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Fantasy Baseball Catcher Shuffle Up: Tiered draft rankings

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I’ll confess a hint of melancholy as I present the catcher tiers. It’s not a deep position. It’s almost like the tight-end landscape of fantasy football, and let’s be honest, as much as I like J.T. Realmuto, he’s unlikely to go Kelce on this position.

Shuffle Up Series: Corner Infielders | Middle Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Outfielders | Catchers | Relievers

But every position matters, and you need a playbook as you get ready for those key drafts, so let’s do what we do.

The usual disclaimers: assume a 5x5 scoring system, because we are reasonable people; players at the same salary are considered even.

Tier 1: The Big Tickets

$21 *J.T. Realmuto

$17 Salvador Perez

$16 Will Smith

$16 Willson Contreras

$14 Yasmani Grandal

$13 Travis d'Arnaud

$13 Christian Vazquez

I was unlikely to chase after Realmuto from the jump, but when he busted his thumb in mid-February, that sealed it. The Phillies have been optimistic about his return — which is what we come to expect from teams and players; what else are they going to say? — but this thin position still has enough interesting players for me to ignore Realmuto at his ADP . . .

Perez is going almost 50 slots later in Yahoo ADP, and that seems like a windfall to me. Perez was an injury casualty in 2019, but generally this guy logs a ton of innings, a ton of at-bats, and produces plus average and power. If you’d like to be semi-proactive at this position but don’t want to go full Realmuto, Perez is an ideal target . . .

Grandal is such a modern player, a take-and-rake type who will strike out a fair amount, but the pop and walks will balance that out. Even in his disappointing 2020, he still logged a 113 OPS+, basically saying he was 13 percent better than an average hitter (not an average catcher, an average hitter). His career average of .240 is where to bet, but that’s not a kill shot these days, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t conk at least 20 homers. And go look at how loaded that Chicago lineup is . . .

Boston’s pitching staff is a mess, but the offense remains bankable, the backdrop of Fenway and a deep group of hitters. Vazquez caught us by surprise two years back, but last year’s production — for whatever you take from two months — validated the story nicely. Tucked away at ADP 156, this is another name to circle (discretely, of course).

Tier 2: Talk them up, talk them down

$12 Gary Sanchez

$11 Austin Nola

$11 James McCann

$11 Isiah Kiner-Falefa

$10 Mitch Garver

$10 Sean Murphy

$8 Daulton Varsho

$7 Jorge Alfaro

$7 Buster Posey

My friend and long-running podcast mate Michael Salfino would surely call Kiner-Falefa a “Ham and Egger,” Jersey Mike’s way of saying someone is ordinary, just a guy. But Kiner-Falefa steps into one of the oldest frames for fantasy value — he’s catcher-eligible in Yahoo this year, but he won’t be burdened with actually catching. That means IKF can log more at-bats than the typical backstop, and playing time has never been more critical than it is in the current roto landscape. Kiner-Falefa is also the rare catcher-eligible who will steal a few bases . . .

Sanchez probably has the widest range of outcomes of anyone on this list. He has a plausible chance to land No. 1 on this list next year, that’s how devastating the power is. But he’s also batted .200 (with a puny .296 OBP) since the beginning of 2018, and he’s not a great defensive catcher. The Yankees aren’t in love with him, not to mention the pitching staff. While I nod at the reasonable upside, this is one train I’ll let pass by . . .

Posey is back after a year off, and I’d love to see the likely Hall of Famer have one more victory lap season. But let’s not forget he was an ordinary .257/.320/.368 stick in 2019 (that mashes to an OPS+ 187 percent below league average), and he only has 12 home runs over his last 803 at-bats. I will not play the sentimental game when considering Posey; I’d take him at a depressed ADP, but not as a proactive pick . . .

McCann actually get a bump from the Mets offense — when’s the last time we said that? This is what a late-blooming catcher looks like, someone who significantly improved his game over the last two years (last year he posted a .289/.360/.536 slash). New York gave McCann four years and $40 million, so playing time shouldn’t be a problem.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 06:  Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out against the Tampa Bay Rays during the ninth inning in Game Two of the American League Division Series at PETCO Park on October 06, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Gary Sanchez's devasting power gives him upside, but his average also makes him tough to trust. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Tier 3: At least worth a draft pick

$6 Carson Kelly

$6 Yadier Molina

$5 Wilson Ramos

$4 Pedro Severino

$3 Danny Jansen

$3 Omar Narvaez

$3 Yan Gomes

$3 Jason Castro

$3 Martin Maldonado

Molina is another interesting Hall of Fame case — it’s a shame we haven’t really figured out how to quantify catcher defense, because that’s where his ticket is really made. He’s still capable of hitting for a plus average on guile and guessing alone, but we can’t proactively chase pop or speed anymore (though I bet he still swipes 2-3 bases just for the fun of it) . . .

Jansen is all pedigree-chasing, because he hasn’t hit for the Jays at all. From what I’ve heard, they like his defense. But he’s not such a god behind the plate that he can flirt with the Mendoza and get away with it . . .

If I knew the Orioles would give Severino at least 55-60 percent of the playing time, I’d double his figure immediately. But they have two other catchers they can plausibly play, and at some point their season will shift into auditions and future-planning mode. This is not to disparage Severino’s bat, which I like. I suspect I’ll get plenty of opportunities to use him in DFS.

[Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Tier 4: Bargain Bin

$2 Alejandro Kirk

$2 Tucker Barnhart

$2 Max Stassi

$2 Elias Diaz

$2 Francisco Mejia

$2 Roberto Perez

$2 Jose Trevino

$1 Kurt Suzuki

$1 Chance Sisco

$1 Ryan Jeffers

$1 Tyler Stephenson

$1 Adley Rutschman

$1 Victor Caratini

$1 Luis Torrens

$1 Kyle Higashioka

$1 Joey Bart

$1 Mike Zunino

$1 Jacob Stallings