strides towards their ceilings.
1. Travis d’Arnaud — New York Mets | (Rk/AA/AAA: .286/.420/.514 in 131 PAs | MLB: .202/.286/.263 in 112 PAs)
Travis d’Arnaud is the only player on this list that’s a starting catcher next year. Acquired by the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade, his minor league numbers have been sterling since 2011, as he’s hit for average and power while showing a disciplined eye. His main issue is he’s only played in 130 games the past two seasons combined. Presuming good health, d’Arnaud should bat in top six in the batting order, obviously a good place for a bat to create value. What’s obviously bad is the rest of the Mets’ lineup, as they were No. 23 in runs scored last year. On top of that, d’Arnaud will play half his games at Citi Field, which ranked No. 29 in Park Factor last season (although it was fairly neutral towards home runs). He’s pedigreed and has a Top-5 fantasy catcher ceiling, but it’s doubtful he to that level in 2014. If he can stay healthy,however, a .265 AVG and 15-20 HR wouldn’t shock me.
Draft Advice: Worth drafting after the 18th-20th round in standard twelve team leagues, due to his ceiling.
2. Josmil Pinto — Minnesota Twins | (AA/AAA: .309/.400/.482 in 528 PAs | MLB: .342/.398/.566 in 83 PAs)
Joe Mauer has started 47, 72 and 73 games at catcher the past three seasons, and is under Twins control through 2018. He’s not catching next year because of his concussion and the Twins’ desire to keep the face of their franchise healthy. The Twins are wise to do this. Enter Pinto. We can’t expect him to hit .342 next season, but he’s demonstrated an ability to hit for average and power the past two years. I see him catching 100 games as Mauer’s nominal backup, while hitting .240-.260 with 8-12 HR. I’m being a bit pessimistic with Pinto, because he doesn’t have an established track record as a top prospect. I don’t think the past two years are a fluke, and he reportedly came into camp 20 pounds lighter in 2013, but the transition to the majors is rarely smooth.
Draft Advice: Pinto will most likely be available as a free agent in standard 12-team formats, but should be targeted for two-catcher and deeper leagues.
3. Tony Sanchez — Pittsburgh Pirates | (AA/AAA: .282/.358/.487 in 313 PAs | MLB: .233/.288/.400 in 66 PAs)
Sanchez is backing up Russell Martin next season, so while he has a fairly defined role, it’s a limited one. Sanchez was solid in the minors last year, and did about what you would expect once he got to the Majors — low batting average and a couple home runs in sporadic playing time. I think he hits .240-.255 with single-digit home runs, with an uptick in his walk rate since he’ll probably bat eighth when he does play — something to consider in OBP leagues.
Draft Advice: Tony should not be drafted, but may prove useful in two catcher leagues.
4. Max Stassi — Houston Astros (AA: .277/.333/.529 in 323 PAs | MLB: .286/.375/.286 in 8 PAs)
The Astros have made a habit of targeting former top prospects who have lost some of their shine, and Stassi is a prime example. Drafted in 2009, Stassi was either injured, under-performing, or both, until 2013 when he finally broke through at Double-A. Stassi probably needs more seasoning at Triple-A, but he’s an Astros prospect, and it’s incredibly unlikely there’s someone blocking you in the bigs if you’re an Astros prospect. He won’t supplant Jason Castro, but he could serve as back up catcher and DH. He’s not going to hit for average at all, but he can run into 15 HR given regular playing time.
Draft Advice: Don’t. I doubt he’ll break camp with the major league club, but once he gets the call he should be a viable play in two-catcher and deeper leagues.
5. Gary Sanchez — New York Yakees | (A+/AA: .253/.313/.420 in 509 PAs)
Sanchez is only on this list because Austin Romine OPS’d .551 and Chris Stewart OPS’d .566 last year. Couple that with the Yankees’ stated desire to keep their payroll under $189 million and Sanchez could get a big league opportunity by the All-Star break. Of course, the Yankees could give Brian McCann $100 million this offseason and no one would be all that surprised. Though Sanchez regressed offensively last year, he still hit 15 home runs and 27 doubles, and reports had him improving behind the plate.
Draft Advice: Another player that should not be drafted. However, if he gets a hot start next year and Stewart/Romine keep up their collective offensive ineptitude, the New York press will be calling for him by Memorial Day.
The Last Cut:
Christian Bethancourt — Atlanta Braves
I don’t think he’s ready to face major league pitching, even though he has a starting job lined up if McCann leaves Atlanta. He’s hit 26 HR since 2008, but 12 of them came last year. Even if he gets 500 PAs, I wouldn’t want him in a two-catcher league next year.