Like an active squirrel storing away acorns for winter, I was scurrying around my secluded mountainside homestead preparing for a small snow storm headed our direction. Somewhere between refurbishing our trusty snowblower and splitting logs for our woodstove, I found myself daydreaming of spring.
Warmer weather. Green grass. Baseball. Fantasy baseball.
I realized my own internal clock was telling me something. That it was time to jump head-first into everything fantasy baseball for 2011. And since we fantasy junkies seem to crave rankings like junk food junkies savor Twinkies, my first official fantasy baseball piece of 2011 will involve rankings. My fantasy catcher rankings, to be specific.
The catcher position has typically been a shallow one to fantasy owners. Last year, however, we were spoiled with some nice late-round sleepers and a few breakout rookies to deepen the pot. Heading into 2011, we again have a fairly top heavy group of fantasy catchers, but more than ever, the middle and even a few late value picks are gaining ground. Yes, the fantasy catcher no longer spends all his time in the kiddie pool. Finally, the position finds itself wading into deeper waters.
1. Victor Martinez, DET. I’m sure to take some flack on this pick, but hear me out. Out of the big three fantasy catchers, V-Mart was the only one not to see a dramatic backslide in one of the major five statistical categories. Joe Mauer saw his homer total dry up from 28 in 2009 to 9 in 2010. Brian McCann had his third consecutive season of more than 20 homers, but saw his batting average drop considerably for the second straight season (from .301 in 2008 to .281 in 2009 to .269 last year). Meanwhile, Martinez registered his second consective season with 20 or more homers and a .300-plus batting average. The RBI were down, but he also missed nearly 100 at-bats from the season before due to injuries. While Martinez’s move from Boston to Detroit may affect his numbers to a degree, he still has plenty of protection in the lineup and has agreed to play primarily as the team’s designated hitter this year, increasing the likelihood that he stays healthy throughout the 2011 campaign.
2. Joe Mauer, MIN. Sort of a push between him and McCann, depending on what statistical category you prefer best. I’ll take Mauer’s wicked-good batting average any day of the week. There’s a better chance that he’ll improve his longball numbers than McCann has of improving his steadily declining batting average. Mauer’s plate discipline allows you to take a few more risks at other positions with players who struggle with batting average, but provide some nice pop.
3. Brian McCann, ATL. Seriously considered bumping McCann below Buster Posey at one point. That’s how much I worry about McCann’s batting average dropoff. Then I came to my senses … for now. Few at the position have matched McCann’s consistency in hitting homers the past five seasons. McCann has more experience and arguably a better lineup around him. Just don’t expect your’s truly to take him too early in drafts this spring.
4. Buster Posey, SF. What’s not to love about the 2010 National League rookie of the year? He hit .305 in 406 at-bats while crushing 18 homers and driving in 67 batters. What will he do for an encore? The only reason Posey doesn’t move up on this list is that he’s still raw. He needs to produce at an elite level for a full 162 games and anyone who doesn’t think he’ll have some growing pains in 2011 is fooling themselves. Still, he very well could produce top fantasy catcher statistics, yet will be had at a much better value than the others on this list so far.
5. Miguel Montero, ARI. After registering a .294 batting average and 16 homers in 2009, Montero’s 2010 campaign was a large disappointment. The question is whether last season’s injury-riddled year was the abberation, or was it his 2009 breakout? Considering he came on strong late in the 2010 season, I’m expecting him to be more of a fantasy factor than others in your league likely will. I’m just not ready to pay too much on that gamble just yet.
6. Geovanny Soto, CHI. Soto was a chinstrapninjas.com sleeper special last season after his 2009 numbers were uncharacteristically down across the board. Soto didn’t disappoint, although his numbers were streaky at times, which may be why other sites shy away from Soto this high in their early 2011 rankings. His .280 batting average and 17 homers last year were much more reminiscent of his 2008 breakout season than his 2009 free fall. There is no reason to think that Soto shouldn’t be able to replicate his 2010 numbers, and even improve upon him … making him yet another catcher on this list who could produce upper-tiered fantasy numbers at the position at a fraction of the price.
7. Carlos Santana, CLE. He has more than enough talent to be among the top three fantasy catchers this season. He hit six homers and drove in 22 batters in just 105 at-bats last season and has enough raw talent, according to scouts, to be an elite fantasy catcher. However, I need a bigger sample size to chew on. Also take note that he underwent offseason knee surgery on a high-grade sprain of his LCL. While he should be healthy in time for the 2011 season, his recovery and spring play deserves extra attention before you pencil him in as your starting fantasy catcher.
8. Jorge Posada, NYY. Some may think it crazy to consider Posada this high after the Yankees added former fantasy catcher supreme Russell Martin. However, that move will only enhance Posada’s allure — at least to me. Now, Posada will spend most of his time as the Bronx Bombers’ DH, keeping him healthy much longer into the season and giving him some prime hitting opportunities surrounded by an elite lineup. He could easily finish much higher on this list. Age, inconsistent batting average and injury history temper expectations.
9. Matt Wieters, BAL. While many were expecting the highly touted Wieters to take the next step towards catching greatness in 2010, others were more skeptical. Wieters endured a season of growing pains and inconsistency en route to just 11 homers and a .249 batting average in 446 at-bats. Wieters’ potential keeps him at this slot, but I’d have no qualms in dropping him a few spots depending on how he looks this spring.
10. Mike Napoli, LAA. Napoli’s 26 homers were very impressive among the fantasy catcher pool. His .238 batting average, not so much. His career-high 137 strikeouts suggest he was trying to force things at the plate. Considering others this low at the list have similarly low batting averages, and Napoli did register .270-plus averages the two previous years, I’d feel OK taking a shot on him here.
11. Kurt Suzuki, OAK. I personally expected much more out of Suzuki in 2010, and feel a little gunshy in pursuing him this year as a result. I’m not exactly sure why. He did produce 13 homers and a pedestrian .242 batting average, but like Napoli, did produce .270-plus averages the previous two seasons. There are worst options to have as your fantasy backstop. But, there are also better.
12. Yadier Molina, STL. While Molina isn’t a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, he has hit six or more homers the past six seasons. His .262 batting average in 2010 was lower than we’re used to. I’d expect him to rebound some in this regard.
13. Chris Iannetta, COL. A catcher with 25-homer potential this late on the list? Iannetta always had the ability. What he lacked was the playing time to prove he could maintain decent numbers for any length of time. He isn’t going to help your batting average numbers, but he is finally going to enter a season as the Rockies’ first line of defense at catcher after Miguel Olivo was dealt. Iannetta is one of the true potential sleepers at the position this season. You’ll find him on at least a few of my rosters this year.
14. Miguel Olivo, SEA. The move to Mariners-land will mean that Olivo should get the lions share of the starts at catcher this season, and he has shown decent pop and some OK speed numbers during his career. Those numbers could take a hit in a more pitcher-friendly environment, however, he isn’t a bad option as a second catcher in deeper leagues.
15. J.P. Arencibia, TOR. I love this guy as a deep sleeper now that he has the primary catching duties all to himself. He has plenty of talent, but is also plenty raw. He knocked the cover off the ball in Triple-A ball last season and his power potential has many (at least me) drooling. Just don’t expect anything great in terms of plate discipline.
How do you rank the top fantasy catchers for 2011? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!