I think I speak for all baseball fans when I say that we just want baseball. Until then, though, we are left looking forward to a season that is mired with an extreme amount of uncertainty. That being said, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun!
At some point, we will almost certainly have a season this year. Thus, fantasy baseball preparation ought to go on as planned, and drafts are still taking place. No matter how many games are played and when the season starts, we’re still aiming for the main prize- a championship title!
With that in mind, it’s time to analyze how players are going to produce from a fantasy perspective. Usually, to do this, we would rank players based on our intuition and confidence in each player. However, there’s another way to go about this. Personally, my mind works better when working with specific numbers, rather than just looking at one whole big picture.
What do I mean by this? Essentially, there might be less margin for error if we focus more on how a player is going to contribute to each main category, as opposed to what their overall value is there. To help with that, I have created my own projections to help list players in order of expected production. By no means is this an objective projection system, but that is sort of point. Being able to incorporate the context that goes into rankings allows the projection to take into account several important factors, but the overall rating is objectively created based on the value they provide in each category.
What is a Roto Score?
To come up with this, we will be looking at each player’s “roto score”. Essentially, I’ll be taking their 20-80 scale rating of their contributions of the five major hitting categories (average, home runs, RBIs, runs, stolen bases), average them out, and then adjust for position. For batting average, the grade is based on the amount of at-bats the player will have. The better the batting average, the more at-bats you’ll want to have, while the reverse is true for someone with a poor batting average. Thus, we can accurately reflect on how much a hitter’s batting average truly is going to affect your fantasy team.
In simple terms, these are manual projections that combine a subjective touch with some needed objectiveness. Rather than predict their straight-up production in these categories, I projected how they would rate in peripheral categories to come up with the final result:
- Batting Average: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), Strikeout Rate, Balls in Play
- Home Runs: Fly Ball%, Home/Run Fly Ball Rate
- Stolen Bases: Success Rate, Overall Attempts
Projecting playing time, meanwhile, is the impossible task that we, as fantasy baseball managers, need to do. Personally, I took into account previous durability, current status with their team (lineup spot, team success), as well as Fangraphs’ roster resource playing time projections, to come with an accurate plate appearance number. Since we don’t know how many games are going to be played this year, this projection is under the assumption that there is going to be a 162-game season, even if that possibility is highly unlikely.
Without further ado, let us get to the projections! Today, we’ll be focusing on the catcher position. With this position not being particularly deep, there are a lot of supporters for grabbing on one of the top players, especially in two-catcher leagues- a strong catcher could give you the edge. Who stands out as a potential value, and who should you be targeting? Let us find out!
2022 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Projections/Rankings
Is Salvador Perez the undisputed #1 catcher this season? He certainly was last year. Based on Fangraphs’ 5×5 auction values, Perez ($36.6) was twice as valuable as any other catcher last season. Meanwhile, most projection systems have him as the clear-cut #1 catcher.
For most of his career, Perez was a league-average hitter at best. Through 2019, he had a career 97 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), in addition to a modest .266/.297/.442 slash line. From 2020, though, the veteran catcher became a completely different hitter:
- .284/.323/.561, .277 isolated power (ISO), 133 wRC+
Usually, you don’t see a hitter, especially a catcher, become a completely different hitter during his age-30 season. However, it appears that this was an intentional changes. Sometimes, to improve your contact quality, you need to sacrifice contact quantity. Well, that’s exactly what Perez did!
Perez missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which may have sparked this change in approach. Regardless, starting in 2020, he started to whiff at above the league-average rate, but his contact quality took a major step up. Since 2020, he has a 15.8% barrel rate, which has led to a massive increase in his home run/fly ball rate (26.2%). How often does a catcher tie for the league-lead in home runs (48)? Not often.
Now 31-years-old, Perez is at the age where catchers tend to decline, while some may not completely buy into his newly-found power. However, since this was an intentional change, I don’t think why we shouldn’t continue to see Perez set himself apart from the other catchers for at least another year. Even with a step back from last year, he’s still the clear #1 catcher.
|Daulton Varsho||ARI||C, OF||54.78||533||.252||.327||.455||21||73||71||9|
Even with Perez in a tier of his own, the next group of catchers offers significant appeal. JT Realmuto is the established veteran of this group. His power decline (.176 ISO) hampered his value slightly, but he still is in line to steal double-digit bases with an all-around balanced profile.
If you prefer a younger, ascending catcher, though, Will Smith may be your optimal target. He already outperformed Realmuto slightly last season and made waves with 25 home runs and a .237 ISO in 501 plate appearances. He benefits greatly from playing his home games in Dodger Stadium, the most-friendly stadium for right-handed hitter home runs.
In fact, if he had played all of his games at Dodger Stadium, he would have been expected to hit 32 home runs. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if his home run/fly ball rate actually increases this season. Add in the fact that he should be in line for more playing time with the universal designated hitter coming to effect, and there is tremendous upside here.
You might be surprised to see Daulton Varsho rank inside this tier, but I’m quite optimistic about his prospects this season. After a slow start to the season, he started to get everyday playing time in the second half, where he posted a 130 wRC+, a .289/.347/.539 slash line, and a .250 ISO. He’ll have catcher eligibility despite spending a substantial amount of time in the outfield, which should help him tremendously when it comes to accumulating plate appearances and avoiding the wear-and-tear of the catcher position.
Although his 8% barrel rate during that span isn’t overly impressive, it’s enough to portend that he can hit for enough power. After all, he keeps the ball in the air with just a 38.5% ground-ball rate last year, while his 9.2% solid contact rate indicates that he could be in line for extra barrels next year. Add in his speed, and there’s a lot to like here. With him, you’re looking at at least a 20/10 season with a fine enough batting average, he certainly stands out. This may seem bold, but I believe he’s closer to the likes of Realmuto and Smith in terms of fantasy baseball production than he is to the next catchers on this list.
|Tyler Stephenson||CIN||C, 1B||47.33||479||.268||.360||.432||13||62||56||0|
This is a very interesting group between veterans with different skills and young catchers where you want to bank on further development.
Cross-town catchers Willson Contreras and Yasmani Grandal have been grouped together in this draft process, and not just because they play in the same city. They both possess similar power and overall similar fantasy value. Grandal might have more security in the runs and RBI department, but Contreras is likely to produce a better batting average and provide some speed, which gives him the edge in my projections.
Want to take a chance on a young player? Keibert Ruiz may interest you. In Triple-A, he posted a 6.2% swinging-strike rate and 10.4% strikeout rate, which speaks to the 60 to 70-grade hit tools he received from most prospect outlets. Meanwhile, after not hitting for much power throughout his minor-league career, he had a major power breakout with a .306 ISO at Triple-A last year. This came with a 52% fly-ball rate and 49.6% pull rate, which makes it clear that the breakout was due to an intentional approach change. He should be able to hit .270 with close to 20 home runs, which is quite intriguing at a position without much in the way of batting average.
Outside of Daulton Varsho, my personal favorite catcher target is Mitch Garver. He was the fifth catcher being drafted in the NFBC Main Event in 2020, according to rotoholic.com. However, after posting a 41 wRC+ in 81 plate appearances, his stock fell down to the 11th-ranked catcher. This made many believe that his 155 wRC+ season in 2019 was a fluke, but, instead, he got back on track with a .261 ISO and .256/.358/.517 slash line.
If anything, Garver’s 17.4% barrel rate, combined with a 51.4% pull rate, indicates he should have hit more than 13 home runs in 243 plate appearances. According to Baseball Savant, he hit three home runs fewer than expected last season. Minnesota isn’t the most favorable of home parks, but you’d still expect one to two more home runs, especially with his pull tendencies. Even if he’s only good for a .240 batting average, that’s fine at the catcher position, while his power more than makes up for it. Even with just 402 plate appearances, he still projects as a top-eight catcher, which is quite telling on the skills he’s bringing to the table.
|Eric Haase||DET||C, OF||41.12||341||.228||.296||.441||18||40||48||1|
Hopefully, if you play in a one-catcher league, you’ve already secured your catcher by this point. If not, or if you’re in a two-catcher league, buckle up: you are going to have to decide between a flawed player with guaranteed plate appearances or praying that more plate appearances come for Adley Rutschman or Alejandro Kirk.
Rutschman holds significantly more real-life and dynasty value, but, for this season, Kirk is the one I believe to be to have the most upside of the two if he can get enough playing times. Mainly, we’ve already seen him adjust to the major-league level, and do so effectively. In 189 plate appearances last season, he posted an 11% barrel rate with terrific plate discipline numbers (10.1% BB, 11.6% K), which is quite impressive for his first real taste of major-league pitching. Based on his frame (5’8″, 265 pounds) and lackluster defense, there are questions about how much he can catch, but hopefully, he can rack up enough plate appearances as a designated hitter and part-time catcher, whether it’s for the Blue Jays or not. Rutschman is a player we should be extremely excited about for the future, but without guaranteed playing time and no MLB track record, it’s probably best to wait until next year to target him.
It’s hard to trust catchers like Gary Sanchez and Mike Zunino, who each have very low batting average floors. A player like Omar Narvaez, on the other hand, can provide you with a bit more balanced skillset. I’m personally higher on his batting average than the projections, as I see a hitter who has consistently posted high BABIPs based on his contact trajectory, even if his statcast page is suboptimal. Plus, he’s due for some positive regression with his 8.6% home run/fly ball rate, especially in a favorable home ballpark in Milwaukee. It’s not a sexy profile, and you’ll need some boost in the power department, but I’d probably rather take the hit in home runs with Narvaez than the major potential risk in Sanchez and Zunino.
Meanwhile, Max Stassi and Austin Nola are each interesting late-round catchers, especially in a bench spot. Projections are extremely low on Stassi’s BABIP and offense as a whole, but he seems to have found a different gear with the Angels. His barrel rate is over 11% with them, while his expected BABIP actually backs his .325 BABIp last year. Now, expected statistics are descriptive, not predictive, but I do think that Stassi won’t “regress” enough to have zero fantasy appeal, especially if he receives more playing time this year. Nola, on the other hand, dealt with a substantial amount of injuries last season, but had just a 4.9% swinging-strike rate and has some slight untapped power if he can get his contact trajectory back on track. It’s a long shot, but it’s hard to find catchers at the stage of the draft he’s going that won’t hurt you from a batting average perspective.
|Jorge Alfaro||SD||C, OF||37.23||354||.231||.286||.345||6||32||37||7|
By now, I hope you’ve already solidified the catcher position. If not, you’ll be digging DEEP into the barrel.
It’s easy to forget that James McCann was a fringe top-10 catcher in fantasy drafts last year. Unfortunately, his 2019 and 2020 success with the White Sox was largely fueled by a .355 BABIP. Will his 20.2% line-drive rate regress positively, or was the expectation of his BABIP too high to begin with? That will be the question, though there isn’t enough upside to get excited about.
You may be surprised to see Joey Bart rank as low as he did. Yet, I think we’ve been a bit too forgetting of his limited progression. As a 24-year-old in Triple-A, at a time where offense was at an all-time high, Bart struck out 29.4% of the time with a .179 ISO. Reviews about his contact skills and plate discipline aren’t strong, and that backs up with his first cup of coffee at the MLB level (38.6% chase, 34.5% whiff) in 2020. Plus, I’m not sure he’s even guaranteed to receive as much playing time from the Giants as many expect from him. There’s just too low of a floor to draft him as a top-20 catcher.
Here’s hoping MJ Melendez gets more playing time than anticipated this season. The Royals have a crowded situation with Salvador Perez at catcher, Carlos Santana/Nick Pratto at first base, and a lot of options both in the infield and outfield. However, after dominating with a 162 wRC+ and .337 ISO between Double-A and Triple-A last year, the baseball world wants to see what he can do at the MLB level. Do the right thing for our entertainment Kansas City!