Rarely in Fantasy Baseball am I willing to pay a premium for a catcher. It's a position where the reward doesn't always match up with the risk, its penchant for punishment undermining whatever talent there is to be had. When so many of the best are forced out of the lineup nearly 40 percent of the time, there's a flattening effect that disincentivizes real investment.

Volume had much to do with making J.T. Realmuto the position's standard-bearer in recent years, his actual production being good enough but no better than good, really. And as far as I was concerned, if Realmuto was the best that money could buy, then that money was better spent elsewhere. 

But there's a new standard-bearer, one whose impact far exceeds Realmuto's. Salvador Perez just led the majors in both home runs (tied with Vladimir Guerrero) and RBI, for goodness' sake. Only one other catcher in history has ever done that: Johnny Bench.

Position Strategy: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP      

That's not to say Perez will do it again, but it is to say that this particular standard-bearer's standard makes the impact worth the investment again. Just think, he hit three times as many home runs last year as Realmuto, who remains the consensus No. 2 at the position. Give Perez even two-thirds of last year's production, and he's still the best the position has to offer. That's how big the gap is.

That playing-time advantage Realmuto had previously? Perez has always enjoyed the same and took it to another level by making himself an essential part of the Royals lineup last year. Whenever his legs needed a rest, he simply started at DH, appearing in a total of 161 games.

And before you say, "Well, seeing how long he's been around, it was probably a fluke," let me point out that Perez was far and away the best catcher in 2020 as well, averaging 3.73 Head-to-Head points per game to Will Smith's 3.38 and Realmuto's 3.30. We already dismissed it as a fluke then. Fool us again, and it's shame on us.

The only question for Perez is how high is too high.

The Studs

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR

I'm going to spell it out as plainly as possible: If Perez is still available in Round 4, he's not getting by me, and I'd give serious thought to taking him at the end of Round 3 as well. Again, at even two-thirds of his 2021 production, he may be the singular biggest advantage you could get at any position. It being the weakest position is the icing on the cake.

It's almost disrespectful to group Perez with Realmuto and Smith, but they're both worth paying up for to a smaller degree. Realmuto isn't substantively different from the guy we've put at the top of the catcher heap for the past several years, though the rising strikeout rate does hint at the start of a decline. Smith seems to close the gap a little more each year and is already better than Realmuto at-bat for at-bat. He tends to sit every third or fourth game, though, which keeps him at a disadvantage. Maybe the universal DH will move him ahead once and for all.

Other Deserving Starters

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 HR

*Minor-league stats

There's certainly a case for slotting Yasmani Grandal with the previous group, particularly in points leagues where his superlative plate discipline gave him a higher per-game average than even Salvador Perez last year (3.40 to 3.13). But his numbers were skewed by a bonkers five-week stretch following surgery to his left knee. I'd bet against it being a new standard for the 33-year-old, whose production has generally been more in the neighborhood of Realmuto's, only in fewer at-bats.

Besides, I actually prefer Daulton Varsho in categories leagues and am certainly not ready to classify him as a stud even though that's where I think he's headed. In fact, Varsho may have the best chance of any catcher to challenge Perez's claim to the top spot, enjoying a similar playing-time advantage as a part-time outfielder while representing the one true base-stealing threat at the position. His 2021 numbers won't blow you away, but he was a different player in the second half.

And he represents the last catcher that I'd pay up for in any meaningful way. For the others here, it comes down to how long they last and what I'm looking to do instead. Some will tout Tyler Stephenson's breakout potential with Tucker Barnhart out of the picture, but his batted-ball profile doesn't really back up the slash line he put together as a part-timer last year. Keibert Ruiz has excellent contact skills but a questionable power profile. Mike Zunino was the only catcher other than Perez to hit 30-plus homers, but he's the definition of all-or-nothing and is never in line for a ton of at-bats.

The Sleepers

2022 ADP2021 PPG2021 BA2021 OPS

*Minor-league stats

Honestly, if I haven't secured my catcher by the time Daulton Varsho goes off the board, I'm probably settling for someone from this group, hoping to strike it rich for a next-to-nothing cost. It's certainly not a high-probability play, but so few catchers are likely to make a substantive impact anyway that you might as well shoot for the stars. There will be plenty of Omar Narvaez types to fall back on if it doesn't pan out.

Among these, the one with the highest ceiling is Adley Rutschman, a dreamboat prospect as projectable as you'll ever find at the position. The problem with him, as you can see for yourself, is that he's already being drafted ahead of some in the previous group, which is not the next-to-nothing cost I'm looking for. We can't even be sure when he'll get the call. Mitch Garver is more my speed. His season was twice interrupted by injury, but his production wasn't so different from Will Smith's when he was able to take the field -- which was also true in 2019, remember.

Joey Bart is a former No. 2 pick ready to step in for the retired Buster Posey, but his upside doesn't compare to Rutschman's. Alejandro Kirk's bat skills stand out if he can break into a crowded situation with the Blue Jays. Eric Haase delivered big power in a part-time role last year, and it's never a bad idea to bet on whomever the Rockies are running out there -- in this case, Elias Diaz. All of them seem capable of delivering numbers in line with Willson Contreras or Tyler Stephenson, if not better.

The Base-Stealers

2022 ADP2021 SB2022 hopeAlso eligible
player headshot
Jorge Alfaro SD C

Catchers aren't known for being the most fleet of foot, so stolen bases shouldn't factor into your decision-making except in the case of Daulton Varsho. He was in the 85th percentile for sprint speed last year, made stolen bases a regular part of his game in the minors and showed a willingness to run during his time in the majors last year. While my hope for him is 10-15 steals, you can dream on 20-plus, particularly if he's keeping his legs limber in center field. Jorge Alfaro is also unusually fast for a catcher, but it's unclear how much he'll play in a reserve role for the Padres.