About this time last year I was setting my sights on Mike Napoli, who had just come over to the Rangers from the Blue Jays, who had traded him right after acquiring him in a deal with the Angels.
Two teams dealt Napoli away in the offseason, but I still wanted him.
Napoli wasn’t expected to play every day behind the plate, but along with the bats he got while filling in at first base and designated hitter, I figured he would hit enough to hold down the catcher’s position for me. Not exactly high expectations, but that’s the catcher’s lot in life as a fantasy baseball player. There’s just not enough offensive-talented backstops to go around.
My hopes of acquiring Napoli this year took a severe nosedive when the value for the Rangers’ catcher shot right through the roof during the postseason. People tend to remember league championship and World Series heroics, so expect Napoli to be among the first catchers to come off the board at this year’s draft.
It’s time to find this year’s Mike Napoli.
Joining Napoli at the top of the preseason rankings are Carlos Santana of the Indians, Brian McCann of the Braves, Buster Posey of the Giants and Joe Mauer of the Twins.
Some experts believe that Santana is the top fantasy catcher, but I still prefer McCann in that spot. The Atlanta catcher’s consistency appeals to me, and I like the fact that he has become the leader in that clubhouse as Chipper Jones’ career winds down.
Behind Napoli, there are two no-doubt-about-it stars who have injury issues: Buster Posey of the Giants and Joe Mauer of the Twins. Either player is still worth a gamble, but be careful not to pay too much.
For my money, there’s a large drop-off in the next five fantasy catchers. In no particular order they are: Matt Weiters of the Orioles; Jesus Montero of the Mariners; Alex Avila of the Tigers; Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks; and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals.
If you’re going to rely on one of these five, make sure you have a Plan B, or something in reserve. There’s still some value out there, maybe even a Mike Napoli in waiting.
Three catchers who I believe can turn out to be valuable picks even though they’re not considered to be among the 10 best at their position, with CBSsports.com rankings and 2011 stats, are:
Wilson Ramos of the Nationals, No. 12
15 HRs, 52 RBI, .267 BA
Washington has a star in the making with Wilson, whose production soared once he began getting the majority of the at-bats at catcher in July. He responded by hitting .296 with a .852 OPS over the final three months of the season. OPS is a sum of the player’s on-base percentage and slugging average. The better hitters in baseball usually have am OPS of .900 or better.
Ryan Doumit of the Twins, No. 21
8 HRs, 30 RBI, .303 BA, .830 OPS
Doumit missed all of June and July in his last season with the Pirates due to a fractured ankle. In the offseason he signed with the Twins, who could use him behind the plate, first base and designated hitter as Mauer and Justin Morneau are rested more. Also, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are gone, opening up more at-bats at DH for Doumit. Sounds a lot like the situation Napoli walked into last spring in Texas.
Chris Iannetta of the Angels, No. 17
14 HRs, 55 RBI, .238 BA, .784 OPS
I place a lot of faith in the baseball IQ of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, despite his loss of faith in Napoli. He likes Iannetta, who will be surrounded this season with much better hitters in the lineup and should see better pitches to hit. One cautionary note: Iannetta’s numbers away from Coors Field last season were absolutely dreadful: .172 with 4 HRS and 16 RBI.
You may want to kick the tires on: Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Red Sox. Lucroy is the man in Milwaukee and should only get better; If Salty gets off to a slow start, he may feel the heat from top prospect Ryan Lavarnway, even if he is ticketed for Pawtucket to start the season.
This is the third of eight fantasy baseball reports concerning best market value for each position. Check back for the next edition: first basemen.