At a different site recently, someone asked me who the hot young sleeper catcher was for 2010. A player they could target in the mid to late rounds and avoid the drafting firestorm that would surround the truly elite at the position.
And, for the first time in my fantasy career, I found myself giving advice so unrisky, non-dramatic and un-ninja-like, I felt sick to my stomach.
I still do.
I’ll hate myself for saying this out loud, in e-print, but this is the year that I …
… burn an earlier pick than normal on one of the four elite catchers.
Now, when I say “elite” catcher, let me get specific.
I mean Joe Mauer … he of the wicked .365 batting average. He of the career-high 28 home runs in 2009 (almost double what he jacked in 2007 and 2008 combined … something a little fishy about that?). Mauer is a workaholic who will produce for fantasy owners at such an elite pace (although I do expect a dropoff in home run totals), that having him gives you an instant boost.
Brian McCann is similar. Twenty-one dingers, a .281 batting average and playing for the prolific Braves, McCann will continue to be a beacon of fantasy consistency in 2010.
Victor Martinez had solid stats last year with the Red Sox, and considering the protection he gets in that lineup (Bay or no Bay), Martinez will continue to be a top-notch catcher in fantasy circles.
Matt Wieters may be the most risky of these top-four, but his star is quickly rising. Here’s betting he doubles the nine home runs he produced last season, and continues to work on his batting average. Playing for the Orioles doesn’t give him a lot of protection, but he is still an exciting player that can play at an elite level sooner rather than later.
After those four players, the dropoff is so severe, in my humble opinion, that I’m willing to burn a third-round pick on Mauer or Martinez or perhaps even McCann. I’d be willing to reach into the fifth or possibly even fourth round for Wieters.
That goes against all conventional teaching from the fantasy baseball days of yore … when you let Joe Draftaholic take an elite catcher early in the draft while you are padding other key positional stats … and then snag the next up-and-coming catcher in later rounds and not losing much in the way of statistical dropoff.
But there is such disparity in the catcher ranks this year … more than ever in my opinion, that I think you put yourself in a better position with one of the four guys mentioned above. For example, let’s say you snag a Jason Bay or Raul Ibanez in the third round and wait on catching. Let’s hypothetically say you land Mike Napoli or Geovanny Soto in the later rounds. Your combo of Bay-Soto or Bay Napoli will produce less, in my opinion, than if you take a Maurer in the early third round and then turn around two rounds later and snag an Adam Dunn-esque player. You get just as many (if not much more in the home run department) and Mauer’s batting average helps offset Dunn’s lack of plate discipline.
Sure there are many exceptions to the rule, and I’m not advocating that everyone go on a mad drafting spree for the four top catchers in 2010. There are a few consolation prizes at the position that I could live with. Including:
Kurt Suzuki is one of just a handful of catchers who’s stats are actually going in the right direction. Home runs are climbing, stolen bases quadrupled in 2009 (eight to two in 2008) and batting average is hovering around a respectable .274. He’s young and has not met his ceiling yet.
Miguel Montero made the best of increased playing time when Chris Snyder went down with injury last season for the D-backs. He hit a career-high 16 dingers and posted a sweet .294 at the plate. He also has a much higher ceiling than many at the position, especially since he has yet to start an entire season in the bigs.
There are a few sleeper candidates who could break out this season. John Baker has some detractors but also could open things up in 2010. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has yet to produce a full season without injury and has tons of potential … although he has seen some stat dropoffs that scare me. Kelly Shoppach can’t hit righties and has a few other deficiencies, but has some untapped power potential that could be drool-inducing. Buster Posey is a rookie with boatloads of potential, but just what will his role be in 2010, especially since Bengie Molina is still officially in town?
Again, someone should slap me for being so un-ninja with this post. For suggesting that you should actually go with the crowd and pay a somewhat higher price for one of the catching elite. However, I just can’t advocate anyone else at this position. Hopefully our ninja viewers here can set me straight.
What is your opinion on the catching class of 2010?