Previewing 2020 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 20 catchers looking better with Will Smith, Mitch Garver now in the mix
As we begin our look ahead to the 2020 rankings, Scott White breaks down a historically thin position that's showing surprising depth.
OK, so at a time in baseball history when home runs are so widespread and evenly distributed that basically every position offers more than enough to go around in a standard mixed league, catcher still stands out as the weak link. But it's not the embarrassment it was presumed to be heading into 2019.
As was true at every other position during a record-breaking season for home runs, new and exciting options emerged, sometimes from places you'd least expect. So while the top tier of four from the start of 2019 remains the same, it's no longer your only hope at the position. The tier, in fact, may be on the verge of expanding to six or seven.
And that's not even accounting for the return of Salvador Perez.
The improvement is just as apparent outside the top 12, which is normally as deep as anyone would have to go in a one-catcher league. Robinson Chirinos and Jorge Alfaro, who were both easily among the top 15 catchers heading into 2019, can't even crack my top 20 for 2020 despite more or less performing up to expectations.
So again, catcher is still weak — it always is given the physical and defensive demands of the position — but it's not so weak that you'll need to get all weird about it on Draft Day.
Gary Sanchez New York Yankees C
|The biggest knock on Gary Sanchez is that he has yet to stay healthy for a full season, but catcher isn't a position where anyone's leading the league in games played. The Yankees are fully invested in playing him when he is healthy, and he remains unmatched in terms of home run production at the position, managing to set a career high this year despite two IL stints.|
J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies C
|J.T. Realmuto is the more cowardly pick for top dog at the position. He won't perform up to Sanchez's level on a per-game basis, but few catchers can compete with him in terms of volume. And look, he's a fine hitter, but the move from Miami to Philadelphia wasn't as transformative for his numbers as hoped.|
Willson Contreras Chicago Cubs C
|Willson Contreras doesn't hit the ball especially hard or elevate it especially well, but in three of four seasons now, he has been nothing short of studly, bouncing back from his one hiccup last year with better-than-ever power production this year. At this point, the track record speaks for itself.|
Yasmani Grandal Milwaukee Brewers C
|As with Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal's move to the most hitter-friendly environment he's ever known didn't totally live up to the hype, but his typically solid numbers were a little better than usual. He'll presumably be on the move again this offseason, and leagues that don't give credit for his on-base ability will be the most invested in where he lands.|
Mitch Garver Minnesota Twins C
|Sanchez is widely regarded as the premier power hitter at the position, Mitch Garver's slugging percentage was more than 100 points higher in 2019. He was also the No. 1 catcher in Head-to-Head points per game -- and by no small margin -- but the Twins haven't shown a commitment to playing him so regularly, which may or may not change after Jason Castro departs this offseason.|
Will Smith Los Angeles Dodgers C
|Increased exposure eventually resurfaced some of the strikeout issues that Will Smith seemed to overcome at Triple-A, but the 24-year-old is the rare catcher who can compete with Sanchez in terms of power and has improved his offensive game so drastically over the past couple years that he might have best-at-the-position-type upside. He's also so sound defensively that playing time won't be an issue, at least not until prospect Keibert Ruiz is ready.|
Carson Kelly Arizona Diamondbacks C
|The former Cardinals prospect has quietly climbed to the top of the Diamondbacks depth chart, but as with Garver, there's a chance he could get even more at-bats with his primary playing-time threat, Alex Avila, out of the way next year. Kelly's developmental path is more typical than that of the 28-year-old Garver, which should give us a better idea what comes next. As a disciplined hitter with power, the upside is comparable to Grandal, but perhaps with more batting average potential.|
Salvador Perez Kansas City Royals C
|Remember him? The heart and soul of the Royals lost all of 2019 to Tommy John surgery, and it's worth pointing out that a full recovery is no guarantee. But the Salvador Perez we left behind was a lock for 20 homers and some of the most consistent paying time at the position. A low strikeout rate is about the only other thing he brings to the table -- and it only matters in a subset of leagues -- but if he's healthy, he'll be must-start.|
Wilson Ramos New York Mets C
|With his low strikeout rate and ground-ball tendencies, Wilson Ramos remains one of the better sources of batting average at the position, but his failure to elevate the ball also limits his power at a time when a hitter can't afford to fall too far behind in home runs. At 32, he's also the oldest player to appear in these rankings so far, and catcher generally isn't a position that ages well.|
Christian Vazquez Boston Red Sox C
|Regarded as a plus defender who at least knew how to put the bat on the ball, Christian Vazquez wasn't even the for-sure starter coming into the season, but the sudden development of power proved to be a game-changer. It also came out of nowhere, and a look at the underlying numbers doesn't shed much light on the breakthrough. He simply barreled up the ball more, and we'll have hope he can do it again in 2020.|
Omar Narvaez Seattle Mariners C
|Though he was never given a chance to shine with the White Sox, Omar Narvaez had modest sleeper appeal coming into his first season with the Mariners and mostly made good on it, with his plus plate discipline and line-drive tendencies giving him a respectable batting line. It's just that the emergence of Tom Murphy as a lefty masher limits Narvaez's playing time to that of a platoon partner at best. And if Murphy shows improvement against righties next year, well ...|
Yadier Molina St. Louis Cardinals C
|Playing time is about all Yadier Molina, now 37, has left to hang his hat on, but it's a big deal at a position where nobody is allowed to play every day. In points leagues especially, the volume can set him apart, as can his consistently low strikeout rate. You never know when it's all going to end, though. By remaining relevant for this long as a catcher, he has already defied the odds about five times over.|
Sean Murphy Oakland Athletics C
|We've reached the point in the rankings where it's reasonable to begin speculating on upside, and seeing as Sean Murphy already started to do so in September, the soon-to-be 25-year-old seems a likely candidate to overtake the perfectly boring Josh Phegley next spring. Already a defensive standout, Murphy has seen his power numbers explode over the past couple years, even while contending with injuries. He has always made contact at a high rate, too, so it's hard to see where he's lacking, really.|
Francisco Mejia San Diego Padres C
|The long-awaited payoff for Mejia, once the prize of the Indians farm system, ended up being delayed another year because of the Padres' devotion to Austin Hedges. Mejia began to test it midseason, though, hitting .298 with an .857 OPS while starting about two-thirds of the time over his final 51 games, but an oblique injury shut him down before he could gain a true a foothold. Still tons of potential, but the playing-time issue lingers.|
James McCann Chicago White Sox C
|While up there with Garver and Vazquez in terms of surprising breakouts, James McCann saw his numbers crash pretty hard in the second half, and an inflated strikeout rate further stacks the odds against him. Plus, former first-round pick Zack Collins made significant strides as a hitter over his final two months at Triple-A, setting up a possible competition in 2020.|
Travis d'Arnaud Tampa Bay Rays C
|Reuniting with an old minor-league hitting coach sparked some life in Travis d'Arnaud's bat midseason, but he didn't end 2019 on a high note and will be looking for a job again this offseason. This ranking assumes he earns at least a 60 percent share of the at-bats somewhere. Clearly, there's much to be sorted out here still, but the Mets castoff is back on the Fantasy radar.|
Tom Murphy Seattle Mariners C
|It was an annual tradition, Tom Murphy mashing in the minors and the Rockies willfully ignoring it, so on the one hand, his emergence with the Mariners was a long time coming. Yet it was still restrained both by his struggles against right-handed pitchers and the presence of Narvaez. Murphy rates as the better defender of the two, so if he can become passable against righties, he could displace Narvaez and have a Garver-level breakthrough at age 29. Even if he continues to log just a 40 percent share, the power is enough for him to matter.|
Buster Posey San Francisco Giants C
|Buster Posey got a pass for his underwhelming 2018 since he was playing through a hip injury for much of the year, but 2019 was yet another step back for the will-be 33-year-old who doesn't appear to have much left in the tank. He does still put the bat on the ball, which at least gives him a chance to matter, but he'll probably spend 2020 looking over his shoulder at 2018 first-rounder Joey Bart.|
Kurt Suzuki Washington Nationals C
|Kurt Suzuki will be 36 next year and presumably still in a timeshare, possibly with Yan Gomes again, which are two factors that pretty much require him to rank this low. But every year, he seems to outperform his ranking. Between a high contact rate and a pull-oriented, fly-ball swing, the skills are what you look for in 2019, but seeing as he's in the twilight of his career, you shouldn't be projecting anything too grand.|
Roberto Perez Cleveland Indians C
|The Indians like Roberto Perez for his defense which is why you can expect him to play plenty again in 2020. And that's what sets him apart from somebody like Robinson Chirinos, who's four years older and doesn't even know where he'll be playing next year. Obviously, the power is a more recent development for Perez and is basically all he brings to the table offensively, so you're banking on him sustaining it.|
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