It doesn’t seem too long ago that I put together all of my preseason fantasy rankings, but here we are halfway through the season. That means it’s a pretty good time to look back at my preseason catcher rankings and update them for the rest of the season. Keep in mind that this is a list of who I think will be the best catchers for the rest of the season, not who I think have been the best catchers so far this season. (Preseason ranking in parentheses.)
1. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers (3): What else can you say about Rodriguez but that he’s been amazing? He’s hitting .373 with 10 homers, 41 runs, 57 RBIs and seven steals (without being caught once). Obviously, a lot of his value came from an amazing June in which he hit .500 with a 1.274 OPS. I don’t see him doing that again this year, but he’s been so much better than any other catcher in the first half of the season that it’s hard to imagine him not being the best over the second half as well.
2. Mike Piazza, Mets (1): The gradual shift to first base was supposed to keep Piazza fresh in order to keep his bat in the lineup, and it appears to be working. He’s hitting .309 with 16 home runs and he’s missed just one game. Despite the fact that he’s hitting well and on pace to set a career high in games played, he’s also on pace for his fewest RBIs (80) and second-fewest runs scored (68) in a full season.
If Piazza starts to get some help from his teammates, there’s no reason he can’t hit .310-.320 with 30-35 home runs, 75-80 runs scored and 90-100 RBIs. The move to first hasn’t even hurt Piazza for next year, as the 34 games he’s already played at catcher this year should be enough to qualify him there next year in most leagues.
3. Craig Wilson, Pirates (10): Whether they wanted to or not, the Pirates finally gave Wilson the full-time job he deserved and it has paid off big. A frigid June took some of the shine off his numbers, but he’s still hitting .290 with 16 home runs, 54 runs and 46 RBIs.
Assuming the Pirates don’t do something stupid, Wilson should hit .280-.290 with 30-35 homers this year while finishing around the century mark in both runs and RBIs. The only problem is that Wilson’s only played three games behind the plate this season, so he probably won’t qualify as a catcher next year.
4. Victor Martinez, Indians (19): Martinez hit .288 in his first two partial seasons in the big leagues, but only two home runs in 191 at-bats had people wondering when he’d shown enough power to be a solid major-league hitter. Well, not only has he upped the batting average to .299 this season, he’s also smacked 12 longballs in 268 at-bats this season.
He’s been a better fantasy option than Piazza over the first half of the season, but that’s because of his 61 RBIs. I expect him to cool off a little bit over the second half and he certainly won’t top the 120-RBI mark.
5. Javy Lopez, Orioles (4): I’m going to claim a partial success on Lopez, because I said before the season that there was no way he’d hit as well as he did last year and the best you should hope for is a .290 average, 25 homers and 90 RBIs.
His average is at an impressive .321 at the moment, but he’s only on pace for 22 homers and 79 RBIs. I’d expect the average to drop a little bit over the second half while the home runs and RBIs might increase a touch. Ultimately, I don’t think my preseason prediction will be far off.
6. Jason Kendall, Pirates (5): Kendall has been a good fantasy player with a .311 average, seven steals and 45 runs scored, but he has not been a good offensive contributor in the real world. He only has a .377 slugging percentage thanks to just two home runs and he’s been caught stealing seven times as well.
But, that shouldn’t really matter to you. As long as he keeps hitting above .300, stealing bases and scoring runs, he’ll be helping your fantasy team. Since he’s been batting leadoff more often than not, the Pirates probably think he’s “making things happen” on the basepaths and will let him keep trying to steal.
7. Jorge Posada, Yankees (2): Posada had the best season of his career in 2003 and two great months to begin 2004, so I don’t think he’s lost it as a hitter just because he had a terrible June. The Yankees might want to have him, and anybody else who starts to slump mysteriously, checked for parasites, but Posada will start hitting again as long as he’s healthy.
I’d expect him to finish the season hitting .270-.275 with 22-25 homers, 70-75 runs and 80-90 RBIs. With his talent and that lineup around him, there’s no reason for him to not be one of the best fantasy options behind the plate.
8. Joe Mauer, Twins (15): Before the season, nobody could stop talking about Mauer and his potential. However, he fell off people’s radar screen when he got hurt, and now nobody seems to notice that he’s been hitting even better than anybody could have expected. Not only is Mauer hitting .329, but he’s developed big-league power out of nowhere.
He hit just five homers in 509 minor-league at-bats last year, but he already has six longballs in 85 at-bats for the Twins this year. If he keeps that pace up for the second half, he could hit 18 more home runs in 250 at-bats. Nobody should expect that, obviously, but would you settle for a .300 average and 8-10 more homers? Sure you would.
9. Johnny Estrada, Braves (NR): Another catcher with little big-league experience, Estrada is making John Schuerholz look like a genius, hitting .332 with 47 RBIs so far this season. He doesn’t have much power (just four home runs) and he’s not going to finish the season hitting .330 or better, but I think he’s shown that he can get the job done as a starting fantasy backstop.
10. Charles Johnson, Rockies (12): With a .275 average, 11 home runs, 35 runs and 36 RBIs, Johnson’s having a better season than I thought he was capable of. The strangest part is that he’s not even getting much help from Coors Field. Johnson’s hitting .277 with six homers in 94 at-bats at home and .273 with five homers in 99 at-bats on the road.
He’s still an injury risk (on pace for 126 games) and I don’t think he can keep his average above .270, but you can’t discount somebody who’s producing and plays for Colorado.
Fell from the top 10
Jason Varitek, Red Sox (6): Varitek’s having a pretty decent season, hitting .272 with nine home runs, 33 runs, 30 RBIs and an improbable five steals, but he just misses the cut for the top 10. If I thought he could reproduce his first half, he might (but not necessarily) make it, but there’s no way he’s stealing another five bases.
Mike Lieberthal, Phillies (7): He’s been slumping and/or injured much of the year, and he’s just not having the season you’d expect from him. He’s hitting for power (10 home runs), but he’s only batting .252 and that’s not good enough with a surprisingly deep pool of talent at the catcher position.
A.J. Pierzynski, Giants (8): He absolutely tore the cover off the ball in June and he’s still hitting just .290 with six homers. I don’t think he has another month like that in him and while he should be a useful catcher in most leagues, I just don’t think he’ll be one of the 10 best over the rest of the season.
Matthew LeCroy, Twins (9): Of the two catchers-turned-DH/1B/OF, I thought LeCroy had a better chance of being used properly than Wilson. But injuries to others forced Wilson into the everyday lineup while injuries to LeCroy helped him get lost in the shuffle and that’s why Wilson moved into the top five while LeCroy fell from the top 10.