What do you do at the catching position in dynasty or keeper leagues?
No wrong answers here. You’ve got to do something. Rarely do the options seem great.
This winter, my brother-in-law invited me to join a twelve-team, five-keeper, OBP league. Someone had put Salvador Perez on the block. I checked in, and the team wanted a first, then a second round pick. So a top 60-70 player in an OBP league. Totally reasonable. But if I made the trade, I’d have to kick Byron Buxton, Cody Bellinger, or Jose Abreu back into the draft pool, at which point it starts to feel a little crazy. I’d have five players after round one when everyone else has six. Sal Perez is still on the block in that league, and I’m still pondering my options. Would I trade a third-round pick to get Perez and lose Buxton in the process. I don’t think so.
What if it were JT Realmuto? It is an OBP league, Sal ain’t helping anybody there. Still a no for me. Will Smith? No thanks. Which feels weird. I could trade a draft pick to get the top player at his position, and I don’t want to do it. Can be very difficult to find categorical daylight in a league this shallow, increasing the edge brought by a great catcher, but I doubt many readers in this space would care, preferring to hold their pick and keep five good players at other, safer positions.
That’s a one-catcher league though, while a lot of dynasty leagues are trudging forward with the two. Would I target a big named catcher in a league like that where I have more pieces to play with? Maybe so. Last winter, I traded for Yasmani Grandal in my standard 15-team, two-catcher dynasty league, but that was mostly because he was on the block, and I have a good trade history with the team who was selling him.
I do think that’s the play though: treating catchers a little like we treat pitchers. If you’re going to invest, do it at the big league level. Buy catchers who are producing now. I love Adley Rutschman and Gabriel Moreno, but you can probably get Willson Contreras for quite a bit less than those two would cost today. It’s counter-intuitive, and it’s more dependent on team context than anything, but veteran catchers become available on a regular basis in dynasty leagues, so I wouldn’t collect more than one or two in my minor league system at a given moment. That’s complicated a bit by the current crop, which is as talented as any group of prospect catchers I’ve ever seen. Let’s check in with the top 20.
One of Rustchman’s defining traits is his K/BB rate, which has always been pretty close to a 1/1 ratio somewhere in the low teens all the way back to his early college days. A 6’2” 220 lb switch hitter, he doesn’t have to work all that hard in the batter’s box. He does incorporate his base into his swing and generates plenty of power, but it’s a relaxed approach right up to the moment of swing-decision. His fast hands let him wait late into each pitch before firing, so it all looks pretty smooth on the field. In 123 games across the top two minor league levels in 2021, Rutschman slashed .285/.397/.502 with 23 HR, 3 SB, 90 strikeouts and 79 walks.
Moreno was carving a path to the big leagues when he was hit by a pitch that broke his thumb. He had slashed .373/.441/.651 with 8 HR in 32 games at AA to that point. He’s not a big dude, listed at 5’11” 160 lbs (he’s bigger than that), but Moreno generates loud contact to all fields thanks to extreme control of a quick swing powered by quick-twitch, rotational athleticism. He’s good on defense, too, which is good for his baseball value but might be a little irritating at times for our purposes, given the team’s depth at that spot and the toll catching can take on a player’s body. I suspect he’ll share the DH/Catcher role with Alejandro Kirk, but he’s a good enough hitter to play anywhere if the Jays want to try him somewhere else.
A rare backstop in that he features plus athleticism and foot-speed, Alvarez will soon stand alone atop minor league catcher mountain after Adley Rutschman joins the Orioles. Alvarez generates easy loft from a strong natural uppercut. After demolishing A ball for 15 games, Alvarez got the quick bump to A+ and struggled a bit before surging to finish with 22 HR and 6 SB in 84 games. That’ll play. His 12/24.6 BB/K rate ain’t too shabby either, especially considering he was 3.9 years younger than his average competitor
Nobody enhanced their prospect profile more than MJ Melendez, who cut his strikeout rate by an astounding 18 percentage points and led the minor leagues in home runs. His ability to let the ball travel deep into the zone and blast it to the opposite field is unique among hitters I’ve seen this year, or any year really, and I’m struggling to find a comp for that particular life-hack of his. His 17.4%/21.% BB/K rate in 44 AAA games is dreamy like a Jordan jumper. He hit 13 HR in those 44 games and slashed .293/.413/.620 after blasting 28 HR in 79 AA games. That’s 41 HR in 121 games if you’re counting at home.
Salvy are you okay? Salvy are you okay? Are you okay, Salvy?
Might have some plate appearance hit by, might get struck by, a smooth criminal.
Except not really. The playing time angle here doesn’t worry me at all. Melendez is a solid defensive catcher, so he can spell Perez here or there while playing DH, OF and maybe even some 3B and/or 1B. If you can hit like these catchers in KC, you’ll be in the lineup most days.
5. Henry Davis | Pittsburgh Pirates | 22 | A+ | 2023
Davis found little resistance in his first eight games as a pro, bouncing way up to High-A after two games on the complex. He hit two home runs, swiped a bag and slugged .684 in his first week of full-season ball and figures to open next season at the same level. He’d likely earn a quick jump to AA if he starts hot, and then he’s just some org success away from being an option for us in shallow mixed leagues. Pittsburgh has been aggressive with its premium prospects the past couple years, so the first overall pick in this year’s draft is probably on a faster path than Adley Rutshmann was coming out of his draft year.
Ruiz has never struck out much but added power in 2021 and posted a drool-inducing .310/.377/.616 slash line and 21 HR along with 30/33 BB/K clip across 101 AAA games. Washington is a cozy place to hit, and Ruiz holds the key to igniting this rebuild. He’s not a piece I’d be trading for in dynasty because I just don’t feel that kind of way about young catchers, especially high priced catchers, but I am interested in Ruiz at the right price in redraft.
I’m pretty down on catching prospects in general, and I’m not unique in that, but Cartaya is an exception to the rule. He’s also an example that kinda proves the rule in that he was probably pretty cheap until the moment before he popped, a little like Gabriel Moreno in early 2021. Cartaya is as much a DH prospect as anything, and that’s not a knock on his defensive skills but a hope that the team will open a path that lets his bat race to the big leagues with the hope that the catching can, umm, catch up later. In 31 A ball games, Cartaya smoked 10 home runs and slashed .298/.409/.614. If I have any worries, they’re about his 6’3” 219 lb build handling a full workload behind the plate, but he wouldn’t be the first big catcher to make it work, and being on deep Dodger teams with the DH option should help sustain him.
Soderstrom is a smooth-swinging, left-handed hitting catcher at 6’2” 200 lbs. A first-round pick in 2020 (26th overall), Soderstrom’s debut season could not have gone much better. If he hadn’t wound up injured in August, he was on track to finish up in High-A at 19. In 57 games at Low-A, he slashed .306/.390/.568 with 12 HR and 2 SB and struck out 24 percent of the time. It’s all sunshine and rainbows on offense, but defense is a question mark. I can’t see much reason for the club to let him remain behind the plate, especially with a back issue already at 19, so that sets him up to learn some other spots while the bat carries the profile, and that’s a risky proposition as you don’t want him to focus so much on defense that his offense stops progressing. For now, he’ll probably stay at catcher because the team likes him there, and the industry values that position, but the clock is ticking on that, and I think he’d be better off freeing up his body by switching to left field.
In 81 games at AAA, Campusano slashed .295/.365/.541 with 15 HR and a stolen base. He didn’t hit in 11 games in the big leagues (.088/.184/.088), but that’s not uncommon for young catchers getting into the grind of major league game-calling. A lot of young backstops will be filterning into the redraft pool in 2022, but if you miss out on Adley Rutschman or Gabriel Moreno or Keibert Ruiz, you might be able to snag a freebie flier in Campusano, who’s topside is comparable to the top tier. I’m a little worried about the length of his swing, but he’s always been young for his level of competition, and he’s an elite athlete with double-plus strength. It feels important to note that he had a barren first month that skewed his final AAA line. In the 56 games he played there after June 6, Campusano slashed .332/.395/.643 with 14 HR.
When Buster Posey announced his retirement, the clouds parted for Bart like he’d just opened an episode of The Simpsons. “The Caaatcherrrrs.” Whole lotta good young ones coming our way in 2022, which could keep Bart in the room until late in your drafts, scribbling away on the ADP chalkboard “I will never pay for catching.” And fair enough. A 6’2” 238 lb bear/human hybrid, Bart can hit the ball a long way to any part of the park. He can also swing and miss a lot. The Giants have one of the best hitting coach crews in baseball, and Bart kept his K-rate just under 30 percent (29.4) in 67 AAA games last year, so I’m not as worried about the whiff factor here as I would be for someone playing a different position in a different uniform.
11. Harry Ford | Seattle Mariners | 19 | CPX | 2025
A hyper-athletic catcher with double-plus speed, Ford could play just about anywhere in the field, but the team will keep him behind the plate as long as possible. He’s not a star defender back there, and I’d rather see him in centerfield, but the org is loaded with outfielders at the lower levels, and I’m not sure they take Ford 12th overall unless viewing him as a catcher all the way. His plus power and hit tools played up right away at the complex site, where Ford slashed .291/.400/.582 with 3 HR and 3 SB in 19 games. I think he’s settled into the top ten for most first-year-player drafts this winter.
The only stank in the soup so far is a 32.4 percent strikeout rate across 38 games in High-A, but aside from that, all’s well on the Austin Wells front. The 2020 first round pick (28th overall), Wells is a stocky left handed hitter at 6’2” 228 lbs who employs a short stroke that helped him slash .264/.390/.476 in 2021. He’s fleeter afoot than the typical catcher, as evidenced in his 16/16 season in 103 games across two levels. Might have a position switch in his future if the club decides to set the bat free, but that might only happen as a domino effect of the club acquiring an established long-term catcher.
William Contreras was not great as a rookie (.210/.294/.382), but catchers rarely are. He’s still ahead of Langeliers on timeline, but I think the latter will establish himself as the club’s long-term catcher sometime soon. Langeliers showed he could get very hot on the home run front at times in 2021, making him an intriguing option in the final rounds of draft and hold leagues heading into 2022, when he’ll open the season at AAA after posting 22 bombs and a 128 wRC+ across 92 games at AA this season.
There’s guys who figure something out, and then there’s Yainer Diaz. He was sent to High-A Asheville shortly after being acquired from Cleveland for Myles Straw. There, Diaz became Vlad Junior for a month. In 25 games at the new level, Diaz hit 11 home runs and slashed .396/.438/.781 with just 17 strikeouts (16.2%). That’s a big-time hitter’s environment, but if Diaz picks up anywhere close to where he left off, people will start taking his consistently positive outcomes a little more seriously. More likely he returns to his free-swinging, light-contact ways, but Houston seems to be communicating something well if the early returns are any indication.
Spent the stretch run playing a lot of outfield because the bat appears ready to race, and with Henry Davis ahead of him, the team has less incentive to wait for Rodriguez’s defense to reach MLB level, which I think it would and still might if the Pirates want to keep that option. He’s a plus athlete, and if he’s allowed to shag flies full time, we might even see the speed tick up a notch. In 98 games, the 6’ 170 lb switch hitter slashed .294/.380/.512 while carrying an impressive 11.5%/17.7% BB/K rate.
Lee is a first-round pick who covered three levels in 2021, slashing .273/.340/.438 with 11 HR and 4 SB in 88 games. So here we have a catcher who’s outcomes haven’t been especially loud even when he was excellent for 29 games at High-A, slashing .330/.397/.459 with 3 HR and 1 SB. No matter how I think he’s got more perceived value than RHP Alex Santos, SS Cristian Gonzalez or Tyler Whitaker, all of whom could easily have more value than Lee this time next year. Keep Gonzalez on speed dial for an early glow-up, by the way.
The 35th overall pick in 2020, Romo is a 6’1” 205 lb switch hitter who played incredibly well in Low-A. I left him off the Rockies top ten list, but that might’ve been a mistake born from panning for Coors Field gold. In 79 games, Romo slashed .314/.345/.439 with 6 HR and 23 SB along with a 5.6%/14.7% BB/K rate. He’s also a plus athlete who’s smooth and gifted as a receiver.
18. Jeferson Quero | Milwaukee Brewers | 19 | CPX | 2024
Would be much higher on a “real-baseball” list. Gets dropped a little for time (no fun waiting half a decade on a catcher) and position here, but that could be a mistake sooner than later, especially as the real baseball rankers start sliding him up their lists. He’s got a good chance to get the Francisco Alvarez treatment around mid-season next year if he continues to walk (14.5%) more than he strikes out (12%) while generally smashing face in the lower minors (.309/.434/.500 with 2 HR and 4 SB in 23 games).
Had some fun Chris Farley thoughts while writing this blurb. “Quit playin with your Dingey!” Good times. Man, do we lose some talented humans young. Anywho, this talented young human stands (squats, mostly) 6’3”, weighs 210 pounds, and plays baseball right handed.
The grind of this 30-team quest is getting to me, dear readers. 227 player profiles once I’m done with Dillon’s. I’m sorry this is happening in your boy’s paragraph, family Dingler.
Existential check-in acknowledged and temporarily in the rear view mirror, we press on. Dingler ripped 12 dongs in 85 games across three levels in 2021 but struggled in AA, slashing .202/.264/.314 in 50 games. He played well enough in High-A to warrant continued optimism, but he could be on a long, slow road to fringe fantasy relevance.
Marchan filled in when JT Realmuto was dinged up in 2021, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022, especially if the universal DH makes its highly anticipated return to the league. A short (5’9”) switch-hitting catcher with solid contact skills, Marchan hasn’t hit much in his baseball life, but he’s always been young for the level and held his own while providing good defense behind the dish. He makes the back of this list because he’s a high probability major leaguer, and this organization doesn’t have many of those.
Thanks for reading!
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