Every year, ranking the top ten catchers in baseball is harder than any other position. Not only is it the thinnest position in the league, but there are also wildly different ways to value the position. How do you value a catcher who rakes but can’t frame? What about one who can’t hit but steals a ton of strikes? Like last year, another question comes up: How do you rank a highly-rated prospect with just a week’s worth of MLB experience?
10. Jose Trevino, NYY (Last year: NR)
At the all-star break last season, Jose Trevino ranked among the top catchers in the league with a 103 wRC+ and 2.2 fWAR. Trevino’s ranking on this list, however, is solely due to his ability with the glove. At the most important defensive position in baseball, Trevino is the best defender in the game. In 2022, he accumulated 19.1 framing runs (FRM), 21 defensive runs saved (DRS), and 42.8 fielding runs above average (FRAA) in 820.1 innings. In 2023, expect another incredible defensive performance from the Yankees’ backstop, even if the bat doesn’t hold up.
9. Yasmani Grandal, CWS (1)
For the last decade, Yasmani Grandal was the model of consistency at the catcher position. In 2022, however, he was one of the worst players in all of baseball. In 99 games, Grandal slashed just .202/.301/.269 with a 68 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR. For a guy who had a 121 wRC+ in his career up to that point, it was a major disappointment. So what can we expect in 2023?
Steamer projects Grandal to bounce back with a respectable .225/.346/.391 (115 wRC+) slash line and 2.3 fWAR in just 83 games. Expect a bounce-back year for Grandal. The only question: how big of a bounceback will it be?
8. Danny Jansen, TOR (NR)
If Danny Jansen had more than 248 plate appearances in 2022, we may be mentioning his name among the top catchers in the league. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and splitting time with Alejandro Kirk limited Jansen’s volume. In the 72 games he played, Jansen slashed .260/.339/.516 (140 wRC+) and 2.6 fWAR. That 140 wRC+ mark was the top for any catcher with at least 200 plate appearances, and he was on pace for 5.4 fWAR had he played 150 games. With the departure of Teoscar Hernandez from Toronto, the Blue Jays should be able to find more time for Jansen and Kirk to play together.
7. Willson Contreras, STL (9)
Every year, ranking Willson Contreras among the top 10 catchers in baseball is a difficult task. The difference of opinions regarding Contreras may be the most polarized in the league. If you ask the average baseball fan, they may tell you Contreras is a superstar and among the best catchers in the league. If you were to ask the biggest advanced stat fanatic, they may place him outside of the top 10. Personally, I think Contreras’ true value falls somewhere between the two.
Following a 2023 season that saw Contreras put up a career-high 132 wRC+ and 3.3 fWAR, he signed a 5-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Even projection systems have a pretty large difference of opinions on Contreras’ outlook for 2023. Steamer projects him as a 119 wRC+ hitter, while THE BAT X projects him at 133. It’ll be interesting to see how Contreras reacts to joining a lineup with multiple superstar hitters protecting him. Contreras may be in for the best season of his career in 2023.
6. Alejandro Kirk, TOR (NR)
In the first 73 games of Alejandro Kirk’s 2022 season, he led all catchers with a 161 wRC+ and 2.9 fWAR. After that, however, he had just a 97 wRC+ in his last 274 plate appearances. Looking forward, though, that slow second half shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Even while he struggled, Kirk kept up his great batted-ball data and plate discipline, staying relatively consistent with a 44.6% Hard-Hit rate and walking at an 11.5% clip. Steamer is incredibly high on Kirk, projecting him to have a 141 wRC+ and 4.5 fWAR in 2023. Like Jansen, Kirk should see more time at the DH position following the departure of Teoscar Hernandez this offseason.
5. Cal Raleigh, SEA (NR)
In the 2nd half of the 2022 season, Cal Raleigh established himself as one of the top catchers in baseball. As the Seattle Mariners surged into the playoffs, Raleigh had a huge hot streak down the stretch. In his last 24 games, Raleigh slugged .636 and put up a 167 wRC+. In his first full MLB season, Raleigh had a 121 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR, combining sustainable great offense with an amazing glove. Expect another great season for Raleigh, who should be able to build on that amazing start to his career.
4. Sean Murphy, ATL (5)
These top four catchers seem to have distinguished themselves as a tier (or two) above the rest of the catchers in the league. Sean Murphy had a huge year in Oakland in 2022 before being dealt to the Atlanta Braves this offseason. In four seasons as an Atheltic, Murphy combined a 116 wRC+ with elite defense to the tune of 5.0 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. Now, joining a team that includes elite bats like Ronald Acuna Jr. and his former A’s teammate Matt Olson, Murphy should be able to carry a smaller load and focus in on his defense. In 2023, Steamer projects Murphy to put up another four-win season, a slight step back from the 5.1 fWAR he put up in 2022.
3. Will Smith, LAD (2)
Last year, I expected Will Smith to take another leap forward and establish himself as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Instead, he took a small step back from his offensive outburst in 2020 and 2021. In 137 games, Smith put up a very respectable 127 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR. Smith is already one of the best catchers in baseball, and it feels like he hasn’t quite put it together. Like Contreras, THE BAT X has high hopes for Smith, projecting a massive breakout year (136 wRC+, 5.7 fWAR). Smith has taken a step forward defensively over the past couple of years and will be one of the top catchers in the league once again in 2023.
2. JT Realmuto, PHI (3)
J.T. Realmuto has been one of baseball’s top backstops since he broke out as Marlin in 2014. In 2022, he had the best season of his career, putting together a 128 wRC+, 6.6 BsR, and 11.5 FRAA campaign that all accumulated into a 6.5 fWAR season. In 2023, it’s tough to expect anything other than another elite season out of Realmuto. He has an argument to be atop this list, but I went with the younger, budding superstar instead.
1. Adley Rutschman, BAL (NR)
Jumping all the way up from not ranked last year to the top spot on the 2023 list is the Baltimore Orioles’ 24-year-old phenom entering his second season. Adley Rutschman was ranked as the unanimous, consensus top prospect ahead of the 2022 season, but didn’t see Major League action until late June. He had a Rookie of the Year caliber season, finishing 2nd in voting for AL ROY. In the 113 games he did play, Rutschman had a 133 wRC+ and 5.3 fWAR. He’s projected to have a 5.6 fWAR by Steamer in 2023. Even that lofty projection may be too low.
Like Realmuto, Rutschman is a true five-tool athlete at the catcher position. In 2022, Rutschman had an .806 OPS, 10,6 FRAA, and 5.0 BsR. Given how elite he is in each of the three facets of the game, who knows how high the ceiling is for Rutschman? At his full potential, it’s possible that Rutschman is the first catcher to put up a 10-WAR season since Buster Posey‘s MVP year in 2012. Don’t be shocked when Rutschman is in the MVP discussion in the American League later this year.
Main image credit