2012 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit: Catcher Rankings
Mike Napoli reached heights we never thought he was capable of.
By Tim McLeod and RotoRob
And we’re off! Welcome to the 2012 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit and another season of cheat sheets, sleepers, busts, prospects and all sorts of goodies to help you prepare for the upcoming baseball season. Starting today, we’ll be rolling out our positional rankings and various other draft components over the next few weeks. So while the catching ranks says goodbye to long-time stud Jorge Posada, let’s review our picks for the top backstops in Fantasy baseball for the 2012 season.
Heading into 2011, the catcher landscape was dominated by Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Buster Posey, and Brian McCann. My how times have changed. Mauer and Posey missed the bulk of 2011, while V-Mart could be lost for 2012, yet heading into this season we have as many as eight catchers that could end the campaign atop the rankings. Depth at the top, solid options in the middle tiers and several great young prospects to gamble on have resulted in a famine to feast scenario.
Jumping in early on catchers is no longer the prudent course, but acquiring one from that top group remains a solid plan. The bottom line for backstops in 2012: Pay for them, but don’t overpay as options are plentiful.
Note that we did not include Jesus Montero, as we believe he will only qualify as a DH. Pay close attention to his eligibility in your specific league. The same applies for Jordan Pacheco, who spent the majority of his Triple-A time last year at catcher, but is not a clear-cut qualifier here as a major leaguer this season. Should Montero qualify here, we’d slot him in as a low-end No. 1 catcher, at No. 11.
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (6): Here’s the reason the Indians were able to deal away V-Mart a couple of years ago. Santana got off to a rough start last season, but he turned things around and showed steady improvement as the campaign progressed, recording an OPS of 835 after the break. He stayed healthy, and provided great value given that the Tribe played him at first base or DH on days he wasn’t catching to keep his stick in the lineup. His power improved as he wound up mashing 64 extra-base hits while even pitching in with a few swipes. The power is real, and Santana should improve his BA given how advanced his batting eye already is. Plain and simple, in keeper leagues, there is currently no better backstop to own than Santana. Santana is also listed in our First Base Rankings, which will be released shortly.
2. Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers (7): Napoli was dealing with some ankle issues after the season, but it’s not expected to be a problem come Spring Training. One thing that is certain is that Napoli is going to get a damn sweet raise in arbitration after his monster 2011 season in which he set career highs in almost everything despite missing a few weeks with an oblique strain. Napoli’s extra-base pop was off the charts good and he was superbly productive. He made better contact than ever before and that helped his BA soar to levels we never would have expected. An OPS of 1045? Are you freaking kidding me? Okay, so maybe Napoli isn’t a Gold Glove contender, but his bat has Silver Slugger potential written all over it. Just 30, he’s an excellent choice in both redraft and keeper leagues at this juncture. Napoli also listed in our First Base Rankings, coming shortly.
3. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves (3): The winner of the last four NL Silver Slugger Awards at catcher, McCann has become a real leader on the Braves. In the last couple of seasons, his BA has been a bit weaker than what we’re accustomed to, but his isolated power bounced back somewhat last year. He won’t be 28 until next month, so McCann remains a key cog on a Braves’ team that is loaded with young talent and as such he remains a superb keeper option in addition to being a top five pick in redraft leagues.
4. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (10): Did Montero deserve the NL Silver Slugger more than McCann last year? He enjoyed an All-Star campaign last season, staying healthy enough to shatter his career high in games, while enjoying personal bests in nearly every counting category. Montero showed plenty of promise in 2009, but in 2010 he missed over a third of the season with a knee injury and his numbers plummeted. Last year, he proved he was all the way back despite the fact that his walk rate slipped a tad. Arizona is wisely trying to lock Montero up with a long-term deal, although it’s worth noting that at the age of 28, his peak power years may have already transpired. That’s not always a hard and fast rule for catchers anyhow and we’re not expecting a big drop off just yet, so for the time being Montero is a solid top 10 backstop.
5. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (9): Wieters’ power went AWOL a few weeks into 2011, but it sure came back as he spanked 14 dingers after the break. In reaching 500 at-bats for the first time, Wieters continued to improve from a power perspective, and it’s getting clear that a 30-homer season is coming very soon, perhaps even this year. This is obviously a player the Orioles are going to grow along with, and judging by his September (seven homers, 16 RBI, 15 runs and 10 walks), that growth will accelerate this season.
6. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (4): In 2011 — the Year of the Injury — few health maladies had more impact than Posey’s busted leg in late May. The 2010 NL ROY was simply plastered in a home plate collision, and the Giants plan to give Posey more time at first base this year. You may recall that Posey entered last season with multi-positional eligibility after playing 30 games at first base as a rookie, so it looks like he’ll regain that flexibility next season. He only played 45 games before his season-ending injury last year, so it’s difficult to assess his performance. Posey sure looked like he was dealing with a sophomore slump, but with a .311 BA in May before getting hurt, he was already moving past a slow start. The lack of extra-base pop really stuck out, but Posey has a ways to go before he reaches his power prime, so I’m not worried about that. I’m not thrilled that he was striking out way more often last year, either; I mean that would have been easier to suck up with an increase in power. Still, there’s no doubt that Posey is a top notch catcher – especially from a keeper league perspective, where I like him even more because of his future power potential.
7. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (1): The bad news is that things couldn’t have gone worse for Mauer in 2011. A leg injury cost him most of the first half, he missed another week in August with a neck woe and then had to shut it down two weeks early because of pneumonia. Freaking pneumonia! His extra-base pop disappeared, he was rather unproductive and his speed – on the wane for several years anyways – went completely AWOL. It’s hard to complain about a catcher that gets on base at a .360 clip, but when his career average is over .400 that number sticks out. Now the good news: Mauer is completely healthy heading into this season and you’ll never get him cheaper. This dude has been an impact player from the moment he arrived in the bigs, and we haven’t seen the last of that. Having said that, we’d be a lot less worried about him from a long-term perspective if the Twins would allow Mauer to play more 1B this season to help ease the strain on his body.
8. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (26): Avila took home his first Silver Slugger, albeit in a questionable call. For AL players who spent almost all their time behind the plate, however, it’s hard to argue with Avila’s 2011 showing as his BA soared and he delivered on the offensive promise he showed in his first taste of the majors in 2009. Opponents ran on him quite a bit, but Avila improved his caught stealing percentage to 32 last year. A consensus top 10 catcher, Avila is being drafted around round nine in most drafts, but his BA could decline substantially given his unsustainably high BABIP last year. Don’t reach for him too soon.
9. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (13): Molina enjoyed a big season last year, perhaps even Silver Slugger worthy. He saw plenty of action, enough to set new career highs in almost every counting category, and while the decent work he did on the basepaths the last couple of seasons reversed, he still managed to hit a career-best .305. Molina showed more pop than ever before and while his batting eye has regressed the past couple of seasons, he kept the party going in the playoffs, hitting .299 with 12 RBI in 18 games to help the Cardinals surprise everyone by walking away with the World Series. Now that Albert Pujols is gone, Molina is the longest-serving position player on the Cards and while keeper league owners should be aware that the regression could begin soon for the 29-year-old, he remains a solid, low-end No. 1 catcher for this season.
10. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (30): Ramos has become a key component to the winning team that Washington is trying to assemble. Of course, Venezuelan kidnappers almost scuffled that plan back in November. Fortunately, Ramos was returned safe and sound and now will try to build on the power breakout he experienced last year. He’s gifted with catcher speed, but I really like how his isolated power continues to improve, especially since he’s still just 24. Ramos’ improved strike zone judgment was also a welcome sight last season, and really the only worry we have about him is how he’ll recover emotionally from his winter vacation excitement.
11. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (24): Lucroy’s fine first half earned him consideration as a mid-season Wire Troll All-Star. While his second half wasn’t nearly as good – a common occurrence among the catcher ranks – Lucroy made nice strides in his first season as the main man behind the plate in Milwaukee. He set personal bests in almost every counting stat, lifted his BA to a respectable .265 and showed significantly more power. There’s every reason to expect more offensive growth from Lucroy this season, and hopefully he can build on his hot start from 2011 and limit his second half swoon.
12. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays (27): No one can forget Arencibia’s MLB debut, and in his season opener last year, he put on another show. His extra-base pop is developing nicely and he’s already become a very productive catcher. However, if he’s ever going to rise on this list, that .219 BA will have to improve significantly.
13. Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs (5): Soto was a top five catcher a year ago, but he took a major step backwards in 2011. He’s no youngster anymore and wound up leading all catchers in errors last year, yet he earned a raise from $3 million to $4.3 million. Ya gotta love arbitration. While the injury-prone backstop couldn’t avoid a DL trip, he did stay somewhat healthier last year, but his walk rate plummeted and took his BA along for the ride. Soto has catcher speed, so don’t ever expect any steals, but after doing such a good job of getting on base in 2010, he struggled to do so last year. Since becoming a full-timer, Soto has traded good seasons with bad ones, so the good news is that 2012 is a scheduled “on” season for him, The bad news is that at the age of 29, Soto may have already shown us his best, making him a more attractive option in redraft than keeper leagues.
14. Russell Martin, New York Yankees (19): Martin sure had a nice comeback effort in his first season in New York. It was nice enough for him to ask for a whopping $8.2 million in arbitration. Martin stayed relatively healthy and put together his most productive season since 2008 despite the fact that his batting eye was never worse. He’ll turn 29 next month, and while it looks like – barring a recovery in his batting eye – he will be a liability in BA, the fact that he had the second-highest isolated power of his career was cause to bump him up the rankings this season.
15. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (NR): We sure hope you took our advice to grab Perez off the wire after his recall in August, because it’s a move that paid dividends. His late-season surge pushed him to the top of the Royals’ catcher depth chart ahead of the underwhelming Brayan Pena. Perez scored plenty of runs, and while he struck out more than he did in the minors, that wasn’t surprising given it was his first taste of the Show. He’s arrived as part of the core of fine young KC hitters, and while he won’t offer any speed (he’s only swiped two bases as a pro), I love the BA potential and the fact he could hit in the two-hole would really jack up his value.
16. John Buck, Miami Marlins (12): Buck’s greatest Fantasy contribution last season might have been vacating the Blue Jay catcher job to Arencibia. Okay, perhaps that’s not fair, but the fact is that in leaving the hitter-friendly confines of Rogers Centre and heading to a pitcher-friendly park in Miami, Buck’s homer dipped to 16 despite shattering his career high with 140 games played. His extra-base pop in general waned greatly and although he improved his contact rates and had the best walk rate of his career, his BA took a major swoon as well. Buck has already started hitting in the cage, however, so hopefully he’ll be able to rebound in the Marlins’ new park.
17. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox (41): Saltalamacchia’s breakout earned him a spot on our coveted AL All Wire Troll team for 2011. After improving his BA (there’s still plenty of room for growth there, however) and enjoying a power spike, Salty earned a nice hike to $2.5 million in arbitration. His batting eye needs serious work still, and with the addition of Kelly Shoppach plus prospect Ryan Lavarnway nipping at his heels, Saltalamacchia is hardly guaranteed No. 1 catcher playing time. But if Salty keeps mashing the ball like he did in the second half (10 homers in just 175 at-bats) and can do so without piling up the Ks, he could improve his job security significantly.
18. Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels (21): Acquired by the Angels this winter as part of their major overhaul, Iannetta will help inject some life into what was a black hole on the Halos in terms of an offensive spark from their catchers last season. Last season, he saw his most action ever and he responded with a more productive effort, especially showing development in his walk rate. If Iannetta’s OBP bounce back sticks, he’ll be particularly useful in leagues that track this stat and he’ll be a welcome addition to an Angel squad that struggled in this area last year. Beware of his numbers declining, however, now that he’s out of Coors Field.
19. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (14): Ruiz dealt with some back issues last year, but he was a wire worthy choice when he returned in mid-May. It was a good call, as he hit .300 in May before cooling in June (.221) and then finishing strong (.324 in July, .329 in August and .301 in September). In reaching a career high in at-bats, Ruiz wasn’t as productive as he had been in 2010, but he continued to exhibit a superb batting eye that leads him to batting averages not normally associated from catcher. And if your league tracks OBP, go ahead and bump him up a couple of notches. Otherwise, consider Ruiz a decent No. 2 catcher for standard leagues.
20. Ramon Hernandez, Colorado Rockies (25): As we suspected back in September, all Hernandez was doing was blocking Devin Mesoraco. That notion was confirmed when the Reds let Hernandez walk this winter (while also trading away Yasmani Grandal). Hernandez landed on his feet in Colorado, penning a two-year deal worth $6.4 million. What’s strange is that Rox gave him a multi-year deal, but he’s not absolutely guaranteed a starting job with top prospects Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco both ready for prime time. Last year, Hernandez’s extra-base pop bounced back, but his walk rate dipped, leading to a 15-point decline in BA. In all likelihood, Hernandez will replace the at-bats that had been ticketed to Iannetta before the Rox shipped him to LaLa Land. Hernandez is getting old and a bit brittle, proving he’s incapable of handling a major workload anymore, so don’t bank on 400 plate appearances from this veteran.
21. Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres (18): The oft-injured Hundley caught our eye late in the season, headlining our waiver wire column towards the end of August. Please tell me you took our advice as he followed up his .389 August with a .351 September that included four homers, a steal and nine runs. Take a peek at the extra-base numbers Hundley put up in a half-season’s worth of at-bats – at Petco, no less. In fact, his cavernous home park didn’t seem to bother him at all as he slugged .562 at home compared to just .396 on the road. Hundley’s batting eye regressed, but it didn’t stop him from shattering his career high in BA. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a serious sleeper this year and can be had for a song.
22. Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics (8): Just two years ago, Suzuki was a top five catcher; last year, he slipped a few spots thanks to some injury issues, but this year he’s plummeted, and can no longer be considered a viable No. 1 Fantasy catcher. What happened? For starters, his PT was down despite the fact he remained healthy all year. And while his extra-base sock bounced back, it’s becoming clear that 2009 was the outlier and he’s simply not as good as we thought he’d be after that year. It’s obvious Oakland thinks that way as well, considering it acquired Derek Norris as part of the Gio Gonzalez sweepstakes. Suzuki should remain a low-end No. 2 catching option this season, but his prospects as a long-term keeper have soured immensely.
23. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (NR): As we’ve mentioned on several occasions, the fact that Cincy let Hernandez skip town and sent Grandal packing said much about its commitment to Mesoraco as the man behind the plate. The Reds’ 2007 first rounder has finished his minor league apprenticeship and is ready to make his mark in the majors after a 50 at-bat trial late last season. Mesoraco struck out more than normal, but that will improve as he adjusts to big league pitching. Like most catchers, he has virtually no speed, but he’s definitely capable of hitting for a much higher average than he showed in his cup of coffee last year; in fact, we could easily see reaching for him among the top 20 catchers if you’re feeling lucky. Our belief is that Mesoraco will be in a timeshare with Ryan Hanigan for much of the season and will be somewhat slow to adjust, but in keeper leagues, this dude is golden.
24. Ryan Doumit, Minnesota Twins (15): As usual, Doumit spent plenty of time on the DL last year, but when he was activated in early-August, he earned himself a waiver wire recommendation. Okay, so he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in August, but the move paid dividends in September when Doumit hit .404 with a homer, six runs and four walks. Minnesota picked him up on the cheap as part of its effort to turn things around, and we’re just pleased as punch that Doumit is finally in the AL where – hopefully – he can stay healthy by playing catcher part-time while spending the rest of his time at DH, 1B or OF. The beauty of this move for the Twins is that Doumit supplies insurance for injury-prone stars Mauer and Justin Morneau, so it’s a rather shrew move by Minny.
Others to Consider
25. Miguel Olivo, Seattle Mariners (22)
26. A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox (17)
27. Josh Thole, New York Mets (32)
28. Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds (31)
29. Kelly Shoppach, Boston Red Sox (47)
30. Yorvit Torrealba, Texas Rangers (38)
31. Jason Castro, Houston Astros (33)
32. Jose Molina, Tampa Bay Rays (NR)
33. Rod Barajas, Pittsburgh Pirates (16)
34. A.J. Ellis, Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
35. Chris Snyder, Houston Astros (23)
36. John Jaso, Seattle Mariners (20)
37. Gerald Laird, Detroit Tigers (46)
38. Brett Hayes, Miami Marlins (NR)
39. Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees (40)
40. Brayan Pena, Kansas City Royals (34)
41. David Ross, Atlanta Braves (NR)
42. Jesus Flores, Washington Nationals (53)
43. Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels (42)
44. George Kottaras, Milwaukee Brewers (44)
45. Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox (NR)
46. Ronny Paulino, Free agent (36)
47. Ivan Rodriguez, Free agent (29)
48. John Baker, San Diego Padres (NR)
49. Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
50. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies (NR)
51. Anthony Recker, Oakland Athletics (NR)
52. Henry Blanco, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR)
53. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (2): Martinez technically still qualifies at catcher, and what would likely have been his final year qualifying at catcher (the Tigers had planned to use him at DH exclusively in 2012) may be over before it begins thanks to a torn ACL that will sideline him most, if not all of 2012. Given that he didn’t play the position exclusively last year is what likely cost him a Silver Slugger. The fact that the Tigers added backup Laird means that V-Mart is now the third option behind the plate in Detroit, so it’s highly unlikely he would have gotten in the 20 games even if he had been healthy. Last year, the lack of activity behind the plate (26 games) helped Martinez stay relatively healthy, although he did miss nearly two weeks in May with a groin injury. The homers were way down, but he did match his career high with 40 doubles en route to his third 100-RBI season. Better yet, Martinez smoked the ball to the tune of a career-best .330 BA and while the reduction in his isolated power can be attributed to the move to Comerica Park, there was nothing wrong with an OPS of 850. Let’s face it, as a catcher Martinez’s best tool was never his glove.
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