Traditionally, the backstop has been a bitter bane of the fantasy owner’s existence. Owners either spent mega-dollars on one of the heavy hitters at the position or contented themselves to spend the season with a Kurt-Suzuki–sized hole in their lineups. The mayhem came to a crescendo a few years back when Joe Mauer’s ADP crept into the 1st round. However, over the last year or so the position has filled out nicely and depth seems to be the name of the game. Indeed, I’ll likely be waiting on catcher in most of my drafts this year. That is not to say that the position is filled with superstars. On the contrary, many of the players you will see me espousing (and drafting) have aspects of their game that are rather ugly, but no matter how long you wait in the draft, your odds of drafting someone that can help your team remain high. (Grey also goes over his top 20 catchers for 2012 fantasy baseball there.)
The blue chips at the position are all still near the top, but the position has seen a bit of a changing of the guard. New faces sit atop the position, with Carlos Santana (of Maria Maria fame) first in ADP, and Mike Napoli coming in a close second. I love Santana all things being equal, but I’m hesitating from him at that price tag. Same goes for Napoli, who was stunning in a full season of action finally free of Anaheim tyranny. If pinned up against the wall into drafting a top 5 catcher, I’d much rather the 3-4-5 class that consists of McCann, Mauer and Posey given their value. Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters round out the crop of catchers that go in the top 10 rounds of standard drafts.
But I digress — the purpose of this piece is to elucidate the depth at the catcher position this year. So let’s take a long look at the situation you would find yourself in if you had waited to draft a catcher until after round 10 of our theoretical standard league. Before we get into some nitty gritty, let’s play a bit a numbers game based on 2012 projections (courtesy of Bill James and Fangraphs):
Player 1- .231 54-24-73-1
Player 2- .274 60-17-73-1
Player 3- .252 51-19-67-0
Player 4- .281 66-21-76-1
Two of these players have ADPs in the top 10 rounds and two have ADPs in our late round bargain bin. You can probably guess that the higher averages belong to the higher tiered players. Player 1 = JP Arrencibia, Player 2 = Miguel Montero, Player 3 = Geovany Soto, Player 4 = Matt Wieters, but the other counting stats look pretty close to me. And since batting average is the highest variance statistic used in fantasy baseball, basing a strategy of drafting a top tiered catcher based on 20 points of average seems foolish. This trend is further recapitulated by a variety of late rounders with 15-20 HR power and/or other useful skills (Russel Martin, for example — how his ADP is in the 200s is beyond me).
But you may say, “Sure, those projections look similar, but what about upside? Matt Wieters has a lot more upside than Geovany Soto!” and that is obviously a fair point. However, true “breakouts” at catcher are rare, at least breakouts such that they can win you a league. I’d much rather use my 7th round pick on that upside outfielder who may go 30-30 than blow it on a catcher who may hit 30 HRs if the stars align just right, especially if I can get a nice floor of production later on.
For those of you that love deep sleepers or are just among the unlucky few of us forced to play in a 2 catcher league, there are numerous names at the end of your draft that could pay huge dividends as well. Devin Mesoraco, Wilin Rosario and Yasmani Grandal are names to keep an eye on, as is Jesus Montero (if he is eligible in your league). These guys are top prospects who are at various degrees of proximity to breaking into the big leagues. While it is unlikely that any of them make a huge impact in 2012 (especially early on), they still have sizeable upside to couple with one of the solid but unspectacular names above.
The purpose of this piece was not to espouse a certain name at the catcher position that was a must-have value. I hoped to put forth a methodology for approaching one of the games trickier positions. I am not saying that one should ignore the top tiers of catchers; on the contrary, situations may in fact arise where the value of one of those names becomes too great to pass up. However, catcher is also one of those positions that lends itself well to the “Oh crap, I don’t have a catcher — time to reach!” mistake picks. If you can land a top 5 catcher at a discount, mazel tov! Hopefully after reading this, you won’t panic after failing to land one of those names, and instead remain patient to pluck the useful value player late in your draft.