Lists have been circulating for the top 10 players at each position “right now”. Personally, I like to look at things with more of a long-term view. My lists factor in age and don’t just focus on the 2018 season. I take a look at it in more of a, “who would I draft if I were starting a team from scratch”, sort of way. So someone like Yadier Molina, who is a borderline future Hall of Famer, would have a very difficult time making the list at the age of 35. I also do not factor Minor Leaguers into the equation, so Francisco Mejia will have to wait his turn.
1. Buster Posey
Buster Posey remains in the top spot for me, although barely. I had a long debate with myself over this top spot. At 30 years old, Posey isn’t a young chicken anymore, but he is far from old. There are a couple young bucks knocking on his door, ultimately defense led me to keep him atop his throne. The two young catchers making a case for the top spot have troubles behind the dish currently, whereas Posey is a strong defender.
Posey has batted .300 five times in his career, and in three of the past four seasons. His home run power has been declining, but he still knows how to spray the ball all over the yard. I also expect to see a slight rebound in his power as he is too good to finish with just 12-14 home runs again. For his career, Posey has batted .308 while averaging 20 homers per 162 games played. He has an .850 career OPS and is coming off a season in which he produced the second highest batting average and on-base percentage of his career.
The Giants like to play Posey at first base some to save his knees and keep him fresher, and I think it would be smart of them to continue to do that more now that he is in his thirties. Ultimately, I think Posey will move off catcher in a couple of years and continue to be a good hitter for years to come.
2. Willson Contreras
Contreras is the youngster I most debated with moving into the top spot. Looking into his defense though, I found he has plenty of work to do to become the all-around catcher Buster Posey is. Contreras has made 19 errors and allowed 13 passed balls in 165 games at catcher. His 13 errors last season tied for the most at the position. Contreras does have a strong arm though and still plenty young to improve on defense.
At the plate, Contreras is already showing a lot. After debuting on top prospects list before the 2016 season, Contreras raked at AAA Iowa to the tune of a .353 average and 1.035 OPS. Since getting the call-up midseason, Contreras has batted .278 with 33 home runs and an .851 OPS in 629 Major League at-bats. Not too shabby for a guy just starting out. His 21 home runs last season came in just 377 at-bats. With regular playing time, Contreras looks like a catcher who can hit above .280 with 25-30 home runs. With some improvement on the defensive side of things and I might just change my mind about that top spot.
3. Gary Sanchez
Sanchez is, admittedly, a lot better than I ever thought he’d be. He has put up much better numbers at the Major League level than he ever did in the minors. Strange how all the Yankees players seem to go from mediocre minor leaguers to stars in the Majors. Sanchez did make the top 100 of prospects lists many times however, and here he is following up on that promise. After destroying the baseball following his call-up two seasons ago, Sanchez batted .278 while homering 33 times last year. His .876 OPS was tops at the position, edging out Posey and Contreras. Sanchez appears to be a perennial 30 home run threat.
The reason Sanchez comes in at third on my list is his defense. Quite frankly, Sanchez has no business even being a catcher. It seemed like every time I watched him play last year he was dropping at least one pitch every game. His 13 errors last season tied him for the Major League lead, as did his 16 passed balls. Leading just one category is bad enough, but both? Just give the man a bat and sit him on the bench at all other times.
4. Salvador Perez
It seems like Perez has been around a while, yet he is still only 27. Perez comes in 4th on this list due to his great defense and his power bat. He never walks, leading him to an on-base percentage under .300 four years running. However, he has homered over 20 times in each of the last three, topping out at 27 last season. This power still led him to the 5th highest OPS at the position last year among guys with 400 plate appearances. I’ve also always gotten the feeling his bat would perform a little better if Ned Yost would give him a few more days off. Perez seems to play catcher more than anyone else year in and year out, and his bat typically fades in the second half.
Perez is thought very highly for his ability to handle a pitching staff. He also is very good at blocking balls in the dirt and at throwing out runners. As such, he had won four straight Gold Gloves before last season. He also has made the same amount of errors over the last three years combined as the two catchers above him on this list made last season alone. It took him four years to compile the amount of passed balls Sanchez did last year.
5. J.T. Realmuto
Realmuto, despite being in the league for half as long as Perez, turns 27 before the season starts. He is perhaps the fastest catcher in baseball, using that speed to steal 28 bases over the last three seasons. He also is a pretty decent hitter, hitting .303 in 2016. His average dropped to a still respectable .278 last season, but he added more power, hitting 17 home runs. His .783 OPS was just a little behind Perez.
His defense needs a little work, as he has made 22 errors and allowed 28 passed balls over his three seasons in the bigs. His defense isn’t so bad that he might get moved to a different position, but he has some work to put in before moving up the list.
6. Welington Castillo
Castillo has been perennially underrated the past few seasons. He has a power bat, for the position, and a strong throwing arm. Castillo broke out in 2015 after joining the Diamondbacks, hitting 17 home runs over just 274 at-bats. He was decent again in 2016 before setting some personal bests last season. Castillo hit a career high 20 home runs in only 341 at-bats. He batted .282 with a .490 slugging percentage and .813 OPS. Behind the plate, Castillo led the league by throwing out 49% of would be base stealers. At 30 years old and not a lot of innings on his legs, Castillo should remain a solid contributor for a few more years.
7. Mike Zunino
Zunino was drafted third overall by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. He tore up minor league pitching the rest of that season and was ranked by Baseball America as the 13th best prospect in baseball. The Mariners rushed him to the Majors the next season and Zunino wasn’t ready. Not given the proper time to develop, Zunino hasn’t been the player he was supposed to be. Before last season he was a .195 career hitter at the Major League level.
Early last season was much the same for Zunino, as he was batting .167 when he got sent to the minors in early May. Something clicked for Zunino after a second call-up though. Starting in June, Zunino batted .272 the rest of the way with 24 home runs. He had a stellar .582 slugging percentage and .936 OPS during that time, numbers that would even surpass Gary Sanchez. So the question is, which Zunino will we see moving forward? Will he revert back to the hitter he was before last season, or will the improvements take permanent hold?
8. Austin Barnes
Barnes is a name not many people knew until the postseason last year. Barnes entered last year with a total of 61 career at-bats. He earned more and more playing time as last season progressed before ultimately usurping Yasmani Grandal for the starting catcher role. Barnes had batted .289 with 8 home runs and a stellar .408/.486/.895 slash line on the season. He then played in 15 games in the playoffs as opposed to just four for Grandal. There is precedence for Barnes’ hitting, as he was a career .299 hitter with a .388 on-base percentage during his minor league career.
9. Christian Vazquez
Red Sox fans have heard about Vazquez’ defense and amazing arm for years now. We finally got a chance to see it on a regular basis last year. Vazquez was the Red Sox main catcher and threw out 42% of attempted base stealers. This was right in line with his 43% in his career. He does have some work to do with blocking pitches, but I have little doubt the rest of his game behind the plate will improve.
Vazquez has always been good at getting his bat on the ball, so I thought he could develop into a solid contact hitter with decent averages. I was surprised to see him bat as high as .290 last year though in his first full season. Even if he can’t maintain an average that high moving forward, a contact hitter at catcher who can bat .270 while controlling the running game is a definite asset.
10. Yasmani Grandal
This spot was up for grabs, and I ultimately went with Grandal, who might not even have a starting job this year. A low average hitter, Grandal has historically drawn a lot of walks while hitting for power. Last season though, his walks dropped off quite a bit while he struck out more than ever. This is a concerning development for Grandal fans and made me want to go in another direction. There aren’t a whole lot of options though, and with his power and just 29 years old Grandal still seemed like the choice. He has homered 49 times over the last two seasons.
Grandal is also considered to be an excellent pitch framer. That’s really all he has working for him behind the plate though, as he has led the league in passed balls in three of the past four seasons. His defense tends to be overrated by analytics.
Wilson Ramos, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy, Robinson Chirinos, Brian McCann
Featured picture from minorleagueball.com
View the original article on Red Sox Extra: The Best Catchers in Baseball Long-Term