Fantasy catchers typically have limited value to teams — although outliers like Buster Posey exist — so it doesn’t make much sense to spend much money (in auction leagues) or a significant draft slot on the position. As a result, rookie catchers can often provide a good option in fantasy — especially for the second slot in two-catcher leagues — because they can be had for little financial commitment/be snatched off the waiver wire and some possess untapped offensive potential.
Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies: Alfaro could develop into one of the top catchers in baseball on both sides of the ball thanks to his plus power and rocket arm behind the plate. From a fantasy-only perspective, he has the potential to be a Top 10 option before his rookie season is over. However, he needs to be more selective at the plate if he’s going to realize his full potential. His strikeout rate of more than 30% at triple-A was down right scary and his walk rate throughout his minor league career has hovered around just 5%.
Again, catchers don’t have to be great hitters to be valuable to a big league team so Alfaro’s 20+ home run potential (and ability to hit the ball really hard) is enough to get excited about. The big obstacle for the rookie backstop in 2018 is the presence of decent big league catchers Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp. However, both of the more seasoned catchers have remaining minor league options while Alfaro does not.
Chance Sisco, C, Orioles: Sisco is an interesting prospect. He’s shown excellent offensive numbers (for a catcher) in the minors and, by all accounts, hits the ball pretty hard. The odd thing about him, though, is that his offence have been buoyed by a consistently-high BABIP. For example, his BABIP in triple-A last year was .351. The year before, it was .387. And while Sisco has some athleticism, he’s no Jarrod Dyson.
And the rookie catcher is only going to get slower as the rigors of catching play havoc on his knees. Still, he’s shown excellent line-drive pop and takes a lot of walks. As a result, Sisco should be a solid hitting catcher in The Show but don’t necessarily expect all-star type offence from him. And the recent acquisition of Andrew Susac (along with the continued presence of Caleb Joseph) could push Sisco back to triple-A for a while.
Tom Murphy, C, Rockies: Murphy had a strong finish to 2016 and looked poised for a shot at significant big league playing time in ’17 but injuries stepped in and ruined his chance. The club has turned to free agent and former Rockier Chris Ianetta to handle the bulk of the playing time in ’18 but defensive whiz Tony Wolters had a putrid offensive season in 2017 as the back-up so Murphy could earn an opening day slot.
Much like Alfaro above, the Rockies rookie has issues with his approach at the plate and strikes out too much while not walking enough. And he’s also taken advantage of some healthy BABIPs in the minors due to the fact he hits the ball so darn hard. He’ll be a low-average guy in the Majors but his homer pop could be something to see — especially while playing in Colorado and in the juiced ball era. Murphy will turn 27 in April so time is running out for him to establish himself as a big league option.
Carson Kelly, C, Cardinals: The presence of veteran stalwart Yadier Molina will likely limit any true value Kelly has in 2018 but the veteran backstop should continue to see his playing time decline until his contract runs out after 2020. Add in an increased likelihood for injury to the veteran and the rookie is someone to keep an eye on. He’s not going to hit for a ton of power (well, ok, everyone can hit for power in this era of MLB) but Kelly should hit for a solid average with limited strikeouts.
He also significantly increased his walk rate in 2017 so, if that is a trend rather than an outlier, there is additional value there, too (especially if you’re playing Ottoneu). Kelly is also athletic enough that the Cardinals could try and get his bat into the lineup by playing him at other positions like third base or the outfield.
Danny Jansen, C, Blue Jays: Like Kelly above, Jansen’s fantasy value in 2018 depends on the health of the veteran starter ahead of him on the depth chart. Russell Martin is going to play pretty much every day in Toronto until his contract runs out after 2019 but he’s entering his 13th MLB season and started to break down more regularly in 2017.
That could open up playing time for Jansen — who was one of the fastest rising prospects in baseball last year thanks to his offensive breakout (ability to hit for average, more BBs than Ks, gap pop) and solid defensive skills. The biggest obstacle to Jansen being the “No. 3 catcher” for Toronto is the presence of another catching prospect who will likely open the year in triple-A along side him. Reese McGuire’s reputation of a plus defender could also earn him big league playing time in 2018.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.