Over the Major League Baseball offseason, the team of contributors here at Baseball Essential voted upon the top 15 players at every position in the game. Up until baseball’s annual Opening Day, we will be revealing the results of our voting process and unveiling the top 15 players at each position for the upcoming 2019 MLB season.
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. Then, we’ll cap everything off with a rundown of the best overall players, regardless of position, in the sport.
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. 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 at which spot they found themselves in from last year’s power rankings. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 catchers for the 2019 season.
15. Jonathan Lucroy, Los Angeles Angels (Last year: 15th)
Lucroy once had an argument for the spot as the best catcher in baseball. A two-time All-Star as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, he finished fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2014, hitting .301 with an MLB-high 53 doubles. He was dynamic behind the plate.
The last few seasons have not been kind to Lucroy, whose decline was exemplified by a miserable 2018 season with the Oakland Athletics. He hit .241 with just four home runs and a poor .291 on base percentage, posting a -0.7 bWAR and a 71 OPS+. However, he has a new beginning with the Angels, with which he has lit up the spring training schedule, hitting .343/.410/.457 in 13 games.
If Brad Ausmus and the squad in Anaheim get any bit of what Lucroy can be, then his addition is one of the immense.
14. Welington Castillo, Chicago White Sox (Last year: 14th)
Though the Chicago White Sox swung and missed at prized free agent Manny Machado, the team still has a few solid assets on their transitioning roster. One of those players is Castillo, who, despite suffering injuries to his knee and shoulder in 2018, fared well statistically (in relative terms).The @BB_Essential team voted upon the top 15 players at each position in MLB. Here are the 15 best catchers in baseball, via @bytomdorsa.Click To Tweet
The righty bat slashed .259/.304/.406 with six home runs, 15 runs batted in, and a 95 OPS+ in 49 games with Chicago last season, where he is projected to slot in as the starting backstop in 2019.
13. Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals (Last year: not ranked)
Suzuki had one of the best years of his lengthy MLB career last season as a member of the Braves and earned himself a two-year contract with the Washington Nationals, despite being 35 years old in an era where older players find it harder and harder to stay in the game.
Hitting .271/.332/.444 with 12 long balls, 50 RBIs, and 36 extra-base hits, Suzuki was a reliable presence at the bottom of a stacked Braves order and provided value as a plus defender (0.6 defensive WAR). For Washington, anything is an upgrade over their past catching issues, but Suzuki is more than that and is expected to split time in the catcher spot for the Nats in 2019.
12. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates (Last year: not ranked)
A fan favorite in Pittsburgh, Cervelli was one of MLB’s premier offensive catchers in 2018 when his health cooperated. In 104 games, the energetic right-handed batter slashed .259/.378/.431 with the second-best OPS on the Pirates roster (.809) over 404 plate appearances. Cervelli smacked 12 home runs, 57 RBIs, 15 doubles, and three triples.
And it isn’t a coincidence that some of the Pirates’ top starting pitchers, like Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and Trevor Williams, had career-best seasons. Cervelli’s infectious attitude is one of many things that make him an invaluable presence in the Pittsburgh clubhouse.
11. Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds (Last year: 8th)
Though Barnhart is not the most offensively-gifted catcher in the sport, his defensive value makes him one of the game’s premier backstops. His quick feet and agility make him an effective pitch blocker and stable force for the young pitchers in the Reds’ rotation. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the most effective catcher in MLB at limiting wild pitches and saving runs in that regard.
At the plate, the switch-hitter slashed .248/.328/.372 with a career-high 10 home runs in addition to 46 RBIs, 34 extra-base hits, and 54 walks in 138 games played. Barnhart projects to be the starting catcher for the revamped Reds in 2019.
10. Yan Gomes, Washington Nationals (Last year: not ranked)
Gomes was an All-Star in 2018, and it was equal parts his resurgent success behind the plate for the Cleveland Indians and the lack of All-Star talent at the catcher position in the AL. In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Gomes hit a combined .204 average and just 23 homers in over 700 plate appearances. In 2018, Gomes was a different catcher, slashing .266/.313/.449 with 16 bombs, 48 RBIs, and 42 extra-base hits. His 103 OPS+ was his highest single-season mark since 2014.
Gomes will likely split time with the aforementioned Suzuki in the Nationals’ starting catcher role, creating perhaps the best catching tandem in the majors. The right-hander from Brazil graded out as above-average in offensive WAR (2.4) and defensive WAR (1.0) and helps give Washington the catching depth they have sorely needed for a decade.
9. Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays (Last year: 9th)
The Rays won 90 games last year, solely by being innovative and finding talent from players that didn’t appear conventionally valuable. The Rays will try the same plan in 2019, and that starts with Zunino, who was one of several talented players shipped away from the Seattle Mariners in their offseason fire sale.
A .201 batting average is not a pretty sight, but the right-handed batter knocked 20 home runs in 2018 — which is his third season with at least 20 bombs in his career. As well as being excellent defensively (1.7 defensive bWAR last season), his power presence in the Tampa clubhouse will be critical.
8. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Last year: 5th)
Royals fans don’t have much left to root for after celebrating a World Series championship in 2015 and consecutive AL pennants with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain, etc. all elsewhere in the majors.
The only big-name player left from that memorable stretch is Perez, who will sit out the entirety of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. A bummer for Perez and Royals fans, as the 2018 All-Star catcher and five-time Gold Glove Award winner hit .235 with 27 long balls and drove in 80 runs for a lousy K.C. team.
One of the sole reasons to watch the Royals play will not be present this season. Get well, Sal.
7. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (Last year: 2nd)
Instead of being the powerful, fearsome right-handed bat in a Yankees lineup with many of them, Sanchez was more so an afterthought in a struggle of a 2018 season. The former Rookie of the Year finalist was inconsistent and measurably bad in some regards last season, hitting .186 and striking out 94 times in 89 games, however, his power stayed, as he hit 18 home runs and drove in 53 runs near the bottom of the Yankees order.
Out of the 60 hits Sanchez recorded, 35 were good for extra bases, while his defense (0.5 dWAR) and throwing arm (above MLB-average caught stealing percentage of 30 percent) played up his otherwise miserable season. With some adjustments and discipline at the plate, Sanchez could finally live up to the hype he generated when he first suited up in pinstripes.
6. Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers (Last year: 7th)
A forgettable postseason aside, Grandal remained one of MLB’s elite catchers in 2018, cashing in on a one-year deal with the Brewers, who shored up a sore spot with the addition of the former NL All-Star. In 140 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, Grandal slashed .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs and 68 RBIs while also drawing a career-best 72 walks. His 49 extra-base hits contributed to his great 120 OPS+.
This is all without mentioning that he is measurably the best pitch-framer in MLB, according to Baseball Prospectus, which will be of great assistance for the young and depleted Brewers starting rotation. Remember, the NL Central champs rode 38-year-old Erik Kratz for much of the postseason last year and now have a switch-hitting, pitch-framing All-Star behind home plate.
5. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs (Last year: 4th)
An NL All-Star in 2018, Contreras provided immense value behind the plate for the Cubs, who, for the first time in franchise history, made the postseason for the fourth consecutive time in 2018. The right-handed backstop was a big part of it all, slashing .249/.339/.390 with 10 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 53 walks over 544 plate appearances.
His defense was stout as well, posting a 1.7 defensive WAR and throwing out 34 percent of would-be base-stealers in 2018. At 26 years old and playing for a big-market team, Contreras has been compared to Gary Sanchez since the outset of his major-league career and is arguably better than the Yankees catcher going into 2019.
4. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Last year: 6th)
There has been talk of Molina, now 36 years old, being a future Hall of Famer. Some of it is valid, while some is from the rambunctious and passionate (sometimes a little too much) Cardinals fans just defending the guy who has been the face of their franchise since the departure of Albert Pujols.
One way or another, Molina a legend, and how he continues to be an elite catcher to this day baffles us all. The nine-time All-Star recorded a .261 average with 20 homers, 74 runs batted in, a .750 OPS, and another All-Star Game appearance in 2018. Molina won his ninth Gold Glove too, posting above average framing runs (2.3) and throwing out 12 baserunners.
After a stellar offseason the Cardinals owe it to a franchise legend to make another run at a pennant this season. Molina would be a big part of any potential success to occur in the Gateway City.
3. Wilson Ramos, New York Mets (Last year: not ranked)
Between the Rays and Philadelphia Phillies last season, Ramos transformed himself into an All-Star with one of the best seasons of his nine-year career and signed a two-year contract with the rejuvenated Mets this offseason.
Ramos slashed .306/.358/.487 with 15 home runs, 70 RBIs, and a 130 OPS+ in 111 games in 2018 and limited himself to only 80 strikeouts in 416 plate appearances by working the count and putting the ball in play. He doesn’t grade out as an above-average catcher in any defensive stat, but he is very serviceable at all times.
2. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Last year: 1st)
Posey is a model of consistency for all MLB catchers. And despite injuries forcing him to sit out the last 44 games of 2018, he posted the third-highest WAR (2.9) among backstops in MLB as part of a 2018 season that saw the 2012 NL MVP make it to his sixth — and fourth-straight — All-Star game.
Posey slashed a stellar .284/.359/.382, mostly at a pitcher’s park in San Francisco, and hit five home runs while driving in 41 runs in the process. The four-time Silver Slugger, former Gold Glover, and 2012 batting title winner did it all with a nagging hip injury that required surgery late into the season. A career .306 hitter, we have seen what Posey can do at full health and hopefully he can showcase that offensive prowess again in 2019.
1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies (Last year: 3rd)
If Realmuto’s challenge last year was to become the best catcher in the major leagues, then he can rejoice. His addition to a loaded Phillies lineup presents new challenges for the 28-year-old superstar, but he will do so as the preeminent backstop in baseball.
Realmuto slashed .277/.340/.484 with an .825 OPS, 21 home runs, 74 RBIs, and a 131 OPS+ in 2018, as well as a 38 percent caught stealing percentage and .992 fielding percentage at catcher. You can argue that the highly athletic and powerful righty was playing at 100 percent just to shoot his trade stock up and get out of the dysfunctional Miami Marlins system, but we contend that he is simply the best at his position going into 2019.