Over the next couple of weeks at Harper Wallbanger, I'm sorting through the Big Board for 12-team 5x5 leagues to find the must-draft and must-avoid players at each position. Let's kick things off with Catchers!
State of the position
Sanchez has claimed the top spot, and Posey's power has really started to wane, but the real story at catcher might be the disappearing middle-tier. After Sanchez, Contreras, Posey, there are a few viable catchers left in Realmuto, Perez, and Gattis... it gets real ugly after that. Even in 12-teamers, the bottom tier is mostly unappealing, a bunch of 30+ year olds that you're hoping hold up to the rigors of a full season of catching. So, what's the strategy at this position?
Target: J.T. Realmuto
547 PA, 16 HR, 70 R, 60 RBI, 8 SB, .280 AVG
Poor J.T. is the last man standing after the Marlins blew everything up this offseason, and we can see that in the depressed R/RBI totals. But so far, the ADP shows that people are adjusting way too far for that! Realmuto is very valuable for one simple reason, which is that he puts up ~550 PA per season (545 in '16, 579 in '17) of above-average production at catcher. Only 4 C-eligible players put up over 500 PA last year. For that reason, I'm taking Realmuto as the 4th catcher off the Board, ahead of Salvy Perez. It's not a huge discount, but my main recommendation here is to grab one of the top dogs because the bottom half of the catcher pool is ugly. Out of the top guys, he's the best deal!
When to target: He's an 8th round value, but ADP is actually pretty variable among the sites, target in Round 9 on CBS, Round 10 on Yahoo, or Round 12 on ESPN.
Risk profile: Low.
Target: Mike Zunino
480 PA, 27 HR, 61 R, 72 RBI, 1 SB, .230 AVG
I get it, we've been burned before. I still remember being pumped to pick up Zunino after his callup in 2013, when he rewarded me with a sick .620 OPS. Zunino had a nice 2017, and the breakout actually started in '16 - he's had a .260 ISO since then. The average will never be pretty, as he's refused to learn how to not strike out, but he is really gripping and ripping now and xStats supports the sky high ISO. This is the 2nd-best HR projection among all catchers (after Gary Sanchez). The Mariners have something called a "Marjama" at backup catcher, so expect Zunino to play as close to full time as possible, too.
When to target: Out of the bottom tier of catchers in 12-teamers, this is the guy I want. A 14th round value, he can be had in Round 17 on CBS/ESPN, or a bit earlier, Round 15-16 on Yahoo.
Risk profile: Medium.
Avoid: Yasmani Grandal / Austin Barnes
420 PA, 20 HR, 46 R, 57 RBI, 1 SB, .236 AVG
375 PA, 11 HR, 47 R, 47 RBI, 7 SB, .270 AVG
Grandal had a weird, bad year in '17, but before that was a solidly above-average catcher (and elite in OBP leagues). Meanwhile, Austin Barnes appeared, and put up a surprisingly fantasy-relevant line with a .289 AVG and .895 OPS. He even chipped in some steals! The only thing missing for Barnes was playing time, and through some kind of weird monkey's paw curse, it looks like he'll get more this year... at the cost of Grandal. Now we are left with two players, both could be fantasy relevant (Grandal in a Zunino-sort-of-way, while Barnes does his best Realmuto impression), but it looks like neither of them will be because of playing time. I am hedging (no, not Austin Hedges-ing) my bets with these two projections above - the most likely scenario is one of these guys gets 400 PA, the other gets 300, but at this point it doesn't seem like even Dave Roberts could tell you what will happen. Injuries could be the difference here, or a trade, but either way it's not something I want to bet on.
Risk profile: Medium.