Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fantasy Baseball: 2011 Catcher Rankings

Year in and year out, catcher has often been a talent-scarce position when it comes to fantasy baseball.

In 2011, that's not necessarily the case.

In my opinion, the top four fantasy catchers are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but there are plenty of options as you go deeper into the draft that can help (or, at least, won't hurt) your team.

Here are the top 15 catchers for 2011:

1. Joe Mauer, Twins: Although Mauer is the top option at catcher in fantasy baseball, the power he exhibited two seasons ago (28 home runs) was nearly wiped out by the team's move to Target Field. Mauer, the 2009 American League MVP, hit only nine home runs -- even worse, only one in 239 at bats at home -- in 2010. That said, Mauer has won 60 percent of the A.L. Batting Titles over the past five seasons.

In our opinion, who should be the No. 2 fantasy catcher is less clear-cut, which led us to set up this poll question and this discussion thread so let your voice be heard.

2. Victor Martinez, Tigers: Martinez, who was in Boston last year, led all catchers in runs batted in (79) while hitting over .300 (.302, to be precise) in 2010. Now that V-Mart is with Detroit, he is expected to see lots of, um, action as the team's designated hitter, which should boost his number of plate appearances.

3. Buster Posey, Giants: Posey, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 runs batted in. Last season, Posey played 30 games at first base, but manager Bruce Bochy says that Posey will get a "complete day off" when he's not catching in 2011.

4. Brian McCann, Braves: During the span of the past three seasons, McCann leads all catchers in runs batted in (258) and is second in home runs (65) to Mike Napoli. That's the good news. The bad news is his batting average has slid in back-to-back seasons (.301 to .281 to .269).

5. Geovany Soto, Cubs: In the past three seasons, Soto has hit .280-plus twice with a sub-.220 season in between. During that span, Soto has averaged only 116 games per season and has hit one home run per 22.5 at bats. If he stays healthy and gets close to 500 at bats (as he did in 2008), a realistic line for Soto is .275-60-20-75.

6. Carlos Santana, Indians: A top ten prospect by Baseball America in 2010, Santana was called up in June and hit .345 with four homers and 15 runs batted in over 18 games that month. After June and before getting hurt, however, Santana hit only .207 with two home runs and seven runs batted in over 28 games. The sky's the limit for Santana, but there may be some bumps along the way for the young catcher.

7. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: Montero missed roughly half the season in 2010 and hit only .222 (35 for 158) from August to October. In the previous season (2009), however, Montero hit .294 with 16 home runs in 128 games.

8. Matt Wieters, Orioles: In many instances, folks overreact to the hype. While Wieters has generally disappointed since being called up, he's still under 25 years old. There is time for him to develop into an elite fantasy catcher and he might actually be somewhat under the radar heading into 2011.

9. Mike Napoli, Rangers: Over the past three seasons, no catcher has hit more home runs (66) than Napoli, who lands in Texas (via Toronto) this off-season. After a couple of seasons with a respectable batting average (.270-plus), Napoli regressed last year to .238 (his lowest average since his rookie season). Although he hit over .300 versus lefties (.305), he hit only .208 against right-handers.

10. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics: Last season, Suzuki hit a career-low .242 although he ranked fourth amongst catchers in runs batted in (71). This off-season, the A's made a few free-agent acquisitions that should help take some pressure off Suzuki and help him bounce back. The question is how much? If it's to 2009 levels (.274 average with 15 home runs and 88 RBI), he's a huge bargain at where he's being drafted.

11. Jorge Posada, Yankees: The addition of Russell Martin will help Posada, who has played only 282 games over the past three seasons, keep from wearing down in 2011 as he's expected to mostly be the team's designated hitter. I expect his batting average to bounce back closer to his career average (.275) and excluding the 2008 season when he played only 51 games, Posada has hit 18-plus homers every year since 2000.

12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: It's not too often that you get (nor do you look for) stolen bases from your catcher, but Molina has 17 of them over the past two seasons. Molina's batting average declined to .262 last year, but his cumulative batting average over the past three seasons is .286. Molina is a guy that likely won't hurt your roster while giving you something that you would least expect from this position.

13. Chris Iannetta, Rockies: Iannetta is the anti-Mauer. He's not going to win a batting title anytime soon, but he's close to a lock to provide you with 20-plus homers from the catcher position with the full-time job, which he now has. In 154 games over the past two seasons combined, Iannetta has hit only .216 but he also hit 25 home runs (in 477 at bats). That's one home run per every 19 at bats.

14. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays: Arencibia is another guy that will likely hurt you in batting average but help you in the power categories. Between Triple-A and a few games with the Jays last year, Arencibia hit a total of 34 home runs in 496 at bats.

15. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies: Ruiz is the Adam LaRoche of the catcher position. In other words, his splits before and after the All-Star break tell a completely different story. Over the past three years, Ruiz has hit only .237 before the break, but he has hit .285 after the break. The contrast wasn't as great in 2010 (.283 and .316 splits, respectively).

Feel free to send fantasy baseball questions to me via Twitter at @EDSBaseball or post them in our fantasy baseball forum.

Rangers name Neftali Feliz as its closer for 2011

Although he was scheduled to start against the Padres today, Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz will instead come out of the bullpen.

Despite pitching well enough this spring to earn a spot in the rotation, manager Ron Washington believes Feliz will be of greater value to the team as its closer.

"That's exactly what I told him," Washington said, per T.R. Sullivan of "Right now, for our organization, we're better off with him in the bullpen. We haven't closed the door on him being a starter. We're just not ready yet."

The Rangers starting rotation will be C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland.

Feliz, who was named the A.L. Rookie of the Year, finished with 40 saves last year.

As expected, Chase Utley likely to begin season on DL

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is dealing with an assortment of issues with his right knee: patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation.

As most had expected, the team's general manager has confirmed that Utley will most likely begin the season on the disabled list (DL).

"We haven't seen him on the field yet and we're a week away," Ruben Amaro Jr said, per's Todd Zolecki. "It's likely he's not going to be making our club, at least not right now."

Even worse, it continues to appear as though his recovery will be on the longer side.

"Nothing new," Amaro said [of Utley's improvement]. "I think he feels better. We'll see. It's kind of a long-term process. It's not going to happen overnight."

Utley, who missed 47 games last season, is only two seasons removed from a 30-20 season in 2009.

And during the five-year span of 2005 to 2009, Utley had 100-plus runs and 100-plus runs batted in four times. (The two exceptions were 93 runs scored in 2005 and 93 RBIs in 2009.)

In ESPN fantasy baseball leagues, Utley has an average draft pick (ADP) of 63.9, which has dropped 10.6 spots over the past seven days.