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Fantasy catcher rankings: Sanchez tops list

Realmuto, Grandal follow Yankees' star backstop
MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

Last season was a tough one for catchers, at least from a fantasy standpoint. Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras struggled, Buster Posey's year ended early due to a hip injury that required surgery, and there weren't any notable out-of-nowhere success stories at the position.

But things are looking up for 2019. So who's the No. 1 fantasy catcher in the game right now? And where do the other stars behind the plate rank? We answer those questions here.

Last season was a tough one for catchers, at least from a fantasy standpoint. Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras struggled, Buster Posey's year ended early due to a hip injury that required surgery, and there weren't any notable out-of-nowhere success stories at the position.

But things are looking up for 2019. So who's the No. 1 fantasy catcher in the game right now? And where do the other stars behind the plate rank? We answer those questions here.

• Fantasy rankings: OverallFirst basemen | Second basemenThird basemen | ShortstopsOutfieldersRelievers

Tier 1: Gary Sanchez, J.T. Realmuto
Sanchez retains the top spot on this list from last year despite struggling at the plate during an injury-shortened 2018 campaign. In '16, he burst onto the scene as a rookie, hitting .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 201 at-bats to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He followed that up with a strong '17 season in which he hit .278 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 79 runs scored in 122 games. He appeared in only 89 games last season due to groin injuries, and hit just .186 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs.

Though he had poor results at the plate, luck played a big role against Sanchez in '18. According to Statcast™, his actual slugging percentage was .406, 55 points lower than his expected slugging percentage. And his weighted on-base average was .304, when his xwOBA was a well-above-average .340.

Beyond advanced metrics being on his side, Sanchez also had left shoulder surgery to alleviate a problem that had bothered him since '17. All of these factors put together spell a good chance that Sanchez returns to form as the game's premier offensive catcher in the season ahead.

Realmuto, meanwhile, was a hot commodity on the trade market this offseason, and after being dealt to the Phillies, he should be highly coveted in fantasy drafts as well. The 27-year-old hit .277 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games for Miami last season, while continuing to show speed on the basepaths -- per Statcast™, his average Sprint Speed was 28.6 feet/second, well above the MLB average of 27.0. Now in a more fantasy-friendly situation, he could be looking at a 25-30-home run campaign, with an outside shot at 100 RBIs.

Tier 2: Yasmani Grandal
Having signed a one-year deal with the Brewers this offseason, Grandal will have extra motivation to produce at the plate given that he'll potentially be a free agent again following the '19 season. He was strong in that department last year, turning in the best offensive season of his career with an .815 OPS, 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 140 games for the Dodgers.

Tier 3: Salvador Perez, Buster Posey, Willson Contreras, Wilson Ramos, Yadier Molina
Perez saw his batting average fall by more than 30 points last year, but hit the same number of homers (27) and tallied the same number of RBIs (80) in the same number of games (129) as he did in '17. That type of consistency at the plate is hard to ignore, particularly from a catcher. And Perez is trending in the right direction in terms of contact; his hard-hit rate last season was a career-high 47.4 percent, jumping from 38.3 percent the year before.

Posey's rough 2018 season at the plate pushes him down a couple of spots on this year's list. The former NL MVP posted a 106 OPS+ last year, his worst mark since becoming a full-time catcher for the Giants back in '10. He is, of course, a bounce-back candidate given his track record and the fact he had right hip surgery in August, which San Francisco hopes will restore some of his lost power.

Following two productive seasons at the plate for the Cubs, Contreras took a step back last year. He hit just .249 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs in 138 games (he hit 12 homers in 76 games as a rookie in '16). He'll need to return to the hitter he was during Chicago's historic run to the World Series title in '16 to pack a punch in fantasy leagues. But the underlying fundamentals are there -- he got off to a great start last season by posting an .818 OPS with seven homers in the first half. It's just a matter of whether it'll translate on the field.

Ramos recently signed as a free agent with the Mets after turning in a strong campaign at the plate last year. In a season split between the Rays and Phillies, the 31-year-old backstop hit .306 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs in 111 games. He struggled in an injury-plagued '17, but the year prior had a career year with 22 homers and an .850 OPS for the Nationals. In yet another new setting, Ramos returns to the NL East, where he spent seven years with Washington, and developed a familiarity with the division's pitching.

Molina enters his age-36 season, but proved last year that he can still get the job done at the plate in addition to behind it. Though he missed time due to injury, Molina hit .261 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs. He's a year older, but you can't count out an above-average offensive performance from one of the best catchers of his generation.

Tier 4: Danny Jansen, Welington Castillo, Francisco Cervelli, Mike Zunino
In a farm system loaded with talent, including the game's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect may get a chance to show what he can do behind the plate in the big leagues. Jansen is ranked as the No. 65 overall prospect in baseball, and the 23-year-old hit .275 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs in 88 games for Triple-A Buffalo in 2018. He made his Major League debut last August, hitting .247 with three homers in 31 games.

Castillo's production was adequate in his first season with the White Sox, but Chicago -- and fantasy owners -- will be looking for the 31-year-old to revert to his 2017 self. That season, he hit .282 with 20 homers and 53 RBIs in 96 games for the Orioles. A part-time player, Castillo's success two seasons ago shows he could be a stealth pickup in fantasy for owners looking to allocate more resources elsewhere on their roster.

Cervelli turns 33 in March, but with his production last year has proven he can still hit, batting .259 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs over 332 at-bats for the Pirates. He's another option for owners looking for potential upside at a lower cost at the position.

The Mariners traded Zunino to the Rays this offseason, and it remains to be seen whether he'll bounce back after hitting just .201 over 113 games for Seattle in 2018. Nevertheless, he's entering his age-28 season just two years removed from a campaign in which he had an .840 OPS with 25 homers and 64 RBIs in 124 games. Zunino is yet another potential under-the-radar pickup at the catcher position if he's able to return to form in '19.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.