MLB's Top 10 Catchers In 2020: Realmuto, Grandal or Contreras For No. 1?

Under normal circumstances, the 2020 Major League Baseball season would be rounding into its first full month of action. However, these are far from regular times and due to the global shift in the norm, whether Opening Day is delayed –or even outright canceled— is anybody’s guess.

Therefore, since the trivial is more necessary than ever, here is a look at the (currently anticipated) MLB top 10 players, by position, for the 2020 campaign.

Today’s position is catcher, which is a position that is undergoing a generational overhaul. A role that has long carried a defense-first lean, with the sweeping offensive tilt in the contemporary game, the position is being looked towards to generate runs more than ever before. Likewise, the lowered emphasis on the stolen base as seen a shift away from the strong-armed riflemen of the past being the defensive stars, replaced by strike-zone manipulating pitch framing experts. With the implementation of the electronic strike zone seeming imminent, the role could have even further innovation very soon.

The talents behind the plate in 2020 are diverse and plentiful, but will longstanding stars hold their place versus the young guns? Let's find out.

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

1. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies

Over the past three seasons, Realmuto has been the top catcher in the game by WAR by over three games. 2019 was no exception, as he posted a 4.4 WAR amid a campaign where he posted a .275/.328/.820 split, while leading all catchers in doubles (36), RBI (83), hits (148) and extra-base hits (64). He continued to shine behind the plate as well, throwing out an MLB-best 46.7% of potential base-stealers, posting the third-best dWAR behind the plate and remaining an elite pitch framer as well. Realmuto created 50.1% strike rate in 2019, which accounts for the number of extra strikes he created from keeping pitches in the strike zone. This is the fourth-best total for catchers that saw 3,000 pitches on the year.

The 29-year-old is in line for a substantial pay bump, as he approaches his final year before free agency. He is sure to surpass the $73 million that his closest contemporary, Yasmani Grandal, reached over the winter and should join Buster Posey as the second catcher ever to see a nine-digit deal.

2. Yasmani Grandal, White Sox

Grandal has steadily increased his presence at the plate over the past four years, seeing his OPS increase in three of the past four seasons, as he set a new career-best of .848 in 2019. His overall .813 OPS since 2017 is second-best in the game, whereas his 221 walks over that time frame lead all catchers by far.

His decision to bet on himself with a one-year deal with the Brewers paid off well, as Grandal enters the new year with a four-year, $73 million deal that is the largest ever by the White Sox. A highly regarded leader behind the plate, he’ll head to the American League in a position to help one of the most promising young rosters in the game round into shape, in all facets of the game.

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3. Willson Contreras, Cubs

Contreras is one of –if not the— most talented young catchers in the game. The 27-year-old has topped a .270 average, 20 home runs and a .850 OPS in two of the past three seasons, cumulating for the second-best WAR amongst catchers over the time span as well (10.1). Contreras has been an All-Star in each of the past two seasons and shows all the signs of having a higher roof to still meet.

However, his biggest challenge is consistency. His 2018 season was a disappointment, as he hit just .163 from August through the end of the year. Last season, he walked only 15 times June through the end of the season, a span of 54 games.

4. Christian Vazquez, Red Sox

After years of having a turnstile behind the plate, Vazquez’ emergence finally gives the Red Sox a dependable everyday option at backstop. In his fifth season, Vazquez power broke out, as he hit 23 home runs with a .798 OPS, while playing in over 80 games for the first time in his career. Always a steady defender, Vazquez converted the fifth-most strikes to runs saved behind the plate, while throwing out 37% of would-be base stealers, third-best in the game.

More importantly for the Red Sox, he's become a leader and clutch performer, something those who like sports betting in Canada don't appreciate too much.

5. Gary Sanchez, Yankees

At his best, Sanchez possesses one of the best power bats the position has ever seen. He hit a career-best 34 home runs in 2019, the second time he has topped 30 homers despite playing in fewer than 125 games. Sanchez is currently averaging a home run once every 13.3 plate appearances are the best among all active players and a rate that if he can continue would place him between Barry Bonds and Jim Thome at fourth-best of all-time. Not bad company, to say the very least.

However, his limitations behind the plate are impossible to look past, even with his prodigious power. If he was able to be a designated hitter, his value would skyrocket. But his continued issues at such a critical defensive position limit the Yankees upside. He has posted the most errors and passed balls by a catcher twice in the past two seasons, while seeing his caught stealing rate drop to 23% last season.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

6. Roberto Perez, Indians

While his offense is still coming together, Perez is making the biggest defense-led impact in the game currently amongst his peers. He made the most of the departure of Yan Gomes, emerging as one of the top defensive catchers in the game. A year after posting a -0.5 WAR over 62 games, he led AL catchers with a 4 Win season, led by his outstanding glove-first breakout. Perez led the AL by throwing out 40.8% of stolen base attempts and four other defensive metrics.

7. Mitch Garver, Twins

Garver was an offensive shooting star last year, joining in on the Twins home run party with 31 of his own. His .995 OPS and .630 slugging percentage ranked first among all players at the position. Coming into the year, 2019 had a grand total of seven over parts of two seasons, so it is still a bit early to crown him among the absolute elite of the role, but the fact he earned a Silver Slugger nod last year is more than enough proof he needs to be taken seriously headed into 2020.

8. Yadier Molina, Cardinals

The future Hall of Famer (a topic is questioned far too much) has taken a turn backward at age 37, but he is still an irreplaceable part of the Cardinals attack. While his counting stats and percentages have turned south some, Molina still is capable of solid contribution (.711 OPS, 34 extra-base hits in 2019). He is also pulling up on some significant career marks, including 2,000 career hits and becoming the third catcher in National League history to catch 2,000 games (he is at 1,983 entering 2020).

Molina’s greatest value at this point is being something of a player/coach/sage for the cadre of young talent emerging from the St. Louis system. And at a position where intangibles still account for a lot, his prowess and experience still carry significant weight.

9. Wilson Ramos, Mets

The addition of the 26th roster slot could really benefit the Mets. Ramos is an offense-first at all costs type, that nearly has to be offset by a more defensively-inclined backup (or two) on the roster. He allowed 94 stolen bases last year and accounted for -11 defensive runs saved, a clear hindrance on the Mets run limiting capabilities.

However, he does offset these issues with a bat that has been among the most dependable at the position in recent years. Ramos hit .288 with 14 home runs and has been responsible for the eighth-most runs created among catchers since 2017, despite only playing above 120 games once.

10. Buster Posey, Giants

Although injuries have cut into his once batting champion/MVP-caliber presence at the plate, Posey is still better than most probably think. The 33-year-old was an All-Star as recently as two years ago and rallied impressively quick from a significant hip surgery in 2019, to produce a respectable .254/.320/.688 split, considering the situation.

Where he remained unquestionably strong was behind the plate, where he played a game above replacement level defensive, cut down 32.4% percent of stolen base attempts and was one of the top pitch framers in the game. 2020 is a turning point for Posey, who has only one guaranteed season left in 2021, but he is showing he’s still got some tread left on the tires.

Left on Deck: Carson Kelly (Diamondbacks), Robinson Chirinos (Rangers), Jorge Alfaro (Marlins)

Top Prospects: Adley Rutschman (Orioles, #4), Joey Bart (Giants, #14), Sean Murphy (A's #33)


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