Fantasy baseball preview: National League catchers

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!

Brian McCann has been the top catcher in the NL the past few years, a trend that should continue. (AP photo)

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 ( 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

  1. Brian McCann – Braves – 2011: .270/.351/.466
  2. Wilson Ramos – Nationals – 2011: .267/.334/.445
  3. Buster Posey – Giants – 2011: .284/.368/.389
  4. Yadier Molina – Cardinals – 2011: .305/.349/.465
  5. Miguel Montero – Diamondbacks – 2011: .282/.351/.469

Atlanta Braves — Brian McCann, David Ross, Christian Bethancourt

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.

Miami MarlinsJohn Buck, Brett Hayes, Kyle Skipworth/Jacob Realmuto

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.

New York MetsJosh Thole, Mike Nickeas

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.

Philadelphia PhilliesCarlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, Sebastian Valle

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.

Washington Nationals — Wilson Ramos, Jesus Flores, Derek Norris

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.

Chicago CubsGeovany Soto, Jason Jaramillo, Welington Castillo

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.

Cincinnati RedsRyan Hanigan, Devin Mesoraco

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.

Pittsburgh PiratesRod Barajas, Michael McKenry, Tony Sanchez

Starter: Barajas will be filling the gap while the Pirates await the arrival of top prospect Sanchez. Barajas is an interesting option. If he’s your starter, you obviously took the route of drafting your catcher in the last few rounds. Barajas isn’t that bad as a fantasy option, he’s just not that good either. For most very competitive leagues, he will be on the available players list quiet often as he’s very streaky. If he’s not hitting, he needs to be dropped as it can go on for a while. When he’s hot, which is seldom, he’ll hit five home runs in a week. If your catcher goes down on the 15-day DL, he’s not a bad fill in for those days.

Backup: McKenry isn’t worth your time. Zero fantasy value.

Prospect watch: Sanchez is #46 on Baseball America’s pre-2011 prospect list. The Pirates stated they will not rush him and they have stayed true to their word so far. Sanchez figures to start this year in triple-A with the expectation he’ll be ready for the 2013 season. If all goes well, he should get a September call-up, but if he struggles in triple-A, the Pirates hold a club option on Barajas for one more year.

Yadier Molina had a huge year last year. Can that continue? (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

St. Louis Cardinals — Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz, Bryan Anderson

Starter: Molina had a monster breakout year in 2011, nearly setting career highs in every category. His .305/.349/.465 line for a catcher was outstanding. He finished the year as the number-one catcher in most leagues, soley because he only struck out 44 times. He hit 32 doubles and knocked in 14 home runs. It remains to be seen if he can repeat 2011, but without the lineup protection he had last year, it is doubtful. I see him hitting somewhere in between his 2010 and 2011 year, around .280 with 10 homers. Don’t worry though, his strikeout numbers remain low. He’s this years overrated.

Backup: Cruz isn’t a factor unless Molina gets hurt. Molina isn’t injury prone, and even if an injury occurs, Cruz isn’t worth a spot at this point.

Prospect watch: Anderson is a good prospect who could push Molina out of St. Louis in the future. He’s got decent pop and hits for a good average. He should push Cruz for some backup playing time and might jump Cruz if Molina goes down with an injury. Stick him on your watch list. He only holds value if injuries occur.

Milwaukee BrewersJonathan Lucroy, George Kottaras, Martin Maldonado

Starter: Lucroy followed up his rookie campaign with a very solid year. He has the potential to be a 20-20 guy — 20 doubles and 20 home runs. He’s not a stolen-base threat, but compared to the other catchers, he’s your best bet for a few swipes. Lucroy can be a top catcher in the NL, and he could have to step up quiet a bit in 2012 as he will be lacking some lineup protection.

Backup: Kottaras isn’t a factor, and if Lucroy goes down, he still shouldn’t be on your team.

Prospect watch: Maldonado seems like he’s spent forever in the minor leagues. He’s played eight seasons already, but the truth is, he’s only 25. If Lucroy goes down for any significant time, Maldonado will step in. He’s put up decent minor-league numbers, but as always, will it translate?

Houston AstrosHumberto Quintero, Craig Tatum, Jason Castro

Starter/platoon: Quintero and Tatum will be platooning basically. Neither has much upside. Even in NL-only leagues.

Prospect watch: Castro could very well be the starter by July. He was a top-50 prospect according to Baseball America for 2010 and 2009 but had a tough year in 2011. His average dipped below .270 but his OBP stayed high. He’ll rebound and can be good for five to 10 HRs in 2012 if he’s brought up before August.

Arizona Diamondbacks — Miguel Montero, Henry Blanco, Konrad Schmidt

Starter: Miguel Montero had a monster year in 2011. He hit .282/.351/.469 with 36 doubles and 18 home runs. He also collects above-average runs and RBIs for a catcher, knocking in 80-plus last year. He did strike out more last year, totalling 97, and it’s a bit worrisome because that column has increased through the years. In leagues where strikeouts don’t matter, he’s a top-three catcher. His power does fluctuate through the years, so don’t count on it.

Backup: Blanco is just a backup, nothing more and exactly less. Should never see your lineup.

Prospect watch: Schmidt provides good power and decent speed. In a full season, he could swipe 10 bags and hit 15 home runs. He hits for a decent average, but his time is running out as he’s already 26. He’s blocked by Montero.

Colorado RockiesRamon Hernandez, Jordan Pacheco, Wilin Rosario

Starter: Hernandez could be an interesting option this year. He’s like Barajas, but he has a little more power. Given the confines of Coors Field, he could be in for a big year. He also hits for a decent average. If he gets the chance to start the whole season, I wouldn’t put it past him to hit 20-plus homers and 80-plus RBIs. He’s also a Sleeper.

Backup/prospect watch: Pacheco and Rosario are the two prospects who will share the backup duties. It’s believed that Pacheco will do more of the backup work, but he also lost weight over the offseason because he will also be a utility guy this year. Rosario is a top-50 prospect by Baseball America and will likely stick in the minors until Hernandez leaves (he signed a two-year deal in the offseason). Hernandez is there to mentor Rosario while he’s on board.

Los Angeles DodgersMatt Treanor, Tim Federowicz, A.J. Ellis

What a mess: Who knows who will get the most playing time. It figures to be a Treanor and Ellis battle, but neither provides much fantasy value. Unless the Dodgers make a trade, you shouldn’t have one of their catchers on your team.

San Diego PadresNick Hundley, John Baker, Yasmani Grandal

Platoon spit: Hundley and Baker figure to platoon as much as the Dodgers core. They aren’t good fantasy options; both hit near the bottom of the lineup and also are inconsistent in their playing time. Daily-lineup leagues can gamble on them, but weekly leagues would suffer.

Prospect watch: Grandal will likely spend the year in triple-A. He finished at triple-A last year, rising three levels. It’s no doubt the Padres want to bring him up, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the team in August if he excels. If you were stuck with one of the above catchers, keep an eye on Grandal’s progress for a boost late in the season.

San Francisco Giants — Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside, Tommy Joseph/Hector Sanchez

Starter: Posey is coming off a horrible injury he received in a collision at home plate last year. Posey drops to number three in my list partly because his numbers were down prior to his injury. In the 45 games he played, pitchers were giving him a little more trouble compared to his rookie campaign in 2010. Since he didn’t really get to finish that adjustment period, and we have no idea what the injury might do to his swing and footwork, it’s safe to say he will likely start slow. The Giants will likely give him more breathers to make sure that ankle is fully healed. Slow first half and a bigger second half.  Posey has long-term value.

Backup: Whiteside struggled last year trying to step in for Posey. He doesn’t show much upside, so he shouldn’t be an option.

Prospect watch: Why do you need prospects when you have Posey?

Possible free agents who could be an impact

There aren’t any free-agent catchers you should worry about fantasy wise. If you have to revert to them, chances are you’re in last place and should be doing something else more productive with your time.

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