HomeTrending MLB News2024 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

2024 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

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Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Meg Rowley introduced this year’s positional power rankings. As a quick refresher, all 30 teams are ranked based on the projected WAR from our Depth Charts. Our staff then endeavors to provide you with some illuminating commentary to put those rankings in context. We begin this year’s series at catcher.

2023 was a big year for our understanding of catcher defense, as Baseball Savant launched new Statcast-based metrics to quantify the value of catcher throwing and blocking, adding to their existing framing data. While evaluators already had a general feel for which catchers could keep the ball in front of them and which ones had cannon arms (and while prior work had been done on the subject at Baseball Prospectus, among other places), Statcast’s new numbers furthered our ability to compare each dimension of catcher defense in terms of its relative importance. We learned that Sean Murphy prevented 16 runners from advancing via a wild pitch or passed ball, and saw how Shea Langelierselite arm accuracy might make future base stealers think twice before running on him.

While throwing and blocking are important pieces of the catcher defense puzzle, the framing component still reigns supreme when it comes to overall defensive value, at least while human umpires are still calling balls and strikes. In 2023, three catchers either created or cost their teams at least six runs through a combination of throwing and blocking. On the other hand, 21 backstops tilted the scales by six runs or more from framing alone. In these rankings, I’ll be discussing all aspects of catcher defense, especially for the outliers in each category, but you’ll see that I’ve primarily focused on receiving skills, as they tend to make or break a catcher’s value behind the plate.

Last year, Dan Szymborski pointed out the generational shift in catching talent, with numerous former stars retiring over the past few years. And with older but still active mainstays like Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto taking a huge fall in the rankings, it’s safe to say that catching is a young man’s game in 2024. None of the projected starters from the top 10 teams on this list have hit free agency, and eight had yet to even debut when COVID-19 was introduced to the world four years ago, but it’s clear that each of these younger catchers has immense talent and promise. Ten years from now, we’ll be talking about at least a few of Adley Rutschman, William Contreras, Francisco Alvarez, Will Smith, and Bo Naylor the same way we do Buster Posey and Yadier Molina now.

Starting tomorrow, you’ll see a number of positions that are set to be covered almost exclusively by one player. After all, the Dodgers won’t be needing any help at first base or DH with Freddie Freeman and Shohei Ohtani around. Catcher is the big exception here; even the game’s most durable iron men still have to take a couple days off each week. And while 2023 marked a bit of a workload increase for baseball’s most used catchers, each team has at least one backup guaranteed a few dozen starts behind the plate. Some clubs have taken the idea of a shared workload to the extreme, and a few, including the Blue Jays and Twins, have had their duo split playing time near-equally; we project they’ll continue to do so with the same personnel. For this reason, it’s necessary to think about each catcher who boasts significant expected playing time as being part of a team effort, rather than viewing a squad’s catching situation as only the top guy on the depth chart.

Let’s get into the rankings.

2024 Positional Power Rankings – C

Adley Rutschman474.269.367.447.35315.9-
James McCann154.237.289.366.286-3.3-0.3-0.10.4
Michael Pérez13.204.279.351.276-0.4-0.0-0.10.0

Throughout the entirety of his amateur and professional career, Adley Rutschman has done nothing but produce. The first-overall-pick-turned-top-prospect has looked like a big league natural from day one, posting consecutive five-win seasons to begin his career and lapping the field in projected WAR at the position by more than a full win. Among primary catchers with at least 400 plate appearances last year, Rutschman had the lowest chase rate, second-lowest swinging strike rate, and highest OBP, commanding the strike zone like a seasoned veteran. His preternatural feel for the game is also seen on defense, where he’s put up stellar numbers while helping to facilitate the breakouts of pitchers like Kyle Bradish and Yennier Cano.

With someone as good as Rutschman starting three-quarters of the time, the Orioles are under less pressure to get great results out of the backup catcher position. James McCann has never been a huge offensive performer, but he can occasionally string together a few extra-base hits. His framing has also improved over the past few years, now profiling as average or even a tad better.

Sean Murphy378.251.345.464.3498.3-
Travis d’Arnaud250.248.308.427.318-1.0-
Chadwick Tromp13.218.279.361.280-0.5-0.0-0.00.0

Sean Murphy gained a lot from his move from Oakland to Atlanta – a significantly more hitter-friendly ballpark, the ability to contribute to a competitive team and, most importantly, a deep and stacked lineup that alleviated the pressure for him to play every day. Murphy stepped into the box over 600 times for the A’s in 2022, catching about as much as anybody while making an additional 30 appearances as a DH. In his debut season with the Braves, his number of days off nearly quadrupled, with his playing time almost exclusively focused on his duties behind the plate. In doing so, he improved his wRC+ by seven points and xwOBA by 51, setting career bests in barrel percentage, chase rate, and walks. Murphy helped his pitching staff tremendously, ranking third in overall defensive value and first in blocking, allowing 15 fewer wild pitches or passed balls than expected.

Travis d’Arnaud probably starts more than the average backup to an All-Star catcher, but giving Murphy a break is what you can do when your team leads the league in nearly every offensive category. He’s also considerably better than your average backup, especially with the bat, though he’s coming off a down offensive year. He’ll get about a half-season’s worth of plate appearances split between catcher and DH, and will produce considerably more than most bench bats out there.

Alejandro Kirk346.269.352.417.3376.5-
Danny Jansen250.239.320.459.3344.1-
Brian Serven45.190.247.315.247-2.5-

The Blue Jays are the closest any roster gets to having two true starting catchers. If you choose to view them as one guy, Danejandro Kirksen had a 104 wRC+ and +9 Statcast fielding runs in 2023, good for 3.6 WAR. Kirk earned the slight majority of the starts behind the dish, building upon the stellar framing skills he first demonstrated in 2022. He had a down offensive year due to a prolonged power outage (almost entirely against fastballs), but those struggles haven’t severely impacted his long-term projections. Jansen, once the more highly touted defender, has leveraged the power of pulled fly balls to emerge as the superior bat, with a .250 ISO and 17.5 PA/HR over the past three seasons.

It may seem counterproductive for the Blue Jays to hold on to two cost-controlled, starting-caliber catchers who hit from the same side of the plate, given that either could command a substantial trade return and that they take away each other’s playing time. But there is significant value in having 162 games that feature a middle-of-the-order bat catching. And whichever catcher isn’t starting on a given day is far better than your average bench bat; Kirk and Jansen each made a couple dozen appearances as pinch-hitters or at DH throughout the season last year. Together, they make up the most balanced and well-rounded catching tandem in baseball.

Will Smith486.258.353.457.34912.9-
Austin Barnes147.218.301.335.284-4.0-
Hunter Feduccia6.218.293.358.286-0.2-0.0-0.10.0

Despite having just three full seasons under his belt, Will Smith has emerged as a remarkably consistent force in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. A roughly average defender, Smith generates nearly all his value with the bat, leading all catchers in wRC+ and WAR since becoming a permanent fixture in the majors. He did experience a decline in power in 2023 because he wasn’t able to elevate the ball with authority like he used to, but he improved in other areas, including his approach at the plate.

Austin Barnes is entering his eighth full season as the Dodgers’ backup, and is coming off what was by far his worst. At the All-Star break, he had the slash line of a pitcher, hitting .104/.194/.125 with a wRC+ of -6. Barnes recovered in the second half, but his final season numbers were still ugly. Our projections think he’ll hit more in line with his xwOBA than his actual wOBA, which should catapult him back to solid backup status.

Smith ranked eighth in the majors in innings caught in 2023, but we have him ranked second in projected plate appearances behind the plate. Given his offensive prowess, the Dodgers have maximized his hitting opportunities by slotting him in at DH 39 times in the past two years, a strategy they won’t be able to utilize anymore. As a result, he’ll likely take on a larger share of the catching duties going forward, especially given Barnes’ struggles to produce offensively.

Cal Raleigh429.232.302.459.3245.2-
Seby Zavala147.189.259.324.258-6.4-
Mitch Garver64.234.328.430.3291.0-0.2-0.10.4

A year after breaking the Mariners’ single-season home run record for a catcher, Cal Raleigh one-upped himself, putting up similar numbers with more playing time and hitting 30 home runs in just his second full season. Despite his home ballpark working against him, the switch-hitter’s approach is designed to optimize over-the-fence pop; he ranks in the 95th percentile or better in both pull rate and fly ball rate. He’s also a plus thrower and framer, and was one of just two catchers with a wRC+ above 110 and at least eight framing runs last year. Raleigh is the real deal, and he’s proven he should be starting behind the plate for as many games as his body can handle.

The Mariners made two offseason additions to the position. Their largest free agent splash of the winter came in the signing of Mitch Garver, who has scaled down his time behind the plate while dealing with significant injuries throughout his career. He was signed to serve as a starting DH, but could find his way into a dozen or so games at catcher. Seby Zavala, who came to Seattle in the Eugenio Suárez trade, looks more like a typical reserve catcher – a defensive specialist who strikes out over a third of the time.

William Contreras442.270.348.454.3469.1-
Gary Sánchez166.213.301.423.313-1.1-0.6-0.70.7
Eric Haase32.221.277.387.286-0.9-0.0-0.30.0

William Contreras is the latest beneficiary of the Brewers’ ability to teach and improve catcher defense. Once viewed as an offensive force who would have to move to a less demanding position at some point, Statcast valued his contributions to the Brewers’ pitching staff at +8 runs after costing his club a dozen over two seasons with the Braves. Contreras continued to hit well, even cutting down his strikeouts by a huge margin, but he made sacrifices to do so, hitting more groundballs and losing some home run power in the process. Besides Adley Rutschman, Contreras is probably the most complete package at catcher, with above-average or better hit, power, and fielding tools, and he looks like he’ll be an All-Star caliber backstop for years to come.

The rest of Milwaukee’s depth chart looked a bit shaky until last month, when they signed Gary Sánchez to a one-year deal. Sánchez is neither the defender nor the well-rounded hitter Contreras is, but his power is nearly unrivaled at a traditionally defensive position. Among players who caught at least 60 games in 2023, Sánchez led the way in slugging percentage despite hitting just .217, and his isolated power sat near the likes of Kyle Schwarber and Mookie Betts. He’ll get a chance to contribute even more with the bat, too; we think he’ll get the plurality of the playing time at a thin DH position.

Francisco Alvarez397.228.315.437.3253.6-
Omar Narváez237.244.323.367.304-1.8-
Tomás Nido6.223.266.318.257-0.3-

Few players improved their long-term defensive outlook over the past season more than Francisco Alvarez, whose age-21 rookie campaign was an enormous triumph. The top 10 prospect silenced questions about his large, rigid frame by accruing the fourth-highest framing value in the sport according to Statcast, cementing his role as the Mets’ starting catcher through his years of team control. With the bat, his 25 home runs fueled a low-average/high-slugging slash line, above average for someone at his position.

Omar Narváez is coming off the worst hitting year of his career, slugging below .300 and hovering around replacement level for the season. But his limited sample of at-bats off the bench showed flashes of his former elevate-and-celebrate style of hitting, running one of the highest sweet spot rates and average launch angles in the majors while cutting down on his swing-and-miss. He also underperformed his xwOBA by over 50 points, a major reason projection systems are forecasting a comeback.

Patrick Bailey410.228.294.363.288-9.0-0.819.13.1
Tom Murphy198.247.322.421.3231.3-0.7-2.90.8
Joey Bart26.220.289.345.280-0.7-0.1-0.10.0
Blake Sabol6.229.296.373.293-0.1-0.0-0.10.0

Patrick Bailey has been a defensive sensation from the day he was called up to the majors last season. Despite finishing 21st in innings behind the plate, Statcast rated him as the best framer and second-best thrower in baseball, ranking behind only J.T. Realmuto in pop time. After just 97 games with the Giants, his prodigal skills persuaded the likes of ZiPS, Steamer, and THE BAT to forecast Bailey as the most valuable defender in baseball for 2024. Even with middling power and an undisciplined approach at the plate, he’s a slam-dunk starting catcher who Giants pitchers will be lucky to have.

Last year, Rule 5 pick Blake Sabol amassed 344 plate appearances as a reserve both at catcher and in the outfield, but his spot on the roster seems to be supplanted with the free agent signing of Tom Murphy. Both have similar offensive profiles, with plus raw power and a ton of strikeouts, but Murphy has been a better hitter due to his pulled fly ball rate, in contrast to Sabol’s all-fields approach. Murphy isn’t a defensive standout and a 2022 shoulder injury impacted his arm strength (he’s had other injuries besides), but he hits well enough to serve as a worthy backup and even occasional DH.

Six years after being drafted second overall and being anointed Buster Posey’s successor, Joey Bart has exhausted his minor league options and has a career wRC+ of 78, never establishing himself as a big league contributor. Barring an injury to Bailey or Murphy, his time in the San Francisco organization seems likely come to an unceremonious end, at which point he’ll hope to land a backup role on another team.

Jonah Heim474.247.309.424.316-1.5-
Andrew Knizner141.231.299.375.295-2.9-0.4-3.70.1
Sam Huff26.233.299.430.313-0.1-

Jonah Heim’s 2023 line looked a lot like his breakout 2022: a wRC+ around 100 with above-average contact rates and excellent framing skills that made him one of the league’s most valuable defenders. What he added compared to the previous season was volume, starting more games behind the plate than any other backstop down the stretch. As the Rangers raced to clinch a playoff spot, Heim took just two days off in the entire month of September, playing an integral role in Bruce Bochy’s notoriously rigid lineups. And that trend continued into the playoffs, as Heim caught all but three innings of the Rangers’ title quest. Including the postseason, Heim ranked behind only J.T. Realmuto in innings caught, a trend that will likely continue going forward.

Andrew Knizner has spent the past half-decade with the Cardinals, backing up Yadier Molina during his final years. And while his hitting numbers to date resemble a late-30s Molina, his defensive performance has been much worse. Knizner amassed -15 FRM/1000 during his time in St. Louis. He’s not the ideal option, but his impact can be minimized with Heim taking the lion’s share of the playing time.

Jose Trevino326.240.278.371.281-8.7-
Austin Wells275.230.303.406.307-1.3-0.2-0.81.2
Ben Rortvedt38.208.288.354.284-0.9-

Austin Wells ranked third among the catchers on our Top 100 prospect list (no. 47 overall), and his defensive improvements in the minors convinced our prospect team to bump his evaluation from possible bench bat to slam-dunk starter. While his arm accuracy is severely lacking, the rest of the defensive package is there. There’s also a lot to like about his bat; Wells barreled up eight balls in just a month of part-time play last September and could hit well enough to be a big leaguer even at a less demanding position.

We think Wells will split time pretty evenly with the more experienced Jose Trevino, who has a higher WAR projection than a good number of starters despite just a 50% share of the forecasted playing time and a .278 OBP. Trevino isn’t completely useless with the bat, but his glove is certainly his carrying tool. And boy, does that tool carry. Trevino claims called strikes better than nearly anyone else, and has become the favorite of pitchers like Gerrit Cole, though the reigning Cy Young winner will have to wait a few more months to throw to his personal catcher.

Gabriel Moreno480.281.341.415.3293.4-
Tucker Barnhart128.222.294.304.268-5.6-
Jose Herrera32.225.305.314.279-1.1-0.1-0.40.0

Gabriel Moreno’s rookie season graded out as legendary in the eyes of traditional catcher evaluation metrics. His .284 batting average ranked second among catchers, he saved a couple runs with above-average blocking skills, and he threw out 48% of attempted base-stealers, holding a commanding lead over the field in the first year of the new rules. If it were 1994, Moreno may have ended the season with some hardware, especially since his team claimed the National League pennant.

But knowing what we know in 2024, Moreno’s season was good but not otherworldly. He hit more grounders than almost anyone else, a repeatable way to slap singles because he hits the ball hard but not a recipe for impact power. And his framing wasn’t great, especially on high pitches – not poor enough to negate the effects of his cannon arm but enough to pick nits in his game. Moreno still had a confidence-inspiring season overall, and we think he’ll put up similar numbers going forward while taking over a larger workload behind the plate.

Jose Herrera is the only other catcher currently on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster, but we think non-roster invitee Tucker Barnhart will claim the backup spot. Barnhart has bounced around the league for the past couple years as his offensive numbers have declined significantly, though he has improved as a defender and projects to perform around replacement level.

Willson Contreras416.247.341.440.3407.9-1.5-6.52.2
Iván Herrera192.240.345.373.3200.5-0.2-0.51.0
Pedro Pagés32.222.291.339.278-1.0-

Willson Contreras has been a model of offensive consistency for a catcher, hitting above the league average in each of his eight seasons. In his first season with the Cardinals, he set a new maximum exit velocity, topped his previous best barrel rate, and reached the 20-homer mark for the fifth time. The same praise cannot be offered about his defense, as his 13th-percentile framing skills made him a net negative in the field despite mowing down runners with his cannon arm. While ZiPS and Steamer see him as a top-five catcher by wRC+, it’s the glove that keeps him out of the top 10 in overall projected value.

Iván Herrera looked good in a two-week sample in the majors, but the most exciting part of his 2023 season was his performance in Triple-A. There, he walked 20% of the time while maintaining a very manageable strikeout rate, and Herrera is projected to lead all catchers in walk rate in the majors. He’s not great at actualizing his raw power in games, but his combo of power and discipline can make him a future starter with an OBP that’s uncommon to see from such a defensively demanding position.

Bo Naylor358.228.330.410.3222.8-
Austin Hedges230.199.259.305.250-12.0-
David Fry51.236.305.396.305-0.3-0.1-0.40.2

In contrast to his free-swinging brother Josh, Bo Naylor has been a master of the strike zone since day one; his 13% walk rate ranked fourth among rookies and second in the 23-and-under category. And while the middle child lacks the thunderous raw power of his older sibling, he makes up for it with softer skills – contact, launch angle tightness and, most importantly, defense, where he immediately stabilized the catching situation on a team that had seven different players put on the gear in 2023.

Returning to the Guardians for a second stint is Austin Hedges, a defensive superstar whose inability to hit makes him a modern-day Bill Bergen. The framing numbers make it pretty clear he’s in a league of his own when it comes to catcher defense, as evidenced by the fact that he was worth nearly 1 WAR in 2023 despite a 24 wRC+. Giving regular plate appearances to such an offensive black hole perhaps isn’t the greatest idea in a lineup that’s already playing Myles Straw every day, but the defensive returns Hedges provides are undeniable.

Yainer Diaz378.269.305.471.3304.8-1.1-3.92.0
Victor Caratini243.238.317.366.300-2.9-
César Salazar19.212.291.326.276-0.6-0.0-0.00.0

Yainer Diaz was quietly one of the league’s best rookies last year. The Astros’ insistence on starting Martín Maldonado most days limited Diaz to just under 400 plate appearances, nearly half of which came at DH or first base. With Maldonado now off the roster, Diaz will get to show off his talents in a more prominent starting role.

Diaz’s offensive profile is an extreme outlier. He swings at everything, but he does so much damage on in-zone pitches, especially those high and inside, that it doesn’t matter. He takes advantage of the Crawford Boxes at his home ballpark but isn’t reliant on them, spraying nearly half his homers to the opposite field. Diaz isn’t just a power hitter relative to other catchers — he’s a slugger who happens to play catcher. There are still some defensive issues to be ironed out, especially with his framing, but his already-great throwing and blocking skills can at least limit the damage caused by his receiving.

To replace the veteran presence of Maldonado, the Astros inked Victor Caratini to a two-year deal to serve as Diaz’s backup. He’s good enough to be a second-division starter on a team that wanted to use him that way, but he plays best in a reserve role. Like many others, Caratini honed his framing talents while with the Brewers, amassing +10 runs with them over the past two years after being worth -5 runs before that.

Christian Vázquez314.244.296.353.284-7.7-
Ryan Jeffers307.233.317.424.3211.9-
Jair Camargo19.216.265.374.276-0.6-

The Twins have one of the most even playing time splits at catcher, rostering one backstop for the glove and the other for the bat. Christian Vázquez isn’t the hitter he once was, but he still provides considerable value with his defense and earned a slight majority of catching reps in 2023. The longtime Red Sox starter ranks third in framing runs over the past five seasons, generating about half his career WAR from his receiving skills.

Ryan Jeffers experienced a big breakout last year, keeping his swing-and-miss under control and reaching a new peak in raw power, with a maximum exit velocity higher than that of Aaron Judge or Austin Riley. He won’t maintain the .359 BABIP he sustained throughout 2023, but he hits the ball hard enough to be an above-average contributor even with more reasonable batted ball luck. Standing in at 6-foot-4, Jeffers lacks the defensive talents Vázquez possesses, which is especially obvious in his struggles to quickly move out of his crouch to throw out a runner or block a pitch in the dirt. The Twins may often choose to get the best of both worlds, letting Vázquez catch and sliding Jeffers into the DH role left vacated by Byron Buxton’s move back to center field.

J.T. Realmuto499.253.319.438.3251.60.7-1.22.8
Garrett Stubbs109.228.311.343.291-2.7-0.1-2.20.1
Rafael Marchán32.240.311.338.289-0.9-

J.T. Realmuto is the closest thing you’ll find to an everyday starting catcher, leading the league in innings caught by a wide margin over the past two seasons. The durable Realmuto backs up his playing time with performance, perennially producing like a middle-of-the-order bat, running the bases far better than any other catcher, and mowing down basestealers at an elite clip.

But he’s coming off a down year, with his 1.5 WAR marking his worst season total since his rookie campaign in 2015. He hit slightly below his career norm, but his defensive numbers took a complete nosedive. After six consecutive seasons as an above-average framer, Realmuto cost his pitching staff 13 runs with his receiving in 2023. His age (today is his 33rd birthday) and large workload are likely factors in this sharp decline, and whether his framing stats can rebound to even average will determine whether he returns to All-Star form or settles into mediocrity as he ages.

If Realmuto’s workload is managed more carefully, some of his starts will be taken by backup Garrett Stubbs. Over the past two years, he’s done a lot of sitting on the bench, maxing out at just 125 plate appearances in a season. Stubbs doesn’t impact the ball enough to hit much for average or power, but he’s serviceable for a backup, and that’s all the Phillies need from him.

Luis Campusano339.261.318.421.3202.0-1.2-4.71.4
Kyle Higashioka269.220.269.391.284-6.5-
Brett Sullivan32.240.300.363.289-0.6-0.0-0.30.1

Luis Campusano has been high on the prospect radar for nearly five years now and is finally on the path to a starting job in the majors. His largest taste of action in San Diego came last year, when he put up a 134 wRC+ and struck out just 12% of the time in a 49-game sample. Those numbers are going to come down — his contact rate suggested an expected strikeout rate of about 16% and his high chase rate raises some concerns on how much he can impact out-of-zone pitches. But we think the power that he showed off in the majors for the first time last year is here to stay, making him an above-average bat.

With fewer than 500 innings behind the plate, Campusano is still a bit of an unknown quantity on defense, though his small-sample framing metrics validate his slightly below-average defensive reputation from his time as a prospect. And Campusano is still one of the youngest starting catchers in baseball, giving him time to learn on the job at the highest level.

Kyle Higashioka is a new face in town, coming to San Diego as part of the Juan Soto trade. His low-OBP/good-framing profile was redundant in New York thanks to Jose Trevino’s presence, and the Padres capitalized on the opportunity to acquire a backup better than anyone they could find in free agency.

Jake Rogers346.209.279.397.292-6.9-
Carson Kelly269.226.305.370.297-4.4-
Dillon Dingler26.211.285.350.280-0.8-

After recovering from a Tommy John surgery, Jake Rogers is coming off his first near-full season as the Tigers’ backstop. The elbow injury didn’t have too much of an impact on his ability to gun down basestealers, and his framing and blocking made him a well above-average defender. At the plate, his approach can be characterized as patient to the point of passivity. He has pedestrian walk rates despite almost never chasing bad pitches, while whiff issues in the zone make him a frequent strikeout victim. But his ability to wait for his pitch certainly paid off in the power department, as he clubbed 21 homers in 365 plate appearances.

The inexperienced Rogers will catch in a nearly even playing time split with the much more experienced (but only nine months older) Carson Kelly, who’s had a couple successful seasons but just a 68 wRC+ over the past two years. Our projections think he’ll regain at least a little bit of his old power stroke, making him a consistent but otherwise unspectacular second option.

Henry Davis339.241.338.409.3261.0-1.1-3.11.5
Yasmani Grandal243.236.337.365.313-2.0-1.7-0.10.9
Jason Delay51.225.283.326.270-2.2-
Ali Sánchez6.244.303.350.288-0.2-

Henry Davis made his big league debut last year, but only caught a couple of innings as a late-game substitute. Instead, he primarily manned the outfield, an experiment that turned out rather poorly. Because of a UCL injury to fellow top catching prospect Endy Rodríguez, Davis is moving back to his primary position from his time in the minors and as an amateur. Our prospect team has complimented his arm strength and ability to frame high pitches, which could make him a viable defensive backstop. Our projections also think we’ll see some significant offensive improvement thanks to his big performances in the minor leagues; Davis’ struggles across a 60-game sample last year should be viewed as an adjustment period, not a referendum on his capabilities with the bat.

Just a few short years ago, Yasmani Grandal was arguably baseball’s finest offensive catcher, eclipsing 20 homers in five different seasons while mastering the strike zone like no other. But a combination of injuries and aging sapped his ability to lift the ball, resulting in a pair of below-replacement seasons. His once-elite framing value has declined to merely good, and is completely cancelled out by his worst-in-class pop times, as runners took full advantage of his poor arm strength under the new rules. Still, there are worse insurance policies to have if Davis isn’t yet cut out for the starting job.

Christian Bethancourt333.250.288.410.300-5.9-
Nick Fortes282.242.308.382.303-4.4-
Curt Casali26.213.307.324.283-0.8-0.1-0.10.0

Christian Bethancourt and Nick Fortes have awfully similar offensive projections, with a bit of power that makes up for uninspiring on-base skills. Each had a pretty miserable 2023 – Bethancourt had just a 74 wRC+ with the Rays, while Fortes weighed in with just a 53 for the Fish. And the similarities don’t end there. Both catchers pull the ball at an above-average rate but struggle tremendously with launch angle tightness; Fortes and Bethancourt had the third- and ninth-lowest line drive rates in the league last year. Even when they can lift the ball in the air, the results don’t always follow, as the Marlins’ enormous ballpark ranks as the third-least hospitable for right-handed hitters for home runs.

The fates of Bethancourt and Fortes do diverge on defense, however. Bethancourt, formerly an attempted two-way player, has the best arm strength and fourth-best pop time of any backstop in the league. Fortes is less skilled in controlling the running game, but is an above-average framer and elite blocker, ultimately making him the more valuable glove of the pair.

René Pinto429.227.270.399.287-7.8-
Alex Jackson160.215.283.409.298-1.5-
Francisco Mejía51.244.284.400.294-0.6-0.1-1.00.1

The Rays have a reputation for extreme levels of roster churn, and their catching situation has been no exception. After getting a couple of middling years out of Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejía, they’ve decided to move on, letting Bethancourt move across the state in free agency while bringing Mejía back on a minor league deal. To replace them, the Rays are turning to a duo with extremely limited experience.

René Pinto has been a member of the Rays organization for over a decade, but his only experience with the big club has occurred in cups of coffee the past two years. He has some pop but might strike out far too much to be a major contributor. The same can be said of Alex Jackson, who boasts premier raw power but has slugged just .227 in brief big league stints on three teams. But the Rays believe in their abilities, especially Pinto’s, who they currently plan to have start the bulk of their games. And given the Rays’ success in making the most of hitters with extreme profiles, I think it’s fair to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Logan O’Hoppe461.254.337.469.34610.7-1.5-14.02.0
Matt Thaiss160.222.318.364.302-2.2-0.4-2.70.3
Chad Wallach19.198.273.334.269-0.8-0.0-0.10.0

A torn labrum limited O’Hoppe’s rookie season to under 200 plate appearances, but he absolutely crushed the ball when he was healthy. He clubbed a homer every 14 times at the dish, pulling the vast majority of them, as the direction of his stride (practically down the third base line) limits his potential to do opposite-field damage. If we’re talking about offense alone, O’Hoppe is already among the best in the game; ZiPS views him as second to only Adley Rutschman in projected wRC+. What keeps O’Hoppe out of the upper echelon of catching talent (in addition to his lack of experience) is his glove. He ranked dead last in pop time and was a poor framer, a fact certainly not aided by the significant injury to his glove shoulder.

Matt Thaiss has moved back to catching in the past couple of years after being unsuccessfully developed as a corner infielder. He’s not great back there, but his mid-80s wRC+ is much more palatable as a backstop than at first base or DH. With Max Stassi now on the White Sox and Chad Wallach starting the year in Triple-A, Thaiss now has sole claim to the backup position.

Salvador Perez397.259.300.457.320-0.5-1.8-8.71.0
Freddy Fermin211.252.318.409.316-1.0-
Austin Nola32.254.332.363.308-0.4-0.1-0.50.1

Salvador Perez has taken a tumble since his monster 2021 campaign, during which he led the league with 48 homers. In each of the past two seasons, his indicators of impact offensive production — like barrels, exit velocity, and pull rate — have steadily declined. He also took the dubious title of most chase-happy hitter in the league from Javier Báez, swinging at out-of-zone pitches nearly half the time. Combine this with his poor-as-always defense, and Perez’s struggles were enough to plunge him below replacement level in 2023.

In contrast to the aging Perez, the arrow is pointing up on Freddy Fermin, a backup who accrued 1.5 WAR in his rookie season. What he lacks in premier raw power he makes up for by consistently squaring up the ball, finishing second on his team to Bobby Witt Jr. in slugging percentage. In the field, Fermin is a breath of fresh air for a club that has ranked dead last in framing runs over the past decade; his +2.1 runs saved were better than any Royal since 2011 besides Cam Gallagher. Fermin is a potential starter if he keeps things up on both sides of the ball, and he could allow Perez to continue a smooth transition to a first base/DH role in his twilight years.

Yan Gomes378.251.297.394.298-6.5-1.2-3.50.9
Miguel Amaya243.222.319.374.306-2.6-0.6-0.60.9
Jorge Alfaro19.235.278.362.278-0.6-0.0-0.20.0

Age is starting to catch up to the 36-year-old Yan Gomes, who is entering the final year of a three-year pact with the Cubs. He’s performed near his career norms with the bat over the past couple of seasons, seldom drawing walks but putting the ball in play often enough to maintain a respectable line for a catcher. It’s the defense where he has seen the greatest decline. Once an above-average receiver, Gomes cut his career framing value in half in 2023 with his -8.2 run total, significantly impacting his current projection.

In his final year with the Cubs, Gomes will likely cede some time to the younger Miguel Amaya. Once a top 100 prospect, Amaya’s stock dipped after he underwent Tommy John surgery and missing more than a full year of action. Now in the majors, Amaya threw down to second about as well as you’d expect from someone with a newly repaired elbow, but the rest of his game looked good. He framed pitches significantly better than Gomes and ran a higher OBP thanks to a 7% hit by pitch rate, though his underlying numbers thankfully signal an increase in walks that will allow him to continue taking free passes without the pain.

Tyler Stephenson371.255.331.406.321-2.1-0.9-7.01.0
Luke Maile237.237.316.378.306-4.3-0.5-1.60.6
Austin Wynns32.227.297.340.283-1.2-0.1-0.10.0

The Reds ran with a three-catcher setup in 2023, rostering the returning Tyler Stephenson and Luke Maile along with Curt Casali. While the goal was to limit Stephenson’s time behind the plate coming off a string of injuries the previous season, another injury – this time to Casali – forced Stephenson to catch nearly 100 games while DHing a considerable amount as well. His numbers took a huge tumble, as he struck out at a higher rate while hitting more balls on the ground. More alarmingly, his framing skills went from passable to downright terrible, sinking him below replacement level. There’s still time for Stephenson to right the ship, but his injury struggles may spell an early end to his days as a highly regarded starter.

The journeyman Maile wasn’t a huge contributor in his first season in Cincinnati, but there were some encouraging signs about his performance. His barrel rate doubled compared to his career average, he had the highest xwOBA of his career, and he helped facilitate the growth of numerous young starting pitchers, likely a factor in the front office’s decision to bring an otherwise interchangeable bench player back for another year.

Shea Langeliers403.225.289.418.303-2.0-0.9-6.31.2
Tyler Soderstrom154.213.263.377.275-4.3-0.3-1.40.2
Carlos Pérez58.219.288.379.291-0.9-0.2-0.90.1
Kyle McCann26.186.258.313.254-1.2-0.0-0.2-0.0

Shea Langeliers was given a heavy workload in his first full season, catching the third-most innings in the majors on a roster without many other options. He’s still a work in progress defensively, possessing a cannon of an arm but significantly hindering his team in some other facets of catcher defense. He improved considerably with the bat as the season went on, raising his slugging percentage by over 100 points after the All-Star break. He’ll probably never hit for a high average, but he makes the most of what he has with an 88th-percentile barrel rate and a high pull rate, which constituted the majority of his home runs.

Tyler Soderstrom struggled in his first taste of the majors, slugging just .240 while hitting over half his batted balls on the ground. Rather than let him continue to develop against the highest level of competition, the A’s have optioned him to Triple-A for the time being, and he’ll likely make a midseason return to Oakland.

They currently don’t have any other catchers on the 40-man roster, so the backup spot will likely go to Carlos Pérez or Kyle McCann, the only other catchers remaining in big league camp. Pérez resurfaced with last year’s A’s after a five-year absence from the majors and hovered around replacement level, while the homegrown McCann reached as high as Triple-A in 2023. Neither is projected for a particularly promising major league future, and whoever makes the roster would just be a stopgap option until Soderstrom is called back up.

Connor Wong320.242.294.406.302-6.1-0.2-6.70.4
Reese McGuire256.256.301.362.290-7.4-
Roberto Pérez51.209.297.347.286-1.6-
Tyler Heineman13.244.322.339.296-0.3-

Connor Wong floundered in his first full season in the majors, where his proclivity to whiff and chase kept his OBP below .290. And while his maximum exit velocities sat in premium territory, he clubbed just nine homers in 403 plate appearances, too often hitting the ball on the ground. Wong’s struggles will open up more playing time for backup Reese McGuire, who lacks Wong’s raw strength but makes more contact and is more defensively sure-handed.

Roberto Pérez also figures to enter this playing time mix, especially if either Wong or McGuire fails to meet their offensive projections. Pérez, who signed a split contract this winter, is one of the most talented framers in baseball, but has played just 26 games across the past two years due to injuries, including a surgery to his throwing shoulder that ended his 2023 season just a week in. We have him projected as an emergency call-up, but he could play his way into a much larger role.

Keibert Ruiz448.269.323.434.3272.1-1.8-10.21.4
Riley Adams160.221.303.388.302-2.5-0.4-5.9-0.0
Drew Millas32.238.318.348.297-0.6-0.1-0.10.1

Keibert Ruiz’s offensive projection is roughly unchanged from a season ago, as the bat-to-ball wizard’s ability to put the ball in play has made him a near-average performer. But he’s lost nearly a full win of projected value, almost entirely coming from his defense. Among 81 qualifying catchers last season, Ruiz ranked fifth worst in arm strength and 18th worst in exchange time, allowing a league-leading 119 steals as baserunners ran on him with impunity. Even worse, his poor framing skills he cost his team over a full win, with his inability to steal strikes on pitches low in the zone proving especially harmful to a pitching staff that threw more sinkers than the league average. In total, Statcast graded Ruiz’ performance at -23 runs, edging out Kyle Schwarber for the worst mark in the majors. In spite of these defensive woes, the Nationals will continue to give Ruiz the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate, as evidenced by his extension until at least 2030 and their decision to not add options to replace him.

For the third straight year, Riley Adams will serve as the Nationals’ backup. His .807 OPS last year was largely thanks to an inflated BABIP; the projection you see here is right in line with his career numbers. And unfortunately for Nationals pitchers, Adams might be one of the only catchers in the league worse at framing than Ruiz; the pair project as the second-worst tandem by fielding runs.

Martín Maldonado269.184.259.323.258-13.2-1.4-5.7-0.6
Max Stassi256.209.293.355.287-6.5-
Korey Lee115.216.265.350.268-4.7-0.0-1.40.0

Much of the current White Sox roster is built from the castaways of other, more competitive teams, and this catching trio is no exception. The 37-year-old Martín Maldonado was given a considerable majority of the starts for the Astros last season despite hitting below the Mendoza Line and regressing to being one of baseball’s worst defenders. Without the receiving skills he once had, Maldonado’s continued employment is likely a testament to his work with the pitching staffs of multiple former clubs.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Max Stassi. After a few good seasons with the Astros and Angels, Stassi flopped in 2022 and missed all of 2023 due to a combination of injuries and a family emergency. Korey Lee, a third former Astro, projects to start the year in the minors but figures to get some time with the big club at some point. The current state of the White Sox roster will afford both he and Stassi an opportunity to prove they can produce without other options knocking on the door to claim their roster spots.

Elias Díaz384.255.309.407.310-10.4-1.4-13.3-0.5
Jacob Stallings218.244.320.362.302-7.4-
Drew Romo38.252.299.383.296-1.5-0.1-0.30.0

For the fifth consecutive year, the Rockies find themselves at the bottom of this leaderboard. Their continued insistence on running with Elias Díaz and his -57 career framing runs is baffling, though perhaps it’s to be expected from a franchise that has decided to punt on having a strong defense despite playing in a ballpark that puts the highest premium on running down balls in play. Díaz’s hitting numbers look good until you remember which ballpark he calls home; his .716 projected OPS looks far less impressive when it’s written as a 78 wRC+.

Jacob Stallings had a couple good years in Pittsburgh, putting up great defensive numbers while pulling his own weight on offense. The Marlins liked his profile, so they traded for him before watching his performance with both the bat and the glove completely tank. Stallings was non-tendered last November after posting -1.6 WAR in his two seasons in Miami, and since being sub-replacement level is basically a requirement for Rockies free agent targets, he signed with Colorado to try to rebuild his value as a backup.


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