In fantasy football, what often separates the good teams from the great teams is drafting a dominant tight end early in drafts that revolutionizes the offense.

It’s a physically demanding position that involves both blocking and catching, so the athletic game-wreckers that make the offenses so prolific, like Travis Kelce on the Chiefs, George Kittle on the 49ers, or Sam LaPorta on the Lions, make the offensive attacks of contenders a step above everyone else (and having some steadiness in your fantasy lineup as opposed to shuffling through blocking tight ends and hoping they end up with a touchdown or something as a miracle). Having a warrior of an offensive weapon whose focus is often blocking to set up the skill players is a cheat code.

The same could be said for the catcher position in baseball. There are a plethora of other factors that come into play aside from just purely hitting: the relationship with the pitcher, pitch-framing, throw-out capability, and simply being a bulldog blocking 100 MPH pitches with your knees bent for upwards of 3 hours. The offense is merely a plus, and you’re the Iron Man who eventually gets phased out to a less demanding position if the bat sticks around.

Every year since 2017, three or fewer catchers have had a batting average less than .270, as they’re often toward the bottom of the lineup. In fact, 15 of the projected opening-day lineups this year had their catcher batting in the 7-hole or lower.

That gives all of the other teams that have an athletic, offensive catcher an advantage: there’s almost no “position hole” in the lineup that is an invaluable currency.

Of course, we’ve seen some anomalies in the past; Hall of Famer and MVP Joe Mauer of the Twins had 8 seasons batting over .300 and was an athletic freak that could have been a top quarterback prospect at Florida State. Buster Posey did the same four times as the bedrock of the Giants, winning an MVP before suffering a devastating injury at the plate. Taking a look right now at some of the top teams around baseball, it feels like the position as a whole has never been more stout at the plate in terms of identity and has created a league of haves and have-nots.

It took until the ALDS last year for the Baltimore Orioles to get swept once ever since they called up Adley Rutschman in 2022; he finished 9th in MVP last year, participated in the home run derby, and is seen as “the guy” in Baltimore as the #1 pick that defines their young core; we’ll never forget his debut of just taking in the ovation at the plate before lining a stand-up triple. You’ll also consistently hear the anecdote that he tackled Christian McCaffrey when he was at Stanford as an Oregon State football player constantly on broadcasts.

Jonah Heim was a major reason that the Texas Rangers went on their World Series run last season as a break-out fan favorite who hit 18 homers and was an All-Star; with a lineup that deep, you KNEW that Corey Seager and Marcus Semien were going to get on base, so having Heim producing is only an embarrassment of riches.

The same can be said about the Dodgers, who have a top-three of Betts-Ohtani-Freeman that could be the best in baseball history, but what will take them over the top is their all-star catcher, Will Smith, who just got a 10-year, $140 million deal to remain the offensive backstop in LA that they believe in as he’s consistently hitting 15+ home runs. J.T. Realmuto has consistently been a freak in Philadelphia who bats clean-up, steals bases, and was a high school quarterback.

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Even the Padres, who were viewed as having taken a step back to focus on youth and development with a nightmare year in the rearview and having traded Juan Soto, could have some diamond-in-the-rough production out of 25-year-old Luis Campusano, batting .364 through eight games in his first season as the full-time battery to keep the Padres looking like the hole-less lineup we expected out of them last year when they were making World Series propositions.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Astros have pivoted to what some consider addition by subtraction; former manager Dusty Baker was adamant about consistently using Martin Maldonado at catcher over 25-year-old Yainer Diaz. Maldonado, now with the White Sox, was batting .191 last season, and Diaz has immediately stepped in under new manager Joe Espada and is hitting .400 with 2 homers through 8 games. The Astros may have plugged their only hole in the lineup by having a manager who’s letting the young buck get some reps in behind the plate.

Of course, we still have a love for the Austin Hedges of the league, who is statistically one of the worst offensive plate appearances at the league but consistently gets starts due to his immaculate framing and pitcher chemistry that shapes a pitching staff (let’s not forget Hedges’s incredible vibes during the World Series run for the Rangers last year as well), but looking around the top of the league, the contenders don’t have a hole at the catching position at the plate; they have a bat in the lineup devoid of the “squatty, unathletic” label that demeans one of the most difficult and impactful positions in all of the sports that impacts every single play.

In the same way that the NFL tight end position has been redefined by the freaks and getting the national love that it does now, the catcher renaissance is here to stay for contending teams in baseball.

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