Fantasy Baseball Breakouts: Catcher

by John Hoey | Featured Writer
Mar 18, 2017

Arbitration eligibility and a new swing make Travis d’Arnaud a breakout candidate

Catchers, long known as the on-field leaders of a ball club, the toughest guy on the team, don’t carry that same prowess and respect when it comes to fantasy baseball. Fantasy baseball positional players are all about offense, and due to the frequency of their off days (aka less plate appearances) catchers are usually one of the last positions filled by fantasy owners (almost like kickers in football). Yes, there are the rare superstars that go early like Posey or even Gary Sanchez this year, but typically fantasy owners fill that spot later in the draft, as they should. Be that as it may, here are four potential breakout catchers to eye later in your draft.

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Tom Murphy (COL)
The Rockies young backstop mashed his way through triple-A last season to a line of .327/.361/.647/1.008 with 19 home runs and 59 RBI in just 80 games. That earned him the call to the majors where he went on to hit five home runs and drive in 13 in a small sample of 49 plate appearances to a slash line of .273/.347/.659/1.006. Now it is true he literally did all of his damage at home, and I get it, it’s Coors Field, we know the drill.  But again, it was a small sample.

Murphy will miss the first 3-4 weeks of the regular season after freakishly fracturing his forearm on Anthony Rizzo’s bat, but this should not deter you from drafting him. As a matter of fact, it should incentivize you to since his ADP will likely worsen. Often times fantasy owners forget the marathon that is the MLB season, that a guy missing most of April really is not that big of a deal, especially when you’ll likely get him at a later round than before.

Tom Murphy is 25 years old and can flat out do damage at the dish. He hits 50 percent of his balls in the air and plays half of his games in Colorado. He might hit 25 home runs even after missing a month. His current ADP is 265 so you should have no fear in waiting until the end of your draft to grab him but don’t be shocked if he goes before his ADP. He is my top breakout candidate at catcher this season.

Mike Zunino (SEA)
The third overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft has made good use of his suitcase since he was selected by the Seattle Mariners five years ago. Still only 25-years-old entering this season, it’s time for Mike Zunino to make his mark. He has been given the keys to the starting catcher gig, now he needs to cement it.  Zunino practiced patience at the minor league level, constantly improving his on-base percentage in his time at Triple-A through the years.

OBP
Year Triple-A MLB
2013 .297 .290
2015 .349 .230
2016 .376 .318

His on-base improvement at the minor league level didn’t rationally translate in the majors. On a positive note, Zunino had his best MLB on-base percentage last year and smacked 12 home runs in only 192 plate appearances. If the slugger keeps improving in his plate discipline, all facets of his game will benefit. I take zero stock in spring training stats, but if you’re interested, Zunino is currently hitting .381/.552/1.009/1.599 with three home runs and seven RBIs. Arguably more important than that is he has seven walks to match seven strikeouts. Zunino will likely always have a high strikeout total (a growing trend with major leaguers these days), but he is progressing and still considerably young. I think he puts it all together this year and will breakout as an impact fantasy catcher.

Blake Swihart (BOS)
My wild card pick for breakout catcher comes out of Boston in Blake Swihart. It was no more than a year ago when a 24-year-old first round draft pick was locking up the coveted role of starting Red Sox catcher. Early season defensive mistakes bumped him out of his spot and Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez split time behind the dish. Leon performed shockingly well in 78 games, but the Red Sox aren’t going to toss their first round investment on their first round player that quickly. I am not suggesting Swihart is a sure thing, but I think he will regain the starting catcher role in Boston and begin to show his worth.

Leon and Vazquez are a combined 2-for-31 this spring, and Swihart has taken the most at-bats as we approach the final weeks of spring training. In 22 at-bats Swihart is 7-for-22 and was recently discussing how much more comfortable he feels behind the plate overall.

He will never be a traditional power hitting catcher but when he puts it all together he can hit for good average and a high on-base percentage due to his contact rates. In his short MLB career, he makes three percent more contact than the average player in the zone, with a three percent less swinging strike percentage. He can be had with your last pick in most drafts.

Travis d’Arnaud (NYM)
It seems like every year the once super-hyped Mets catching prospect is lumped into a comeback category, but you can’t comeback if you were never relevant. That might seem harsh but last year I officially entered Travis d’Arnaud into the “it’s always something with this guy” list. You know those players that are always injured or always tweak a muscle or cut a cuticle. It’s always something. Yet, here I am, listing d’Arnaud as a breakout catcher candidate. Why?

Money isn’t everything, but it is an incentive for Major League Baseball players. Travis d’Arnaud becomes arbitration eligible after this season and if he is finally able to put together a full season and reach his prospective hitting potential, he can put himself in a position to cash in.

Still only 28 years old, the former first-round pick still has time to right the ship. He left the 2016 season eager to improve and spent the offseason working on and implementing a new swing, advised by hitting coach Kevin Long. The idea behind the new swing was simplicity, to make it more traditional and compact, affording him more time to react to pitches, improving his rate and quality of contact. The ultimate goals are to reduce his ground balls, increase his fly balls, and improve his rate of hard contact. Based on the way he was trending, that is probably a smart goal.

Year GB% FB%
2014 42% 39%
2015 37% 42%
2016 52% 31%

Hopefully, the new swing is a game-changer for d’Arnaud. As I said before, spring stats really don’t mean much to me, but he is hitting .323/.364/.581/.944 with two home runs. I don’t predict injuries, so if d’Arnaud remains healthy, I think this is the year he finally clicks, whether it’s for the sake of the Mets, or for the sake of his wallet. He will be available towards the end of your draft and if he delivers on his potential the value will be outstanding.

Statistics provided by Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com. ADP provided by FantasyPros.


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John Hoey is a featured writer with FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter at JohnnyCrashMLB.

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