The catcher position is truly unappreciated when people talk about baseball. In many ways they are the point guard for the defense, calling the pitches, calming their hurler when he’s off his game and when needed, making crucial plays such as throwing out potential base-stealers and blocking pitches that go awry. Every time a pitcher throws a complete game-shut out, their catcher deserves an assist.
That’s real baseball. This however, is an article about fantasy baseball, and in fantasy baseball catchers are largely a liability. Due to the physically-taxing nature of sitting in a crouched position for three hours a game, they generally lack a high batting average and home run upside and don’t get nearly the at-bats of other positions due to the need for days off, significantly decreasing their value in our numbers racket.
Some young backstops are helping to revive the position a bit this year, but for those of you in your first years of fantasy baseball, the general rule is of thumb is wait before filling your catcher spot.
Here’s the first installment of my 2011 fantasy baseball rankings. Thoughts and opinions are encouraged.
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins – The nearly unanimous number one-ranked catcher, Mauer didn’t live up to the expectations of his ungodly 2009 season in which he hit 28 home runs and batted .365 but wasn’t exactly a bust either, unless you call a .327 batting average bust-worthy. Expecting a return to the 20-plus bombs range would be a lot, but 15 along with 80/80 and a .320+ average is plenty reasonable.
2. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers – Martinez gets the nod at number two over Buster Posey for one reason and one reason only: he won’t actually be playing catcher this season. The Detroit Tigers have him lined up to be their primary designated hitter, playing a couple days a week at catcher and filling in sporadically at first base. This allows him to play every day, thus giving him more chances to produce for your squad. Considering he’s hit 20-plus home runs and batted .300 in all but one season since 2004 (minus his injury-shortened 2008), that will work out well for his owners.
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants – The hottest new kid on the block, Posey erupted onto the scene in June, raping and pillaged his way to a jaw-dropping 18 home runs, a .305 batting average and an eventual World Series ring. It’s unrealistic to expect that rate of production to continue and it will be interesting to see how he handles a full season of catcher duties, but 18-20 dingers and a .300 average is plenty attainable.
4. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians – The other wunderkind to hit the scene last season, Santana is running a bit more under the radar due to his season being cut short by a brutal LCL injury sustained in early August. He has the skills to be a monster at this weak position and the minor-league pedigree to back it up. While a .210 batting average slump in July is a tad concerning, Bill James (83/22/91/7/.280 projection) clearly believes in the young rock star’s skills. If he comes anywhere close to those projections he’ll be plenty worth his current 7th round ADP in ESPN leagues.
5. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves – Formerly the pace-setter at the catcher position, McCann has fallen on draft boards as of late due to three years of declining batting averages and a rising strikeout rate, ironically coinciding with persistent eye-problems. While these are worrisome statistics, you can’t argue with his home run swing, having hit 18 or more bombs in all five of his professional seasons. He surely has his warning signs, but if you want established, consistent power there’s no better selection.
6. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles – Largely beholden as catching-Jesus upon his entrance into the majors, Wieters was rather disappointing in his first full season in the majors, batting just .249 with only 55 RBIs. Oh the fickleness of the fantasy masses, as he’s quickly fallen out of our good graces and into round 14 range, according to ESPN. Clearly his halo has lost its luster but he is far from dead, having tremendously improving his walk-to-strikeout rate last season so he is now taking one walk for every two strikeouts instead of three as he was upon his call-up to the majors in 2009. The considerable talent he showed in the minors didn’t just suddenly disappear, and with more experience and an improved lineup around him 2011 may be the year he “gets it”, making him an ideal post-hype sleeper candidate.
7. Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs – Coming back from the dead last season, Soto made big strides in all counting stats and rebounded from the poor .218 average he posted in 2009, largely due to a rightful correction in his BaBIP but also more patience at the plate. He should get more consistency with his spot in the batting order thanks to departure of Lou Pinella, and you should expect decent run and RBI numbers along with 15 home runs and a .270 batting average minimum.
8. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks – There was a lot of hype for Montero going into last season after going off in the second half of 2009 for 11 home runs and a .316 batting average. Of course it all went for naught when he tore the meniscus in his right knee in the fourth game of the season. He came back in mid-June and despite hitting nine home runs was totally off, seemingly losing the strike zone, failing to make solid contact on the ball and getting too far under it when he did. With a full offseason to heal and work out the kinks he should rebound nicely and could exceed this ranking.
9. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees – Jorge Posada is old, like one year from his 40th birthday old. Normally this would mean death for a catcher with as many innings as the New York Yankees veteran has under his belt. Luckily though, he joins Victor Martinez in the category of catchers not playing catcher this season, and being an everyday player in the potent pinstripes lineup can be a beautiful thing. He still has the home run pop, and a slight upward correction in his BaBIP should result in something closer to a .270 average as opposed to the pitiful .248 he posted last season.
10. Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers – After being named in two trades this offseason, Napoli finally landed in slugger-city at Arlington Park. This is obviously fantastic, as it helps emphasize the former Anaheim Angels’ best asset for fantasy owners: power. His batting average should come up a bit as well due to a slightly lower-than-average BaBIP, but .265 is probably the ceiling here. Of course, if he hits 25-plus bombs (something he is plenty capable of, as he showed last year), his fantasy owners won’t care much. Add in the power-packed Texas Rangers lineup and you have a nice sleeper pick in round 14 of ESPN leagues.
11. Russell Martin, New York Yankees – In 2008 Russell Martin was one of the hottest commodities on the market due to his 15/15 upside and .280-plus batting average. One down year and an injury later, and he finds himself out of the top ten and, at least according to me, not even the most desirable catcher on his own team for fantasy purposes. Some still see the potential he once showed and a move to New York could very well revive him, but considering he’s two (and depending on your requirements, three) years removed from his glory days some sign of life will need to be shown before he can be treated as a legit top-10 shortstop again.
12. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies – There wasn’t much to get excited about for Iannetta in 2010, as he played second fiddle to Miguel Olivo for most of the season and batted below .200 for the first time in his career. Hope springs eternal however, as his BaBIP was an atrocious .212 and the nine home runs he blasted were his lowest since 2007, having totaled 34 over the previous two seasons. With Olivo now gone and Iannetta being handed the full-time job, he has the chance to provide some major power for fantasy owners who like to wait on the catcher position.
Best of the Rest:
13. Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics
14. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays – power sleeper alert
Sexy Like a Three-Way with the Odd Couple:
15. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
16. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Lane Rizzardini is a fantasy football and baseball writer for Brunoboys.net and Rotowire. His earliest fantasy sports memory was drafting Fred Lane in 2003, only to find out Fred's wife had shot him in the offseason.
You can follow him on Twitter at @lanerizz