Welcome to the kickers of fantasy baseball, ladies and gentlemen. In truth, though, there’s a solid enough top 20 at this position heading into the fantasy baseball season.
1. J.T. Realmuto C (PHI)
Realmuto is as close as a five-category asset as you’ll find in the catcher ranks. You’ll need to pay a premium price, but he’s tough to argue against.
2. Gary Sanchez C (NYY)
The batting average can be an anchor, but last year’s .247 xBA feels fair and jives with Sanchez’s career .246 batting average. And the power is unmatched. Sanchez ranked second in the MLB in barrels per plate appearance in 2019, at 11.7%. Only Nelson Cruz’s 12.5% mark was higher. In fact, Sanchez is top 20 or better in the MLB in Brls/PA in all four of his professional seasons.
3. Yasmani Grandal C,1B (CWS)
Grandal has elite on-base skills (.380 OBP last year) and plays in a stacked White Sox lineup. He’s a safer bet than Sanchez in OBP formats and has the skills set–and the surrounding lineup–to perhaps best Sanchez in roto formats.
4. Willson Contreras C (CHC)
The anemic 10-homer campaign of 2018 now reads like the outlier. Contreras is a career .267 hitter and he hit the ball well in 2019, setting a career marks in barrel rate (11.5%), hard hit rate (41.5%), and fly ball rate (34.0%). The career-high 7.3 degree average launch angle supports the modicum of added fly balls and is a good sign moving forward.
5. Mitch Garver C (MIN)
Garver was 97th percentile for hard hit rate and 94th percentile for xSLG in 2019. He slugged 31 homers in only 311 at-bats and was the No. 2 catcher in fantasy baseball.
6. Will Smith C (LAD)
He’s got some swing-and-miss to his game (26.5% K-rate) but also some on-base skills (9.2% walk rate). He’s a launch angle darling, checking in at 23.7 degrees on average in his rookie stint of 2019. Numbers-wise, I think of him as Grandal-lite given the on-base skills and the power.
7. Salvador Perez C (KC)
Perez had posted back-to-back 27-homer seasons prior to missing 2019 due to injury. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see this slugging catcher with last year’s bouncy ball. He’s a lock for a .240 average and 20 bombs. Add in that he’s one of Kansas City’s best bats and could see time at DH on days when he isn’t catching, and I’m 100% sold on Perez as a great draft pick in 2020.
8. Wilson Ramos C (NYM)
He makes above average contact and is a batting average asset. His 407 batted ball events ranked second among catchers in 2019 (Realmuto had 423). Anyway, Ramos is above average in hard hit rate and exit velocity, but he won’t move beyond the 15-homer pace if he doesn’t improve on last year’s 62.4% ground ball rate. There were reports that Ramos was attempting to add more loft during Spring Training, so that’s a good sign.
9. Omar Narvaez C,DH (MIL)
He has a career .276 batting average and rapped out 22 dingers last year en route to finishing as the 9th best catcher in fantasy baseball. He’s easily a top five asset in batting average and OBP, and the hefty career 27.5% line drive rate coupled with last year’s growth in fly ball rate (29.0% to 40.5%) have me salivating over what he can do for an encore…especially if he gets to play in Miller Park.
10. Carson Kelly C (ARI)
He obliterated southpaws last season, slashing .356/.462/.667. Against righties he popped 12 of his 18 homers, but suffered from a .214 BABIP. He still made plenty of hard contact (45.0%) and hit plenty of fly balls (43.3%) in that split, so it’s reasonable to expect more luck against right-handers in 2020.
11. Jorge Alfaro C (MIA)
His best skill is his 90th percentile sprint speed. And that’s 90th percentile in the MLB, not just among catchers. Alfaro’s eight steals attempts last year ranked second only to Realmuto’s 10. He also popped more homers than we thought he could in Miami, with 18 in his first year as a Marlin. His career 34.2% strikeout rate means he won’t be a batting average asset, but his wheels, line drive rate, and hard hit rate means we can trust his ability to post consistently high BABIPs. Ding him in OBP leagues, but in other formats you can trust the .260+ batting average based on his ability to hit and to run.
12. Christian Vazquez C,1B (BOS)
He’s pretty good at making contact, but he won’t “wow” you with anything other than his consistent playing time. He’s pretty bankable as a low-end C1 option and a really sturdy C2 option if he falls a bit in your draft.
13. Sean Murphy C (OAK)
He’s known for his defensive skills, but he slashed .245/.333/.546 with four homers in last year’s call-up. In particular, I was a fan of the 27.0% line drive rate. The 12.1% swinging strike rate was tolerable, and I could see last year’s 26.7% strikeout rate coming down just a tad.
14. Danny Jansen C (TOR)
His 42.4% hard hit rate ranked 7th among catchers last year (min. 250 PA). A 53.7% pull rate and a decent amount of fly balls (40.9%) is a quality recipe. There’s a 20-homer bat here, assuming a full MLB season. Jansen was also a Gold Glove finalist in 2019, which is encouraging when considering his playing time moving forward.
15. Tom Murphy C (SEA)
He rapped out 18 homers in part-time duty for Seattle last season, as the backup to Omar Narvaez. With Narvaez now gone to Milwaukee, Murphy is the last man standing in Seattle. He crushed southpaws in 2019, slashing .347/.408/.695 with 11 of his 18 homers. Hopefully some of his reported fitness work will pay dividends against right-handers, against whom he slashed .211/.252/.401 last year.
16. Francisco Mejia C (SD)
He’s been working on a new stance behind the dish, which is where he needs to focus in order to wrestle more playing time from defensive maven Austin Hedges. Still just 24 years old, banking on Mejia’s plus hit tool once the “sure things” dry up isn’t the worst draft strategy. He slashed .297/.349/.494 over his last 60 games in 2019.
17. Travis d’Arnaud C,1B (ATL)
Landing in Atlanta isn’t the greatest of spots, as he’ll have to battle Tyler Flowers for playing time. I know it sounds silly, but Flowers is noted for his framing abilities and Atlanta has employed a fairly even split with its backstops for years now. Yes, d’Arnaud should get the larger share of at-bats, but I think we are looking at a 55/45 split if both guys are healthy. That may be pretty damning in a shortened season. Otherwise, d’Arnaud would be ranked higher due to his abilities with the stick.
18. Yadier Molina C (STL)
It’s tough to bank on a guy as a volume play when said guy is a catcher who also happens to be 37 years old. I keep betting against Molina, and one day I’ll be right. Even with last year’s bouncy ball, Molina’s 10 homers and .129 ISO were nothing special. Sure, the six steals were nice. But are you banking on that from a 37-year-old catcher? Maybe you make a profit on him, but I’ll be chasing more upside if we get a 2020 season.
19. Buster Posey C (SF)
His best trait is that he doesn’t strike out much. Last year’s 16.0% mark was his worst mark since 2011, for instance. He’ll be an asset in OBP leagues due to his ability to hit and to draw a walk, but he’s no longer offering us power and he’s inside the bottom 9% of the MLB in sprint speed.
20. Kurt Suzuki C (WSH)
He’s been a part-timer in each of the last three years and has still posted home run totals of 19, 12, and 17. He’s dedicated to his fitness, so the fact that he’s 36 years old doesn’t concern me. You can’t go crazy expecting top flight production due to the timeshare with Yan Gomes, but Suzuki will offer batting average and some power when he’s in the lineup. He’s a quality C2 option, and a great one to stream in daily formats if roster space allows.
21. Jason Castro C (LAA)
Castro only had 151 batted ball events in 2019, so he won’t show up on the qualified leaderboards if you’re scouring Baseball Savant. But among hitters with a minimum of 150 BBE, Castro’s 9.5% Brls/PA ranked 11th in the MLB. Gary Sanchez (11.7%) and Mitch Garver (9.7%) were the only catchers better than Castro. The Angels lowered their right field wall a year ago and that paid big dividends for lefty bat Kole Calhoun last year (33 homers). There are worse ways to speculate on power than with the left-handed Castro.
22. Austin Romine C (DET)
He looks like a safe bet with regard to playing time, as it’s only Grayson Greiner behind him in Detroit. Romine managed eight homers in only 240 plate appearances last year, but his .158 ISO was pretty pedestrian. You’re hoping last year’s .281 batting average (.264 xBA) repeat more than you’re banking on a power breakout.
23. Roberto Perez C (CLE)
He’s great defensively, one of the best at blocking and framing. But last year he posted a career-high mark in batting average, and that was a .239 BA with a .222 xBA (bottom 6% of the MLB). His career 10.8% walk rate means he’s solid enough in OBP leagues, but there’s a lot of swing-and-miss here. At least last year’s 11.0% barrel rate was very good. Last year’s 24 homers was tied for fifth among catchers. If you can cover for the anchor of a batting average, you’ll be fine.
24. Robinson Chirinos C (TEX)
He’s 35 years old, but he did pop 17 homers last year. That comes with an anchor of a batting average though, as Chirinos is a career .234 hitter. He’s been at .222 and .238 in the last two seasons. Don’t go crazy.
25. Jacob Stallings C (PIT)
He’s another guy making hay with his defensive prowess. However, his last three seasons at Triple-A he’s been a plus in batting average, logging marks of .301, .285, and .275. And over 71 MLB games last year, he slashed .262/.325/.382 with six homers. He’s not a power threat, but he could be solid if you need a boost with batting average.
26. Tucker Barnhart C (CIN)
He had a lousy first half in 2019, slashing .191/.290/.315 with a .123 ISO. When he returned from a strained oblique, he did so with a renewed focus on reading the ball longer and being more selective. He slashed .273/.367/.448 and tallied a .175 ISO. He also trimmed his strikeout rate from 26.7% to 18.6%. He’s never shown plus power, but if the average sticks he could build on his already decent on-base skills (career .328 OBP).
27. Victor Caratini C,1B (CHC)
The universal DH could be a boon for Caratini, who is already a backup catcher and first baseman. The 26-year-old slashed a robust .266/.348/.447 as a part-timer in 2019, totaling 11 homers in only 279 plate appearances. He’s a bit of a passive swinger, as last year’s 46.0% swing rate is a hair below average. However, his Z-Swing% rose from 63.7% to 71.1% from 2018 to 2019. So he’s above average with regard to swinging at pitches in the zone. This is a young guy who is still improving…if he gets more opportunities, watch out.
28. Isiah Kiner-Falefa C,3B (TEX)
Last year he played 38 games at catcher, 25 games at third base, and one game as a DH. He slashed .238/.299/.322 and managed a single homer and three steals. Yuck. However, this spring he went with a no-stride approach at the plate and it paid off. The addition of Chirinos means “IKF” may catch less in 2020, but having less to deal with behind the plate could actually be beneficial. It’s deep league only, but Kiner-Falefa is a name to monitor if he continues raking when next we have big league baseball.
29. Daulton Varsho C (ARI)
Varsho has been a monster in the minors in each of the last two years, tallying an 11/19 year in 2018 and an 18/21 year in 2019. In fact, Varsho’s strikeout rate was only 13.9% at Double-A last year, and he slashed a robust .301/.378/.520. He also began playing some center field at Double-A last year, as the Diamondbacks are searching for every way to get his athleticism into the lineup. That could be in 2020. It could be in 2021. Either way, keep this power/speed threat on your radar.
30. Chance Sisco C (BAL)
He’s 25 years old and the lefty-hitting complement to the right-handed Pedro Severino. Meaning, Sisco should have a chance to garner the lion’s share of at-bats in Baltimore. He’s shown some growth, trimming his swinging strike rate over his first three seasons: 14.6%, 16.1%, and 11.8%. His 70.2% swing rate in the zone is a hair above average, and he doesn’t chase much (only 24.4% last year). Add in last year’s 11.1% walk rate and .186 ISO, and Sisco is worth watching to see if he can continue making incremental gains at the MLB level. It’s obviously a prime hitter’s park to call home.