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Staff Post: Catchers to target in 2021 fantasy baseball

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The Fake Teams writers tell you who you should be drafting at catcher in 2021.

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Earlier today we gave you our catchers to avoid in 2021. But now it’s time for the good stuff...staff targets at the catcher position, for fantasy baseball in 2021!

Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers (Garrett Atkins)

NFBC ADP: 110.76

Smith has a slash line of .268/.363/.574 over the past two seasons. The batting average is 10th among catchers. The on base percentage and slugging are second among catchers, behind Salvador Perez. Basically, outside of a completely outlier 37 games from Perez, Will Smith has been the best hitting catcher in baseball. He also had a career high 26.9% line drive rate in 2020. His wOBA of .404 and xwOBA of .386 were 12th in baseball. Not 12th at catcher, but 12th among all hitters! And for you “playing time” doubters, Smith started 17 of the Dodgers’ 18 postseason games.

Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks (Joe Gentile)

NFBC ADP: 152.35

Any time a catcher-eligible player is projected to play primarily in the field and not behind the plate, I am instantly intrigued. It becomes more intriguing when said player has the potential to do something that has only been done once before in the history of fantasy baseball. With Varsho currently projected as the primary centerfielder in Arizona, there is a clear path to 600 plate appearances. This is fantastic news, as he is going to be catcher-eligible in 2021, and catchers usually need more rest days in between starts than position players. The best part is, however, that Varsho could become part of fantasy baseball history. With a fair amount of raw power, an ability to hit the ball in the air, and above-average speed, he has legitimate 20/20 potential. The last and only other time this happened was in 1999, when Ivan Rodriguez put up a 35/25 season. While playing a position that not only lacks in stolen bases, but also plate appearances, Varsho has jumped up to C2 in my rankings.

Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox (Heath Capps)

NFBC ADP: 152.53

Full disclosure: I avoided Vazquez in 2020. That was a mistake. Sometimes, the boring “compiler” is a solid move. Vazquez may not win you your league, but given his playing time floor and average skill set across the board, it’s highly likely you aren’t losing ground on him. Also, he’s a sneaky source of steals at the catcher position. Here’s what I mentioned on Vazquez in the State of the Position:

“Vazquez is about as boring as they come, but he has very quietly been a quality source of steals within the catcher ranks over the last couple of years. Over the last two seasons his eight steals trail only Realmuto (13). And if you go back three years it’s Realmuto (16), Vazquez (12), Yadier Molina (10), and Austin Barnes (10). Additionally, Vazquez’s four swipes in 2018 came in only 80 games. He stole seven bags in 99 games (2017), and stole four bags last year (47 games). Over the course of a full season, I don’t see why he couldn’t chip-in with 6-8 bags, and that feels conservative given his historical production and Boston’s probable need to manufacture runs.”

In truth, Sean Murphy is my favorite target in 2021, but I’m trying to spread the love out here, and Murphy is getting plenty of love already this week...

Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics (Mark Abell)

NFBC ADP: 168.71

As I mentioned in my bold predictions this week, Murphy is someone who could be grabbed outside the top seven. While there are reasons to be cautious, from Year 1 to Year 2 in his MLB career he improved in: RBI, Runs, Home Runs, Walk Rate, Strikeout Rate, EV, LA, Barrel Rate, Hard Hit Rate and Pull Rate. Additionally, his Exit Velocity, Hard Hit Rate and Walk Rate were all in the top 10% of the league last year. If he can bring his batting average above .250 and continue this trend, he’s headed towards greatness. I will note there is risk that he regresses, as the sample size is low. But I like what I see enough to try to grab him a round or two earlier.

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (Andrés Chávez)

NFBC ADP: 186.06

“The ‘Kraken’ slumped to a career-low 68 wRC+, an ugly .147/.253/.365 line, and a career-high 36% strikeout rate in 2020. While putting up a 28% K-rate in 2019, he had a 13.0% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). But on his way to the 36.0% rate last season, he had a very similar 13.8% SwStr%, which is why I think there will be some positive regression in 2021 in the strikeouts department—with work and maybe an approach change. He also murdered the ball: 91.8 MPH average exit velo, 117.5 MPH max exit velo, 17.4 barrel rate, and 50.0% hard-hit rate. He will be closer to his 2019 version (.232/.316/.525, 34 HR, 77 RBI) than what he showed in 2020. Invest.