Listen, I understand that the catcher position in fantasy baseball is often overlooked, and typically characterized as a position with a dearth of offensive production. To take it a step farther, most tend to punt this position, as the thought process is that I can’t separate myself from the pack with my catcher, so I’ll just grab someone later on. In 2023, the catcher position in fantasy baseball boasts a few excellent fantasy options. We’ll talk about the depth of the position later, but there is some legitimate firepower at the position. There may only be two legitimate game-breakers for fantasy purposes, but this position commands your attention heading into fantasy baseball drafts, especially if your fantasy baseball league makes you start two catchers. You may not see many catchers near the top of many fantasy baseball player rankings, but ADP aside, here are my top five catchers for the 2023 fantasy baseball season.
1) J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
There shouldn’t be any surprise that Realmuto slides in as the top catcher in fantasy baseball for 2023. He’s coming off an impressive 2022 campaign that saw him slash .276/.342/.478 with a career-best 128 wRC+ and he became just the second catcher in MLB history to post a 20/20 season. A strong second half (.307 AVG, .949 OPS) boosted his numbers overall, but at the end of day, we are talking about a legitimate five category producer at fantasy baseball’s weakest offensive position. Also, even if there’s minimal regression, can we take a second and enjoy the upward trajectory his hard hit rate has been over the last handful of years!?
He plays in a great home park, has excellent peripheral numbers, and even without Bryce Harper for a few months, this Philadelphia offense still has plenty of thump in it. Realmuto will hit in the heart of the order for this team, en route to another season of a .260 or better average with 20+ home runs and 15+ stolen bases, making him worthy of being the first catcher off the board in drafts.
2) Daulton Varsho, Toronto Blue Jays
For fantasy purposes, Varsho is an outfielder that we get to play at the catcher spot, which boosts his fantasy value tenfold. Last year, he made 18 starts as a catcher, compared to 103 in the outfield, but regardless, he has catcher eligibility in 2023, and should be a top-three player, at worst, at the position. He broke out for the Diamondbacks in 2022, hitting 27 home runs and stealing 16 bags. He’s an elite dual-threat player at the position, which helps offset his batting average and OBP. Varsho really struggled against left-handers last season, but he doesn’t seem destined for a strict platoon by any means, and his excellent defensive metrics will preserve his regular role in the lineup. He gets a massive lineup and division upgrade, heading to Toronto in the American League East, and Rogers Centre should play favorably to left-handed hitters in 2023.
If Varsho can push his batting average closer to .245-.250, he has a very real chance to push Realmuto for the top catcher spot in fantasy formats, especially if he gets to last year’s 25+ home runs and 15+ stolen bases once again. Varsho may not be the all-around five category producer that Realmuto is, but he’s excellent in four of the five, and has 30 home run upside in his new home park (and division). If you like shooting for the moon, Varsho is the only catcher with 30/20 upside, but I’m not yet ready to push him above Realmuto.
3) Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
While it may be another year or two until it’s official, we aren’t far from definitively stating that Rutschman is the best catcher in Major League Baseball. He excelled in the minors, and in 113 games last year for Baltimore, he slashed .254/.362/.445 with 13 home runs, 70 runs scored, 42 RBI, and a perfect 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts. Of catchers with at least 300 plate appearances in 2022, he posted the second-highest wRC+ (133), and he was one of just three catchers to hit at least .250 with a .350+ OBP and double-digit home runs. He’s well beyond his years from a defensive perspective, and even at such a young age, his power from the left-hand side was on full display (.889 OPS, .223 ISO, 155 wRC+). Perhaps what’s most impressive is that for a rookie, he posted a 96th percentile walk rate, 82nd percentile chase rate, and 69th percentile strikeout rate, showcasing tremendous plate discipline and feel for the strike zone. He may not have the best supporting cast around him in the bigs, but if Baltimore’s offense can exceed expectations, that will only help to boost Rutschman’s counting stats. Overall, the American League East is one of the best divisions for hitters, and I like Rutschman to hit somewhere between .250-.265 with 18-22 home runs and five stolen bases this year.
4) Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
Over the last two seasons, Smith ranks second in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage amongst catchers with at least 500 plate appearances. He’s an elite power bat at the position, and he now has back-to-back seasons with 24 or more home runs, a .258 or better batting average, and an OBP of at least .343. He crushed left-handed pitching last year and he has an excellent feel for the batter’s box. He cooled off as the year went on, as his batting average, strikeout rate, and walk rate went in the wrong direction compared to his first 70-some games of the season. When looking at how the year progressed, it appears that pitchers started to attack him with breaking pitches outside of the zone, and his xBA tanked against breaking stuff.
This is something to watch in the early part of the year, but Smith has displayed a prowess in the batter’s box that leaves me confident that he’ll adjust at the dish. Despite boasting a 53rd percentile sprint speed metric, Smith doesn’t run, and he has just six stolen bases (0 CS) in 358 games with the Dodgers. His lack of stolen bases keep him outside of the top two at the position, but he’ll provide fantasy managers with excellent numbers in every other category. He’s in a good lineup, which certainly helps, and his impending season of 20+ home runs, 80+ RBI, and .255+ batting average should make him the third or fourth catcher off the board.
5) Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays
Another Toronto catcher in the top five? You bet! Toronto’s home park was already slightly better than league average to right-handed hitters, and now the shortened dimensions should help even further. Even if it isn’t a drastic jump, it should give Kirk a few extra home runs nonetheless. The fences are moving in a bit in left-center, and while the wall height is going up a couple feet, Kirk’s pull side power and 78th percentile hard hit rate from last season should shine with the new dimensions. Furthermore, it’s already a great division for hitters, and Kirk is an elite asset in OBP leagues. Kirk has already shown great plate discipline at a young age, and he had more walks than strikeouts last season. His power waned in the second half, largely due to a decrease in his average launch angle, but it rebounded a bit near the end of the season.
Kirk is an elite backstop in terms of his AVG/OBP, and the runs and RBI should be there as he is expected to hit in the heart of the order. He’s locked into an everyday role with the team, and if he can loft the ball a bit more regularly, he could be in store for his first 20-homer season. When you pair that with a .275 or better average and 70+ RBI, it’s easy to get excited about Kirk in 2023, and I’d push him up as high as the fifth catcher off the board.