Deep League Draft Targets – Catcher

In the run-up to last season, I started a position-by-position series aimed at deep league owners and who, outside of the top 15 or 18 players at each position, they should target in drafts. I don’t know if it was helpful and I’m sure if I looked back at my picks, I’d find some duds in there. As I quickly found out covering my Deep League beat last season, finding studs amongst the bottom rung of players can often feel like an exercise in futility. But don’t tell that to deep league managers for whom there’s value in mediocrity. So, with that compelling introduction, let’s look at some mediocre catchers, eh?

Tyler Flowers

Currently, the 28th catcher off the board in NFBC drafts, Tyler Flowers may seem like a deep league backup or viable option only in two-catcher leagues. If you wanted to set your sights a little higher, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that point with you. But the barreling backstop made some nice changes last year that I first noticed back in June.

Flowers became more selective, which in part led to a more evenly distributed spray chart and some truly impressive batted ball velocities. In fact, among hitters with at least 30 batted ball events in 2016, Flowers ranked 10th in the league in average exit velocity and 48th out of 513 hitters in average exit velocity on line drive and fly balls. All said, Flowers put on a pretty impressive Statcast display last year:

Tyler Flowers’ Statcast
Avg EV (mph) Avg FB/LD EV (mph) Avg Dist (ft) Avg HR Dist (ft) Barrels per Batted Ball Barrels per PA
Flowers 94 95.4 225 422 13.10% 7.10%
Percentile 99 88 73 97 95 94
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Clearly, when Flowers put bat to ball he did something right and perhaps his increased selectivity had something to do with it. Throughout his career, Flowers has liked the ball high-and-tight. In 2016, he seemed to make an adjustment, eschewing the pitch up-and-in for ones lower and closer to the heart of the plate.


That’s Flowers’ swing percentage from 2012-2015 on the left and from 2016 on the right. Laying off pitches that would typically eat him up helped Flowers post his lowest pop-up rate since 2011 and go up the middle more frequently than he ever has in his career. As such, he became more difficult to shift against which, considering the quality of his contact, led to the highest BABIP of his career.

Now, Alex Chamberlain’s xBABIP equation elucidates that Flowers was the beneficiary of some luck. Still, there’s ample evidence that Flowers made substantive changes with regards to pitch selection as we can see from his heat maps. That adjustment likely resulted in a lower chase rate, more walks, fewer whiffs, and an improved quality of contact. Flowers makes for a suitable option in deep leagues, particularly in OBP formats and he shouldn’t cost more than a $1 or a final round pick to land.

Mike Zunino

Mike Zunino continues to tug on Seattle’s heartstrings. Sometime in the off-season between 2015 and 2016, Zunino decided that he didn’t really need to swing at everything. And while that improved selectivity didn’t necessarily precipitate a drop in strikeouts, at least not at the Major League level, it did allow him to reach base more often. He posted a career high .318 OBP and 115 wRC+ on the back of a 10.9% walk rate. An extreme fly-ball hitter, Zunino will always be a liability in batting average. But his prolific power remains his calling card and, as with Flowers, he’s a thumper.

Mike Zunino’s Statcast
Avg EV (mph) Avg FB/LD EV (mph) Avg Dist (ft) Avg HR Dist (ft) Barrels per Batted Ball Barrels per PA
Zunino 90.8 95.5 245 395 15.9% 7.3%
Percentile 78 89 96 50 99 95
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Now, given his league average home run distance, we should expect his 23% homer-to-fly ball ratio to regress considerably. Still, of the 12 bombs he hit, ESPN’s Home Run Tracker classifies just one as Just Enough; the other 11 would have been scored the same in most any other park.

We saw the best 192 plate appearances of Zunino’s career in 2016. While they may be too few to say definitively that he turned a corner, they nevertheless are enough to catch our eye, making him an intriguing pick in 2017. As the 20th catcher off the board, I like his upside far more than a couple of the names ahead of him, particularly Sandy Leon and Derek Norris. Seattle loves you, Mike. Even if we don’t always show up at the park to say so.

Andrew Susac

His valuable skill set, long overshadowed by that of the game’s preeminent backstop, Andrew Susac is someone I’d target in the depths of the painfully deep. He’s currently the 35th catcher off the board in NFBC drafts taken with the 439th overall pick. Like Flowers, he may be an option available at the end of many drafts who can provide a nice source of power and walks.

Susac has struggled throughout his career against right-handed pitching which, along with the strikeouts, is cause for concern. But there’s 10-15 homer upside to go along with a decent number of walks for those playing in OBP leagues.

Slated to start the season as the Brewers’ starting catcher, Susac’s only competition for At Bats appears to be Benny the Jett Bandy. And given how short Milwaukee is on viable minor league catchers, Susasc should enjoy a relatively long leash. Though limited, there’s some upside here in deep two catcher leagues.

Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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5 years ago

I read a ton about Zunino in the last year as I had him on a team in a close championship race in an AL-only, considering him as trade bait and recently whether or not to keep him. I’m glad to see this as additional evidence to likely take the keep.

What strikes me as possibly most valuable in the sense it might buy him a longer leash and therefore more playing time is his defense. Or at least, like 15 articles about him since college that all praise his work ethic, athleticism and overall defensive abilities. Is there strong merit to that thought or am I overrating it?