Many fantasy baseball owners will go into their drafts with a strategy of waiting at catcher. Sure, the highly ranked backstops provide plenty of scarcity value, but that’s assuming they don’t bust, which always seems to happen with one or two top-tier catchers. There are also seems to be at least one or two breakouts, and getting those sleepers at little to no cost can really set your team up for success.
Of course, it’s difficult to hit on the right late-round gems, so having multiple targets is important. There are plenty of interesting options this year, including two who steal some bases and are expected to play other positions (Daulton Varsho and Isaiah Kiner-Falefa). There are also two notable bounce-back options (Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez) and three youngers who have some breakout appeal (Joey Bart, Ryan Jeffers, Alejandro Kirk).
How many of the catchers below will actually produce on a consistent basis? Maybe none. It’s a tricky position to get right unless you invest a relatively high pick in one of the best, and when you factor in how often virtually all catchers get off-days and how lackluster most catchers’ all-around production is (particularly in average, runs, and steals), that can seem like a high price to pay. So, if you’re planning to wait, here are some names to consider.
Position eligibility based on Yahoo’s default settings
Fantasy Baseball C Sleepers: Breakout catchers, late-round steals
Daulton Varsho, Diamondbacks (also eligible at OF). Varsho isn’t a lock to have everyday playing time when the season opens (or even be on the major league roster), but he’s the rare catcher-eligible player who might not necessarily be behind the plate. The 24-year-old lefty also has experience in the outfield, which increases his likelihood of playing time. Once he does play, he can be an elite-hitting, catcher-eligible fantasy contributor, shown by his career .301/.372/.507 line in the minors. Even more noteworthy, he stole 21 bases in 108 games at Double-A in 2019.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rangers (3B, SS). Kiner-Falefa is slated to be the Rangers’ starting SS, making him the perfect type of late-round “catcher” to draft if he’s eligible there in your league. The 26-year-old utility player doesn’t have much power (eight homers in 846 career major league plate appearances), but he can run a little (18 career steals) and hit for a decent average (.280 last year). Most important, he’ll play almost every day. That gives you an advantage in counting stats over many other lower-tier catchers, especially in weekly leagues. Throw in the potential for double-digit steals — something few catchers and even corner infielders can provide — and Kiner-Falefa is a unique, versatile player who can be had for cheap.
Tom Murphy, Mariners. Murphy didn’t play last season because of a foot injury, but in 2019, he hit .273/.324/.535 with 18 HRs in 76 games. Clearly, the 29-year-old backstop has upside, and if he can stay healthy — which is right now — he’ll be worth a late-round draft pick.
Omar Narvaez, Brewers. Narvaez looked completely lost at the plate last year in Milwaukee (.176/.294/.269, 31 percent K-rate) just one season after a big breakout in Seattle (.278/.353/.460 with 22 HRs and a 19.1-percent K-rate in 132 games). Between the oddity of the season, the change of scenery, and the fact he was always a solid average/OBP guy before 2020, we’re willing to give him a bit of a pass, but obviously there’s a reason he’s an afterthought in most drafts. He has big upside, though, and if he can regain his stroke — which seems possible considering he’s 29 — Narvaez could be a major value.
Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays. Kirk doesn’t figure to start the year with everyday playing time, but with Danny Jansen looking like a bust, Kirk could eventually take over as Toronto’s starter. The 22-year-old backstop has impressed against lower-level pitching in the minors, hitting .315/.418/.500 in 151 games, and his initial nine games in the majors last year resulted in a .375 average. Obviously, that small of a sample size doesn’t mean much, but Kirk is a solid contact hitter who rarely strikes out and takes a decent amount of walks. That’s plenty valuable at catcher.
Joey Bart, Giants. Bart will start the season in the minors, but with Buster Posey getting up there in years, it might not be long before Bart is getting regular playing time behind the plate in San Francisco. The 24-year-old backstop has hit .284/.343/.532 in the minors, and he could be one of the rare catchers who hits for a solid average with decent power.
Ryan Jeffers, Twins. Jeffers held his own in his 26-game major league debut last year, hitting .273/.355/.436, which is in line with his two-year minor league career (.296/.383/.453). After Mitch Garver’s no-show last year, Jeffers has a path to consistent playing time if Garver starts slow again, and he could produce a steady average and decent power at fantasy’s thinnest position.