Monday, February 13, 2012
The catcher and the whyPosted by Ben Pritchett at 2:19am
First of all a special thanks goes out to Fantasy Pros and our own Nick Fleder for putting together our positional rankings. As far as I know, this will be the first time THT has released any form of consensus rankings. It’s a proud day for me, and I know you all will appreciate the painstaking work it takes to get this done. As I’m sure Nick will agree, our rankings weren’t necessarily a draft cheat sheet but a reflection of where we feel these players’ stats will measure up against each other at season’s end.
For day one, we rank the catchers. It's the most undervalued position in fantasy baseball, so it’s generally difficult to get too excited about backstops. I see my catcher as little more than a seat warmer. Most years, I peg a certain catcher or tier of catchers I think the room is undervaluing, and I make sure I get my guy. I hardly ever draft the number one catcher or even a top five catcher for that matter.
Last year, I targeted Wilson Ramos and Miguel Montero, and that worked out quite well. In leagues with deeper benches, I will usually draft a lower level catcher and pair him with a top prospect. This tag-team method would probably be my favorite strategy in addressing the catcher position. However, all drafts are different, and you can never tell how a draft is going to play out until you are already well into the battle.
I have concluded that Mike Napoli is the number one catcher in 2012. Upon finally getting his chance to shine in Texas, Napoli built a second half that was nothing short of magical.
I didn’t see his 2011 breakout coming. I knew Napoli had prodigious power unrivaled by any other catcher, but I never thought he would hit as consistently as he did. To think he put up 30 HR/75 RBI/.320 AVG in only 439 plate appearances is astonishing. The fact that he continued that success well into the playoffs further solidifies his elite status.
At 32 years old, Napoli isn’t getting any younger, so being “elite” could be a very short experience for him, but his 2011 season wasn’t so different from his 2008 season. The only real difference was plate appearances, batting eye, and some luck, all of which are trending upwards. Obviously he will face some extreme batting average regression; I’ll bet my house he doesn’t hit .320 again. If he’s your guy, I totally understand, but I won’t reach for him in the first three rounds, which is where he will undoubtedly be selected.
Like Napoli, Carlos Santana has caught the imaginations of experts and fans alike.
First, getting 658 plate appearances from your catcher is unfair. No other catcher was within a hundred plate appearances of Santana in 2011. That in itself should drive the value of a catcher, but Santana offers so much more. He’ll be only 25 at the beginning of the season, and he’s also a switch-hitter. He has 30+ home run potential, and I think most scouts see him as a higher batting average guy than he was last season.
The Indians have already saidthat Santana is the face and future of their franchise. so look for them to continue to shelter him more at first base. We all love catchers who spend significant time at other positions. I don’t think any catcher profiles as a better source for RBIs and runs. His awesome potential will cost an owner roughly the same as Napoli, which drives me out of the bidding. I’ll stand on the sidelines and admire Santana, but he probably won’t be my catcher in 2012.
Never, and I will repeat this, never have I ever seen so many viable catchers for a basic 5X5, 12-team standard league. After Napoli and Santana, at least eight catchers could all have the same value as the other. In my rankings you’ll see that I have Brian McCann as my No. 3 catcher, but my No. 8, Yadier Molina, could easily put up comparable numbers.
So, if you are like me, this conundrum really gets your engines thumping. As soon as Santana and Napoli, jump off the board, I will immediately go into value mode. I have McCann ranked as No. 3 for a variety of reasons. I am a fan of the Braves so I have seen enough of McCann to know what he’s capable of producing. Before his injuries, 2011 was shaping up to be the finest year of his career. He should be healthy and firmly set in the middle of a lineup that will produce better than it did last year, surely. McCann offers generally the same skill set as Santana but should be had two or three rounds later. I have him drafted in the fiffh round. Anything beyond that, and I’m drafting McCann.
After McCann, I struggled among Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero for the fourth spot in my rankings. I love the potential of every one for different reasons.
With much angst, I chose Mauer. The reason I like Mauer isn’t because he’s safe. He’s not. It’s not because he’s coming off some sort of breakout season. That’s already happened. When Mauer is healthy he is a great source of runs and RBIs for a catcher. He averaged around 93 runs and 85 RBIs in the three seasons before last year. I think he still had double digit power even though the 28 home runs of 2009 are conclusively an aberration at this point. Target Field will also squander any future power potential.
The No. 1 reason I love Mauer is because he improves your batting average so much that it allows you to draft a Mark Reynolds or Ryan Howard-like player without fear of what those players will do to your batting average. Mauer is still an elite hitter, and he won’t come much cheaper than he will in 2012. If there’s any catcher who has the best chance of finding a way onto all my fantasy teams, it’s Mauer.
Picking Posey over Wieters will be considered blasphemy by my colleagues I’m sure, but I’m don’t care. I’m not as sold on Wieters as everybody else, apparently. He batted only .235 against right-handed pitching in 2011, which is the worst of his career. His career batting average rates have been directly tied to his BABIP successes and failures. I worry that he may constantly struggle with a certain level of volatility.
I also understand that Wieters fits the profile of a guy I typically like, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready yet. I need to see more, and I’m not willing to pay the price to find out. In our THT mock draft, Wieters was selected third overall among catchers. He may warrant such consideration when the season is over, but I’ll play it a little safer. Last tidbit on Wieters: power seems legit, and there’s no reason to think he can’t hit more than 20 home runs again 2012.
Posey is a poor man’s Mauer. Scouts love the term “Mauer with power,” and I have seen that said about both Wieters and Posey. Where I see Wieters as diet Mauer with power, I see Posey as just Mauer. Posey is obviously less proven than Maue,r but can’t be considered as big an injury risk. One freak play can’t label a player as an injury risk. I’d say he has an injury "mark." I assume that Posey will be healthy, and the Giants seem ready to play him more at first base this year to preserve that health. I secretly want Posey more than Mauer, but I don’t know if I have the guts to show that in my rankings.
When I entered 2011, I was ready to proceed with Montero as my catcher. He was so cheap, and no one believed he could improve on his successful 2009 season. I would point to his disappointing 2010 season as the reason. I like Montero because Arizona likes Montero. He isn’t going anywhere, and with ISOs much like all the more beloved catchers ranked ahead of him, he has a very underrated power stroke. If he continues to put up solid, across-the-board numbers and sees some increase in his power, Montero should still be a bargain in 2012, but this may be the last year to get him on the cheap. I doubt I will invest in Montero in any leagues other than my N- only leagues. He’s stable, but his ceiling isn’t quite as high as the others ranked ahead of him.
Speaking of stability, Yadier Molina took an impressive leap forward in 2011. He finally established himself as something more than the best defensive catcher and a solid source of batting average. He hit 14 home runs and didn’t compromise his other stats.
If he maintains power somewhere in the same level as last year, there really isn’t a catcher you can consider more stable than Molina. According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Molina looks “buff.” I don’t know how to properly handle these kinds of news tidbits, but if he’s stronger than last year, why not think he can hit a few more home runs? Molina is a pick for guys looking to play it safe. For example, if you’ve already added some riskier selections or unreliables, then Molina is a perfect catcher to use for balance.
I often will draft from a lower tier of catchers, Nos. 9 through 15. If your bench is deep enough, I strongly encourage you to draft one of these lower-tier catchers preferably Wilson Ramos, Geovanny Soto or Kurt Suzuki, then grab the top prospect, which is Devin Mesoraco.
I don’t think there is enough difference among all these catchers to go into too much depth. Soto is power and experience. Suzuki is the RBIs and runs guy of the bunch. Ramos is the head of this group. If not for his kidnapping this winter, I would probably have him in the tier with the more valuable catchers, but I worry about his mind. Stress can be a powerful thing and could affect his performance. So even though he broke out in his first season as a starter, I’m not ready to pronounce him a star.
He is far from a slam-dunk but I could definitely see myself grabbing Mesoraco as his counterpart. That could be a dynamic duo especially in deep, two-catcher or NL-only leagues. I love the up-and-coming prospects, and none is more heralded than Mesoraco. Don’t be surprised if he unseats Ryan Hanigan as the Reds' primary catcher by the All-Star break. He is every bit as good as his hype.
What is amazing is the number of catchers lying in wait. Salvador Perez seems like he could have some promise, but expectations for him should be tempered. Wilin Rosario is a future star, but he still has some growing to do. Yasmani Grandal, now with the San Diego Padres, could be impressive if given the opportunity. Ryan Lavarnway is the reigning Boston Red Sox minor league player of the year and could be ready to expand on his late season successes.
Basically, there’s a lot to get excited about for the future of fantasy catchers. This list may look very different in 2013.