Catcher might be one of the thinnest positions we cover in our rankings, but it might also be the most important. The 2016 season saw some promising newcomers in the forms of Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras. There may not be the same star power here as there is at shortstop, but these players are just as vital to their teams’ success.
Below are what I believe to be the top ten catchers in Major League Baseball going into 2017. In order to qualify for the list, the player had to play the majority of their games behind the plate (so no Evan Gattis). I not only weighed the players’ abilities to handle the stick, but also their abilities to control a pitching staff, frame pitches, and control the running game of opposing teams. I did not take base running into account as most catchers are not very likely to be relied upon in the running game.
10. Gary Sanchez: New York Yankees
I could have gone a lot of ways with this one. Some would argue that Sanchez shouldn’t be on the list since he hardly had more than a cup of coffee in the majors this year, while others would argue that ranking him here is not nearly high enough. The now 24-year-old Sanchez arrived on the scene after the All-Star break this year and proceeded to hit .299 with 20 home runs in just 53 games in 2016. With Brian McCann now out of the Bronx, Sanchez will be able to fully shine as a vital part of the young Yankee core.
9. Stephen Vogt: Oakland Athletics
While this may surprise some people, Vogt has been one of the most solid catchers in the league over the last few years. Although nothing amazing sticks out about Vogt, he has been above average in just about every category since he came up. His numbers offensively may be helped by the fact that he is often part of a platoon, so that hurts him a bit in the rankings. Vogt may not get the credit he deserves due to playing in Oakland, but being named an AL All-Star the past two years has helped to raise his profile.
8. Wilson Ramos: Tampa Bay Rays
I considered leaving Ramos off of this list because he will not be one of the top catchers in 2017 due to a torn ACL that he suffered in September. While he may be able to DH towards May or June, it will likely take until at least July before he will be at full capacity behind home plate for his new team. Ramos took a big step in his development last year as he hit .307, crediting that success to the laser eye surgery he had in the offseason. Ramos seems to be coming into his own, and hopefully a move to Tampa will further improve him as player.
7. Francisco Cervelli: Pittsburgh Pirates
This ranking may seem high for many New York Yankees fans, but Cervelli has thrived since leaving the Bronx after 2014. While injuries continue to plague Cervelli (only more than 102 games once), he is effective both offensively and defensively when healthy. He had his breakout season in 2015 when he battered .295 and eventually earned himself a three-year, $31 million extension. He is now over 30, but if he can stay healthy, Cervelli should prove to be worth the money.
6. Yadier Molina: St. Louis Cardinals
As a Cardinals fan, it’s hard for me to have Yadi all the way down here. At the young age of 33, he somehow managed to catch 147 games last season, the most in his career. While the average is still there for him, the double digit power he had for a few years has seemingly disappeared, and his numbers have slipped a bit on the defensive side. This year was the first time since 2007 that he did not take home the Gold Glove. It pains me to say that we may be nearing the end of this future Hall of Famer’s career.
5. Brian McCann: Houston Astros
Speaking of guys on the other side of 30, here we have McCann. Last season, McCann hit the 20-HR plateau for the ninth season in a row, proving to be a model of health and consistency. This offseason, the rebuilding Yankees were able to trade McCann to the Houston Astros, where he will get the chance to play for a World Series contender for the first time in a while. McCann may end up as a DH for this team, but he played most of this season behind the plate. McCann should still have a few good years left in him to mash at Minute Maid.
4. Yasmani Grandal: Los Angeles Dodgers
Grandal being this high on the list may surprise a lot of people, but he is here for what he brings on the defensive side of the plate. Yasmani has been one of the best pitch framers in the league over the past few years, helping out his pitching staff by gaining some extra strikes. Having a defensive-minded catcher behind the plate can be a great advantage for a contending team. This defensive-minded catcher just so happened to break out for 27 homers last season as well, proving that he may be coming into his own with the stick. Coming into his age 28 season, expect Grandal to make a name for himself and likely become an All-Star for the second time in his career.
3. Russell Martin: Toronto Blue Jays
Another guy in the same mold as the likes of Grandal and Cervelli, Martin brings his value to the team with his glove. Martin is another one of the best pitch framers in the league and also hit 20 home runs for the third time in his career last year, in spite of an awful start. Going into his age-34 season, it’s tough to see Martin getting any better, but the Blue Jays will be stuck with him for a few more years regardless.
2. Jonathan Lucroy: Texas Rangers
These top two are in a class of their own. Lucroy is the rare catcher who can both hold his own behind the plate and in the batter’s box. There is a reason that so many teams were clamoring for his services around the trade deadline last year. The playoffs could’ve turned out much differently had his talents been on the Cleveland Indians, to whom he denied a trade before being dealt to the Rangers instead. In Lucroy’s first full season in Texas, expect him to become more comfortable and hit close to .300 with over 20 home runs.
1. Buster Posey: San Francisco Giants
Perhaps I hyped Lucroy up a bit too much, because Posey is just in a class of his own. The 29-year-old former MVP, Gold Glove winner, Rookie of the Year, and World Series MVP is on track to a plaque at Cooperstown if he keeps this up. In addition to being the best pitch framer in the league last year and the best at throwing out runners, he also hit .288 with a .362 OBP. Posey is the only one of the 28 catchers I evaluated who ranked in the top five in every single category over the past three seasons. Buster is in a class of his own and doesn’t look like he will be caught anytime soon.