By Greg Jewett (@gjewett9)
“Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” Warren Buffet
Catcher is not only a difficult position to play and produce in, but it is also extremely tough to predict. It almost reminds me of tight end in football– if you reach early for the top player(s) at the position it could ensure you a matchup advantage in your lineup all season long, but as we saw with the Tight End position last season, grabbing a guy early at a position with a relatively stable replacement level brings risk. As we look forward to spring training it is time to start planning ahead, so let’s start with my top 12 at catcher for the upcoming season:
1) Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants
Like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, Posey is the clear cut top choice at his position. My only worry about him long-term is that San Francisco realizes how valuable his bat is and transitions him to 3B or 1B in the future, as it seems an injury to Pablo Sandoval could occur at any moment, and the team’s faith in Brandon Belt has been… sporadic, to put it nicely.
2) Yadier Molina – St. Louis Cardinals
Many do not realize how much Yadier’s offense has grown. Not only does he throw runners out, but he also drives them in. His 3-year averages continue to trend upward (.262 average with 6 homers in 2010, .305 with 14 homers in 2011, .315 with 22 homers and a surprising 12 steals last season) and he may not have even reached his peak yet.
3) Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles
Wieters was a widespread fantasy darling just two preseasons ago, and then somehow lost fantasy owners’ trust despite hitting 22 homers with a .262 average in 2011 and .249 with 23 homers last season. Entering his 27 age season, Wieters still has potential for growth and is actually in a very solid lineup in Baltimore right now.
4) Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians
Another catcher entering his 27th birthday season, Santana is another good example of fantasy owners losing faith a little too quickly. It takes time to adjust to calling pitches and running a staff, all while simultaneously trying to maintain star-level offensive production. Santana’s growth in the second half last year bodes well for this season, as he improved not only in the average department (from .221 with a .339 OBP in the first half to .281 with a .389 on base in the second half), but more importantly, he showed that his powerless first half was a fluke (5 homers before the All Star break, 13 afterwards) and he still possess 25+ HR power. He may not be drafted where he was last year, but this year he may earn it.
5) Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
We all keep waiting for the HR’s to pop back to where they were in 2009, but the combination of Target Field’s spacious confines and Mauer’s line drive-based swing make it seem like that’s never going to happen again. But, if you want batting average security, decent RBIs and want to hope for 15 HR’s, Mauer can certainly be your guy.
6) Wilin Rosario – Colorado Rockies
He’s the person on this list I am most nervous about. Rosario’s ceiling may be a whopping 30 home runs, but the downside is that last year could be the best of his career. I think he has more potential to sustain the numbers than Chris Iannetta did years ago, but Wilin Rosario may have the widest range of possibilities of anyone on this list.
7) Jonathon Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers
If this guy played in a bigger market, he probably wouldn’t be such a secret. If he can stay healthy this year no reason he can’t make a run at 20 home runs with a batting average in the mid 280’s.
8) Mike Napoli – FA or Boston Red Sox
Along similar lines of Rosario, Napoli is a power hitter whose batting average is open to interpretation with a wide range of highs and lows. No one questions his power, but I worry about his hip and why Boston has yet to make his contract official. Something must be up.
9) Salvador Perez – Kansas City Royals
It may take patience for Perez, as he’s just 23 years old, but his pretty swing and the allure of an average like Mauer but with more power make him too intriguing to leave off this list.
10) Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves
If it wasn’t for the shoulder injury McCann would be much higher on this list, especially since he will not only be playing for a pennant, but for a new contract. This is boom or bust though, he could finish top 5 this season or miss an extended period of time. Feeling lucky?
11) Ryan Doumit – Minnesota Twins
Two catchers from Minny on this list? Yup. Doumit’s bat played well in the AL where being a catcher, outfielder and a DH allowed him to stay on the field. It seems like the Twins are pretty comitted to getting Doumit at bats and he finished in the top 10 on the player rater at catcher last year. Dual eligibility certainly doesn’t hurt his value either.
12) A.J. Pierzynski – Texas Rangers
If I were to blindly look at last year’s statistics without considering a player’s name, Pierzynski would be much higher. A lot of people think going to Texas is going to buoy his value and make up for some luck regression, but he’s really leaving one good hitting environment for another slightly better one. Was last year a fluke or real growth? To me, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The good news for owners is that there will be plenty of runs scored in Texas even without Hamilton; so worst-case Pierzynski should be a decent contributor in 4 out of the 5 categories.
Now let’s examine some guys who may or may not be on this list but are worth talking about. Many leagues use 2 catchers or if you are in a keeper league, some other names to keep an eye on.
List 1 – The Jefferson’s “Movin’ on up” – breakout candidates:
Jesus Montero – Seattle Mariners
The ball park and lineup will still have some effects on him but there is no denying that Montero is still a talented hitter. Now that he is off the radar a bit, this may be the year he breaks out, and I would especially be willing to take a shot on him in keeper and dynasty formats.
Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati Reds
He struggled a bit with right handed pitching but he has talent and may really start to produce in the second half of this year in that ballpark and lineup
Salvador Perez – Kansas City Royals
Wilin Rosario – Colorado Rockies
List 2 – The “Recycling Bin” – bounce back players:
Alex Avila – Detroit Tigers
2011: 141 Games Played, .295 AVG, 19 HR, 63 R, 48 RBI
2012: 116 Games Played, .243 AVG, 9 HR, 42 R, 48 RBI
Avila is probably somewhere in the middle of his first two seasons, but injuries as well as the league adjusting to him hindered him last season. So as people are looking to add Victor Martinez (he will not have C eligibility in most leagues) Avila may be under the radar enough to be a guy you can grab late and profit on.
Russell Martin – Pittsburgh Pirates
Will he be the next Yankee to leave New York and flourish in Pittsburgh ala A. J. Burnett? Pirates fans hope so. What’s even better than the fact that his average may bounce back by not swinging for the short fences in NY is that he can also grab you double figure steals, which makes him a unique type of catcher (sorry Yadier, not buying into a repeat there).
Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians
Profiled above and doubtful a keeper league would let him go, but this may be the year he puts it all together.
List 3 – The “Thrift Shop”– my sleepers:
Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos – Washington Nationals
Maybe the best one-two punch at catcher in baseball as each half could hit 15 home runs with an average above .260. It will be important to monitor the situation in spring training and see if one gets the playing time edge, but either is a good #2 to have in mixed leagues.
Rob Brantly – Miami Marlins
Another 23 year old rookie with growth potential who could be very cheap in keeper auctions or drafts. Can hit for average and may surprise with double digit power.
Tyler Flowers – Chicago White Sox
Flowers has always been able to hit left handed pitching for power, and if he can be adequate against right handed pitching he could easily hit 20 home runs. The average may be a worry but as a #2 in a deep keeper or AL-only, Flowers is a nice player to gamble on.
Chris Iannetta – Anaheim Angels
Hank Conger may push him out of a job this year, but if Iannetta can stay healthy, this lineup is built to score runs and he will see fastballs to hit. Is one more year of 20-homer power in a deep lineup possible? Stranger things have happened.
Mike Zunino – Seattle Mariners
Yes, the Mariners have Montero, but this kid can also hit for power and at mid season he may be ready to be called up and produce. Let’s be honest, how many at bats can this team afford to keep giving to John Jaso?
Travis D’Arnaud – New York Mets
They have been longing for a catcher with an offensive presence since Piazza retired, and Travis has the tools to hit for average and power—all he needs is a chance.
Photo Credit: http://fantasyknuckleheads.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Carlos-Santana.jpg