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Fantasy Prep 2011: Catching Options on Draft Day
Brandon Warne | Saturday January 15th, 2011
Posey headlines the list of fantasy catchers in 2011. (Getty)
Posey headlines the list of fantasy catchers in 2011. (Getty)

Today’s entry begins a series of fantasy baseball-related articles with suggestions about who to pick when targeting players the early, middle, and late rounds in drafts.  To avoid telling readers some obvious selections, like Albert Pujols at first base, or for instance, Joe Mauer at catcher in today’s article, each position will have “obvious” options distinctions levied upon any player that would be a winning pick at that spot.  Please keep in mind that all fantasy leagues are different, and that picking these players will not necessarily guarantee positive results. Now, with that public service announcement out of the way, and without further ado, here are the catchers to target early, mid, and late in 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.

Obvious Options:

The two obvious options at catcher are Joe Mauer and Brian McCann.  Mauer’s snagged three batting titles in the last five years, while bumping his career OPS to a stellar 888 mark.  For a guy who doesn’t hit a ton of home runs (with 28 in 2009 looking like an aberration), Mauer still fills up the stat sheet across most formats.  If a league favors on-base percentage, walks, or penalizes strikeouts, Mauer is a viable mid-to-late first round pick.  Further adding to Mauer’s value is that he poked 43 doubles last season, perhaps fueling the notion that Target Field suppresses Mauer’s line drive stroke from a home run one in the final season at the Metrodome into more of an extra base hit type swing in the new park.  Mauer also gains value in that when he’s not catching, he’ll often fill the role of designated hitter to offset the lack of pop in backup Drew Butera’s bat.

Meanwhile, McCann assumes the role as the premier catcher in the Senior Circuit.  With 162-game averages of 24 home runs, 100 runs batted in, and a solid .289/.360/.489 slash line, Chipper Jones’ chief lineup protector also fills up the stat sheet very well, considering catchers as a whole in 2010 in the National League hit .253/.326/.388. Expect more of the same out of McCann in 2011, with the possible continued improvement of his walk rate.

Top of the Draft:

There are two fantastic, young options to take near the top of the draft if an owner is selecting after Mauer and McCann have been pulled.  Those two options are World Series champion and 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, and American League phenom Carlos Santana.

Posey did a very good job handling the stellar Giants staff down the stretch, prompting the club to hand over the reins at catcher while dealing Bengie Molina to the eventual American League champion Rangers.  It was his bat however that set Posey, who was named among Baseball America’s top 15 prospects in 2009 and 2010, apart from any other rookie and what will make him a big fantasy baseball asset.  Posey used his smooth, big league-ready stroke to hit .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in just under 450 plate appearances spread out over 108 games.  That’s a 25 home run, 94 RBI pace when prorated out to 162 games, which would put Posey firmly in the McCann territory in the National League.  His walk rate could use a little work, but there’s precedence there from the minor leagues, and his line drive rate was a solid 18.4 percent, so he’s certainly more likely to improve than regress. Depending on league size, Posey could be a good pick in rounds four and up.

Santana, on the other hand, stands out quite a bit due to his patient approach at the plate. At first blush, most fantasy players wouldn’t be incredibly impressed with a .260 batting average and six home runs, but when combined with the fact that his overall slash line was .260/.401/.467 (thanks in large part to a better than 1:1 K/BB ratio) and that his season was cut short due to a horrific knee injury, a bright fantasy owner will see that his 162 game projection puts him at 21 home runs, 77 RBI, and an incredible 46 doubles.  He’s not short on hype, but fantasy owners should be able to deftly pick him up in round six or so, unless there’s an Indians fan in the bunch.

Middle of the Draft:

For those picking in the middle of drafts, there are a couple power-hitting catchers that might be worthwhile for 2011 in John Buck and Mike Napoli.  Both of these catchers, while flawed, could provide solid value in the middle of a lot of deeper league drafts.

Buck spent the 2010 season with Toronto after six fairly ordinary seasons in Kansas City.  For anyone who followed the Blue Jays with much regularity last season, it isn’t hard to suggest that Buck fit right in with the other thumpers in that lineup.  After slugging .407 in his first six seasons, Buck pumped his overall slash line up to .281/.314/.489 in 2010, while pounding 20 home runs and driving in 66.  It’s pretty obvious to see that Buck will never help in the walks department, as evidenced by his ghastly 111/16 K-BB ratio, but in leagues where owners aren’t punished by those rates, Buck’s power is a real asset, considering only four catchers hit 20 or more home runs in 2010.  Buck parlayed his power surge into a relatively large contract with the Florida Marlins, so check up on him in Spring Training just to make sure his power sticks a bit before going much higher than a 12th round pick.

Napoli, on the other hand, is part of a bizarre timeshare with the Angels that saw Mike pick up 510 plate appearances between catcher and first base (with Kendry Morales out), while the offensively challenged Jeff Mathis (of the .195/.219/.278 batting line in 2010) picked up pretty much the rest of the at bats at catcher, which the exception of a few going to Hank Conger.  Napoli’s slash line of .238/.316/.468 isn’t particularly pretty to look at, but he, like Buck, smacked 20-plus home runs in 2010 while getting more significant playing time than ever before.  With Morales likely healthy again heading into 2011, the Napoli/Mathis platoon may again be in effect, but at some point manager Mike Scioscia has to figure out that a sub-.500 OPS isn’t palpable, even if the second-coming of Johnny Bench is behind the plate.  Look for Napoli to again near 500 plate appearances, smack 20 home runs, and strike out 120-plus times.  That kind of player has some value in many leagues, and may also warrant a 12th round pick, or so.

End of the Draft:

If an owner has perhaps waited almost too long to figure out who will be their primary catcher in 2011, a couple of names stick out as solid options in John Jaso and Chris Iannetta.

Jaso basically came out of nowhere to play 109 games for the American League East division winning Tampa Bay Rays.  Jaso compiled a slash line of .263/.372/.378 while stroking 26 extra-base hits and showing a keen eye at the plate, with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts at the plate.  The discipline at the plate wasn’t out of character for the 26-year old Jaso, whose eight seasons in the minor leagues have resulted in a .291/.379/.438 line with an almost exactly 1:1 K/BB ratio.  While he may face some competition in Spring Training from newly acquired Robinson Chirinos, as well as current teammate Kelly Shoppach, the odds are that Jaso will have a good chance to crack camp as the Opening
Day catcher and will keep the role as long as his discerning eye sticks.  In leagues that value on-base percentage and walks, there are certainly far worse picks in the last three to five rounds.

Iannetta had a disastrous 2010, hitting .197/.318/.383 while shuttling back and forth to Triple-A Colorado Springs a handful of times, but is still only one season removed from back to back 800-plus OPS campaigns, including an incredible 895 mark in 2008.  It’s hard to pin exactly what went wrong with Iannetta in 2010, other than just a very, very bad start to the season.  Iannetta’s line stood at .133/.235/.333 the first time he was sent down, near the end of April, and it took much of the rest of the season for him to even get it close to respectability.  A few things that work in his favor, however, are that he’s currently listed as the undisputed starter on the Rockies depth chart, he’s got very good 162 game averages (23 home runs, 85 RBI, .234/.353/.435 slash line, and good K/BB rate), and he still plays half his games at Coors Field, which had an incredible 118/117 park factor in 2010.

Rookie Watch:

Keep an eye out for a few of these young guys as the season wears on: Devin Mesoraco, Robinson Chirinos, Tyler Flowers, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia, Hank Conger, Wilson Ramos, and Derek Norris.
Brandon WarneBrandon is a 2010 graduate of the Journalism program at Northwestern College in St Paul, Minn. He also writes for TwinsMVB.com and GameOnTVMN.com. Warne also played baseball at Northwestern, and continues to play Class-A Amateur Ball in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Follow him on Twitter @brandonwarne52 or feel free to e-mail him at brandon.r.warne@gmail.com.