Like many of you, baseball acts as my calendar. When Thanksgiving leftovers run out, I know the Hot Stove will start heating up, and when I’m done taking down the tree at Christmas, I’m oiling my glove and getting ready for baseball in the Spring.
Even though we’re in December, with pitchers and catchers usually reporting in a little over two and a half months, it still feels way too early for many of my friends to listen to my ramble on about early ADP and some values I see developing. But that’s why I’m so excited to get to write here and hopefully help out a few people who are looking to get an advantage in an early NFBC draft or any other league that’s drafting this month.
I always use NFBC for their ADP and narrow down the number; however, if drafts only include those that adjust for recent news. When I’m writing this, my ADP consists of the entire month of November, including 24 drafts.
Today, I’m writing about sleeper catchers, which I consider hitters selected after pick 150, representing the midpoint of most 10 and 12 team leagues that aren’t rostering 30 bench players. But because I know those sorts of deep leagues exist, I’ll get into the deep sleepers and hibernators as well. To keep this series as easy to read as possible, I organized it into positions and from there went tier by tier, with only a few key players meriting deep dives, so if you want to skip to outfield or shortstop, you should just start scrolling.
Let’s get into it.
For Owners Who Punt Catcher
I’m someone who never likes to punt anything, whether it be steals, saves, or catchers. I just don’t like getting left behind somewhere that I know can lead to a boost that will separate me from other teams in my league. But if you just can’t stomach anteing up for the top of the market at catcher with guys like J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, and Sal Perez, or if you’re in a two-catcher league (which you shouldn’t do if you can avoid it) I’m here for you.
To date, most owners are punting at catcher. Only six catchers have an ADP in the top-150 through November, and only 11 are going in the top-200. But just because the industry is leaving backstops behind, I’m not going to adjust the definition of a sleeper; I’ll just have more guys that are worth drafting to include.
Tier I: Mid-day Nap (Picks 150-200) – Daulton Varsho (ADP 184)
Of the five catchers currently being taken in this range, Christian Vazquez, Austin Nola, Sean Murphy, Daulton Varsho, and Gary Sanchez, there really may not be a terrible pick. Sure, Sanchez may tank your batting average, and Austin Nola may go back to being irrelevant after a fun small sample in Seattle (he quieted down with the Padres). Still, all of these catchers will be nestled into strong lineups, outside of possibly Varsho in AZ. If they’re not in the AL with DH rest days’ potential, they have demonstrated multi-position potential to counteract that.
With all of that in mind, I still went with Daulton Varsho. Outside of having the quirkiest name of the group, his MLB numbers haven’t been that notable. Making his debut in the short 2020 season, Varsho finished with a .188/.287/.366 triple-slash and a 76 wRC+. That’s not good enough to beat any of the catchers mentioned above, especially looking at his lackluster power numbers, as he had only ten extra-base hits in 115 PAs. His average exit velocity, 86.2 mph, put him down at the bottom of the barrel amongst qualified hitters, right next to known weak contact bats Jose Iglesias and Mauricio Dubon.
But there’s room for hope. He’s a top-100 prospect, according to Fangraphs, with a 50/50 power grade and 60/60 speed grade. That’s rare for a catcher. Plus, the 2020 season showed that even with Carson Kelly catching, Varsho still has a place in the lineup, as he can more than hold his own in the outfield.
None of that makes up for his poor performance at the plate, though. But ZIPS and Steamer projections for 2021 don’t see those same struggles in the future for the 24-year-old. Instead, they see a blossoming 15-10 talent who should hit over .250 at a position where stolen bases aren’t even on anyone’s radar once Realmuto is off the board.
While Steamer projects Varsho more conservatively for 2021, with a .256/.324/.439 triple-slash, 13 home runs, and ten steals, Dan Zymborski’s ZIPS projections see a bit more upside, projecting the young speedster for a .269 AVG to go along with 17 bombs and 15 swipes. If Varsho comes close to that latter projection, he’d not only be a top-15 catcher in home runs but also would be one of just 12 catchers ZIPS projects to hit over .260 and the only one in that group with double-digit steals (Realmuto is projected just 7).
Late in the draft, power and counting stats aren’t that hard to come by. With an ADP of 184, which is significantly skewed by an early pick of 31, Varsho is surrounded by many players at every hitting position that can’t hit for average. And at catcher, that becomes especially apparent. Outside of Buster Posey and Omar Narvaez, there isn’t a catcher likely to start consistently in 2021 that will hit for that average without costing you a top-five round pick.
If you’re in a 10 or 12 team league with one catcher, Varsho should be your guy at catcher if you’re committed to punting the position, and for deeper leagues, his outfield eligibility could add value as well.
Tier II: Deep Sleepers (Picks 201-300) – Mitch Garver (ADP 245)
This stage of the draft is still a viable place to get your first catcher in 12 and 15 team leagues, mostly if you’ve decided that even a play at Varsho is too much risk when there are decent starting pitchers and powerful outfielders at that stage.
But if you wait this long, you’ll want to try and find a catcher that can help you in at least one area, either counting stats or ratios. You won’t find one that helps in both. While veterans like Buster Posey (ADP 281) and Yadier Molina (ADP 283) could bring you a .260 AVG with double-digit homers, the only catcher in this range with any sliver of actual upside is Mitch Garver.
The Twins not-quite-everyday backstop, currently going at around pick 245, is only a short season removed from hitting a jaw-dropping 31 homers in 311 ABs back in 2019, and after being plagued by injuries for most of 2020, should be ready to go for 2021.
While ZIPS projects Garver, who will turn 30 before the season, to only play in 96 games in 2021, he is still projected to mirror Wilson Contreras’ final numbers, both projected to hit right around .250 with a .800 OPS and 17 home runs. While ZIPS certainly isn’t a crystal ball, these projections help clear your vision and let you see past the 2020 campaign that saw an injured Garver hobble to a final line of 0.167/0.247/0.264 with just two home runs.
If Garver can rebound and put up any sort of power numbers in Spring Training, his draft stock may shoot up into the 210s or 220s at least. But for as long as he’s being undervalued, take this steep discount and smile because you’re getting away with a steal this late in the draft.
James McCann (ADP 228) is also an exciting play in this range. At the moment, rumors seem to put him in the AL or NL East, with either the Yankees, Mets, or Phillies, all three of which have dominant lineups. Seemingly a tangible consolation prize for whichever team misses on Realmuto and decides they still want an upgrade, McCann will almost certainly provide you with a batting average floor over .260 and, depending on playing time and role, could even add some counting stats.
In the short season with the White Sox, McCann outperformed Realmuto’s 2020 with the Phillies, hitting seven home runs and putting up a dangerous triple-slash of 0.289/0.360/0.536. But do the underlying numbers back it up? Not quite.
McCann has the second-highest difference between his wOBA and xwOBA and his SLG% versus his xSLG from 2020 amongst catchers with over 100 PAs, only behind Christian Vazquez, and draws comps to Adalberto Mondesi and Willy Adames due to his questionable batted ball profile.
McCann only made solid contact 5.8% of the time in 2020, which was amongst the lowest in baseball, though it was slightly higher than Realmuto’s 5.6%. His hard-hit% ranks amongst the top 60 hitters though at 47.8%, which ranks above noted hard-hitting catcher Will Smith.
However, a more telling stat is out of zone swing and miss%, which usually is a predictive stat for batting average and places McCann near Mondesi in terms of his hitting profile. While McCann isn’t quite at Mondesi’s 56.3%, he is 54%, which is amongst the 110 worst hitters in this statistic in 2020 and places him right next to infamous more whiff Gary Sanchez.
Ultimately McCann’s track record isn’t that deep as he’s never hit over .280 before this season, and so despite his reasonable ADP, with a solid chance of hitting in a great lineup, means he should be on your radar. But Garver’s power and 20-pick discount give him the edge for me.
The only reason he isn’t higher on my list is because of how poorly he rates based on ZIPS projections, .241 AVG with just 12 homers and 84 runs+RBI. Still, I am sure he’ll outperform those numbers, especially if he can join another high octane offense as he had in Chi-Town. His .273 AVG with 18 bombs and a nice pitch-in of 4 steals in 2019 indicates that he could at least provide that ceiling in 2021, but based on the data I’ve mentioned, that seems a bit unrealistic.
Tier III: Hibernators (Picks 301-500)
While I won’t dive so deep into these later picks, here are some names and fast facts to be aware of for catchers in this range.
Wilson Ramos (ADP 331.42) leads off this group, despite being a free agent with some injury concerns, only due to his track record and batting average floor. You’d do well to draft him, especially if he goes to an AL club where he can DH. Omar Narvaez (ADP 366), another batting average provider, will need to battle to regain a starting role with Jacob Nottingham in Milwaukee, but I really wouldn’t be too worried. Sam Huff (ADP 354) is a 22-year-old catcher with Texas who debuted in 2020 with a bang. Hitting 0.355 /0.394/0.742 in 31 ABs, Huff broke out for a team that will need to be open to just letting the kids play in 2021, even with their new stadium. Watch out for a prohibitively high K%, though.