Fantasy Baseball 2013: Top 20 Catchers Before Spring Training

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2013

Fantasy Baseball 2013: Top 20 Catchers Before Spring Training

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    The following countdown details my top 20 catchers heading into the 2013 fantasy season, with an emphasis on 5x5 roto leagues.

    In nine years of playing fantasy baseball, spanning 70-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?

    Of course, that rationale may require a tweak or two, since four of the top eight assets have dual-position eligibility (catcher/first base).

    Notable omissions include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki, Yasmani Grandal, John Jaso, A.J. Ellis and Rob Brantly.

    Enjoy the show!

20. Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2012 Stats: 21 HR, 53 RBI, 50 Runs, 6 Steals, .211 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Russell Martin belted a career-high 21 homers last season with the Yankees.

    2. He's good for at least five steals per season—excellent projections for catchers.

    3. In 40 career at-bats at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Martin has amazing tallies of .350 batting, .471 on-base percentage and an absurd OPS (OBP + slugging) of 1.121. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. Despite being bolstered by the Yankees' vaunted lineup, Martin posted futile marks in batting average (.211) and OBP (.311) last year. In fact, his batting average has diminished in five straight seasons. Ouch.

    2. Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' top prospect at catcher, would likely merit a big league promotion with a solid April-June in the minors.

19. Ryan Doumit, Minnesota Twins

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    2012 Stats: 18 HR, 75 RBI, 56 Runs, .275 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Ryan Doumit notched career highs in homers, RBI and at-bats (484) last season.

    2. The Twins have wisely transitioned Joe Mauer out of 145-plus games at catcher, paving the way for more Doumit appearances behind the plate.

    3. Doumit had double-digit RBI counts in five of six months last season. He also registered OBP marks of .330 or higher for May, June and July.

    4. The Twins are loaded for bear, prospects-wise, but not necessarily at catcher. In other words, Doumit should be given every opportunity to sink or swim in 2013. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    The fantasy community understands that Doumit is a low-key, late-round pick with moderate upside.

18. Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets

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    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. d'Arnaud has been one of baseball's most complete hitting prospects of the last two years. As a Met, he seemingly has a clear path to a starting role (instead of competing against J.P. Arencibia in Toronto).

    2. For 2011 and '12 (minors), d'Arnaud accounted for 37 homers, 54 doubles, 130 RBI and a robust OPS in the .940 neighborhood.

    3. The Mets rookie could be the National League East's best catcher as soon as 2014. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. d'Arnaud may have all the talent in the world, but rookies, for the most part, are volatile and unstable fantasy assets.

    2. The rookie likely won't steal more than five bases this season.

17. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Stats: 18 HR, 56 RBI, 45 Runs, .233 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. J.P. Arencibia, for all of his limitations in batting average, OBP and plate discipline (108/18 K-BB ratio last year), shall remain a viable threat for 25-plus homers over 150 games.

    2. With Travis d'Arnaud now property of the Mets, Arencibia won't have to keep looking over his shoulder at the Blue Jays' parade of prospects.

    3. In just 104 games at Triple-A Las Vegas (2010), Arencibia racked up super numbers in homers (32), batting average (.301), OBP (.301) and OPS (.986). Surely, Toronto has a batting coach who can unlock that potential in the majors as well. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    The way things are progressing, Arencibia will most likely break your heart in runs, batting average and steals. On the bright side, though, he'll likely see a ton of juicy pitches in the Blue Jays' stacked lineup.

16. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 9 HR, 48 RBI, 42 Runs, .243 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. In the last two seasons, Alex Avila averaged one homer every 29 at-bats and then 67 walks per year—good numbers for a late-round flier pick.

    2. Given his OBP prowess and plum spot in the Tigers' lineup, Avila has the potential for 60 runs, 80 RBI and/or a .285 batting average. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    Avila has been plagued by nagging injuries in the majors. That's an irritant for owners when dealing with eminently replaceable assets.

15. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners

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    2012 Stats: 16 HR, 62 RBI, 46 Runs, .260 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. As a rookie, Jesus Montero had two superb months last season: eight doubles, 14 RBI and 10 walks in May, as well as two homers, 12 RBI, .300 average, .375 OBP, .818 OPS in July.

    2. In the minors for 2011 and '12, Montero collectively belted 39 homers and 142 RBI as the Yankees' top hitting prospect.

    3. The Mariners are moving their fences in to accommodate power assets, like Montero and Justin Smoak, and attract prospective free agents next winter. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. Montero is far from a finished product at this point his career. His fantasy breakout may come in 2014.

    2. Given the Mariners' glut of first basemen and designated hitters, Montero will log most of his starts at catcher (tired legs in August?).

    3. Seattle has a slew of top-notch prospects coming in the next year or two, including last June's first-round pick, catcher Mike Zunino.

14. A.J. Pierzynski, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 27 HR, 77 RBI, 68 Runs, .278 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. With the White Sox last year, A.J. Pierzynski either matched or eclipsed previous career highs in homers, RBI and runs.

    2. Of the last five seasons, he tallied at least 133 hits four times.

    3. The 36-year-old has taken his talents to the Texas Rangers and their hitter-friendly ballpark.

    4. Amazingly, Pierzynski has never struck out more than 80 times in a given season. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. In 133 lifetime at-bats at the Rangers' ballpark, Pierzynski has only three homers and 16 RBI.

    2. Pierzynski had only 17 combined homers in 2010 and '11, supporting the notion that last year's 27 may be unattainable in 2013.

13. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats: 12 HR, 58 RBI, 46 Runs, 4 Steals, .320 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Over the last three seasons, Jonathan Lucroy has shown flashes of his dynamic potential. In a full campaign, he could reach 20 homers and 90 RBI.

    2. Few catchers can match Lucroy's damage during May (three homers 22 RBI, .388 batting) and August (four homers, 18 RBI, .306 batting) last year.

    3. Lucroy could bring Round 8 value to a Round 16/17 pick on draft day.  

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    Until proven otherwise, injuries and durability remain viable concerns.

12. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2012 Stats: 16 HR, 68 RBI, 56 Runs, 4 Steals, .325 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Last season, Carlos Ruiz established new career highs in runs, hits (121), doubles (32), homers, RBI, batting average, slugging (.540) and OPS (.935).

    2. Of equal relevance, Ruiz accomplished the above feats on only 372 at-bats (421 plate appearances).

    3. Check out Ruiz's absurd numbers from May: five homers, 21 RBI, 16 runs, two steals, .418 batting, .484 OBP and 1.180 OPS.

    4. For reasons I cannot explain, Ruiz currently ranks as the No. 20 catcher and 274th overall pick on Mock Draft Central's Average Draft Position board.  

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    At age 34, it's hard to imagine Ruiz improving upon last year's career numbers.

11. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    2012 Stats: 11 HR, 39 RBI, 38 Runs, .301 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Extrapolating his stats over 152 games, Salvador Perez could have tallied 22 homers, 78 RBI and 76 runs last season (a knee injury during spring training robbed Perez of his first full year in the bigs).

    2. On the road last year, he racked up eight homers, 20 RBI, 24 runs and a .322 batting average.

    3. Perez batted .300 or higher in June, July and September. He capped the last two months with six homers and 29 RBI.

    4. Fantasy owners should take advantage of Perez's middling pre-draft status this March, brought on by injury. On Mock Draft Central, Perez currently has an ADP value of 136 (11th catcher overall). 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. Like many catchers, Perez apparently has nil value in the steals department.

    2. He doesn't turn 23 until May 10, so there's a chance he's not ready for a true breakout.

10. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

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    2012 Stats: 20 HR, 67 RBI, 44 Runs, 3 Steals, .230 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. If Brian McCann wasn't earmarked for free agency in 2014, his recovery time from labrum surgery probably wouldn't be a big issue. But in this "walk" year, everything gets magnified for a franchise linchpin who averaged 22 homers, 83 RBI and 57 runs from 2006-12.

    2. There are two small positives from McCann's injury-riddled campaign:

    a. From July 5-8, spanning 16 at-bats, he notched four runs, seven hits, 11 RBI and four straight outings with a home run.

    b. From July 18-21, McCann had a three-game flurry of three runs, four hits, five RBI and back-to-back-to-back outings of one homer each.  

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. Will McCann be ready to go by mid-April (Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez's estimate in December)?

    2. Can he recapture the pre-2012 hitting prowess/plate discipline that generated consistently strong annual marks with on-base percentage (.340 or above) and slugging (.450 or above)?

9. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

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    2012 Stats: 23 HR, 83 RBI, 67 Runs, 3 Steals, .249 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Last season, Matt Wieters either matched or eclipsed previous career highs in hits, triples, homers, RBI, steals and walks.

    2. He successfully book-ended his 2012 production, crushing six homers (with 15 RBI) in April and six homers (with 18 RBI) in September.

    3. The seasonal batting average (.249) was a tad misleading (in a good way), since Wieters had three months of .279 or higher (April, June and September).

    4. Heading into his age-27 campaign, Wieters still has the physical capacity for 30 homers and/or 95 RBI. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    He posted ghastly numbers in May (two homers, 24 strikeouts, .188 BA) and July (two homers, .205 BA)—a subtle reminder that he won't be a lock for the No. 9 slot around Opening Day.

8. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox

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    2012 Stats: 24 HR, 56 RBI, 53 Runs, .227 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Mike Napoli has averaged 24 homers over the last five seasons—cracking between 20 and 30 every year.

    2. His dream campaign from 2011 (30 HR/75 RBI/.320 batting) remains fresh in the mind, especially with his move to Fenway Park.

    3. Speaking of which, Napoli has a lifetime OPS of 1.107 at Fenway.

    4. Napoli owners will enjoy his dual-position versatility this season (catcher/first base). 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. He has a degenerative hip condition, which prompted the Red Sox to rework his free-agent contract over the winter. But I'm not too worried. For now.

    2. The chances of Napoli (a lifetime .259 hitter) batting .320 or higher are slim.

7. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

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    2012 Stats: 28 HR, 71 RBI, 67 Runs, 4 Steals, .270 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. As an age-23 rookie last season, Wilin Rosario exploded for 28 homers and 71 RBI at baseball's most demanding position. Yet he finished a distant fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    2. Rosario has plenty of support in the Rockies' lineup (at least when Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are healthy). He also has the luxury of 81 games in MLB's friendliest ballpark (for hitters). 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. If Rosario never approached 28 homers in the minors, what chance does he have of repeating the feat this year? The thin air of Colorado certainly helps, but it's a fair concern among skeptical roto-league owners.

    2. For a guy who cracked 28 homers and struck out fewer than 100 times, Rosario's .312 OBP was shockingly low.

6. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2012 Stats: 15 HR, 88 RBI, 65 Runs, .286 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Miguel Montero has identical or near-matching tallies with at-bats, runs, hits, triples, homers, RBI and batting average over the last two seasons. In turn, he might be the most bankable backstop heading into 2013.

    2. Last year, he had a career-best OBP of .391.

    3. Given his age (29) and supreme athleticism, Montero has the capacity for 35-plus doubles and 25 homers.  

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    There's really no downside to landing Montero sometime in Rounds 10, 11 or 12.

5. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

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    2012 Stats: 18 HR, 76 RBI, 72 Runs, 3 Steals, .252 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. There are two major bright spots from Carlos Santana's sluggish 2012: He upped his OBP to .365 and dramatically cut down on strikeouts (from 133 to 101).

    2. Santana was a top-five catching asset in the season's final three months, racking up 13 homers, 47 RBI, 52 runs and three straight periods of .276-plus batting/.368-plus OBP.

    3. Given his burgeoning power and improved plate discipline, he's a stronger bet to replicate his 2011 numbers (27 HR, 79 RBI).

    4. Santana has dual-position versatility (catcher/first base). 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    The low batting average should scare any prospective owner. But to be fair, Santana carried a big burden in the Indians' lineup last year.

4. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers

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    2011 Stats: 12 HR, 103 RBI, 76 Runs, .330 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. For 2009-11, Victor Martinez was a virtual lock for 18 homers, 95 RBI, 85 runs and a .305 batting average.

    2. In a stacked lineup with Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, he will undoubtedly see a steady stream of juicy pitches.

    3. Over 10 MLB seasons (2002-11), V-Mart boasts stellar career marks in OBP (.370), slugging (.469) and OPS (.840). 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    1. There are two obvious concerns: age (34) and the stability of his reconstructed knee.

    2. We'll monitor V-Mart's progress during spring training, meaning a rankings shift may be in order before Opening Day.

3. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    2012 Stats: 10 HR, 85 RBI, 81 Runs, 8 Steals, .319 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. In addition to the five-category goodness, Joe Mauer posted stellar marks in doubles (31), hits (174), OBP (.416) and slugging (.446) last season.

    2. In 2012, he also enjoyed four months of double-digit runs/.300-plus batting, five months of double-digit RBI/.400-plus OBP and six months of 26 or more hits.

    3. Just like Buster Posey, he has dual eligibility (catcher/first base).

    4. Of the last five seasons, Mauer has played in 137 or more games four times. Not bad for a so-called injury risk. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    I've got nothing.

2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2012 Stats: 22 HR, 76 RBI, 65 Runs, 12 Steals, .315 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. In 2012, Yadier Molina established career highs in homers, RBI, runs, steals, batting average, hits (159), OBP (.373), slugging (.501) and—surprise—OPS (.874). In some cases, he crushed the previous high marks.

    2. For nine consecutive seasons (2004-12), Molina has produced amazing marks in strikeout-to-walk ratio. In that span, he has an absurd tally of 352/298. 

     

    What To Loathe About This Ranking

    No complaints here—at least none after Round 6 of 12-team drafts.

1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 24 HR, 103 RBI, 78 Runs, .336 BA 

     

    What To Like About This Ranking

    1. Buster Posey may be a world champ and the reigning National League MVP, but there's also room for growth in runs (78), steals (one) and home runs (24) this season.

    2. Posey's monster tallies in OBP (.408) and OPS (.957) are worthy of a Round 2 or 3 pick—a rarity for catchers.

    3. For 2013, he will have catcher/1B-eligibility in all leagues.

    4. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect a repeat of 39 doubles, but Posey could certainly narrow last year's gap in walks-to-strikeouts (69/96). 

     

    What To Nitpick About This Ranking

    Roto owners shouldn't rush to draft Posey in standard leagues if he won't be playing first base three or four times a week.

    Bottom line: There's plenty of catching depth in the latter rounds for leagues that only require one starting backstop.