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State of the Position: Catchers in 2020

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A survey of MLB catchers with a fantasy baseball slant.

MLB: AUG 06 Cubs at Royals Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the beginning of every year I enjoy looking at last year’s overview to see what we were thinking. Here is 2019’s State of the Position in a nutshell:

Here at Fake Teams, we said there were two elite options in Realmuto and Sanchez. We also discussed a clear-cut top eight (Ramos, Contreras, Grandal, Perez, Posey, and Molina the remaining six). The words “try not to spend a Top 100 pick on a backstop” were uttered, as well as some encouragement to aim for Yasmani Grandal around pick 150. That worked out well. Jorge Alfaro was listed as a sleeper, while Danny Jansen and Carson Kelly were touted as prospects to watch. Hey, 1-for-2 ain’t bad when prospecting.

Overall I’m pretty happy with those takes, and encouraged heading into 2020. Now let’s dig into some fantasy baseball goodness, folks. Even if it is catchers. At least we’re talking fantasy baseball, right?!?

The Elite: J.T. Realmuto

Call him Dottie Hinson, he’s in a league of his own. Realmuto does it all, and his NFBC ADP is 54 this year (after being at 57 at this juncture in 2019). He’ll produce in all five categories, and it’s that threat to swipe bases that makes this pick worth it. I’m firmly on the Realmuto train, as far as him being worth a premium pick. If you subscribe to the every-player-chips-in strategy regarding speed, Realmuto is your dude at catcher—unless taking on Jorge Alfaro much later (a solid bet in his own right).

The Nearly Elite: Gary Sanchez and Yasmani Grandal

There was a time when Sanchez was undisputed and Realmuto was the clear second choice. Now it appears that many have soured a bit on Sanchez, perhaps due to the anchor of a batting average or because of the injury-shortened seasons he delivers. Both are fair points, but Sanchez’s ability to barrel the ball is still outstanding. Last year’s 19.1% barrel rate was stellar, and only the annually underrated Nelson Cruz had more barrels per plate appearance in 2019. You may have to ponder a backup plan if an injury befalls Sanchez, but you can also bank on unmatched homer potential when he’s healthy.

As for Grandal, there was a brief time during the winter—before the White Sox rounded out their roster—when we thought he would see a decent amount of time at DH and first base. That potential for extra at-bats would have put him into consideration for the top catcher spot on my board. However, now that the proverbial cupboard overfloweth in Chicago, I think you have to view Grandal alongside Sanchez as the 2A or 2B option to Realmuto. I personally prefer the on-base skills and durability of Grandal over Sanchez, but that probably puts me in a minority. It did in our staff rankings.

The Man in the Middle: Salvador Perez is a top target in 2020

Last year we described a clear top eight at the position, and this year we are doing one better with a top nine. Per our staff rankings, nine backstops have an average ranking in the single digits, and then there’s a dropoff to Jorge Alfaro. Within this grouping, my favorite target is Salvador Perez.

Perez is one of the most feared hitters in the Royals lineup, which is likely a death knell for them in real life, but a good thing for us in fake life. Perez was robbed of enjoying the bouncy ball in 2019 due to Tommy John, but in 2020 he is expected to be healthy and could even see time at first base and DH, per manager Mike Matheny. Prior to his elbow injury he delivered back-to-back 27-homer seasons. And during the five years prior to his injury (2014-2018), his 114 homers was second among all catchers (Evan Gattis hit 118). Also over that time, Perez slashed .254/.285/.438 (healthy enough on the BA). 2018’s .235 batting average should rise given that his .245 BABIP that season was far out of character. A .250 average and 25+ homers is there for the taking, with upside for more. I’ll bite.

The Guy to Avoid: Christian Vazquez

For me it’s Vazquez. He seems like the one guy who really doesn’t belong in the Top 10. He’s currently the 9th catcher off the board per NFBC data, and our 11th ranked guy here at Fake Teams. He slugged .477 last year, but on a .447 xSLG and an average 6.2% barrel rate. There was a time when we all thought the switch-hitting Blake Swihart was a better offensive option...just sayin’. Me, I just don’t feel the need to reach up for Vazquez when I can wait 30 picks later for Yadier Molina (if boring production is what I’m after). Maybe one of Mark, Garrett, or Joe (who were all higher on him) can convince me to buy in this week. But I doubt it.

The Sleepers: Tom Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud

Murphy rapped out 18 homers as Omar Narvaez’s backup last year and has an ADP of 256. He’s a lefty-basher and he’s slated to bat cleanup for Seattle right now (really). He’s got a bit more playing time ahead of him than d’Arnaud does (who also has an ADP of 256). The Braves still enjoy using Tyler Flowers with regularity, so while I like d’Arnaud a bit more as a player I grudgingly admit that Murphy should see more volume. I’m a big fan of what our own Zack Waxman did here in one tilt to address the catcher position:

The Prospect(s) to Watch: Sean Murphy

Catcher prospects making a meaningful impact in fantasy baseball can be an exercise in futility (see Mejia, Francisco). I’m not saying it can’t happen in Year 1, I’m just saying catchers have immense responsibilities that don’t always lead to immediate offensive production. Luckily, Sean Murphy is already a quality defender, and in a 20-game taste of the big leagues in 2019 he slashed .245/.333/.566 with four homers in 53 at-bats. He’s the starter in a quality lineup and is a 20-homer threat. He’s a nice consolation prize if you miss out on Carson Kelly, as Murphy is going a round later on average (around pick 230).

In fact, that 230 to 250 range is a place where I’m fine snagging my first catcher in shallow leagues, with guys like Carson Kelly, Sean Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud, and Tom Murphy all generally available. In two-catcher formats, I’d prefer one of those guys as my second option—but if I missed out on an elite option I’d be fine double-tapping in this tier for my guys.

I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention names like Joey Bart (if you’re sour on Buster Posey) and Daulton Varsho (if you think he can fill a utility role in Arizona at some point in 2020). Here’s more from the AZ Snake Pit on Varsho, if you’re interested. Lastly, our own Zack Waxman is fond of Tyler Stephenson. Maybe he can make a pitch for that pick as the week unfolds.

That’s about it for the state of the catcher position. It’s meant to be an overview, folks. Stay tuned this week as we dig deeper into the position. And ask us any questions in the comments or on Twitter at @faketeams, so we can weave those answers into the week’s coverage!