Fantasy baseball preview: National League catchers
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Editor’s Note: Fantasy Baseball Focus is a breakdown of each league, position by position. Each team receives a fantasy analysis on the starter, backup, and future prospect if there is one. In case you’re wondering, is there a schedule? Why, Yes! Thanks for asking. On the right hand side of the page (your other right), look for the Fantasy Baseball Focus headline. I’m sure you can get it from there. Jamie Shoemaker will be doing the National League and Dan Kirby will be conducting the American League. Good luck on your Fantasy Leagues!
When constructing a fantasy baseball team, it’s often easy to determine a draft strategy for most positions with the exception of one: catcher. It gives me the biggest fits. Should you draft one early? Or should you go for the prime positions and just scrape the barrel on what’s left at catcher because you think it offers the least opportunity for points?
It’s true, almost every year, there are only a few good catchers worth taking in the early rounds, and this year is no different. So, as we approach the season, we’ll examine the top fantasy baseball players in the league. Obviously, if you come back to this article on opening day, there’s a good chance the rankings could be different (injuries/promotions/demotions), so shoot me an email (email@example.com) for an updated list or if you have questions about fantasy in general.
Below is my list of the top fantasy catchers in the NL, along with a team-by-team analysis. I’m also including this handy little guide to help you land the best possible catcher:
For sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.
Top five NL catchers
- Brian McCann – Braves – 2011: .270/.351/.466
- Wilson Ramos – Nationals – 2011: .267/.334/.445
- Buster Posey – Giants – 2011: .284/.368/.389
- Yadier Molina – Cardinals - 2011: .305/.349/.465
- Miguel Montero – Diamondbacks – 2011: .282/.351/.469
Starter: McCann will be back again for his eighth season. McCann had a relatively disappointing year last year, batting only .270/.351/.466. For most, that’s not a down season, but for a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger, it is. He faded down the stretch, and it’s not clear if it was because of injury or he wore down, but it’s a cause for concern. Especially for fantasy teams looking for a boost for the playoffs. It’s to be noted that his OBP dropped 20 points and walks, RBIs and doubles all dropped, too. In 2011, the Braves had a new batting coach who was a horrible experience for the whole lineup. The style didn’t fit right, so maybe we can chalk it up to that. Nonetheless, he’s a safe pick. For sure pick
Backup: Ross is one of the premier backups in the league. To be honest, he could play full-time on some clubs. He’s good for around 130 at-bats a year and will knock in his share of homers. He’s a double and home-run machine. If you have room for a backup or McCann hits the DL during the year, pick up Ross as he’s a solid option. He produces better than most catchers. I used him last year a few times, and it’s a nice day when you’re backup picks up two home runs in a game.
Prospect watch: Not even Bethancourt will get a shot this year. He might get a September call-up or possibly a call-up if both Ross and McCann go down, but that’s very unlikely. With Freeman at first, Bethancourt could be moved in the right trade.
Starter: Buck had a forgettable first year for the Marlins last year. He hit only .227/.316/.367 and only hit 16 home runs with 57 RBIs. The only thing is, it’s not going to be forgettable, because, more than likely, it will happen again in 2012. He has a career .241 average over eight seasons, which isn’t much better. He strikes out over 100 times a year and doesn’t offer much upside other than a roster filler. If you are in a league where strikeouts are negative, stay away as he might not end the year with a positive number. To be honest, given how this team has made so many adjustments to win now, I can see them going with a top rookie if one steps up during the season. If not, possibly look out for a trade.
Backup: Hayes is almost an identical offensive threat as Buck is. There is no need for him to be on any fantasy team, not even if he’s starting.
Prospect watch: Skipworth is the leading catching prospect and breaks the top 10 for prospects in the Marlins organization. Skipworth took a severe step back this past year in double-A. In three minor league seasons, he has a career .220/.281/.365 line. Ouch. Perhaps the real deal might come from a slugging prospect Realmuto, who had a promising year during his first full year in the minors. He hit .287/.347/.454 with 12 home runs and 16 doubles while playing in 96 games. Temper your expectations, though, he’s only 20 and he finished the year in A ball. It’s unlikely the Marlins promote him all the way. He might get a taste in September.
Starter: Thole isn’t exactly better than the Marlins battery mates, but he’s a viable option if you are in need. He can be found at the bottom of the barrel on draft day; but in some drafts, he might be drafted mid-late rounds. In 114 games last year, he hit 17 doubles and collected 40 RBIs. He did hit .268 on the year and almost has a 1-to-1 walk/strikeout ratio. His strikeouts are low, in a full season will strike out less than 75 times. He doesn’t have any power at all, averaging two home runs a year in his three-year career, but he doesn’t hurt you either. He’s a great backup on a fantasy team.
Backup/prospect/whatever is left: Let’s face it, they don’t really have much left. It’s Thole and that’s it. Nickeas is a career minor-leaguer and produces like Thole. He won’t be a factor on your fantasy team.
Starter: Ruiz had a regression in 2011 from his breakout 2010 year were he finished 17th in the MVP voting. Ruiz is good for 20-plus doubles a year and a handful of homers. He’ll get the minimum 50 in runs and RBIs but he doesn’t strikeout much. In fact, it’s a surprise if he tops 50 strikeouts, which makes him an interesting pick. He hit .283/.371/.383 last year, so he touches the base more often than most catchers. He’s a few steps ahead of Thole and would be my number six in the NL. He just doesn’t provide amazing results, but he doesn’t hurt you either. He’s a mid late-round pick. In leagues where strikeouts hurt you, he’s a number-two catcher.
Backup: Schneider doesn’t provide much value. Pass.
Prospect watch: Valle provides some optimism for the future. He had a breakout year in 2010 at age 19, hitting 16 home runs with 74 RBIs, but then he regressed in 2011 again in both departments. He’s still young and he has a lot to learn. Most are hoping the power comes with age, but he hasn’t even passed A+ yet in his five seasons.
Starter: Ramos had a decent rookie campaign, hitting 22 doubles with 15 home runs. He finished fourth in a very competitive rookie of the year race and batted .267/.334/.445 on the year. He’s a potential 30 doubles, 20 home run kind of guy and doesn’t strikeout that often, which is impressive for a rookie. His low strikeout rate could mean an increase in his average. I have him as my number two in the National League because of what I think his potential and projection should be. If Fielder signs with the Nationals, it trickles down the lineup in a positive way and can only help Ramos. As always, be wary of the sophomore slump.
Backup: Flores is an interesting option at backup. He provides a little pop off the bench and similar to a David Ross, but younger and less experienced. Proceed with caution.
Prospect watch: Norris was a pre-2010, top-40 Baseball America prospect but then slipped in 2011 after a very disappointing 2010 year in A+. He had a big 2009 year, hitting 30 doubles, 23 HR, 83 RBI while hitting .286/.413/.513 in A ball. He was promoted to double-A in 2011, and while he swiped more bags and hit more homers, his average dropped to .210. His OBP still hovered at .367 which shows that bad luck was on his side. Look for him to rebound and finish the year in triple-A. He’s only 22.
Starter: Soto had a rough year, as well, in 2011. He struck out 40 more times than the year before and has struggled since his brilliant Rookie-of-the-Year campaign. Soto is worth around 15 home runs a year and that’s about it. He has a relatively low average, and if strikeouts are a negative in your league, stay away. His offensive production doesn’t have enough upside.
Backup: Jaramillo just signed with the Cubs. He served as a backup for the Pirates when they had their rash of injuries last year. Nothing special and shouldn’t warrant a spot on your fantasy team.
Prospect watch: Castillo is an interesting prospect. He’s got some pop and looks like he could knock 25 home runs a year, but he’ll strikeout around 100 times and hit around .270. He might see significant playing time this year if Soto goes down with an injury or struggles mightily.
Starter: Hanigan is a platoon player with Mesoraco and only gets into about 90 games a year. Unless you’re in a daily league, he’s not worth a spot. Even then, he doesn’t provide much pop or upside.
Backup: Mesoraco figures to get more playing time this year. He was a September call-up last year and figures to cut into Hanigan’s playing time. By the end of the year, I figure Mesoraco will be starting. He seems to be growing into his power, with 36 doubles, 15 home runs and 71 RBIs along with a .289 average during his first full year at triple-A before getting the call-up. Also, the fact that he doesn’t strike out often bodes well for his fantasy value.
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