The Shuffle Up: Fantasy baseball catcher draft rankings tiers

Now that the NFL season is over, it's officially Fantasy Baseball prep season. Let's get the Shuffle Up series started.

For every position, I create personal salaries, essentially a way of constructing tiers. The numbers themselves don't matter in a vacuum; what matters is how the players' salaries relate to one another, where the talent clusters and where it drops off. Assume a 5×5 scoring system, as always. Players at the same draft cost are considered even.

The salaries are more my gut feel on a player and not necessarily part of a formula or overall bankroll structure.

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The headers that separate the groupings? Don’t sweat those too much. It's just a way to easily scroll through the tiers.

Have some disagreements? That's good! That's why we have a game. I welcome your respectful disagreement anytime: @scott_pianowski on Twitter/X.

Remember the golden rule: No player takes on extra (or less) value simply because you roster him.

OK, with those parameters established, let's examine the fantasy catcher landscape for 2024.

The Big Tickets

$24 Adley Rutschman

$20 J.T. Realmuto

$18 Will Smith

$18 William Contreras

$17 Willson Contreras

$17 Yainer Díaz

It's rare that I'm the first manager to draft a catcher, but Rutschman presents an interesting case, headed into his age-26 season and surrounded by a loaded Baltimore lineup. His strikeout/walk ratio was almost an even 1:1 last year, and anyone who hangs in that area while maintaining power is an elite hitter. He's going to win an MVP someday.

If you're a fan of hard-hit rate, you'll notice the Contreras brothers were 1-2 in hard-hit percentage among catchers last year. Willson Contreras in particular is an interesting target; he had the predictable first-half slump as he likely pressed to justify his big contract, but his second-half slash was a juicy .309/.402/.557, with 10 homers in 46 games.

Realmuto just had his worst efficiency season since 2015, and you wonder if the heavy workload of his career is starting to add up. Player development is never guaranteed to be linear, but player decline almost always is. With most of my top-100 picks, I like to focus on players who are still on the escalator, who haven't had their best seasons yet.

The Astros went out of their way to get Díaz extra at-bats last year; now he has the catching gig essentially to himself with Martín Maldonado out of town. Díaz isn't discriminating at the plate, which means he's a little risky for OBP leagues, and the batting average will have volatility. But the pop is real, and his early ADP around 128 is reasonable.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Positional Previews: 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | C | OF]

Legitimate Building Blocks

$15 Sean Murphy

$14 Gabriel Moreno

$14 Salvador Pérez

$12 Cal Raleigh

$11 Jonah Heim

$11 Francisco Alvarez

The expected-stat leaderboard suggests Murphy was unlucky last year. According to Statcast data, Murphy's average should've been 23 points higher, and his slugging percentage was 59 points lower than expected. I'm open-minded to drafting any regular piece of the loaded Atlanta lineup.

Scott Pianowski's tiered rankings: Catchers | Outfielders | Middle Infielders | Corner Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Relief Pitchers

I'm probably an eyelash higher on Heim than the industry average. It's a nod to the depth of the Texas lineup and how secure his playing time should be.

There are a bunch of catchers who offer power potential but bring batting average risk. Moreno is the opposite, a batting-average stalwart who hasn't developed power yet. But maybe some signs of pop showed late last year — he slugged .512 in the second half and had four homers in the playoffs. He turns 24 later this week, so the story is a long way from a conclusion.

I've ranked Pérez low enough that he's unlikely to be on any of my teams. He's moving into his age-34 season, and the Royals have run him into the ground. The Kansas City lineup is also a problem, with gaping holes in the lower half. Perez wasn't even a league-average bat last year, finishing with a mere 94 OPS+ (100 is league average).

The book on Alvarez said his offense would likely play right away, but the defense could be a problem. Surprise, surprise — he was actually good defensively last year (especially with framing and blocking pitches; his throwing wasn't great), but his batting average was a drain, and his plate discipline wasn't as good as expected. Still, we're talking about a player who conked 25 homers in his age-21 season over a modest 123 games. There's a whiff of post-hype value here.

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

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

$10 Mitch Garver

$10 Keibert Ruiz

$9 Logan O'Hoppe

$8 Bo Naylor

$7 Elías Díaz

$7 Luis Campusano

$6 Tyler Stephenson

$6 Ryan Jeffers

It's always fun to roster a catcher-eligible hitter who isn't asked to catch that often, and Garver checks that box. Seattle's ballpark isn't a plus, but the Mariners tentatively have Garver set to bat cleanup, the catbird seat. Somehow you can land Garver outside the top 250 in early Yahoo drafts.

Díaz might be worth a few extra bucks if you play in a format that allows for aggressive roster manipulation. If you could take the center cut of his playing time last year — home games against right-handed pitching — he batted .293. The Colorado offense is no longer a cheat code, despite the home environment, but Díaz is likely to hit for a plus average with double-digit homers. He's more solid than sexy but not a bad idea around his current 241 ADP.

Campusano percolated to the top of the San Diego depth chart in the second half and finished with a snappy .319/.356/.491 slash over 49 games. He'll be projected for a decent average everywhere, it's just a matter of whether the Padres are comfortable giving him the full-time catching job. It's possible he's a tier too low on this list, but given his limited experience, he's also not a floor pick.

Bargain Bin

$5 Shea Langeliers

$4 Alejandro Kirk

$3 Danny Jansen

$2 Austin Wells

$1 Jake Rogers

$1 Connor Wong

$1 Yan Gomes

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