Amidst a 2020 MLB season that may not happen, and a MiLB season that almost certainly will not happen, it can be tough to keep the motivation in fantasy baseball. Certainly those in redraft leagues are not making many moves, as their entire draft could have been for naught if this season is unable to come together.
However, dynasty leagues exist for a reason, and folks who have a team to take care of for the future can still get their tinkering done during this pandemic.
The catcher position is one of the most difficult positions to get marquee fantasy production from, and using an early pick on a catching prospect is no doubt among the riskiest moves one can make in a dynasty league. TINSTAAPP is definitely a real thing, but it can apply to catchers as well, especially younger ones.
That’s why this list of the top ten catching prospects is devoid of any catchers under the age of 21—even though there are some dang good ones. This list also seriously downgraded any catchers who seem at risk to not stay behind the plate, as most catchers offensive profiles won’t hold up well if they end up moving to 1B or a corner outfield position.
Factoring all that in, here is a look at the top 10 catching prospects in minor league baseball, through a fantasy baseball lens.
1. Adley Rutschman – Baltimore Orioles
Highest Level: A
Pick 1.1 in the 2019 MLB draft, Rutschman is the rare catching prospect who has the defensive chops to stick behind the plate, and the bat to be a true middle-of-the-order stud. For dynasty purposes, that makes him extremely valuable.
Although he struggled in a small taste of single-A pitching in 2019, Rutschman has the tools to be a consistent .270-.280 hitter with 25 home runs and good all-around counting stats, and his defense should keep him behind the plate for the foreseeable future.
The Orioles will hope Rutschman pans out even better than their last highly ranked catching prospect, Matt Wieters, who himself was a must-own fantasy asset for the first half of the last decade. If that’s the floor for Rutschman, which many believe is the case, you’ll want to find a way to get him on your dynasty roster if you can.
2. Joey Bart – San Francisco Giants
Highest Level: AA
While Rutschman was the first pick in the 2019 MLB draft, Bart was picked second overall by the Giants in 2018, just behind Casey Mize of the Tigers.
Bart already hit his way up to AA, where he slashed .316/.368/.544 with four home runs in 22 games last year. Bart raked in the Arizona Fall League as well, cementing himself among the best hitting prospects in all of baseball – a rarity from the catching position.
Bart falls behind Rutschman because his hit tool lags behind, and even at his peak he likely won’t contribute much in the batting average department. Fantasy owners will hardly mind, however, if he’s routinely blasting 20 home runs from the catcher spot, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t be able to do that while sticking behind the dish – making him a valuable dynasty asset.
3. Daulton Varsho – Arizona Diamondbacks
Highest Level: AA
There are few, if any, prospects more intriguing to me personally than Daulton Varsho. Varsho blasted 18 home runs with 21 stolen bases, a 9.3% walk rate, 13.9% strikeout rate, and a .301/.378/.520 slash line at AA last year in just 108 games. Those numbers would put you well on the dynasty radar as an outfielder but are absolutely unprecedented from a catcher.
Finding a productive catcher and finding a source of stolen bases in fantasy drafts are each paramount to a team’s success, and have never, ever been done with the same pick – but Varsho could be the guy to change that.
Now, I don’t really think Varsho will steal more than maybe 8-10 bags per year in the show, but even that is monumentally helpful—especially if he’s blasting 15-20 home runs and hitting for a high average.
Varsho is third because of the near certainty that Rutschman and Bart stay behind the plate, which is far less of a guarantee for Varsho. However, from a dynasty perspective, Varsho’s ceiling is as high or higher than theirs, and I’d love to own him wherever possible.
Worst case is he moves out from behind the plate, and you still have a potential 20/10 guy elsewhere on the diamond. That high-floor is what makes him so appealing.
4. Sean Murphy – Oakland A’s
Highest Level: MLB
Catching prospects are a fickle bunch, and I would forgive anyone who doesn’t chase the high-upside catchers in dynasty leagues for fear of getting burned, either by injury, lack of effectiveness, or a move away from the catching position—all things that happen at high rates for minor league backstops.
If you prefer to stay away from the risks, but still want a young catcher to keep around for a while, Murphy is absolutely your guy. For starters, he is the most likely catching prospect on planet earth to stick behind the plate long-term. He’s been considered the best defensive catcher in the minors for a long time, and could realistically contend for a Gold Glove as soon as next season, whenever it begins.
Additionally, he has already proven he can hit at the big league level, hitting four bombs with a 135 wRC+ in 20 games with Oakland last year. That’s a small sample size, obviously, but a dude who will stick at catcher for the next decade, who has 60-grade raw power, and who routinely hits in the .290’s? Sign me up.
Murphy is also a perfectly acceptable catcher to take in redraft leagues, as he is penciled in as Oakland’s starter behind the plate whenever the 2020 season gets started.
5. Luis Campusano – San Diego Padres
Highest Level: A+
What’s not to love about Luis Campusano? A second-round pick in 2017, Campusano followed up a strong 2018 season with a true breakout in 2019, slashing .325/.396/.509 with 15 home runs and a spectacular 10.7% walk rate and 11.7% strikeout rate in High-A.
Campusano did struggle as a receiver when he got into the pros, and there is still concern about his long-term potential behind the dish, but his high contact rate and 89 mile per hour average exit velocity are both great signs for a 20-year-old hitter at any position, and if he grows into some power there’s true multi-category potential here—a rarity for a backstop.
His age and defensive limitations make him a bit of risk, certainly more risky than the four names ahead of him, but the ceiling is high here, high enough to take a chance on him in most dynasty formats with minor league roster spots.
6. Keibert Ruiz – Los Angeles Dodgers
Highest Level: AAA
If you like your catchers with batted ball profiles that resemble Luis Arraez or David Fletcher, Keibert Ruiz is your guy. Although he has more raw power than those guys, Ruiz’s future value is tied to his ability to make contact. He posted a staggeringly low 6.8% strikeout rate in 76 games in AA last year, followed by a 2.5% rate in nine AAA contests. He only hit six home runs though, as the quality of his contact is definitely an issue that could prevent him from being a huge dynasty asset.
That, along with questions about his ability stay behind the plate long term (he’s done well defensively, but at six-foot and 200 pounds, his build is concerning) has him among the riskier catching prospects on this list.
If all pans out, he will be a .300 hitter behind the plate who could swat his way into 12-15 home runs annually, easily placing him among the top catchers in the game. He could also get moved from behind the dish, and his poor quality of contact could have him hitting .270 but with little to no power as a 1B/DH type—which is worthless in fantasy.
7. Miguel Amaya – Chicago Cubs
Highest Level: A+
Amaya breaks a streak of five consecutive west coast catchers, and he becomes the third consecutive 21-year-old—although I think he’s actually the safest of the bunch. Amaya’s dynasty value jumps up in OBP leagues thanks to his stellar walk rates, which have him posting a .349 and .351 OBP in the last two seasons. He also hit 12 and 11 home runs, respectively, and looks pretty locked in as a high-OBP, average power backstop.
It’s nothing special, but the floor is pretty high here, at least high for a catching prospect anyway, and while the ceiling is lower than others on this list, I’d rather gamble on high-ceiling guys at other positions and would feel perfectly comfortable with Amaya as my long-term dynasty catcher despite limited power potential.
8. Cal Raleigh – Seattle Mariners
Highest Level: AA
I love Cal Raleigh. The Mariners have been cautious with their catcher of the future, not wanting to do to him what they did to Mike Zunino (who they rushed to the majors before he was ready, severely hindering his development). So instead, Raleigh was moved along carefully last season, a move that proved prudent.
Raleigh torched High-A pitchers for most of the season, posting a .535 slugging percentage and blasting 22 home runs in 82 games with an outstanding 134 wRC+. He posted a very good 9.5% walk rate and his 19.8% strikeout rate was palatable as well.
Raleigh did eventually get the call to AA, blasting seven home runs in 39 games, but he hit just .228 thanks to a 29.8% strikeout rate. The two main knocks on Raleigh are his strikeouts, which have only been a problem in that 39 game sample, and his ability to stick behind the plate, another issue that doesn’t seem to be as problematic as many believe.
The M’s begun having their catchers stay on one knee, which has helped his already solid framing be even more elite. His arm strength is average, but that’s a skill that is rarely needed these days anyway.
Raleigh’s frame may cause some problems behind the dish (part of the reason he’s not higher on this list), but his in-game power makes him a dynasty asset right away, and one I’m happy owning in deeper dynasty leagues.
9. Tyler Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds
Highest Level: AA
Stephenson is a tough one to rank from a dynasty perspective. At 6’4″ and 225 pounds, there was a lot of concern as he filled out that he—like so many prep catchers before him—would eventually have to move out from behind the plate. That seems like less of an issue now, as he has received fine marks for his defense behind the dish, and he has one of the strongest arms in the game.
So with that out of the way, the bat is also tricky. He has tremendous, tremendous raw power. Do yourself a favor if you own him or are a Reds fan and watch him take batting practice. His home runs before the game are legendary, but he has taken a much more contact-oriented approach in games, hitting .285 last year with just six round-trippers in 89 games. If the power never shows up in-game, he will be a fringey fantasy asset thanks to his (perceived) regular playing time and good average, but if the power does show up – and we know it is there – he could be elite.
High risk, high reward is sort of the game with all dynasty catchers, and while Stephenson has more variance than most, he’s definitely one worth targeting in deeper dynasty formats or even NL-only redraft leagues, as his time could be coming soon.
10. Sam Huff – Texas Rangers
Highest Level: A+
I went with Huff over Texas’ other top catching prospect, Heriberto Hernandez, because at the end of the day I’m just not confident enough that Hernandez will end up behind the plate.
Of course, Huff’s size (6’4″, 230 pounds) makes his ability to stick behind the plate a concern as well, although he has begun to receive with one knee on the ground, the new fad that is helping a lot of catchers remain elite, or at least solid, defensively.
Huff is a bit like Raleigh – guys who have physical profiles that are questionable behind the plate, strikeout issues that could limit them at the next level, but tremendous raw power that is nearly impossible to ignore.
Between two levels in 2019, Huff mashed 28 home runs with 72 RBI, 71 runs scored and six steals in 127 games played. He also struck out almost exactly 30 percent of the time, a figure that has remained consistent throughout his minor league career.
If he can manage to make slightly more contact, while still tapping into that power in-game, he could be a 25 home run threat at the next level – which makes him a fantasy asset even if his batting average sits below .240.
Others given consideration: Heriberto Hernandez (don’t think he sticks at catcher), William Contreras, Ryan Jeffers, Francisco Alvarez, Zack Collins, Bo Naylor, Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno, Ivan Herrera, Mario Feliciano, Diego Cartaya, MJ Melendez, Jake Rogers.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
It seems catcher, moreso than any other position, is more likely to move off the position if scouting reports do not have positive comments about their defensive skills, let alone have questions or concerns about being able to “stick.” Even those with positive comments seem to sometimes end up being not very good behind the plate at the major league level (e.g. Omar Narvaez). If this is true, I agree that Rutschman and Bart should be #1 and #2. But, I think Murphy should be #3 as I’m not confident Varsho will stick.
Will Smith (not mentioned) is an excellent defender. Reports say he may see timeshare behind the plate. But, if he comes out of the gate hot, that is far less likely and he could be a nice asset. Jake Rogers (you mentioned as another for consideration) is also an excellent defender (right up there with Murphy) that has had great success against LHPs. Even in the majors (SSS -112 ABs) he hit for a 286 BA, 375 OB and 619 SLG vs LHPs. The Tigers are eager to give him a chance to prove he can develop his bat because of his defesnive skills. Looking at his offensive stats, he has struggled his first season at an MiLB level, but was much more successful in his second showing (A, A+ and AA). This will be his 2nd attempt at the MLB level and he could be a nice HR + OB sleeper candidate.
Hi Dave, thanks for your comment!
I agree about the defense, and I did factor that in, although in Varsho’s case I think he still has fantasy value even if he moves out from behind the plate, which keeps his value fairly high.
Will Smith is no longer considered a prospect, which is why he did not get mentioned, although he would be very high on this list if eligible.
You hit the nail on the head with Rogers, which is that he likely ends up a platoon bat. I think the Tigers will let him catch full-time, but if he only hits well against lefties he’s not worth much in dynasty, maybe in AL-only formats with daily roster moves where you can afford to move him in and out of the lineup. I hope he turns into more than that (I’m a Tigers fan) but I’m not ready to call him a top 10 catcher in dynasty just yet.
You must not remember Jason Kendall. He was productive, one of the top fantasy catchers in his day and he stole bags.
There are actually quite a few catchers who stole bases. Pudge Rodriguez stole 25 once and reached 10 two other times. Russell Martin went 10+ like 4/5 times and went for 21 once. Yadier Molina hovered around 10 four times.