Wars are won over many years and battles. Alliances are made, but those bonds can be broken as easily as they’re formed. A trio of generals and statesmen once stood above Ancient Rome known as the Triumvirate. These men were leaders of legions and proved their merit in different ways. Wealth, influence, and power all led them to succeed together. Inevitably, it also led them to strive to be the absolute best among each other. We now find ourselves watching a similar war being fought over who will be the best everyday catcher in baseball.
J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, and Adley Rutschman headline the most top-heavy position in MLB. The generation before them has begun to faze out and a new story is unfolding. Yadier Molina, the epitome of catching excellence, has retired. Salvador Perez will continue to be the figurehead of Kansas City baseball but saw his numbers come back down to earth after his bopping 2021 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI, and now going into his age 33 season. The Catcher Triumvirate of the 2020s is officially here to stay, and it may pan out to be a power struggle year in and year out.
Our Proven Field General
J.T. Realmuto is our most consistent and proven catcher. Since his first full season, he’s never played less than 125 games. His athleticism for the position is unmatched. Even though J.T. is going into his age 32 season, something I discounted against Perez, his unparalleled speed and arm strength puts him in the most prestigious position amongst his peers. Realmuto led the league in Pop Time 2B (Avg) and was tied for first in Sprint Speed (Avg) for catchers. Simply put, Realmuto does things other catchers can’t do.
As recently as the magical Phillies 2022 postseason run, we’ve seen his speed in full display. Realmuto dashed around the bases on this inside-the-park home run in Game 4. Helping the Phillies close out the defending MLB champions:
INSIDE THE PARK HOME RUN FOR J.T. REALMUTO ARE YOU SERIOUS pic.twitter.com/5TBD6ejtyo
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 15, 2022
Catchers are expected to be excellent defenders, and not only manage pitchers, but be their staunch protectors from themselves. Realmuto saw by far the most pitches needing blocking and led the league in Blocking Runs and Throwing Runs while truly dominating all other catchers in Caught Stealing Percentage due to his #1 Poptime. Why not take a minute to watch all of his successful throws from 2022:
Each of the league-leading 28 runners J.T. Realmuto threw out in 2022 pic.twitter.com/kPiKNU2elA
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) February 14, 2023
Realmuto’s Statcast analytics jump off the screen for a catcher. While he sits around the league average in K%, he has shown the ability over his career to be an exceptional fastball hitter. Ranking 4th among catchers in Hard Hit % and 5th in Brls/PA %. While other notable catchers, some soon to be mentioned here, are sitting in a similar standing in offensive categories, Realmuto’s overall versatility is unmatched.
Looking forward to the 2023 season shows some clear signs of continued success. While he’s never eclipsed 100 RBI, he hasn’t needed to with other great contributors around him. The Phillies have looked to bolster around him rather than require his batting to carry them. Realmuto’s addition to the Phillies alongside Bryce Harper in 2019 was a clear move in that direction, along with 2022 adds of Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and once highly touted prospects Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins, Realmuto was surrounded by a talented lineup for their 2022 season. In 2023, the Phillies felt it wasn’t quite enough after their World Series loss, and continued to improve by adding Trea Turner to the lineup. The Phillies 2023 lineup is looking daunting, and Realmuto is sitting right in the middle of it with a runback chance at an NL Pennant.
Our Up-and-Coming Lieutenants
A proven captain is nothing without his sworn catching brethren in the wings. Both Will Smith and Adley Rutschman stand strongly as the one with the most to prove in the former, and the one with all the intangibles and potential in the latter. Both of them landed on MLB’s Top 50 players for the 2023 season, and aim to challenge Realmuto’s position at the top.
— MLB (@MLB) February 16, 2023
Will Smith has had a dynamic start to his career, bursting into the 2020 shortened season with incredible production. Smith enters his age 28 season after two years of remarkably consistent play in 2021-2022. The Dodgers will continue to support Smith even further, likely to show him at-bats in the middle of the Los Angeles lineup. Could slotting him in the middle of the order provide more upside for Smith, or does it cause a heightened sense of pressure?
Smith is surrounded by proven talent in their project lineup. Familiar names like Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Max Muncy will continue to support him, but multiple Dodger glue pieces have moved to different teams. Justin Turner is a Red Sox, previously mentioned Trea Turner signed with the Phillies, and Cody Bellinger is in the north side of Chicago with the Cubs. This gives Smith a unique opportunity to burst into the scene as the next great homegrown player.
Unlike Realmuto, Will Smith has an elite plate presence with a 90th-percentile chase rate. This gives him great opportunities to see hittable pitches ahead in the count, like this 3-1 hanging breaking ball to put the game out of reach:
Smith was also the best hitter in MLB against the sinker, and in his career thus far there have been clear signs of success against the fastball and sinker. This significant spike in effectiveness proves useful as his low chase rate forces pitchers to be aggressive in the zone, and allows Smith to take advantage early in counts:
All things considered, Will Smith will have a great opportunity to see through his arbitration years and aim for a big contract once he hits free agency. Smith is destined for glory in the Chavez Ravine, but our final member of the triumvirate has a chance to be an undeniable captain of their respective team for years to come.
Adley Rutschman burst onto the scene after a highly coveted run as one of MLB’s most intriguing prospects. The former #1 MLB Draft pick, Rutschman sat atop MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects and hit the ground running, leading the Orioles to a season no one expected. What’s truly remarkable about Rutschman’s upside is his remarkable patience at the plate for a rookie. Finishing in the 96th percentile for BB% which had him tied for 10th overall.
When it comes to the more standard stats, Rutschman began his career with a 5.2 WAR and 128 OPS+. With many years ahead as the Orioles’ face of the franchise, there will be clear opportunity to be a leader on the diamond and a staple for Baltimore fans. There seems to be an effort to show his charisma to the masses, and that is intangible fun and presence Rutschman can bring to the Orioles:
Adley Rutschman putting in the work?
Follow for more! pic.twitter.com/P7N00hdpR5
— bsb reels (@ReelsBsb) February 19, 2023
The Triumvirate’s Impact
The catcher position can be difficult to nail down in fantasy. As normally anticipated, there is less overall depth at the position, which is proving true based on the ratios across rough ADPs. Below is a rough breakdown of positions seen across the Top 200 players for fantasy 2023.
Considering the total lack of depth, targeting one of these three players can pay off in spades. Since each player brings their own specific set of talent at the plate, and in different circumstances on each team, you have room to pick them and then navigate your team accordingly. Each of these players are slated to hit at the top of their lineups, and regardless of position, finding any player hitting in that part of the lineup allows for more opportunities to score in all 5 categories.
It looks like some others agree on these top 3 catchers:
"I am all-in on the Adley Rutschman hype train" — @BenVerlander
See who Ben and @Alex_Curry have joining Adley in the ALMOST elite group of their Catcher tier list ?
— Flippin' Bats Podcast (@FlippinBatsPod) February 23, 2023
J.T. Realmuto, the most consistent all-around catcher in baseball, along with up-and-coming stars Will Smith and Adley Rutschman headline an incredible catching Triumvirate for 2023 and many years to come. While fellow contenders like Alejandro Kirk, Daulton Varsho, and MJ Melendez have similar claims to stand as one of the three on the podium, they lack the true long-term future as defined everyday backstops. Whether it is Realmuto running it back as the best in baseball and clinching another NL Championship, Smith continuing or improving on his consistent performance, or Rutschman fighting off other newcomers like former AL ROY Julio Rodríguez to be the next face of baseball, all three have already solidified their place amongst the best at their position. Similar to the correlation made to Ancient Roman leaders, one will prove his mettle and stand alone as the best catcher in the world.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)