Last Updated: 2/16
A couple of things to note before reading:
- These rankings are for 10- and 12-team head-to-head category leagues with standard scoring and a starting lineup consisting of 1 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS, 3 OF, 2 UTIL, and a shallow bench, and were created by me with input from Nick Pollack.
- Within the write-ups, I will call out individual players who would see value boosts or drops in alternative formats, such as rotisserie leagues, deeper leagues, or points leagues.
- Projected stat totals assume that teams each play at least 145 games unless specifically stated otherwise.
- I am more than happy to answer your questions, requests, and counter-points in the comments!
Tier 1: Elite
No. 1: J.T Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies)
With reports indicating he’s fully healthy heading into 2021, he’s the standalone top tier of catcher. The stats don’t exactly jump off the page, but part of that is remembering the context, which is that catcher is a barren wasteland of statistical production.
Few catchers have been as reliable in all phases of the game as Realmuto. He hits home runs, steals a few bases, piles up counting stats, and has outstanding ratios. As far as catchers go, he’s an absolute rock.
And that’s really about it. Everyone else I discuss either has question marks, flaws, or just simply isn’t as good as Realmuto. If there’s one thing I need to point out, though, it’s that for many managers picking a catcher early is foreign and uncomfortable. There are good reasons for taking the approach, but please make sure you’ve practiced it a few times before you try it in an actual draft.
Tier 2: Near-Elite
No. 2: Will Smith (Los Angeles Dodgers)
There’s a lot to be excited about for the young backstop. In his first 91 major league games, he has 23 home runs, 120 combined runs and RBI, and a .268/.363/.574 batting line. Equally impressive were the plate discipline gains he showed off in 2020, taking a walk in 14.6% of his plate appearances while striking out in only 16.1% of his plate appearances.
A dramatic improvement like that can be difficult to carry from one season to the next, but even if he takes a step or two backwards with his plate discipline, I’d still feel comfortable ranking him here. Those kinds of results combined with batting fifth in a potent Dodger lineup make him an actual threat to Realmuto’s perch at the top of the position.
I currently project Smith to play 110-130 games, which is essentially full-time work for a catcher. I think he could absolutely hit 25 or more home runs with a .270 batting average based on the growth we saw in 2020, and even if he isn’t quite up to snuff, he should still be comfortably ahead of the pack in terms of production.
No. 3: Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals)
Perez didn’t seem to miss a beat after taking all of 2019 off due to injury, playing in 37 games and hitting 11 home runs with a .333 batting average in 2020. No catcher played as often as Perez between 2013 and 2018, and while that kind of dependability made him a fantasy darling at an otherwise bleak position, I do worry about the toll of catching that many games has taken on his body.
Of course, my concern isn’t necessarily the Royals concern, and I expect them to roll him out there 120 or more times if he can manage it. With that kind of playing time and with his track record in mind, he probably has the highest floor of any of the catchers in this tier. His ceiling is capped a bit due to some of the batting average fluctuation we see with him, as he all but refuses to take walks and is somewhat dependent on BABIP luck to post batting averages above .250, but I wouldn’t begrudge you if you felt Perez deserves to the the number two catcher in standard leagues.
No. 4: Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs)
Go ahead and pencil in a .255 batting average and 20 home runs right now. I actually think Contreras can be better than that, and can also chip in more than most catchers in runs and RBI due to his prime lineup spot, but if you pencil in that kind of production for a catcher, you should be in really good shape.
If there is any cause for concern with Contreras, it’s that he’s begun to swing and miss a bit more since the start of 2019, which has led to a slightly elevated strikeout rate compared to his earlier seasons. I’m not overly concerned, though, as his strikeout rate is still well below 30%.
Semi-reliable production won’t get you very far at other positions, but here in the world of fantasy catchers, it’s a prized asset.
No. 5: Yasmani Grandal (Chicago White Sox)
The batting average is never going to be good with Grandal, but his walk rate should keep him near the top or middle of a batting order, and it just so happens that his team’s batting order is a rather exciting one.
Grandal’s power is what makes him so attractive as a fantasy catcher, as he had at least 22 home runs each season from 2016-2019 and hit at least 27 home runs in two of those campaigns. With that power comes a healthy portion of counting stats for a catcher, and he’s usually able to keep an OBP north of .340.
In standard leagues, though, his .240 career clip is a bit of a pill, and khis .230 batting average in 2020 combined with a 29.9% strikeout rate is a bit worrisome. I think the power is going to be there regardless, but if the strikeouts don’t come down a bit, we could be looking at a Gary Sanchez situation.
Tier 3: Solid
No. 6: Travis d’Arnaud (Atlanta Braves)
In his last 120 games between the Rays and Atlanta, d’Arnaud is batting .289/.349/.493 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI. That stretch began on June 7, 2019, and from that day until the end of 2020, d’Arnaud has more RBI than Cody Bellinger, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Bregman, and Nolan Arenado despite playing in 15-20 fewer games. The next closest catcher, Realmuto, only has 80, and the third place finisher only had 73.
As it turns out, making hard contact and batting fifth in the Atlanta lineup that features Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna ahead of him is a good place to collect RBI, and I see no reason that d’Arnaud can’t continue that trend in 2021.
He should be able to bat .260 or better and hit 20 home runs without too much issue, and he’s one of my favorite targets in drafts once you start factoring in ADP.
No. 7: Christian Vázquez (Boston Red Sox)
According to FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator, Vázquez now has back-to-back top-five finishes at catcher, finishing fourth in 2019 and fifth in 2020. While there is some evidence that he was quite fortunate in 2020 based on his quality of contact, there’s a lot to be said about his final ranks at the position.
Since the start of 2019, Vázquez has been hitting the ball harder with more consistency, as you can see in the chart below:
While it’s not exactly an explosion of power, it does appear that he has set a new floor for himself in terms of power, and I’m absolutely here for it when looking for a decent catcher without paying using an early pick.
Unless you specifically strategize for taking a catcher early (which should definitely be something you practice if you’re willing to do it), you’re likely planning to take a catcher with one of your late picks in a one-catcher format. Vázquez looks like a dependable option for double-digit home runs, a strong batting average, and even a handful of steals. He won’t hurt you anywhere, even in stolen bases, and that’s as good a reason as any to target him in drafts.
No. 8: Gary Sánchez(New York Yankees)
No one is questioning the power. In both seasons where he played at least 100 games he also hit at least 33 home runs. While injuries have been a concern, a moderately healthy Sánchez has the potential to lead all catchers in home runs by a relatively safe margin.
The issue is the batting average, and it’s not a minor issue. Since the start of 2018, Sanchez is hitting just .200 with .296 OBP, and while he has 62 home runs in that span, the climbing strikeout rate has me concerned that the .270 batting averages we saw prior to 2018 are long gone. His whiff rates against breaking and offspeed pitches are predictably high, but he also has shown an extraordinarily high whiff rate against fastballs over the last two seasons, hovering close to 30%.
In a one-catcher format, Sánchez is a risk/reward play and is probably the safest bet at the position to hit 30 home runs. He’s also the only catcher in the top four tiers who I suspect will bat below .225. If you can stomach the horrendous ratios (which is easiest to do in head-to-head leagues because your ratios will reset every week), there’s a lot of upside here that you no longer need to pay through the nose to obtain.
No. 9: Austin Nola (San Diego Padres)
It has been quite the start to his career, to say the least. Through 127 games, Nola has 17 home runs, 120 combined runs and RBI, and has hit .271/.347/.461. While Statcast was slightly suspicious of his 2019 campaign (he out performed his expected batting average by over 30 points), it fully supported his 2020 numbers.
One thing about Nola I find absolutely fascinating is that he’s been wildly successful against baseball’s deadliest pitch group—breaking balls. In 2020, he had a .306 batting average and a simply unbelievable .592 slugging percentage against those pitches, which was miles ahead of the league average in both respects. While his expected stats are lower, they still come out to .289 and .501, respectively, which for perspective, is quite similar to the full season performances by Trevor Story and Anthony Rendon last season.
While it’s be too much to ask for anyone to remain that good against breaking pitches for their whole career, the fact that Nola is one of the few players in baseball who hits them as well as he hits fastballs bodes well for his chances to repeat his .273 batting average from 2020 and to outperform most projections out there on him. If I was a gambling man, it’d probably take the overs on 110 games played, 14 home runs, 100 combined runs and RBI, and a .265 batting average.
That combination might be easy to find in the outfield, but behind the plate it puts him in excellent company.
No. 10A: Sean Murphy (Oakland Athletics)
The young backstop has impressive contact ability for a catcher, and I was really impressed by his 17.1% walk rate and high average exit velocity and hard hit rate in 2020.
Despite the strong quality of contact, Murphy’s batting average may be a bit touch and go based on how often he gets the ball in the air (it’s a good thing for hitting doubles and dingers, but it can lower batting average). It’s encouraging to see that he was still able to hit for power against breaking balls, though, and while he may not be much more than a .250 hitter as he matures, that’s still more than good enough at catcher.
Murphy has 20 home run upside and you don’t have to work very hard to see it. Id be stunned if he didn’t get at least 15 of them in 2021, along with 50 runs and 50 RBI—and again, that’s more than good enough at catcher.
No. 10B: Isiah Kiner-Falefa (Texas Rangers)
Yahoo decided to carry all 2019 positional eligibility into 2021, so Kiner-Falefa retains his catcher eligibility for one more season. Being a catcher is his only path to fantasy relevance, and it’s only available on one site, but it takes him from totally undraftable to a must-roster player.
Kiner-Falefa is likely to start just about every day at shortstop for the Rangers, and should push for 10 home runs and a .260 batting average. Of course, the real draw of Kiner-Falefa is the speed—he stole eight bases in 58 games in 2020 and with the Rangers unlikely to generate a lot of offense with their bats, Kiner-Falefa should see plenty of green lights in 2021.
When you put together his neutral batting average, his speed, his playing time, and the fact he bats second, you get a pretty good starting catcher in fantasy. He’s utterly unplayable at any other position in a 12-teamer, but he’s a solid catcher.
Tier 4: Back-End Starters
No. 11: Mitch Garver (Minnesota Twins)
When drafting a back-end catcher, I’m of the belief that you want to shoot for the moon. Garver at his best is essentially Gary Sanchez with fewer strikeouts.
The issue, unfortunately, is that Garver not at his best is also essentially Gary Sanchez, with a strikeout rate north of 40% (45.7% in 2020) and virtually nothing to show for his efforts.
The Twins want Garver to succeed and will likely provide ample opportunities to do so. If Garver does succeed, he would hop back on the happy path that 2019 showed us. If he doesn’t, Twins fans will get very used to Ryan Jeffers.
The risk here is high, but in a single-catcher format, you can afford to burn and churn your way through streamable catchers for an entire season, so while the risk is high, the impact if you miss is virtually zero.
No. 12: James McCann (New York Mets)
Back-to-back seasons with a plus batting average, 25 home runs over his last 140 games, and a starting job on a rejuvenated offense are reasons to be excited. Also, since the start of 2019, he’s pumped up his hard hit rate to over 44% and has back-to-back years of an expected slugging above .450.
One of the keys to his success has been significant improvement against right-handed pitching—a huge weakness for him prior to 2019. While less than 2 seasons of splits data is far from conclusive, he’s managed to hit for power and a useful average against righties while maintaining his high performance against lefties.
Drafting McCann means hoping for a repeat of that 2019 season where he hit 18 home runs, piled up decent counting stats (for a catcher), and hit .273. While that’s probably close to his ceiling, it’s far from outrageous to hope for. Realistically, the batting average may come down a bit, but as long as he keeps hitting righties a bit, he can be a decent back-end starter for a single-catcher format.
Tier 5: Deep League Options
No. 13: Daulton Varsho (Arizona Diamondbacks)
News that Varsho is likely to start the season in the minors is a huge bummer, as I think Varsho has 15 home run, 10 stolen base upside even in just a 120 game sample. He could still get there, but the road is now longer with more hazards, which drops him to the top of this tier instead of the middle of the previous one.
No. 14: Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)
Perhaps the year off in 2020 will help Posey stay healthy in 2021 and log a batting average near 300 again. Posey is still the starting catcher for the Giants, and he’ll likely bat fifth in that lineup, which should help him find 60 RBI or so in a catcher’s playing time.
There’s just enough upside and track record to put Posey towards the top of this tier, but you will want to keep your ear to the ground to listen for rumblings of a Joey Bart callup, as that would relegate Posey to the waiver wire for fantasy purposes.
No. 15: Carson Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Daulton Varsho is likely to start in the minor leagues, meaning Kelly only has to keep 36-year-old journeyman Stephen Vogt on the bench a couple days a week to be a relevant catcher in two-catcher formats.
The batting average will be…a catcher’s batting average, but he could hit 17-20 home runs with 100 starts.
No. 16: Wilson Ramos (Detroit Tigers)
The days of Ramos as a solid starting fantasy catcher are over, but the days of Ramos as a solid second fantasy catcher are just beginning!
Comerica’s deep fense should provide a boost to his batting average and allow him to rope many doubles, but it’ll likely lower his chances to hit 20 home runs. If you got his 2019 stat line of 14 home runs, 73 RBI, and a .288 batting average, you’d be swimming in profit.
I doubt it’ll be quite that good, but a .260 average and 12-15 home runs is pretty reasonable, I think.
No. 17: Alejandro Kirk (Toronto Blue Jays)
If you told me that a catcher in this tier hit .300 and smacked 10 home runs, then I’d be forced to assume you’re talking about Alejandro Kirk. There’s a chance he could lead all catchers in batting average and provide enough power to be interesting.
There’s also, of course, the chance that he never gets a real hold on the starting gig and becomes nothing more than a points league oddity.
No. 18: Tom Murphy (Seattle Mariners)
Look, his 2019 where he hit 18 home runs and has a .273 batting average? It was almost certainly a flash in the pan.
Then again, if it wasn’t he can fight off Luis Torrens almost entirely and be an OK second catcher. If nothing else, 18 home runs and a .273 batting average is better than a lot of the ceilings listed here.
No. 19: Jorge Alfaro (Miami Marlins)
He has volume and 15 home run power. Those two things are one-and-a-half more things than a lot of the guys on this list.
No. 20: Omar Narváez (Milwaukee Brewers)
In 2019, he hit 22 home runs, logged his third consecutive season with a batter average of at least .275, and had a sub-20% strikeout rate.
In 2020, he struck out in 31% of his plate appearances, hit just .176, and is probably going to start in a platoon.
If you’re drafting him as your second catcher, it’s because he was once a top-seven catcher, which is considerably better than any catcher ranked in this tier has ever achieved.
Tier 6: Even Deeper League Options
No. 21: Pedro Severino (Baltimore Orioles)
I want to like Severino more, but with Chance Sisco being a possible platoonmate (Sisco is a lefty, so he’d get the strong side) and the impending debut of Adley Rutschman, it’s hard to get too excited. He should be a serviceable second catcher to begin the season, if nothing else.
No. 22: Francisco Mejía (Tampa Bay Rays)
The former top-100 prospect was given high marks for his power and hit tool, but we’ve only seen tiny flashes of it in the big leagues.
If he somehow unlocks it in a new home in Tampa, he could hit 15-20 home runs with a solid batting average. It’s not something I’d bet on, but just having that kind of ceiling is better than most in this tier.
No. 23: Danny Jansen (Toronto Blue Jays)
He has a .208 batting average so far in the major leagues, but his pedigree suggests he can make some adjustments to become a 15-home run, .230 guy.
For a back-end second catcher, that’s not awful, right?
No. 24: Jacob Stallings (Pittsburgh Pirates)
He’s a starting catcher who can hit above .250 if he has to. He’s purely a volume play who won’t help you anywhere but will hurt you less than some other volume plays I guess. This is mostly an NL-only guy or a back-up in a draft and hold.
No. 25: Sam Huff (Texas Rangers)
With 100-120 games, he could definitely clear 20 home runs and even swipe a few bags. It’s highly unlikely he plays that many games, but that kind of upside is better than nothing.
If you’re in need of a second catcher in NFBC-style formats, look elsewhere. If you’re just looking for deep speculation for your watch list or the back of a deep bench, knock yourself out.
No. 26: Elias Díaz (Colorado Rockies)
Hitting at Coors for half your games and having a regular job? That’s enough to get ranked at catcher. It’s also worth noting that the 30-year-old backstop has a .289 batting average and .426 slugging percentage against lefties in his career, which certainly plays in NL-only formats and extremely deep leagues.
That’s the only places it plays, but hey, it plays somewhere.
No. 27: Tyler Stephenson (Cincinnati Reds)
The 6’4 Stephenson is really tall for a catcher, and while that could theoretically impact his defense, it has limited impact on his offense. Reports suggest there’s a lot of power in his bat based on his batting practices, but he has yet to unlock that power in games.
Having something to unlock combined with a fairly realistic path to playing time at some point in the season is more than enough to get ranked at catcher.
No. 28: Yan Gomes (Washington Nationals)
He’ll likely get a little more than half the starts at catcher, and like many of the catchers in this tier, can find a way to hit 10-12 home runs with a sub-.250 batting average while hitting at the bottom of a lineup.
His strikeout rate is lower than a lot of other catchers, which makes his batting average a bit less volatile (but not good). At 33, he’s also got less upside but more floor than some of the other guys around him, so I guess there’s that, too.
No. 29: Adley Rutschman (Baltimore Orioles)
You can’t stash a catcher in a one-catcher league. But if you could, it’d be this one. Rutschman is one of baseball’s top prospects due to his excellent defense and advanced bat, and could be in the top 10 at the position as soon as 2022.
No. 30: Joey Bart (San Francisco Giants)
He’s likely to start the year in the minor leagues, but truth be told, that would probably be good for the young backstop. While he logged 33 games in the majors in 2020, he only had 22 games and 87 plate appearances in double-A ball prior to 2020. A bit of seasoning and coaching in the minors can help him be more ready for his second cup of coffee, and I’ll expect him to hit his first major league home run shortly after.
Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)
I actually forgot he was a free agent for about two weeks, and then news broke that he signed. Yadi will forever be a Cardinal, and while that’s a great story for real baseball, it’s not really a story at all in fantasy.
Expect him to split time somewhat equally with Andrew Knizer while hitting north of .250 with up to 10 home runs.
Jason Castro (Houston Astros)
Back in 2019, he hit 13 home runs and slashed .254/.354/.497 against right-handed pitching as the left-handed platoonmate of Mitch Garver. He’s utterly miserable against southpaws, though, so his usefulness is limited to streaming in deep daily formats (preferably OBP ones) when the right matchups appear.
Ryan Jeffers (Minnesota Twins)
Let’s assume, for a moment, that Garver was a flash in the pan. I don’t think he was, but if he was, then Jeffers likely becomes the regular catcher thanks to his superior defense.
I suppose, in that unlikely scenario, he could hit 15 home runs and bat .250. That’s not awful for a catcher, and not awful is all we can hope for.
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