...for the hiatus. I need to get back to this, so let's start with positional fantasy rankings! These are cross-posted on my buddy Kyle's blog, The Sports Junkie Online. Here we go!
While it’s not the sexiest position on the diamond, the catching position is a spot on the roster where one player can have a significant long-term advantage over another. While first base is the deepest position, catchers are perennially the shallowest. There’s been quite a little shakeup over the last season or two. Here’s my top ten:
1. Mike Napoli: after a fantastic season with the Rangers, Mike Napoli has realized his potential and is atop my leaderboard. No one slugs like Naps, at least not at this position. His batting average will definitely regress this season as he got incredibly lucky at the plate in 2012, but as long as he continues to play in Arlington and that potent Texas lineup, he’ll mash. He’ll be close to 30 homers and drive in a ton of runs again. While he does strikeout quite a bit, he also takes more walks than most of his competitors at the position and he easily has the most raw power behind the plate. He may have first base eligibility, too.
2. Carlos Santana: Santana bounced back in a big way in 2011. He had the second most homers amongst his peers and benefits from being the focal point of the Indians’ offensive output. He was unlucky at the plate last year and I expect his average to rise to the .275 level this season, but he shouldn’t be reduced in terms of power. His patience at the plate is a sign of maturity and he’ll get a large number RBI opportunities. The youthful Indians could blossom around him, so look for his numbers to be even better should Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis continue to develop. I like his potential, but there is some risk here.
3. Brian McCann: steady as a rock, McCann continues to produce for the Braves. While his potential isn’t quite as phenomenal as Santana’s, he’s a safer bet. I suppose it depends on what you prefer: upside or consistency. McCann is as consistent as they come, you can be sure of that. He’ll be around 25 dingers and drive in 80+ while hitting .280-ish. There’s nothing wrong with that at the catcher position, and you can take it to the bank.
4. Alex Avila: here’s a guy I could see people reaching for. When V-Mart went down, Avila was handed the full-time catching duties for the Tigers. We don’t know where he’ll hit in the lineup yet, but he’s a safe bet to bat a spot or two behind the team’s pair of fat first basemen, providing some RBI opportunities. He was incredibly lucky at the plate last year, as much or more than any other player in baseball. I am forecasting a decline at the dish, especially given his high strikeout rate. He won’t hit .295 again, but he could hit close to 20 homeruns and drive in 85 runs.
5. Miguel Montero: the Diamondbacks are looking like the frontrunners for the NL West with the Rox nipping at their heals. Montero will play an important role in the offense again this season. His power output isn’t as impressive as some of his fellow backstops, but he makes up for it with his high contact rate and his propensity to hit line drives. 20 homers would be a huge success, but he’ll reliably knock in a bunch of runs, somewhere in the neighborhood 85-90. Montero won’t blow you away, but he hits for average and is relatively reliable.
6. Matt Wieters: it’s hard to live up the type of prospect status that Wieters had during his climb up the Orioles’ farm system. Predicted to be the best young backstop to come around in some time, he disappointed in his first few seasons. He’s starting to come around, however, and showed some real promise in 2011, hitting 22 homeruns and driving in almost 70. If he continues on his path of improvement, Wieters could be one of the best catchers in the fantasy game (and the real game, too). His average should pick up a tick, probably in the .275 range, while his power number should stay the same or even slightly improve. I’m high on this kid for big improvement in 2012.
7. Yadier Molina: the Cardinals have been through a lot this offseason, considering they won the World Series, only to lose Albert Pujols. The offense will revolve around Matt Holilday, Lance Berkman and David Freese., but Molina could see his RBI potential increase. His contact rate plays well every season and while he won’t blow you away with power, he rarely strikes out and is very consistent.
8. Russell Martin: in his first year in pinstripes, Marin got off to a red-hot start. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. He was very unlucky at the plate, mostly due to his fly ball rate. If he can get back to driving the ball with consistency, he could see a big improvement in his stats. It’s New York, so you know there will be runs scored. Russell will probably put up a low average again, but he hits for power, something of a premium at the catcher position.
9. Ramon Hernandez: an ageless wonder, Hernandez had a fantastic 2011 in Cincinnati. An offseason move to Colorado should only help his cause. He hits for average, doesn’t strike out much, and can occasionally put the ball over the fence. Health can be a concern, but he has potential and a long track record of success. If he plays most of the season, pencil him in for .280/18/65.
10. Wilson Ramos: after an intense offseason that saw him get kidnapped in Venezuela, held for ransom, then rescued from his captors, Ramos will have some incredible stories to tell in the clubhouse. Luckily for the young National, he’ll likely continue to improve at the plate. He has some raw power and the ability to hit .275-ish. He doesn’t walk much, but he could hit 18-20 homers.
Being a shallow position, the sleepers can be tough to find. An intriguing opportunity exists with Miguel Montero of the Mariners. Keep tabs on him in Spring Training to get a feel for how the Mariners will use him. Of course, he’s technically still a rookie so he could begin at AAA if he struggles in Peoria. J.P. Arencibia of Toronto has plus-plus raw power and hit 23 homeruns in his rookie year, but struck out a ton and walked very little while hitting .219. If he can even it out and manage to hit .250, his power numbers may be worth it.
I feel like a bad person saying it, but Joe Mauer is someone I want no piece of this year. He can’t stay healthy and will probably hit single digit homers again as Target Field continues to suppress his power numbers. The silver lining may be that the Twins are considering moving out from behind the plate, so he has a glimmer of hope of staying on the field. If you must, draft with caution. Nick Hundley of the Padres had a good half season, but as many people have already acknowledged, all signs, like a 27% strikeout rate, point towards regression. Stay away.