• Art Tornabene

Late Catcher Targets

As February drafts keep rolling along, those in standard two catcher leagues as well as Best Ball and Draft and Hold formats will need to make tough decisions on which catchers to draft and who to let pass. Is the best move to dive in early and grab two catchers from the top, to take a balanced approach, or to wait on catching until late? There are merits to each approach. The key is to jump at the right players at the right time. This article is intended to assist those who decide to take either the balanced approach or to wait until the end for their catching.

In 2020, the catching position was hit hard by performance issues. When reviewing the Razzball player rater chart for the last five seasons for catchers, you will find that the worst five seasons were all in 2020 and that eleven of the bottom twenty-one were in 2020. This group included many stalwarts of the position in Kurt Suzuki, Yadier Molina, Wilson Ramos, and Omar Narvaez. As well as those expected to take a step forward in 2020 in Danny Jansen and Carson Kelly. NFBC Draft Champions ADP from January 18 to February 7, 2021, has only seventeen catchers going in the top 300 picks, reflecting a lot of uncertainty about the position after a difficult season.

The facts:

From 2016 to 2019, there were 85 instances of a catcher accumulating at least 350 plate appearances in a single season. That is an average of just over 21 per season. Beyond plate appearance issues, there are performance issues. According to the Razzball player rater, from 2016 to 2020, there were 93 instances of a catcher earning a positive value performance over a full season. This is less than 19 per season. In the many leagues with thirty active catching roster spots every week, it is a good bet that as much as one-third of those spots are being filled by a below-half-time player or one who provides negative value. If you are rostering even one negative or below half-time player, you will find yourself at a big disadvantage in relation to those teams with two positive performers.

The good news is, you are in luck. There is a lot of potential in the late picks at this time, and the opportunity to gain an edge on your competition without investing a high-round acquisition cost is as good as ever. Today we will look at those currently being selected from picks 300 to 500 to try and focus on those most likely to get regular plate appearances and to produce well when playing.

The Top Targets

There are three late catchers who combine access to plate appearances with past performance.

Wilson Ramos, Detroit (current ADP 340): A 2016 torn ACL recovery eating into 2017 is the only reason that Ramos has not turned in a season with over 400 plate appearances for every full season since 2015. The signing by Detroit looks to open up another everyday opportunity for the veteran catcher. Projections showing under 400 plate appearances feel very light for Ramos history, and also because Grayson Greiner is unlikely to force his way into more than a backup catcher role. A strong batting average with double-digit home runs while hitting in the fifth or sixth spot in the batting order in Detroit will help with his counting stats as well.

Omar Narvaez, Milwaukee (current ADP 356): In 2020, Narvaez turned in what may have been the worst statistical season by a catcher over the past five seasons. The season was not lost as Narvaez's defense improved which should help keep his spot in the lineup secure. There is a chance he is no more than a strong side platoon, however with currently 17 right-handed to only 3 projected left-handed starting pitchers in the NL Central, it looks to be a larger cut of the whole than from a platoon in other divisions. Expect a bounce back. Even with the 60, he put up in 2020 Narvaez has delivered a 108 weighted runs created (WRC)+ over his 1300 career plate appearances. The expectation of over 350 plate appearances is justified, and draft on return to form.

Yan Gomes, Washington (current ADP 322): I expect that Ramos will leap Gomes's current ADP of 322 before long, but this is still a good acquisition cost for a catcher of Gomes quality. Finally not splitting time with Kurt Suzuki, look for him to push 400 plate appearances this season. He has also always been a solid hitter. With a career .720 on-base plus slugging and 91 wRC+ over 2900 plate appearances, Gomes has a deep track record and has spiked his OPS+ over 100 in both 2018 and 2020. Expect Gomes to hit around the sixth spot in the batting order, with double-digit home runs.

The Best Speculation

My favorite young backstops.

Ryan Jeffers, Minnesota (current ADP 330): Performed well in his first experience at the major league level following an injury to Mitch Garver in 2020 after only 698 minor league plate appearances. Reports are that he is a capable catcher, which will help keep him in the lineup. Despite Jeffers being helped by a high batting average on balls-in-play in 2020, there is a lot to believe in with his profile. If his above-average power is joined by a decrease in his strikeout percentage to something closer to his minor league numbers, we should see some promising returns. However, with the potential for a time split with Garver lowering his plate appearances, and the volatility of young catchers as a whole, it may end up a boom or bust pick.

Luis Torrens, Seattle (current ADP 428): It has been a long time coming for Torrens. His development was slowed by a year in the major leagues in 2017 after San Diego selected him in the Rule 5 draft and was forced to hold him on the roster to retain him. Prior to that, he had not played above A ball. Torrens started to show some pop in 2019 in AA ball and has always shown an ability to avoid strikeouts. The 24-year-old was given a good look in September with Seattle after being acquired in the seven-player swap involving Austin Nola. The return of Tom Murphy from a broken foot may lead to a reduction in plate appearances, but it would not be surprising to have Torrens earn the bulk of the playing time.

Chance Sisco, Baltimore (current ADP 489): Only 26 on Opening Day, the two-time futures game participant has shown an elevated 33% strike out rate since debuting in 2017. He still has only 525 major league plate appearances. Sisco has consistently produced an over 10% walk rate. His minor league strikeout to walk rate was a solid 19% to 10%. Even considering the 33% strikeout rate In 525 major league plate appearances, Sisco has hit 16 home runs, scored 56 runs, and had 50 runs batted in. There is a good chance that Sisco will get strong side platoon plate appearances. I believe that there is an incentive to see what they have with him. Given that opportunity, you could spike something really nice at a very late pick.

Late Volume

Jacob Stallings, Pittsburgh (current ADP 371): A Gold Glove finalist in 2020, there aren't a lot of playing time concerns. Has exhibited a strong batting average on balls in play over his first 425 plate appearances, but he hasn't shown much power at any level. Backup Michael Perez has yet to take off in his short stints with Tampa Bay before being claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh in October and will not threaten his playing time.

Elias Diaz, Colorado (current ADP 414): Diaz turned in a .235 batting average in only 73 plate appearances in his first season in Colorado (2020). The disappointing production, a low-end repeat of his 2019 with Pittsburgh, makes 2018's 114 wRC+ seem even further in the rearview. On the positive, Elias did produce as many barrels over 53 batted balls in 2020 as he did in 251 batted balls in 2019 (6) and increased his hard-hit percentage to bring it back in line with 2018. He should see everyday plate appearances, but a slump could see backup Dom Nunez take some strong-side plate appearances.