Seasoned fantasy baseball players know that rankings are a ton of fun, but ultimately not the most actionable piece of intel for a draft, as it’s really about combining strategy with roster construction, along with knowing the format and doing what works well for you as a drafter, on top of the research and analysis one does before an important fantasy baseball draft.
Regardless, ranks are a ton of fun, and they get us thinking about each player individually, and have us looking at pockets of value, or hot-spots as Ariel Cohen has called it before. I will be doing a primer at each position, and it is contractually obligated to start with Catcher, for any positional fantasy baseball content.
Catcher (more specifically 2-catcher), is one of the more difficult pieces of the puzzle to solve for NFBC leagues or even simply traditional 15 team leagues. I have been playing these leagues for 4 years, and I was taught by The Great Tim McLeod to simply grab two decent backstops with a firm grip on a job, a couple of players within the 12-18 ranked range, in order to focus on other needs and to plug in catcher with 2 decent options – guys who won’t kill ya. This isn’t a bad idea, as it’s worked for many in the past, but I will be looking to spend up on elite options in 2022 to hopefully gain a massive advantage in PA’s at the catcher position. The elite catchers could have a chance to play more now, with an NL DH potentially coming into the fold. This will affect some catchers, but not all catchers so be cautious when considering this. Whether you will be going with the top of the line catchers, a few decent middle-class options, or throwing a few darts on the cheap, I assure you that it makes the most sense to lock in firm playing time at this position, preferably with no bad batting average, though beggars cannot be choosers.
Why To Invest Early
Steamer has projected only 5 catchers to surpass 20 home runs, a very low mark in this power era, so investing in the top catchers such as Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, etc. will provide your team with a power boost that few other teams will be able to match in that scarce catcher spot. There is a huge opportunity cost in selecting a Salvador Perez in round 3 of a 15-team draft, but his 35+ home runs will lap the field when they deploy an 8 home run Jacob Stallings (per Steamer projection) for instance. All the while, it’s easier to find sleepers at non-catcher positions, since the quality of hitting at catcher is brutal, thus why it is scarce, to begin with!
These guys are the absolute upper-crust of the catcher position. The big-dog of the position himself was Salvador Perez, a guy who lead the MLB in RBI and was a true league winner (overused phrase, but true here) for folks who drafted him. Perez was worth $49 per the Razzball player rater for 15-team Yahoo leagues, that’s a figure that’s greater than both Will Smith and J.T Realmuto combined. Perez has an approach geared towards swinging for the fences, but his Statcast numbers are elite for anyone, let alone a player with a 650 PA projection and catcher eligibility. Pay for the excellent barrel rate, a massive volume of plate appearances, and power projection of 35+ HR’s and 90+ RBI, and bank anything else additional he gives.
I was hoping for a little more discount on J.T. Realmuto than we have (NFBC ADP of 56), but that’s plenty good for the talent and skills of JTR. Realmuto played through some nagging injuries at times but was good enough for a 108 wRC+, with more doubles power than HR power, but he still stole his 13 bags which fantasy owners would salivate over. He’s a very safe pick as he’s only 30 years old and will benefit from the NL DH to get even more playing time.
Will Smith was a hotshot prospect that I liked but was never able to select in fantasy as I was unsure of his role as a true full-time catcher with Austin Barnes lingering who’s fairly decent as a backup and with LA loving to give rest players. Wow, did that take age poorly! Smith had excellent numbers for a batter in general, let alone a catcher-eligible bat. He casually threw up a 130 wRC+ in a loaded Dodgers lineup with 25 HR’s and a .495 slug over 501 PA’s. Smith is super young at only age 25 and rarely strikes out, making him a truly tantalizing talent.
The Next Best Thing
Following a strange first-half where Grandal hit for absolutely no batting average (.188 BA in 1H, .337 BA in 2H), Grandal evened out his weird start and he mashed. The only concern here is age and injury, but we aren’t as good at predicting that as we think. Great power pickup if you missed the elite catchers or want an incredible C2 to drain the pool. In OBP leagues, Grandal is obviously even more premium, as he’s a rare unicorn who walked more than he struck out.
Willson Contreras is an intriguing pick in 2022 drafts, as he could be one of the handfuls of guys to benefit from the NL DH, has good-enough power, a great lineup spot, and a track record of power success. The poor BA has put a cap on his ceiling of late, but the ensured playing time, and the fact he’s only 29 show there’s still plenty left in the tank. A fantastic catcher target if you don’t want to break the bank.
Onto the trickiest catcher to evaluate on this list, Daulton Varsho. Many will scoff at my low ranking of Varsho, but based on the track record and guaranteed playing time of Contreras and Grandal, this rank felt the most comfortable for me. Varsho is in an org that already has Carson Kelly, a player that actually had a better wRC+ in 2021, than Varsho in a similar amount of playing time. Kelly could soak up more playing time than Varsho’s drafters expect, but Varsho could play tons of OF. Yes, this is a possibility, but not necessarily a guarantee, as Arizona has been aggressive in picking up some FA talent this winter with their signing of Mark Melancon. The Diamondbacks could make the path to tons of playing time difficult for Varsho, and it’s just not a risk I am willing to take at his ADP of 103, even if I can see the upside, I do see some cases for downside in the playing time department.
Another bat that could be the beneficiary of the NL DH is Tyler Stephenson! He has been a candidate for this boost in playing time based on his solid showing in his MLB debut. The power hasn’t shown up in-game yet for Stephenson, but he is a low K catcher with good batting averages so far, and he has 65-grade raw power per Fangraphs, so there is clear upside for Stephenson. Stephenson is more of a contact hitter, with an elite 91% Zone-Contact rate, and could be an RBI and BA booster, as well as runs scored based on a good lineup spot.
After the top catchers get drafted, some will turn their attention towards Keibert Ruiz, who is an absolute contact maestro, with recently demonstrated power in the upper levels of the minors. Ruiz doesn’t miss, he has insanely good K rates, rarely gives up a free at-bat, and routinely puts the ball in play. He might be just a good BA guy with not a ton of power as the 23-year-old figures out the MLB in his first full season in 2022, but he’s worth a shot around pick 150-160 overall.
Still Mostly an Edge
We are entering a segment of the catcher position that is a little bit of a Rorschach Test, as this is a get your guy tier. I have Murphy atop the field because he doesn’t strike out a crazy amount, he still walks nearly 10% of the time to support his runs scored and has enough power to hit 20+ home runs, and his elite defensive skills will supply him with extra playing time.
Yadier Molina is an old (very old) favorite of mine, as he just always seems to deliver the goods with an actually good BA (.264 BA since 2017), with plenty of RBI since he plays a ton and double-digit HR’s despite limited power. Boring is beautiful in this case.
Surprisingly, Narvaez profiles a little similarly to Molina in this case, as neither strike out much, they both put the ball into play a ton and should be across the board solid for you outside of steals. A low-risk investment that should beat out many of the cheaper catchers drafted after him.
Alejandro Kirk is a player I am excited about but have reservations about as well. Playing time will be the ultimate question here, as Danny Jansen still exists, even if he’s not a good bat, Jansen could steal PA’s away with his framing. Kirk probably has more talent in his bat than anyone in this tier, but I just have concerns about how much volume he gets. There is a ton of contact and very little swing and miss here, so the BA should be good, even if the playing time is limited with Jansen stealing away opportunities. Top prospect Gabriel Moreno is also knocking on the door to further muck up this situation.
One of the more appealing qualities to Christian Vazquez is his framing talent, which keeps his bat in the Boston lineup. His BA is a nice selling point, as well as some steals. His power on the other hand is very sketchy and those theoretical steals may disappear, so I won’t stretch for Vazquez, however, if he falls, I prefer him to the batting average drains below him.
Still Some Upside Left
At this point, I’m not sure if there are any Gary Sanchez fans left, but he does serve a purpose. His power has been sticky enough to project him for 20 bombs unless he just loses playing time. His BA drain is a big issue though, so prepare for it, but he does at least provide some pop at the position.
Adley Rutschman is the absolute cream of the crop in terms of catching prospects, or just prospects in general, as he was labeled with a rare 70 grade, has absolutely elite plate discipline marks with tiny K rates, excellent power, incredible makeup, and everything you could want. The only issue is when will he take the reins of this job, and that is something I cannot answer, so I’d rather go conservative with him in Draft & Hold leagues as playing time is king there, and only chase this profile in FAAB leagues or deep bench redraft leagues with pickups allowed. Even with that, you will have to carry 3 catchers and stash away Rutschmann on the bench, something that will take patience.
An incredibly dull player profile on the surface, Elias Diaz actually brings more to the table than some may expect. He strikes out only 17% of the time for his career, showed a little more pop in his bat (.219 ISO), and just got a contract extension to play in Coors for a few more years. The Rockies may Rockie since their playing time decision-making has been questionable, but selecting a Coors bat with a good BA and some pop in the middle of this tier feels really nice, highly recommend Diaz.
Mike Zunino had a rich man’s Gary Sanchez type of year in 2022, cranking out 33 homers in just 393 PA’s, an astonishing mark, but how repeatable is that? Zunino has a pull-heavy approach, trying to lift everything in sight, and will get a lot of plate appearances due to his framing, so he’s worth a shot even if 2021 was a career-best by a landslide. He’s an OK power bat if you missed prior to this, but limit any other BA drains on your roster if you go this route.
This is a lower ranking than many may expect for Travis D’Arnaud, however, I have to factor the bad health outcomes for him in this spot. The games played totals just have not been there, but when healthy he has been more than serviceable. If/when D’Arnaud gets hurt, replacing him with a waiver wire catcher will be a challenge, and he’s simply a fade for me this draft season.
Don’t Wait Any Longer
This may be seen as a low ranking for Mitch Garver, but simply put, he doesn’t play enough for me to be interested in his flawed but useful power-bat. Even when he was white-hot in his 31 homers 2019 season, he was limited to just 359 PA’s, an impressive ISO and super-useful season back then, but I think that was a mirage. A low BA, 15+ HR year is in order for Garver, with a bit of health risk baked in considering the injuries he has suffered.
A non-sexy but good enough option, Carson Kelly doesn’t strike out a crazy amount, he’s made strides towards becoming a better bat, and he has enough power to be decent enough. The concern is if Varsho nips away at his playing time, but that’s more than baked into his ADP. A fine buy.
To be fair here, Max Stassi is a bit of a health risk given the lack of a full-season on his MLB resume, but this guy can hit, and fairly decently. In 424 plate appearances from 2020-2021, he has a 114 wRC+ with 20 homers over those 118 games, a mark you can live with at his ADP. Pay for his 15 homer projection and hope for more.
Many will see the Joey Bart rank and not feel encouraged, but he’s simply too unproven, strikes out a ton, and could easily be a half-time player or worse, as the Giants like to mix and match a ton. Bart has the upside to be an empty power-bat, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable relying on him in a Draft Champions format where he’s integral to your roster without pickups.
Luis Torrens and Eric Haase can be lumped together, as they both have intriguing power upside, but realistically, what is their role? That’s the ultimate question, and I wouldn’t feel awesome relying on either one as a starter, so prioritize picking 2 catchers above this line.
Framers with some Playing Time
This is not a pretty range, but there is some value to mine here, as some of these are will play and provide some counting stats, but there’s just not much upside here and the playing time is suspect on several of them.
The best playing time outlooks might be Jacob Stallings and Tucker Barnhart, as they can handle a pitching staff well, and their teams sought them out this winter.
Yan Gomes has a little life left in the old bat, but what’s the role look like with the Chicago Cubs already having Willson Contreras in house? I don’t love that situation, but he can still DH some or catch a few days a week.
Austin Nola is an interesting bounceback after dealing with an injury-riddled 2021, but my goodness San Diego has a catching logjam.
James McCann could run into a small hot streak, but his high strikeout, hit for homers only profile isn’t appealing to me.
With this group, it’s the island of misfit toys, with some all-defense/no-bat types being there (Austin Hedges and Roberto Perez), some former exciting prospects with playing time issues (Francisco Mejia and Ryan Jeffers), and some guys who I just don’t know what to do with like Danny Jansen and Jonah Heim, who I’m avoiding. Jansen will continue to steal away playing time from Kirk, and Heim could take a step forward, but I wouldn’t bet on it myself.
Moving forward in 2022, I will be investing more in good hitting catchers, I’d love to get a guy from Tier 1 if I can, but if not, prioritizing 2 catchers before Tier 4 would be ideal, as there’s a possible cliff once you move past the C20. Investing top dollar in big-name catchers isn’t for everyone, but as you can see, the position gets ugly fast, so at least trying the invest in catcher strategy once to see if you can make it work isn’t a bad idea!