Fantasy baseball's waiver wire: Catch these catcher call-ups quickly

The state of the catcher position in fantasy baseball isn't nearly as bleak this season as in the several that preceded it.

Yes, catchers as a whole have hit just .233/.301/.385 with a .301 wOBA -- every one of those rates being the worst by any of the eight other starting lineup positions (excluding pitchers), while catchers' 3.0% HR rate is better than only the 2.4% by second basemen and 2.9% by shortstops.

Every one of those numbers, though, represents a noticeable boost upon the position's 2022 rates (.228/.295/.368, .293, 2.7%), including the fact that all of them except for OBP (a six-point improvement, compared to eight points leaguewide) exceeds the amount that the league as a whole has improved in each category. That's an important comparison when you consider the impact of the leaguewide rule changes in 2023.

An influx of young catching has been mostly responsible, most notably the arrivals of 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick and Baltimore Orioles franchise cornerstone Adley Rutschman as well as Kansas City Royals power-hitting, catcher-eligible MJ Melendez. Additionally, this season we've seen the emergence of New York Mets slugging catcher Francisco Alvarez, and now another pair of promising rookie catchers has arrived in the big leagues. They top this week's list of recommended pickups.

To preface this discussion, be completely aware that catcher analysis in fantasy baseball is arguably the most variable across all positions that leagues include in the game. That's in large part because some leagues requiring only one in a starting lineup (others need two), as well as the depth of the league. It's much tougher to take a streaming approach or to go light at catcher if you're playing in a shallow mixed league, particularly ESPN's standard where there are only nine starting lineup spots.

Neither of these catchers might warrant your time in our game -- the argument can be made that Will Smith, Rutschman, Salvador Perez, Daulton Varsho, Sean Murphy, J.T. Realmuto, Alejandro Kirk, Melendez, William Contreras and Keibert Ruiz are our game's 10 "locked in" catchers, with minimal wiggle room from that group. Still, both should be instant, high-acquisition-cost pickups in any noticeably deeper format. There are also circumstances in which either could matter for our purposes, whether due to hot starts to their careers or your team's roster circumstances (injuries, having traded a bigger name, or a strong enough other eight starters).

Catch them if you can

Henry Davis, C, Pittsburgh Pirates: Widely reported to be joining the Pirates in advance of their home series against the Chicago Cubs, Davis (like Rutschman) was the amateur draft's No. 1 overall pick, in his case in 2021. Davis is considered to be one of his position's best power-hitting prospects, having delivered .208 and .257 ISO and 3.9% and 4.7% HR rates in the minors in 2022 and 2023, but he's also one with a keen eye at the plate, as evidenced by his 14.1% walk and 74.6% contact rates combined between the Double- and Triple-A levels.

Although he did struggle in his first taste of Double-A ball last season, Davis rebounded in a big way there and then in a 10-game stint for Triple-A Indianapolis (.286/.432/.514) this year, signaling that he might be ready to deliver for fantasy purposes right away. Yes, adapting to the defensive workload a catcher faces at the big league level can result in a lengthy adjustment period, but the Pirates hint at a creative approach to getting the rookie into their lineup, as his 13 starts and 106 innings in right field in the minors combined this season reflects that he might see a decent share -- if not the majority -- of his time there.

Davis' role shouldn't be much unlike Rutschman's in 2022, playing nearly every day between catcher and DH. Davis can play those two positions as well as in right field. As such, the Pirates prospect should be added immediately in any two-catcher or mixed league of 12 teams-plus.

Additionally, in case you're wondering about fellow Pirates catching prospect Endy Rodriguez, the fact that he has struggled to the tune of .245/.326/.380 rates through 49 games for Indianapolis explains how Davis was seemingly able to leapfrog him on the organization's depth chart. Rodriguez's elite plate approach should make him an impact player (particularly in points leagues) once he arrives, and it will be interesting to see how the Pirates fit both backstops into their big league lineup. Rodriguez has also dabbled between first base, second base and left field.

Bo Naylor, C, Cleveland Guardians: The Guardians unexpectedly designated Mike Zunino -- whom they had signed to a $6 million deal during the winter -- for assignment on Friday, officially beginning the "Bo Naylor era" in Cleveland. The younger brother of now-teammate Josh, Bo has long been regarded as the team's catcher of the future, thanks to his quick-developing defensive skills as well as his patient approach at the plate.

Bo, a left-handed hitter, should immediately take over at least a straight platoon role with Cam Gallagher, though he could quickly capture the regular gig regardless of the splits, considering that Naylor hit 10 homers off lefties combined between 2022-23. Naylor also had a 14.8% walk rate combined between Double- and Triple-A during his minor league career, not to mention a .206 ISO and 32 steals on 38 attempts at those levels.

That gives the look of a balanced-categories rotisserie contributor, à la Varsho and Realmuto, but Naylor's polished plate discipline should also make him an asset in points leagues. I've gone back and forth as to whether to list Davis or Naylor first on this list of recommended pickups, so similar advice as above applies here.

Christopher Morel, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs: While he's not a catcher, my third recommended pickup seems suited to play just about everywhere else on the diamond. After running cold in May and shooting up the list of most-dropped players, Morel has heated up in a big way of late, batting .375/.400/.844 with four home runs and 13 RBIs while starting eight of the Cubs' past nine games (and delivering a pinch-hit home run in the other).

This hot streak coincides with Patrick Wisdom's wrist injury, which landed Wisdom on the IL over the weekend, but Morel is a similarly streaky, albeit more complete overall talent who should be playing nearly every day between second base, third base, center field and DH. (Wisdom, incidentally, was in a massive funk at the time he got hurt, batting just .105/.167/.224 with two home runs and a 48.6% strikeout rate in his most recent 22 games, so Morel has a golden opportunity to cement his status somewhere in the lineup.)

Morel possesses what would be roughly 90th percentile Barrel, hard-hit and sprint speed rates, if he qualified, and while the swing-and-miss present in his game subjects him to similar slumps to last month's, he's simply too talented to be left out there on any free agent lists. That's especially true with his Cubs set to play a pair of games this upcoming weekend at hitting-friendly London Stadium.

Promising week for Padres

The San Diego Padres, winners of 10-of-16 games in June, are aligned for one of Week 12's most favorable overall schedules. They'll begin with four road games against a San Francisco Giants team whose rotation is riddled with injuries. The Giants are, effectively, using bullpen games to cover two of their five rotation spots and don't have ace Logan Webb aligned for this series. San Diego then returns home for three games against the National League's worst team, the Washington Nationals (27-43). Incidentally, the Padres took 7-of-9 games at San Francisco's Oracle Park in 2022.

While most of the household names from the Padres are universally rostered in fantasy leagues, this schedule represents the "all in" type, meaning you should scoop up any of their available regulars to capitalize. However, it's their two-start pitchers who particularly stand out as shallow-mixed pickups for Week 12.

One of those is Seth Lugo, who is returning from the IL on Tuesday. However, he could face limited pitch counts, which is the only reason we're going to make Michael Wacha (available in 33.4% of ESPN leagues) our bonus recommendation. Coming off back-to-back quality starts as well as seven in his last eight tries, Wacha has been beneath-the-radar excellent all season.

Although his peripherals hint that he's pitching over his head, he has also ridden significantly improved changeup performance between this and last season that has explained his recent rebound. Wacha's changeup has been the 12th best-performing, per Statcast (minus-6 run value), riding a well-above-average 36.1% whiff rate and .192 BAA. The Giants, incidentally, have been one of the game's worst-performing offenses against changeups this season, including a third-worst 36.1% whiff rate of their own against them as a team.