Fantasy: Posey headlines an intriguing group of backstops
By Andrew Simon
Every fantasy owner in standard leagues needs a starting catcher, but there aren't many standout options to go around. That's the reality at a position where defense is a priority and injuries and fatigue frequently take their toll on offensive production.
With so few steady, dependable performers, many owners will hope their pick might rebound from a down 2014, enjoy better health or take a step forward with the bat. With that in mind, here is a look at the best catchers available this year.
TIER 1:Buster Posey
There is nothing not to like about Posey, a former National League MVP Award-winner who should still be in his prime this year at age 28. He has played 147 or 148 games in three straight seasons, batting .314 with an average of 20 home runs and 88 RBIs, tremendous production at his position. Posey also started 30 games at first base in 2014, and the development of prospect Andrew Susac could allow him to get out from behind the plate a bit more. That would help keep him healthy and also fresh down the stretch.
TIER 2:Jonathan Lucroy, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann
Lucroy doesn't have Posey's track record or acclaim, but he has put up similar fantasy numbers over the past two years, hitting .291 while averaging 16 homers and 76 RBIs. The 28-year-old went deep 13 times in 2014, five fewer than the previous season, but his doubles jumped from 25 to a league-high 53. If more of those find their way over the fence this year, Lucroy easily could end up as the No. 1 catcher, and like Posey, he has the benefit of a side job as a part-time first baseman.
Gattis isn't likely to see much time at catcher after his recent trade from Atlanta to Houston, but that won't be an issue for fantasy owners this year. The main reason to target the 28-year-old is his power, which has allowed him to crush 43 homers in 213 big league games. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Gattis set a career high in that category this year, considering the right-handed hitter will play half his games at Minute Maid Park, where the inviting left field Crawford Boxes sit only 315 feet away down the line. Gattis has dealt with some injuries and might not have a set position this season, but if stays in the lineup -- whether at first base, DH or left field -- he certainly could lead fantasy catchers in homers.
Not too much went right for McCann in his first season with the Yankees, as he set a career low with a .692 OPS despite moving to a friendlier ballpark. Considering McCann will be 31 this season, that performance has to give owners some pause. Still, he managed to play 140 games in '14 while producing 23 homers and 75 RBIs. If that power holds steady and his .232 average bounces back a bit -- MLB.com's projections peg him at .251 -- McCann will be a solid fantasy option.
TIER 3:Yan Gomes, Salvador Perez, Devin Mesoraco, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters
The first three catchers in this group all are young players just settling into full-time roles, with room to grow. Gomes and Perez both swing freely at the plate and don't walk much, but they offer a nice blend of offensive skills. Gomes, 27, provides power (21 homers in '14) but also has more of a penchant for strikeouts (120), which could limit his average (.278). Perez, who turns just 25 in May, hit a career-high 17 homers last year and should see his .260 average come back up with better luck on balls in play. He also might benefit from more rest, having led the Majors with 143 starts behind the dish, something that probably contributed to him hitting .229 with a .595 OPS in the second half.
Though he spent some time on the disabled list last year and was limited to 114 games, Mesoraco pounded 25 homers and drove in 80 runs during a breakout campaign. Owners shouldn't expect the 26-year-old to produce at that same rate in 2015, but he also has a good chance to see more playing time, as long as he stays healthy. Those factors could roughly even out and allow Mesoraco to once again serve as one of the top sources of power at the position.
Martin provided huge value to the Pirates, as well as fantasy owners, during a career year at the plate in '14. On one hand, Martin easily could improve upon his 11 home runs as he trades PNC Park for the launching pad at Rogers Centre, especially if he stays on the field for more than 111 games. On the other hand, Martin's average -- which hadn't topped .250 since '08 -- is almost certain to come back down from the .290 mark it reached last season, thanks in part to a career-high .336 BABIP.
Molina hit .313 and averaged 16 homers and 74 RBIs over the previous three seasons before coming back to Earth last year (.282/7/38) at age 31. But at least some of that decline was related to a thumb injury that required surgery and kept him out of action for nearly two months. Even when Molina returned, he hit only .267 with no homers in 101 at-bats, a sign that the issue was still affecting him. Assuming it's no longer a problem in '15, he wouldn't be a bad bet for a rebound.
Wieters was heading toward a career year, batting .308 with an .839 OPS, before an elbow injury ended things last May and eventually required Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old is due back around Opening Day, but of course there is plenty of risk associated with any player returning from such a procedure. As long as Wieters recaptures the durability that allowed him to average 140 games from 2010-13, he's a solid bet for his fourth 20-homer season, even if he hits much closer to his career .257 mark.
TIER 4:Wilson Ramos, Travis d'Arnaud
Ramos has the tools to be a solid fantasy catcher but can't seem to get a break. He has missed significant time with a variety of injuries in three straight seasons, playing a combined 191 games. Of course, he is still only 27 and hit 30 homers with 116 RBIs over that span, so the ability is there. Ramos goes into 2015 as the clear starter, and owners who take a chance on him could see their significant risk pay off if he finally enjoys a healthy campaign.
When it comes to upside plays, d'Arnaud is intriguing. Long a highly rated prospect, he got his first extended shot at the Majors as a 25-year-old last year and was hitting .186 with a .562 OPS through June 26, including a stint back in Triple-A. But his numbers over his final 66 games hint at his potential: .273/.322/.486 with nine homers and 29 RBIs. Stretch that type of production over a full season, and you have a fantasy catcher well worth drafting.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.