In eight years of playing fantasy baseball, spanning 60-plus leagues, I have never sprung for a catcher in the early rounds.
After all, what's the point of surrendering a high pick on a temperamental talent, at a demanding position, when most mixed leagues call for only one starting catcher?
This reasoning is an abstract prelude or warning to the following statement: If you believe Mike Napoli is MLB's closest thing to Mike Piazza in his heyday ... you will be severely disappointed in my preseason assessment of the Top 20 Catchers for 2012. There's really no way around it.
On the flip side, if you subscribe to the rationale that Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero and Napoli are largely interchangeable pieces in the elite strata from year to year, you may endorse my high-end, risk-reward appreciation for a pair of 25-and-under studs who are primed for monster seasons.
Either way, let's start the show!
No. 20: Ryan Doumit, Twins
Skinny: This first-time American Leaguer may need a strong spring to preserve his ranking in this oddly competitive countdown.
J.P Arencibia, Blue Jays
No. 19: J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
Skinny: Arencibia's power potential may be immense, but hitting .220 doesn't feed the bulldog in fantasyland. Hence, the painfully low ranking.
Salvador Perez, Royals
No. 18: Salvador Perez, Royals
Skinny: The biggest wild card amongst the young catchers, at least until Travis D'Arnaud gets the callup in Toronto.
Kurt Suzuki, Athletics
No. 17: Kurt Suzuki, Athletics
Skinny: Suzuki has settled into a respectable pattern of 14 HRs/55 runs. Let's hope for a boost in RBI and average.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
No. 16: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
Skinny: It's hard to imagine Salty falling short of 15 HRs/55 RBI/55 runs with an injury-free season in Boston.
Nick Hundley, Padres
No. 15: Nick Hundley, Padres
Skinny: A promising late-round sleeper for owners who only require respectable numbers in HRs and batting average.
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
No. 14: Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Skinny: It's hard to condemn the state of catchers today with Lucroy sitting this low. He offers good value in three categories (HRs, RBI, average).
Russell Martin, Yankees
No. 13: Russell Martin, Yankees
Skinny: Only a return to 15-20 steals could erase concerns of Martin posting another sub-.240 average in 2012.
Geovany Soto, Cubs
No. 12: Geovany Soto, Cubs
Skinny: Soto might have garnered top-10 consideration if he hadn't batted .218 and .228 in two of the last three seasons.
Yadier Molina, Cardinals
No. 11: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Skinny: Molina unfortunately draws the short straw for this countdown, even with his 17-HR/.300 potential.
Wilson Ramos, Nationals
No. 10: Wilson Ramos, Nationals
Skinny: Since athletes aren't robots...it's hard to forecast how Ramos will respond to a harrowing offseason. But he does have 25-HR potential.
Jesus Montero, Mariners
No. 9: Jesus Montero, Mariners
Skinny: It may be heresy to bestow such a high ranking on a rookie playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. And yet, Montero has the all-around game to finish top- 0 with four categories in Year 1.
Alex Avila, Tigers
No. 8: Alex Avila, Tigers
Skinny: Avila has the upside to improve upon last year's totals in runs, RBI, average and even steals. But don't expect a run at 20-24 homers.
Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
No. 7: Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
Skinny: A three-category stalwart (HRs, RBI, batting average) who should flirt with 80-85 runs in Arizona's formidable lineup.
Matt Wieters, Orioles
No. 6: Matt Wieters, Orioles
Skinny: Rock-solid contributor has the means to take another big step in HRs, RBI and batting average—in the ballpark of .290.
Joe Mauer, Twins
No. 5: Joe Mauer, Twins
Skinny: Mauer is just three years removed from one of the greatest hitting seasons for a catcher in MLB history.
Expect a return to .315/85 runs/80 RBI.
Mike Napoli, Rangers
No. 4: Mike Napoli, Rangers
Skinny: Napoli deserves all the preseason hype after a devastating 2011 campaign. But it's highly unlikely that he'll duplicate the .320 average or 1.046 OPS.
Buster Posey, Giants
No. 3: Buster Posey, Giants
Skinny: Posey, one of baseball's best under-25 talents, has the potential for 25 HRs/90 RBI/.315 average and, yes, 10 steals...sooner than later.
Brian McCann, Braves
No. 2: Brian McCann, Braves
Skinny: The Braves' improved lineup will help boost McCann's numbers in runs and RBI; plus, he's a good candidate for 21-24 HRs again.
Carlos Santana, Indians
No. 1: Carlos Santana, Indians
Skinny: The sky's the limit for this 25-year-old dynamo with 30-100-100 potential. It's time for Santana to take another leap forward in runs, RBI and batting average.
As a bonus, he also has C-1B versatility.