2022 Catcher Sleepers

These three catchers could be true sleepers in 2022.

Fantasy baseball drafts can be very unpredictable. All of sudden, there’s a major run at the catcher position, and you’re left empty-handed! In that case, what do you do?

The key is to not panic. At every position, there is going to be at least one or two players whose production vastly exceeds their draft position. At catcher, there isn’t a lot of depth, but that is what we think at the moment. A lot can change throughout the season, and you’ll want to know which players you can turn to in drafts when your top options are gone.

These three catchers are being drafted late in drafts (after pick #200) but could be quality contributors for you in deeper drafts, or nice bench/utility options in shallower formats. Who are these three diamonds in the rough? Let us dive right into it!

ADP Data via NFC.shgn.com (Drafts since December 1st)

Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs

Mitch Garver (MIN)

 

2021 Stats (243 PA): .256/358/.517, 13 HR, 29 R, 34 RBI, 1 SB

ADP: 203

Heading into last season, the Twins were considered the favorite to win the AL Central. Instead, they finished last place in the division. To be fair, injuries certainly played a role, and Mitch Garver was no exception. As he put it, per Betsy Halfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, his season was “wrecked” by injuries.

Garver missed extensive time due to various injuries, leading to him only having 243 plate appearances. In fact, with 359 plate appearances being a career-high for him, this is becoming a pattern, and he’s now having to deal with catcher Ryan Jeffers also being in the fold in Minnesota. That makes his profile more complicated, which is likely playing in him not being drafted as a top-ten catcher.

However, there is a lot to like about Garver’s profile, even without the immense playing time projection. Since 2019, he’s had 680 plate appearances, and it’s safe to say they have been of high quality:

  • .256/.350/.549, 46 HR, 107 R, 106 RBI, .293 ISO, 136 wRC+

In that span, Garver has posted a 15.4% barrel rate. Combine that with a pull rate of around 50%, and that’s going to lead to tremendous power production. Add in the fact that his batting average isn’t a liability, and he has quite the offensive profile for a catcher.

The main concern with Garver, as alluded to earlier, is likely his playing time. Steamer currently projects him for 399 plate appearances, which would be a career-high, but certainly not unreasonable. Based on his previous pace, that would be around 25 home runs, which would certainly rank in the top-five for catchers. The 17-home run projection from Steamer is based on him having a .201 isolated power (ISO), which would be significantly lower than he’s been (.357, .261) over his past two full seasons. Thus, I wouldn’t put significant weight into it.

We’ll see if Garver can stay healthy and earn more plate appearances than Jeffers, but even if not, he’s still going to be one of the league’s best offensive catchers when healthy. There’s clear upside attached to his playing time, yet he still can end up as a top-ten fantasy catcher with limited plate appearances. You might want to pair him with another catcher later in the draft, though he has to be my personal favorite value at the catcher position currently.

Omar Narvaez (MIL)

 

2021 Stats (445 PA): .266/.342/.402, 11 HR, 54 R, 49 RBI, 0 SB

ADP: 264

By now, we have learned to not put too much weight into the 2020 season. Omar Narvaez stands out as a notable example. After being traded to the Brewers prior to 2020, he posted a 59 wRC+ in his first season with the club, in addition to a 31% strikeout rate and .176 batting average.

However, that stands out as a clear outlier. Narvaez’s 99 wRC+ doesn’t stand out but is a bounce-back from the poor 2020 performance. What is notably encouraging is that his strikeout rate decreased to 18.9%, right around his career 19% average, allowing his batting average to rebound to .266.

Now, Narvaez isn’t someone who hits the ball hard. His 84.2 MPH exit velocity ranked in the 2nd percentile, while his 25.6% hard-hit% ranked in the 3rd percentile. Despite all of this, though, Narvaez has consistently posted batting average on balls in play over .300, driving his batting average production. Why? Part of it is a career 28.3% flare/burner rate, which is going to lead to a high average. In fact, since we know that line drives tend to be unstable from year-to-year, it is encouraging that we can expect his 27.5% line drive rate to regress positively towards his career-average 30.1% line drive rate.

Some hitters just have a knack for posting a high BABIP, and that is exactly what Narvaez has. He’s consistently produced from a batting average perspective despite low exit velocities, making that a non-factor moving forward. What I’m hoping for, though, is more power production. More line drives will help, and Narvaez’s 31 fly ball rate was a career-high. Meanwhile, he plays in a favorable ballpark, which should further help his case. What am I getting at? His 8.6% home-run/fly ball rate is quite low considering his career average 10.7% home run/fly ball rate, which includes a large sample of him with a minuscule barrel rate earlier in his career. I’m expecting the power to at least rebound to 15 home runs, which would have tied for 12th amongst catchers last year.

Narvaez isn’t a sexy option. However, he is a consistent player who will provide you with a solid average and enough power at the catcher position. He’s part of the right side of a timeshare with Pedro Severinomeaning he’ll get enough plate appearances, and his track record gives him a strong case to be drafted higher than the 18th catcher. In 15-team drafts, consider him a fallback option if you plan on adopting a “zero catcher” strategy where you wait until the last round for a catcher. Otherwise, he’s a nice high-end catcher #2 with a very high floor. Don’t let his stat cast profile get in the way; Narvaez can be a nice contributor for your fantasy teams in 2022!

Austin Nola (SD)

 

2021 Stats (194 PA): .272/.340/.376, 2 HR, 15 R, 29 RBI, 0 SB

ADP: 352

Remember when the Padres traded away a package, including Ty France, to acquire a package headlined by catcher Austin Nola? Well, they will need him to come through this season to justify that transaction. It’s hard to know what to make of the 2020 season; for Garver and Narvaez, that came with their negative performance. For Nola, however, it is a different story.

2020 appears to be the breakout year for Nola. In 184 plate appearances, he posted a 127 wRC+, in addition to a .273/.353/.472 slash line. The combination of power and contact ability was very exciting, leading to many considering him a top-ten catcher to start the season.

Unfortunately, 2021 got off on the wrong foot immediately. Nola missed all of the first month of the season due to a hand injury, and then went back on the injury list in June due to a knee injury. Finally, he missed the final week of the season after undergoing thumb surgery. All in all, it was quite the chaotic year for Nola, who only got 194 plate appearances and never had a chance to get in a groove.

Nola’s 0.6% barrel rate is concerning, especially since a lot of his 2020 production came on the back of a 38% line drive rate, which was always going to be unsustainable. When considering the context of 2021, though, I don’t think Nola has ever gotten his fair shot to try to show that 2020 was no fluke. With just a 4.9% swinging-strike rate last year, it’s clear he has tremendous contact skills, which will allow him to post a strong batting average. Even if the power can just lead to 15 home runs, similar to Narvaez, he’ll be a nice high-floor option

Given the team’s investment in Nola, he’ll continue to be the starting catcher moving forward, and I expect him to receive the bulk of the playing time. Victor Caratini will continue to catch for Yu Darvishbut he posted a negative wins above replacement last year, and shouldn’t be expected to take up much playing time. Meanwhile, the fact that the team trusted Caratini over prospect Luis Campusano tells you a lot about how the team may not trust the latter. The upside of Nola bouncing back from a power perspective and receiving key playing time is enough for him to be the perfect catcher #2 in all formats. At the point of the draft where he is being drafted, we should crave the unknown, and that’s exactly what Nola provides. If all goes well, perhaps he can prove to be the ultimate catcher sleeper this year!

Photo by MLB.com/ Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerGuyBoston on twitter)

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