MARKET PULSE: Catcher/DH, 2020

NOTE: Our preseason Market Pulse column is an exercise in identifying the gaps between the valuation of the "popular" market (as reflected in Average Draft Position, or "ADP") and that of BaseballHQ.com. If a player is not listed here, it's likely that he qualifies at a scarcer position, or he's not in the ADP Top 500-600 (it's a bit fluid). Remember that this is an exercise in relative valuation, not absolute.

Each hitter is being considered at his scarcest qualified position (in order: C/DH, SS, 2B, 3B, 1B, OF), as it is the scarcest eligible position that typically drives fantasy value. The rankings are a risk- and position-adjusted estimate using current BaseballHQ.com projections. It is a purely quantitative ranking, with no specific consideration of "upside" (aside from reliability scores). The dollar values are position adjusted, but do not incorporate risk. Average auction values are approximate. These are not the "official" BaseballHQ.com straight draft rankings, but they should be close.

The article assumes a standard 15-team, mixed, 5x5 league, though the recommendations here will generally apply in most formats. A positive number in the "Diff" column indicates a player that BaseballHQ.com ranks higher than the "market," and a negative number indicates we have the player ranked lower, based on ADP. The list is split into tiers, based on the ADP. The ADP itself is based on recent NFBC drafts.

(NFBC ADP Report) | Unofficial Rankings

This seems like the right time to remind everyone that the BaseballHQ rankings are position-adjusted. This mostly affects catchers, since the bottom of the catcher pool (with a couple of exceptions) is littered with fantasy millstones. For this reason, we are not a fan of reaching to take an elite catcher (there's really only one, anyway). We prefer making smaller reaches—generally, after the 10th round but before the pool of draftable catchers gets too exhausted.

                                      HQ                      --  HQ Projections --
Player                TM POS REL ADP Rank Diff HQ$ AAV Diff |  AB AVG HR RBI  R  SB
===================  === === === === ==== ==== === === ==== | === === == === === ==
Alvarez, Yordan      HOU   0 ADF  39   37    2  23  23    0 | 539 278 39 106  82  4

Realmuto, J.T.       PHI   2 AAB  56   19   37  20  19    1 | 508 277 21  80  84  8
Sanchez, Gary        NYY   2 DCD  86   99  -13  14  15   -1 | 432 245 35  78  67  1
Grandal, Yasmani     CHW  23 ABA  96  131  -35   8  14   -6 | 462 240 23  67  66  3
Ohtani, Shohei       LAA   0 CDD  96  186  -90   9  14   -5 | 373 284 21  63  57 12
Cruz, Nelson         MIN   0 AAD  99   27   72  25  13   12 | 518 287 39 113  85  1
Garver, Mitch        MIN   2 ADD 114  152  -38   7  12   -5 | 334 265 22  59  59  0
Contreras, Willson   CHC   2 BBD 122   57   65  15  11    4 | 490 268 28  75  67  3

Smith, Will           LA   2 AFD 151  138   13   8   9   -1 | 400 241 23  72  60  3
Ramos, Wilson        NYM   2 CCD 180  126   54  10   8    2 | 473 286 17  76  48  1
Davis, Khristopher   OAK   0 BAC 183  185   -2   8   7    1 | 462 241 33  81  66  1
Perez, Salvador       KC   2 FDC 185  200  -15   7   7    0 | 493 251 24  71  53  1
Vazquez, Christian   BOS   2 CCF 199  220  -21   5   7   -2 | 449 260 14  52  55  6
Kelly, Carson        ARI   2 ADC 214  202   12   5   6   -1 | 421 249 21  65  53  0
Narvaez, Omar        MIL   2 ACA 218  198   20   5   6   -1 | 456 273 16  51  57  0
Alfaro, Jorge        MIA   2 ACA 218  324 -106   1   6   -5 | 388 242 20  48  41  4

Murphy, Sean         OAK   2 CFC 232  297  -65   2   5   -3 | 343 252 13  52  58  1
Andujar, Miguel      NYY   0 FDF 237  206   31   9   5    4 | 482 282 22  75  58  4
Mejia, Francisco      SD   2 BDC 244  431 -187  -1   5   -6 | 355 263 14  40  41  1
Molina, Yadier       STL   2 CBA 250  168   82   7   4    3 | 448 271 14  64  51  6
D'Arnaud, Travis     ATL  23 FDB 254  335  -81   1   4   -3 | 346 250 15  59  47  0
Solak, Nick          TEX   0 ACA 264  506 -242  -3   4   -7 | 405 251 14  44  53  7
Posey, Buster         SF   2 CBD 272  326  -54   1   4   -3 | 464 261  9  49  53  2
Murphy, Tom          SEA   2 BFD 275  778 -503  -7   3  -10 | 224 247 12  30  24  1
Jansen, Danny        TOR   2 ADD 286  364  -78   0   3   -3 | 370 241 15  51  48  1
Perez, Roberto       CLE   2 BDD 286  430 -144  -1   3   -4 | 425 229 17  61  46  1
Suzuki, Kurt         WAS   2 ADB 289  295   -6   2   3   -1 | 318 264 14  60  42  0
McCann, James        CHW   2 ACD 308  543 -235  -3   2   -5 | 320 251 13  40  36  2
Chirinos, Robinson   TEX   2 BCB 322  325   -3   1   2   -1 | 364 235 17  55  53  1
Barnhart, Tucker     CIN   2 BCB 365  529 -164  -3   1   -4 | 424 247  9  50  41  1
Astudillo, Willians  MIN   2 CFA 377  613 -236  -5   0   -5 | 231 286  6  30  30  1
Caratini, Victor     CHC  23 BDD 380  710 -330  -6   0   -6 | 215 263  8  31  29  1
Severino, Pedro      BAL   2 ADB 427  839 -412  -7  -1   -6 | 316 231 12  37  31  2
Gomes, Yan           WAS   2 BCB 436  592 -156  -4  -1   -3 | 312 234 13  43  38  1
Zunino, Mike         TAM   2 BCD 443  582 -139  -4  -1   -3 | 410 205 20  52  46  0
Sisco, Chance        BAL   2 ADC 447  977 -530  -9  -1   -8 | 245 222 11  26  34  1
Romine, Austin       DET   2 ADB 456  432   24  -1  -2    1 | 323 259 11  50  40  1
Castro, Jason        LAA   2 FDF 465  667 -202  -7  -2   -5 | 330 217 13  37  45  0
McGuire, Reese       TOR   2 AFC 469  538  -69  -3  -2   -1 | 312 249 12  36  36  4
Flowers, Tyler       ATL   2 BDB 470  715 -245  -6  -2   -4 | 274 237 10  37  36  0
Vogt, Stephen        ARI   2 FFA 473  642 -169  -6  -2   -4 | 219 260 10  34  25  2
Castillo, Welington  FAA  20 AFF 491 1075 -584 -13  -2  -11 | 238 190 11  45  11  0

J.T. Realmuto (C, PHI), achieved an interesting dichotomy in 2019: he finished as the top fantasy catcher (by a fairly wide margin), yet disappointed almost every fantasy GM who drafted him. While his 2019 numbers were as good or better than 2018 in all categories, the move from Miami to Philadelphia was supposed to result in much better production, not slightly. Having said all of that, his 2020 projection is very conservative, with Miami 2017 still weighing his numbers down (but that was so many years ago). His second half, in particular, was quite strong, with his 18% hr/f lagging his 149 xPX somewhat. While a second half doesn't usually predict the following season, we can perhaps assume that it's a better measure of his skill, being after he adjusted to his new environment. We don't recommend paying a premium price for a catcher, so we'd pass on his 2nd-round projection. But we'd consider grabbing him as early as the 3rd or 4th round; his projection represents a reasonable floor, and he still has 35-HR upside.

Shohei Ohtani (DH/RHP, LAA) is a tough guy to value. If you add together his hitter value and pitcher value, he's in about the right spot in ADP, but you'd need to be in a league that allowed you to use him as a hitter and a pitcher at the same time. So we'll focus on the hitter part. The bad news is this: in two partial MLB seasons, he's displayed marginal plate skills (70%/9% ct%/bb%) without elite power (119 xPX). That's not a great combination. The good news: when looking at his Statcast results, his exit velocity and HH% are off the charts. Plus, his speed is approaching elite. So what gives with the power? The issue is his 47% GB% and 28% FB%—he just hits too many balls on the ground. We see 30 SB as more likely than 30 HR, though both would require a lot more PT. He's also only 25 and still below the 800 PA threshold, so there's still hope for growth. If he gets more PA and if he improves his plate discipline and if he learns to hit the ball in the air more and if he continues to run and if he stays healthy (CDD reliability), he could be a heck of a player. With so many ifs, the next guy on our list looks like a much better gamble at that ADP.

Let's take the worst of each metric for Nelson Cruz (DH, MIN) over the past six seasons: .266 xBA, 37 HR, 93 RBI, 70 R, 71% ct%, 9% bb%, 123 xPX, and 20% hr/f. Does his 2020 projection look reasonable given that floor? Absolutely. Does it matter that he'll be 40 on July 1? Absolutely. Despite his excellent AAD reliability, you'd be nuts to take him in the 2nd round, where he's projected. You'd also be nuts to pass on him in the 6th round, and you can even justify a 4th-round grab if you're in need of a power bat and are willing to assume the risk. Hey, if David Ortiz could hit 38 HR at age 40, so can Cruz.

It's hard to see why fantasy GMs are down on Wilson Ramos (C, NYM). Sure, his power is subpar and he hit a ton of pitches in the dirt in 2019, but hey, he stole a base! Look, .270-15-70 is probably replacement level for an outfielder, even with a swipe, but that's fantasy gold for a catcher. Plus, his 2019 FB% looks like an outlier. At 32, he's not much of an age risk. He's a nice pickup in the 10th-11th round if he's still there.

Jorge Alfaro (C, MIA) looks to be a solid catching option, with youth, league-average power (which is close to elite for a catcher), and a .266 career BA that you can live with when you have a 20-HR catcher. But we're scared. That .266 BA comes with a 63% ct% and a .238 xBA. His 25% hr/f in 2019 was well above the league average, and any drop there could destroy his value. That being said, his exit velocity and HH% are both 80th-percentile plus, so if he learns to lift the ball a little, those numbers could soar. He could wind up anywhere from a breakout to a serious BA anchor. That's too much variability to jump him seven rounds over what is already a pretty big jump from his 2019. We like his potential, but the price is just too high.

The Padres are in a tough position at catcher—they have a terrific defensive catcher who can't hit and a decent-hitting catcher who is not great behind the plate. Both BaseballHQ and fantasy GMs seem to think that Francisco Mejia (C, SD) will come out ahead in the battle, as Austin Hedges' (C, SD) hitting is just awful. Mejia isn't a terrible pick in the 16th, but you'd need to be confident about more PT from him before taking him ahead of some of the others available there. Plus, his .236 lifetime xBA is a downside warning that you shouldn't ignore. Between Alfaro (above) and Mejia, there's likely a breakout to be had in 2020, but the price of each is too high given the downside.

Yadier Molina (C, STL) will fall off a cliff at some point, but the beauty of his skill set is that it ages well. His solid contact (86% ct%) and reasonable power—albeit below average—put a nice theoretical floor on his BA. He's available past the 15th round and will contribute a little bit in all five categories. In a down year in 2019, he still finished as the #11 fantasy catcher. Given how thin the position is, Molina is a spectacular #2 catcher and a reasonable Plan C as a #1.

Tom Murphy (C, SEA) displayed excellent power (133 xPX) and improved control of the bat (67% ct%) in his first serious shot at major-league playing time. He's not the smoothest behind the plate, but he frames well, which is often a key to PT. His chief competition for PT is Austin Nola (C, SEA), a minor-league journeyman with exactly seven major-league appearances at catcher. Murphy could easily double (or more) his projected 228 AB. He's a slight BA risk, but .250-25-75 seems eminently achievable. We'll take that production from an 18th-round catcher any day.

Danny Jansen (C, TOR) was everyone's sleeper pick at catcher in 2019, but he didn't live up to the hype. His 2020 ADP shows that he doesn't yet qualify for post-hype status, as fantasy GMs are taking him high enough that they clearly expect better things from him in 2020. He'll be in a PT battle with glove-first Reese McGuire (C, TOR)—if he was the clear #1 in Toronto, he would easily be worth his 19th-round price. He made solid contact (77% ct%) in 2019, especially in the second half (80%). He flashes league-average power (97 xPX) and is a good enough defensive catcher to beat out McGuire with his offense—we wouldn't be surprised if the split ended up closer to 70/30, which gives Jansen some upside from his current projection. Given the lateness in the draft and the paucity of options at this point, we might even go a round or two earlier than his ADP.

If you need to get a ball hit into play, Willians Astudillo (C, MIN) is your man for the job, due to his combination of insanely low walk rate (2% bb%) and insanely high contact rate (96% ct%). His 28% H% in the majors so far needs improvement if he's going to have serious fantasy value, but he can play three positions and qualifies at catcher. The signing of Josh Donaldson (3B, MIN) cuts off one promising path to PT, and will likely push his ADP down. But while there's both upside and downside risk here, we promise he will be the most fun player on your reserve roster.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.