Let me preface by saying it’s near impossible to talk about catchers this season and not mention Joe Mauer.
We all know he’s a stud and should be the clear No. 1 catcher off the board.
So there it is. Joe Mauer. Happy?
Now on to the slightly less obvious...
Catchers: the scarcest position in terms of talent, and easily the most unpredictable from year to year.
For those of you who wasted a high draft pick on the likes of Geovany Soto or Russell Martin last season, I feel your frustration, and it’s understandable if this year you’re probably a little skeptical of previews such as these.
On the surface, there was no plausible reason to think highly touted catchers like Soto and Martin would underperform in 2009. However, a closer look at both situations reveals some underlying issues that most owners were oblivious to.
Soto (ADP 150.53) had been dealing with unpublicized injury issues for most of the season (his only injury-free month was in June, where he blasted six HRs and raised his BA from .211 to .231) and, to put it bluntly, got fat (reportedly he dropped 40 pounds this offseason).
A svelte and healthy Soto certainly could return to his ’07-’08 form, but he may have jaded owners who owned him through his misery-filled 2009 season. At 27, he still doesn’t have too much mileage on his legs, and he’ll probably drop a round or two lower than he should, making him a prime candidate to outperform his draft position.
Martin (ADP 136.54), typically a trendy pick because of his high BA and yearly steals totals in the double digits, saw a drastic drop in numbers across the board in ’09, including single-digit steals for the first time since he entered the league.
Martin attributes the drop in production to offseason weight loss, which sapped his power. On the contrary, I see an overworked catcher (he averaged 498 ABs since 2005) searching for an excuse. Martin reportedly showed up to spring training 25 pounds heavier, which makes me wonder if his days of 10-plus stolen bases are a thing of the past.
Either way, there’s no possible way owners could’ve predicted such a drop in production for each player on draft day.
Catchers are notorious for not supplying substantial returns on investments, and it’s quite rare when a high-ranked catcher, or any catcher for that matter, can break even based on their preseason projections.
How you decide to implement this information on draft day is entirely up to you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Jorge Posada (ADP 119.91)
This isn’t to say Posada will be a bargain at the 119th pick (he’s still the fifth catcher being selected, just behind Matt Wieters), but rather a testament to his consistency at the catcher position and his ability to adjust as he creeps up on 40(!) years of age.
Posada played in just 111 games last season and still jacked 22 round-trippers (one every 17.4 ABs), thanks in part to New Yankee Stadium playing like a Little League field for most of the year.
He evened out a slowly eroding batting eye with an elevated fly ball and line drive rate, keeping his BA respectable. The power is still there for Posada, although his expected move to DH following Hideki Matsui’s departure was derailed with the addition of Nick Johnson. Only unforeseen health issues can slow down this consummate professional.
Chris Iannetta (ADP 173.29)
With Yorvit Torrealba shipped off to San Diego, the Rockies’ catcher’s job is now Iannetta’s to lose, although they did acquire free-swinging Miguel Olivo (23 HRs in ’09) to back him up.
Iannetta blasted 16 homers in a mere 289 ABs last season, and his fly ball rate was sky-high, which should have many owners salivating over what kind of numbers he could put up if he’s healthy enough to receive 400 ABs.
His inability to figure out righties (.202 in ’09 vs. .261 in ’08) was the guiding force behind his career worst .228 BA and subsequent demotion. The fact that he’s never caught an entire season means some wear and tear is to be expected, especially down the stretch, but if he can figure out right-handers in 2010, a meteoric rise to elite levels may be in store.
Carlos Ruiz (ADP 282.78)
I’ve mentioned Ruiz in previous articles, and I’ll mention him again here. Despite my shameless attempts to pump up his draft stock, he can likely be had near the final rounds of most 12-team drafts, or even on the waiver wire.
All the more reason is be bullish on a guy coming off a career year and playoff success, entering the prime age of a catcher’s offensive growth (early 30s), with excellent job security.
Ruiz’s newfound ability to hit lefties (.292 in ’09 vs. .212 in ’08), combined with an elite batting eye for a catcher, means a batting average hovering around .285-.295 is a real possibility over 400 at-bats. Don’t look any further than Ruiz if you miss out on the catcher run in your draft.
Victor Martinez (ADP 23.73)
Some things to think about heading into 2010:
Where will the RBI come from? No Jay Bay, a declining Big Papi, and two alarmingly un-savvy free agent signings by Theo Epstein (Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro) in a last-ditch effort to stay competitive with the Yankees means the Sox offense will likely be a shell of its former self in 2010.
Ripple effect: Not as many RBI opportunities for VMart. Anything over 80 RBI this season will be a stretch.
This will also be Martinez’s first season as a full-time catcher since 2007, when he was 28 years old. Now at 31, can he still produce like he did last season given the wear and tear everyday catching will have on his legs?
He played 70 of 155 games at 1B last season, which undoubtedly boosted his numbers. His batting average at 1B is 16 points higher than it is at catcher, plus he hit four more HR/AB at 1B (one every 26 compared to one every 30 at catcher).
Expect Jason Varitek to spell Martinez for maybe 35 to 40 games this season, but nothing more. Don’t overpay.
Bengie Molina (ADP 156.94)
With “Joe Mauer” 2.0 Buster Posey waiting in the wings down at Triple-A Fresno, breathing hot steam onto the 36-year-old Molina’s neck, expect the Giants to have a short leash with Bengie if he struggles out of the gate.
The fact that he’s being drafted higher than players like Mike Napoli and Chris Iannetta is worrisome, since Molina clearly hit a plateau last season.
He sacrificed BA (.265) for power (career-high 20 HRs), and now there’s nowhere to go but down. Pay for power numbers and hope he repeats 2009, but be wary of Posey’s impending call-up.
Buster Posey (ADP 282.40)
For the same reasons you shouldn’t gamble on Bengie Molina, the opposite applies here for Posey.
He’s being drafted ahead of a bunch of starting catchers despite the fact a proven catcher (Molina) coming off a career year is standing in the way of Posey and The Show.
I can’t help but assume the “upside” and “name recognition” cards are being used here.
Yes, he’s the top catching prospect in baseball, and yes, he has one of the better catcher’s names I’ve heard in a long time, but the fact remains that minor league stats don’t count in fantasy baseball, no matter how magnificent.
He makes an outstanding pick based on potential, but his current situation in San Fran isn’t favorable, and you could use that late-round pick to target a sleeper who can actually help your team right now.