Prospect Positional Review: Catchers

In or around last year’s holiday season I wrote a piece for FanGraphs+ that ranked the Top 50 Fantasy Prospects for 2015 by position. Because it’s in the middle of the offseason, it’s often an exercise in futility to properly project playing time for rookies — especially considering the large number of free agent signings and trades that have yet to take place. It’s quite fun, nonetheless, and still serves as a good starting point for understanding who might be turn into a unexpectedly valuable fantasy player for the coming year.

And with every preview, must come a review. With the regular season now behind us and the heart of the postseason underway, I present to you a review of the projected Top 50 Fantasy Prospects for 2015 — starting at the catcher’s position.

Marc’s Top 5
1. Andrew Susac, Giants
2. Jorge Alfaro, Rangers
3. Christian Bethancourt, Braves
4. Blake Swihart, Red Sox
5. Austin Barnes, Dodgers

Honorable Mentions:
Kevin Plawecki, Mets
Austin Hedges, Padres
James McCann, Tigers

Actual Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) Results
110 — Roberto Perez, Indians
99 — J.R. Murphy, Yankees
91 — Blake Swihart, Red Sox
91 — Andrew Susac, Giants
86 — J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
85 — James McCann, Tigers

I was originally going to rank the actual performances by WAR but since that stat includes a significant defensive value (something that’s not of value in fantasy baseball) I instead went with Weighted Runs Created (Read more about the stat in the FanGraphs Library). What it does it underline just how hard it is to find good hitting catchers (remember, 100 represents a league average hitter’s performance).

I fully whiffed on the top two guys. Perez was an all-glove guy for most of his minor league career and I really didn’t see the power coming to pair with outstanding on-base skills (his career minor league slash line is .236/.363/.347). As well, Yan Gomes was expected to see the bulk of the playing time in Cleveland in 2015 before an injury knocked him out for a significant part of the year.

With Murphy, a poor July-September from Brian McCann gave the freshman some strong playing time in the summer months and he hit quite well in July. As the veteran ages, the rookie should see more and more time behind the plate.

I went against the grain and put a lot of faith in Susac, expecting him to help encourage the Giants to use Buster Posey at first base more often. Unfortunately, the rookie struggled to hit — thanks in part to a 29% strikeout rate, significantly above his minor league rates, and he also got hurt. He should get another shot in 2016 to displace Posey as the main contributor behind the dish.

Swihart laid some solid groundwork for 2016 but a slow start to his big league career kept his offensive numbers down. After coming up May (thanks to injuries to other catchers on the roster) he struggled with a 60 wRC+ in the first half of the year but bumped that up to 118 in the latter portion.

Alfaro was another guy I thought the ultra-aggressive Rangers would push up to the Majors by mid-season but he got hurt and missed a good chunk of the year… and was later traded to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal.

Betancourt had a full-time gig all but handed to him on a silver platter and produced a pitcher-like 36 wRC+ which encouraged the Braves to have spend even more time in the minors (where he once again showed the ability to hit minor league pitching with ease). That helped A.J. Pierzynski go ahead and have his best season since 2012 — at the age of 39.

I remain a huge fan of Barnes but the trade to the Dodgers really didn’t do him any favors what with Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis in the fold. The rookie’s versatility (He’s quite good at second base) could still reward fantasy managers’ faiths in the coming years.

All in all, I think I made a valiant effort with the freshmen backstops — perhaps the most difficult position to project in this series.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Don Pardo
8 years ago

Schwarber’s 131 wRC+ laughs at the tiny numbers those other rookie catchers put up.