Contributing Writer : Albert Lang
Last year I almost did something incredibly smart. I really wanted Alex Avila to be a sleeper at catcher (I think because he got very good in a baseball video game I played or some other subliminal reason). Then I looked at his numbers and he reminded me of Chris Iannetta, I mean he wasn’t even that great in AA. So, instead, naturally I made Iannetta my sleeper. Lesson? Always trust your gut as a fantasy player, it’s more fun that way. Of course, as a writer on fantasy, I need to be able to make coherent arguments, so I’ll just lament my Avila decision for awhile longer.
I find catcher one of the more difficult positions to deal with. For one, they just don’t get the opportunities that other positions do. Carlos Santana had the most at bats by a backstop with 552, that was the 59th most in baseball last year. Victor Martinez (who barely caught over 20 games) received just 540 at bats, 66th most. If you’re behind in at bats, it’s incredibly hard for a catcher to truly impact your rate stats. This is why I tend to ignore players like Joe Mauer. He has to hit for such a high average for it to matter, that it’s not worth banking on.
In addition, every year, catchers get hurt and guys emerge. Last year alone, we saw Mauer, Buster Posey and Brian McCann miss significant time and players like Avila, Mike Napoli (who everyone loved but was still barely top 10 preseason), Wilson Ramos and J.P. Arencibia put up useful season. Heck, Miguel Olivo was useful two years ago and Iannetta wasn’t terrible in 2011.
Much like starting pitchers, you can get top caliber players later in the draft and there’s no assuming a highly drafted player will give you the return on investment you need to dominate.
If there’s anyone outside the top eight who could end up a top five player, it’s mighty Matt Wieters. Wieters, while being a fierce defensive catcher, hasn’t brought the wood that everyone thought he would. After showing promise in 2009 (which was mostly aided by a .356 BABIP), Wieters hasn’t batted for a decent average whatsoever. That said, his 2011 was a promising step in the right direction. For the third year in a row, he lowered his K/9 rate. In addition, he improved his line drive rate at the expense of ground balls, while pushing his HR/FB rate into double digits for the first time. That should have resulted in an increase in his average on balls in play, however it didn’t. I expect Wieters to continue this trend and surprise people with a healthy .285 batting average. I don’t see much of an increase in the power department, 20 HRs seems right, but he could score 70 runs and knock in 80 (which would easily be top five numbers at the position).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Miguel Montero, my fiancé’s second favorite baseball player (her first love is Carlos Gonzalez). Montero represents a real value this year, after his incredibly impressive 2011: .282/.351/.469. There is no reason he cannot produce a similar campaign in 2012. His line drive, HR/FB rate, and BABIP were all in line with his career norms and he even cut down on his strike outs and swinging strike percentage. I’d be happy with Montero as my starting catcher. He’s like Matt Wieters with a tad less upside but a bit more certainty.
I rode Salvador Perez hard down the stretch in many a league and it was very rewarding: .331/.361/.473. He hit the ball well (29.2% line drive rate) and put it in play (12.7% K/9 rate). I’m not sure he’ll continue to square up on the ball as much, but he could easily hit .290. He won’t be anything special in the power department (maybe 8 – 10 HRs) but could add some healthy runs and RBIs. Really, I don’t think he’ll be that much different than Yadier Molina.
I swear I don’t usually get this youngster happy (see: Brett Lawrie & Eric Hosmer), but I’m robbing the cradle again with Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco did nothing to impress in his brief cup of coffee in 2011 (.180/.226/.360), but that was a small sample and he had a ridiculous .184 BABIP despite a 15% line drive rate. Mesoraco, just 23, ripped through the minors: he hit .283/.364/.482 at AAA and .294/.363/.594 at AA (just 212 plate appearances). While Ryan Hanigan is still with the Reds, Mesoraco is the future. I’d love to gamble on him late in drafts. He could bat .265 with 15 HRs and who knows how many counting stats in that impressive line-up. Only 14 catchers last year hit 15 or more HRs (and that included the batting average dregs: Olivo, Arencibia, Russell Martin, Geovany Soto, Rod Barajas, John Buck, and others). In addition a .265 average would have put him as the sixth best hitting backstop last year.
While Ryan Doumit has averaged just 332 plate appearances over the last three years, he shouldn’t be catching much for the Minnesota Twins, which should keep him healthy. There is no question that Doumit can hit (.271/.334/.442 line). He could easily bat .270 with 17 HRs with upside. I love players who qualify at catcher but don’t actually play there.
I love salt, which, apparently, means I like Jarrod Saltalamacchia. For his career, the switch-hitter has batted .265/.331/.441 against righties and .207/.262/.341 against lefties. The Red Sox went out and grabbed Kelly Shoppach, someone who tortures lefties (just ask CC Sabathia). In short, the move will force an incredibly useful platoon. Salty won’t miss out on many counting stats, while greatly improving his slash line. I’m seeing a .255 hitter with 15 HRs. By no means sexy, but it’ll get the job done in deeper leagues. Salty will also be 27, so there’s a chance he could hit his peak (although peaks and catchers seem to be more haphazard than “normal” players) and improve on those numbers.
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