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Fantasy catcher rankings: Sanchez is No. 1

Contreras, Posey, Realmuto follow Yankees' star backstop
MLB.com @FredZinkieMLB

Catcher hasn't historically been a position replete with fantasy-friendly options.

With a grueling physical workload and considerable defensive responsibilities, most backstops aren't typically counted on for excellence at the plate. As a result, fantasy owners who are able to find at least one useful catcher will have a significant advantage. The players below could be pivotal to a fantasy championship run in 2018.

Catcher hasn't historically been a position replete with fantasy-friendly options.

With a grueling physical workload and considerable defensive responsibilities, most backstops aren't typically counted on for excellence at the plate. As a result, fantasy owners who are able to find at least one useful catcher will have a significant advantage. The players below could be pivotal to a fantasy championship run in 2018.

MLB.com's player rankings

Tier 1: Gary Sanchez
Sanchez now reigns supreme at the catcher position, ending Buster Posey's longstanding perch atop this list after leading all backstops in homers (33), RBIs (90) and runs scored (79) last season -- this despite spending nearly a month on the disabled list. Entering just his second full season, the slugger has room to grow as he hits from the heart of a Yankees lineup that will also feature Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The 25-year-old should be a Round 2 pick in two-catcher leagues and may even sneak into the second round in some one-catcher drafts.

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Tier 2: Willson Contreras, Posey, J.T. Realmuto
Owners who miss out on Sanchez will still have a trio of difference-making catcher options to choose from during the first half of their drafts.

Although he's not quite on Sanchez's level at this point, Contreras should draw some comparisons to the Yankees star, as the Cubs backstop is also entering his second full campaign and will likely hit in the heart of his team's potent lineup. Having needed just 428 plate appearances to compile 21 homers and 74 RBIs last season, the 25-year-old could top the 25-homer and 85-RBI plateaus this year. Because of his outstanding potential, Contreras ranks slightly ahead of Posey, who was the gold standard at this position for many years. Placing Posey third among catchers seemed unfathomable in recent seasons, but his declining power and unremarkable supporting cast can't be ignored. Still, with a lifetime .308 batting mark and an average of 84 RBIs and 72 runs scored across the past six seasons, Posey remains one of the safest catcher options.

Realmuto rounds out this tier after showing improved power last season (17 homers). A career .280 hitter who can also provide value with his legs (28 steals from 2015-17), the 26-year-old is arguably the most balanced option at his position.

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Tier 3: Wilson Ramos, Evan Gattis, Salvador Perez
Fantasy owners who wish to wait until the middle rounds to add a catcher should still be able to land a player with notable upside.

Ramos was emerging as a top-tier catcher in 2016 before a suffering a season-ending right knee injury that required major surgery late in the year. Although the veteran got off to a slow start upon returning last June, he produced eight homers and a .963 OPS over his final 32 games. Coming off a healthy offseason, Ramos could log a solid batting mark and 20-plus long balls this year.

Gattis dealt with multiple injuries and saw his year-over-year home run total drop by 20 last season (12 in 2017 vs. 32 in '16), but he also showed signs of improvement by logging the lowest strikeout (15.4 percent) and ground-ball (36.8 percent) rates of his career. Expected to work regularly as the Astros' designated hitter following Carlos Beltran's retirement, the slugger could return to the 20-homer plateau. Perez has reached that mark in each of the past three seasons, finishing the most recent campaign with a career-high 27 roundtrippers and 80 RBIs. While the free-swinging slugger has poor on-base skills (lifetime 0.23 BB/K ratio, .301 OBP), he could remain productive by replicating the 38.1 percent hard-hit rate and 47 percent fly-ball rate that spurred his power surge a year ago.

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Tier 4: Yadier Molina, Welington Castillo, Jonathan Lucroy, Brian McCann, Austin Barnes
For owners who wish to invest heavily in other positions, a group of serviceable backstops should still be available in the second half of drafts.

Molina is clearly the star of this group after going deep 18 times, stealing nine bases and ranking second among catchers in RBIs (82) a year ago. Still, wise owners will expect some measure of regression from a 35-year-old who averaged six homers, 52 RBIs and two stolen bases from 2014-16.

Lucroy experienced a steep decline last year, compiling just six homers and 40 RBIs after tallying 24 long balls with 81 RBIs the previous year. While the veteran should not be expected to return to his 2016 heights, he's a reasonable rebound candidate given his strong contact skills (4.0 percent swinging-strike rate in '17) and grasp of the strike zone (0.9 BB/K ratio in '17).

Castillo and McCann are the most stable options in this tier, but neither player offers a particularly high ceiling. While Castillo has a good chance to go deep 20-plus times for the second straight year, he is likely headed for some batting-average regression after benefiting from a .336 BABIP in '17. And though McCann has averaged 22 homers and 77 RBIs per season over the past 12 years, he finished 2017 with a career-low hard-hit rate (29.4 percent) and his highest ground-ball rate (41.5 percent) since '05.

Meanwhile, Barnes may be the most intriguing player in this quintet. While hitting .289/.408/.486 across 262 plate appearances last season, he showed the potential to rank among the elite players at his premium position. But with just 336 career plate appearances under his belt and veteran Yasmani Grandal still on the Dodgers' roster, Barnes has a canyon-wide range of possible outcomes this year. As a result, selecting him among the top 10 catchers may be too big of a risk.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.