The catcher position continues to largely be an afterthought for many fantasy baseball managers heading into the 2021 season, and if you need proof, look no further than the fact that in many drafts only one player who qualifies at the position will be taken in the first 100 picks. Even relief pitcher sees three or four names off the board by the time you get to No. 101.
So how should you attack the position heading into your draft? I've done numerous mock and real snake and salary cap drafts heading into the 2021 MLB season, and I'm here to share the things I've learned so far. If you're a regular subscriber to SportsLine, you probably know me from dominating NFL picks for years, but did you know I actually got my start in sports media as a fantasy baseball analyst? I even finished No. 1 among all experts for my draft rankings the first year FantasyPros tracked MLB expert accuracy on their site.
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Here's how I'm ranking and approaching the catcher position for fantasy baseball in 2021:
Catcher ranking tiers
1. J.T. Realmuto, PHI
Realmuto is essentially in a tier by himself, and I'm not super worried about the fractured thumb he suffered last month affecting his outlook this season. I've also wound up with him on a team or two, though that tends to happen in a salary cap draft format where the other owners are committed to going cheap at the position.
2. Salvador Perez, KC
3. Willson Contreras, CHC
4. Will Smith, LAD
These three can basically slot in any order you'd like depending on your format. Perez would get dinged a bit in OBP-focused formats due to never walking, but he plays so much that his positive effect elsewhere can't be overstated, so don't move him down any further than fourth. Smith has the highest upside of the trio if you want to chase ceilings, while Contreras continues to be a reliable option for fantasy owners.
5. Yasmani Grandal, CHW
6. Gary Sanchez, NYY
7. Travis d'Arnaud, ATL
8. Christian Vazquez, BOS
9. Sean Murphy, OAK
Grandal is a bit of a bridge between Tier 2 and Tier 3, though he fits better into this tier so don't make the mistake of quickly grabbing him once the top four are off the board. Sanchez's power upside still tantalizes, but his gruesome .253 OBP last year shows that he also has a downside that could make him unrosterable. I'd chase his upside over options like d'Arnaud and Vazquez in one-catcher formats where I know I can find a serviceable option on the waiver wire if needed. Murphy has also shown early in his career that he could quickly join the top names at the position for a long while, delivering 11 home runs and an .846 OPS in his first 200 plate appearances. His 133 OPS+ over his first two seasons has only been topped by two catchers since Mike Piazza in the seasons in which they maintained rookie eligibility: Sanchez and Grandal. Pretty nice company he's keeping.
10. Mitch Garver, MIN
11. James McCann, NYM
12. Austin Nola, SD
13. Daulton Varsho, ARI
Garver endured a brutal 2020, but we have to be careful not to overemphasize that short-season sample size for players. His 2019 performance showed he has the upside to be the No. 1 player at his position, and I'm jumping on that late in drafts. McCann should give you solid production in a much improved Mets offense, while Nola flashed last year but is dealing with an injury to begin 2021. Varsho is a rare catcher-eligible player who should get regular playing time at another position, though everyone in fantasy will be slotting him in behind the plate.
14. Carson Kelly, ARI
15. Yadier Molina, STL
16. Max Stassi, LAA
17. Yan Gomes, WAS
18. Buster Posey, SF
19. Jorge Alfaro, MIA
20. Tom Murphy, SEA
21. Elias Diaz, COL
22. Dom Nunez, COL
23. Francisco Mejia, TB
24. Wilson Ramos, DET
In one-catcher leagues, I think it's typically fine to punt on the position until the end of the draft, but I've seen the non-J.T. Realmuto players in the top tier come in at a bit of a value much of the time, giving me the option to scoop up Salvador Perez, Will Smith or Willson Contreras a bit later than you would expect in the Pick 120-140 range. I'll go ahead and take that plunge, knowing I'll have an advantage at the position over a majority of owners in the league. If all four of the top names are gone before I nab one, I'll then wait until near the end of the draft and try to land Sean Murphy, with Mitch Garver a nice backup plan.
In two-catcher leagues, I haven't seen managers push catchers up the board much, and if the Perez/Smith/Contreras tier is available in that Pick 100-120 range, I generally come away with one of them. At second catcher, I'm typically looking for solid options I know will get regular playing time and help me beef up counting stats, including names like Max Stassi and Yan Gomes. If I don't get one of those guys, I typically just wait until the end and scoop up one of the Rockies' two catcher options (Elias Diaz and Dom Nunez), hoping for a cheap source of power.
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