Fantasy: Catcher Rankingsby Ben Jacobs
March 16, 2005
I'm a little later getting these rankings out than I would have liked, so I'll try to get as many done per day as possible to give you time to look them over before your draft. With that in mind, let's get right to the rankings. (Note: Rankings are based on 5x5 Rotisserie scoring).
1. Victor Martinez, Indians: A lot of people think Martinez is the third-best catcher, with the note that he will be the best fantasy catcher soon. I think that time is now. In my mind, Martinez is likely to lead all catchers in homers (20-25), runs (85-90) and RBIs (100-110), or at least rank in the top three in each category.
Martinez hit .283 last year and has a .284 career average in 711 at-bats, so you can at least expect a batting average in that range. Even if that's what he does again, he should still be about the best at his position. I think he's capable of hitting .290-.300, however, which would make him easily the best fantasy catcher.
2. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers: Rodriguez was the best fantasy catcher last year, thanks in large part to his .334 batting average. Rodriguez has always hit for a pretty good average, but I don't expect it to be quite that good this season. More likely, he'll hit somewhere in the .310-.320 range.
With that kind of average, combined with 15-20 homers, half a dozen steals, 70-75 runs and 75-80 RBIs, he'll have to settle for being the second-best fantasy catcher this season. Still not bad considering he's 33 years old and only a couple seasons removed from being a complete question mark due to injuries.
3. Javy Lopez, Orioles: After he hit .328 with 43 homers and 109 RBIs in 2003, I predicted that Lopez would hit about .290 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs last year. He ended up with 23 homers and 86 RBIs, but he did manage a .316 average. This year, I think the average falls a little more, into the .290-.300 range.
To go along with that average, he'll probably hit 20-25 homers, 55-60 runs and 75-80 RBIs. Keep in mind that he played 150 games last year, and I think it's unlikely he'll match that number this year even though he can DH to take a break from catching.
4. Jason Kendall, A's: Kendall sometimes gets overlooked in the discussion of the top catchers, but he shouldn't be. He has a .322 average over the last two seasons, and that's enough to make him a valuable commodity. He doesn't have much power, but that's not a huge issue because no catcher currently has a ton of power.
Kendall can hit .310-.320 with half a dozen homers, 10-15 steals, 80-90 runs and 50-60 RBIs. That's good enough to be a top five catcher, easily.
5. Jorge Posada, Yankees: If he could replicate the season he had two years ago, Posada would probably be the top fantasy catcher in baseball this year. Unfortunately, I don't think he can match the .281 average, 30 homers, 83 runs and 101 RBIs he posted that season.
It seems more likely that he'll hit .270-.275 with 20-25 homers, 70-75 runs and 80-85 RBIs. That's still not bad, but you really shouldn't expect a 30-homer season because he's only hit more than 22 once in the last four years.
6. Mike Piazza, Mets: Even in a bad season last year, Piazza still hit 20 homers. Unfortunately, he only hit .266 with 47 runs and 54 RBIs. He's not getting any younger at 36 years of age, but I think things will be easier for him this season since he doesn't have to worry about playing first base and he doesn't have to try to carry the offense himself.
Piazza's definitely a risk, but he has the potential to hit .280-.290 with 25 homers, 55-60 runs and 85-90 RBIs without a problem. And it's still not out of the question (though it is unlikely) for him to put up another .300-30-100 season.
7. Jason Varitek, Red Sox: Varitek should be a fine offensive catcher again this season, but he's not going to be as good for fantasy purposes as he was last year. His .296 average was 25 points higher than his current career average, and hit 10 steals were one more than his total from the previous five seasons combined.
I'd expect Varitek to hit .270-.280 with 17-20 homers, maybe a handful of steals, 60-65 runs and 70-75 RBIs. He's a solid, low-risk option behind the plate, but don't overvalue him based on what he did last year.
8. Joe Mauer, Twins: His potential to be great makes him so tantalizing, while his risk of being hurt makes him so scary. Mauer could easily .300 with 20 homers, 80-85 runs and 70-75 RBIs, and he could easily play fewer than 40 games for the second season in a row.
One thing I wouldn't expect is for Mauer to see a lot of time at DH. It sounds like Ron Gardenhire is planning on using Mike Redmond to give Mauer a rest every few days, especially early in the season, and is planning on resting Mauer completely on those days.
I don't think Mauer's most recent knee irritation is a huge concern, but it is a concern after what happened last year. If I had to guess, I'd say he'll probably play 110-120 games, which would limit his value. Still, he should hit well enough in those games that this spot won't be a reach for him.
9. Michael Barrett, Cubs: Most people seem to think Barrett's unlikely to duplicate the success he had last season, but I'm not so sure. He was well regarded as a hitter when he was a prospect, and sometimes it just takes catchers a while to develop.
He hit .287 with 16 homers, 55 runs and 65 RBIs last season. He might not do quite that well this year, but I think he can definitely hit .275-.280 with about a dozen homers, 45-50 runs and 50-55 RBIs. And it wouldn't surprise me completely if he even improves a little from last year, since he's still only 28 years old.
10. Johnny Estrada, Braves: Estrada's first full major-league season was a definite success, as he hit .314 with nine homers, 56 runs and 76 RBIs. The question now is where he goes from here. Does he keep getting better or does he regress a little? Does he add some power or will he continue to hurt you there?
I think he'll probably hit .295-.300 with 10-13 homers, 55-60 runs and 75-80 RBIs, essentially the same as last year with a slightly worse average. That he would appear to have some room for growth is a nice thing, however, because it means the potential reward for drafting him outweighs the risk.
11. Mike Lieberthal, Phillies: Lieberthal has kind of alternated surprisingly good and disappointingly bad seasons during his career. After hitting .313 with 13 homers, 68 runs and 81 RBIs in 2003, he saw a slight uptick in homers (17) but declined in the other categories (58 runs, 61 RBIs, .271 average).
This year, I'd expect a .270-.280 average, about 15 homers, 55-60 runs and 65-70 RBIs. He could easily outproduce those numbers, but he's 33 years old and is a bit of an injury risk. He should be a solid starter at the position, but he's not really somebody you can completely count on.
12. Ramon Hernandez, Padres: Hernandez is really kind of a lower-risk, lower-reward version of Lieberthal. So, if you like a player who gives you less of a chance of producing much better than expected, but also less of a chance of collapsing, you might want to move Hernandez ahead of Lieberthal.
Basically, I'd expect Hernandez to be pretty similar to what he was last year -- .265-.270 average, 17-20 homers, 45-50 runs and 60-65 RBIs. He's nothing special, but he's not terrible either.
13. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox: At this point for this position, if a player can do one thing well, that's about all you can ask for. Pierzynski can do one thing well -- hit for average. He's a career .294 hitter, and he had hit at least .300 in back-to-back seasons before last year.
He only hit .272 last year, but I'd expect him to bounce back a bit now that he's away from whatever that park is called (SBC now?). I'd peg him for a .295-.300 average, 10-12 homers, 55-60 runs and 70-75 RBIs. Of course, if he does hit in the .270 range again, he's not worth much at all.
14. Paul Lo Duca, Marlins: At first glance, Lo Duca's performance last season looks fine as he hit .286 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs. However, it doesn't look quite as good once you realize he hit .301/.351/.444 with 10 homers in 91 games for Los Angeles, but only hit .258/.314/.376 with three homers in 52 games after getting traded to Florida.
He may have worn down a bit as the season went on, and he'll be 33 years old early in April this year. I think you should definitely expect a dropoff in his overall numbers. He may hit .270-.275 with 8-10 homers, 55-60 runs and 65-70 RBIs, which isn't good enough to be a starter in most leagues.
15. John Buck, Royals: Buck showed off his power potential last year, hitting 24 homers in 465 at-bats between Triple-A and the majors. He only hit .235 in the majors, but he hit .300 in Triple-A and is only 24 years old.
It's hard to predict what he might do in his first full season in the majors, but he definitely has the potential to be better than a few of the guys ahead of him on this list. Of course, he also could struggle and be essentially worthless. My best guess is that he'll hit .245-.250 with 15-20 homers, 55-60 runs and 65-70 RBIs.
16. J.D. Closser, Rockies: Closser's intriguing simply because he's likely to be the starter for a team that plays its home games in Coors Field. A 25-year-old who got his first taste of the major leagues last year, Closser hit .299/.384/.440 in 83 games in Triple-A last year.
I'm not even going to try to predict what Closser could do this year, because with playing time, major-league adjustment and the Coors Field effect to factor in all at once, it would just be a total guess. But he seems to have some ability to hit and he'll be playing in a place that seems to help hitters. Do the math.
17. Miguel Olivo, Mariners: Olivo's first two seasons in the majors have been pretty similar -- bad average, some power, some steals, not particularly valuable overall. He's 26 years old now, and he may be ready to take a step forward as he likely gets a slight bump in playing time.
He should be able to hit .245-.250 with 10-12 homers, 8-10 steals, 45-50 runs and 40-45 RBIs. That's not great, but it's enough for him to be a useful backup. And if he takes an even bigger step forward, he could even be usable as a starter in some leagues.
18. Brandon Inge, Tigers: About one-third of Inge's career at-bats in the majors came last season, and he hit .287/.340/.453 in those at-bats. Despite that, his career hitting stats are still .227/.283/.360. That should give you some idea of how much Inge outperformed his previous production last year.
I don't expect him to completely fall back to where he had been, but neither do I expect him to be nearly as good as he was last year. I'd say he'll hit .250-.260 with about 10 homers, a few steals, 35-40 runs and 40-45 RBIs. The one thing he has going for him is that he'll be playing third base this season. If that allows him to get 500 or so at-bats, he'll have more counting stats than what I just predicted.
19. Jason LaRue, Reds: LaRue will be 31 years old Saturday, and you know what you're getting with him at this point -- some power, and not much average. He's hit at least a dozen homers in four straight seasons, but his best batting average in that time was .251.
This year, I'd expect him to hit .240-.245 with 14-16 homers, 50-55 runs and 55-60 RBIs. He's fine to augment the power you'll get from the catcher position, as long as you don't mind hurting the batting average a little.
20. Gerald Laird, Rangers: Laird was not good last year, but he's only 25 years old and he's shown some ability to hit in the past (.260/.344/.429 in Triple-A in 2003). You probably can't expect more than a .250 average and half a dozen homers, to go with 45-50 runs and 40-45 RBIs.
So why is he ranked higher than Ben Molina and Toby Hall, both of whom should have higher averages and more homers? Because he has some ability on the basepaths, and if he plays regularly, he could steal 5-10 bases. That gives him a little edge, but you're in trouble if you're relying on him for anything.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.
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