With the 2023 MLB season inching closer and closer, we continue our rankings of the best players at each position. We now move to the men behind the dish, as we focus on our attention on the game’s best catchers. So, who made our list of the top five catchers in Major League Baseball? Let’s go over the list, which starts with a familiar face that will start next season in an unfamiliar location.
5. Willson Contreras
We start our look at the top five catchers with new Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras. The best backstop in the free agent market, Contreras signed with the Cardinals earlier this winter after the retirement of franchise legend Yadier Molina. A three-time All-Star and 2016 World Series champion, Contreras comes to St. Louis after a strong run with division rival Chicago. Contreras recorded OPS+ figures above league average in six of the seven seasons that the new Cardinal has been in the Majors, and posted four 20+ home run campaigns. The 30-year-old also has a penchant for getting on base, thanks in part to the hit by pitch. Contreras has been hit 52 times over the past three seasons, including a league-leading 14 in 2020.
Contreras is not the best framer in the game, nor an elite defender. Contreras does, however, possess one of the game’s better arms from behind the dish.
4. Will Smith
Dodgers catcher Will Smith may not be the most well-known Will Smith in Southern California, but he’s turned into a household names in the Majors. A 2020 World Series champion with Los Angeles, Smith has been one of the best power hitters from behind the dish. The University of Louisville produced has recorded back-to-back 20 home run campaigns for a powerhouse Dodgers lineup, and smacked 121 extra base hits over the last three seasons. Only Salvador Perez of the Royals has more over that time span among catchers.
Smith has turned into one of the Dodgers’ most reliable and valued hitters since his debut in 2019. And at 27 years old, it’s fair to expect to hear a lot of Smith’s name over the next decade.
3. Sean Murphy
After three seasons in Oakland, Sean Murphy is set to join fellow former Athletic Matt Olson in Atlanta. With Shea Langeliers and Tyler Soderstrom in its system, the A’s traded the 2021 AL Gold Glove winner to the Braves. Murphy has long been lauded for his defensive abilities behind the dish. The New York native boasts a strong presence behind the plate, a fantastic arm, and ranked as one of the best pitch framers last season. At the plate, Murphy posted career highs in home runs (18), extra base hits (57), batting average (.250), and OPS (.759) in 2022. Murphy’s 57 extra base hits led all catchers in baseball last season.
The 28-year-old is set to join a loaded Braves lineup next season, as Atlanta looks to win its second title in three seasons. Murphy is also set to be in Atlanta for an extended period of time, as the Braves have already locked its new acquisition up for the next six seasons.
2. Adley Rutschman
This may seem like an aggressive ranking, but Orioles backstop Adley Rutschman looked like a budding superstar in his first season in the Majors. Rutschman registered an impressive 5.2 bWAR and an 128 OPS+ in 2022, thanks to a great approach at the plate and premier hitting ability. Among catchers, Rutschman finished last season with the fifth-best OPS (.806) and second-best OBP (.362) among catchers (min. 300). The 24-year-old also showcased his power, as the catcher smacked 49 extra base hits in 113 games for the O’s.
In addition to his prowess at the plate, Rutschman is a terrific defender behind the plate. The O’s catcher ranked among the best at the position in both poptime and framing last season. The AL Rookie of the Year runner-up shined in his rookie season, and it will be exciting to see what Rutschman can accomplish in his second season.
1. J.T. Realmuto
It’s hard to find a more complete catcher than J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies’ backstop was key to the Philadelphia’s run to the NL pennant last season. The three-time All-Star hit .276/.342/.478 with 22 home runs and 84 runs driven in for the National League champions. That campaign earned the 31-year-old his third Silver Slugger award. Realmuto has elite contact and power skills, and can hold his own on the base paths. The Phillie stole 21 bases — a career high — last season.
Defensively, Realmuto ranks as one of the game’s best defenders and pitch framers. The two-time Gold Glove winner will be a key piece for the Phillies in 2023, as Philadelphia looks to win the team’s third World Series championship.