Thursday, July 7, 2022

Fantasy Baseball: Adley Rutschman deserves to be a top-10 catcher right away

He’s here, and he’s perfect.

I’m not just memeing for memeing’s sake. That’s actually the word I’d use to describe Adley Rutschman. As catcher prospects go, he’s as close as it gets to perfect, maybe even the best we’ve ever seen.

Of course, that’s not exactly a secret. People were drafting him as a top-12 catcher even knowing he probably wouldn’t make the opening day roster. His strained triceps at the start of spring training hardly moved the needle.

You don’t make that investment if you don’t intend to hold out for the payoff, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Rutschman is already rostered in 86 percent of CBS Sports leagues. And now that he’s here, you should absolutely regard him as a top-12 catcher. Or make that top-10, actually. You know what? I’m slotting him seventh at the position right away, because why the heck not?

It’s not that I’m guaranteeing immediate success. I don’t see how anyone could given the number of high-profile prospects who’ve flopped on their first try lately. Basically, since the start of the 2020 season, disappointment has been the norm for prospect call-ups, and from the perspective of all baseball history, that’s the way it should be.

Longtime Fantasy Baseballers had grown accustomed to something different, to the majority coming in and making a seamless transition to the majors, a period that at least loosely coincided with the juiced ball era. Prior to then, a multi-year adjustment period was to be expected for newcomers, with immediate successes being the exception rather than the rule, but I get the feeling most of us haven’t recalibrated to that reality yet. What exactly changed I can’t say, but from Jo Adell to Andrew Vaughn to Bobby Witt to Jarred Kelenic to Spencer Torkelson, it seems like the highest level has become the hardest to break into again.

But the thing about the catcher position is that anyone with an inkling of potential becomes a priority play. The majority of the position is dispensable, frequently swapped for the flavor of the week on the waiver wire, with only a handful of impact hitters existing at any given time. When the alternative is assured mediocrity, a catcher with Rutschman’s upside deserves a chance to fail.

And as I’ve said, he’s a near-perfect prospect, offering a better chance than most of making good on his potential right away. He was the first pick in the 2019 draft, is already 24, makes all the right swing decisions, crushing pitches in his wheelhouse and taking walks like it’s his job, and he also earns high marks defensively. He’ll be more of a lineup fixture than the typical catcher, setting him apart on playing time alone, and because he’s a switch-hitter, he won’t suffer from the altered dimensions at Camden Yards — not as much as a right-handed hitter, anyway.

As lottery tickets go, this one has a better chance of paying off than most — and at a position where the impact would be especially welcome. But again, that’s no big secret.

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