There were a pair of catchers caught violating Major League Baseball’s substance abuse policy this offseason but, because of the rather odd split between amphetamines and other drugs of abuse, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has 56 PAs in 16 games under his belt already this season while Yasmani Grandal is still a week away from joining the Padres for the first time this season.
Setting aside the issues I have with MLB’s differentiation between amphetamines and things like testosterone, Ruiz hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his return from suspension, which probably helps those looking to target Grandal, since no one is looking to cash in on the next Chooch at this moment. Grandal is owned in just 3 percent of Yahoo! leagues and less than 0.5 percent of ESPN leagues, so there’s a very good chance he’s available. Those in two-catcher leagues should definitely look his way, since unlike most of the chaff on the wire, Grandal has a high ceiling and a decent shot of hitting it.
There isn’t much of an upside to losing 50 games from a catcher many were preliminarily targeting as a strong sleeper option, but the time off did give Grandal a chance to fully rest the oblique injury that sidelined him and some inflammation in his finger that apparently bothered him greatly at the end of last season. The extra time off should mean that come May 28, Grandal will be healthy and ready to contribute immediately.
Though an .821 OPS is hardly a terrible mark for a catcher, Grandal’s performance from the left side was notably lower than his performance from the right side, where he posted a .971 OPS. I’m somewhat skeptical of his ability to post an OPS over .900 from both sides of the plate over the course of 100 games, healthy fingers or not, but a better grip on the bat may help mitigate what regression does show up when he starts seeing consistent time behind the plate. His talent is undeniable, but PETCO Park does him absolutely no favors with respect to his slugging percentage and home run potential.
The biggest thing keeping me from recommending Grandal in all but the shallowest formats is the unknown distribution of playing time. It’s a virtual certainty that Grandal will see consistent time against left-handed pitching as current starter Nick Hundley is being dominated to the tune of an .111/.200/.111 line in 40 PA. If Grandal can hit anywhere close to the .308/.356/.615 line he had against portsiders last year, which will be a substantial upgrade for the Padres. What happens with a right-hander is far less cut and dry, however. Grandal hit them reasonably well last season, with a .293/.407/.414 line against them in 167 PA, but Hundley has proven that he can hit them this season with a .289/.322/.506 split so far in 91 PA.
My hunch is that we’ll see something close to a strict platoon split for the next few weeks with Grandal starting against left-handed starters and Hundley covering against right-handed starters. It’s a good way to get Grandal a relatively consistent number of at-bats without throwing him right back into the grind of a full major league season since he hasn’t had the benefit of spring training to prepare him. This may even be good news for his head-to-head value, since PETCO plays only a hair below average for right-handed power hitters, while it suppresses left-handed home runs far more noticeably. Instead of getting his second-rate production, owners are likely – for better or worse – to either see Grandal at his best or not at all. It does mean that he can’t be the sole catcher on a roster yet, but I wouldn’t drop any established catcher for him, even with the current struggles of someone like Jonathan Lucroy.