Fantasy Fox: Top 25 catchers for 2014 season

The following countdown details my top 25 catchers heading into the 2014 fantasy season, with an emphasis on 5×5 roto leagues.

In 10 years of playing fantasy baseball, spanning 70-plus leagues, I have never sprung for a catcher in the early rounds. After all, what’s the point of surrendering a high pick on a temperamental talent, at a demanding position, when most mixed leagues call for only one starting catcher?

Of course, that rationale may require a tweak or two, since three of the top five could have dual-position eligibility (C/1B) by mid-April:

1 — Buster Posey, Giants

What To Love

1. The memories of Posey’s 2012 MVP campaign (24 HR, 103 RBI, 78 runs, .336 BA, .408 slugging, .957 OPS) are still fresh with fantasy owners.

2. From a splits perspective, Posey had an on-base percentage of .353 or higher for five months last year — with July as the lone exception (.319).

3. Even with last year’s so-so numbers, Posey still carried the Giants through the month of June — five homers, 17 RBI, 11 runs, .374 batting and a 1.062 OPS.

4. Posey sliced his strikeout tally from 96 in 2012 to 70 last season (148-game sample size for both years).

5. The Giants star has dual-eligibility for the full season (first base/catcher).

What To Loathe

1. Let’s take the negative of Posey logging 148 games for each of the last two seasons: His 2013 numbers with runs (61), hits (153), homers (15), RBI (72), batting average (.294), OBP (.371) and OPS (.821) took a precipitious drop from the previous year.

2 — Yadier Molina, Cardinals

What To Love

1. Last year (age-30 campaign), Molina posted career highs with batting average (.319), runs (68), hits (161), doubles (44), RBI (80) and OPS (.836).

2. The ultra-reliable Molina has logged at least 130 games in each of the last four years.

3. In 2013, splits-wise, Molina enjoyed three months of 30-plus hits, four months of double-digit RBI, five months of seven-plus doubles and five months of double-digit RBI.

What To Loathe

1. The Cards catcher netted his lowest number of steals for the decade last year (three) — down nine from his 2012 tally.

2. Firmly into his 30s, it’s only natural to expect a dip with Molina’s offensive production. That said, he has a minimum OBP of .349 over the last three seasons.

3 — Joe Mauer, Twins

What To Love

1. Sometime in mid-April, fantasy owners will enjoy Mauer’s standing as a dual-eligiblity threat. He’s now the Twins’ permanent option at first base.

2. Of his last six MLB seasons (2008-13), Mauer has incredibly tallied an on-base percentage north of .400 five times.

His lone, uh, down year: The .360 OBP for 2011.

3. With Mauer no longer catching (fresh legs), he’s a healthy lock for 13 homers, 75 RBI, 75 runs, five steals, .325 batting and an OPS in the .900 vicinity.

What To Loathe

1. There aren’t many tangible worries here, minus injury concerns. Even during Mauer’s homerless rut last July, he still rolled for a .360 batting average and .430 OBP.

4 — Wilin Rosario, Rockies

What To Love

1. Rosario has averaged 25 homers, 75 RBI and 65 RBI over the last two seasons.

2. In 2013, Rosario produced career highs with hits (131), doubles (22), batting average (.292) and on-base percentage (.315).

3. From a splits standpoint last year, Rosario enjoyed three months of four-plus homers, four months of double-digit runs and four months of double-digit RBI.

4. Heading into his age-25 campaign, Rosario has a healthy capacity for 30 homers and/or .300 batting over the next few seasons. It also helps that he plays 81 games in the thin Colorado air every year (Coors Field).

What To Loathe

1. Unless Rosario gets traded to the Padres and cavernous Petco Park, there aren’t many gripes here.

5 — Carlos Santana, Indians

What To Love

1. The eminently consistent Santana has the following averages over the last three seasons — 22 homers, 37 doubles, 76 RBI and 77 runs.

2. From a splits perspective last year, Santana notched two months of five-plus homers, four months of seven-plus doubles, five months of double-digit runs and five months of double-digit RBI. Of equal importance, the Indians slugger only had one month of 20 or more strikeouts in 2013.

3. Santana, who netted a career-best 39 doubles last year, has dual-eligibility for the season (C/1B), boosting his draft-day value.

4. With leagues that count on-base percentage as an official category, Santana (five months of .350-plus OBP) is redoubtably a top-five consideration with catchers.

What To Loathe

1. You’re not drafting Santana for batting-average help. Anything above .255 would be a quiet victory.

6 — Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

What To Love

1. From a splits perspective last year, Lucroy notched two months of 30-plus hits, two months of a .380-plus OBP, three months of double-digit runs and five months of double-digit RBI.

2. Lucroy racked up a career-high nine steals last season.

3. Heading into his age-28 campaign (June birthday), Lucroy has a reasonable upside for 24 homers, 90 RBI and a .310 batting average. Plus, in that free-swinger-friendly lineup, the Brewers backstop is a good bet for 60 runs this year (assuming 145 games).

What To Loathe

1. We’re taking a risk here with Lucroy, who has averaged just 15 homers and 21 doubles over the last two MLB seasons (122-game average).

7 — Evan Gattis, Braves

What To Love

1. The Braves led the National League in home runs last year. But the rookie Gattis was the only Atlanta hitter to register six or more homers in three different months.

2. It would be a mild surprise if the 27-year-old Gattis (21 homers, 65 RBI in just 105 games last year) doesn’t rack up 25 homers over a 135-game season.

3. You can bet the proverbial farm on Gattis eclipsing last year’s on-base percentage of .291. Citing three full seasons in the minors (2010-12), his cumulative OBP was a robust .374.

What To Loathe

1. Gattis’s .243 batting average from last year is a legitimate worry, moving forward. Splits-wise, he incurred two months of under-.140 batting as a rookie. Ugh.

2. The Braves have plenty of depth at catcher, with Ryan Doumit, Gerald Laird and hotshot prospect Christian Bethancourt. So, it’s imperative for Gattis to solidify his place in the lineup early in the season.

8 — Jason Castro, Astros

What To Love

1. Castro made excellent progress in his first full year in the majors, rolling for 18 homers, 56 RBI, 63 runs and a .350 OBP in just 120 games.

2. The Astros backstop had a monster August last year — five homers, 14 RBI, 17 runs, .337 batting, .449 OBP and 1.061 OPS. From a splits perspective, Castro also tallied three months of double-digit runs and four months of double-digit RBI.

3. Castro should be a good bet for 70-plus runs in the revamped Houston lineup, which now includes outfielder Dexter Fowler.

What To Loathe

1. Above praise aside, we’re still talking about the Astros, a downtrodden club that has averaged 108 losses over the last three seasons.

To put that into context, in the franchise’s first three years of existence (1962-64, then known as the Houston Colt .45s), the team never dipped below 96 defeats.

9 — Salvador Perez, Royals

What To Love

1. For his age-24 campaign, Perez (253 MLB games from 2011-13) could experience a noticeable uptick from last year’s tallies with homers (13), runs (48), on-base percentage (.323) and OPS (.757).

2. Perez can be a major difference-maker with RBI, batting average and OPS — for leagues which count that category. For August and September last year, he combined for nine homers, 37 RBI, 18 runs, a .318 batting average and OPS in the neighborhood of .350.

3. From a splits standpoint, Perez enjoyed two months of double-digit runs, two months of 25-plus hits and four months of double-digit RBI.

What To Loathe

1. From a power perspective, it’s important to note Perez suffered through three months of zero or one homer last year (April, May, July).

10 — Brian McCann, Yankees

What To Love

1. Of his last eight seasons (2006-13 with the Braves), McCann belted 20 or more homers seven times. The lone dry spell occurred in 2007, when McCann still accounted for 18 dingers and 92 RBI.

2. McCann put it all together last July, rolling for six homers, 17 RBI, 14 runs, a .337 batting average and .385 OBP. It was his first dominant month, after rehabbing from shoulder surgery the previous offseason.

3. That short porch at new Yankee Stadium (314 feet down the right-field line) has McCann’s name written all over it. For home games alone, McCann should collect 14 homers in 2014.

What To Loathe

1. The days of McCann (turned 30 in February) tallying 55 runs and 80 RBI are likely gone. In standard-scoring leagues (runs, batting average, homers, RBI, steals), the Yankees catcher is only a one- or two-category threat for a full season.

The Next Wave

11. Matt Wieters, Orioles
12. Yan Gomes, Indians
13. Wilson Ramos, Nationals
14. A.J. Pierzynski, Red Sox
15. Travis d’Arnaud, Mets
16. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
17. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marlins
18. Russell Martin, Pirates
19. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
20. Josmil Pinto, Twins
21. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
22. Alex Avila, Tigers
23. Wellington Castillo, Cubs
24. Mike Zunino, Mariners
25. Derek Norris, Athletics