Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: CatcherSporting News — (Jacob Janower)
It's not much of a secret that catcher doesn't feature the deepest or most talented set of rankings. The lack of obvious starter options means there are plenty of potential sleepers who can provide substantial value in the later rounds of fantasy baseball drafts. Whether it's the ability to hit for power amongst a position group that doesn't have a lot of it or the tendency to get on base at an above-average mark -- or simply being in the lineup most days -- these undervalued players can help your team, even if they may not be household names.
Bounce-back candidates, potential-filled rookies, and those who changed scenery over the offseason make up our list of this year's top catcher sleepers.
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2019 Fantasy Baseball C Sleepers
Eligibility based on Yahoo's default settings
Willson Contreras, Cubs. A breakout sophomore season was followed by a disappointing 2018 for Contreras, who hit only 10 home runs — including only three in the second half — and slashed .249/.339/.390. If there is a reason for hope with Contreras, it's that last season — when he was viewed by many as a top option at the position— seems more like an anomaly than anything. It's a small sample size, but his 2018 numbers in almost all of the core categories were worse than his first two seasons. Contreras may also benefit from new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who has experience working with the catcher dating back to his minor league career. The Cubs stacked lineup will provide plenty of RBI opportunities and, in turn, chances for runs, which should benefit those who draft Contreras at a reduced price. Unlike fellow 26-year-old backstop Gary Sanchez, who is also coming off a disappointing '18, Contreras didn't suffer a major injury or have shouldery surgery, which might actually make him a little "safer" and a better value in drafts.
Willians Astudillo, Twins. Astudillo, a cult hero in some baseball circles, is one of the more unique fantasy options. He hardly ever strikes out or walks, posting a 17/12 K/BB ratio in 307 plate appearances across Triple-A and the majors in 2018. Astudillo usually picks his pitch early in the at-bat, which could go both ways, although it served him well in his first MLB stint. He slashed .355/.371/.516 in 97 at-bats with Minnesota, although most of those hits were singles. Astudillo's playing time is his biggest question, as the Twins have Jason Castro behind the plate, but he could also gain eligibility at second and/or third base, where he played six and two games, respectively, last season. If he finds everyday playing time, he'll offer a little pop, a little SB ability, and serve as one of the few catchers who will hit for a high average.
Danny Jansen, Blue Jays. Jansen comes with risks, as rookie catchers rarely put up huge stats, but the talented 23-year-old impressed in 109 Triple-A games (.285/.396/.488), particularly in terms in K/BB ratio (56/55). He held his own during his 31-game stint in Toronto last year (.247/.347/.432), and given the relative weakness of the catcher position, he could be a top-12 backstop without a true breakout season. -- Matt Lutovsky
Jorge Alfaro, Marlins. Alfaro has lost a bit of his top-prospect shine. Still, the 25-year-old backstop popped 10 homers in 108 games last year for the Phillies, and he should see ample playing time with the Marlins. As with Jansen, even a merely "decent" season for Alfaro could make him a legit starting catcher in 12-team leagues. -- Matt Lutovsky
Robinson Chirinos, Astros. Chirinos is coming off career highs in home runs (18), RBIs (65), and walks (45) in 2018 with the Rangers, and he should will benefit from being in a loaded lineup with Houston. Chirinos should start the season as the Astros' backstop, although it's unlikely they are going to have a long leash with him, especially with prospect Garrett Stubbs knocking down the door in Triple-A. Draft Chirinos if you're in a deeper league and looking for some pop from your backstop. He is quietly eighth in home runs (35) among catchers in the past two seasons.
Francisco Mejia, Padres. The second rookie to appear on this list, Mejia's immediate playing team may not be as clear as Jansen's. Austin Hedges is also expected to get a sizeable amount of playing time behind the plate, at least to begin the season. Still, Mejia's potential makes him worth the short-term risk. He hit .293 with an .809 OPS and 46 extra-base hits over 468 plate appearances in Triple-A last season. His K/BB was concerning (83/25), but he was a 22 year old who was mostly playing with players who were older and more experienced. In a cup of coffee with the Padres, Mejia struggled in most offensive categories, although he flashed his power potential with three home runs in 54 at-bats. Mejia owners should have patience, but the payoff could pay off, especially with the opportunity he should get to hit behind Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in the lineup.
John Hicks, Tigers. Slated to be Detroit's opening day DH, Hicks' immediate playing team is more guaranteed that most other sleepers on the list. His major league numbers haven't been too enticing so far (.262, 15 HRs, 54 RBIs combined over past two seasons), but his ability to play every day, regardless of whether it's at catcher, designated hitter, or first base, will give him value, especially in weekly leagues. He could easily fall out of the lineup and everyday role, but with Miguel Cabrera a major injury risk and Grayson Greiner completely unproven behind the plate, Hicks could stick somewhere. The value of playing every day will be most evident in weekly leagues. (Update: With the Tigers signing Josh Harrison, Hicks will likely need an injury to become an everyday DH.)
Tyler Flowers, Braves. Flowers has been a sneaky-good platoon bat since arriving in Atlanta in 2016, and his renowned pitch-framing skills combined with the departure of Kurt Suzuki could lead to an uptick in playing time for the veteran catcher. He'll now be spelled by Brian McCann, an injury-prone backstop who managed to play just 63 games last season. Flowers hit .270 in '16 and .281 in '17; a BABIP well below his career norm last season should bounce back in '19 and lead to another solid batting average, particularly against lefthanded pitchers. He should also be bankable for double-digit home runs, something he's done in three of the past six seasons despite playing a part-time role. Oh, and there's this: Flowers has maintained a significantly higher average exit velocity and launch angle than league average for four straight seasons. He's not flashy, but if used properly, there might not be a better late-round option at catcher. --Dan Bernstein