Oh, this is new. This is good.
Catcher has been a Fantasy wasteland for ... forever, it seems. Yeah, there's always a standout or two whose cost is inflated by scarcity, but rarely has the juice been worth the squeeze for them. That was certainly the case last year for Salvador Perez, and I'm one of the guilty parties who paid the premium.
But part of what made it a bad pick was all the new talent emerging at the position. Players like Daulton Varsho, Adley Rutschman, Alejandro Kirk, William Contreras, Sean Murphy, MJ Melendez and Cal Raleigh could have been had for much cheaper, if not free, and turned out to be near as impactful, if not more so.
Position Strategy: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
And guess what? They're still here. The infusion of talent last year was considerable and somewhat unexpected given the physical demands of the position. I certainly observed the accumulation of catcher talent in the upper minors last year but figured attrition would whittle it down. It did not, and from where I sit, it looks like the upper minors are still loaded with catcher talent.
The position could get even deeper is what I'm saying, and it's already as deep as it's ever been.
One contributing factor is the way NL teams are handling their newly awarded DH spot, often treating it as a way to keep an offensive-minded catcher's bat in the lineup. Some AL teams (the Royals and Blue Jays, for instance) have followed suit. And with that, the playing-time issue that derailed so many potential standouts in the past is suddenly no more. Or at least less pronounced.
So while I've rarely endorsed paying a premium at catcher (with last year being an exception), it's even less justifiable now with all the quality options to go around. I struggle to differentiate between them, too, which is why I had trouble narrowing down this first group.
I suppose if there's one element of differentiation, it's stolen bases. J.T. Realmuto and Daulton Varsho should provide them in reasonable quantities, but basically, no other catcher will. In leagues where stolen bases are critical, which includes standard Rotisserie, that's reason enough to rank them 1 and 2. But one of my guiding principles this year is that stolen bases in general, which means some of these non-base-stealers should still hold a candle to them.
Will Smith has of course been a constant here, and I still say Perez is deserving of distinction. His 162-game pace last year was 33 homers and 108 RBI, and he mashed after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Adley Rutschman and Alejandro Kirk stand out most for their plate discipline and maybe deserve to slot a little higher in points leagues as a result, but the bottom line is you're in a strong spot with any of these seven as your starter despite the ADP range of 80 or so spots.
I'm half inclined to slot William Contreras and Sean Murphy with the previous group, believing their most likely outcomes are in the same vicinity, but they're neither as proven as Will Smith nor as highly regarded as Adley Rutschman. I've removed them for the perceived downside risk, but they're absolutely part of what makes the position so appealing this year and probably the very two catchers I'm most likely to draft.
MJ Melendez is being drafted ahead of them, and yeah, I recognize the upside, particularly if he continues to bat leadoff for the Royals. The Statcast readings are strong and the plate discipline even stronger, but the simple truth is he's not going to measure up if he doesn't improve the batting average. Early drafters may be getting out over their skis with him. Frankly, I prefer Tyler Stephenson, who's had trouble staying healthy the past couple of years and doesn't have a Statcast page all lit up in red, but he's produced at every opportunity, taking full advantage of a favorable home venue.
I include Cal Raleigh here because he tied Daulton Varsho for the position lead with 27 home runs, but he sold out completely for them, with exaggerated strikeout and fly-ball rates that undermine any potential for batting average. Seems like he could go belly up. The one being overlooked, I think, is Travis d'Arnaud I understand he's been reduced to second string with the Braves' acquisition of Murphy, but he and Contreras both managed to excel sharing the role last year. The Braves have said he'll get plenty of time at DH, which remains wide open for them.
|2023 ADP||2022 PPG||2022 BA||2022 OPS|
Danny Jansen TOR C
Yasmani Grandal CHW C
Francisco Alvarez NYM DH
Gabriel Moreno ARI C
Logan O'Hoppe LAA C
Shea Langeliers OAK DH
Joey Bart SF C
Mitch Garver TEX DH
Endy Rodriguez PIT C
Luis Campusano SD C
Though Danny Jansen came on strong late and Yasmani Grandal has the track record, the real standouts here are Francisco Alvarez and Logan O'Hoppe, two premier prospects who debuted late last year and have an easy lane to playing time. Alvarez may need to shore up his defense in the minors still, but a hybrid DH role seems likely to happen sooner than later. O'Hoppe is a better bet to claim the job on opening day, but I still prefer Alvarez, whose massive power stroke gives him a higher ceiling overall.
Bo Naylor and Gabriel Moreno are also in the mix to start for their respective clubs, but neither seems as close to being a finished product. I also question whether their upside is as high as Alvarez's and O'Hoppe's. Endy Rodriguez would be a better choice if we could trust the Pirates to put him on a reasonable timeline. Hope springs eternal for Luis Campusano, who the Padres continue to pass over year after year despite his impressive minor-league production.
I've gone ahead and included Shea Langeliers and Mitch Garver here even though they're technically DH-only to begin the season. They should pick up catcher eligibility in short order and remain attractive upside plays. Garver has occupied that space for a while now, but it's clear that his continual health problems have removed some of his shine. The Athletics traded Sean Murphy partly to free up the job for Langeliers, a defensive standout with enough power to matter if he can keep the strikeouts under control.
I've said Realmuto and Varsho are the only viable base stealers at the position. Strictly speaking, that's not true. Like Realmuto, Naylor delivered a rare 20/20 season for a catcher, albeit in the minors. Whether he can come close to that in the majors depends in large part on when exactly he steps into the role for the Guardians. Nick Fortes and Christian Bethancourt are both reasonably fast and showed some inclination to run in part-time roles last year. Each could push for more playing time, which would allow for a more relevant contribution to the category.