The catcher position seems to be in better shape these days than it has been in a very long time, and that's a good thing for Fantasy Baseball. There is a catch, though: Catchers are going to be more expensive in your drafts than you're probably used to.
In FantasyPros' consensus ADP, five catchers are going inside of the top 80 picks: J.T. Realmuto, Daulton Varsho, Will Smith, Adley Rutschman, and Salvador Perez. Meanwhile, Alejandro Kirk, Willson, Contreras, and MJ Melendez are going off the board inside of the top 115, while Sean Murphy and William Contreras are top-150 picks as well. That's 10 catchers inside of the top 150 picks, compared to eight in NFBC drafts a year ago (the only source I have for historical ADP).
Of those 10, I don't really dislike anyone's price at this point. Adley Rutschman is probably going a little higher than I'd prefer (66.4 ADP), but it's also possible that this is the last time you'll be able to get him cheaper than a top-50 pick for the next half-decade or so. William Contreras (132.2) and MJ Melendez (112.6) are both a bit pricey given their limited track records, but the upside with both is obvious; there's 25-homer potential here.
Catcher is at a point where there's actually some intriguing young players with offensive potential, and that's worth paying up for. However, it's worth keeping in mind that this is the offensive position with the highest attrition rate. Injuries are part of the job – they call catcher gear the "tools of ignorance" for a reason – and catcher development offensively is even less linear than for other positions.
We might be on the cusp of a sea change at the position, especially if the likes of Keibert Ruiz (183.61), Gabriel Moreno (235.48), and Logan O'Hoppe (239.14) establish themselves as contributors – and let's not forget about Bo Naylor (379.69) and Endy Rodriguez (470.52) among others who might step into bigger roles as the season goes on.
We're a long way away from being able to say catcher isn't (by far) the weakest position in Fantasy, but for the first time I can remember, there are enough players to get excited about that, as long as you don't wait until the very last round, you probably won't hate your options there in a one-catcher league. Two-catcher leagues are still a bit dicier, but if some of those sleepers hit, you could find yourself with a legitimate edge here.
PHI Philadelphia • #10 • Age: 32
Unless and until someone comes along and definitively knocks him off his perch, Realmuto remains the consensus top option. I might prefer Daulton Varsho in a Roto league thanks to a park upgrade this offseason, but I can't exactly quibble with Realmuto -- especially if last season's career-high in steals proves sustainable. At 32 on Opening Day, that might be asking a lot, but Realmuto remains the closest thing this position has to a five-category contributor, and he remains its reigning iron man, to boot.
TOR Toronto • #25 • Age: 27
The question with Varsho's offseason move to Toronto is whether it impacts his chances of everyday at-bats. I don't expect it to, however the Blue Jays are a deeper roster, with two excellent catchers aside from Varsho, so if he struggles against lefties again (.553 OPS in 2022), he could end up in a platoon. He'd still likely be the strong side of the platoon, which will be enough to keep him squarely in the starting catcher range, but it would make it nearly impossible to challenge Realmuto for the top spot. He might have more upside than Realmuto, but there's significant risk here as well.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #16 • Age: 28
Because he hasn't taken the big step forward many were expecting over the past few seasons, Smith has lost some of the hype around him. However, he's still arguably the best hitter at the catcher position, capable of 30-plus homers in a ceiling outcome without any of the batting average risk you usually take on in searching for power at catcher. And a shallower Dodgers lineup could actually be a good thing for him, potentially pushing him into the top three in the lineup and giving him more opportunities to DH when he isn't catching. There's no question Smith could still establish himself as the top option at the position.
KC Kansas City • #13 • Age: 33
Perez hit fewer than half as many homers in 2022 as he did in 2021, and seeing as he's entering his age-33 season, there's a sense that will go down as his career-best season. Still, if not for a thumb injury that cost him more than a month, you're probably looking at another 30-homer season with 90-plus RBI from him. He's the best power threat at the position, even if he'll likely never get close to 48 homers again.
BAL Baltimore • #35 • Age: 25
Given how high the learning curve tends to be at the catcher position, Rutschman's 2022 was an even bigger success than you probably realize. He showed near-elite plate discipline and above-average power, despite the added challenge of being a switch-hitting catcher. He doesn't have the speed of the top two options, and may not have the peak power of Smith or Perez, but Rutschman's all-around skill set could make him the top option at the position for the next half-decade or so. This might be your last chance to buy him at this price.
TOR Toronto • #30 • Age: 24
There are so few catchers who don't hurt you in batting average, and Kirk might legitimately help you there. The problem is, that might be the only category where he's truly helpful unless he takes a step forward as a power hitter. That's not out of the question, but even if he doesn't, he's an excellent option in any format, albeit one who may not have the upside to challenge for the top of the position.
STL St. Louis • #40 • Age: 31
Contreras will have the occasional hot streak that makes him look like one of the best catchers in baseball, like when he hit .283/.397/.521 in the first three months last season. However, by the end of the season, his numbers looked like they pretty much always do. He's in a better lineup in St. Louis, which should help his counting stats, but you should expect more of the same from Contreras at this point. That's a very good catcher, but maybe not a difference maker.
Contreras forced his way into the Braves lineup, and then the Brewers traded for him to upgrade their own lineup. That's a nice park upgrade for Contreras, who had underlying quality of contact metrics to mostly backup his impressive power numbers. If he can avoid tanking his batting average in pursuit of power, he could very well be one of the best options at the position, especially with playing time looking like it'll be a lot easier to come by in Milwaukee. There's a pretty good chance Contreras passes his older brother in the rankings this season, and that might not be the only player he passes.
ATL Atlanta • #12 • Age: 29
Murphy is probably better in real life than for Fantasy, but the move from Oakland to Atlanta might help him bridge that gap. Murphy's underlying metrics have been better than his actual numbers for the past few years, so even just a neutral park environment like Atlanta's could help fuel a breakout. The only problem is, the presence of a very good backup like Travis D'Arnaud could limit Murphy's counting stats, and his upside.
If you're looking for a guy who could be a potential difference maker in the power department at catcher, Melendez is your guy. He has potential 30-homer power, especially since he'll likely play more than your average catcher between the DH and outfield spots. The problem is, he hit just .217 in 2022 after hitting just .167 before his callup from the minors. There's real potential for Melendez to be a drag on your batting average, and his 18 homers in 129 major-league games (and 20 in 150 total, including the minors) last year isn't enough to make up for it. He's young enough to build on that, but it's not a guarantee.
CIN Cincinnati • #37 • Age: 27
If Stephenson had managed his 2022 pace over 120 games, he'd probably be ranked five spots higher here. After hitting .286/.366/.431 in 2021, he improved on every part of his triple-slash line, albeit with underlying numbers that did not match what he actually produced -- his .370 wOBA far outstripped his .318 expected wOBA. Some of that gap can be accounted for by Stephenson's home park in Cincinnati -- his home OPS of .930 is well ahead of his .721 road mark. That suggests that Stephenson should be able to continue to outpace his middling skill set, though to what extent remains a question. I'd bet on a useful batting average and 15-ish homers, but probably not a whole lot more.
SEA Seattle • #29 • Age: 26
The man known affectionately as "Big Dumper" is kind of your prototypical No. 2 Fantasy catcher -- you're just hoping he doesn't hurt your team when he's in the lineup. Raleigh's power production last season was legit, as was his dreadfully low batting average. If you can pair him with Kirk, you could get a leg up on the competition; if you pair him with Melendez, you might need to punt batting average.
WAS Washington • #20 • Age: 25
Squint, and Ruiz's skill set looks a lot like Kirk's – he makes a ton of contact and hits a lot of line drives, so in theory, he should be a good source of batting average. The problem is, despite being 6-foot, 225 pounds, Ruiz doesn't hit the ball particularly hard, and he's very slow on the basepaths, which helps explain why he didn't actually hit well last season. That doesn't mean he'll never hit well, but the quality of contact needs to improve for him to maximize his skill set. If it does, he could be one of those catchers who hits .280 with double-digit home runs, and he's still young enough to make that leap. It's a low-risk bet, at least.
TOR Toronto • #9 • Age: 28
On another team, Jansen would probably be a top-12 catcher. But, because he's splitting time with Kirk (and, to a lesser extent, Varsho), Jansen's path to returning that kind of value is limited. However, it's important to remember that, if you're talking about top-12 upside, Jansen has a clear path in the event of an injury to Kirk. Grabbing Jansen as your No. 2 catcher with the knowledge he could pretty easily become a top-12 guy is a solid idea, knowing he should at least be solid no matter what.
SF San Francisco • #21 • Age: 26
When Bart makes contact, good things happen – his .439 expected wOBA on contact was the highest of any catcher with at least 200 plate appearances. The problem is, Bart struck out in 39% of his trips to the plate last season and 38% overall in the majors, so there isn't much reason to believe things are going to improve. He could be one of those low-average catchers who hits 20-plus homers, but even small improvements in his contact skills could unlock even more upside, but the bottom could also fall out fairly easily.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #4 • Age: 21
It's not entirely clear what the Mets plans for Alvarez are, or if they even consider him a long-term catcher. At this point, it doesn't look like he's going to break camp with the Mets, but Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido aren't the toughest obstacles to overcome if the Mets opt to give him the opportunity. Alvarez is coming off ankle surgery, too, so there's a lot working against him to open the season. However, he could always be a hot couple of weeks or an injury away from getting an opportunity, and Alvarez could be a big-time power contributor if he gets the chance. If you can afford to stash him, Alvarez could become a big upgrade to your catcher spot.
SD San Diego • #99 • Age: 30
In this case, literally don't forget about Sanchez, who is still a free agent at the start of February. Sanchez has hit .205 or worse in three straight seasons, and while it's possible the shift ban will help him boost that, it's clear Sanchez is never going to be a help in batting average. But, he could still give you 20-plus homers at a significant discount, and there may not end up being that much difference between him and someone like Melendez.
ARI Arizona • #14 • Age: 23
The Blue Jays saw fit to ship Moreno off to the Diamondbacks in large part because of a glut of similar players at the catcher position, and Moreno really does share a lot of similarities with former teammate Alejandro Kirk. Namely, a very contact-forward approach at the plate that should allow both to remain big contributors in batting average moving forward. Moreno only got 73 plate appearances in the majors last season, but it's no fluke that he hit .319, seeing as he sports a .310 mark for his minor-league career. In the near term, there are some questions about how much Moreno will play alongside Carson Kelly, while there are questions about how much power he'll be able to tap into, but there isn't much doubt about whether he'll hit. And there might be enough athleticism here for Moreno to be a non-zero in speed. It's a profile that reminds me of maybe a less athletic Jason Kendall. That could be a very valuable skill set for a guy who costs very little these days.
Contreras is a tough nut to crack. He's had stretches in the minors where he hit like he did last season, but not consistently – his OPS in Double-A was .647, while in Triple-A, it was .829, for instance. However, he's young enough that it's worth buying into the upside when he's not being valued as if last year was 100% for real. The likeliest outcome is he doesn't come close to last year's production in an expanded role, however he showed pretty good plate discipline (54th percentile chase rate, 77th in walk rate) and had very good quality-of-contact metrics. Strikeouts are always going to be an issue for Contreras because he has significant swing-and-miss in his game, but he does enough well that I'm not too worried about it sinking him, and the upside of a 30-homer catcher is worth chasing.
Melendez has a lot of the same pluses in his column as Contreras, and he's a recent blue-chip prospect, to boot. Oh, and he'll probably see so much time in the outfield and at DH that he's a pretty good bet to see a decent playing time edge on Contreras, too. The problem is, he just wasn't nearly as good last season. He hit the ball pretty hard, but not quite as hard as Contreras, leading to significantly worse expected stats – specifically, a .410 expected slugging percentage compared to a .470 mark for Contreras. He could improve on that – I think there's a pretty good chance he does, in fact – but he's in a much worse park and a worse lineup, so he probably needs to take a bigger step forward than you think to overcome it. There's a lot to like about Melendez, but his top-100 ADP makes him a pretty tough buy for me.
Catcher Top Prospects
1. Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets
Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2022: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .260 BA (411 AB), 27 HR, .885 OPS, 70 BB, 123 K
Major-league stats: 2 for 12, HR, 2B, 2 BB, 4 K
The Mets seemed eager to get Alvarez's bat in the lineup late last year but are less eager to get his glove behind the plate, and it's possible the former has progressed so much faster than the latter that he may wind up being at least a part-time DH. It may work out better for Fantasy, though, getting his big power bat in the lineup more often while reducing his injury risk.
Scott's 2023 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring
2. Endy Rodriguez, C, Pirates
Age (on opening day): 22
Where he played in 2022: High-A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .323 BA (458 AB), 25 HR, 39 2B, .996 OPS, 60 BB, 101 K
The hype is building for a switch-hitter who batted .386 with 18 homers, a 1.193 OPS and just as many walks as strikeouts (38) over his final 67 games. Rodriguez's already impressive hit tool became God-like once he adjusted his stance from the left side, standing more upright, and he's versatile enough to play outfield on the days he's not catching.
Scott's 2023 Fantasy impact: fighting this spring
3. Harry Ford, C, Mariners
Age (on opening day): 20
Where he played in 2022: Low-A
Minor-league stats: .274 BA (390 AB), 11 HR, 23 SB, .863 OPS, 88 BB, 115 K
Catchers generally aren't built like Ford, a 5-foot-10 bundle of pure energy. His athleticism is almost wasted behind the plate, and the hope is the Mariners eventually move him to the outfield or second base, where he could thrive as a leadoff hitter with his natural on-base skills. More power is coming, too.
Scott's 2023 Fantasy impact: don't count on it
4. Diego Cartaya, C, Dodgers
Age (on opening day): 21
Where he played in 2022: Low-A, High-A
Minor-league stats: .254 BA (362 AB), 22 HR, .892 OPS, 63 BB, 119 K
Cartaya will clock in higher on real-life rank lists, where catching is viewed more as an asset than a detriment, but he's still a big deal in the Fantasy world, profiling as another Francisco Alvarez type. Concerns include a spotty health history and the presence of Will Smith, but Cartaya offers so much power and on-base potential (reaching at a .389 clip last year) that he may fit well enough at DH.
Scott's 2023 Fantasy impact: late-season look
5. Henry Davis, C, Pirates
Age (on opening day): 23
Where he played in 2022: Rookie, Low-A, Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .264 BA (212 AB), 10 HR, 9 SB, .852 OPS, 21 BB, 51 K
The No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft was the Pirates catcher prospect earning all the accolades early last season when he hit .342 with a 1.035 OPS at High-A. The fallout of a fractured wrist, mostly coinciding with his time at Double-A, marred his numbers thereafter and allowed Endy Rodriguez to leapfrog him in the organizational pecking order, but that's where Rodriguez's versatility (and also the DH spot) will come in handy.
Scott's 2023 Fantasy impact: midseason hopeful