The best catchers in MLB is a conversation that has changed over the last two or three seasons.
It was a debate owned by Yadier Molina and Buster Posey throughout the 2010s, but as that pair have aged, they have been succeeded by Yasmani Grandal, J.T. Realmuto and Willson Contreras to battle for the top spot.
Gary Sanchez is worthy on an honourable mention too, although his defensive issues often see him disregarded as ‘best catcher’.
Prior to the 2019 season, catcher looked historically weak. Very few were expected to hit at even a league-average rate.
While it remains uncertain (or perhaps improbable, depending on who you ask) that we get baseball in 2020, fans around the globe are still hoping to see some sort of regular season in 2020. Looking ahead to that campaign, we have ranked the five best catchers in the sport, led by a recent Chicago White Sox acquisition…
1: Yasmani Grandal
A good player among bigger stars on the Dodgers and outshone by Christian Yelich in Milwaukee, Grandal has flown under the radar for much of his career. He shouldn’t have.
A two-time All-Star, Grandal has been above league-average offensively in every season of his career, and hit over 20 homers in four consecutive seasons. He’s projected to be the best offensive catcher in the league in 2020, with Steamer giving him a 119 wRC+. Grandal posted 121 in the same category in 2019.
2: JT Realmuto
The centre of trade rumours for longer than anyone would like to remember, J.T. Realmuto finally got his move last offseason, teaming up with Bryce Harper on the Philadelphia Phillies. Realmuto’s reputation has, at times, been greater than his production.
He’s still one of the best in the sport, but his final season with the Marlins is his only campaign with a wRC+ above 111. Projections for the coming year have Realmuto somewhere between the 107 and 112 – good, but not great.
A Gold Glove last year was reflective of his defensive performance (though Grandal could have easily won it).
There’s a lot to like about Realmuto’s game – many would have him number one on this list. Given this ranking is for 2020, and not planning five years down the line, Grandal just pips him.
3: Gary Sanchez
Defence, particularly behind the dish, matters. Sanchez’s offensive ceiling is the highest of the group, as he showed in his rookie year, but he’s subpar defensively. Baseball Prospectus’ fielding runs above average have Sanchez 108th out of 123 qualified catchers.
Sanchez played through injury in 2018. He was back with a bang in 2019, clearing the fence on 34 occasions and earning his second All-Star selection. Where his future lies is an unknown, but for now at least, he’s a catcher, and his offence is good enough to outweigh the defensive issues.
Where Sanchez lands depends on what is prioritised. Some will think the offensive upside puts him top. Others will be concerned about the prospect of a crucial passed ball. The three-spot feels right.
4: Mitch Garver
On the superpowered Minnesota Twins, Mitch Garver had a breakout year no one saw coming. A solid 2018 didn’t set anyone up for what the Twins catcher produced in 2019, as he crushed 31 deep flies in under 100 games good for a slugging percentage starting with a six.
BP’s fielding runs above average liked Garver defensively too, placing him 23rd of 123 qualified catchers, miles ahead of Sanchez. He’s a decent framer as well.
With just last season to go off as a offensive force, projections for 2020 are mixed on Garver, though Steamer has him as the third-best offensive catcher. There were changes to his hitting (a markedly increased launch angle at the core of it) that suggest sustainability.
5: Willson Contreras
Contreras looked like he was heading for the ‘best catcher in the game’ title when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. A rough 2018 represented a step back for Contreras, and defensive metrics for the 2019 season were very unkind, ranking him among the worst qualifying catchers in the league.
Offensively, Contreras bounced back in 2019. His .888 OPS was the best of his career and represented the most powerful season of his first few years in the Majors. Projections aren’t expecting another season like that in 2020, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Contreras around around the 120 wRC+ mark.
His offensive ceiling is very high, arguably the second-highest on this list, but those defensive concerns have held him back behind Garver. At 28 years old, though, he could yet climb this list.