As most fantasy owners know, the catcher position isn’t flashy or entertaining. That’s due to teams using platoons while also focusing on defense and pitch framing from their backstops. J.T. Realmuto is still the elite option at the position (as ranked by all of us here at Faketeams) and we have a consensus top 2-9 from Gary Sanchez down to Carson Kelly. From there, however, the position falls off a cliff in terms of production and consistency, meaning there will be fantasy teams that have a revolving door at the catcher position throughout the season.
I’m here to tell you not to be afraid. Ride the hot hand throughout the season however you can, but I am going to provide you with three names that must be on your watch list from Day 1. Why, you ask? Because they will have a significant impact at the backstop position at some point in 2020. The best part? You won’t have to spend a draft pick on them (unless you are in a draft-and-hold or dynasty league) so they will essentially be free at a very tough position to fill. From the time they come up, they will cement themselves as everyday starters for real life and fantasy.
Daulton Varsho - Power and Speed
This is one of my favorite names for 2020 when it comes to both redraft and dynasty, because the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Daulton Varsho is a complete player. He provides power and speed from behind the dish, and he isn’t a drain on batting average. His bat is certainly advanced as showcased by his slash line of .301/.378/.520 (for an .898 OPS) while crushing 18 home runs and swiping 21 bags with all of his production coming at the Double-A level (after spending all of 2018 at High-A ball).
Varsho showed some evolution during his promotion, as he improved his walk rate from 8.8% to 9.3% while cutting down his strikeout rate by nearly 7% from 2018 to 2019. Varsho even crushed the ball better with his isolated power improving by nearly 60 points between the two levels. His power stroke will remain consistent at any level he moves up to as well, considering Varsho hasn’t had a ground ball percentage above 32% in any season.
The one downside to Varsho is the uncertainty of when he will be called up. Carson Kelly had a decent year in 2019 behind the plate for Arizona. If Kelly struggles early, Varsho could replace him behind the dish, but the Diamondbacks have experimented with his defensive flexibility, as Varsho played four games at center field and there have been rumblings that he could see time at left field or second base at some point as well. Regardless of where he plays, Varsho will debut in 2020 with catcher eligibility, and for half a season he should be able to provide a 10/10 type of pace while hitting at a .280 clip. Keep an eye on what the Diamondbacks do with Varsho in terms of defensive placement throughout the 2020 season.
Tyler Stephenson - Contact and Patience
The Cincinnati Reds seem to be playing poker and pushing all in on the 2019 season as they signed Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley, and Shogo Akiyama. Notice how they didn’t make a move to bring in someone like Jason Castro or Robinson Chirinos to make an improvement at catcher? Well, we all know it isn’t because of their confidence in offensive output from Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart only provided 72 R+RBI with 11 home runs in 2019. This is where Tyler Stephenson comes into play.
The former first rounder from 2015 was very successful during the 2019 Double-A season, as he slashed .285/.372/.410 with six long balls in 89 games. His power certainly hasn’t progressed much since being drafted, but there have been positive reports about his blocking behind the plate and his ability to throw out runners. Eric Longenhagen from Fangraphs has stated that the pitch framing isn’t quite there just yet, but I am positive Stephenson can improve on that at the major league level.
Stephenson is a very patient hitter at the dish, with a 10% walk rate in 2019 and a strikeout rate down to 16% last year. We may see the power tick up once Stephenson gets a hold of the major league ball, even if it isn’t as bouncy as it was previously. The Reds want their lineup to be just as successful as their rotation should be in 2020, and Tyler Stephenson won’t have a hard time being a part of it sooner rather than later.
Joey Bart - Finding the Power
This one is a bolder take and a longer shot for redraft leagues in 2020, but Joey Bart has been a very fast mover through the San Francisco Giants system. Since he was selected second overall by the Giants in 2018, Bart has moved through four levels and finished the 2019 season in Double-A where he played 22 games. In those games, Bart slashed .316/.368/.544 with four home runs. Now this is obviously a small sample size and the league wasn’t truly given time to adjust to him, as he only hit for a .265 average in High-A ball in the early portion of 2019.
Bart won’t ever be a .290+ hitter in the big leagues unless he does a lot of growing, but he could provide a .240 to .250 type of batting average and some power in 2020. However, the floor is definitely much lower for the Giants backstop compared to Stephenson or Varsho. With a walk percentage likely hovering around 5.5% in the big leagues, there will be peaks and valleys for Joey Bart when he does play. One thing that does work in Bart’s favor is how good his defense is at this point. He currently grades out as a plus defender and looks to be a plus plus defender at his peak, which means he should see consistent playing time regardless of how his offense is rolling at any point.
The most likely way that Bart likely sees the field for the Giants in 2020 is if they are able to find a trade partner for Buster Posey or Brandon Belt. If Belt is moved, it would allow the Giants to keep Posey’s bat in the lineup by shifting him to first base and by putting Joey Bart behind the plate.
These are just three names that you should have on your watch list that will give you production in the second half of the year—if you decided not to pay a premium for a catcher in your 2020 draft.
If you have any fantasy questions or comments, you can find me on Twitter @DadSox and I am always wanting to hear your thoughts on these players and more!