One of my most tried-and-true draft strategies is to wait as long as possible before drafting my fantasy catcher.
Without question, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey will be the first backstop drafted this year. In fact, he's a border-line first-round pick using average draft position (ADP) data from Mock Draft Central as he's currently the 13th overall pick, on average, in their mock drafts.
While I would not take Posey with the 13th (or earlier) pick, I would consider using an early-round pick in the unlikely scenario that he slips to Round 3.
Since he's also used at first base, Posey played a league-high 148 games and finished second in at-bats (530) behind Minnesota's Joe Mauer (545) among the catcher-eligible players. Only six catchers finished the year with 500-plus at-bats and only 14 of them had 400-plus at-bats.
Not only did he get the opportunities (plate appearances), he made the most of the them.
Posey, the reigning N.L. Most Valuable Player, led the majors with a .336 average as he won his first batting title. Although three catchers had more homers than Posey (24), he was only four off the leader: Colorado's Wilin Rosario (28). In addition, Posey led all catchers in runs batted in (103) with 15 more than Arizona's Miguel Montero, who finished second.
Unfortunately for Posey and his fantasy owners, he plays in a pitcher's park and the vast majority of his home runs came on the road last year. While that trend should continue, he actually hit for a higher average at home (.343) than he did on the road (.330) last year.
Barring injury, Posey is the surest of sure things behind the plate. He may not finish with a line of .336/24/103 again, but .310/20/80 is a more-than-reasonable projection with upside of a much better year.
Salvador Perez: Nice value at ADP of 134
If you speak Spanish, you know that "salvador" translates to savior.
While Kansas City's Salvador Perez will not literally be your team's "savior," he's a really good option at catcher and available relatively late. With an ADP of 134 (via Mock Draft Central), he's the 11th catcher off the board.
After returning from knee surgery, the 22-year-old hit .301 with 11 homers in 76 games in 2012. Provided he stays healthy for a full season, Perez has the potential to hit .300 with around 20 home runs and 75 runs batted in this year.
Even though he walked in only 4.7 percent of his at-bats in the second half, only two catchers with at least 100 at-bats had a better (lower) strikeout rate than Perez (9.7 percent). Using data from FanGraphs, only Cincinnati catcher Ryan Hanigan (8.5 percent) and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (9.6 percent) had better rates.
Perhaps my projections are a bit too optimistic. That said, only three catchers hit .300 with 15 home runs last year: Posey, Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz.
Some More Catcher Notes:
This offseason, it was discovered that Red Sox free-agent addition Mike Napoli has avascular necrosis, a degenerative hip condition. While the player and club initially agreed to a three-year deal, they ultimately settled on a one-year deal loaded with incentives. The hip injury is less of a concern for folks in re-draft leagues than for those in keeper or dynasty leagues.
No catcher has more homers than Napoli over the past three seasons (80) and he has five consecutive seasons with 20-plus home runs. In other words, there is a good chance that Napoli will lead all catchers in home runs this season.
Colorado's Wilin Rosario plays half of his games at the hitter-friendly Coors Field and he took advantage last year as a rookie. While he hit .297 at home (versus .242 on the road), 18 of his position-high 28 homers and 44 of his 71 runs batted in came at home.
After playing only 82 games, the fewest since his rookie season, in 2011, Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer played a career-high 147 games last year and had his fourth season with 600-plus plate appearances. While he's unlikely to ever hit the 28 homers he hit in 2009 again, a .310/80/10/80 line is a very reasonable expectation for Mauer.
Baltimore Orioles backstop Matt Wieters set some career highs in 2012 with 144 games, 593 plate appearances, 23 home runs and 83 runs batted in although he hit below .250 for the second time in the past three seasons. Wieters finished strong with a .296 average, six homers and 18 RBIs in September and October.
The stars aligned perfectly last year for Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Molina set career highs in all of the 5x5 categories: .315 average, 65 runs, 22 home runs, 76 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. While I expect a solid line (~ .305/60/15/65/8) for Molina, I don't expect a repeat of those numbers and won't pay for them, which means he likely won't be on any of my teams in 2013. Based on his current ADP of 37 overall, I'd much rather wait for someone like Perez almost 100 spots later.
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz set career highs in homers (16), RBI (68) and average (.325). Despite being a much stronger second-half hitter historically, Ruiz got off to a strong start last year: .350 average, 13 HRs and 46 RBI before the All-Star break. For fantasy owners hoping for another strong start, Ruiz unfortunately will serve a 25-game suspension to begin the season for the use of adderall.
Here are my 2013 fantasy catcher rankings:
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
3. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
4. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
6. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
7. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
8. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
9. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox
10. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
11. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
12. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
13. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Bucks
14. A.J. Pierzynski, Texas Rangers
15. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
16. Ryan Doumit, Minnesota Twins
17. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
18. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox
19. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays
20. Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox
For a second opinion, check out Duncan Sanford's catcher rankings. (Or view our consensus catcher rankings here.)
Other positions: 1B - 2B - 3B - SS - OF - SP - RP
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