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2012 Fantasy Baseball Primer - Catcher
by James Deaux (MLB)
Posted on February 3, 2012, 8:48 PM

Catcher is almost always the least productive position every year for fantasy purposes. Stolen bases are virtually nonexistent here due to the constant strain on knees and feet, though you can get the stray one here or there. The catching position, which is not known for its mammoth depth, got shallower with the news that Victor Martinez (who barely qualifies at the position anyway) will miss the entire season with a torn ACL. However, there are several sleeper picks you can invest in for dirt cheap, and some faces from 2011 that should be drafted in most, if not all leagues. Keep in mind, though, that while you can spend an early pick on getting an elite catcher to get a leg-up on everyone else, injuries are more prevalent here than anywhere except pitcher. Itís a high-risk/high-reward or low-risk/low-reward position by and large, with very little middle ground. Alex Avilaís donít come along very often.

1. Mike Napoli (TEX): No one could have seen Napoli resurrecting himself after a very poor pre-All Star Break showing last year. But Texasí would-have-been World Series MVP (had they won, that is) vaults to the top of my catcher rankings for 2012 after a spectacular second half and postseason last year. He should build off of that batting in or near the heart of a very strong Rangers lineup. Plus, there are always the facts that they play in Arlington and that he can DH that help matters. Itís not a stretch of the imagination to think that Napoli could hit 30 home runs and get close to 100 RBI. Draft him without hesitation.

2. Brian McCann (ATL): One of the few fantasy catcher stalwarts of the last half-decade had a morbidly disappointing second half last season due to an oblique injury. He batted an anemic .203 after the All-Star Break (over 100 points off his pre-All-Star Break average). However, before the injury, he was actually doing so well that many considered him a dark horse MVP candidate; and when all was said and done, his season numbers were right in line with his numbers from the 2009 and 2010 seasons. B-Macís as surefire a bet as they come at the position, but donít bid too high given the deeper catcher pool than in recent years.

3. Buster Posey (SF): Poseyís season was cut very short by a gruesome leg injury last season, but he should be 100% ready to go for Spring Training and the regular season. Before the injury, he was hitting a terrific .284 with 21 RBI and even a handful of stolen bases. It is possible that some in your league will forget about Posey due to him not playing for most of last year, and if so, draft him and reap the benefits.

4. Alex Avila (DET): Avila was easily the biggest surprise at catcher in fantasy leagues last year. He improved by leaps and bounds over his 2010 numbers, and wound up with almost 20 homers and over 80 RBI. Of possible concern is with Victor Martinez out of the picture entirely, Avila could get more time behind the dish, which could be more conducive to injuries. This shouldnít make you leery of drafting him, though. He should be picked in every league that allows AL players.

5. Carlos Santana (CLE): Santana was the sexy pick at catcher in 2011 drafts due to a superb 2010 second half. However, he struggled to consistently hit most of the year, and though he put up good power numbers (27 HR/79 RBI) and scored 84 runs, his sub-.240 batting average was very disappointing. His pre-and post-ASB stats were nearly identical with a spike in BA and OPS in the second half, so if he can become a more selective hitter and get the batting average up to a more respectable level, you could get a huge bargain here.

6. Joe Mauer (MIN): Yes, I know Mauer is as talented a catcher as weíve seen in ages, but the cold, hard truth of the matter is he is a huge injury and production risk. His season last year was riddled with a multitude of ailments. He plays in the cavernous savannah of Target Field where fly balls go to die, and his power numbers will continue to be adversely affected. If he can stay healthy, he will put up a very good batting average, but the home run numbers arenít going to be there. The lineup around him strikes me as one that is going to be in a constant state of flux, too, so who know what kind of RBI opportunities heíll have? If you feel brave enough to draft Mauer as your backstop, enjoy whatever he gives you because he isnít going to qualify at catcher much longer if he makes the transition to another position this year (as has been so heavily discussed).

7. Matt Wieters (BAL): Wietersí 2011 first half was slightly pedestrianónot bad, but nothing special. However, in the second half of the season, he hit six more home runs and added 118 points onto his OPS in 17 fewer games. I wouldnít be shocked to see Wieters add double digits onto his batting average this season. Heís definitely trending upward.

8. Miguel Montero (ARZ): Who wouldnít want a catcher who was in the top 10 of most offensive categories in 2011 and gets the added bonus of hitting behind Justin Upton? Keep in mind, though, that 2011 was the first year in his career that Montero managed to stay healthy all year.

9. J.P. Arencibia (TOR): Arencibia has terrible plate discipline, as evidenced by him striking out in 30% of his at-bats in 2011, but heís got plenty of power, too. Just beware that while heís hitting you 25 home runs and 75 or so RBI, he may murder your team batting average.

10. Yadier Molina (STL): Molina has been the best defensive catcher in the game for years, but it wasnít until last season that he established himself as a solid and reliable (if unspectacular) hitter. Molina is the kind of catcher who wonít embarrass you, but wonít really add any peripheral value at all (unless you play in a league where defensive stats like fielding percentage and errors count). Heís an ironman at the position, though, playing more games behind the dish than any other catcher over the last three years.

11. Jesus Montero (SEA): Montero was slated to be the fulltime catcher for the Bronx Bombers with Jorge Posada retiring, but a trade to Seattle for Michael Pineda means heís going from very hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium to the very hitter-unfriendly Safeco Field. Montero could hit .270 (which would make him one of the best hitters in Seattleís horrendous lineup) and put up some adequate power numbers for the position, but heís a rookie in a very tough division with tons of top-flight pitchers, while playing half his games in a pitcher-friendly home field. Plus, as I alluded to, heís going from one of the best lineups in the game to arguably the worst. If heís available past the 12th round of your draft and you need a catcher, take him and hope to catch lightning in a bottle, but do not expect anything grand. I prefer to leave the disappointment to someone else.

12. Russell Martin (NYY): Itís hard to believe Martin will be only 29 when the season starts, given how steadily his offensive numbers have declined over the last three years. His batting average and OBP have decreased in each of those years, while his power numbers took a slight spike upward (thanks, Iím sure, in no small part to playing in Yankee Stadium.) For his 2011 campaign, Martin was on fire in March/April with a .970 OPS, but after the first month-plus, he proceeded to hit over .232 just one other time (August) in the subsequent months. Heíll be overpriced based on who he plays for and because Jesus Montero is no longer in the picture, and there are too many better (and cheaper) options at catcher for you to spend any draft pick on him. Keep tabs on him in free agency if your drafted catcher struggles, and if he happens to consistently hit for more than 30 days, pick him up. Otherwise, leave him be.

13. Wilson Ramos (WAS): Ramos should see much more playing time this year with Ivan Rodriguez out of the picture, and he could be a great late-round pick if he can expand upon his 2011 numbers.

14. Chris Ianetta (LAA): Every year, I play in at least one league where some other manager complains about Ianetta getting injured or being utterly disappointing. Though he has some pop, he no longer has the Denver air supporting the flight of his flyballs. I never recommend drafting him at all, but I suppose this could be the year he puts everything together, right???

15. Ryan Doumit (MIN): Doumit had a pretty decent year in 2011, but it was in only 218 AB. One has to wonder what kind of playing time he will get in Minnesota with Joe Mauer there. On the other hand, with Mauerís own position flux, Doumit could see pretty regular playing time. That is, if he can stay healthy.

16. Geovany Soto (CHC): Soto is in the same boat as Chris Ianettaóheís never going to duplicate his rookie wonder season. He can offer moderate power, but virtually nothing else. He also struck out more last year than he ever has in his career.

17. Nick Hundley (SD): Hundley really showed us something with a great second half of 2011 where he hit .367 and pounded out a 1.061 OPS. In an odd stat, he actually hit twice as many homers at PETCO than he did on the road. Keep in mind, though, that he only hit 9 HR all season. His ceiling is pretty low given that heís 28 (and San Diego has Yasmani Grandal waiting in the wings) and he plays in San Diego, but you could do worse, I suppose.

18. Ramon Hernandez (COL): Hernandez is a decent play if you want to put him in your lineup only when he plays at home. His road numbers (e.g., when he isnít playing in a bandbox) are pedestrian at best.

19. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL): Lucroy was a heavy first-half pickup at the position in 2011 because he provided a good batting average and had several big OBP guys around him in the lineup, which gave him ample RBI opportunities. However, he slumped and hit 33 points lower after the ASB than in the first half. He also wonít have Prince Fielder this year, nor will he have Ryan Braun for 50 games if his suspension for PEDís holds up. Lucroy is a late-round pick at best this year.

20. Salvador Perez (KC): His sample size is relatively small, but he did hit .331 in under 150 AB last year as a rookie. He is worth a late-round flier.

21. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (BOS): ďSaltyĒ has never been able to put any consistent offense together despite being a highly touted prospect back in his Atlanta days. My prediction? He will probably lose his job to Ryan Lavarnway sometime during the season.

22. Carlos Ruiz (PHI): Carlos Ruiz is a poor manís Yadier Molina, and thatís really not a good thingóespecially now that heís 33. Decent batting average, and nothing else.

23. Devin Mesoraco (CIN): Mesoraco figures to get a decent number of at-bats for the Reds, which could make him a passable sleeper playing at the bandbox in Cincy. He hit .180 in limited at-bats last season, but his AAA stats signify that he could be a regular .280 hitter. Keep in mind that Ryan Hanigan signed an extension last year, too, so itís going to be a timeshare. Speaking of Hanigan...

24. Ryan Hanigan (CIN): Hanigan is a terrific contact hitter who rarely strikes out, so he could provide a good batting average. Problem is, he wonít get you anything else, as he has absolutely no power.

25. A.J. Pierzynski (CHW): How much would you bid for a loudmouthed backstop with no power, even while playing in a bandbox in Chicago, and a barely serviceable batting average? (Thatís a rhetorical question, folks.)

26. Kurt Suzuki (OAK): Suzuki has probably topped out on the power front, being 28 years old, and his batting average and RBIís just continue to drop. Time to look elsewhere.

27. Josh Thole (NYM): You arenít likely to see many Mets very high on fantasy rankings this year, and Thole is not going to be the exception. He will hit for a decent average, but beyond that, he offers absolutely nothing.

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