Arguably the hardest part of fantasy drafts is deciding where to make sacrifices. It’s impossible to draft an elite player at every position and picking the best spots for trade-offs is imperative. At each position, there are players that go later than their peers that could end up producing at a similar level. Nailing down those later-round ADP jackpots can be the driving force behind a league-winning roster.
Of course, there is a reason why players that could provide value better than their draft position have fallen to where they are. There may be injury or playing time risks, or the players could be coming off of down 2022 campaigns. Most of the time, they simply haven’t performed as consistently as the top names at their position. Despite the red flags, these catchers have the ability to outproduce their ADPs and allow earlier picks to be put to better use.
Note: The NFBC ADPs listed are from March 1st through the publish date.
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Exploiting Catcher ADP in 2023
The catcher position is different in NFBC leagues due to the two-catcher format. This causes ADPs to be slightly inflated, but they still follow the same trend as most other formats. The top two catchers this season, J.T. Realmuto and Daulton Varsho, are mostly unanimous. They both provide a rare blend of power and speed behind the plate, making them worth the inflated ADP. However, just behind them is Will Smith, whose value could be matched later.
This isn’t a knock on Smith; he’s consistently been one of the best catchers in baseball since his breakout debut in 2019. He’s hit at least 24 homers with 145 runs + RBI and an OPS over .800 in each of the last two seasons. Entering his age-28 campaign, his ADP is perfectly reasonable, especially in two-catcher formats. That being said, with his ADP of 53.5, this pick could be used on an ace, a stud closer, or another top-tier hitter.
Smith isn’t particularly elite in any category, even if his final stat line always looks strong for the position. The Dodgers’ lineup isn’t as lethal as it was now that Trea Turner is gone, which will somewhat dampen his runs and RBI totals. There are other catchers that can provide enough value in the later rounds to mimic Smith’s production, even if the overall lines don’t look as sparkly. Another hitter taken in this range of the draft paired alongside a later catcher with upside could be the way to go.
William Contreras – ADP: 105.3
William Contreras does everything that you want a slugger to do. He was in the 75th percentile or better in several categories last season, including both average and max exit velocities, barrel and hard hit rates, and xWOBA. He broke out in 2022 with 20 homers, 96 combined runs and RBI, and an .860 OPS through 376 plate appearances. Now, the 25-year-old is in a better situation that should boost his numbers.
Contreras was acquired by the Brewers this offseason. He’s now in a more hitter-friendly park and, while the lineup isn’t as good as Atlanta’s, he should be featured prominently in the middle of the order. American Family Field ranks eighth with a 112 home run factor for right-handed hitters while Truist Park was just below the average at 98. With that improvement, there’s reason to believe he can maintain a similar home run pace in 2023.
As seen in his Savant data, Contreras does have some swing-and-miss issues. He was near the bottom of the league in both whiff and strikeout rates. This was especially noticeable against breaking balls as he whiffed 42.6% of the time while registering a .223 xWOBA against them. Contreras isn’t a great defensive catcher but he doesn’t have much competition, so it shouldn’t hurt his playing time.
Sean Murphy – ADP: 108.4
The Braves shipped Contreras to Milwaukee in the same deal that brought Sean Murphy to Atlanta. Murphy hit 18 homers with 133 combined runs and RBI and a .759 OPS in an ugly Athletics lineup last season. Now, he’s lined up to hit in the heart of the Braves’ order, providing an immediate boost to his counting stats. Plus, his .812 OPS on the road suggests that there’s a higher level for him to reach outside of Oakland.
His average exit velocity leaves something to be desired but his 73rd-percentile barrel rate could help boost that. He also strikes out at a higher rate than average but it’s nothing too egregious. The 28-year-old posted an .811 second-half OPS, in part due to his improved BABIP and lowered strikeout rate. Murphy slashed .315/.400/.541 with 23 extra-base hits through 50 games in July and August. He also cut his strikeout rate from 25.4% in 2021 to 20.3% in 2022.
As mentioned with Contreras, Atlanta isn’t exactly a hitter-friendly spot, but it’s much better than Murphy’s prior home park. Oakland Coliseum has the worst home run and overall park factors for right-handed hitters. Now in a park that’s roughly average, he should find better results in the power department. Combine that with the improved lineup and Murphy could post similar numbers to Smith with a slightly lower OPS.
Gabriel Moreno – ADP: 216.8
Being the 16th catcher drafted on average, Gabriel Moreno carries a pretty high floor as a deeper option. He’s shown an elite hit tool throughout his professional career, including during his brief time in the MLB last season with a .319 average. Moreno has the second-highest batting average projection on Steamer with a .273. First on that list is Alejandro Kirk, who is being drafted over 100 picks ahead of him.
The main indictment against Moreno right now is his playing time. One would assume that he’d get a majority of the playing time after he was the main piece of the Daulton Varsho return this offseason. However, Carson Kelly is still in the mix and could eat away at Moreno’s plate appearances. Moreno also doesn’t have the power potential like the others on this list, but that can be made up for throughout the draft. That lack of power caps his fantasy value, but it’s rare to see an elite average from this position.
Moreno should perform well enough to maintain a bigger portion of the action in Arizona. At just 23 years old, he’s obviously a great long-term play and 2023 could be his full-season breakout. Spring training results aren’t to be taken too seriously, but he’s already knocked two home runs in 19 plate appearances. If Moreno can tap into any of that power during the regular season, he’ll far outperform his ADP. However, his low pull and barrel rates plus his high ground-ball rate make that an optimistic wish.
Finally, a few later options include Keibert Ruiz, Shea Langeliers, and Logan O’Hoppe. Ruiz, like Moreno, should provide a fairly safe floor. He’s one of just two catchers projected by Steamer to hit at least .260 with over 450 plate appearances. Langeliers will take over the everyday catching role in Oakland with Murphy gone and gain catcher eligibility at the beginning of the season. Both he and O’Hoppe hit at least 25 combined homers between the MLB and MiLB levels in 2022.
Are you buying in on these catching alternatives? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!