TDG 2022 PLAYERS TO TARGET: CATCHERS
One of the positions fantasy baseball players have the most challenging time filling every year is catcher. The position prioritizes defense instead of offensive production, leaving fantasy managers scrambling or reaching in drafts for their backstop. However, with solid prospects on the way and reliable players in the MLB now, the position seems to be heading in a much more positive direction. Here are four catchers you should be targeting in your startup drafts or dynasty leagues this year.
Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daulton Varsho is entering 2022 with a real chance to finish the year as the top fantasy catcher. His 2021 season started rough, only hitting .171 with a 27% strikeout rate. He was sent down to Triple-A in June and recalled on June 20th. As an everyday player, he went.290/.349/.530 with ten home runs, 32 runs, 31 RBI, and five stolen bases in the second half.
There aren’t many red flags that make you think Varsho cannot produce at that level again. The contact numbers are good, with a 24% whiff and 21% K%, both around the league average. His 9.5% BB% was slightly above average. Varsho also hits the ball in the air a ton with a 21% LD% and 43% FB%. The 80th percentile sprint speed is elite. The only numbers that could cause concern are his exit velocities. Varsho’s 88 mph average exit velocity and 84 mph fly ball and line drive exit velocity are well below average. He also does not pull many fly balls.
While the exit velocity may concern some fantasy managers, I would not let it stop you from acquiring Varsho. Having catcher eligibility is his greatest weapon. Catcher is arguably one of the worst positions in fantasy. With the talent pool above replacement level being so thin, all Varsho has to be is good, not elite. Getting league average power output along with solid on-base abilities and stolen bases out of the catcher slot is incredibly valuable. (Colin Coulahan)
Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays
Alejandro Kirk has done nothing but rake since he was signed out of the Mexican League. In his brief two seasons in the minors, he’s never had a wRC+ below 150. Kirk was called up in 2020 for nine games and continued to hit, slashing .375/.400/.583/.983 in 9 games. Unfortunately, Kirk could not repeat that performance in 2021, hitting .242 with only eight home runs as a part-time catcher. This subpar performance is not a reason to move off Kirk; it creates a buying opportunity.
Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) is one of the first stats I look at when evaluating a player. Per MLB.com, xwOBA “formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed.” While it is not a predictive stat, it does an excellent job of showing that a player may have hit better than their surface stats. Kirk’s xwOBA in 2021 was an elite .377 and almost 50 points higher than his .330 actual wOBA.
While xwOBA is not predictive, the skills that drive it are. Kirk’s 92 MPH EV, 12% K%, and 10% BB% are elite. The 15-degree launch angle is excellent. All of the ingredients for an elite hitter are here. There is a battle for playing time in Toronto with Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno also vying for at-bats, but if Kirk continues to hit like this, he can’t be kept out of the lineup every day. (Colin Coulahan)
Logan O’Hoppe, Philadelphia Phillies
One of two prospects on this list, Logan O’Hoppe had a breakout 2021 season and is now one of the top bats in the Phillies system. Drafted out of high school, O’Hoppe was seen as a glove-first prospect with a questionable bat. He was aggressive at the plate his first two years in pro ball, with K% rates of 23% and 28%.
O’Hoppe spent 2020 at the alternate training site working on making more contact and then went to Driveline in the offseason to work on flattening out his bat path. The work paid off, and in 2021 he lowered his K% rate to 19%. More contact allowed Hoppe to tap into his plus raw power and hit 17 home runs.
The transformation Hoppe has undergone is impressive. He has 20-25 home run power and good plate skills to post respectable average and OBP numbers. J.T. Realmuto is catcher 1 for the Phillies, but his injuries last year and the fact that he will be 31 when the 2022 season starts could mean the Phillies want to manage his workload. Especially if the DH comes to the NL, we’ll likely see O’Hoppe get at-bats at some point next season, so get in now before the hype comes. (Colin Coulahan)
Ivan Herrera, St. Louis Cardinals
Ivan Herrera was one of the top bats in the Cardinals system at the start of 2021. He had a solid plate approach, a feel to hit and raw power. The raw power was finally translated to game power, and he broke out to hit 17 home runs. He was able to do this while keeping the strikeouts in check (22% K%) and waking at an elite rate (10%). The batting average was a career-low at .231, but I’m going to chalk that up to his career-low batting average on balls in play. Herrera’s .261 BABIP should regress closer to his .337 and .350 marks in 2019.
Herrera is a volume hitter. He doesn’t have eye-popping exit velocities or make loud contact, he simply makes a lot of contact. His offensive success comes from keeping his swing compact and getting the barrel to the ball quickly.
His blocking and receiving took a stop back in 2021. Herrera was noticeably dropping more balls. The Cardinals have praised his work ethic, so I think he’ll be able to bounce back defensively and stick behind the plate. The bat has much more value as a catcher. Eventually, Yadier Molina will no longer be the Cardinal’s catcher, opening the door for Herrera. (Colin Coulahan)