The anxiety that normally surrounds the catcher position isn't as prevalent this year. No, it seems the collective mood is more one of apathy.
We just don't care anymore. And after a year in which so few of the costliest options at the position actually delivered on their cost, maybe that's for the best.
It's never been a position you could bank on. The way catchers have to squat for three hours at a time, all the while having missiles thrown at them, it stands to reason their swings aren't going to be a model of consistency. Hitting requires precision, with every part in its proper place, and a beat-down body may not hold up to that level of scrutiny. So at this position more than any other, Fantasy assets come and go, and even the best have playing-time concerns.
The one exception to all of those rules (at least so far) is J.T. Realmuto, who stands out more than ever at a position he has long dominated. Not only does he have a track record but he also performed up to it last year, and he's one of the few players at the position who rarely takes a day off. It's a huge advantage in its own right.
So there's no clearer way to come out ahead at this position than by drafting Realmuto. In fact, he might represent the biggest singular advantage at any position, and if you want it, you'll have to pay for it. On average, he's going about 50 picks earlier than any other catcher.
But the flipside to that line of thinking is that every other catcher will cost you virtually nothing by comparison. And you don't really disadvantage yourself against any opponent -- well, except the one who took Realmuto -- by settling for one. In fact, if you can pick out the guy who'll be second- or third-best at the position, you'll still have an advantage over most of the league, but without paying the heavy premium.
Just because no one is as bankable as Realmuto doesn't mean he's completely untouchable statistically.
Case in point: Look at how much Salvador Perez outperformed Realmuto in per-game production last year. Yeah, it didn't show up in the totals because he missed nearly three weeks with an eye issue, but he's another example of a catcher who plays virtually every day and always has. Granted, his 2020 production is an outlier for his career -- and I have little faith in him repeating it to the letter -- but if I can grab another elite arm in Round 4, wait another five rounds on a catcher, and then still have a hope of getting a reasonable facsimile of Realmuto, that sounds like a better deal to me.
Contreras might be the one everyone's sleeping on here, though. He's had ratios like Realmuto's in the past but without the playing time to go with it. Last year, new manager David Ross showed a willingness to play him more than old manager Joe Maddon did, but since it happened during an off year for Contreras statistically, it went largely unnoticed.
Will Smith is the one others will be clamoring for me to add to The Studs, and that point-per-game average pretty much tells the story. Two issues, though: The Dodgers don't seem especially inclined to play him more than four times a week, and his biggest claim to a breakthrough (an improved strikeout rate) reverted to normal during the postseason. I'm not saying that I don't see the breakout potential or even that the cost doesn't justify the risk, but for me, there's too much downside to elevate him above the more proven Perez and Contreras.
There are others who could potentially take a run at Realmuto. Gary Sanchez has been at his heels before, at times even surpassing him, and probably deserves a pass for an exorbitant strikeout rate during a wacky season. Yasmani Grandal seems like he's on the decline at age 32 but has a track record similar to Perez and Contreras. Travis d'Arnaud has been trending up for a couple years now and seemed right at home in the heart of the Braves lineup.
Would it be so bad to end up with any of these guys as your starter? At least in one-catcher leagues, nobody is going to roster more than one catcher because no catcher is worth using in a utility spot. So if one of these upside plays doesn't pan out, you can move on to another -- maybe even one who wasn't on our radar at the start of things.
There are different categories of "sleeper" here, of course. Mitch Garver was far and away the best catcher on a per-game basis in 2019, a year in which he homered 31 times in just 311 at-bats, but the crash was so hard last year than you have to assume all the oddities of the pandemic played a role. Some might slot Sean Murphy with the Other Serviceable Starters, but he'll need to play more consistently than he did in 2020 to make that leap for me.
It's not exactly clear how the playing time will shake out for Daulton Varsho, Alejandro Kirk and Sam Huff, except that Huff, the best power source of the three, is expected to begin the year in the in minors. Varsho could see some at-bats in the outfield and brings rare athleticism to the catcher position. Kirk, who offers a plus hit tool, could get some play at DH.
Naturally, catcher isn't a position where anyone expects to find stolen bases. Realmuto is normally the leader in that category as well, but while contributing only a single-digit number. Varsho offers some hope of changing that, though, if the Diamondbacks let him. He stole 21 bases at Double-A in 2019 and was 3 for 4 in limited action in the majors last year. He's so athletic that he may ultimately wind up in the outfield full-time, but for now, he's still catcher-eligible and could make for a nifty addition to someone's Fantasy lineup if he finds his way into semi-regular at-bats.
So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.