Are you ready for your 2012 Fantasy Baseball season?
Since Fantasy Baseball is starting soon, I know you are already working on your projections, tinkering with the league rules and arguing over your draft order!
To help out, here is a list of the Top 15 catchers in Fantasy Baseball along with their likely statistics and reasons that you should target, avoid or wait for them during your draft. This year's crop of catchers is much stronger than in the recent past, largely because of the emergence of several young stars.
I kept the list in article form so that you can keep the tab open on draft day and scroll easily between players. As always, share it with your friends and, if you agree or disagree, be sure to leave a comment. I love to debate and make changes when they are needed!
The Top 10 Catchers:
You just cannot argue with McCann's consistency and durability at the catcher position. Over the last three years, he has averaged 478 at bats, a .274 average, 131 hits, 59 runs, 22 home runs and 81 runs batted in with durability. Last year's .270/24/71 was right in line with those averages and, at 28-years-old, he is very likely to either meet or exceed those numbers.
Of course, that statistical line is strong but not extremely impressive. However, it is premium hitting for the catching position in the last couple of seasons. In 2011 only Victor Martinez (out for the 2012 season) and Mike Napoli outperformed him, but that was Napoli's first year of regular playing time and high production.
So, Joe Mauer remains the upside candidate but if you want strong, consistent and durable performance at the catcher position, then McCann is the way to go on draft day.
Napoli exploded in 2011, which was his first year as a Texas Ranger. The hitters' ballpark and mix of catching, first base and designated hitter duties suited Napoli well, and he put up an impressive statistical line: a .320 batting average, 118 hits, 72 runs, 30 home runs and 75 RBIs. He also backed it up with an impressive .414 on base percentage, elite .631 slugging percentage and otherworldly 1.046 OPS. Those numbers make him one of the best pure hitters in baseball.
If you are drafting on upside, take Napoli over Brian McCann. At 30-years-old, playing in the same ballpark and getting 500 at bats between catcher, first base (manned by journeyman Mitch Moreland) and designated hitter, he could absolutely match his 2011 numbers. But at this point he remains a one-year wonder, which makes McCann's easily predictable productivity slightly more valuable.
The Minnesota legend is still Major League Baseball's most talented catcher. But he is also its biggest risk/reward player: he could just as easily be the AL MVP for 2012 as end the year on the disabled list. In fact, he has done both those things in the past few seasons.
When healthy, Mauer is the best pure hitter at the catcher position and maybe the best in Major League Baseball. But his 2011 leg injuries and enduring back problems kept him out much of the season and robbed him of most of his power when he was healthy: he posted only three home runs and 30 RBIs in 2011. If you can get him later in the draft (perhaps the sixth or seventh round in a standard 10 league format) he is worth the gamble, but I would be reluctant to part with a top five pick when you consider the risks involved.
Posey is Major League Baseball's most talented young catcher. In his 2010 rookie season, he posted an impressive statistical line: a .305 batting average, .357 on base percentage, .505 slugging percentage and .862 OPS with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs. While leading the San Francisco Giants to the World Series Championship. But his 2011 season was cut short early by a broken ankle. He shows exceptional promise and could reasonably be drafted as the second catcher off the board based on upside, reputation as a prospect and his rookie performance in 2010. But considering the potential for a 'sophmore-esque' slump after he readjusts to the major leagues from a long period of injury, I would wait to draft him until the 5th round or later.
Santana is a star in the making for the Cleveland Indians. Last year was his first full season in the majors and he hit 27 home runs and 79 RBIs with a .455 slugging percentage and a .808 OPS. However, his .239 batting average is a concern because he batted only .260 in his rookie season so he did not start too high and still managed to regress in 2011. But he is still quite young at 26, and if he can keep his home run and RBI totals while raising his batting average, he could be the best catcher in Fantasy Baseball in 2012.
Baseball fans have been waiting years for Wieters to reach his potential and become a MVP-level catcher. He sniffed at his upside at age 25 in 2011 by cutting down on his strikeouts while doubling his home run output. His final statistical line was a .262 batting average, 22 home runs, 68 RBIs and a respectable (though not great) .450 slugging percentage and .778 OPS. Those numbers make him a poor man's Brian McCann, but he has the potential to be much, much better. I am reluctant to rank him higher because of Posey's superior 2010 performance and Santana's equally intriguing upside, but Wieters' potential is there so feel free to confidently draft him in the middle rounds.
Montero was finally healthy in 2011 and delivered on his promise as a star catcher! He posted a .282 average with 18 home runs, 86 RBIs and strong associated percentages. He is in his prime at 28, which means you can draft him with confidence.
More important, Montero will be a great sleeper to target on draft day. Fantasy players all know about Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and young stars Matt Wieters and Carlos Santana, but only savvy owners are familiar with Montero. Watch him on draft day and feel comfortable taking him in the mid-rounds and getting top 10 (or even top 5) production at catcher for a relatively cheap price.
Detroit's young star was a revelation at catcher. Available on waivers to begin the season, he was the fifth best catcher in fantasy at the end. He posted a .295 average, which was one of the best at the position, with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. Avila also had very strong percentages, which indicates that his performance is sustainable for 2012. But do keep an eye out for a potential sophomore slump.
Montero's fantasy prospects took a jolt in the right direction with his trade to the Seattle Mariners. They play in a difficult park for hitters, but Montero will get 500 at bats (likely as a mixed catcher and designated hitter) and he can flat out rake. Last year, he tore up triple A and then hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in a short call up to the Yankees. I wouldn't expect a .328 average in Safeco Field, but he could absolutely hit in the .280s with 20-25 home runs and 75-80 RBIs. Montero is a gamble because he is a rookie, he has no lineup protection and he plays in a pitchers park, but he will be available late in the draft and he will hit.
In 2008, Soto was the rookie of the year and looked like the next big thing at catcher. He has not been nearly as good since but did have a strong year in 2010. There is some hope that the new organization's changes could help him get back on track.
The Final Five
These players are generally upside targets or backups. Avila is the last true starting fantasy catcher and these players should be viewed as utility players in fantasy.
Hope this list helps you on draft day! Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments for potential changes and updates to the list.