Catcher Tiers – May 2014

I’m not a connoisseur of much of anything pop culture, and I don’t consider myself the most well-informed citizen on any particular subject. I probably give myself less credit than I deserve, relative to the general population. Which is full of people who know what is “just the best,” even though it’s something different every other day. Which of course instantly discredits them because of their failure to understand the function of a superlative. But that doesn’t mean I won’t worry about my own qualifications.

I have doubts about whether the kind of fancy tier names I’ll generate will be worthy of those that have graced the virtual pages of FanGraphs. Howard Bender classified the catchers based on lodging chains at which he’s stayed (I’m just assuming, probably incorrectly, but amusingly) last month. That’s a good theme, fairly simple. I’ll try to follow that lead.

Then again, what am I anxious about? You’re going to shred my rankings of the catchers before anything else.

Buster Posey
Wilin Rosario
Brian McCann
Carlos Santana
Matt Wieters

Slow starts in these parts don’t mean a lot. No reason to worry about the production of Rosario and McCann. The latter has already come out of his funk a little. Santana, on the other hand, is a tad worrisome. He posted just his second multi-hit game of the season on Monday. What gives? His batted balls have ended up in either the air or on the ground. Perhaps he’s taking his below-average defense at the hot corner with him to the batter’s box. Santana doesn’t seem like the type, though, and I don’t see anything in his early-season numbers that gives me much pause before I declare a turnaround somewhat imminent. Last night’s bomb could be a good sign.

Wieters might be a controversial addition to Mercury’s neighborhood this early. Am I overly influenced by his .338/.370/.554 start to this campaign? His results against right-handed pitching are much improved, and there may be reason to doubt whether they’ll continue. But he’s been consistently deficient against them for so long that it’s fair to speculate that development in that area has been a point of emphasis for him. Wieters was this Holy Grail of a prospect half a decade ago, and fantasy owners have grown tired of his disappointing output, relatively speaking. It can take more time for catchers than it does players at any other position to reach peak form. He’s 28. He’s usually started slowly, and has that trouble versus righties. But his defense has been really good for a few years now, and his bat appears to be ready to catch up.

Joe Mauer
Jonathan Lucroy
Yadier Molina
Salvador Perez
Jason Castro

I’m a Mauer apologist, but the move to first base hasn’t done much for his offense, yet, despite the fact that the Minnesota Twins have fielded one of the AL’s top offenses thus far. Still, all the positives about the position switch remain in play, and the rise in strikeout rate doesn’t concern me, because the rest of his indicators haven’t changed. The BA should still end up around .300, and the volume will come with it. If by some miracle the Twins remain formidable on offense, then that’d just be icing.

Evan Gattis
Miguel Montero
Yan Gomes
A.J. Pierzynski
Devin Mesoraco
Josmil Pinto

Mesoraco is a relatively hot fantasy topic, for good reason. It’s a shame that this mild strain of his left hamstring interrupted his ungodly start to 2014. That’s not what keeps him on Earth, though. I love the numbers so far, but I discussed a couple of weeks ago why I’m not convinced that he’ll continue to be such a force. Mainly it’s that pitchers seem to have been attacked the same way for most of April, and I can’t help but wonder how hurlers’ adjustments are going to affect him when he makes contact so infrequently. But unquestionably, this is looking like a big breakthrough so far.

Pinto is just a quality hitter. Ron Gardenhire has even admitted that it’s hard to keep him out of his lineup. I wonder how the PT will be divided once Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham are back, assuming that the rest of the roster is healthy. But there’s been so much praise of Pinto’s tireless work to learn about defense and opposing hitters even though he’s rarely playing catcher that I can’t help but think that he’ll be phased in behind the plate at a rate that makes him mixed-league-worthy for the rest of the season.

Yasmani Grandal
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Russell Martin
Welington Castillo
Dioner Navarro
Carlos Ruiz

Grandal has recovered from reconstructive knee surgery more quickly than anticipated. There’s clear upside in his Mars-worthy game. Martin isn’t expected to miss much time because of his strained left hamstring, but it’s an ailment that can be traced to spring training. He’s been known to play through other nagging injuries, which is good for his work record but not necessarily for his offensive production. I expected a rebound from the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chooch, and I won’t deny that I’m biased. But, hey, the guy is taking his attention-deficit meds again. He’s off to a good start in 2014, especially in the walk department, and all signs point to another quality batting average like his marks of 2011 and 2012. Plus, he could easily approach double-digit home runs. Salty has seen some benefits to a spot in the order near Giancarlo Stanton.

Alex Avila
Mike Zunino
Travis d’Arnaud
Wilson Ramos
A.J. Ellis

Jupiter is a busy tier, really. Some fantasy owners tend to be too optimistic about young catchers, who have a lot more to handle than green players at other positions, but Zunino’s power is apparent, and he doesn’t appear to be overmatched regularly. I’m a little more concerned about d’Arnaud, but his plate discipline gives him the foundation to make gradual improvement. The Washington Nationals are encouraged by the progress that Ramos has made in his recovery from surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left wrist. That wrist will probably be weak for an extended period, though, so it’s hard to be optimistic that he’ll hit, at least for power, when he returns. Ellis is also making a quick recovery. Avila has shown signs that he’s pulling out of his early-season nosedive.

Derek Norris
John Jaso
Chris Iannetta
Tyler Flowers
Ryan Hanigan

This continues to smell like a breakthrough season for Norris, who has hit both left- and right-handed pitching pretty well in his short career. He’s received enough playing time to be dangerous in 15-team mixed leagues. There’ll be swoons, surely, but I expect him to remain relevant in those formats for most of the year. Flowers, meanwhile, has forgotten why he’s hanging around Saturn. Of course, his average is full of miscellaneous gases, so perhaps not. Let’s hope that he starts to pop a few out as his average begins its journey toward .220.

Kurt Suzuki
Geovany Soto
Robinson Chirinos
Hank Conger
Jose Lobaton

I’m not the only one who figured that Conger had approached the point at which he might overtake Iannetta. The distribution of plate appearances thus far suggests that time is nowhere near, despite the fact that Conger has improved on defense as a whole. He still seems to make the occasional boneheaded play, and those don’t sit well with Mike Scioscia, no matter how much the rest of the switch hitter’s game would offset such missteps. Is anyone convinced that Suzuki’s April is indicative of his revival? Chirinos, not unexpectedly, has separated himself from J.P. Arencibia as the Texas Rangers’ catcher to own until Soto returns.

Tim Federowicz
Jordan Pacheco
Brayan Pena
John Buck
Hector Sanchez
Gerald Laird
Ryan Doumit
Steve Clevenger
David Ross
Chris Stewart
Rene Rivera
J.R. Murphy
Nick Hundley

There’s either a sliver of hope of more playing time, or that opportunity has already come about, plus a touch of redemptive value on offense, in Neptune’s orbit. There probably isn’t much to distinguish some of these backstops from those in the final tier, but I made the distinctions anyway. Perhaps the San Diego Padres will trade Hundley to a better situation.

Anthony Recker
J.P. Arencibia
Jeff Mathis
Adrian Nieto
John Baker
Josh Thole
Erik Kratz
Francisco Cervelli
Tuffy Gosewisch
Jose Molina
Tony Cruz
Martin Maldonado
Brett Hayes
Bryan Holaday
Sandy Leon
Drew Butera
Tony Sanchez
Wil Nieves
Austin Romine
Tucker Barnhart

Before anyone spazzes because I included Pluto, which I hear no longer qualifies as a planet, let me just point out the reason: If you’re using one of these catchers, then your team, like Pluto’s planet-hood, is defunct. Which demonstrates just how bad Arencibia is.

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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8 years ago

Molina is too low.

Sgt. Hulka
8 years ago
Reply to  rob

The price of Molina is too damn low!

8 years ago
Reply to  rob

Totally agree.
End of year yahoo rank for Yadier in 2012 = 3rd among catchers.
end of 2013 = 1st.
This year so far 3rd.