Year after year, the constant debate remains: is catcher the shallowest position in fantasy baseball? You could argue it’s potentially the shallowest in all fantasy sports. Although, after an abundance of youthful names took the diamond by storm, the player pool has more depth than in previous seasons. Finally!
As the number of viable options increases, so does your chance of completely whiffing on the position. Additionally, a sleeper will look strikingly different depending on your league settings. One-catcher leagues lack focus on the position, and two-catcher leagues require you to scrape the barrel after the first dozen are drafted.
So, to make things easier, I’ve identified a handful of options that could potentially take a massive leap. Some are new faces; some are older veterans that have been forgotten. Whatever their situation, if you’re not paying up at the position, keep these names handy.
2022 stats (248 PA): .260 AVG, 34 R, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB
From a per-plate-appearance perspective, few catchers did more at the dish than Jansen in a limited time. One of the reasons for the slim playing time was the logjam of MLB-talent catchers on the Toronto roster. However, one was sent off to Arizona in an off-season trade (you’ll get to him next). Voila, there should be more plate appearances in his future.
What Jansen really did well was hit for power. But that came on the back of making great decisions at the plate, as you can see below, as the season started at league average and took off!
Following suit, Jansen’s quality of contact took off. The barrel rate soared to 13%, and he finished in the 93rd percentile in HC% (Hard Contact%). Wait! There’s more! There was extremely loud contact, and swinging at everything wasn’t compromised. In fact, Jansen only struck out 17.7% of the time.
The big question on everyone’s mind is: will he get enough PAs to be viable in one-catcher leagues? If we consider he gets the playing time of Gabriel Moreno (73 PA), Zack Collins (79 PA), and Tyler Heineman (16 PA), that would be an extra 168 plate appearances. Remember, Jansen only had 248 PAs all of last season.
2022 stats (73 PA): .319 AVG, 10 R, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB
Moreno only enjoyed a quick cup of coffee before being pushed back to the minors. Although, he handled MLB-level pitching quite nicely. Sure, there was a bit more in terms of swinging outside the zone than we’d like to see (32.3% O-Swing%), but it was masked by his contact rate (80.3%) and, specifically, 87.4% zone contact. This is partly why Moreno did not strike out, as he put plenty of balls in play.
On top of excellent bat-to-ball skills, Moreno was moved to Arizona in the offseason. You might ask yourself, but doesn’t Arizona already have an everyday catcher? Well, sort of. Look at last year’s catchers after moving Daulton Varsho and Cooper Hummel.
It’s not challenging to see why Arizona acquired Moreno. The current options on the MLB roster are not going to cut it. While the team might lean on the veteran presence in Kelly, his bat isn’t doing any favors. Instead, the team should look to make Moreno their full-time catcher at some point. Unfortunately, it might not be on Opening Day.
2022 stats (183 PA): .319 AVG, 24 R, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB
Injuries plagued Stephenson and absolutely destroyed any possibility of a decent season. Three separate IL stints and a broken clavicle only allotted him 50 games. However, Stephenson was rather productive when scribbled on a lineup card, and he’s been exceedingly effective throughout his career when healthy. Since grabbing the full-time catcher duties, in his previous 585 plate appearances, Stephenson put up 80 Runs, 16 HR, 80 RBI, and a solid .290 batting average.
While he didn’t tout the loudest of Statcast metrics (106.1-mph max EV and 23% HC%), his ICR% (Ideal Contact Rate) and IPA% (Ideal Plate Appearance) both sit above the 81st percentile. In short: he makes decent quality contact, he’s just not an elite power bat. The good news is that he plays at the Great American Ball Park which is noted for being tops in the MLB for HR power due to its smaller dimensions. So, don’t sleep on his power.
Lastly, the organization wants to keep his bat in the lineup more. The plan is to get him 140-plus games with playing time at catcher (obviously), first base, and some DH. This should help take some of the physical tolls off of him and produce at a higher level.
2022 stats (376 PA): .202 AVG, 15 R, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 1 SB
After back-to-back seasons without hitting 100 games played, plenty will point to Grandal as being washed up. If you’ve already taken part in any drafts, you’ve surely noticed the lack of interest in Yasmani. However, there is hope!
Yes, he didn’t hit many HRs. Yes, his batting average wasn’t outstanding. And yes, he’s 34 years old. But he still flexed a 110-mph max EV and 26.3% HC%, both of which are league average. As far as catchers go, league-average skills will pass. Furthermore, what stands out are some differences in his batted balls.
Located in the chart below are two colored areas. Red showcases that Grandal went opposite field more than ever. After returning from torn knee ligaments in 2021, back spasms in June, and knee issues again in late-August, Grandal may have just been swatting pitches the opposite way and was unable to pull for power. Additionally, highlighted in yellow is his HR/FB rate, which was incredibly low.
Indeed, we could be wish casting, but if Grandal looks good in Spring Training, he’s worth taking a flyer on. Make him a late grab in your two-catcher leagues!
2022 stats (450 PA): .227 AVG, 51 R, 16 HR, 48 RBI, 2 SB
Some may have considered Heim a throw-in piece from the Khris Davis for Elvis Andrus deal in early 2021. However, Texas knew what they were getting as the 27-year-old backstop possessed outstanding defensive skills and an untapped potential in the power category. After swatting ten HRs in his first 265 PAs as a member of the Rangers, the 16 HRs during his 2022 campaign seem legit. Furthermore, he maximized his power output by pulling a career-high 40.2% and adding even more loft to his launch angle.
Another 120-plus game season should be on the horizon, with Mitch Garver likely giving way to Heim as the everyday catcher. And sure, why not? Heim unlocked the power and struck out less than 20% of the time. Mixing all that with his middle-of-the-lineup spot in the batting order and simply repeating 2022’s success doesn’t look unreasonable.
Wait, can he do better, though? Sure, it’s possible, and Heim won’t cost much on draft day.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Design by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)