2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

by Travis Argo
2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

Welcome to the 2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview!

It's finally here, the 2023 Fantasy Baseball season; it's time to dive into statcast data, agonize over projected hitting lineups, and wonder if Carlos Correa actually signed with the Twins.

We're kicking off this draft season with a catcher preview to help you prepare for a position that is always a mystery and comes with some inherited headaches in draft prep. But we're here at Fantasy Six Pack to ease those headaches and help you make the best choice on draft day.

The catcher position in recent years has been a wasteland and is usually the first punted position in draft rooms, but last season we saw some glimpses of hope at the position in this upcoming season. Youngsters like Adley Rutschman, Alejandro Kirk, and Willaim Contreras have shown the batting skills that could restore trust within catchers as elite fantasy producers. Not to mention the consistent producers like J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, and Salvador Perez, who have been solidifying the top tier of catchers for years.

So enough of this general musing, and let's start diving deep into the catcher position!

2023 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview

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Which Catcher Could Take Over As The Number One Overall?

J.T. Realmuto has had a firm hold on as the overall catcher for many years (except the one year Perez had 40 home runs). Last season, his 20-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases proved that the power/speed combo is very much alive in catchers. Even as he approaches 32 years old this season, there isn't anything in his stats to suggest a decline is on the way. In fact, Realmuto improved his strikeout rate. He had a 24 percent strikeout rate in 2021 and lowered it to a tremendous 21.1 percent in 2022. He still has excellent power in this bat. Realmuto raised his barrel rate from 8.6 percent in 2021 to 11.3 percent in 2022. So, even with some regression in Realmuto's number, he could easily reclaim his title as the overall catcher.

Will Smith is one of the favorite contenders to take the belt away from Realmuto this year. He has put together two 20-plus home run seasons and has a real shot at 30-plus home runs in 2023. It also bodes well for Smith being in that stacked Dodgers lineup, which means he could have a responsible shot at 70-plus runs and RBIs in 2023, which is almost unheard of for catchers. Most projections have Smith around 72 runs and 79 RBIs for this year. So even without the stolen base numbers, Smith could easily mash his way to the number one catcher in fantasy.

It wouldn't surprise anyone if Daulton Varsho won the title as the number one catcher overall, but unfortunately, this might be his last year as a catcher. But that doesn't prevent him from skyrocketing as the top dog this year, considering he'll be in a high-powered Blue Jays' offense with a full-time role. One could argue that Varsho is the safest bet on draft day as the best catcher.

Speaking of being a part of Toronto's smash unit, Alejandro Kirk could be a real dark horse at being the top catcher. He keeps improving in the power department and always leads catchers in batting average.

The last catcher I'm going to mention is Sean Murphy. He was a touted top prospect for years and has finally left Oakland. Now he is one of the best offenses in baseball and is hitting in a much better ballpark. The 2023 season could be the first year that we actually see the real Sean Murphy, the one everyone believed to be the next big catcher in baseball.

Can Adley Rutschman be trusted to return his value at his current ADP of 62.1 (NFBC)?

I was going to include Rutschman in the top overall section of the article, but I wanted to dive deeper than a paragraph on Rutschman and why he might be worth the cost on draft day.

Rutschman's first appearance in the big leagues was not a disappointment for fantasy managers who were aching to see this kid play. He had 70 runs, 42 RBIs, 13 home runs, four stolen bases, and a decent .254 batting average playing in about half of the Orioles' games. If he had played an entire season, he would have ended with 100 runs, 60 RBIs, 19 home runs, and six stolen bases. That would have put him as the number three catcher overall last season.

Most of the projections have Rutschman finishing this year with about 70-plus runs, 60-plus RBIs, 20ish home runs, and a handful of stolen bases which is on par with some of the other batters going around him (Corey Seager, Teoscar Hernandez, Oneil Cruz).

Plus, the other hitter positions like outfield, second base, and third base have a considerable drop in talent. Most drafters are aware of this dropoff in talent. Many times this results in bad hitters being pushed up, which means many of the top catchers could be a steal on draft day because of draining the pool of other positions. I'll take all the upside of Rutschman as my catcher and a building block of my offense rather than getting Teoscar Hernandez as my second outfielder or hoping Oneil Cruz can shine in a terrible offense.

Rutshman has the same excitement and buzz surrounding him as Valdmir Guerrero Jr did a few seasons ago. Now, Rutschman won't hit 40-plus home runs like Guerrero, but he'll more than likely return his value, if not exceed his value like Guerrero has done in the past few seasons.

Considering Many Positions Seem Shallower This Year, When Should I Look At Taking Catcher This Year?

I have already alluded to how the catchers should be approached this year in drafts. I believe that many middle-round catchers will return their draft price.  Quite a few of them could exceed their draft price. In previous years, I have been in the camp of punting catchers. But the addition of the DH in the National League and this current crop of youngsters is changing my tune. As I've said before, the lack of depth in other hitting positions will push undesirable hitters into rounds they shouldn't be at this season. I don't know about you, but I want good hitters, not inflated bad hitters when building my roster.

Just look at some of the current catchers going in the first 100 picks of the drafts on NFBC (which are two catcher leagues, so the ADP is higher than other formats). Kirk, Contreras, and MJ Melendez are being taken around hitters like Willy Adames, Jose Abreu, and Nathaniel Lowe. These catchers are going around solid hitters, but Adames, Abreu, or Lowe are not pushing towards being in the Top 5 of their position (probably barely returning their value of being a top 100). So if catchers go with these types of hitters in two-catcher leagues, imagine how much more value they will have in one-catcher leagues.

I would much rather take the risk on one of the middle-round catchers than dig through the dumpster hoping that Christian Vazquez, Elias Diaz, or Yasmani Grandal will surprise me.

Players on the Rise

William Contreras, Milwaukee Brewers

Contreras had a tremendous season last year with a .278 AVG, 51 runs, 45 RBIs, and 20 home runs. What's even more impressive, he put up those numbers only playing 97 games. His full season numbers at that pace would have had year totals of 85 runs, 75 RBIs, and 33 home runs.

No doubt the Brewers saw the untapped potential in Contreras which is why they traded for him. Contreras will now be a featured part of the Brewers' consistent offense. Plus, he'll be hitting in a much better park than in Atlanta.

Contreras's strikeout rate was high, but his walk rate was above average. That means the Brewers hitting staff will be able to maximize Contreras' approach to help lower his strikeout rate. That will likely result in more batted balls for Contreras, adding more to his counting numbers.

There is no actual statistical data to help back this statement, but the Brewers have a knack for unlocking hitting potential in catchers. Think back to all the fantasy-relevant catchers the Brewers have produced Yasmani Grandel, Omar Narvaez, and Jonathan Lucroy. Contreras could be the next in line to become the next great Brewers catcher.

MJ Melendez, Kansas City Royals

Melendez flashed that he has great power potential with 18 homers, but his .217 AVG left fantasy managers wanting more. However, Melendez could be a vast benefactor from the limiting shift rules.

The league average facing a shift was 33.6 percent. For a left-handed hitters (like Melendez), the average was 55 percent league-wide. Melendez faced a shift on 78.2 percent of his plate appearances and struggled with a .278 OWBA against the shifts. Now it is a limited sample size, but when facing no shift, he had an incredible .418 WOBA. So even with regression, Melendez could look at steady progression and improvement on his batting average this year.

He'll unlikely be a high average batter, but he'll at least have the potential to be a .230ish average. So he'll be Mike Zunio-like but has a much higher ceiling.

Melendez will have outfielder eligibility, which is always a plus. Especially this year, and he is projected to be the leadoff hitter for the Royals. The Royals have a top-heavy lineup so if he gets on base, he'll be racking up the runs.

He should help fantasy managers since he has little speed, so he'll swipe a few bags. That's very rare in the catcher position.

Players on the Decline

Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays

Danny Jansen actually had a good year and improved in power and batting average last season, but the Blue Jays are giving up the 27-year-old catcher.

They traded for Daulton Varsho, who can catch and might be the go-to when Kirk needs a break. Then they signed Brandon Belt who will likely be the primary DH for the season.

Jansen is a tremendous hitter with lots of potential, but he will struggle to find at-bats this season with Toronto's off-season moves. Plus, he'll have to fight to be the "goto" bench hitter with Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio hanging around.

Yasmani Grandel, Chicago White Sox

Grandel has been struggling to stay healthy; he hasn't played over 100 games since joining the White Sox. It's hard to imagine that at 34 years old, he'll stay healthy and get back to smashing 20-plus home runs again.

It doesn't help that his power decreased last season as well. He had a measly 4.8 barrel rate, the lowest of his career. His declining power and low batting average are too much of a risk. E when plenty of other power options come with better health and batting average.

Players on the Horizon

Gabriel Moreno, Arizona Diamondbacks

Moreno came over to the Diamondbacks in the Daulton Varsho trade. He was one of the many potentially excellent catching prospects that the Blue Jays have been hoarding over the past couple of years.

Now that he is out of Toronto, he has a much clearer path to getting at-bats. Plus, he has a real shot at being Arizona's primary catcher in Spring Training. His only competition is the strikeout machine, Carson Kelly.

Cal Raleigh, Seattle Mariners

It seems like a cheat to have Cal Raleigh as a horizon player considering he had a .211 AVG, 63 RBIs, 46 Runs, and 27 home runs. But he could be in line for an increased batting average with the new shift rules. That increased average would catapult Raleigh to instant superstar.

When Raleigh batted left-handed, he had a .419 WOBA against no shift. He had a .337 WOBA when batting right-handed against no shift. These are huge increases compared to his shift numbers (left-handed: .330 WOBA; right-handed: .262 WOBA).

Players to Avoid

Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks

As you can tell from my write-up on Gabriel Moreno, Carson Kelly's days as the Diamondbacks' catcher is over.

He strikes out a ton and hasn't been able to recapture his power from his 18-homer season in 2019. It's pretty clear that the Diamondbacks are making backup plans since they traded for Gabriel Moreno. He was the critical chip in that trade.

Mike Zunino, Cleveland Guardians

Zunino is similar to Yasmani Grandal, a power hitter who struggles to stay healthy. Though Zunino has struggled more with injury than Grandal. He has only played over 100 games in only one season over the past four years.

Plus, He is a liability in the batting average department, and the new shift ban will not help Zunino. He had a .219 WOBA against the shift and a .217 WOBA against the no shift. So, no signs of improvement for Zunino even though he is an exciting lineup.

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