Who is the best catcher in the mlb? Major League Baseball is loaded with talent at the catcher position heading into the 2023 season. Combine that elite talent with some of the changes that were made over the offseason, and it should be an exciting year behind the dish. Multiple top catchers — including Willson Contreras and Sean Murphy will don new uniforms in 2023.
Then there’s the young talent. Baltimore Orioles backstop Adley Rutschman has the chance to become not just the best catcher in the game, but also a perennial MVP candidate.
So how do those big names stack up against one another in our latest positional rankings? Here are the top five catchers in baseball ahead of the new season.
5. Willson Contreras, St. Louis Cardinals
Contreras will replace the great Yadier Molina behind the plate in St. Louis after signing a five-year, $87.5 million contract in free agency. It’s a defensive downgrade, but the 30-year-old makes the Cardinals lineup even scarier. He’s among the best offensive backstops in the game and as long as he stays healthy in 2023, he should add a fourth All-Star selection to his résumé.
4. Sean Murphy, Atlanta Braves
2022 stats: .250/.332/.426, 18 HR, 66 RBI (with Oakland Athletics)
The A’s continued their fire sale by sending Murphy to Atlanta during the offseason. It was a major addition for the Braves, who now boast arguably the best catching tandem in the league with Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud. Murphy is a Gold Glove backstop who took a significant step forward at the plate last season. His 5.1 WAR ranked 11th in the American League and third among all catchers.
3. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
2022 stats: .260/.343/.465, 24 HR, 87 RBI
Smith has established himself as arguably the best offensive catcher in the game. The soon-to-be 28-year-old led all NL catchers in homers and RBI last season and that still was a step back from his stellar 2021 campaign. Smith’s defense isn’t up to par with some of the other top catchers, but he isn’t a liability. And even if he was, the bat would make up for those shortcomings.
2. Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
2022 stats: .254/.362/.445, 13 HR, 42 RBI
Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, quickly made his presence felt as a rookie last year. The 25-year-old finished as the runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Mariners star Julio Rodriguez. He posted a 5.3 WAR despite only playing in 113 games. No one should be surprised if Rutschman is in the MVP conversation this season, though he’ll need to prove himself over the course of a 162-game campaign before taking over the No. 1 spot on this list.
1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
2022 stats: .276/.342/.478, 22 HR, 84 RBI
Realmuto has been the best catcher in the sport for the last five years. While you can make the argument for Rutschman, Realmuto has an undeniable track record that gives him the edge for now. The 32-year-old is a three-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger award winner, and two-time Gold Glover. He finished seventh in NL MVP voting last season and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Ranking the best 24 catchers of 2023 in the MLB
After tackling the entire outfield last week, we head back into the infield this week and tier the top catchers.
Many might view catcher to be one of the weaker positions considering the lack of true offense power. However, there are still several good catchers in the game.
He does it all: He’s great offensively (he hit .276 with 22 homers and 84 RBIs last season). He’s unbelievable defensively. He throws out more guys than anybody else.
He’s also fast. Remember his inside-the-park home run in last year’s playoffs? (I’m sure he sent Ronald Acuña Jr. a nice little gift for helping out.) Realmuto steals bases, including 21 last season, in addition to being great on offense and defense.
Realmuto epitomizes the total package. When I think of catchers, he’s one of one. That’s why he’s in the “Elite” category all by himself.
I’m all in on the Rutschman hype train and I was before he got called up to the big leagues. He finally debuted last year and he did not disappoint.
For a player who had as much hype as he had from the day he was drafted in 2019, to be as good as he was as a rookie for the Orioles is outstanding. Baltimore’s season effectually turned around, and the trajectory of the franchise from a cellar dweller to a playoff contender, the day Rutschman was called up.
Pitchers speak so highly of Rutschman. Offensively, we know how good he is. He’ll only get better, and I would bet my bottom dollar that he’s in the “Elite” category next year.
As for Smith, we’ve all seen what he’s done in the playoffs. The Dodgers have had the best lineup in baseball over the past couple of years and they have Smith hitting fourth.
He rewarded that trust last year by hitting .260 with 24 home runs and 87 RBIs. He’s absolutely one of the best catchers in baseball.
The Braves’ big acquisition this offseason is one of the bright, young stars in the game at the catcher position, which isn’t easy to come by. He’s a catcher that can be really good defensively and put up numbers at the plate. Last year, he hit .250 with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. At the catcher position, you’ll absolutely take that.
If you don’t know Raleigh, aka “Big Dumper,” it’s time to learn his name. As my “Flippin’ Bats” co-host Alex Curry pointed out, he had really big moments at the end of the season.
In looking at his numbers last year — he hit .211 with 27 home runs and 63 RBIs — you might be surprised to see him ranked this high. Well, he got off to an abysmal start, one that you really can’t climb out of average-wise. I wouldn’t look at that number and assume he’s never going to hit well. He just got out to a start that he couldn’t completely recover from. I’m very excited for what the future holds for him.
There’s an argument to have Maldonado in any category from “Almost Elite” to “The Rest.” He could be anywhere depending on what you value.
If Maldonado were not in the Houston Astros’ lineup, I don’t think he’s going to start for many other teams. The Astros’ lineup is so deep and so good that you don’t mind the lack of offensive production that he brings, and he’s just not good offensively.
I have Maldonado ranked here because of what he does with the pitching staff. What he does behind the plate is some of the best stuff in baseball. It’s unbelievable. When I look at a catcher, I don’t strictly look at offensive numbers. We can’t deny that the offensive numbers were quite bad, but he did have some clutch hits in the playoffs.
The reason he’s ranked here is that everyone loves throwing to him. He transforms a pitching staff and there is a lot of value in that.
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