For a position where offensive production is so anemic and star performers are so scarce, catcher is an obsession for a lot of fantasy managers.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy
If you play fantasy baseball, you probably have strong feelings about the degree to which catchers are involved in our little game. Some people prefer one-catcher leagues because the position is so shallow. Others prefer two-catcher leagues, believing there’s more strategy involved. It’s a polarizing topic that has caused friction in fantasy leagues.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Catchers
Two-catcher leagues are where some fantasy managers get really obsessed with the position, and that’s why I prefer two-catcher leagues: It’s fun to watch other people sabotage themselves by hoarding catchers.
Wherever there is a scarcity of resources, you’ll find people hell-bent on trying to acquire more than their fair share of the scarce resource. Some people enjoy having a lot of something that other people are unable to acquire. Human nature, I guess. The problem with hoarding resources at catcher is that it requires a sacrifice of other resources.
Top catchers are expensive because of positional scarcity. JT Realmuto will be drafted well ahead of outfielders projected to produce better numbers. That’s because Realmuto offers one-of-a-kind production at catcher, but there are plenty of outfielders who can give you 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a .270 batting average. Realmuto will have a second- or third-round ADP, while outfielders projected to produce Realmuto-type numbers might have sixth- or seventh-round ADPs.
For some managers in two-catcher leagues, getting Realmuto or, say, Salvador Perez isn’t enough. They want to corner the market and get a pair of top-five catchers. In their minds, they’re gaining a big advantage by dramatically outproducing their competitors at the position. What they’re failing to consider is that they’re paying dearly for the catcher advantage by spending early-round draft capital on catchers who’ll produce worse numbers than infielders and outfielders drafted several rounds later. The opportunity cost of the two-premium-catcher approach is steep.
We all know that catchers tend to produce worse fantasy numbers than their peers at other positions. Catchers tend to play fewer games because of the physical demands of the position. (Interested in having knee-replacement surgery before you turn 50? The catcher position might be your calling.) Catchers tend to be slow afoot and not prolific base stealers. Catchers’ hitting skills might suffer because of the time they’re required to put in working with pitchers. Catchers tend to have low batting averages.
I rarely invest a great deal of draft/auction resources in the catcher position because I’m rarely satisfied with the return on investment when I do. But that’s not to say I’ll punt the position entirely.
My strategy at catcher is more of a “do no harm” approach. I want to roster catchers who won’t poison my team batting average. If they can give me some power or a handful of steals…bonus. But mostly, I’m looking to inexpensively acquire catchers who won’t tank my BA.
Let’s dive into our catcher tiers. In addition to the rankings and tiers themselves, I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: Catcher
Fantasy Baseball Catcher Tiers & Draft Advice
As mentioned above Realmuto’s production might be relatively ho-hum at other positions, but among catchers he’s the gold standard. Most projection systems put him at around 20 home runs, 70 RBI, 70 runs and 15 stolen bases with a solid batting average. At the catcher position, those numbers are manna from the heavens.
I debated whether to include Salvador Perez in Tier 1 with Realmuto. Sal offers the best power potential at the position, and his career batting average is .268. My concern is how well Perez will age. Former Royals manager Ned Yost gave Perez precious few off days when the young catcher was in his mid-20s, and I wonder how well Perez will hold up in his age-33 season. I also worry about the possibility of a calamitous drop-off in batting average for a player who has struck out 279 times over the last two years while drawing only 46 walks. Perez has always been a free swinger, but that extreme K/BB ratio suggests that his already tenuous command of the strike zone has reached worrisome levels. It wouldn’t shock me if Perez batted .230 this year.
There’s a lot to like with the Toronto duo of Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk. They’re only in their mid-20s and probably have their finest seasons ahead of them. They’re both slated to bat in the middle of a loaded Blue Jays lineup. Varsho offers power and speed, but his batting average (.234 in 916 career at-bats) is a liability. Will his bat play well enough at non-catcher positions to keep him in the lineup every day? Kirk’s batting average isn’t a problem, but he doesn’t offer the same sort of power and speed that Varsho brings to the table.
Adley Rutschman, a cornerstone of the Orioles’ youthful renaissance, could eventually overtake JP Realmuto as the premier fantasy catcher. But with only 398 MLB at-bats under Rutschman’s belt, we probably aren’t going to get a Johnny Bench season from him just yet.
Melendez brings Perez-ian power to the Royals, but the batting average could be bumpy as he settles into the big leagues.
Tyler Stephenson is one of the best value plays at the position. Injuries derailed his 2022 season and could lead to a 2023 price discount. Stephenson is one of the few catchers capable of giving you 15+ home runs while flirting with a .300 batting average.
William Contreras, whom the Brewers acquired from the Braves in a three-way trade, belted 17 HRs in 407 plate appearances last year and should enjoy Milwaukee’s cozy confines. The 25-year-old Contreras might not be a drain on your team’s batting average either.
Cal Raleigh has thunder in his bat and could approach 30 home runs if his health cooperates. The batting average is a wild card, however.
Keibert Ruiz, Danny Jansen and Travis d’Arnaud are basically the same player at different ages. They’re solid contributors likely to give you double-digit home runs and something close to a league-average BA.
Christian Vazquez embodies the “do no harm” approach I mentioned earlier. He’s batted .274 or better in four of his last six seasons and makes modest but non-zero contributions in the other offensive categories.
Yasmani Grandal had a power outage last season. At age-34, a rebound year isn’t a given, but Grandal has belted 22 or more home runs in five of the last seven seasons and will be more affordable this year.
Shea Langeliers won’t technically qualify as a catcher in some leagues, but he’ll be eligible there eventually. The 25-year-old Langeliers has promising power but poses a danger to your team’s batting average.
Jonah Heim is Dr. Jekyll early in the season and Mr. Hyde after the All-Star Break. His career splits: a .250 BA and 16 HRs in the first half of the season; a .174 BA and 10 HRs in the second half.
Logan O’Hoppe is an intriguing youngster whom the prospectors adore, but he’ll have just turned 23 when the new season begins. A lot of catchers don’t peak offensively until their late 20s or even their early 30s. Let this one ripen a little longer before uncorking the bottle.
If you’re in an auction, you buy these guys for $1 in the end game. If you’re in a draft, you take them in the last round. They’re the cheapo catchers. Celebrate their home runs and pray for their batting averages. The one guy I’ll mention by name in this tier is Bo Naylor, a promising Cleveland prospect who had a cup of coffee with the Guardians in October and is hoping to brew a full pot in 2023. Naylor has a little power, a little speed and a willingness to take a walk.
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