J.T. has no equal among fantasy catchers

March 5th, 2021

Determining how to address the catcher position is a key part of strategizing for fantasy drafts.

Even the best fantasy catchers typically produce as much as the third outfielder on your roster, and there's a high risk of injuries given the nature of the position, so you might prefer to wait. But wait too long and you'll end up with a pick that offers little upside.

There are some enticing players in the middle tiers, meanwhile, but you'll need a crystal ball to figure out which ones are actually going to live up to their potential.

Before you try to navigate these perilous waters, familiarize yourself with this year's fantasy catcher crop.

Tier 1:

Realmuto is back with the Phillies after re-signing with the club for $115.5 million over five years during the offseason.

The veteran is dealing with a fractured thumb in his throwing hand that will keep him out for the first month of Spring Training, but he has a good chance to be ready for Opening Day. Despite the injury, he has the top tier to himself, and there’s a notable dropoff between Realmuto and the backstops in Tier 2.

After missing all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Perez returned to hit .333/.353/.633 with 11 homers in 37 games last season, but he remained one of the least disciplined hitters in the game (43.5% chase rate, 1.9% walk rate) and is likely to experience some regression, which explains why he’s in Tier 2 and not Tier 1 with Realmuto.

If anyone in this tier can overtake Realmuto, it’s likely to be Smith, who has recorded 23 homers with a .937 OPS in his first 91 career games. The 25-year-old made major strides in 2020, improving his hard-hit, strikeout and walk rates by significant margins.

Grandal remains a steady and durable option, meanwhile. The switch-hitter ranks first or second among catcher-eligible players in games played (594), homers (109), RBIs (302) and walks (315) since the beginning of 2016.

The catchers in this tier present a wide range of potential outcomes.

Contreras finished with an OPS of .845 or higher in 2016, 17 and ’19 but didn’t top .763 in ’18 or ’20. d’Arnaud broke out in 2020, hitting .321 with nine homers and a .919 OPS in 44 games, but he had a .719 OPS in his first seven seasons and recently turned 32. Murphy has 11 homers and an .846 OPS over his first two seasons, but he’s played only 63 games at the MLB level and is recovering from surgery on a collapsed lung. And Sánchez, well, he’s one of the biggest boom-or-bust picks in fantasy.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of Sánchez’s OPS since 2016.

2016: 1.032
2017: .876
2018: .697
2019: .841
2020: .618

Vázquez has turned himself into a solid offensive catcher, hitting .278 with 30 homers, 95 RBIs and a .798 OPS in 185 games over the past two years. He’s the surest bet in this tier.

Nola has produced 17 homers with an .808 OPS since the beginning of 2019, and he has a clear path to earn regular starts with the high-octane Padres this season. McCann (25 HR, .808 OPS) should also start regularly for an above-average offense after signing a four-year deal with the Mets in December.

Garver will try to recapture his 2019 form (31 homers, .995 OPS) after recording only two homers with a .511 OPS in 23 games for the Twins last season. The 30-year-old could face competition from prospect Ryan Jeffers if he struggles out of the gate.

Kirk had a memorable debut for the Blue Jays in 2020, going 9-for-24 (.375) with a .983 OPS in nine games. Jansen is still in the picture, but the 5-foot-8, 265-pound Kirk could vie for an increased role.

Fantasy managers would be wise to keep an eye on the Orioles' Adley Rutschman (MLB's No. 2 prospect), the Giants' Joey Bart (No. 23) and the Rangers' Sam Huff (No. 78). All three will start out in the Minors but could eventually find themselves in the Majors in 2021.