By John Maceda
Catcher is probably the toughest position to gauge true fantasy value in relation to draft position. Smart owners tend to realize that if you can’t draft one of the top tier catchers in the first few rounds, you might as well wait until the end of the draft because the field levels off quickly. But does that mean you should just be all over one of the top two catchers in the first 3 rounds? Not necessarily. Taking a top catcher in very early fantasy rounds is usually risky, because the player is valued on a different scale due to position scarcity. In the first rounds of the draft, you should be looking for pure numbers regardless of position. The days of the position having Mike Piazza and his 40 HR years and Pudge Rodriguez going 30-30 are over. With all of that said, let’s take a look at how The Screw rates fantasy backstops going into the 09 season.
1. Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
There is much debate as to who the #1 fantasy catcher is. To me, the answer has everything to do with consistency. Joe Mauer is entering the prime years of his career (turning 26 in April). His numbers from last year–.328 BA, 98 R, 9 HR, 85 RBI–should only improve in 2009. His real value lies in his very high batting average, and the number of ABs he gets per year. Mauer had the 2nd most ABs of any catcher last season. Most catchers you would find in the late rounds will only see 300-400 at bats, compared to 500+ from Mauer. His batting average can actually carry real weight for your team because of his heavy workload, and the Twinkies need his bat in the lineup. His power numbers could increase, but still curb your expectations to 10-15 dingers. Draft him with the idea in mind that you will have to replace the early round power you would normally get from a high pick later in the draft. With Mauer hitting in front of former AL MVP and current masher, Justin Morneau, he should have no problem scoring runs. If you are looking to solidify your C position and not have to worry about hitting the waiver wires all year for a catcher, I have to like what is the surest thing at the position in Joe Mauer.
2. Russell Martin – Los Angeles Dodgers
Russell Martin is one of the most uniquely valuable players in all of fantasy baseball. He gets more ABs than any catcher due to his heroic workload, and ability to play 3B some games (don’t place any value in his multi-position eligibility, if you are playing Martin at 3B on your fantasy team you might as well stop reading now and mail a check to your league commissioner). He also is a good source of about 20 steals, and a sneaky way to get them into your lineup because Martin is a catcher. This is where most of his value really lies. He will score runs hitting in Torre’s line up, and he’ll get his dozen or so home runs, so when you cue up Russell Martin’s name on draft night, you’re drafting a guy who will give you consistent contributions across all 5 categories.
3. Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves
The most consistent power hitting catcher in the league over the past few seasons. McCann should get you close to 25 HRs and 90 RBIs. He will contribute a little less in the Runs category though, as he has yet to score 70 Runs in a season. However, McCann is still only 25 years old, and the past 2 years has been a 500+ AB catcher. Natural logic would have you believe that his production will only increase in 2009.
4. Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs
Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year did his best Brian McCann impression all season, and it clearly paid off. When you take a look at their numbers, they are frighteningly close. McCann: 68 R, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 5 Steals, .301 BA VS. Soto: 66 R, 23 HR, 86 RBI, 0 Steals, .285 BA. McCann has the slight edge because of steals and batting average. Also important to note: while Soto was a rookie last season, he is actually one year older than McCann. So McCann has both the experience edge, AND a the youth edge. Close call though, so if you have McCann on your radar and he’s snatched in front of you, you can feel pretty good about taking Soto as a replacement.
5. Victor Martinez – Cleveland Indians
V-Mart spend most of 2008 injured. So let’s do him a favor and just erase last season from our memories. Remember what I said earlier about ABs? Well from 05-07, V-Mart averaged 560 ABs per year. He is also one of the only fantasy catchers who has proved he is capable of having a 25 HR, 100+ RBI season.
Martinez doesn’t get all that many innings at the catcher position, because the Indians would prefer to play him at 1B to keep his bat in the lineup and who could blame them? Fantasy owners should be thankful for this decision, as it makes Martinez less likely to go through the typical drop offs in most catchers stats in the final 2 months of the season. If V-Marts injury problems are behind him, he will be one of the elite catchers in fantasy baseball.
6. Ryan Doumit – Pittsburgh Pirates
I like this guy. That’s always the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the name Ryan Doumit. The switch hitter turns 28 right around opening day, but he has fresh legs for a catcher because of stints in the OF and being platooned earlier in his career. Doumit was a touted prospect coming up through the Pirates system because of his solid bat from both sides of the plate. In 2008 he finally got consistent playing time behind the plate and reached the 400 AB plateau. He rewarded fantasy owners who took a chance on him with close to 70 Runs and RBIs, 15 round trippers and a .319 BA. Doumit should replicate his numbers from last year, and look for power early on, because like all catchers he will be susceptible to a second half dropoff.
7. Matt Weiters – Baltimore Orioles
Think Evan Longoria. Now before you get ahead of yourself, I’m not going to make any bold 30 HR predictions for the kid just yet. But Weiters is the best catching prospect since Joe Mauer (see #1 on this board). What Weiters has, that Mauer lacks though, is a home run stroke. Across two levels in the minors last season, Matt hit .355 with 27 bombs. So yeah, he’s ready for the show. But “not so fast”, say the Orioles. It is still very likely that Weiters will not start the season with the Major League club. Which brings us back to Evan Longoria. Longoria was in the same position last year, and while it limited his value to an extent, he still put up great numbers. If you miss out on one of the top catchers, I would advise taking a flier on Weiters and stashing him on your bench. If he gets a chance to display his immesnse talent, he will reward fantasy owners much in the same way Longoria did in 2008.
8. Chris Iannetta – Colorado Rockies
Iannetta is immediately attractive because he plays his home games at Coors Field. Also attractive is the fact that he knocked 18 HRs in just 333 ABs. He hit .264 last season, but will turn just 26 in early April. With more ABs over the course of the season, and some growth and maturity as a player, Iannetta is a candidate to reach 20 – 25 HRs.
9. Jorge Posada – New York Yankees
I’d like to go all preachy on you about how I think Jorge Posada is a future Hall of Famer, but not today. That is for another article. Jorge has been one of the best producers from the catcher position in fantasy baseball for the past decade. He injured his shoulder in 2008 and missed a significant portion of the season, derailing the Yankees playoff hopes, and fantasy owners’ dreams of Posada replicating is big time 2007 season. Going into draft night you do need to be wary of Posada’s shoulder keeping him out of the lineup for periods of time, but the tough as nails Posada will do everything he can to stay in the lineup. If he does play, the Yankees lineup will give him plenty of run scoring and RBI opportunities. Don’t expect another year like 2007, but Jorge Posada should bounce back form a disappointing 2008.
10. Bengie Molina – San Francsico Giants
Molina led all catchers last year with 95 RBIs. Molina, who will be 35 this season is one of the most consistent fantasy catchers in fantasy. He is a solid late round choice for fantasy owner who missed out on the top guys. He doesn’t move too well, so he only scored 45 runs last season. But as long as Molina stays healthy, he is a lock to hit 15 HRs with a .280 BA. You could do much worse.
Pablo Sandoval – San Francisco Giants
Pablo will mostly be playing 3B for the Giants, but he will still be Catcher eligible in most formats. In 145 ABs last season, Sandoval hit .345 with 3 bombs and 24 Runs and RBI each. As the projected every day started for San Fransisco this year, you have to think he will see more than 400 ABs. If he can continue his limited Major League success, he will be a bargain for some shrewd owners.
Mike Napoli – Los Angeles Angels
Napoli has a great home run swing for a catcher. He smacked 20 homers last year for the Halos, to go along with 49 RBIs and 7 steals. Napoli managed to do this in just 227 ABs, so if he could steal some at bats from Jeff Mathis and reach somewhere around 400 ABs, 30 home runs is not out of the question. Keep an eye on how playing time shakes out in Los Angeles.
Dioner Navarro – Tampa Bay Rays
As much as Dioner helps his team on the field, his effectiveness does not really carry over to fantasy value. He batted .295 last season, but he only had 34 extra base hits. He doesn’t drive in runs, and he doesn’t score runs. When you are drafting, you are much better off taking a chance on a rookie like Jeff Clement in Seattle, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia in Texas.
Ramon Hernandez – Baltimore Orioles
See above on Matt Weiters. If Baltimore decides to to pull the trigger on the Matt Weiters era, Hernandez will lose significant playing time. If he keeps his job, he will probably put up his normal numbers. All signs point to this not being the case though.
Agree? Disagree? Go after me on the message board!