Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2011 Catcher Overview

Monday, January 31, 2011


With the magazine and the online draft guide in the can, it's time for me to get back to writing columns each Monday. I'll be doing position overviews from now through the middle of the spring, and I'm starting off with the underrated and overrated players behind the plate.

Catcher Overview

Underrated


Carlos Santana (Indians) - They're such similar talents that Santana would bring to mind Victor Martinez even if he come up in the Indians chain. The 24-year-old switch-hitter started his big-league career by hitting .345 with four homers and 15 RBI in 18 games last June. He struggled over the next month before suffering a season-ending knee injury on a play at the plate, but he was far from overmatched. Santana should be 100 percent this season, and he's likely to bat cleanup for the Indians. That could result in far more RBI opportunities if Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera can stay healthy in front of No. 3 hitter Shin-Soo Choo. He probably won't match the other elite catchers when it comes to batting average, but he can put up power numbers with any of them and he might also steal a handful of bases. He should be worth $20.

Jorge Posada (Yankees) - I've always been fond of catcher-eligible players set to start at other positions, and Posada will be used primarily as a designated hitter in his age-39 season. That should help him stay healthy and get his highest number of at-bats since he had 506 in 2007. And it's not just about staying in the lineup: by escaping all of the minor injuries that catchers normally play through, he could well be a more effective hitter. I expect him to bounce back to at least 20 homers and 70 RBI.

Chris Iannetta (Rockies) - There's still reason to be wary, but since the Rockies declined to commit dollars to bringing in a veteran backup, this should be Iannetta's year. The 27-year-old has struggled to hit for average the last two years, but he did deliver 25 homers and 79 RBI in 477 at-bats while sharing time with first Yorvit Torrealba and more recently Miguel Olivo. If he hits .240 and retains the power, he could well be a top-three catcher in NL-only leagues.

Overrated

Brian McCann (Braves) - I don't like listing him here, but there's just no way I'd draft McCann over Buster Posey or Santana in a mixed league at this point. Due in part to his eye problems, McCann has been striking out more and he's had his average drop from .301 in 2008 to .281 in 2009 and .269 last year. His power numbers remain steady, but he hasn't scored many runs even while hitting cleanup for the Braves and he might be dropped in the order this year following the Dan Uggla acquisition. He's my No. 5 catcher overall, and while he still ranks second in the NL, he's not worth nearly what Posey is.

Geovany Soto (Cubs) - Soto was a terrific player last year, hitting .280/.393/.497 in 105 games for the Cubs. Still, that resulted in a mere 47 runs scored and 53 RBI. In 2009, he scored 27 runs and drove in 47 in 102 games. Former manager Lou Piniella preferred hitting him seventh or eighth no matter how well he played, and Mike Quade didn't exactly rock the boat after taking over in the second half. Maybe Soto will bat sixth in between Carlos Pena and Alfonso Soriano, but that's the best-case scenario. I don't see him measuring up when it comes to runs and RBI, so he comes in 10th on my board.

John Jaso (Rays) - Jason doesn't figure to add much power as a sophomore, and since he's a weaker defender than Kelly Shoppach, he'll find himself in danger of losing playing time if he slumps. The Rays will probably make him their leadoff man or No. 2 hitter against righties initially, but I suggest staying away. AL-only leaguers would be smart to try Shoppach as their No. 2 catcher, as he could potentially contribute 12-15 homers.

Carlos Ruiz (Phillies) - Coming off his career year, Ruiz may well remain extremely valuable to the Phillies, but he's a poor bet for fantasy purposes. The 32-year-old has never received 380 at-bats in a season, hit 10 homers, scored 50 runs or driven in 60. Even after last year's .302 mark, he sports a .260 career average. He'll probably finish a lot closer to his 2009 line (.255-9-43 with 32 runs scored) this year and that just won't make him a top-15 catcher.

Sleepers

Russell Martin (Yankees) - Martin hasn't hit in 2 1/2 years, but the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays all wanted him anyway, suggesting that these teams see something fixable. He'll hit at the bottom of the Yankee lineup, but that still puts him in a good position to drive in and score runs. If the power comes back -- he hit 39 homers in his first 2 1/2 seasons -- he could reemerge as a top-five catcher.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox) - Having missed out on Martin, the Red Sox will give Salty a long look behind the plate. The switch-hitter has been a disappointment several years running, but he's in a great situation, particularly since he should be allowed to focus mainly on hitting right-handers. Saltalamacchia is a career .273/.343/.422 hitter in 512 at-bats against righties, compared to .206/.266/.326 against lefties. He could chip in 12 homers and 50-60 RBI.

Josh Thole (Mets) - Odds are that he'll open the season batting seventh or eighth, but Thole might be the Mets' best choice to bat second against right-handers. He came in at .299/.381/.402 in 174 at-bats versus righties last season. He's not going to top a half-dozen homers or 50 RBI and he will sit against lefties in favor of Ronny Paulino, but because of his ability to hit for average, I rank him eighth among NL catchers.

Other thoughts

Buster Posey almost joined Santana in the underrated category. He's the clear No. 2 catcher on my board, and he actually overtakes Joe Mauer for the top spot in 4x4 leagues. I imagine he'll start getting drafted higher as the spring goes on. … My early guess for Matt Wieters is .274/.350/.458 with 19 homers and 63 RBI. That makes him my No. 7 catcher. … It looks like the Blue Jays will go with J.P. Arencibia after all. He should be good for 15-18 homers, but he'll hurt a team's average in the process and I don't see him driving in a whole bunch of runs at the bottom of the lineup.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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