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2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Catcher

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Feb 3, 2020

Moving to a stacked White Sox lineup, Yasmani Grandal is a top-tier fantasy catcher.

It’s hard to find a position in fantasy baseball in 2020 that doesn’t have a deep talent pool. But catcher is one, along with relief pitcher, where talent is hard to find. We’re going to make it easier for you this year by breaking down the top-30 catchers into tiers to help navigate your draft.

Check out our early consensus rankings for 2020 fantasy baseball drafts >>

2019 Recap

Using FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator, I took a look at the top 100 for roto leagues last year. As you may imagine, only two catchers appeared on the list, with J.T. Realmuto finishing 52nd and Yasmani Grandal 97th overall. Since the top 100 is an arbitrary number to use, it’s worth pointing out that Mitch Garver finished 101st overall last year using standard 5×5 scoring. 

Gary Sanchez returned from an injury-plagued 2018, and he provided the power numbers you were looking for, but the average continues to be a major drag on his production and your team as a whole.

The aforementioned Garver was the biggest surprise at the position. Coming off a career year as a 29-year-old, he’s one of the harder catchers to rank heading into 2020. It was also a bounce-back year for Willson Contreras, who nearly approved across the board — his steals decreased, his walk rate barely decreased, and his strikeout rate went up slightly — from his down 2018, making him a prime target in 2020.

2020 At a Glance

As mentioned in the lede, the position is once again the worst in fantasy baseball, but that doesn’t mean it lacks upside. I’m still expecting, at most, three catchers to finish inside the top-100 players by the end of the season just because of value.

How you approach it depends on the format of your league. If you’re in a one-catcher league with 12 teams or fewer, I’m likely taking a catcher with my final pick of the draft. But if you are in a 15-team league or larger, I wouldn’t mind taking one of the top four at the position to get a leg up on the competition. If you are in a two-catcher league (no league shaming here, as I go full white knuckle), I want at least one guy behind the dish I’m excited about. 

Luckily for fantasy managers, we have some intriguing young options (Will Smith, Sean Murphy, Carson Kelly) and some bounce-back candidates (Salvador Perez, Danny Jansen) who have shown different levels of success in the past.

Grade Legend*

A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
B: A solid, consistent contributor
C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
D: You can do better here
F: You’re getting NOTHING

(*Grades listed are relative to position and take positional depth into consideration.)

Tier 1

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Yasmani Grandal CHW C A A A F Grandal’s insertion into the loaded Chicago lineup makes him my No. 1 catcher this year. Added value in OBP leagues.
J.T. Realmuto PHI B+ A- A B+ A- The safest No. 1 catcher this year, Realmuto’s speed gives him an edge over Grandal if you want a safe floor with a nice ceiling.
Gary Sanchez NYY D+ A+ B+ B+ F A rebound year in the power department, but a putrid average holds him back. Run-producing opportunities should still be aplenty for Sanchez no matter where he hits.

 
If you’re looking to invest in a catcher as a difference-maker, I get it. The tier is strong, and you’ll have a leg up on your leaguemates since the position is so top-heavy. If it’s in a one-catcher league, I question the strategy, unless there are no available options that fit your roster. I like the guys here, and they are safe bets for top production relative to the position.

Tier 2

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Willson Contreras CHC B+ A- C- B+ D 2019 was a big bounce-back season for Contreras, who may have the highest upside of the group so far. 
Salvador Perez KC C- A- C+ B- F He missed the entire 2019 season, but his price is still where it was pre-injury. I have no concerns about Perez regaining his value.
Mitch Garver MIN B+ A B B F Was the 29-year-old breakout for real? The addition of Josh Donaldson may take some at-bats away from Garver.
Will Smith LAD B- B+ C+ B C- He’s going to be a popular pick this year, reminding me of 2019 Danny Jansen. I love the upside, but temper expectations in his first full season. Added value in OBP leagues.

 
This is an interesting tier overall, mixed with uncertainty. Contreras is the clear top dog here, and if you want to argue that he should be in the first tier, I won’t fight you on it. We’re hoping that Perez returns to form after missing the entire 2019 season, that Garver can replicate his breakout 2019 year, and that Smith is able to live up to expectations as the everyday catcher in 2020. I’ll take one of these guys if the price is right, but I’m probably still holding off.

Tier 3

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Wilson Ramos NYM A+ C- C B- D- Ramos is an average resource at the position, leading all catchers in batting average last year. Did we ever find out why he’s addicted to hitting the ball on the ground?
Carson Kelly ARI C+ B+ B C+ D- Kelly hit .356 off of lefties and .203 against righties in 365 total plate appearances in 2019,
Omar Narvaez MIL B B B+ B- F A great walk rate, a good average, moving to Miller Park. What’s not to like?
Yadier Molina STL B C C+ C+ C+ If Molina can stay healthy, he will earn his way into the top 10 by volume alone.
Sean Murphy OAK C C- C+ B- D- I like Murphy, but his value lies more in OBP leagues with his good walk rate.
Jorge Alfaro MIA C A- C- C+ D+ I’m not buying the average gains with his position-leading .364 BABIP.
Christian Vazquez BOS B- B C+ B- C+ From Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS): “Christian Vasquez was the No. 3 catcher in H2H points leagues last year… [That] would have been the No. 20 second baseman.” That gives you a look at the position

 
This here is my bread and butter. We are 14 guys deep here, so you can wait until your final pick to take one of the guys above if you’re in a 12-team league. If I had to use one word to describe this tier, it would be floor. There are some guys with upside (Kelly, Narvaez), but it’s mostly guys who won’t hurt you, and you can target them based on your team needs.

Tier 4

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
Danny Jansen TOR D C C- C D- It was a terrible first full season from Jansen. Hoping for a post-hype bounce back. Added value in OBP leagues.
Tom Murphy SEA B+ B- C- C- D- Why did the Rockies take so long to realize his potential? Now the power is stuck in Seattle.
Travis d’Arnaud ATL C- C+ B- B D- A plus in the Atlanta lineup, but we’ve seen this act long enough, unless Tampa Bay truly tapped into his potential.
Buster Posey SF C C- C C+ D It’s name value carrying him, and it’s so sad to see. The Joey Bart Show will be in San Fran by August.
Francisco Mejia SD C+ C+ C- C D+ Just give him the opportunity. I still believe in the talent.
Robinson Chirinos TEX D+ C+ B- B D- Chirinos has a great landing spot back in Texas. Can hit 20 homers.

 
If you reached this point in a 12-team league for some reason, then someone in your league really, really loves catchers and wanted multiple guys. There are a ton of questions marks here, but if I had to take one guy as my starter, knowing there were ample alternatives on the wire, I would take the shot on Mejia’s upside.

Tier 5

Player Team Avg HR R RBI SB Notes
James McCann CHW B- C+ D+ D+ C- Thanks for the solid year, James. Your reward is backing up Yasmani Grandal.
Tucker Barnhart CIN C- C C+ C+ D If I punt catcher in a deep league, I end up with a lot of Barnhart.
Willians Astudillo MIN C+ D+ D D D- He doesn’t walk. He doesn’t strike out. He’s a cult hero.
Roberto Perez CLE D B- C C+ D- It’s empty power for Perez, which is better than empty, empty.
Kurt Suzuki WAS C+ C+ C- C+ D- If I’m in a two-catcher league, I’m grabbing Suzuki and teammate Yan Gomes
Jason Castro LAA D C- C+ C D- Castro gets out of Minnesota and gets the job to himself in Anaheim.
Yan Gomes WAS D C- C C+ D See Suzuki, Kurt.
Mike Zunino TB F C+ C- C- D- He had a 33.9 K% last year.
Tyler Flowers ATL D C- C- C D- He, too, had a 33.9 K% last year and is now behind d’Arnaud.
Austin Romine DET C+ C- D+ D+ D He’s two-catcher league desperation only, unless you want a near-empty average.

 
This tier is reserved for two-catcher leagues or guys you need to grab should your starter get injured. They should not be rostered in standard one-catcher 12- or 15-team leagues.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.