As the fantasy world goes, the contributions from the backstop position have been largely forgettable. Outside of your All-Stars, there usually weren’t many candidates that could both provide some power, and not kill your batting average, all while staying healthy. Heck, I remember drafting Piazza in 2003, and thinking, “Finally! I get a decent catcher,” only to watch him injure his groin and play in just 68 games.
For the first time in years, catcher is a position with some depth, thanks to an influx of young talent and a solid core of established starters. Here is my list of the top 10 fantasy catchers for the 2010 season.
1. Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins Mauer’s batting average dropped by 38 points from his MVP campaign of 2009, so why do I have zero hesitation in naming him the top fantasy catcher in 2011? Because he still hit .327, and finished third for the AL batting crown. That ranked him tops among catchers with a minimum of 450 at-bats by a long-shot.
While Mauer may never hit 28 homers again, I do think he will hit more than the nine he tallied last season. Remember, he had to adjust to a new home ballpark last year. After spending that first season hitting only one homer out of Target Field, he should have made some adjustments much like David Wright did for Citi Field in Flushing.
For Mauer, a fourth batting title in six years is not out of the question, and I look for him to contribute at least 14 home runs and 85 RBI, making him the cream of the catching crop. Look for him to go in the first 15-20 picks.
2. Victor Martinez – Detroit Tigers Martinez is not a bad consolation prize, should you miss on Mauer. In five of the last six seasons, V-Mart has hit at least .301-16-79. 2008 was the aberration year, but he only had 266 at-bats so I feel comfortable dismissing it.
Martinez has moved from the friendly confines of Fenway, to the more-spacious Comerica park, so repeating his 20 long ball season from 2010 is probably not going to happen. He does get to bat at the heart of a good lineup, so the run production should continue. Jim Leyland will also be sure to rotate him through at DH, so that should keep the 32 year-old Venezuelan fresh and healthy.
I project Victor to hit around his career .300 average with homer numbers in the high teens and RBI numbers in the 80-90 range. V-Mart will be drafted before the 40th pick.
3. Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants I know, I know… ranking someone with 423 career at-bats this high may seem sort of crazy... especially given the sophomore slumps experienced by young catchers like Matt Wieters and Geovany Soto recently, but I am a Posey believer.
I doubt that he continues to hit at a .305 clip, but .280 is not out of the question, and the baby-faced backstop has shown legit 20+ power at the plate. If the rest of the Giants lineup can manage to get on base ahead of him, he could drive in 90 runs.
Look for Posey to get scooped up in the 40-50th pick range.
4. Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves McCann’s home-run and RBI numbers have remained incredibly consistent over his five full years in the majors. What has jumped around has been his batting average, which dropped to a career-low .269 last season.
McCann did walk 25 more times in 2010 than he did in 2009, which is a positive, but he also struck out a career-high 98 times.
For a catcher that provides 18+ homers and drives in 70+ runs per season, I’ll gladly slot him as the fourth catcher off the board, but if his average continues to dip it would be difficult to maintain that offensive output.
5. Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians It is rumored that Santana is healing-up quite well from his off-season surgery to repair a torn LCL in his left knee. He suffered that injury in a collision at home plate with Ryan Kalish last season, and the Tribe supporters lost the most exciting player in an Indians uniform since Willie Mays Hayes and Rick Vaughn, at least for the 2010 season.
Santana has all the tools to a wildly successful backstop, and, at age 24, is really just getting his start in the league in 2011. My question is, which Carlos will show up? The kid who tore the cover off of the ball in 58 June at-bats, hitting .345 with four long balls and 22 RBI, or the kid who struggled through 86 July at-bats with a .203 average and 20 strikeouts?
I believe the switch-hitting Santana will change his evil ways (see what I did there?) and turn in a solid fantasy season as long as he can stay healthy, and hit better than .145 against left-handed pitching. Look for an average in the .260 neighborhood with 15 homers and 60-70 RBI.
6. Mike Napoli – Texas Rangers Napoli must have felt like a red-headed step-child in January when he was traded from the Angels to the Blue Jays, and then, a day later, delt from Toronto to Texas. Once the ballpark in Arlington became his new home, however, he must have been pretty happy with the final circumstances.
He has the chance to play in a true hitter’s ballpark, so he could be the only catcher to swat 30 homers this season. He is also going to hit at the heart of the lineup that won the American League last season, and remains mainly unchanged on the offensive side of the ball.
Napoli is 29, so he may be at the point of his career where he will start to wear down, but Ron Washington has the luxury of rotating him at first base and DH to keep his knees fresh, and keep his bat in the lineup. With the 500+ plate appearances I have him slated for, he should reach the 25 homer-90 RBI plateaus, but will he keep the strikeouts to a minimum to improve on his .238 batting average from a year ago?
7. Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs Soto was a hot commodity in 2009 after hitting .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBI in his rookie season with the Cubbies. Many fantasy players took him as early as the fourth or fifth round, and were shocked when he batted .218 in his sophomore season, and saw his power numbers get cut in half (11 HR, 47 RBI).
Soto bounced back last season, submitting 17 dingers and a respectable .280 average, albeit with too-low run-production numbers (53 RBI). The most promising thing, for me, was his .393 on-base percentage, almost 30 points higher than his break-out rookie campaign.
I look for Soto to have another 2010-like season, and put that ghastly 2009 even further in the rear-view with a .275 average, 20 HR and 70 RBI, provided he can stay in the lineup.
8. Miguel Montero – Arizona Diamondbacks Monero doesn’t have the pop of many of the men I have listed above him, but a .294/16/59 season two years ago leads me to believe that he is a solid option at catcher in all formats. That knee surgery that cut into his 2010 season is behind him, and if he can get back to the 400 at-bat plateau, he could be a surprising mid-late round sleeper.
Montero should finish with a average in the high .260s and power numbers of 18 homers and 65 RBI.
9. Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles Wieters is another case of ‘which guy will show up this season?’ After becoming a draft-day darling in 2010 following a breakout rookie year (.288/9/43) Wieters slumped through his sophomore season, seeing his average tumble 39 points. His power numbers were up, with 11 long balls and 55 RBI, but he also had 92 more at-bats in his second season.
So after becoming the next “big thing” at catcher two years ago, the 24 year-old seems to be the latest “forgotten thing” heading into this season. Without a body of work to properly judge on, it is tough to determine which Matt Wieters is the real Matt Wieters, but I am inclined to think that it is the former.
The 6-foot-5 plate-minder clearly has the physical tools to be a force at the plate, he just has to mentally catch up to the pitching in the league. I project Matt to finish with 15 HR and at least 60 RBI, and hopefully that batting average can stay north of .260 this season.
10. Kurt Suzuki – Oakland Athletics Suzuki was waiver-wire gold for many players in 2009, posting 15 HR/88 RBI and even swiping eight bags. While he regressed a bit last season (13/71 and a miserable .242 average), I still feel he deserves a mention at the bottom of the list of viable fantasy catchers, because the drop-off of talent after the Hawaiian is pretty steep.
I expect a batting average in the low .270s with HR numbers in the low teens and 65 RBI.