MLB Position Power Rankings for Every Team's Projected Catchers
After three years with the San Diego Padres, four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and a one-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, Yasmani Grandal will make his American League debut with the Chicago White Sox as the No. 1 catcher in our preseason power rankings.
Granted, a big part of that decision was rooted in the fact that his backup (James McCann) is much better/more established than the backups for any of the other viable candidates for the top spot. But one could reasonably put Grandal ahead of the likes of J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez without giving any thought to the depth charts.
Grandal was easily the top catcher on the move this offseason, but he was far from the only one. Travis d'Arnaud will be taking Brian McCann's spot in Atlanta. Omar Narvaez hit 22 home runs in Seattle before getting traded to Milwaukee. Robinson Chirinos is back with the Texas Rangers after one season with the Houston Astros. Several other starting jobs changed hands as well.
This isn't a ranking of the best catchers for fantasy baseball, where home runs and stolen bases reign supreme. We also considered batting average, on-base percentage and fielding.
These rankings primarily rely on perceived value of each team's projected starter, but depth at catcher (or lack thereof) was also a small factor that bumped some teams up or down a few spots.
30. Tony Wolters, Colorado Rockies
Wolters is respectable on the defensive side. He might be a top-15 catcher in that regard. But no one is mistaking him for Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez or one of the Molina brothers, and he's nowhere near good enough at the plate to provide value there. Despite playing home games at Coors Field over the past four seasons, he has just seven home runs in 1,123 plate appearances.
Backup Elias Diaz is hardly a potential upgrade. He has a career FanGraphs WAR of negative-1.0. At least he had a 10-homer year with the Pirates in 2018, though, so maybe he could win the job in due time.
29. Sean Murphy/Austin Allen, Oakland Athletics
Oakland has three catchers on its 40-man roster. Between Murphy, Allen and Jonah Heim, the A's catchers have a total of 131 career plate appearances in the majors. Kind of difficult to know what to expect here.
Murphy did hit four home runs as a September call-up, though, and Allen hit 65 home runs over the past three seasons in San Diego's farm system—while batting .296, no less. Oakland might have an impressive lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, or it might have a pair of rookies who struggle to adjust to the majors.
28. Jacob Stallings, Pittsburgh Pirates
It's possible that Stallings is a late bloomer and that 2019 was the start of something. He didn't record his first career MLB home run until last year at the age of 29, but he hit six of them in 210 plate appearances with not-great-not-terrible marks of .262 in batting average and .325 in OBP. He also threw out 8-of-20 (40 percent) attempted base stealers and picked off three others.
27. Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds
Barnhart has some pop in his bat, and he at least used to have a decent cannon behind the plate. He has hit double-digit home runs in each of the last two seasons, and he won the NL Gold Glove in 2017 while throwing out 44 percent of would-be base stealers.
He was below the league average in caught-stealing percentage in both 2018 and 2019, though. And despite reaching double-digit homers in both years, he only averaged one home run for every 42.2 plate appearances. Combine that with a career .250 batting average, and there's not much to get excited about.
26. Pedro Severino, Baltimore Orioles
After sputtering through the various levels of the Washington Nationals organization for eight years, Severino crossed a DMV border and had a decent year with the O's. He batted .249 with 13 home runs and even stole three bases, tying for seventh-most among backstops in 2019 in the swipes department.
However, even in his best season to date, he wasn't better than a replacement level player by much. And backup Chance Sisco wasn't any better.
It bears mentioning that the Orioles took Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. He is their catcher of the not-too-distant future. But there's no reason to rush him to the majors to play for what should be the worst team in the AL East for a fourth consecutive year.
25. Austin Romine, Detroit Tigers
Romine spent the past four years on the wrong end of a catcher platoon with the Yankees, but he should be the main man in his new threads in Detroit. He's a career .239/.281/.366 hitter, though the Tigers are hoping he provides a repeat of last year's .281/.310/.439 campaign. In FanGraphs WAR since the start of 2018, Romine ranks 22nd among the 34 catchers with at least 500 plate appearances.
Eric Haase may have something to say about this being Romine's job to lose, though. He's not a guy who hits for average, but Haase swatted 76 home runs over the past three seasons—all but one of them at either the Double-A or Triple-A level in Cleveland's farm system.
24. Danny Jansen/Reese McGuire, Toronto Blue Jays
Jansen and McGuire had a combined FanGraphs WAR of 2.6 last season, which is borderline top-10 as far as teamwide production from the catcher position is concerned.
The problem is each one has shortcomings. Jansen hit 13 home runs and was a plus on defense, but he only batted .207. McGuire was better in the average department (.299), but he wasn't much of a slugger throughout his minor league career (22 home runs in 2,239 plate appearances). He does have seven dingers in 138 MLB plate appearances, but we'll see if he can maintain a rate anywhere close to that over the long haul.
23. Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers
Chirinos is aging more gracefully than most catchers. He'll turn 36 in June, but he has hit at least 17 home runs in each of the last three seasons. Also, all four of his career stolen bases came during that window.
But he's not hitting well enough to be a DH, and he has become a significant liability behind the plate. Chirinos allowed 98 stolen bases over the past two years with a caught stealing percentage of just 15.5.
If he hits 17 home runs again, allowing roughly one stolen base every two games won't be the end of the world. If he starts to regress, though, Texas' backup is an even older Jeff Mathis (37) who has a career batting average of .195 and hasn't hit more than two home runs in a season since 2013.
22. Jason Castro, Los Angeles Angels
Castro was an All-Star in 2013, hitting 18 home runs and batting .276/.350/.485.
He's still providing value on an annual basis but not nearly as much.
Castro has clubbed at least 10 home runs in five of the past six seasons; however, he has a .220 batting average with a strikeout rate just north of 30 percent. His impact on defense peaked in 2015 and 2016, and he wasn't a significant threat in 2019 to throw out base stealers or to pounce out from behind the plate on bunts and dribblers.
The Angels didn't get anything from their stable of catchers last year, though, so they signed this veteran free agent to a one-year deal for almost $7 million.
21. Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like Pittsburgh's Jacob Stallings, Kelly didn't hit his first four-bagger until this past season. But he mashed 18 of them in 365 plate appearances. He also displayed solid plate discipline, drawing walks in 13.2 percent of PAs. (Worth noting that 10 of his 48 bases on balls were intentional, as he spent most of his time batting eighth in the NL.)
Prior to last season, he had a career batting average of .154 and a .188 slugging percentage in three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. With any luck, his second season in Arizona will look much more like 2019 than 2016-18.
Should Kelly falter, though, Stephen Vogt is a solid backup, and Daulton Varsho is waiting in the wings as a highly regarded prospect who hit .301/.378/.520 with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases in Double-A ball last year.
20. Martin Maldonado, Houston Astros
Maldonado has never been much of a hitter. He batted .213 last year, and that lowered his career average ever so slightly from .220 to .219. There are 113 catchers with at least 500 plate appearances over the past decade, and Maldonado ranks next-to-last in offense rating on FanGraphs.
He has been one of the most valuable catchers on defense, though. He won a Gold Glove in 2017, and he arguably should've won it the following year too, when he threw out 49 percent of attempted base thieves.
Unfortunately, 2019 was his worst defensive year. Whether it was a blip or a sign of late-career regression remains to be seen, but it's not promising. Nor is Maldonado's backup, Dustin Garneau, who has a career FanGraphs WAR of negative-0.3.
19. Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays
Like Maldonado, Zunino is an obvious asset behind the plate and a big question mark at the dish.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Zunino has the fifth-best FanGraphs defense rating among catchers, as well as a .201 batting average. You can stomach his constant flirtation with the Mendoza Line when he's hitting 20-plus home runs, like he did in 2014, 2017 and 2018. But he took a huge step backward in 2019, only hitting nine home runs while batting a career-low .165.
If that version of Zunino shows up again—especially now that Travis d'Arnaud is no longer on the Tampa Bay roster—this could get ugly. But we're keeping the Rays well outside of our bottom five by choosing to believe the man with more than 100 career home runs will remember how to hit them to some extent in 2020.
18. Wilson Ramos, New York Mets
There was a time during his tenure with the Nationals when Ramos was at least serviceable on defense. At this point, however, he's a black hole. There were 94 bases stolen against Ramos last year. The next-highest mark in the past four seasons was 76 against Derek Norris in 2016. Ramos only threw out 15 percent of base-stealers, allowed 10 passed balls and committed seven other errors.
At least he can still hit.
Dating back to the start of the 2016 season, Ramos is batting .294/.346/.463 with 62 home runs—one for every 27.2 plate appearances. He was an All-Star in two of those seasons because of his bat, and he's at least worthy of a spot in the top 20 as long as he continues to get on base and drive in runs.
17. Tom Murphy, Seattle Mariners
From 2015 to '18, Murphy hit .286 with 47 home runs in Triple-A. But he typically struggled when the Colorado Rockies called him up, batting .219 with 10 homers in the majors. They finally gave up and waived him last March, which worked out swimmingly for Seattle after it acquired him via a trade with the San Francisco Giants.
Murphy batted .273/.324/.535 with 18 home runs, averaging one round-tripper for every 15.6 plate appearances. He struck out a ton (31 percent), but that's of small concern given his slugging and his above-average ability to catch guys stealing.
Despite playing in just 76 games, he ranked fifth in FanGraphs WAR among catchers at 3.2. We'll see how he fares with Omar Narvaez out of the picture, though. Murphy batted .347 against lefties and .211 against righties in 2019, and he'll be facing more righties now that he's the primary starter.
16. Jorge Alfaro, Miami Marlins
Alfaro's numbers don't jump off the page, but he's a solid, durable middle-tier catcher. He has logged 1,842 innings behind the plate over the past two seasons—good for seventh-most during that time—batting .262 each year and hitting a total of 28 home runs.
It's hard to fathom how he ranked top-10 in FanGraphs defense for those two years, though, considering he committed 22 errors and allowed 21 passed balls.
And when Alfaro needs the occasional day off, Francisco Cervelli is a mighty fine backup with a career FanGraphs WAR of 17.8.
15. Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals
Both Gomes and Suzuki have hit at least a dozen home runs in each of the last three seasons. They had a fairly even split last year, combining for 29 home runs and 106 RBI. Hard to argue with that type of production from the catcher's spot.
Neither is great on defense, though. Gomes is decent, but Suzuki has allowed a staggering 784 stolen bases in his 13-year career, including at least 42 in each of the last 12 seasons. He only caught five of 50 base stealers (10 percent) in 2019 and has been below the league average in that category for seven consecutive years.
They're also both getting up there in age. Gomes will turn 33 in July; Suzuki 37 in October. They have been impressively durable thus far, but you always worry about catchers in their mid-to-late 30s. Better hope Raudy Read is ready for the call if it comes. He did hit 20 home runs in 82 Triple-A games last year.
14. Roberto Perez, Cleveland Indians
Perez had a remarkable breakout year in 2019. After batting .205 and slugging .340 with 21 home runs in his first 295 games (over five seasons) in the big leagues, he exploded for 24 home runs, batting .239 and slugging .452. He also won the American League's Gold Glove, throwing out 20 of 49 base stealers (41 percent) and not allowing a single passed ball.
Now comes the real test: Doing it again.
The batting average is the biggest variable here. Even if he tails off a bit in the home run department, a .240 hitter with a great glove is worth keeping in the lineup often. But he hit .183 in 2016 and .168 in 2018, which was a big reason why he hadn't played in more than 73 games until this past season. A return to that level of (in)efficiency would be a major problem, considering the primary backup (Sandy Leon) hit below .200 in four of the past six seasons.
13. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Perez is a six-time All Star who has won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. Though his batting average has taken a nosedive since he hit .331 as a rookie, he has recorded 27 home runs in each of his last two seasons. Under normal circumstances, he'd be an easy choice for the top 10, maybe even the top five.
However, Perez missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
You often hear about pitchers getting that procedure, but it's not common for position players. And guys like Corey Seager and Didi Gregorius were nowhere near as effective in their first year post-TJ. A good chunk of Perez's value lies in his ability to gun down base stealers too, which may or may not be mitigated now.
Moreover, neither Cam Gallagher nor Meibrys Viloria demonstrated anything last season to suggest that the Royals would be fine if either one is forced into duty. If he looks like he did in 2018, awesome. If not, this might be a bottom-five catcher situation.
12. Francisco Mejia/Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Mejia is arguably the catcher most likely to have a breakout year in 2020.
He was a good hitter throughout the minors. He batted slightly better than .340 in 2016, hit .297 in 2017, .293 in 2018 and .365 last year before coming up for good. And while his first 72 games (over three seasons) in the majors weren't great, he hit .327 with five home runs in his final 39 games.
From July 21 through August 16, he hit 26-of-59 (.441) and had an OPS of 1.137. So, the breakout already sort of happened. Now we're just waiting to see if he can sustain it.
If he struggles again, at least Hedges isn't a bad Plan B. He has been rated as one of the best defensive catchers in each of the past three seasons, hitting a total of 43 home runs during that time. The career .201 batting average is more than a little concerning, but he has been giving the Padres decent value in spite of that eyesore.
11. Omar Narvaez, Milwaukee Brewers
The 2019 power surge was kind to a lot of players, not the least of whom was Narvaez.
During his three years with the White Sox, he was always a good hitter but definitely more for average than for distance. He batted between .267-.277 each year and hit a total of 12 home runs in 734 plate appearances. That's one for every 61.2 trips to the plate.
In his lone season with the Mariners, he maintained a good average (.278) while spiking to 22 home runs, hitting one in every 21.9 plate appearances. As far as offense is concerned, that's basically what J.T. Realmuto has done for the past three seasons to become one of the best in the business.
Narvaez needs to improve on defense, though. Last year, he only caught 13 of 71 attempted base stealers.
10. Travis d'Arnaud/Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves
Flowers had an almost perfect 50-50 split with Brian McCann in 2019, and the same could be true this year with d'Arnaud.
Flowers has had an excellent defensive rating throughout his career. How he managed that in 2016 while throwing out just three of 63 base stealers (4.8 percent) is a mystery, but he has appeared in at least 80 games in seven consecutive seasons in large part because of his value added to the pitching staff.
He also hit at least eight home runs in each of those years, so it's not like he's only there for his pitch-framing skills.
The Braves signed d'Arnaud more for his bat. He hit 16 home runs last year, as well as in 2017. And while he has never been a .300 hitter, he has been above .240 in every season in which he played at least 32 games.
Neither half of this platoon has ever been an All-Star or won a Gold Glove, but it should be another solid year for "Braves Catcher."
9. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Are we living in the past by putting Posey at No. 9 (and Yadier Molina at No. 8)? Maybe a little bit. But aside from Tommy John-compromised Salvador Perez, there aren't any great candidates outside of the top seven. The choice was either unproven guys with one good year or a couple of veterans with all sorts of career accolades. And the latter makes more sense.
In his heyday, Posey was the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, 2012 NL MVP, a six-time All Star, a batting champ and a four-time Silver Slugger. There was a four-year stretch (2012-15) in which he hit .315/.381/.490 and averaged 20 home runs and just under 90 RBI per season.
Flash forward to 2019, and you have an older guy who batted .257/.320/.368 with seven home runs while trying to battle back from season-ending hip surgery the previous summer. Posey is still considerably better than a replacement-level player but not to the ridiculous degree that he was in his prime. We're not expecting a 20-homer campaign, but maybe he'll bounce back a bit.
If not, at least the Giants have a solid insurance plan in Joey Bart. No. 14 overall in MLB's prospect rankings for 2020, Bart was the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft and is quickly working his way through the minor league levels. At the end of last season, he was batting .316/.368/.544 in 22 games of Double-A ball.
8. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
If and when it gets underway, this will be Molina's 17th season in the majors, and he still isn't showing that much wear and tear.
His game-changing impact on defense has waned a bit, but he's still well above average and at least resembles a nine-time Gold Glove award winner—and nine-time All-Star.
Same goes for his offense. He's no longer the guy who hit .315 with 22 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 2012, but .270 with 10 blasts and six swipes at the age of 36 wasn't too shabby. As long as he doesn't take another large step backward in 2020, he should be a top 10-ish catcher yet again.
Matt Wieters is quite the footnote too. He is nowhere near what he used to be in the early 2010s, but how many teams in MLB history can say their backup catcher was a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove recipient?
7. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
After that brief hiatus to pay respect to some elders, it's back to dudes under the age of 30 who suddenly started mashing the ball in 2019.
Vazquez hit 10 home runs in 999 MLB plate appearances from 2014-18. That's one home run for every 99.9 trips to the plate. But last year, he had 23 home runs at a rate of one for every 22.7 plate appearances. He was particularly hot around the All-Star break. From June 14 through July 12, he hit .342 with eight home runs in 18 games.
Some of the guys who had spikes in slugging percentages last year at least showed glimpses of that power in the minors. But Vazquez hadn't hit more than seven home runs in a calendar year since 2011. Including all minor league production, he had a total of 20 home runs from 2013-18. So, yeah, the likelihood of a power outage is worth considering. (He has been an excellent defensive catcher, though.)
6. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
Gary Sanchez led all MLB catchers with 34 home runs last year, but Smith hit 20 at Triple-A and 15 more in the big leagues. While we're not trying to say Smith is the true Silver Slugger of yesteryear, it does bear mentioning that he can rake as well as anyone at this position.
Smith also proved himself to be adequate in the field, not committing a single error in 45 starts at catcher with the Dodgers.
Putting a guy with basically two months of MLB experience at No. 6 was not an easy decision, though, especially since his backup (Austin Barnes) is a career .229 hitter with minimal power (17 homers). Smith is a sophomore slump away from leaving the Dodgers up a creek without a paddle.
But does his limited experience make him that much different from guys like Christian Vazquez, Omar Narvaez and Mitch Garver, who did nothing with their first few years in the big leagues before breaking out in 2019? Guess we'll find out this summer.
5. Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins
There are power surges, and then there's Garver.
Minnesota's catcher led the majors in ISO (slugging minus batting average) in 2019, narrowly edging out Mike Trout with a rating of .357. But while Trout is always in that vicinity, Garver was nowhere near the ballpark before that.
In 2018, his ISO was a much more modest .146. That's because—though his batting average only went up five points from .268 to .273—his slugging percentage skyrocketed from .414 to .630. After hitting seven home runs in 302 at-bats, he vaulted to 31 home runs in 311 at-bats.
But, please, keep telling us the ball didn't change.
If this is Garver's new normal, we're probably underselling him at No. 5. He was No. 3 among catchers in FanGraphs WAR (3.9) in 2019, and he was still heating up at the end of the year, hitting eight home runs in his final 19 regular-season games.
And in case of emergency, the Twins could do much worse than backup Willians Astudillo. He doesn't have a ton of MLB experience, but he has hit .314 across all levels of baseball since the start of 2010.
4. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
At the plate, there's no question Contreras is a top-five guy. Even with a bit of a slump in 2018, he's hitting .267/.350/.470 and has 67 home runs in his four-year career. He was an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, and he is clearly the second-best candidate (behind J.T. Realmuto) to represent the NL in 2020.
His glove/arm is another story.
Contreras has committed 27 throwing errors over the last three seasons, which is alarmingly high. There are 21 catchers who have logged at least 2,000 innings since the start of 2017, and he is tied with Gary Sanchez for the worst fielding percentage in that club.
And Sanchez hits more home runs than Contreras, so he edges him out in these rankings in spite of that draw in the fielding futility category. (Sanchez does allow significantly more passed balls, though.)
If Contreras becomes even more of a liability on defense, the Cubs may need to get creative. You want his bat in the lineup, but there's a cost trade-off at some point.
3. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
As just discussed, Sanchez is a far cry from a human vacuum behind the plate. Not only has he committed 37 errors and allowed 47 passed balls in the past four years, but his ability to throw out base stealers has also plummeted. He had a caught-stealing percentage of 41 in his rookie year. That has quickly matriculated down to 23.
But he has career 162-game averages of 46 home runs and 114 RBI, more than making up for the occasional extra base allowed. The only catchers who had more total bases than Sanchez (208) in 2019 were J.T. Realmuto (265), Yasmani Grandal (240) and Christian Vazquez (230)—and those guys each played in at least 30 more games than Sanchez.
If the Yankees had another viable option at catcher, they could consider at least occasionally putting Sanchez at DH to get his bat without the cost of his glove. However, the only other catcher on the roster is Kyle Higashioka, who has a career batting average of .164 in 56 games. The Yanks are probably better off living with the errors.
2. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
Realmuto just keeps getting better every year.
He has hit at least .275 in each of the last four seasons, but his home runs went 11, 17, 21 and 25, his slugging climbed from .428 to .451 to .484 to .493, and his FanGraphs WAR has ticked up from 2.1 to 5.7.
He has made major strides on defense too, culminating in a Gold Glove last season. He terminated 47 percent of stolen-base attempts last year. Players just kept trying to run on him, though. He threw out 43 would-be thieves, 16 more than the next-closest catcher. (Yasmani Grandal had 27.)
Realmuto has also been impressively durable, averaging 121.2 starts at catcher over the past five years. Only Yadier Molina has him beat in that category (126.8).
Were it not for the depth chart (more on that in a moment), he likely would've been the pick for No. 1.
1. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
Realmuto vs. Grandal is basically a stalemate. Both guys are likely to hit around 25 home runs. Realmuto does it with a better batting average, but Grandal has been operating at a high level for a few years longer. The former finished 14th in the NL MVP vote last year; the latter (when he was with the Brewers) finished 15th. Too close to call.
But as far as backups go, we'll take Grandal's (James McCann) over Realmuto's (Andrew Knapp) every day and twice on Sunday. McCann batted .273 and hit 18 home runs last year. Knapp has hit .223 with nine home runs over the course of his three-year career.
It will be interesting to see how Grandal and McCann coexist, though. Both have played in at least 105 games in each of the last five seasons. They combined for 271 games in 2019. Hell, they were both All-Stars in 2019. And it's not like first base or DH is open with Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion on the roster.
But it's kind of funny that we're lamenting the White Sox having too many quality options. Two years ago, they had one of the most anemic offenses in the majors, and now—provided all four stay healthy—they'll have to decide which of the four former All-Stars comes off the bench on a nightly basis.