We’re moving right along to catcher in this series after ranking the division’s starting rotations and bullpens on Monday and Wednesday respectively.
2020 NL East Position Rank Series
To remain consistent, here’s a simple disclaimer, for those of you new to the Braves 2020 Position Ranks series…
In this series, we’ll look at each position group one at a time, while ranking all five NL East clubs according to their projected WAR total for each respective position for the 2020 season. We’ll be using 2020 ZiPS projections for all rankings, and all WAR figures will be compiled from FanGraphs. The order of these posts will correspond with each defensive position-number on the field (1: pitcher, 2: catcher, 3: first base… etc.).
2020 NL East Catcher Ranks
Perhaps surprising to some, the NL East has been quite successful at the catcher position over the years. From 2015-19, three of the five teams within the division rank inside the top-half of the majors in team WAR, and over the last three seasons (2017-19), two of those three rank among the top-5 (Braves: 2nd / Marlins: 4th).
For a position that rarely gets much attention — especially on the offensive side — the NL East will enter the 2020 season with a nice selection of offensive-prone catchers that can certainly do damage with the bat.
With today’s position, I’ve decided to go with three catchers per team, given that “catching duos” are far more prevalent in today’s game. Plus, including a third player will allow us to also incorporate each team’s backup or next-in-line minor league catcher (ala the Braves’ situation with Alex Jackson).
Phillies — 4.5 WAR
- J. Realmuto — 4.4*
- A. Knapp — -0.2
- D. Grullon — 0.3
*highest projected WAR total on the team
Not only do the Phillies pace the NL East at catcher, the team’s best player happens to man the position. J.T. Realmuto has averaged 5 WAR in his last three seasons, including a career-high 5.7 WAR in 2019. He likely wowed the Phillies enough in his first year with the team that an extension is almost certainly on its way.
However, it’s essentially a one-man show, meaning the Phils’ success at the position rests solely on the All-Star’s health and performance. Perhaps making matters worse, Philadelphia didn’t bring in anyone else to back him up, deciding to stay with Andrew Knapp as the No. 2.
Knapp hasn’t been much with the bat during his three-year big-league career (.223 AVG / 78 wRC+), but he’s capable of at least holding down the fort in an emergency.
Deivy Grullon, 24, made his MLB debut in 2019 (though only played 4 games) and looks like a player with promise, considering he belted 21 home runs and hit .283 while in Triple-A last season.
Braves — 2.5 WAR
- T. d’Arnaud — 1.1
- T. Flowers — 1.2
- A. Jackson — 0.2
In one of my favorite moves of this offseason, the Braves finally added some offense to the team’s catcher position by signing free agent Travis d’Arnaud to a 2-year deal.
Over the last several seasons, the Braves have managed to do rather well at catcher, but d’Arnaud alone potentially offers offensive production that took two combined players at the position to achieve in prior seasons. He owns a decent career 97 wRC+ but, when healthy, can produce 15-20 home runs and a strong .250-.260 AVG. Most importantly, he can fight off left-handed pitching, a flavor of pitching Tyler Flowers has altogether stopped hitting.
Flowers isn’t very exciting with the bat other than the occasional fastball he runs into, but in terms of catching a game and doing what needs to be done behind the plate, he’s one of the best in the business.
In terms of a backup, Alex Jackson has legit power, though he’ll probably show it off again in Triple-A. The minor-league competition between Jackson, William Contreras, and Shea Langeliers will be fun.
Nationals — 2.5 WAR
- K. Suzuki — 0.8
- Y. Gomes — 1.2
- R. Read — 0.5
The Nationals will enter 2020 with the exact same catching group as last season, splitting duties between two players that compliment each other nicely in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.
Gomes is no Tyler Flowers, but he is quite capable with the glove (8.4 Def). Granted, he’s coming off his worst offensive season in the last three years (79 wRC+).
Suzuki is below-average defensively, but hit .264 with 17 home runs in 85 games in 2019 (105 wRC+). Other than the fact that this is his age-36 season, I still sometimes wish it was Suzuki that got re-signed after the 2018 season instead of Flowers. All-in-all, as long as at least one of these two stay healthy, Washington shouldn’t have much of an issue from the catcher position this coming season.
Raudy Read is a 26-year-old who has shown flashes with the bat in the upper-levels of the minors during his time in the Nationals’ system. He received a cup of coffee last season (as well as 2017), but went just 1-for-11 in six big league games. R
ead will open up 2020 in Triple-A, where he hit .275 with 20 home runs in 2019 (97 wRC+).
Mets — 1.7 WAR
- W. Ramos — 1.6
- T. Nido — 0.0
- A. Sanchez — 0.1
The Mets are really putting all of their eggs in one basket with Wilson Ramos, as neither of the team’s two backups provide much help.
Ramos, 32, has been a solid catcher during his 10-year career, but he’s quite a ways away now from the 4.4-WAR season he posted in 2011 with the Nationals. Regardless, he is still an above-average big league catcher that has combined for a .297 AVG (118 wRC+) with 29 home runs over the last two seasons, totaling a 3.6 WAR.
Tomas Nido is a former 8th-round pick (2012) and once upon a time was a top-5 prospect in the organization. He’ll turn 26 next month but still hasn’t figured out how to hit major league pitching even after playing in 89 games over the last 3 seasons (.187 AVG / 35 wRC+). Nido’s plate discipline is rough, as he walked just seven times in 144 plate appearances (50 games) with the Mets in 2019.
Ali Sanchez is the team’s no. 23 prospect and just got a taste of Triple-A as a 22-year-old. He still needs to see more advanced pitching, after his AVG suffered a 100-point drop from Double-A to Triple-A in 2019 (.278 to .179).
Marlins — 1.6 WAR
- J. Alfaro — 0.7
- F. Cervelli — 0.6
- C. Wallach — 0.3
The Marlins are actually coming off a decent year at the catcher position, ranking 10th in the NL in catcher WAR in 2019 at 1.3. Miami will again roll with a group led by Jorge Alfaro, who posted another solid offensive season last year, hitting .262 with 18 home runs (95 wRC+). His defense, however, took a big step back from 2018 (20.5 Def down to 7.5).
Spring Training should decide who the Marlins’ No. 2 will be between Francisco Cervelli and Chad Wallach. Cervelli, of course, comes with a strong track record as a career .269 hitter, but he’s also about to turn 34 and has suffered numerous concussions throughout his big-league career. His defense is still plenty playable.
Offensively, the dropoff from Cervelli to Wallach is massive. Wallach has just a .202 AVG (62 wRC+) in 40 major-league games spread over 3 seasons and he strikes out a ton (34.2 K%).
Even with some legit health concerns, the Marlins might be better off with the safer backup in Cervelli. Either way, the position’s fate rests on Alfaro.
Next up: First base