This will be the start of a new series ranking the Top 10 players at each position for the 2023 season. Keep in mind these are projections for the upcoming season. So does track record matter? Absolutely. Does last year matter? It matters the most. This list is based on what the players have shown they can do during the previous three years and how much it will carry over to this upcoming year. So, here are the Top 10 catchers for the 2023 season.
10. Jose Trevino
Trevino is statistically the best fielding catcher in the league. He led the league last year in Frame Rate and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). With this being said, he has been a below-average hitter for the past three years. He has only produced a Weight Runs Created (WRC+) of 79, in which the league average is 100. Even though he has his struggles at the plate, the Yankees gladly put up with it, given the fact that pitchers love throwing to him.
9. Travis d’Arnaud
Since leaving the Mets, d’Arnaud has redeemed himself big time. Last year he was 4th in Frame Rate and 10th in DRS amongst catchers. He also had a WRC+ of 120 last year. He is lower on this list because he probably will not be starting for his team since the Braves traded for Sean Murphy. He will probably be playing a combination of DH and playing catcher when Murphy needs the rest. It will be interesting seeing him play a smaller role.
8. Danny Jansen
Number 8 on this list is another player who is not the starting catcher on his team. Jansen is the backup to Alejandro Kirk mainly because of the gap on defense. Last year Jansen had a negative Frame Rate and was eleventh in DRS. With this being said, the reason he still is higher on this list is that the guy absolutely rakes. Last year he had a .260 Batting Average, a. 339 On Base Percentage, and a .855 OPS. All of this led to a 140 WRC+ which was the highest amongst catchers.
7. Willson Contreras
Contreras will be one of the bigger stories for catchers in 2023. He signed with the Cardinals, who just lost their franchise guy Yadier Molina (even though he was not that good the last few years), who just retired. Last year, he had an awesome season at the plate, hitting 22 Home Runs, an OPS of .815, and a WRC+ of 132. However, with this being said, he has also been a very below-average defender for the majority of his career. Last year he had a -1 DRS and -3.5 Frame Rate. With all this being said, if you have the chance of signing a guy who can hit the ball harder than anything, you do it even if it means he’s a little harder to throw to.
6. Alejandro Kirk
Kirk is the starting catcher of the Blue Jays over Jansen. Even though he is not as good a hitter as Jansen, the gap between their defense is significantly bigger than their offense. Last year he batted .285, had a .372 OBP, .787 OPS, and 129 WRC+. Behind the plate, he has a DRS of 5 and a Frame Rate of 7.6. So while he might not be the best of the best on either end, he is very good on both ends, and very few catchers can say the same.
5. Cal Raleigh
The 24-year-old from Seattle comes in at number five on this list. He showed a ton of potential in 2022, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be even better in 2023. Even though he had a pretty low batting average of .211, he still had 27 Home Runs and produced a 121 WRC+. Not only was he pretty solid at the plate, but he was also elite behind the plate. He was sixth in Frame Rate and third in DRS. Between taking a huge step at the plate and a decent step behind the plate from 2021 to 2022, at this pace, he should be at least a top 5 catcher in 2023.
4. Sean Murphy
Even though Murphy has been known to be one of the better catchers in the league for the past couple of years, it feels like people don’t realize how great he is. Last year he was fifth in Frame Rate (WAR) and ninth in WRC+ amongst catchers. This led to him being third in Wins Above Replacement. All of this was with him being on an awful team. He was traded to the Braves this offseason, so it would be surprising if he weren’t even better with both a better pitching staff and more protection in the lineup
3. Will Smith
Smith has been one of the most impressive catchers over the last few years. Last year he had a .808 OPS and a 127 WRC+. With his high numbers, he is about average defensively. Last year he was seventh in DRS and fifteenth in Frame Rate. He took a slight step backward last year, but the 27-year-old should have no problem bouncing back, especially given that he played the most games of his career last year.
2. Adley Rutschman
Rutschman had one of the quietest elite seasons last year. He was a rookie that many fans were begging Baltimore to send up sooner, and he certainly did not disappoint. At the plate, he had a .362 OBP, .807 OPS, and a 133 WRC+. Behind the plate, he was second in both DRS and Frame Rate. This all led him to be second in WAR. The fact that he could jump right into the league and be elite so quickly is extremely impressive, and he’ll be the number-one catcher in the league sooner rather than later.
1. J.T. Realmuto
Realmuto has been a top-three catcher in the league for the past few years now. You don’t often hear the terms “Five-Tool Player” and “Catcher” in the same sentence, but you do with Realmuto. At the plate, Realmuto hit 22 Home Runs and had a .276 Batting Average, .342 OBP, .820 OPS, and 128 WRC+. Behind the plate, he was 4th in DRS and 14th in Frame Rate. With all this being said, what is also extremely impressive about him is his baserunning ability. Having a catcher who is elite on the base pads usually isn’t of the top priorities when evaluating them, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Honorable Mentions: Salvador Perez and William Contreras
Evaluating catchers is a highly complex thing because a lot of it comes down to team needs at the end of the day. So it will be very interesting, to say the least, which of these catchers will remain on the list at the end of the season.
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