The 2020 season is approaching. Over the next 12 weeks we’ll be looking at the best SSG Baseball players for the new year position-by-position. Today we start with arguably the most important defensive positions on the diamond: catchers. This is a pretty deep field this year so the competition was tough and there were a few players that just missed the list.
Please note that this list is final and objective, and the rankings below will be exactly how the players will finish in 2020; no biases here.
10) Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants (age 33) 2019 – 139 games., .270/.356./.401 (101 OPS+), 13 HR, 3.5 WAR
Starting off is the former MVP Buster Posey. While 2019 was rather pedestrian for Buster from a hitting perspective (besides his OBP, which was 8th among qualified catchers), his defense continues to be very solid. He is also only one year removed from a 2018 season in which he hit .290/.370/.482 (135 OPS+) and 20 HRs. Plus he’s only entering his age 33 season so while it seems that he has been around forever it’s perfectly reasonable to think that he’s still got a few above-average years in the tank going forward.
9) Jake Turnbull – Philadelphia Phillies (22) 2019 – 119 games, .292/.372/.478 (123 OPS+), 14 HR, 4.0 WAR
Turnbull has had a dream start to his career, winning two World Series titles with the Phillies. He also brings some speed to the position, and he recorded 5 triples and 9 stolen bases last year. He should continue to improve as the Phil’s go for the three-peat.
8) Travis d’Arnaud – New York Mets (31) 2019 – 137 games, .283/.347/.498 (121 OPS+), 27 HR, 4.1 WAR
After a rough 2018, d’Arnaud returned to form at and behind the plate last year. His 27 home runs and .845 OPS were career-highs. His team will look to dethrone the aforementioned back-to-back World Series champions in the NL East, and d’Arnaud will play a key role catching a strong starting rotation.
7) Blake Swihart – Boston Red Sox (28) 2019 – 125 games, .271/.370/.462 (113 OPS+), 21 HR, 3.8 WAR
Home runs and extra base hits are fun, but defense and OBP are really really important. Blake was an All-Star for the first time in 2019. His .370 OBP was a career-high but wasn’t an outlier for Swihart’s career; he posted .354 and .342 OBPs in 2017 and 18 respectively. Plus he threw out an MLB-leading 37.7% of would be base-stealers last year (5.2 percentage points higher than the guy in second). Defense and OBP are really important.
6) Jakson Reetz – San Diego Padres (24) 2019 – 135 games, .273/.357/.462 (116 OPS+), 15 HR, 4.2 WAR
Reetz was acquired by the Padres as part of the deal that sent OF Matt Kemp to Washington after the 2015 season. He is the only one still with San Diego’s organization, and the trade has finally started paying dividends with Jakson’s first full year in the big leagues in 2019. While his strikeout rate (15.5%) was the highest among qualifying NL catchers, but his walk rate was second highest(11.3%). He also added 4 triples and 7 steals for good measure, and he plays good defense. Plus at just 24 years old, Reetz’s best baseball is probably still ahead of him. He will try to help the Padres turn the corner in 2020 following an 86 win season.
5) Tyrone Ibarra – Seattle Mariners (27) 2019 – 129 games, .271/.342/.520 (124 OPS+), 30 HRs, 4.3 WAR
After a great rookie season in 2017, and a good sophomore year in 2018, Ibarra really broke out in 2019. His defense went from bad to serviceable. His power has gone from “good for a catcher” to “good for a baseball player” since his rookie year. He was also an All-Star for a second time. The fact that he’ll be hitting near the bottom of the Mariners’ lineup should tell you how good they will be this year.
4) Tanner Norton – Atlanta Braves (24) 2019 – 140 games, .281/.377/.486 (125 OPS+), 26 HR, 5.2 WAR
If you want Matt Kemp, apparently the price includes a future star behind the dish. Tanner came to Atlanta from the Phillies at the trade deadline as a part of a deal that sent Kemp to the eventual World Champs in 2018. In 2019 Norton broke into the big leagues and was named an All Star and a Gold Glover. Like Reetz his strikeout rate (21.0%) and walk rate (12.7%) were both high, the latter of which being the highest among qualified Catchers (he was the only NL backstop who beat Reetz in that category). He will be managing what should be a very good pitching staff in 2020, which could be a make-or-break year for the Braves. Thus, there will be a lot on the shoulders of the 24-year-old.
3) Yasmani Grandal – Los Angeles Dodgers (31) 2019 – 120 games, .270/.373/.515 (135 OPS+), 28 HR, 5.2 WAR
Grandal is the whole package. His 2019 was his best since he led the Dodgers to the World Series in his first year with them in 2015. He plays plus defense and he can get on-base as well as anyone. His power took a big step forward as well, as he set career-highs in homers, slugging, and isolated power. the Dodgers have made the playoffs in 7-straight years (a streak that probably won’t be ending in 2020) and you could argue that Grandal is their best position-player besides Giancarlo Stanton.
2) Salvador Perez – Cincinnati Reds (30) 2019 (with KC) – 136 games, .328/.381/.562 (139 OPS+), 28 HR, 6.0 WAR
There can only be one number one, unfortunately. At the catcher position, age made the difference. Perez will be 30 this year and he will be playing for a new team, which throws a wrench in any projections you can make. These are the only two conceivable negatives to Perez’s game. The Reds snapped their 6-year postseason drought in 2019 winning the NL Central for the first time since 2012. The front office took a huge bet on the team over the offseason, signing Perez to a 7-year, $187 million contract. He is as durable as anyone, making at least 127 starts in three straight seasons. He has hit 82 homers over the last 3 seasons with KC, and his right-handed power should benefit from the left-field short porch at the Great American Small-park as well.
1) Oscar Hernandez – Arizona Diamondbacks (26) 2019 – 150 games, .296/.364/.580 (130 OPS+), 39 HR, 6.0 WAR
Hernandez is young, durable, powerful, patient and sure-handed. 150 games-played and 616 plate appearances are ridiculous totals for a catcher. He not only led the position in those categories in 2019, but also in home runs, slugging percentage, and RBI. This is the first mention of RBI in this list because in most cases, I don’t think they are very meaningful, but Oscar’s 142 led all of baseball, which is quite a feat for a catcher for any offensive category. What were voters thinking when they did not elect him to the All-Star game in 2019? At least he won his second-straight Silver Slugger against a very good field last year. Sal Perez joins the mix in the NL in 2020 so the competition will be even more fierce for the award.
Next week, we’ll look at the best first-basemen in the game today. Stay tuned.