2011 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit: Catcher Rankings
Despite heading to a more pitcher-friendly park, Victor Martinez remains a top-tier talent at catcher.
By Tim McLeod and RotoRob
We’ve been feverishly working away on the meat of the 2011 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit — the cheat sheets — hence the slight pause since we last posted a component of the kit. But don’t fret, we’re getting there. So with pitchers and catchers reporting in a couple of days, it’s time to look at the top catchers in Fantasy baseball.
In 2011, the catcher position is very much split into several distinct tiers. Victor Martinez, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, and Buster Posey make up the elite, and you need to be prepared to move early if nabbing one of these top-tier catchers is in your plans. The middle tier is filled with question marks. Will Geovany Soto’s shoulder hold up? Can Kurt Suzuki get his BA back into the .270 range? Does Matt Wieters finally produce that power that was almost universally predicted heading into 2010? Does Carlos Santana bounce back from that horrible 2010 leg injury? Can Miguel Montero return to his 2009 mid-teens power? You’ll have to ask yourself whether it’s worth gambling on a catcher from this middle tier or if you should take a chance in the latter rounds on the likes of Nick Hundley, J.P. Arencibia or Chris Snyder. With so few consistent sure fire options, grabbing an elite level catcher offers some rather huge rewards. As you formulate your 2011 catcher strategy, your choices are to either take the safe approach or get in line and fight for the scraps. In the words of the immortal (Dirty) Harry Callahan, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (1): Considering what the kind of season Mauer had in 2009, he was in consideration as the Fantasy Dud of the Year in 2010 given his dropoff. The fact that he still hit over .325, scored almost 90 runs, drove in 75 and – as per usual – drew more walks than strikeouts yet it was considered a bad season tells you why Mauer remains the No. 1 man at this position. I’m still a bit worried about his long-term status as a catcher given his size and injury issues, but for 2011, there’s no one better among backstops.
2. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (3): Boston was supposed to make a concerted effort to retain Martinez, but that went out the window when Detroit ponied up $50 million for four years of his time. While he had a tough time staying healthy last season, he enjoyed another big power year. I’m a bit worried that Martinez’s walk rate dipped to a career low, but it didn’t stop him from putting up another .300 season, making him one of just four catchers that played at least 100 games and did that in 2010. The move to a more pitching-friendly park in Detroit is a legitimate concern (V-Mart’s OPS was 210 points higher at home last year), but he remains a top-tier talent for 2011.
3. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves (2): The Braves’ All-Star catcher has become as consistent as they come, churning out yet another solid offensive season in 2010 en route to becoming the NL Silver Slugger at catcher for the third straight season and fourth time in five years. McCann’s extra-base pop has slipped the past couple of years, but he drew a career high 74 walks while matching his personal best with five steals (obviously, he has limited speed like most backstops). Expect McCann’s BA to rebound closer to career norm levels this season, while he continues to provide his owners with solid power numbers. In other words, another Silver Slugger Award could be ticketed for his mantelpiece come season’s end.
4. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (32): If there’s a player that could unseat McCann as the NL’s top-hitting catcher, this is him. He’s already well established as an offensive force, yet – unbelievably — Posey is headed for his first big league training camp. All he did as a rookie was show fine strike zone judgment, hit over .300 and produce power. Oh, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, Posey was the three-hole hitter for the World Champions. Yes, he’s pretty good. Posey is also listed in our first base rankings.
5. Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs (8): As we discussed in September, the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year enjoyed a very sweet recovery last year, but unfortunately he again dealt with myriad injuries. When healthy, however, Soto made nice strides at the plate as his BA bounced back, he made excellent strides in his walk rate and showed a very fine batting eye. At this stage, Soto looks like a safer pick than Carlos Santana, albeit one with not as much upside.
6. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (34): Santana’s upside, as alluded to above, is undeniable, yet his injury-shortened rookie season is likely to reduce his draft status this year, making him a serious sleeper. Well, the switch-hitter has recovered from knee surgery and his return should help the Indians start to turn things around in 2011. Santana’s advanced batting eye should translate in a high batting average this year, and it would be reasonable to expect as many as 20 dingers. You can make the case that he should be taken ahead of Soto, but young, hyped catchers always make us a bit nervous so we’re keeping him just outside the top five for now.
7. Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers (12): Dispatched to Toronto in the Vernon Wells deal (and then flipped to Texas), Napoli is one of the better hitting catchers around, but the Angels didn’t think much of his skills behind the plate. This is a concern going forward, as Napoli seems like a prime candidate to switch positions, but he’ll remain catcher eligible this season, and at least for the near-term future. Last year, he saw more action than ever before and, while he wasn’t as effective as he was in 2009, Napoli still managed to have a great power year, smacking 26 dingers with 24 doubles. The move to Texas – and away from pitching-friendly Angel Stadium – could transform Napoli into a 30-homer catcher, which would be damn valuable even if he struggles to hit for average again. Napoli is also listed in our first base rankings.
8. Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics (4): Suzuki saw a ton of action for a catcher in both 2008 and 2009, but last year an oblique injury cost him some time, and his counting numbers dropped as a result. In fact, other than an improved batting eye, last season was arguably the worst of Suzuki’s career to date. It’s reasonable to expect his BA to bounce back and for him to continue to supply decent homer and RBI numbers. He’s not a sexy option, but he gets it done.
9. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (5): We have long been touting Wieters as one of those “post-hype” buy-low targets, and we stand behind that assertion for this former top prospect. Despite the disappointment that he hasn’t become the next Mauer yet, Wieters enjoyed a somewhat productive sophomore effort, and the Orioles are banking on further offensive developments from him this season. So should you.
10. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (6): After his massive leap in 2009 landed him in the top 10 of our catcher rankings last year, Montero has slid back to the back a bit, but remains a solid No. 1 catcher option. Of course, a knee injury that cost him over a third of the season depressed Montero’s value last year, but this season – as he enters his prime power years – we’re expecting a big bounce back. If he remains healthy, he should be in line for more PT than ever, and his extra-base pop will be an attractive asset for Fantasy owners.
11. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees (7): Posada showed signs of age in an ugly second half and he’ll now revert to DHing – which could spell the end of him qualifying as a catcher next year, but could also prolong his career and help him churn out another solid season with the stick. Originally drafted as a shortstop, Posada has enjoyed a brilliant career behind the plate, but the end is within sight.
12. John Buck, Florida Marlins (19): We’re projected Buck to bat seventh in a revamped Marlin batting order this season, but expecting him to repeat his career best performance from 2010 may be asking a bit much. The three-year, $18-million deal the Fish gave to Buck may be one they regret in a year or two, as I’ll be shocked if he again bats over .280 with his putrid walk rates. Also, with Buck shifting from one of the major’s best home run parks to one of the worst, Fantasy owners better brace themselves for his long ball total to also fall.
13. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (11): After flirting with being a top 10 Fantasy catcher heading into 2010, Molina has slipped a bit after a season in which he missed some time with injuries and regressed somewhat after a career year offensively in 2009. Molina remains a key figure for the Cardinals, but it’s worth noting that he may see a bit less action this year now that St. Louis has a very dependable backup in Gerald Laird.
14. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (17): In the last two seasons, Ruiz has made significant strides at the plate, with almost all his indicators trending upwards. Last year, an improved walk rate led to his first .300 BA and an OBP of .400 – pretty damned impressive for a catcher. Ruiz has quietly become a useful component of a stacked Philadelphia batting order, and if he continues to improve this year, he could be a viable No. 1 catcher soon.
15. Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh Pirates (13): With Doumit likely phasing away from catching, it’s quite conceivable he will only be of use in NL-only leagues this year. He remains somewhat productive, and I certainly like the fact that he upped his walk rate to career high levels last year, but with such an uncertain future – in terms of what position he’ll play and where he’ll toil his craft (the Pirates have made no secret about how much they would love to divest themselves of him) – it’s hard to get too excited about Doumit’s prospects for 2011.
16. Rod Barajas, Los Angeles Dodgers (23): As expected, the Dodgers re-signed Barajas (for one year and $3.25 million), and the veteran is expected to get the bulk of the time behind the plate in LA this season now that Russell Martin is gone. Although he missed about a month with an oblique injury in 2010, Barajas enjoyed a solid season with the bat. He’ll supply some decent power numbers, but is never going to hit for a high average. However, at least last year he didn’t kill his owners in that category, so that was a bonus.
17. A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox (16): As we know, Pierzynski was one of many White Sox regulars to get off to an abysmal start last year, but despite his crappy walk rate, he turned it around to put up respectable numbers in the end. Whether his reputation as a dickwad is still justified or not, Fantasy owners probably don’t care if Pierzynski continues to rake as he did in August (.333) and September (.342). As I alluded to, Pierzynski sure won’t help your OBP if that’s a category your league tracks, but you can expect him to hit around .285 with respectable power numbers. And that’s not too shabby.
18. Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres (33): Hundley is a catcher that we identified fairly early last season as one that was flying under the Fantasy radar. Okay, so he didn’t exactly pan out and he’s not going to hit for a high average, but Hundley had a very nice finish to the season, buoying hopes that he’s ready to take the next step. He’s the clear No. 1 option in San Diego this season, and while I’d like to see his walk rate bounce back to its 2009 levels, Hundley has a chance to be a Fantasy surprise this season, so don’t overlook him.
19. Russell Martin, New York Yankees (9): A hip injury cost Martin a third of the season and his offensive game regressed for a third straight season. But he gets a fresh start on the Yankees, and hopefully the transition to the AL will translate into a further recovery of his home run power. Martin is the No. 1 catcher for the Bronx Bombers, but if he doesn’t turn things around with the bat, top prospects Jesus Montero could soon be nipping at his heels.
20. John Jaso, Tampa Bay Rays (NR): Jaso was a nice surprise last season, earning consideration for the All Wire Troll team for his efforts. He flew under the radar as a prospect, really only enjoying one big season as a minor leaguer, but Jaso enjoyed a fine rookie season last year. He didn’t really flash a lot of power, but there is likely upside there. What really impressed me was his phenomenal batting eye – 59 walks against 39 strikeouts? Wow. Even though he wasn’t young for a rookie, that’s freaking impressive for a player facing big league pitching for the first time, and it bought him time atop the Ray batting order, which meant plenty of runs. Part of a deep rookie class of 2010, Jaso is a nice sleeper pick this year.
21. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies (14): Iannetta earned a waiver wire recommendation from us in late-May, and it paid off with a fine performance through July, before he tailed off in the second half. Overall, however, it was a very disappointing campaign for Iannetta, who has really regressed since his breakout in 2008. On the plus side, his walk rate bounced back somewhat last year, and it’s reasonable to assume that his batting average will follow this year. I’m very bullish on a big recovery from Iannetta this year as he’ll be reunited with new Colorado hitting coach Carney Lansford, whom he excelled under at Triple-A in 2007. Iannetta could be a real sleeper this year, so don’t be afraid to gamble an extra buck or two on him.
22. Miguel Olivo, Seattle Mariners (22): Olivo was signed by the Mariners as a free agent, and enters a situation that is going to be another mess behind the plate this year, as he’ll compete with Adam Moore and Josh Bard for playing time. The veteran Olivo likely has the inside track, coming off a decent year in which he set a career high in runs, triples, walks and batting average, while tying his personal best in steals. Even his normally horrific OBP was somewhat mediocre – a vast improvement. Working against Olivo this year, however, is the fact that he moved from 2010’s best-hitting park to the second worst hitting park. As a result, he could struggle to hit .250 and reach double-digits in homers, so even as a No. 2 catcher, Olivo is a weak option and he might best be employed as an AL-only commodity.
23. Chris Snyder, Pittsburgh Pirates (35): Snyder took over as the Pirate catcher after arriving in Pittsburgh in mid-season last year, moving Ryan Doumit to the outfield. The Buccos are trying to deal Doumit, but if they can’t deal him, he’ll take PT away from Snyder based on his superior hitting. But defensively, Snyder is the better catcher. Unfortunately, whatever recovery his offensive game had made in the first half of the season in Arizona was lost in a big way once he donned a Pirate uniform. At least he was over his back woes from 2009, and he did manage 15 homers – just one shy of his career high – but overall, 2010 was another forgettable season for Snyder.
24. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (49): We recommended Lucroy as soon as he arrived in Milwaukee in late-May, and he put up respectable numbers before fading in September. There’s definitely upside here as evidenced by his minor league career BA of almost .300 and OBP of almost .380. There’s a new wave of young catchers arriving in the Show recently, and Lucroy is likely to fly under the radar to an extent, but don’t sleep too long on this dude.
25. Ramon Hernandez, Cincinnati Reds (24): Hernandez dropped big-time in our catcher rankings last year, so after another injury-plagued season, he should consider himself lucky to have slipped only one spot this year. He remained the No. 1 option in Cincy last year, and the team opted to re-sign him (for one year and $3 million) even though Ryan Hanigan emerged as a solid offensive force last year. While healthy, Hernandez enjoyed a nice offensive recovery in 2010, but spending most of the season batting eighth meant he only managed 30 runs in 97 games, even more disappointing in light of the career-best .364 OBP he recorded.
Others to Consider
26. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (37)
27. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays (50)
28. Jesus Montero, New York Yankees (NR)
29. Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals (25)
30. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (NR)
31. Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
32. Josh Thole, New York Mets (52)
33. Jason Castro, Houston Astros (NR)
34. Brayan Pena, Kansas City Royals (NR)
35. Adam Moore, Seattle Mariners (26)
36. Ronny Paulino, New York Mets (38)
37. Jeff Mathis, Los Angeles Angels (46)
38. Yorvit Torrealba, Texas Rangers (29)
39. Lou Marson, Cleveland Indians (36)
40. Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees (31)
41. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (20)
42. Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels (NR)
43. Dioner Navarro, Los Angeles Dodgers (30)
44. George Kottaras, Milwaukee Brewers (NR)
45. Humberto Quintero, Houston Astros (NR)
46. Gerald Laird, St. Louis Cardinals (42)
47. Kelly Shoppach, Tampa Bay Rays (18)
48. Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox (28)
49. Ramon Castro, Chicago White Sox (NR)
50. Lucas May, Kansas City Royals (NR)
51. Jason Kendall, Kansas City Royals (43)
52. Jose Morales, Colorado Rockies (NR)
53. Jesus Flores, Washington Nationals (21)
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