2024 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview: It's better to draft young with the backstops

Willson Contreras #40 of the St. Louis Cardinals

If you're a fantasy manager who plays both football and baseball, you'll recognize the catcher position. This is basically the tight end spot for baseball, a fill-one position (at least in standard Yahoo leagues) where you have several plausible strategies. Some will look to bully the position with a star, some will look to judiciously operate on a budget. Fortunately for the baseball crowd, there's no Arthur Smith around to sink Kyle Pitts.

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Any strategy can work if you pick the right players, but generally at catcher, I like to focus on options not yet in the first tier at the position but with the potential to grow into that territory. I'm looking for rising players, younger talents who haven't had their best season yet. And there's a fair amount of young talent to consider — of the 10 catchers who had the most plate appearances last year, seven of them were in their 20s.

It's refreshing to see Baltimore star Adley Rutschman at the top of the position this year; he's merely entering his age-26 season. Even on a loaded Baltimore roster, it's not hard to see Rutschman being an MVP candidate for the next 3-5 years (he finished ninth last season).

[More Baseball Positional Previews: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

You need a shopper's guide as you formulate your catcher plans, so here's a peek at my early sheet.

Proactive Picks

Willson Contreras, St. Louis Cardinals

It's a common theme — a name player signs a big contract with a new club and initially struggles, perhaps overcompensating to prove he's worth the dough. But after a frustrating .240/.334/.419 first half in 2023, Contreras was on point for his second half, albeit in a modest 46-game sample: .309/.402/.557, 10 homers. He's currently the 11th catcher off the board in Yahoo leagues, around Pick 176. Looks like a good time to swoop in for value.

Yainer Díaz, Houston Astros

Díaz was merely the No. 2 catcher in Houston last year, but he shined in the limited sample, posting the best OPS+ among qualified catchers. The Astros valued Díaz's bat so much, he absorbed 38 games at DH as opposed to 52 starts behind the plate. But this year the backstop gig belongs to Díaz, with Martin Maldonado moving on to the White Sox. Díaz's average could be volatile given that he'll swing at almost anything, but he's still likely to be a plus hitter in a reasonably deep offense. That's why he's already a top-five option at the position, though an early ADP of 132.6 is reasonable.

Gabriel Moreno, Arizona Diamondbacks

The catcher position is filled with power-heavy options who bring batting-average risk. Moreno's game has the opposite shape; he's going to hit for a plus average, but the power has not arrived yet. But there are subtle signs of a power spike — Moreno did pop four homers in 63 playoff at-bats, and his slugging percentage rose to .512 in the second half. He turns 24 on Valentine's Day, so this story is a long way from its conclusion. Moreno's arrow is pointed up.

Mitch Garver, Seattle Mariners

We're always looking for catcher-eligible players who don't have to catch all that often, and that's what Garver was last year in Texas. Over the last two months, he was dynamite, slashing .283/.389/.548 with 14 homers in 50 starts. The Mariners' home park could stem some of Garver's upside, but he's projected to bat fourth as the team's primary DH. This is a screaming value around Pick 257 in Yahoo leagues.

Players to Fade

J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies

Player development isn't always a linear thing, but player decline almost always is. Gravity remains undefeated. So when we notice Realmuto charting a modest 106 OPS+ last year, his worst line since 2015, we have reason for concern. Realmuto has generally taken less time off than the average catcher over his nine years of starting, and that makes you wonder when the physical taxes come due. The ADP is a little relaxed entering 2024 — his early Yahoo ADP is a reasonable 69.8 — but I'd prefer to focus on players who are still on the escalator. Realmuto turns 33 in March.

Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals

Just three years ago Pérez led all of baseball with 48 homers, a stunning career year from a player who's burdened with the physical demands of catching. He's been less fun since, and last year's 94 OPS+ was his lowest in five seasons. Pérez steps into his age-34 campaign, and given the heavy workload the Royals have always given him, we have to worry about the attrition piling up. Sometimes the simple goal is to be a year early, not a year late, with veteran players. Kansas City's offense has been in the bottom quarter of scoring for eight straight years; there's little lineup buoyancy here.

Cal Raleigh, Seattle Mariners

We have a pretty good idea of who Raleigh is: one of those players who swings from his heels, just in case he actually connects. That leads to a bunch of homers and a bottomless cup of strikeouts, and a puny career batting average of .217. It's not that I'm opposed to rostering a catcher who's a power boost but an average drain, yet the value hunter in me would rather take a chance at a cheaper Francisco Alvarez or Logan O'Hoppe.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Top 16 Fantasy Catcher Rankings for 2024

1. Adley Rutschman

2. J.T. Realmuto

3. Will Smith

4. William Contreras

5. Willson Contreras

6. Yainer Díaz

7. Sean Murphy

8. Gabriel Moreno

9. Salvador Pérez

10. Cal Raleigh

11. Jonah Heim

12. Francisco Alvarez

13. Mitch Garver

14. Keibert Ruiz

15. Tyler Stevenson

16. Logan O'Hoppe