9 Fantasy Baseball Catching Sleepers to Watch Closely in Spring Training

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIFebruary 21, 2013

9 Fantasy Baseball Catching Sleepers to Watch Closely in Spring Training

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    Catcher used to be a position you had to reach for in a fantasy draft if you wanted elite talent, but what once was baseball's thinnest position is quickly becoming its deepest.

    There's a new standard at catcher in today's MLB. While defense is still a huge part of the package, today's catchers are well-rounded and expected to hold their own with a bat.

    As long as you're patient and find the right talent, there's no reason a top-tier catcher has to cost you a high draft pick. There's plenty of talent waiting to be picked up in later rounds.

    Here's a rundown of the MLB's top sleepers at catcher for 2013.

Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Salvador Perez has always been a defensive savvy catcher, but he's worked hard to add offensive punch to his repertoire.

    The 22-year-old was a huge sleeper in fantasy last season, but a knee injury suffered in spring training all but killed his value. Perez returned strong midway through the season, hitting .301 with 11 home runs in 76 games.

    The right-hander has a career .810 OPS between two seasons with the Royals and has developed into a great hitter.

    Perez could hit 15-20 home runs with a high average this season. Not bad for a guy expected to fall out of the top 10 draft rounds.

    As long as his knee still looks fine this spring, Perez will be in for a big 2013.

Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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    Seattle's No. 1 pick from last year's draft was one of the most polished college players available, and he could see time at the major league level this season.

    Zunino has great tools as a hitter, with his best being a high power ceiling.

    The 21-year-old played in 44 minor league games last season, belting 13 home runs and slugging .689 between Low-A and Double-A.

    Zunino might not make a huge impact this season, but anyone in a keeper league should definitely keep an eye on this prospect.

    Since he's yet to play above the Double-A level, spring training will say a lot about how he'll fare against advanced competition later in the season.

Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

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    Wilin Rosario had a tremendous rookie campaign last season, posting an .843 OPS with 28 home runs for Colorado.

    Rosario surpassed Bryce Harper in nearly every offensive category last season despite playing in 22 fewer games—and yet he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

    The 23-year-old has great offensive tools, which are only helped by playing at Coors Field.

    Coors Field can be both a blessing and a curse in fantasy. Sometimes, the inability to play on the road can catch up to players, which diminishes their value.

    While Rosario's numbers weren't nearly as good on the road, they were still solid enough for him to hit 10 home runs with a .722 OPS in 2012.

    As long he looks healthy and ready to go this spring, you could do a lot worse than Rosario on draft day.

Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets

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    A potential candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year, Travis d'Arnaud deserves plenty of looks in fantasy baseball.

    d'Arnaud was the centerpiece of the R.A. Dickey trade between the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, and he'll have a huge impact in 2013.

    A well-polished player with tremendous power, the 24-year-old hit .286 with an .816 OPS in six minor league seasons.

    Injuries limited him to 67 games at Triple-A last season, but that was all he needed to hit 16 home runs and 21 doubles.

    The right-hander's only major stepping stone to the majors is winning a starting role. As long as d'Arnaud can outplay the 32-year-old John Buck this spring, his owners can expect a big breakout season.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

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    Wilson Ramos has been on fantasy radars for years, and 2012 looked like it could be his year. But the catcher was limited to just 25 games after tearing his ACL early in the season.

    The 24-year-old has a .765 OPS in three seasons at the major league level. His best year was 2011, when he hit 15 home runs in 113 games.

    Ramos still has a great ceiling and could be a very good hitter for both power and average.

    While an ACL tear is never good, Ramos is still young. Monitor his health throughout the spring—as long as he's recovered, he'll be in for a huge breakout season in 2013.

Ryan Lavarnway, Boston Red Sox

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    Ryan Lavarnway has been a fantastic minor league player for the Boston Red Sox, but the major league level continues to stump him.

    The 24-year-old had showed some promise late in 2011 but saw major regression in 2012. In 166 plate appearances last season, Lavarnway hit just .157 with two home runs.

    The offensive ceiling is still there, and Lavarnway is young enough to prove it.

    Despite a stark difference in stats between Lavarnway and starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2012, the Sox's catching situation is still up in the air.

    If Lavarnway can prove himself and win the starting job this spring, his potential for power in the middle of Boston's lineup could make him a fantasy asset.

John Jaso, Oakland Athletics

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    John Jaso has been in the MLB for some time now, and his name has never been associated with the words "fantasy stud."

    But the 28-year-old made huge strides in his offensive game last season, hitting a career-best .276 with 10 home runs and an .850 OPS.

    One thing to remember is that Jaso spent his season platooning between positions for Seattle, and he saw only 361 plate appearances last season.

    Despite playing half his games at Safeco Field, Jaso put up solid numbers for a catcher. After being traded this offseason to Oakland, his numbers could get even better.

    Jaso should have full rein of the starter's spot in Oakland, and he's already proved he can hit in a pitcher's park.

    The only thing to worry about is whether 2012 was a fluke for him. As long as he doesn't have any major issues this spring, Jaso will be worthy of his sleeper title in 2013.

Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds

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    Devin Mesoraco has a great power ceiling for a catcher, although he might not have shown it last season. As a rookie, the 24-year-old hit just .212 with five home runs in 184 plate appearances in 2012.

    Mesoraco flashed his ceiling in the minors, hitting 101 doubles and 59 home runs in six seasons.

    While his tools didn't immediately transfer to the major league level, he still has plenty of time. Playing in a hitter's haven like Cincinnati helps, too.

    Mesoraco's biggest speed bumps this spring will be outplaying Ryan Hanigan and Miguel Olivo for the starting spot. Neither player had a particularly strong 2012, and they lack the raw power of Mesoraco.

    As long as the right-hander wins a starting role this spring, he'll flash plenty of power in 2013. Packed into the Red's hitter-heavy lineup, Mesoraco has great fantasy potential this season.

Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres saw horrible production from their catchers in 2012, which helped open the door for prospect Yasmani Grandal.

    Acquired from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade last December, Grandal posted an .863 OPS with eight home runs and 36 RBI in 60 games last season.

    Grandal has great offensive tools and should be an above-average catcher offensively for years to come.

    Keep in mind, the 23-year-old will start this season serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for PEDs.

    The switch-hitter will still be allowed to participate this spring, and as long as he outplays the competition—which shouldn't be too tough—he should return to a starting role.