Baseball Press presents a returning miniseries entitled "Three Up, Three Down". We'll review player performances from last season and whether or not we feel they are capable of either improving upon last season's performance, or if the player had a "lucky" season in 2011.
With a large group of catchers having similar production numbers, fantasy owners have different strategies on when to take a catcher. Some owners spend an early draft pick on an "elite" catcher to cross the position off their roster, while others wait until later rounds and hope to draft a "sleeper" pick.
After posting less than stellar numbers in 2010, catcher Matt Wieters saw an offensive improvement in just about every offensive category in 2011. Not only was he named to the American League All-Star team, but he won his first of many Gold Glove awards. Among all major league catchers last season with at least 450 plate appearances, Wieters ranked fourth among home runs with 22. He appeared in 139 games in 2011, showing that he was a durable catching option who could make contact at the plate (15.3 strikeout percentage).
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for 2012 fantasy owners was Matt's 2011 second half of play. He slugged .504 and had a .840 OPS with 14 home runs in 61 games after the All-Star break. To break down his second half in more detail, he posted a triple-slash line of .275/.354/.556, 12 home runs, and a .910 OPS from August 1st until the end of the season. While his power threat is legit, it seems that there is hope his batting average will also see a spike in 2012. His .276 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) in 2011 produced a .262 batting average last season, so there's plenty of upside in the batting average department to go with his 20-plus home run power.
Rookie Devin Mesoraco will likely begin the 2012 season as the starting catcher for the Reds, with Ryan Hanigan
as his backup. Mesoraco, 23, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Cincinnati organization according to Baseball America
, can hit for average and power. In two Triple-A seasons (2010-2011) at Louisville, he hit a combined .283/.364/.482 with 18 home runs and a .846 OPS. He had a very brief big-league appearance at the end of the 2011 season, but his .180/.226/.360 triple-slash line over 18 games doesn't represent his true ability.
Even with Hanigan and recently signed veteran Dioner Navarro
on the roster, the Reds and fantasy owners are confident that Mesoraco will be the everyday starter. His defense has improved through his minor league career and he's improved with his patience at the plate. His offensive output will be above-average for his draft position, with keeper league owners stashing him for future years.
Miguel Montero helped lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to the playoffs in 2011 with career highs in home runs (18) and RBI (86). The 2011 National League All-Star is a career .271/.338/.451 hitter over six big-league seasons and has produced on a consistent basis. The biggest question mark that owners have with Montero is related to his health. He appeared in 70 games in 2008 and 85 games in 2010 due to injuries. Healthy for the 2009 season and 2011 season, let's hope he doesn't keep with the theme of coming up injured during even-numbered years.
In addition to a strong 2011 campaign that produced a solid batting average and above-average power numbers, Montero is also playing for a new multi-year contact.
Playing in his first full major league season, J.P. Arencibia proved that his power was legit after finishing the 2011 season with 23 home runs. However, his strikeouts and walk rates left owners struggling to find patience with the 26-year-old catcher. In two seasons (2009-2010) at Triple-A Las Vegas, his strikeout percentage was at 21%, but that shot up in 2011 to 27% over 486 big-league plate appearances.
If fantasy owners have other players that can pick up Arencibia's slack in the batting average and on-base percentage departments, his power justifies a starting roster spot. However, the Blue Jays also have No. 1 ranked prospect (according to Baseball America
) Travis d' Arnaud
on the horizon and ready for big-league action soon. With d' Arnaud being a better defender and overall better hitter than Arencibia, a mid-season big-league call up for d' Arnaud could create an obstacle for Arencibia's playing time in 2012.
After posting a triple-slash line of .295/.389/.506 in his second full big-league season, owners who acquired Avila on the cheap were very happy. The soon-to-be 25-year-old slugged 19 home runs and posted a .895 OPS in 141 games in 2011. The second half of the season proved to be just as productive as the first half of play for Avila, as he hit .306/.409/.507 with nine home runs in 65 games after the All-Star break. His strikeout percentage jumped from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2011, but his walk percentage also climbed to 13% in 2011 from his 2010 total of 11%.
The biggest factor that stands out for Avila is his .366 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) in 2011. Prior to the 2011 season, his BAbip stood at .282 (2009-2010). While I don't expect his BAbip to sit as high as it did last season, I fully expect him to sit above the league average of .300 BAbip. Signs point to last season being a lucky one for Avila, which all fantasy owners need, but I don't expect him to repeat the performance in 2012. He's a player to draft this season, but owners shouldn't reach to get him, especially if they miss out on a top-tier catcher. I would like to see Avila repeat his production numbers from 2011 before I'm buying.
Due to a string of injuries last season, Joe Mauer appeared in a total of 82 games last season. The four-time American League All-Star finished the season with a disappointing (by his standards) .287/.360/.368 triple-slash line. The 28-year-old catcher is in the beginning stages of an eight-year deal with the Twins and likely has the Twins' front office regretting the deal.
Make no mistake, when healthy, Mauer is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. However, his position and the injury risks associated with him make him a risky pick during the early stages of a draft. While his batting average and on-base percentage numbers are real assets for fantasy owners, Mauer will need to remain healthy to achieve those numbers. In 2009, he hit a career high 28 home runs, but has hit a total of 12 home during the past two seasons. Combine the injury risks and the fact that the Minnesota offense isn't very productive, and there is a terrific risk with drafting Mauer with a high pick in 2012.