The consensus among current baseball fans is that Joe Mauer is the best catcher in baseball if not the best player regardless of position. He's young. He's charismatic. He's marketable. Not to mention he has mad skills both offensively and defensively and a huge contract to match. His popularity with the fans is reflected in the current all-star voting in which he has the most votes overall (yes ahead of Derek Jeter). As last year's AL MVP and a former batting champ, Mauer seems like the complete package. After last year's power outburst, pundits are predicting huge things for years to come. 3000 hit as a catcher. Multiple batting titles. Mike Piazza with glove.
If you are one of those fans, I don't blame you. But if Carlos Santana is 2010's version of Mike Piazza, Joe Mauer looks more like 2010's version of Jason Kendall. He's that good (have fun with Russell Martin and Casey Blake, Dodgers fans). Maybe I'm getting too ahead of myself. After all, Santana (not Johan) only has 58 major league at-bats so far, but he already slugged 4 homers, 9 doubles (.707 Slugging percentage) while displaying a great batting eye (.345 average, .458 OBP) and amazing plate discipline for a kid his age (13 walks vs. 8 strikeouts). His overall offensive production so far is in a league of his own, Albert Pujols territory. His defense (thrown out 6 of 12 base stealing attempts) and game-calling ability are not shabby either.
Now it may be a tad bit unfair to categorize Mauer as the next Jason Kendall, a fellow former first round pick. But aside from the fluke power outburst last season (28 homers 1.031 OPS), Mauer's career high in homers was a pitiful 13 in 2006 and he never even reached double digit in homer in any other season. Kendall's peek years, from '97-2000, he had a career high 14 homers in 2000 and was actually a basestealing threat. Moreover, Mauer, a guy who bats third, never drive in more than 100 RBIs a season.
This season, in 260 at-bats, Mauer only has 3 homers and .431 slugging percentage for a mediocre .806 OPS. Maybe the answer to the question "who is the best catcher in the game?" isn't that clear cut anymore.