Given the lack of fantasy-relevant depth at the catcher position in recent years, what constitutes a “bust” for a player who sees most of his work behind the plate isn’t exactly the same as a player at another position.
Plus, given that lack of depth, finding the right catcher can be key, especially as it could help separate fantasy managers from their leaguemates’ production.
With Spring Training now underway and regular-season games just around the corner, there are a few names to stay away from when pondering a catcher selection in fantasy drafts. Or rather, catchers who you might be best off passing on at their current ADPs in favor of another option at a different point in the draft.
These are five of those catchers.
*All ADP data per NFBC.
Salvador Perez – 64.03 ADP
Salvador Perez has long been one of the game’s better power threats behind the plate. No time was that perhaps more prevalent than during the 2021 season when he launched 48 home runs in 665 (!) plate appearances. The home runs were a career-high, as were the 161 games the veteran appeared in.
It is fair to wonder if the 32-year-old will continue to play so many games in a season moving forward, especially after a 2022 season in which he missed significant time due to a thumb injury.
Limited to 114 games and 473 plate appearances, Perez only connected on 23 home runs while batting .254 with a .292 on-base percentage. It was a solid fantasy season in a vacuum given the nature of the position, but hardly one that fantasy managers envisioned after the veteran’s gargantuan home run output the previous year.
Obviously, with far fewer plate appearances, Perez hit far fewer home runs. In fact, the 2022 season was right in line with some of his pre-2020 seasons in terms of the balance of plate appearances and home runs.
With MJ Melendez now in the fold at the Major League level, Perez could see a downtick in starts behind the plate, which could eat into his plate appearances for the season. Or rather, Kansas City could opt to utilize Melendez more at times to lessen the load on Perez.
Obviously, Melendez can also play in the outfield corners – and likely will continue to see starts both in the outfield and behind the plate – but it all makes for a situation where Perez doesn’t quite seem a lock for the heavy workload he’s usually maintained behind the plate.
And while Kansas City could very easily offset some of these playing time concerns by deploying Perez as a designated hitter more often, it remains to be seen if they’ll do that on a consistent basis moving forward.
At the end of the day, the veteran seems a decent bet to eclipse the 20-home run mark. However, he might not reach the 30-home run mark. For reference, the 2021 season was Perez’s only year with more than 27 home runs. And with a potential decrease in playing time and a rise in whiff rates – Perez has now topped the 30% mark in terms of whiff rate in each of the last two seasons – fantasy managers might be better off investing in a top-10 pick elsewhere and waiting for a catcher later in the draft with better upside like Gabriel Moreno, Eric Haase or Logan O’Hoppe.
Cal Raleigh – 153.69 ADP
Raleigh enjoyed a solid first full season in the Majors in 2022, doing significantly well in the power department with 27 home runs, a 15.4% barrel rate, a .422 xwOBAcon, and a 43.5% hard-hit rate in 415 plate appearances. He also hit .211 overall with a .284 on-base percentage while adding a stolen base for the Mariners.
The power numbers, and some of the quality of contact metrics, were obviously significant positives for a player in his second – and first full – campaign in the Majors. But from a fantasy standpoint, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Or rather, be slightly concerned about regarding Raleigh’s fantasy ceiling as one of the top 12 or 15 best fantasy catchers heading into the 2023 season.
The first one is the plate discipline.
Raleigh struck out 29.4% of the time last season. That number was actually down from his 2021 strikeout rate in the Majors – 35.1% in 148 plate appearances – but it was still unideal. Elsewhere, the Mariners catcher waved at pitches outside the zone a bit too frequently, with a 31.1% chase rate. Both the 26-year-old’s strikeout rate and chase rate finished in the 34th percentile or worse league wide.
Those swing-and-miss numbers also boosted the 26-year-old’s barrel rate a bit, and are a definite cause for concern if they continue to grow.
The second reason to be slightly wary of Raleigh as a top-12 catching option at his position is the return of Tom Murphy. More specifically, the potential that Murphy eats into Raleigh’s playing time and plate appearances enough to see his counting stats take somewhat of a hit.
Murphy missed most of the 2022 campaign with a dislocated shoulder. He’s back in the mix for the Mariners now, and does have a track record of production at the Major League level with a 3.2 fWAR, 126 wRC+, 18 home run season on his resume in 2019 when he also hit .273 in 281 plate appearances.
And while it’s unlikely that he unseats Raleigh as the primary starter, it is worth noting that Murphy also has a track record of production against left-handed pitching. Raleigh has had some success against left-handers, though not at the same level as Murphy.
There is the potential of a platoon or timeshare here, though even if we don’t get that that far it’s possible that the former Rockies player sees a bit more playing time than a traditional backup. Especially considering Raleigh, like Perez, dealt with a finger injury in 2022.
The rookie played through a broken thumb and a torn ligament in his left hand in September and October so it’s conceivable that Seattle could look to lessen his workload a bit this coming season.
Danny Jansen – 180.86 ADP
The concern with Jansen fantasy-wise, somewhat similar to the two catchers mentioned before him, is entirely based on playing time.
The 27-year-old was excellent at the plate last season in a limited sample size, connecting on 15 home runs in just 248 plate appearances to go along with a 13.1% barrel rate, a .368 xwOBA, just a 17.1% strikeout rate, and a walk rate (10.1%) that reached double digits.
The difference with Jansen, however, is that he has to share the catching portion of Toronto’s depth chart with Alejandro Kirk, who was also excellent last year.
Kirk’s Statcast page is covered in bright red and the 24-year-old makes just as much of an impact behind the plate as he does when his turn comes up in the batting order. He struck out more than he walked in 541 plate appearances and registered a 129 wRC+ and a 3.8 fWAR. In short, he’s also very good.
If Jansen were the only starting-caliber catcher in Toronto he’d easily be a top-10 option. However, with Kirk around, it’s hard to see him reaching that ceiling given his plate appearances won’t always be consistent.
Gabriel Moreno is no longer on Toronto’s roster, having been traded to Arizona, but Daulton Varsho is after joining the club in the same deal. And while Varsho seems likely to play in the outfield more often than not, he could potentially see occasional starts behind the plate, which could further eat into Jansen’s playing time.
Keibert Ruiz – 182.83 ADP
The 2022 season was very much a mixed bag for Ruiz from a fantasy standpoint. On one hand, he swiped six bases, the most in the league among catchers behind J.T. Realmuto, while also playing a regular role for the Nationals with 433 plate appearances. Elsewhere, he made plenty of contact, striking out just 11.5% of the time and finishing in the 94th percentile or better in both K% and whiff rate.
Unsurprisingly, those numbers led to a rather high expected batting average, .277 to be exact. In reality, the backstop hit .251 with a .313 on-base percentage.
Overall, all those register somewhere between “good” and “relatively good” from both a fantasy standpoint and a purely statistical standpoint.
What wasn’t so good is that the former Dodger managed just seven home runs and a 3.7% barrel rate in those 433 plate appearances while mustering just a 32.3% hard-hit rate.
Looking past Ruiz’s advanced metrics and focusing entirely on the lineup around him, it’s… well, it’s gotten progressively worse since this time a year ago. Of course, that happens when you trade Juan Soto, but Josh Bell was also dealt.
It was a depleted lineup that finished the second half last year with the second-fewest runs scored in the league. Things might not improve significantly this coming season either as the Nationals didn’t do much to improve their potential offensive production outside of bounce-back candidates in Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith.
Even with the lineup struggling to score runs, Ruiz didn’t hit higher than fifth or sixth all that often. At the catcher position in particular, consistent plate appearances further up in a bad lineup can help offset the lack of depth in the lineup where fantasy scoring and upside are concerned, given the increased opportunities. However, if Ruiz isn’t hitting in the top half of Washington’s lineup on a consistent basis, he might not be worth selecting where his current ADP is.
Christian Vázquez – 247.97 ADP
While Perez and Raleigh bring a solid floor where home runs are concerned, Vázquez can provide fantasy managers with a quality floor in the batting average department. Thanks in part to a low strikeout rate that has finished above 20% just twice and has never eclipsed the 23% mark, Vázquez has hit at least .270 in four of the last six seasons.
He’ll probably add fantasy value again there this season.
However, batting average might be the only area where Vázquez makes a sizeable fantasy impact this year.
Unlike Perez and Raleigh, he’s not one to accumulate barrels and home runs with aplomb. The former Red Sox catcher has finished with single-digit home runs in all but one season in his career, and 23 of his lifetime 55 Major League homer runs came during the 2019 campaign. And even with that career year, Vázquez has yet to top a 6.0% barrel rate in a season.
Elsewhere, the veteran could see his runs scored and RBI numbers take a slight hit as well. Thanks to a mid-season trade to Houston, Vázquez split 2022 between the Red Sox and Astros, two teams that finished in the top 10 in runs scored.
Now playing with the Twins, a team that 16 other franchises outscored, Vázquez’s run-scoring and RBI opportunities might not be as plentiful as last season when he scored 41 runs and drove in 52 runs.
Full seasons from Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton would certainly help the Twins. And while they added Joey Gallo in the offseason, they also traded away Luis Arraez and Gio Urshela. It’s still a decidedly top-heavy group.
And while Vázquez could theoretically hit a bit further up the lineup than he did in 2022, Minnesota struggling to score runs at times could offset any potential fantasy positives from a spot consistently further up the batting order.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)
Worth remembering that Raleigh’s plate discipline improved later in the season: https://www.pitcherlist.com/the-top-30-catchers-for-2023-fantasy-baseball/