The Top 5
Over the next couple of weeks, this writer will cover each baseball position in an attempt to rank the top five players in their respective roles. Players will be judged based not only on this year’s performance but also on previous years. In addition, players will not be judged solely on offensive numbers or WAR but also on defensive numbers and player health. Player health is factored in because the best ability is availability. This may sound harsh, but if a player is missing in action despite great performances, they are not contributing to the team. There may be exceptions to the criteria, which will be explained later; however, these will be the general rule of thumb. So, without further notice, we can begin with the catchers.
Number 5 Jonah Heim
The World Series-winning catcher played a vital role for the Texas Rangers throughout the 2023 season. They are slashing at a 258 BA clip with 18 Home Runs and 95 RBI while playing great defense behind the plate. Heim stands out for his ability to call a game and lead a staff. Heim had to deal with multiple injuries to the team’s starting staff in the 2023 playoffs. When so many starters go down before the World Series, no less, it usually spells disaster for a team.
However, with Heim’s game calling behind the plate, the Rangers were able to navigate the setbacks and deliver Arlington its first World Series title. If he continues to build off his 2023 season, look out for him to go even higher up the list next year.
Number 4 Sean Murphy
When the Braves made the trade to acquire Matt Olson from the Athletics, many baseball experts saw it as an overpay. Ironically, the Braves followed that trade up with another overpay or Sean Murphy the following year. And yet, they have both been great acquisitions; each player has become an elite player in the past two seasons. Sean Murphy has become one of the best catchers in all of baseball. In 2023, he hit 251 with 21 Home Runs and an OPS+ of 125. The OPS+ is elite among the catcher’s positions, and Murphy is significant not only with the bat but also with the glove. He finished the year with a 1.3 defensive WAR to go along with a 3.9 WAR for the season.
Murphy is an excellent asset to the Braves as he provides offensive pop and elite defense behind the plate. It’s safe to say the Braves got both trades correct. His offensive numbers could go up since he is hitting in arguably the best offense in baseball.
Number 3 Will Smith
Since his first entire season in the Major Leagues in 2021, Will Smith has been consistently a top 2 or 3 catcher in baseball. With good reason, too, he hits for power, averaging 23 Home Runs over the past three seasons to go along with a batting average of around 260. Like the other catchers on this list, he is one of the best defenders at the position. He is finishing the year with a 1.4 defensive WAR and a 4.1 total for 2023.
What also makes Smith great is his knack for situational hitting. In the past 2 of 3 seasons, he has led the league in sacrifice flies and has a strikeout rate of around 18 percent. This helps to make Smith a devastating bat in the lineup, as he helps to put pressure on the opposing pitchers when they are already tired from facing the heart of the order. Like Murphy, expect Smith to see more pitches because of the lineup he hit, especially now with Shohei Ohtani.
Number 2 J.T. Realmuto
For the past 5-7 years, J.T. Realmuto has been regarded as the game’s premier catcher. With good reason, Realmuto has consistently batted around 270 with an average of about 20+ home runs a season. This also goes along with a cannon for an arm and great defensive prowess behind the plate. He is also fast, stealing 16 bases in 2023 with a career-high of 21 only a year ago. You can see why he was seen as the gold standard for catchers in baseball due to his unique skill set. Why isn’t he number 1 on the list? That is because the catcher in first place has been extraordinary since he joined the Major Leagues.
Number 1 Adley Rutschman
The young backstop for the Orioles is the core piece of their team. Since he was called up in 2022, the Orange Birds have had a winning record. Rutschman has truly made his presence felt. He has compiled almost 10 WAR through his first two seasons in the big leagues. It is easy to see why. Rutschman is a switch hitter with great game-calling ability and an exceptional eye at the plate. He walked 92 times and struck out only 101 times in 2023. He also batted 277 and hit 20 home runs from both sides of the plate. You can see why the Orioles drafted the young catcher number 1 overall in the 2018 draft.
His skill set is exceptional, and he has been a strong leader for the Orioles. You can see this in how he settles down a rilled pitcher and brings them back to focus. Along with his on-field abilities, he is also great at staying healthy. Last year, he played in a whopping 154 games. One hundred fifty-four games as a catcher is almost alien to modern baseball. Most field players today do not even play anywhere near 154 games. This further shows how vital he is to the Orioles and how great a player he is.
Look out for Adley to potentially win an MVP soon. He is a particular player with a high ceiling and has a lot more growing to do. In Adley, we may be seeing an all-time great player. Of course, only time will tell, but the future looks bright.
Main Photo Credits: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports