Welcome to another edition of The Game Day Report’s 2018 MLB player rankings!
In this edition, we will be taking a look at baseball’s top 10 catchers. Having one of these ten guys on your team can really beneficial to your team, as several teams across Major League Baseball often struggle for the majority of the season to find consistent production at the catching position. If you have an elite defensive catcher but he grades out to be a below-average hitter, that could be perfectly okay in the right scenario as well.
Here’s a quick look at when the rest of our rankings will be released to the public:
First base: March 23rd
Second base and third base: March 24
Shortstops: March 25
Left fielders: March 26
Center fielders: March 27
Right fielders: March 28
Without further delay, here are our rankings of the top 10 catchers in baseball entering the 2018 season:
1: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2017 stats: 4.1 WAR, .320/.400/.462, 12 home runs, 67 runs batted in, 3 defensive runs saved
While his power numbers were down in 2017, San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey still hit an elite level, as he was one of 11 players to post an on-base percentage of .400 or higher last season. He remained the Giants’ best offensive threat in 2017, and will likely be just that once again even with the new additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen.
With the news that Madison Bumgarner is set to be sidelined for at least 4-6 weeks because of a broken pinky, it means that this will be the second-straight season that Posey doesn’t get to work with the southpaw right off the bat. Despite Bumgarner missing a good chunk of last season, Posey still graded out as one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and when you combine that together with his superstar hitting numbers, the 30-year-old Posey is still the best catcher in baseball, and could very well be adding to his Hall of Fame case starting this season.
2: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
2017 stats: 4.1 WAR, .278/.345/.531, 33 home runs, 90 runs batted in, 1 defensive run saved
The best power-hitting catcher in baseball resides in New York in Yankees young phenom Gary Sanchez, and he will be surrounded by two of the best overall power-hitters in baseball this season in outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.
What was most impressive about Sanchez’ 2017 campaign was the fact that he was still able to hit 33 home runs despite missing 40 games, including most of April. The questions and concerns about his defensive are relevant, but even with all of his issues on that side of the game, the Yankees pitching staff still loves working with Sanchez. He ranked fourth in catcher earned run average last season, posting a 3.43 mark.
It is scary for opposing pitchers to about how the Yankees could potentially have three players hit 40+ home runs this season, and if Sanchez doesn’t rip of 40 this year, he will more than likely do it at least one time in his career.
3: Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
2017 stats: 4.0 WAR, .276/.356/.499, 21 home runs, 74 runs batted in, 0 defensive runs saved
Bryant and Rizzo were both sensational once again last season, as the Bryzzo combo arguably combined to have their best offensive seasons yet, even though Bryant’s runs batted in were down from what he’s shown he’s capable of. However, several Cubs players after Bryant and Rizzo struggled offensively in 2017 like Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell, meaning that the Cubs needed someone to emerge offensive big time.
Contreras did just that.
The 25-year-old Contreras absolutely dominated the second half of the season by batting .305/.407/.586 with 10 homers and 33 runs batted in. Had he not landed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, it’s very likely Contreras would’ve throttled his name into the MVP conversation. You can certainly expect to see him, Bryant, and Rizzo there this year.
Another added bonus to Contreras’ skill set is his positional versatility. It’t not uncommon for manager Joe Maddon to stick him out in the outfield and have him play left field, and Contreras says he could also handle playing first and third base if needed.
4: J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
2017 stats: 3.6 WAR, .278/.332/.451, 17 home runs, 65 runs batted in, -3 defensive runs saved
JT Realmuto is the last man standing star in Miami.
Marlins executives Michael Hill and Derek Jeter will now attempt to build a contending team around Realmuto and other assets after trading away Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Dee Gordon this off-season, unless a team like the Houston Astros or the Washington Nationals makes an offer for the backstop they can’t simply refuse. In-order to pry Realmuto away from Miami, Houston would have to deal outfield prospect Kyle Tucker, and Washington would have to trade an outfield prospect of their own in Victor Robles. Neither team has been willing to do that so far, but things always change.
Back to Realmuto the player, you can classify him into the group of elite-hitting catchers, and his defense continues to improve. ESPN notes that while his pitch-framing is regarded as below average, Realmuto is better than league average at throwing out opponents trying to steal bases. He also ranked seventh in blocking runs last season, a valuable skill for catchers to have.
Whether or not the Marlins decide to keep Realmuto remains to be seen, but I tend to think they will go that way. If all goes right, he could potentially be baseball’s top catcher in a couple of seasons, and maybe by then he will be helping the Marlins compete in the National League East again.
5: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
2017 stats: 2.5 WAR, .268/.297/.495, 27 home runs, 80 runs batted in, 0 defensive runs saved
Salvador Perez has been an American League All-Star the last five seasons, and he looks right on track to make it six straight seasons in 2018.
While some pundits say he doesn’t get on-base at an elite level, his production at catcher still classifies him among the league’s best at the position. His 27 homers in 2017 ranked second among catchers in all of baseball last season, trailing only Sanchez’s 33. Only Sanchez and Yadier Molina ended up finishing with more runs batted in than Perez as well.
It’s possible that with Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain gone from Kansas City that we could see a dip in Perez’ production, but the organization did a good job at making several low-profile signings that could potentially make the Royals better than they look on paper this season. Plus, Mike Moustakas was at least brought back by the team, as he and Perez will likely be the top two offensive players for Kansas City for this year, and maybe years to come.
6: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
2017 stats: 2.0 WAR, .273/.312/.439, 18 home runs, 82 runs batted in, 7 defensive runs saved
Yadier Molina showed no sign of slowing down in 2017, as he had one of his most productive seasons power wise in 2017 with his 18 home runs. He still doesn’t like to miss games either, as he played in 136 out of 162 games despite the Cardinals once again wanting Molina to take more days off to rest his body.
There were some days where it appeared Molina wasn’t moving quite well behind the plate, but that’s the case with every catcher in baseball at various points during the season. It just happens to be more alarming when your 35-year-old catcher appears to have the issues.
While he doesn’t throw out opponents trying to swipe bases at an elite level anymore, he is still very good at getting his fair share of caught stealings. Molina throughout his entire career has been perhaps baseball’s best catcher at managing a pitching staff this year, and he will be a big help to young Cardinals pitchers like Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver in 2018.
7: Welington Castillo, Chicago White Sox
2017 stats: 2.1 WAR, .282/.323/.490, 20 home runs, 53 runs batted in, -9 defensive runs saved
Perhaps the most underrated move of the entire MLB season was the Chicago White Sox signing Welington Castillo to a two-year, $15 million contract with a club option for the 2020 season.
The White Sox don’t figure to be particularly good in 2018, they still may be a year or two away from seriously competing with the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins. But with a boatload of prospects set to make the White Sox competitive again and none of them being catching prospects, it was a very good move for general manager Rick Hahn to land Castillo on a team-friendly pact.
Castillo’s 2.1 WAR grades him as a solid starter, and it’s always good to receive 20 homers from your backstop when you assess the production several MLB teams get from their catchers. Kevan Smith figures to be Castillo’s main backup in 2018, which will give the White Sox one of the better catching tandems overall in the league. While nothing about Smith jumps off the page at you per say, he is still a very solid backup.
8: Jonathan Lucroy, Oakland Athletics
2017 stats: 0.6 WAR, .265/.345/.371, 6 home runs, 40 runs batted in, -15 defensive runs saved
The last couple of seasons have been a whirlwind for veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
He began the 2016 season with the Milwaukee Brewers, and in-order to help Milwaukee’s rebuilding project, he was dealt to the Texas Rangers in August 2016 for minor league prospects. Lucroy opened the 2017 season in Texas, but was traded to the Colorado Rockies when the Rangers fell out of contention ahead of the trade deadline once again.
Texas didn’t recoup what they could’ve for Lucroy had his performance been better with the team last season. He looked like a completely different hitter for the Rockies than he did with the Rangers in 2017, but that still wasn’t enough for him to re-up with the Rockies this winter and stay on a team that’s goal is to stay in contention. Instead, the Rockies signed a catcher they were very familiar with in Chris Iannetta, and let Lucroy walk out the door.
Recently, Lucroy agreed to a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics, and while they don’t have a really strong chance at the playoffs playing in a tough American League West division, they could potentially surprise some people with their success, as they will have one of baseball’s best lineups in 2018 with the addition of Lucroy factored in. Oakland’s lineup will feature plenty of power in home run smashers like Khris Davis, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman, while Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie and others can all hit for average.
What sucks for Lucroy is that he once again could be on the move ahead of the trade deadline if the Athletics decide they want to get value back for him before he hits free agency once again. The least he can do is perform like the former All-Star he is, and the player we saw in Colorado.
9: Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
2017 stats: 3.3 WAR, .251/.331/.509, 25 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 4 defensive runs saved
It took a while for Mike Zunino to become a successful catcher at the Major League level, but man is it a good sight to see.
His batting average was about league average last season at that .251 clip, meaning it was nothing special necessarily. However, Zuninio’s previous career high in batting average in a single season was .214, meaning he took a big step forward in 2017, especially when you consider that he had to spend a lot of time in the minor leagues in 2016.
The power has always been there for Zunino, who cranked out 22 bombs in 2014. It was just a matter of improving plate discipline in a way, because his batting average that season was below the Mendoza-line at .199. His batting average last season was nearly higher than his on-base percentage that season (.254), and then it was higher than his .230 on-base mark in 2015.
Zunino also finished the season very strong, as he perhaps had the best finish to a season by any catcher other than Contreras. In the second half of the season, Zunino batted .281/.376/.568 with 13 homers and 28 runs batted in, which helped raise his average to that .251 mark after it was just .223 after the first 64 games.
Perhaps Zunino could get on base just a tad bit more, but still, he is trending in the right direction for the 2018 season, and will help out a very potent Seattle Mariners offense big time. He’ll also be a big help to the pitching staff once again no matter what the hitting ends up being, as he is highly-regarded as a very good pitch-framer.
10: Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds
2017 stats: 3.4 WAR, .270/.347/.403, 7 home runs, 44 runs batted in, 11 defensive runs saved
For the first time in his Major League career, Tucker Barnhart will be a full-time starting catcher in 2018 He’s earn the right to be one considering his performance in 2017 filling in for the injured Devin Mesoraco, who is now his backup after Barnhart was his backup for all these years.
Mesoraco has officially lost his role as the Cincinnati Reds’ starting catcher largely because of his inability to stay healthy. Since playing in 114 games in his 2014 All-Star season, Mesoraco has played just 95 games over the past three seasons due to a variety of injuries. It should also be noted that Barnhart won the Gold Glove Award last season starting in place for Mesoraco a majority of the season, which also doesn’t help the 29-year-old’s case.
Nothing is really special about Barnhart the hitter, as he is a pretty average one. However, as touched on, his defense is exceptional. We’ll see how good he can manage a pitching staff when the Reds decide to surround him with MLB-level hurlers, but he threw out 44% of opposing base runners who tried to steal on him last year, which was the best rate in baseball.
Only 0.6 of Barnhart’s 3.4 WAR last season came from the offensive side of the spectrum, with the other 2.8 coming from his defense. That 2.8 defensive WAR was the highest mark in the National League, and only trailed Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons‘ 4.2 defensive war as the top mark in all of the league.
Brian McCann, Houston Astros
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves
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