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Santana, Napoli lead fantasy catchers
Note: updated March 29
Did you miss it?
The 2012 Major League Baseball season started with a mid-week series between the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners in Japan.
I know. You had a lot to process in the past several weeks.
• You watched Peyton Manning choose a new team, Tim Tebow’s arrival in New York and continuing coverage of the bounty situation in New Orleans.
• You watched countless hours of NCAA Basketball.
• You stood in line to buy lottery tickets.
• You might have even begun work on your taxes.
While you attended to myriad sporting events and stories, Major League Baseball players quietly honed their craft in Arizona and Florida. With the exception of this week’s news about the change in ownership of the Dodgers (and a couple season-ending injuries to closers), it was a quiet spring training period.
Don’t worry. The hype machine about “Opening Day” will start in short order, perhaps following “One Shining Moment” after the final NCAA Tournament game on Monday.
In the interim, I know that a ton of fantasy leagues are scheduled to draft this weekend. To aid the process, I’m revisiting each position. I felt strange not finding a spot to wax nostalgic about the glory of Jorge Posada, but new heroes will emerge. It starts with a new No. 1 in Cleveland.
1. Carlos Santana, CLE
2011 Stats: .239, 27 HR, 79 RBI, 84 Runs, 5 SB
Analysis: Fantasy owners so loved the sneak preview that they received from Santana in 2010 that the hype machine kicked into full gear during spring training for the 2011 season. The 25-year-old backstop responded with a power-packed first full season, finishing second in home runs and fourth in RBI among catchers. Nearly half of Santana’s hits in 2011 went for extra bases, and he demonstrated an advanced batting eye by drawing 97 walks. He owned a .315 BABIP, and we can reasonably expect his strikeout total to dip as he fully acclimates to major league pitching (he struck out once per five at-bats in Triple-A). I expect superior numbers, but he’ll need better support to boost his batting average markedly.
2. Mike Napoli, TEX
2011 Stats: .320, 30 HR, 75 RBI, 72 Runs, 4 SB
Analysis: Despite sustaining a strained oblique that sidelined him for a good, long stretch of the early summer (he appeared in only 113 games), Napoli still posted new career marks in home runs, RBI, runs scored and batting average as a member of the Rangers. No longer mired in a platoon situation as he was for much of his tenure in Los Angeles, Napoli was free to mash in a loaded lineup and fantastic hitting backdrop. The .320 batting average he earned in 2011 was 69 points higher than his career mark entering the season. Once he cleared the oblique issue, Napoli went on a prolonged tear, producing a ridiculous .383 batting average after the All-Star Game. His strikeout rate dropped in tandem with an improved walk rate. I shan’t anticipate a repeat of that level of play in the batting average column, but Napoli should settle into the .270-.280 range with his standard power output (20 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons).
3. Brian McCann, ATL
2011 Stats: .270, 24 HR, 71 RBI, 51 Runs, 3 SB
Analysis: At the risk of sounding like a paid political ad, I’ll ask the simple question. “How many catchers do you trust on the board?” The longtime benchmarks at the position aren’t there. Jorge Posada is gone. Victor Martinez is injured. Brian McCann is the lone holdover of that class, and though his play has dipped of late, I comfortably keep him entrenched in the top 5 entering 2012. McCann has hit 18 or more home runs in six consecutive seasons, but his extra-base hit count has dipped in three consecutive seasons. His batting average has also settled in the .270-.280 range, a marked drop from his early successes (remember that breakthrough 2006 season). McCann played in 128 games in 2011, his lowest total since becoming the full-time catcher in Atlanta. Obviously, McCann’s output was impacted by the rough sophomore season experienced by Jason Heyward and the myriad injuries that affected the Atlanta lineup. He’s a steady power source with upside if the youngsters rebound (and his body and that of Chipper Jones hold out for one more year).
4. Buster Posey, SF
2011 Stats: .284, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 17 Runs, 3 SB
Analysis: Fantasy owners clamored to the front of the line to draft Posey in 2011 following his breakout 2010 season. He appeared in only 45 games before breaking his ankle and tearing ligaments in a collision at home plate in May. Posey’s recovery from this injury and his durability is still in question. There is some speculation that Posey will log at-bats at first base to reduce the strain on his ankle. Obviously, owners are hopeful for a return to the power output displayed by Posey in his 108-game introduction to San Francisco in 2010. Posey logged 43 extra-base hits, including 18 home runs, with 67 RBI in 406 at-bats. He batted .305 overall with a robust .353 BABIP. I’ll install him as a top-5 option now, but I’ll monitor him closely as spring training gets underway.
5. Joe Mauer, MIN
2011 Stats: .287, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 38 Runs
Analysis: Mauer missed half of the 2011 season with an injury termed “bilateral leg weakness” and pneumonia. Remember, he’d also undergone arthroscopic knee surgery prior to the 2011 campaign. Mauer has reportedly returned to his playing weight and has declared himself completely recovered with spring training looming. Mauer is expected to split time between catching, playing first base and serving as the team’s DH. Moving him in the lineup to account for night-day combinations should alleviate some of the wear on his body and allow him to stay in the lineup. Mauer won’t run anymore, nor will he approach that random power output of 2009 (28 home runs). Owners are buying in early (fifth catcher selected, on average) for the high batting average (.323 career), solid RBI total (he averaged 80 from 2006-2010) and runs scored.
6. Miguel Montero, ARI
2011 Stats: .282, 18 HR, 86 RBI, 65 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Montero produced a fantastic bounce-back campaign for the Diamondbacks in 2011. He entered 2010 with great anticipation after a strong 2009 campaign, but was sidelined because of a knee injury for over two months. In 2011, Montero established new career marks with 55 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 86 RBI and 65 runs. Montero batted .282, a line in mark with his 2009 breakthrough season. He posted a tremendous .351 BABIP for the rising Arizona offense.
7. Matt Wieters, BAL
2011 Stats: .262, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 72 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Wieters settled into his role as the poster boy for the Orioles in 2011, his second full season with the team. He produced strong power numbers for fantasy owners and slightly improved his batting average over his first full season (13 points). Wieters performed consistently throughout the campaign (his first and second-half splits were quite similar, though his HR rate did improve). He batted 31 points higher at home. Don’t discount the lineup. For all of the punchlines tossed at the Orioles, this team ranked 14th in runs scored last season.
8. Alex Avila, DET
2011 Stats: .295, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 63 Runs, 3 SB
Analysis: Avila emerged from seemingly nowhere to produce an All-Star campaign with huge power numbers for the Tigers in 2011. He logged 56 extra-base hits, including 19 home runs, with 82 RBI (third among catchers) and batted .295. Avila improved his BABIP by 111 points over his 2010 output (.411 against .300). I believe we can expect a moderate regression in his batting average, but more experience and the arrival of Prince Fielder should mitigate the decline.
9. Wilson Ramos, WAS
2011 Stats: .267, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 48 Runs
Analysis: Ramos may become a platoon player in the fantasy sense. His power numbers were similar at home and on the road, but he batted a full 97 points better (.319 to .222) in front of the home crowd. He averaged one extra-base hit per 10 at-bats and came on strong in the second half. Ramos produced a .288 batting average in 47 games after the All-Star Game, a stark contrast from his .251 mark 66 games before the break. The 24-year old Venezuelan catcher represents strong value as a back-end C1.
10. J.P. Arencibia, TOR
2011 Stats: .219, 23 HR, 78 RBI, 47 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Arencibia strikes out a ton (once every 3.3 at-bats). That we know. Arencibia also produces huge power numbers for the Blue Jays, slamming 23 home runs with 20 doubles and 78 RBI. He started the 2011 season well enough with 18 extra-base hits through May 31 with a .258 batting average. Arencibia then batted .199 from June 1 through the end of the season (.201 at home overall). Buy the power with a moderate up-tick in his batting average.
11. Yadier Molina, STL
2011 Stats: .305, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 55 Runs, 4 SB
Analysis: Molina had long been an A-list defensive catcher and solid C2 option who offered little more than batting average and RBI support. In 2011, Molina experienced an offensive breakthrough. He crushed his previous career-high mark in home runs with 14 and set new personal marks in four of five standard fantasy baseball categories. Molina has always been a strong contact hitter, but he took things to a new level last season. He demonstrated more gap power (32 doubles) and blew up after the All-Star break with a .337 batting average. * Molina is entering his walk year.
12. Jesus Montero, SEA
2011 Stats: .328, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 Runs
Analysis: Fantasy owners finally got their wish when Montero was finally recalled by the Yankees in September. He batted .328 in his 61 at-bats with 17 strikeouts. That equates to a robust .455 BABIP. OK, so that rate isn’t sustainable, and the trade that sent him to Seattle certainly lowers the ceiling on his power potential. He won’t have the same RBI opportunities in that lineup, and Safeco Field is where flyballs go to die. Still, I can’t look away from his history and imposing physical presence (6-foot-4 and 225 pounds at 22 years old). * In the short-term, he’ll cede playing time to veteran Miguel Olivo behind the plate and will receive most of his at-bats in the DH role. The biggest concern with Montero is whether he’ll be able to acclimate to life behind home plate or whether he’ll be shifted to another position.
13. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
2011 Stats: .265, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 45 Runs, 2 SB
Analysis: Lucroy’s strikeout rate is mildly concerning, but he generated solid production and found holes when he made contact. He produced 29 extra-base hits overall (12 home runs) with 59 RBI and a strong .344 batting average on balls in play. I anticipate growth from Lucroy in his second full season. Aramis Ramirez doesn’t replace Prince Fielder entirely, but he’s a strong addition to the middle of the lineup. Lucroy will adapt to hitting on the road and his production will steady in the second half (his batting average dropped 33 points after the All-Star break in 2011).
14. Russell Martin, NYY
2011 Stats: .237, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 57 Runs, 8 SB
Analysis: Martin rebounded nicely from a two-year slump that ended his tenure in Los Angeles. The Yankees gambled on his health and it paid off nicely. His home run total (18) was his highest since 2007, though his batting average dropped for the fifth straight season. Martin offers fantasy owners a solid, low-risk option in the loaded New York lineup. He’ll hit for power and score runs as part of that conga line while swiping a handful of bases, though the continually dipping batting average is concerning. With that said, catching prospect Jesus Montero was shipped off to Seattle and Jorge Posada retired. As a result, Martin will continue to log ample at-bats.
15. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS
2011 Stats: .235, 16 HR, 56 RBI, 52 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Make sure that strikeout-to-walk ratio is not part of your scoring system before you blurt out Salty’s name (3.6 strikeouts per walk during his five-year MLB career). If you’re going down the standard scoring road, then you’ll find few options that will out-produce him in the power categories. Saltalamacchia fulfilled some of the promise that we remember from his days in Texas with 42 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and 56 RBI in 103 games during the 2011 season. He also generated a strong .351 BABIP. The retirement of veteran Jason Varitek removes one possible competitor for at-bats.
16. Geovany Soto, CHC
2011 Stats: .228, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 46 Runs
Analysis: Soto’s breakout 2008 season seems like it occurred a lifetime ago. He batted a dismal .228 in 2011, his second sub-.230 season in the past three campaigns. Soto’s BABIP dropped 54 points from his 2010 effort, and an improvement in his contact rate produced no dividends. Soto matched his power output from 2010, though it took him 99 more at-bats to equal his home run (17) and RBI production (up one to 54). He’s performed well in his past two even-numbered years (.285 and .280 in 2008 and 2010, respectively). Owners will be happy with a .250 mark and the power numbers of the past two seasons.
17. Nick Hundley, SD
2011 Stats: .288, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 34 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Hundley’s free-swinging ways didn’t change in 2011, but he found more gaps in the defense and boosted his batting average by 39 points over his 2010 efforts. He drew just 22 walks in 303 plate appearances, so the potential is certainly there for a reversal of fortune in the batting average category. Still, Hundley produced a solid half-season for the Padres. He generated 30 extra-base hits (nine home runs) and scored 34 runs. Hundley batted .307 in cavernous Petco Park with 19 of his extra-base hits.
18. Chris Iannetta, LAA
2011 Stats: .238, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 51 Runs, 6 SB
Analysis: After six years of appearing as part of a platoon situation in Colorado, Iannetta relocates to Los Angeles as the lead man for the Angels ahead of prospect Hank Conger. Iannetta is a solid power, having hit 57 home runs as a part-time player in the past four years. However, like most Colorado products, owners must approach Iannetta with caution. Iannetta was a .301 hitter at Coors Field in 2011. He batted just .172 on the road and posted a .235 lifetime mark overall despite the advantageous home setting.
19. Carlos Ruiz, PHI
2011 Stats: .283, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 49 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Ruiz isn’t taking after his Philadelphia teammates by pumping up huge offensive totals. He’s a solid, albeit unspectacular, option as a C2 for fantasy owners. Ruiz has batted a composite .292 in the past two seasons with strong gap power (77 doubles in the past three seasons combined). He’s averaged 7.7 home runs and 45 RBI during this three-year period.
20. Kurt Suzuki, OAK
2011 Stats: .237, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 54 Runs, 2 SB
Analysis: Suzuki continued to post solid power numbers in 2011, rapping out 14 home runs to go along with 26 doubles. However, his RBI total dipped markedly (44, down from 71 in 2010 and 88 in 2009) and his batting average languished in sub-.250 territory for the second straight year. Suzuki batted just .225 before the All-Star break before rallying to hit .254 after the break.
21. Ryan Doumit, MIN
2011 Stats: .303, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 17 Runs
Analysis: Doumit was limited to 77 games in his final season with the Pirates, and he goes into 2012 without a clearly defined role in Minnesota. He’ll log some time behind the plate as the Twins transition Joe Mauer into a hybrid catcher-first baseman and may see time at first base and the outfield. He’s been a solid power contributor for fantasy owners since his ascent to the majors in 2005. Doumit owns a respectable .271 career batting average. Doumit represents a solid insurance card for owners that take the plunge on Mauer early.
22. John Buck, MIA
2011 Stats: .227, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 41 Runs
Analysis: Buck’s power numbers dipped following his arrival to Miami from Toronto, as you’d expect, but his batting average plummeted by 54 points. Given the strength of the new-look Miami offense, I would expect to see a moderate rebound in that category. But, let’s be real. Buck’s a career .241 batter, so his .281 mark in Toronto was out of character. You’re looking for a home run total in the upper teens with RBI opportunities if the newly-purchased free agents stay healthy and produce.
23. Ramon Hernandez, COL
2011 Stats: .282, 12 HR, 36 RBI, 28 Runs
Analysis: Hernandez joins the fifth team of his long MLB career for 2012. He’s long been a solid power producer, generating eight seasons with a double-digit home run total. He hit that mark (12) while appearing in 91 games for the Reds in 2011. Hernandez leaves the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark for the friendly confines of Coors Field. Though he’ll split time with Wilin Rosario, I expect him to offer solid power output for fantasy owners once again as a C2 option.
24. Devin Mesoraco, CIN
2011 Stats: .180, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: He’s one of the hottest hitting prospects at the position in recent memory. Mesoraco earned a look-see at the major league level last season after tearing up Triple-A Louisville. He batted .289 with 53 extra-base hits and 71 RBI in 120 minor league games to prompt a call-up by the Reds. The former first-round selection (2007) enters a strong lineup with an advantageous hitting backdrop.
25. Miguel Olivo, SEA
2011 Stats: .224, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 54 Runs, 6 SB
Analysis: Olivo appeared in a career-high 130 games last season for the Mariners last season and produced fantastic power numbers. He ripped 39 extra-base hits, including 19 home runs, and nearly matched his previous career-high power numbers (23 home runs and 65 RBI for the Royals in 2009). His batting average is a drain on your squad (.243 lifetime), but he’ll provide solid pop with a handful of stolen bases. The big question concerning Olivo is the development of Jesus Montero and whether he slides behind the plate more frequently. If that occurs, Olivo will see his at-bats dwindle.
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