2016 Impact Rookies: The Catchers

Today we begin a series that looks at the potential top rookie producers at each position around the baseball diamond. This series should be valuable for anyone participating in a fantasy league that allows keepers. It will also help anyone playing in more traditional formats who may need to fill holes throughout the season or may be in need of an unexpected spark.


Top Targets:

Willson Contreras, Cubs: Chicago has a solid veteran tandem for 2016 but it’s pretty clear that sophomore Kyle Schwarber’s future is no longer behind the dish. His bat is just too advanced to waste more time in the minors polishing his defensive skills so left field is likely his permanent home. That leaves the catcher-of-the-future tag for Contreras, who had a breakout year in Double-A in 2015. Now there is definitely risk that his one-year outburst was an outlier but scouts took a real shine to him. An injury to starter Miguel Montero could open up an opportunity for Contreras in 2016.

Peter O’Brien, Diamondbacks: O’Brien is your poor man’s Kyle Schwarber. His defence is not strong enough to actually squat behind the plate everyday and his future is likely in left field — unless he eventually moves to first base or finds his way to an American League club that can install him in the DH role. If he can tap into his power consistently — by cutting down on his overly-aggressive nature — O’Brien could be a real valuable fantasy contributor, especially if he occasionally earns some playing time behind the plate and keeps his eligibility at the position. The catcher-turned-outfielder could receive a solid shot in 2016 if second-year player Yasmany Tomas has another ugly year.

Tom Murphy, Rockies: Murphy showed some nice power in 2015 after missing much of the ’14 season due to injury. With the Rockies opening up the year with Nick Hundley and not much else behind him, a strong spring could catapult Murphy into a back-up or platoon role for the Rockies. He has some holes in his offensive game (namely a lack of walks and too many strikeouts) but the power could really play up in Colorado. You don’t hear much about Murphy but he has a chance to be an impact catcher and a solid fantasy player.

Keep an Eye On:

Austin Barnes, Dodgers: Barnes faces a real challenge for playing time now that he’s moved from Miami to Los Angeles but his versatility — the ability to play decent defence at both catcher and second base — could help him win a bench role in ’16. He doesn’t have much power but he can hit for a respectable average, has walked more than he’s struck out in his career and can even steal an occasional base.

Elias Diaz, Pirates: Diaz is one of my favorite (and underrated) catching prospects but playing time projections don’t look favorable for him in 2016 thanks to the presence of the solid veteran tandem of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. If something unforeseen happens, though, Diaz has the defensive chops to earn a shot at a starting gig for the Pirates and his offence continues to improve by leaps and bounds.

Gary Sanchez, Yankees: Unlike most of the catchers on this list, Sanchez appears ticketed for an opening day gig with his big league club. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the young Venezuelan will likely spend the year apprenticing for the starting gig in deference to veteran Brian McCann. The good news — for Sanchez owners — is that young first baseman (and DH) Greg Bird will miss the entire year, which hurts the club’s depth. With so many older players starting at catcher, first base and DH, a significant injury is bound to occur at one of the positions and that domino effect could open up regular playing time for Sanchez. His aggressive approach at the plate hurts his overall offence at times but he has some impressive raw power.

Tomas Telis, Marlins: Telis doesn’t have the impact potential of some of the other young players on this list but the Marlins’ lack of depth plays in his favor. But make no mistake about it — he’s a decent catching prospect nonetheless, especially when you consider how low the bar is for catchers’ offences. Telis — who was drafted all the way back in ’07 — should hit for a decent average and doesn’t swing-and-miss much, but he also doesn’t walk much and has very little power. If sophomore starting catcher J.T. Realmuto struggles (or gets hurt) in 2016, Telis could be the first guy called upon to try and fill his shoes.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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O’Brien was a DH in more games in the minors (12) than he was a catcher (11). And he was an OF in 100 or so. Are there really leagues that will qualify him as a catcher?


The word is that the DBacks plan on him starting the year as a catcher, fwiw.