Like the Clipse’s debut album, just call him “Lord Wilin”
Photo Credit: Charles Atkeison µg
Catchers are like condoms: no matter what you think about them, you need them. Sure you can punt the catcher position or go raw dog, but why take the chance? The upside of ditching the rubber or catcher is amazingly better sex and the opportunity to pick up a more useful roster piece, respectively. The downside? A gaping hole (one of which is on your roster... the other just delivered a baby).
So rather than pass on doing your due diligence in surveying the catcher landscape, make the jump and find out how the position shakes out:
The Dynamic Duo
The two guys who make up this entire tier are a step above the rest because not only do they bring advanced approaches to the plate rarely seen at the catcher position, but they are also counted on to be key cogs to their respective teams’ offenses.
1. Buster Posey
Though he looks more like your nerdy paperboy than an elite fantasy catcher, Posey enters the 2013 season at the top of the heap. The Giants catcher is a gifted offensive player, but one of the reasons he sits atop the backstop rankings is his playing time. Posey netted 610 plate appearances in 2012 despite coming off a gruesome leg injury the previous year. That put him in a position to pile up the counting stats as the team’s cleanup hitter (103 RBIs and 78 Rs), while allowing his .336 BA to make a big impact on fantasy rosters. It’s very possible that Posey’s power regresses a bit since he performed right around his ceiling level, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the best backstop on the board.
2. Joe Mauer
Like Posey, Mauer will be among the league leaders among catchers in PAs. Posey possesses more power, but Mauer still holds plenty of value as a three-hole hitter who should have little trouble posting another 80-plus RBI/R season (barring his health).
The “They Might Be Giants” Gang
While the players in this tier aren’t quite where Posey and Mauer are, they are all extremely talented offensive players and any of them could finish the season as the no. 1 ranked catcher in fantasy.
3. Matt Wieters
Every year people predict the Matt Wieters break out, and every year they are disappointed. At this point, fantasy owners should just accept Wieters for who he is: a 25 HR threat who can put up solid counting stats as a middle-of-the-order bat in Baltimore. Sure it’s feasible that he has his career-best season in 2013 at the age of 27, but nothing in his major-league peripheral profile suggests he’s about to post a 30 HR/100 RBI season. Of course, he doesn’t have to perform at a Mike Piazza-like level to finish as a top five fantasy backstop, and the sooner you accept that and resist the urge to reach for him, the better off you will be.
4. Victor Martinez
V-Mart’s standing as a top five backstop despite not playing at all in 2012 tells you just how weak the catcher position is. He won’t hit for a ton of power (.141 ISO in ‘12) and he’s 34 years old, but he can hit over .300 and should rack up the counting stats hitting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
5. Carlos Santana
Last year, I expected Santana to not only pace the catching position, but to play like a first-round caliber player. Needless to say, I had enough egg on my face to make a goddamn buffet's worth of omelettes. My thinking was that Santana’s PAs (600-plus the last two years), coupled with his 30 HR potential and middle-of-the-order presence, would lead to a remarkable season. Unfortunately, despite showing tremendous plate patience last year (14.9 BB% and 16.6 K%), Santana once again struggled with his batting average (.252). On top of that, his power took a step back in 2012 (.168 ISO). I still believe that his upside is as high as any catcher in fantasy, but I just think the players ranked above him are safer options.
The “Next Best” Brigade
Each of the dudes in this tier will be universally owned in fantasy leagues, but each of them has something holding them back from becoming part of the elite class of catchers.
6. Yadier Molina
Some people may be saying, “You’re Yadier mind to think that Molina isn’t a top three backstop!” First off, snappy pun. Second, Molina is ranked right where he should be. Though he enjoyed a career-high in ISO (.186), BA (.315), HRs (22), and SBs (12) in 2012, it should be noted that those were career-highs. In other words, that’s as good as it will get for Molina. His .315 BA looks mighty lucky considering his .316 BABIP. Sure his BABIP and BA were very close to one another in 2011 as well, but you can’t believe that Molina will continue to rack up base hits on so many balls put in play. As for his power, don’t expect more gains in that department. Molina supporters will point out that this is the second year in a row that his power has taken a step forward, but they fail to point out that he’s only topped the double-digit HR mark twice. Granted, he’s 30 and in the power prime of his career, but unless he’s fueling up on PEDs, I don’t expect him to suddenly be a consistent 20-plus bomb threat. I feel like I’m giving Molina plenty of credit by ranking him sixth on this list considering he’s probably reached his offensive ceiling.
7. Wilin Rosario
Rosario carries serious power for a backstop as he has a .260 ISO over his first 483 big-league PAs. He’s 24, can still improve, and is expected to hit in the middle of Colorado’s lineup. Of course, while his power has been great, it’s hard to expect him to maintain his current big-league 25.0 HR/FB (even in Coors Field). Also, Rosario’s struggles with strikeouts (14.5 SwStr% and 23.2 K% in 2012) could make him a BA liability.
8. Mike Napoli
The dude has AVN, which is a disease that literally causes cells in your bones to die and has the word “necrosis” in the fucking name of it. If you think Napoli is making it through the entire 2013 season without at least one trip to the DL, then you’re more gullible than a sea bird. Napoli’s power should play well at Fenway (career .248 ISO), but the health concerns hold him back.
The Hopeful Hooligans
There’s reason to believe that each of the players in this tier can turn in very productive fantasy seasons, but some “faith leaping” is required.
9. Jesus Montero
Still only 23 years old, Montero’s upside is obvious. His 24.6 LD% means he is driving the ball, so his .126 ISO from last season should improve (plus, the Mariners are bringing in the fences at Safeco Field). Montero also has the ability to hit for a decent average (.270-.280) and will be hitting in the middle of Seattle’s upgraded offense, so there’s a chance he could turn into a profitable draft-day fantasy catcher.
10. Miguel Montero
Hitting in the middle of Arizona’s lineup has allowed Montero to rack up over 80 RBIs each of the past two years, but his power ceiling is capped (18 HRs highest season mark). Also, his strikeouts went up in 2012 (22.7 K% and 11.3 SwStr%). There is a belief that Montero is a “safe” fantasy option, but you can get comparable value for less if you wait on drafting your catcher.
11. A.J. Pierzynski
No one is expecting Pierzynski to top (or even duplicate) his 27 HRs from last season, but the move to Texas could keep him above the 20 bomb mark for 2013. The douchey backstop is turning 36 years old, but he’ll cruise to 500-plus PAs, which is particularly valuable for a fantasy catcher.
12. Ryan Doumit
You’d be a Doum-ass to think that his ceiling extends past his 2012 production (.275 BA, 18 HRs, 75 RBIs). The Twins limited his catching duties last year, and it worked out well as the injury-prone Doumit saw a career-high 528 PAs. However, all the health in the world can’t hide the fact that he is swinging-and-missing more often and playing his home games in a pitcher’s park.
13. Salvador Perez
With a fair share of fantasy groupies already, Perez has become a popular draft/auction target at the catcher position. He’s the latest in a long line of Kansas City Royals whose perceived value far exceeds their actual fantasy value. Perez can no doubt hit for average (.311 BA in 463 big league PAs), but his .110 ISO in the minors and spacious home park portend mediocre power numbers.
14. J.P. Arencibia
Toronto’s offense has been upgraded and Arencibia’s playing time should not be an issue as both John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud are gone. Yet the once promising sleeper remains plagued by strikeouts and a poor batted ball profile (career 16.4 LD%). The power is enticing (.202 ISO last year), but just know that he’ll be a drain on your BA.
15. Jonathan Lucroy
Lucroy showed the type of skill-set you like to see from your fantasy catcher. His .193 ISO in 2012 gives hope for a high-teens HR total and his ability to make a lot of contact helped him post a sweet .320 BA. Then again, he never really showed much power in the minors, so it’s very possible the Milwaukee backstop will simply register Luc-warm numbers.
The “Talented, But Flawed” Free-Fallers
Each of these dudes has (at some point or another) been beloved by the fantasy community, but all of them have seen their stock take a hit.
16. Alex Avila
After undergoing platelet-rich plasma injections in the offseason on the knee that many thought was behind his wretched 2012, Avila is reportedly pain-free and the Tigers believe he can once again be an offensive threat. He certainly knows how to get on base (14.1 BB% in 2012) and regularly makes hard contact (at least a 21.5 LD% in each of the last three years). He’s just one year removed from a breakout season, so while you hate to draft a catcher with a history of knee problems, you could do a lot worse than Avila.
17. Brian McCann
My how the “pretty good” have fallen. McCann will miss at least the first two weeks of the season thanks to offseason shoulder surgery, but we’ve all seen how shoulder problems can destroy a player’s power. Even though he’s entering a walk year and has hit over 20 HRs each of the last five years, McCann is a risky play.
18. Carlos Ruiz
And you thought Adderall was only for people who wanted to do blow, but without the guilt. Ruiz had a great year in 2012 (.325 BA and .215 ISO), but it’s hard to see him putting up those kind of numbers again. He’s 34 years old, and the dude taking over starting catcher duties while Ruiz serves a 25-game suspension might creep into the Holly ‘Raller’s playing time going forward.
19. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The power Saltalamacchia brings is what sneaks him into this tier (.232 ISO last year). However, he has not one, but THREE guys that might cut into his backstop PAs (David Ross, Mike Napoli, Ryan Lavarnway), and has been injury-prone throughout his entire career. He also strikes out a ton and is a career .239 hitter.
The “Settle With A Sigh” Syndicate
Unless your plan was to wait until very late to snag a catcher, you are rostering each of the backstops in this tier somewhat reluctantly with a shred of hope that they are a diamond in the rough.
20. Derek Norris
The career minor league numbers show a catcher with some serious offensive upside (17.7 BB% and .209 ISO). He even has the ability to steal 8-11 bases. Problem is, he was horrendous last year. Until he reins in the strikeouts (28.4 K% and .201 BA last year), Norris will become a shaky fantasy option.
21. Tyler Flowers
The departure of A.J. Pierzynski sets Flowers up to see the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate in Chicago, but how good can he possibly be? Sure Flowers has shown plus pop for a backstop (.199 ISO last year, .200 in 2011, .209 in minors), but the strikeouts are scary bad (33.8 K% in bigs and .213 BA last year). He’s sort of a poor man’s Arencibia, but even J.P. can crack a couple of “human fan” jokes about the White Sox catcher.
22. Chris Iannetta
Job security (signed a three-year extension) and a potent Angels offense are a couple of the perks associated with drafting Iannetta, but until he proves he can stay healthy, he’ll always be a mediocre fantasy catcher (345 PAs the most he’s ever had in a season). He’s another catcher with good power (career .190 ISO) who strikes out too much (career .236 BA).
23. Russell Martin
Though Martin socked 21 HRs last year, it’s hard to see him having another quality season. He’s leaving the comfy confines of Yankee Stadium (where he hit 13 of his bombs) and is already dealing with some shoulder soreness that kept him out of the WBC. The fact that he’s stayed relatively healthy the past couple of years aids his value.
24. Jason Castro
Injuries have derailed his career, but Castro has the ability to hit up to 15 bombs while hitting for a decent average. Also, because the Houston lineup is so atrocious, a quality season from Castro could see him accumulating a good number of counting stats as a potential middle-of-the-order bat on a team desperate to score runs.
25. Nick Hundley
Hundley was flat-out atrocious last year (.157 BA), but there’s still plenty of upside left in his bat. He’s capable of hitting 15 or more HRs if healthy and it sounds like the knee issue that plagued him all of last year is in the past. Yasmani Grandal is serving a 50 game suspension, so Hundley has some time to prove to the Padres that he deserves ample playing time. Plus, if Grandal stops taking whatever got him caught, perhaps his numbers will really fall off by the time he gets back to the majors.
The “Rest Of The Rest” Renegades
That’s not a typo. It’s hard to call these bums the “best of the rest” when the word “best” should not be associated in any way with these schlubs. Of course, because they are starting catchers or have a legit shot at some serious playing time, they belong on these rankings.
26. A.J. Ellis
27. Welington Castillo
28. Rob Brantly
29. Kurt Suzuki
30. Erik Kratz
31. John Buck
32. Devin Mesoraco
33. Yasmani Grandal
34. Wilson Ramos
35. Evan Gattis
36. Travis d'Arnaud
37. Ryan Lavarnway
38. Hank Conger
39. Miguel Olivo
Necrosis? My cousin was a necrophiliac, it's no big deal. From what I've read Napoli is fine. They caught the problem early and will limit further troubles. He hasn't felt any symptoms. Brett Favre played football through it. And Napoli doesnt need 145 games to lead all Catchers in HR.
@andrewakamds ...what donny said
@andrewakamds Let's set the record straight here fellas: There's no cure for AVN except surgery to replace the joint in question. The severity of symptoms can vary - the effects aren't the same with every patient either. Favre was addicted to pain killers for half his career and was freaky in his injury avoidance, he's simply not a good comparison. Napoli's AVN is in his hips, meaning every step he takes, every swing, every slide, anything where he'll bear weight...all these things put stress on the hip joint. Medications, strengthening the supporting muscles of the hip and reducing joint forces are how it's managed conservatively. He might be pain free now, but let's see what happens when he's playing every day. Napoli's not what you call a fit and trim guy either, the excess weight increases joint pressures which will make him more susceptible to flare ups or even compression fractures with impact activity. It's literally a matter of time before his symptoms return, and it's not just the games he might miss that's problematic but also the performance hit should he play through pain. If his hips are killing him it will sap his power as he'll be unable to use his legs to help generate swing torque. He's not exactly coming off a banner year either as he dealt with often chronic quad issues in 2012 that could easily resurface. At his current price II'll endorse the value, I think he could be healthy just long enough to generate a top 10 season at the catcher position. But let's be clear: he's a huge injury risk, and I highly doubt he appears in 145 games.
@donnypump I'll be sure to leave a buffet of painkillers in the locker room for when (if) he has issues with his hips. I know Napoli won't reach 145 games, they'll bench him a few times against LHP. 135 is a lock though. Its been confirmed.
@andrewakamds I think I read somewhere that the Red Sox have more interleague games in NL parks than any other AL team this year. They started Big Papi at 1B in that spot last year, that could cost Nap Smear some AB's too I would think. I'd put the over/under at 120 games and hope for the over. I mean if he has a hip replacement now he might be back by September...