Opening Day for the 2023 MLB season is right around the corner. This means it is the perfect time for position-by-position rankings. Let’s see how each team stacks up – ranking the best MLB catchers.
First, let’s lay out some ground rules. A player’s position is based on Fangraphs’ Depth Charts as of March 15. If a player is duplicated (such as Byron Buxton being listed as Minnesota’s primary centerfielder and designated hitter), he will be assigned to his main position in 2022, and the player with the second-most projected plate appearances will be used for the second position. Teams only get one entrant per position (sorry, Alejandro Kirk).
Best MLB Catchers; 30-21
Best MLB Catchers: No.30 – Elias Diaz, Colorado Rockies
Diaz scuffled at the plate once again, finishing with a 73 OPS+. He hit in the .220s, and he had an on-base percentage below .300 for the third time in four seasons. The issue with Diaz is that he struggles at the plate despite playing at Coors Field for half of his games.
He has conflicting defensive metrics, earning -2 DRS, 10th-percentile framing, and 72nd-percentile pop time. Diaz could be better, but many of the underlying metrics support Diaz’s poor production. He was in the seventh percentile in xwOBA and the bottom quarter of the league in expected batting average, expected slugging, and chase rate.
Best MLB Catchers: No.29 – Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants
Bart has been underwhelming given his draft pedigree and the preceding Buster Posey in San Francisco. He has a career OPS+ of just 81, and he had a poor 86 OPS+ in 2022. Similar to Diaz, his defensive metrics are scattered, but he generally grades out as a below-average fielder. He was worth -1 DRS last season across 97 games, and he was around league average in both pop time and framing.
Bart turned 26 in the offseason, so there is still room to grow, but he will have to grow quickly to not be replaced in the Giants’ pecking order. If there is any cause for excitement, it might be Bart’s plate discipline. While he had an ungodly 38.5% strikeout rate, he had a healthy 8.9% walk rate.
Best MLB Catchers: No.28 – Jake Rogers, Detroit Tigers
Rogers is a difficult player to rank because he did not play in either 2020 or 2022. He has just 73 MLB games to his name. In his first MLB experience, he posted a putrid .125/.222/.259 line en route to a 27 OPS+. In 2021, he had a much better .239/.306/.496 line with six home runs in 38 games – good for a 119 OPS+. If Rogers hits like that, he will fly into the top half. However, it is not a given that his form returns.
He was an above-average defender by DRS, but he ranked in the sixth percentile in framing back in 2021, so Rogers’ upside will be limited until he improves as a fielder. On the bright side, he has a strong arm from behind the dish.
Best MLB Catchers: No.27 – Tucker Barnhart, Chicago Cubs
Barnhart has a reputation for being a great defensive catcher. In 2022, he was closer to being a bad defender than a good one. He was a 44th-percentile framer with a below-average arm. He also had negative DRS for the second season in a row. This coincided with his worst full season at the plate. He had an OPS of just .554 and an OPS+ of 64, the worst of his career by 11 points (given he played 50% of games).
Barnhart has more of a track record than the previous players which keeps him from the bottom. While he has never been a productive hitter (his career-best OPS+ of 95 came in 2017), he must be better than he was in 2022.
Best MLB Catchers: No.26 – Logan O’Hoppe, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ top prospect, O’Hoppe had a cup of coffee at the end of the 2022 season, playing five games. He had a healthy .286 batting average, and he drew a few walks, but he had zero extra-base hits. He spent all of 2022 at Double-A after making a brief appearance at Triple-A in 2021. In 104 games, he slashed .283/.416/.544, hitting 26 home runs.
O’Hoppe’s ranking is more of a projection, but he is a consensus top-100 prospect, and even Baseball America has him at No. 42. He should be a solid fielder and a plus bat, giving him top-half upside.
Best MLB Catchers: No.25 – Jacob Stallings, Miami Marlins
Stallings is a less offensively challenged Barnhart. He also comes with an elite defensive pedigree, but he dipped in 2022. He posted -8 DRS accompanied by 25th-percentile marks in both pop time and framing. He had previously been an above-average framer, but his strike rate dropped from over 48% to 46% in 2022.
Stallings could bounce back in his second season in Miami. He was still a strong blocker of the plate, accumulating +9 blocks above average. The bat might not be there, but the defense should be.
Best MLB Catchers: No.24 – Austin Hedges, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hedges is testing the waters that Jeff Mathis once roamed in. He is an atrocious hitter, posting an OPS+ of 50 or below in each of the last four seasons. However, he has been a Gold Glove-caliber defender, racking up +13 DRS, +18 framing runs, and +7 blocking runs (tracked since 2020) in that span. He might be an automatic out, but he helps the pitching staff massively with his defense.
If Hedges were to hit even .200, he would likely be in the top 20 just based on his defense. However, he has been an egregious hitter (-110 batting runs and 58 OPS+) for his whole career. He only has one season with an OPS+ above 73.
Best MLB Catchers: No.23 – Keibert Ruiz, Washington Nationals
Ruiz just signed an eight-year extension to stick in Washington for the rest of the decade. The 24-year-old had a solid enough first full season in the Majors, posting a 95 OPS+ and hitting 22 doubles. A switch-hitter, Ruiz has great offensive potential in the contact-oriented catcher mold, but his defense leaves something to be desired. He accounted for -3 framing runs and had a below-average arm. However, he had a 66th-percentile xwOBA and was a good blocker.
Ruiz underperformed his xwOBA by 29 points. If he is closer in line with his batted-ball data, he could slide into the top half or even the top 10 of catchers. He could stand to improve his walk rate, but he rarely strikes out or whiffs.
Best MLB Catchers: No.22 – Shea Langeliers, Oakland Athletics
Langeliers had an up-and-down first 40 MLB games. Primarily serving as a designated hitter, he had a 98 OPS+ with good power but horrible plate discipline. He had a massive 34.6% strikeout rate compared to a paltry 5.9% walk rate. However, he had a strong .211 ISO with impressive batted-ball metrics. He also had an 85th-percentile sprint speed.
Langeliers only caught 17 games, and he graded out as a slightly below-average fielder. He accounted for 0 DRS, -1 framing runs, and -2 catching runs. He does have a 79th-percentile pop time, however.
Best MLB Catchers: No.21 – Reese McGuire, Boston Red Sox
McGuire’s whole purpose is to mash against right-handed pitchers. In 2022, he only slashed .271/.309/.382 against righties, good for a 97 sOPS+. He has middling defensive metrics including -3 catching runs, +3 framing runs, and a 50th-percentile arm. McGuire did show promise after moving to the Red Sox, slashing .337/.377/.500 across 36 games for a 142 OPS+. However, he had a horrendous 55 OPS+ in his first 53 games with the Chicago White Sox.
If first-half McGuire shows up, he will likely receive little playing time. If second-half McGuire shows up, he could be a top-10 catcher in baseball and a potential All-Star.
Were there any surprises for you so far on the Best MLB Catchers list headed into the 2023 season? If not listed, where do you think your team’s backstop will rank on the Best MLB Catchers list? Let us know in the comments below!
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