Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.
Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them.
As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.
Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.
As the spring training season starts to get underway, you will see these countdowns published prior to the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.
In the rundown, we list the player, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 catchers for the 2018 season.
Also receiving votes were Robinson Chirinos of the Texas Rangers, Austin Hedges of the San Diego Padres, Manny Pina of the Milwaukee Brewers, Devin Meseraco of the Cincinnati Reds, and Christian Vazquez of the Boston Red Sox. Chirinos received three votes, while Hedges, Pina, Meseraco and Vazquez each netted one vote.
Jonathan Lucroy – 15th (4)
Lucroy had a down year overall in 2017. His .265 average, .345 on-base percentage and 84 OPS+ in 142 games played between the Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies were lower than 2016.
But as most hitters do when they play for the Rockies, Lucroy’s offensive production picked up. The 31-year-old hit .310 with a 115 OPS+ in 46 games for Colorado. However, it appears a majority of his success at the plate in Colorado was a by-product of the very real Coors Field effect. He hit .367 in 27 home games but only .238 in 19 away games.
Lucroy was one of the best pitch framers in baseball as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers but has turned into one of the worst in recent seasons.
Castillo has always been an offensive-first catcher and that was the case last season. He hit .282 with a 115 OPS+ in 96 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season.
But the defensive metrics have never been kind to Castillo and the same was true last year. Castillo, who will play for the Chicago White Sox this season, finished with a -13.0 Runs Above Average, a StatCorner stat which measures how the number of calls a catcher does or does not get translates into runs. Castillo was the 15th-worst framer in baseball, according to this metric.
But Chicago needed more production out of their catchers, so they signed Castillo.
Brian McCann – 13th (6)
At 35-years-old, McCann’s workload is expected to decrease in 2018, his 14th season in the majors and second with the Houston Astros.
McCann started 94 games behind home plate last season, his most since starting 119 games in 2015. The veteran certainly made the most of his playing time. He hit 18 home runs and ranked fourth among A.L. catchers in RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. McCann was perhaps at his best with the bases loaded, when he hit .417 with 15 RBIs.
McCann throws, recieves and blocks well, but he struggles to frame pitches, posting a -2.7 RAA.
Martin Maldonado – 12th (6)
Maldonado had a breakout year in his first season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017.
The 31-year-old set career highs in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and games played, all while leading the majors in games caught (137) in his seventh major league season.
Maldonado also had quite the year behind the dish, winning his first career Rawlings Gold Glove Award. He threw out 38.7 percent of attempted base stealers, which was the best mark in the A.L. Maldonado led all catchers with a 14.7 rating, according to SABR’s Defensive Index. Maldonado ended up well ahead of second-place finisher Sandy Leon of the Boston Red Sox, seven points to be exact.
Tyler Flowers – 11th (12)
Speaking about finishing well ahead of someone else, Flowers finished a full six votes ahead of Maldando in our rankings.
The 32-year-old Flowers had a career year at the dish in 2017. He hit a career-best .281 in his second season with the Atlanta Braves. Flowers hit 12 dingers and drove in 49 runs.
Flowers was arguably the best pitch framer in baseball last season. A home plate umpire called an MLB-high 7.98 percent of the pitches Flowers caught outside the strike zone a strike last season.
Flowers should prove immensely valuable for an up and coming Braves team in 2018.
Austin Barnes – 10th (16)
Barnes had a successful first full season in the big leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017.
He hit .289 with a .408 on-base percentage, 8 home runs, 38 RBIs, and a 137 OPS+ in 102 games in his third season overall in the majors.
As the Dodgers backup catcher, Barnes started 55 games behind the plate and compiled a .994 fielding percentage.
Every great team needs solid role players, and Barnes was one of many for the N.L. champion Dodgers.
Mike Zunino – 9th (16)
Zunino posted the second highest WAR (3.3) among AL catchers in 2018, trailing only Gary Sanchez (4.1 WAR) of the New York Yankees.
He hit .251 with 25 home runs, which ranked third among all MLB catchers, 64 RBIs, 35 doubles and a .331 on-base percentage in 124 games for the Mariners in 2017.
Behind the dish, Zunino caught 994 innings, the 2nd-most in the A.L. and the 6th-most in the majors. He should continue to provide value for Seattle in 2018.
Tucker Barnhart – 8th (17)
Barnhart established himself as one of the top defensive catchers in the majors last season for the Cincinnati Reds.
The 27-year-old Barnhart committed one error and posted the highest fielding percentage in franchise history (.999), on his way to winning a Rawlings Gold Glove Award in his fourth major league season. He also led all NL position players in Baseball Reference dWAR (2.8 and led all major league catchers in defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.
Barnhart also had a career year at the plate. He set career highs in nine categories; hits, doubles, triples walks, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS+, while also tying his career high in home runs.
Yasmani Grandal – 7th (21)
Grandal has always been one of the best pitch framers in baseball. He has induced plenty of called strikes as Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher, and he ranked fourth among all NL catchers with a 8.2 SDI rating.
Grandal hit 22 home runs for the Dodgers, with a 100 OPS+. Given the amount of value he brings on the defensive side, any team would take that kind of production from their backstop.
Yadier Molina – 6th (39)
Molina might not be the same player anymore but a 18-point gap between Grandal and Molina is not by design.
The future Hall of Famer still is one of the elite defensive catchers. At least based on the eye test, nobody is better at managing a pitching staff during a game and throwing out baserunners.
At the plate, Molina led the Cardinals and all MLB catchers with 82 RBIs and led the team in hits with 137. Keep in mind, it was a down year at the plate for St. Louis as a team, but those are impressive numbers for a 35-year-old.
Salvador Perez – 5th (39)
Molina finished in a tie with his Missouri counterpart, Perez of the Kansas City Royals. By virtue of the tiebreaker, highest single vote (also used above), Perez ranks just ahead of Yadi.
Perez is one of the veterans left standing from the 2015 World Series team after the Royals decided to rebuild this offseason.
The 27-year-old Perez was injured for a lot of the second half but still set career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (80) and slugging percentage (.495). He also tied his career high in runs scored (57) and go-ahead RBI (17).
Despite not winning a Gold Glove Award for the fifth straight season, Perez is still regarded as one of the best defensive backstops in the A.L., if not all of Major League Baseball.
Willson Contreras – 4th (47)
Contreras ranked second among all NL catchers in home runs (21), RBIs (74) and walks (45) in his first full season with the Chicago Cubs in 2017.
The 25-year-old Contreras certainly could perform better behind the plate. He finished with a -2.3 SDI rating and did not reach positive DRS, according to FanGraphs.
But he has room to grow and will need to, especially with Yu Darvish now in the mix.
J.T. Realmuto – 3rd (55)
Of all the catchers on this list, Realmuto may have the most upside.
Realmuto, who reportedly wanted out of Miami, apparently will remain a Marlin for now. The 27-year-old set career highs in games (141), runs (68), home runs (17), RBIs (65), and walks (36). He ranked second among major league catchers in hits (133), first in runs (64), tied for first in triples (3), sixth in batting average (.274) and tied for sixth in RBIs (58).
Behind the dish, he threw out 21 runners trying to steal, which ranked fifth in the majors, and his five catcher pickoffs ranked third.
Gary Sanchez – 2nd (59)
Sanchez ranked first among all catchers in runs (79), home runs (33), RBIs (90), and slugging percentage (.531), but he did post the fourth lowest catchers ERA (3.43) in the majors and threw out 33.9 percent of potential base stealers.
Many criticized his blocking abilities behind the dish, but he silenced the doubters over his final 40 games. From Aug. 8, after having three days off defensively, Sanchez allowed just four passed balls in 327.1 innings and threw out 45 percent of attempted base stealers.
Buster Posey – 1st (80)
In a down year for the Giants as a team, Buster Posey certainly stood out in 2017.
He won his fourth Silver Slugger Award with a .320 batting average, a .400 on base percentage, 34 doubles, 12 home runs, and 67 RBIs in 140 games. Posey became only the 11th catcher in MLB history with a .300 batting average in at least four seasons.
Posey had a 4.8 SDI, which ranked sixth among NL backstops and he has always been a great receiver and game caller. After all, Posey has directed pitching staffs on three different World Series-winning teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Posey was voted unanimously by our panel for a reason. He is the best player at his position entering the 2018 season.