The catcher position may not be the most exciting position in fantasy baseball, but there are still values to be had late in your drafts. Here are some guys who could take the next step in 2021, and become a viable option for you at the backstop position.
Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks
NFBC ADP: 162.50 (C8)
2021 Projection: .250 AVG, 22 HR, 19 SB, 73 R, 67 RBI
I currently have Varsho ranked as the second catcher available as he should accumulate more plate appearances than any other player at the position. The move to the outfield should allow him to take fewer rest days between starts than if he was still behind the plate, which will only add to his counting stats.
Varsho did struggle over his 115 major league plate appearances, but with a fair amount of raw power, a healthy fly ball rate, and above-average speed, there is legitimate 20/20 potential. If he was able to put together a 20/20 season in 2021, he would be only the second catcher-eligible player in fantasy baseball to achieve such a feat, joining Ivan Rodriguez who went 35/25 back in 1999.
Varsho’s ability to barrel the ball is still in question, so a sub-.300 BABIP is likely a possibility in 2021. His plate skills are around league average as well, so expect a low to mid 20s strikeout rate and a walk rate around eight percent. This would put his batting average somewhere around .240 to .260 for 2021.
Varsho's biggest value comes from two factors that you cannot find at the catcher position. With an ability to accumulate double-digit steals and to stay in the lineup every day, it’s hard to rank anyone besides J.T. Realmuto above him for 2021.
Andrew Knizner, St. Louis Cardinals
NFBC ADP: 493.62 (C39)
2021 Projection: .256 AVG, 15 HR, 0 SB, 49 R, 52 RBI
There is still a lot of uncertainty hovering over the state of the catcher position in St. Louis with Yadier Molina still on the free agent market. Knizner is currently slotted in as the Cardinals' primary backstop, and it seems like a lot of people have forgotten that he was widely considered as a top 100 prospect over the past couple of years. If Molina was to make a return to St. Louis at the age of 38 with his declining skill sets on both sides of the plate, it is very unlikely that his workload would be what we’ve gotten used to from one of the best catchers of this generation.
Knizner is seen as more of a bat-first catcher and should be a great late-round target in two-catcher leagues if he stays as the primary backstop in St. Louis. He has been more of a free-swinger who has struggled to make contact over his 75 major league plate appearances. In the minor leagues, he was aggressive at the plate but showed an ability to make contact, as his 13.2% strikeout rate and 8.5% swinging strike rate from 2019 indicate. Expect his strikeout rate to come down a little and to linger more around the high teens in 2021.
Knizner does have the raw power to be a 25-homer threat at the major league level, but with questionable fly ball and pull rates over his career, that number will likely drop into the high teens. With his batted ball profile, he does have the ability to hit for a high BABIP, however, his aggressive approach at the plate could hurt his BABIP as he chases balls out of the zone. This could cause him to make more soft contact than his raw skills and profile would indicate.
Elias Diaz, Colorado Rockies
NFBC ADP: 536.01 (C43)
2021 Projection: .277 AVG, 18 HR, 0 SB, 53 R, 56 RBI
Diaz is currently slotted in as the Rockies’ Opening Day catcher, and based on my projections he is projected to be the best bargain at the position. He is currently the 43rd catcher off the board in NFBC leagues, but I currently have him projected to be the 12th-best player at the position.
With an aggressive approach at the plate and an ability to make consistent contact, a sub 20.0% strikeout rate is to be expected from Diaz in 2021. With that aggressive approach at the plate, however, he has shown an ability to lay off balls outside the zone as his chase rate comes in at a very respectable 29.9% over his career. With an ability to drive the ball and with the spacious outfield in Colorado added to his plate skills, an above-average BABIP is to be expected from the 30-year-old backstop.
Possibly the most underrated part of Diaz’s game is his power potential. With a career 37.3% hard contact rate, a respectable fly ball rate, and a high amount of batted ball events—added to the fact that he’ll play half of his games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field—he has the potential to put up a 20-homer season as long as he sticks as the primary backstop in 2021.
Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers
NFBC ADP: 738.22 (C65)
2021 Projection: .264 AVG, 14 HR, 0 SB, 45 R, 44 RBI
With the acquisition of Omar Narvaez last offseason, Pina is currently slotted as the backup catcher for the Brewers, but don’t be surprised if he is named as the primary backstop before the All-Star break. Although Narvaez made huge strides behind the plate, Pina is still the better defensive catcher of the two and ranks as an above-average backstop in about every defensive metric available.
Obviously, the first priority when evaluating catchers is their defense, but they still need to go up and bat as well. So how does Pina rank offensively? Since 2016, catchers have posted a very pedestrian wRC+ of 87, and there have only been 30 backstops to post a wRC+ of at least 90 over that same period. Pina was one of those players. Now it is worth noting that over that same time period Narvaez ranked third on that list, but some huge regression like what we saw in 2020 is to be expected from the Brewers' newly acquired catcher. With a lack of hard contact, a declining contact rate, and an increasing chase rate, it is hard to see Narvaez having a season anything remotely to what he did with the Mariners back in 2019.
Pina on the other hand has been focused (it seems) on adding more power, as his hard contact rate and average exit velocity have been at career highs each of the past two seasons, while his fly ball rate increased nearly 10.0 percentage points (33.9% to 43.1%) from 2018 to 2019. It is also worth noting that his plate discipline has also improved, as his chase rate has been on a slow decline since 2017. If everything continues to trend upward for the 33-year-old backstop, we could see a big breakout coming out of Milwaukee.