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Fantasy Baseball 2023 Catcher Preview: Top-12 rankings, sleepers and positional strategy

Catcher isn’t the sexiest position in fantasy baseball, but it’s where we’ll start our position preview series for 2023. And hey, catchers are important. Without them, we’re looking at a passed ball on every pitch.

The catching position took a step forward in 2022, when J.T. Realmuto, catcher-eligible Daulton Varsho and Will Smith were all top-100 finishers in 5x5 value. Only Salvador Perez made that list in 2021. Even with Buster Posey retiring, Yadier Molina running out of steam and Isiah Kiner-Falefa losing catcher eligibility, the backstops improved as a group last year.

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Fantasy football players will see the obvious parallel between tight ends and catchers. The standard Yahoo fantasy format requires just one fill of each, which means you have the choice of going with a vanity pick, a second-tier option with first-tier upside or bargain options. As with tight ends, we accept that catchers play an attrition position, the most physically demanding defensive assignment in baseball.

I’m probably going to shop in the second collection of the catcher pool — a second-tier player who could jump a level — but as always, it comes down to league personality and dynamics. And any draft plan I ever construct is written in pencil. We want to be flexible on draft day and adjust to new opportunities that present themselves.

The big ticket

Realmuto is our Travis Kelce, the obvious No. 1 catcher on most boards. He’s coming off a career season, posting his best OPS+ and stealing an absurd 21 bases on 22 attempts. Buoyed by a deep lineup around him and a hitter-friendly park, I’m confident Realmuto can come close to justifying his current 26.94 ADP (NFBC drafts, January-onward). But he’s also entering an age-32 season, and I don’t like to buy after a player just had a career season, even if Realmuto’s 2022 production wasn’t far removed from his averages. As stated earlier, I’m likely to wait a little bit on my catcher fills.

J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies is a fantasy star
J.T. Realmuto is the cream of the fantasy catcher crop. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images) (Daniel Shirey via Getty Images)

I should mention that Realmuto’s ADP is far more affordable in early Yahoo drafts (44.7). That’s an easier check to write.

The non-catcher catcher

Daulton Varsho was primarily an outfielder for Arizona last year, and the Blue Jays acquired him and handed him the left-field job. A catcher-eligible player without the burdens of catching much (if at all) — it’s a glorious thing. Varsho enters his age-26 season — a plausible time for a career year — and his Yahoo ADP (72.6) is three rounds cheaper than his NFBC tag. Considering Toronto’s deep lineup and the fences moving in, I’m open-minded to selecting Varsho if the room gives me something reasonable.

The next big thing

Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman looks like the star player Matt Wieters was projected to be. Rutschman showed elite zone judgment and bat control as a rookie, though his hard-hit metrics were an eyelash underwhelming. Those batted-ball results figure to improve as he gets more experience and confidence with sitting on a pitch. Rutschman also lost some batting points from the shift last year, which won’t be a problem for 2023. His shiny-new-toy ADP of 61 in the NFBC rooms is too lofty for me, but he’s in the 80s per Yahoo ADP, which is where I could consider him.

Three mid-round targets

Sometimes we get nervous when players change teams midcareer on a big contract, but Willson Contreras doesn’t concern me. Because he stayed in the NL Central, he won’t have a major adjustment period — he already knows the pitchers and parks he’ll be dealing with most of the time. We aren’t sure yet how the juicy St. Louis lineup will order, but it’s possible Contreras could open the season in the No. 2 spot. That’s the catbird seat. Injuries kept Contreras’ counting stats down a little bit last year, and that makes him a decent value this month (Yahoo ADP: 114).

[2023 Fantasy Positional Previews: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]

Tyler Stephenson was ready for a breakout last year, but injuries held him to 50 games. A .319/.372/.482 slash leaps off the page, and even if he regresses to what he posted in the full 2021 season (.286/.366/.431), that should be a profit at Yahoo ADP 178. Great American Ball Park is a lovely place to set up shop, and the Reds want Stephenson to play 140-plus games in 2023.

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37)
Tyler Stephenson is a fantasy bargain at his ADP. (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Christian Vazquez doesn’t have major upside, but if I’m playing for a floor-driven single, he’s my guy. He has been inside the top 14 at the position for two straight years, and the Twins acquired him with the idea that he can catch another 130 games. Vazquez is in the boring veteran phase of his career, which explains his Yahoo ADP of 235.

Two catchers I’ll likely fade

I’m willing to cut Salvador Perez some slack for last year’s disappointment — an early thumb injury cost him about six weeks and likely nagged him all season. But he’s also entering his age-33 year, and this is a position where I’d rather bet on younger, ascending players. The Royals also have a top-heavy lineup; the bottom half should not be examined without protective eyewear. Go invest in a better lineup.

[2023 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]

Cal Raleigh reminds me so much of Mike Zunino, and that’s a bug, not a feature. Raleigh’s 27 home runs were lovely, but they came with a .211 average and a strikeout rate just under 30%. Raleigh is also coming off thumb surgery, and while the team says he’s fine to enter spring training, it’s another thing to worry about. Breakout seasons out of thin air often evaporate the following year.

Pianow's catcher board as of Feb. 16

1. J.T. Realmuto

2. Will Smith

3. Daulton Varsho

4. Adley Rutschman

5. Salvador Perez

6. Willson Contreras

7. Sean Murphy

8. Alejandro Kirk

9. William Contreras

10. MJ Melendez

11. Tyler Stephenson

12. Keibert Ruiz

13. Cal Raleigh

14. Yasmani Grandal

15. Christian Vazquez