Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Catcher
The calendar has flipped to March and spring training is underway, so you know what that means -- it's draft season.
Season-long fantasy baseball Twitter is abuzz with nightly draft boards and threads, and perhaps you've already gotten in on the action or have a draft right around the corner.
I'll be posting positional rankings for 12-team, standard-scoring roto leagues throughout the week, with brief notes highlighting notable players and situations. These are by no means strict and rigid rankings, as roster construction should play a big role in who you draft, so I've also included tiers to show which players have comparable values.
Note that the tiers begin with "two" to match up with other positions, as there are no catchers going in the first two rounds of drafts.
I'm always reluctant to take a catcher early, and this season is no exception.
There's definitely an argument for securing a top option like J.T. Realmuto because he's that much better than a replacement level player at the position. You can see that in action by messing with FanGraphs' auction calculator, which uses z-scores to rank players and takes position scarcity into account. Catchers see a significant boost under this valuation method. There's no question the position gets ugly real fast.
However, taking Realmuto at his sub-50 ADP could mean passing up guys like Alex Bregman, George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., or Aaron Judge, which is some serious talent to miss out on. Realmuto may be elite relative to his position, but his projected stat line isn't all that different from someone like Didi Gregorius, who goes over 100 picks later and is merely a modest option at shortstop.
Ultimately, how you handle the position comes down to your particular drafting philosophy.
What's clear, though, is that Realmuto is indeed the class of this group. With most backstops, you're just hoping for some home runs and a non-crippling batting average, whereas Realmuto can be an asset across all five categories, even chipping in a handful of stolen bases. He's just a tough sell this early in drafts. Note that he's coming off a thumb injury, which may further scare you off his ADP.
After Realmuto, Salvador Perez and Will Smith form a two-man tier. Perez has been remarkably consistent over his career, and he was excellent in 2020 after missing 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Prior to 2019, Perez slugged over 20 dingers in four straight seasons, and he was well on pace for that last year, mashing 11 in just 156 plate appearances.
Smith has the talent to be tops at the position -- just look at last year's Statcast metrics -- but he's expected to be in a timeshare with Austin Barnes, so while he should put up numbers, his ceiling could be capped.
Although those two can lock in strong production, they're also the only other backstops after Realmuto going in the top-100 picks.
Therefore, tier four may be the sweet spot if you're looking for a solid backstop but don't want to commit to an early pick. We seem to be getting a slight discount on Yasmani Grandal this season (130 ADP), who's intriguing in a stacked White Sox lineup. Christian Vazquez and Gary Sanchez are often dropping out of the top 150 if you want to wait things out longer. Vazquez isn't particularly exciting, but he won't hurt you anywhere and backed up his breakout 2019 numbers with an encouraging 2020 campaign. My colleagues and I discussed Sanchez as a potential bounce-back candidate -- just be sure to factor in his poor batting average.
Mitch Garver is a name to highlight in tier five. Garver blew up in 2019 but came crashing down to earth last season. Last year's struggles may have been due to injury, though, so there's hope that he can recapture some of that prior magic. Among players with at least 200 batted ball events in 2019, Garver ranked 15th overall in barrel rate.
Daulton Varsho is the rare catcher-eligible player who brings some stolen base upside. ATC projections have him leading the position with 9 swiped bags across just 89 games. However, there's a chance he begins the season in the minors.
If you decide to wait things out in deeper formats, Buster Posey, Carson Kelly, and Yadier Molina are adequate fall-back options going outside the top 240 picks. Posey and Molina are "boring" veterans, but they should provide usable stat lines on volume alone. Kelly could rebound following a forgettable 2020.