One of the more important storylines in baseball this spring training is the health and bounce-back ability of San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. If you recall, Posey was the roadblock who got steamrolled last season in a home-plate collision with the Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins, which resulted in Posey’s season-ending surgery to repair a broken bone and three torn ankle ligaments.
Prior to that high-speed, high-profile collision, Posey was following up his 2010 NL Rookie of the Year campaign with a respectable sophomore season. In the 45 games played before he went down, he was batting .284 with four home runs and 21 runs batted in. Though his numbers did not exactly jump off the computer screen, Posey’s presence in the lineup far exceeds raw statistics. As the team’s cleanup hitter, he provides a legitimate right-handed bat to a famished Giants offense that ranked dead last in the league in runs scored.
The Giants sorely missed Posey’s production in the heart of the order. His replacements, Hector Sanchez, Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside, combined for a .200 batting average in 2011. They were often clogging up the eight-hole in the batting order, and it forced manager Bruce Bochy to play "eeny, meeny, miny, mo" when filling out the rest of the lineup.
Needless to say, with Posey’s bat, the Giants could have at least squeaked into the playoffs as the NL wild card last year. And with him back to full strength this spring training, San Francisco has high aspirations in returning to the postseason this October. While the Giants are pinning the team’s success in 2012 on their slugging catcher, more importantly, the return of Posey bodes well for fantasy baseball owners. After all, there is a dearth of solid contributors at the catcher position throughout the MLB. Though Posey is only entering his third season, and has only 160 career games under his belt, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is still considered one of the game’s elite catchers—despite missing two-thirds of last season.
In fact, most fantasy baseball projections still forecast Posey as a top-five catcher. ESPN.com ranks him as the fifth-best catcher available, squeezed between Matt Wieters and Alex Aliva, and FantasyBaseballTools.com slots him in the top tier of catchers that includes Carlos Santana, Brian McCann and Mike Napoli. NYTimes.com, however, projects Posey to be the sixth-best catcher in 2012, behind Joe Mauer and ahead of Miguel Montero.
What does this all mean? Well, for one, the battle to be one of the top-five catchers in the majors is a tight one. Mauer, of course, is a lock, albeit only when he’s not on the disabled list. Unfortunately, his history of injuries prevents him from being a sure-fire top-five pick. In years past, Mauer could have been considered as a genuine first-round selection in some fantasy drafts. Now, it’s a tough call to predict a) how healthy he’ll be, and b) how many starts at first base he’ll draw.
The consensus is that Santana, McCann and Napoli will all be nabbed within the first four rounds. Assuming a regular 5x5 rotisserie league, Yahoo! Sports projects Posey to be a late sixth-round pick in its fantasy baseball mock draft. Solid estimates for his 2012 stats, according to NYTimes.com, include a .292 batting average with 16 home runs and 70 runs driven in—very similar to his 2010 Rookie of the Year résumé (.305/18/67).
Those numbers are respectable, especially for a catcher. The only caveat is Posey’s own return to full health. True, it’s only spring training, but Posey has sparingly demonstrated his baserunning, as well as the endurance to catch a full nine innings on consecutive days. “He’s not there,” acknowledged Bochy. But there’s still time, obviously.
Fantasy owners, however, should be cautious assuming Posey will bounce back so quickly. Though he is a naturally gifted hitter who could probably sport a .300 batting average with one leg, Posey will have to get up to speed in his all-around game to be considered a higher pick on the fantasy draft board. Furthermore, in order to ensure that Posey performs at the offensive level he is capable of, San Francisco needs to make sure that he is protected throughout the batting order. According to the Giants lineup projected by Rotochamp.com, first baseman Aubrey Huff could potentially bat behind Posey, in the fifth spot in the order, followed by Brandon Belt.
Huff trudged through a World-Series-hangover-laden 2011 season, finishing with a terrible .246 batting average, 12 home runs and 59 runs batted in. He also scored an abysmal 45 runs, his lowest output since 2001. Belt, meanwhile, experienced one of those tortuous rookie seasons last year, staggering to a .225 batting average, with nine homers and 18 runs driven in, in 63 games played.
Yikes. Not the kind of protection one would hope for Posey.
Could Bochy consider moving the Giants’ only other bona fide hitter, Pablo Sandoval, to the five hole? Or bat Sandoval fourth and Posey third? If not, then look for a significant number of intentional walks for the right-handed-hitting Posey, as both Belt and Huff are left-handed hitters behind him. That certainly won’t boost Posey's fantasy numbers all that quickly. Additionally, if new Giants leadoff man Angel Pagan is unable to set the table effectively at the top of the order, Posey may struggle to find himself in run-scoring opportunities.
Without a doubt, however, the question will be whether fantasy owners would want to gamble and pick up Posey earlier in the draft, ahead of other catchers like McCann or Wieters. McCann is a perennial All-Star, who has slugged over 20 home runs in five of the past six seasons, and over 40 extra base hits in six straight seasons. Furthermore, he posts a .286 career batting average. Though he gets plenty of rest in Atlanta—not starting in more than 133 games in each of the past three seasons—for the sake of this analysis, Posey is still the lesser picker.
Meanwhile, Wieters is the likely candidate to slip from his career season in 2011. His 22 home runs and 50 extra base hits were quite impressive, as was the fact that he scored more runs (72) than he drove in (68). Well, maybe not impressive so much as interesting. But if Posey is as healthy as he can be throughout 2012, it’s possible that he could outperform Wieters. The Baltimore Orioles are equally as likely to not scare their opponents offensively.
Can Posey be ranked higher than Wieters?
A good catcher is hard to find for owners, both real and fantasy. Picking up Posey in the late fourth round or fifth round would not be the worst idea in the world, considering that other positions have way more depth and are less predictable (starting pitchers).
Make no mistake about it: If Posey is given a clean bill of health heading out of spring training, fantasy owners might come away with a steal in their league drafts by picking him higher than projected.
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