The Rotoworld draft guide is in the can, so that means it's time for some season preview columns. I'll be going position by position over the next several weeks, starting here with the catchers.
As for the online draft guide, that's set to go on sale next week. Along with my projections, rankings and cheat sheets -- all updated through Opening Day -- you'll get about 1,000 player profiles, customizable dollar values and a whole bunch of other features from the Rotoworld crew. It's the biggest bargain in baseball, next to Mike Trout.
Here are some words on this year's catcher pool.
Victor Martinez (Tigers): Ironic that the catcher who missed all of last season might be the best bet of anyone at the position to reach 500 at-bats this year. Of course, that's because Martinez will be a full-time DH, not a catcher. Martinez will open the year 15 months removed from knee surgery, and since he'll be limited to DH duties, there shouldn't be any issue with him playing every day. I'm not projecting to hit like he did his last two healthy seasons, but I have him as the AL's top fantasy catcher anyway. A .290-20-90 campaign is pretty realistic.
Carlos Santana (Indians): Santana hasn't hit for average in the majors like he did in the minors and thus hasn't emerged as the game's top fantasy catcher as many, me included, expected he would. Still, there are some good signs here. For one, Santana went from striking out in 20 percent of his plate appearances in 2011 to 17 percent last year. The major league average is 20 percent. The other is that Santana hit .281/.389/.498 with 13 homers after the All-Star break last year. Santana's stock is down a bit now, especially since the AL is unusually deep at catcher. He's still young enough to bust through and hit .280-.290, and he's a safe bet to post some of the best power numbers at the position.
Wilin Rosario (Rockies): My thinking for catcher in NL-only leagues this year is to go big or go home: since there isn't much available after Buster Posey, the second-tier guys figure to cost too much in auctions. Personally, I'd make a run at Posey and then go cheap if it doesn't work out. That said, Rosario looks like the best value of the second-tier guys. I don't expect him to improve from his .270 average and 28 homers as a rookie, but he shouldn't fall far in either category and he might be good for a few more RBI.
Yadier Molina (Cardinals): It'd be asking a lot for Molina to have his best offensive season for a third straight year in 2013. In reality, it's simply a matter of how much he'll decline. He could fade considerably and still be the NL's No. 2 catcher, which is what I see happening. I'm projecting hit at .293-16-72, which puts him a lot closer to Miguel Montero and Rosario than it does Posey. There are five American Leaguers I'd take over him in a mixed-league draft.
Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks): The Cody Ross signing actually made Montero a better bet for 2013: the Diamondbacks are going to want a left-handed hitter batting cleanup to start the season, and if Jason Kubel is traded, it'll be Montero. Otherwise, Montero is probably going to hit sixth, which would cost him 30 at-bats and a bunch of RBI opportunities (nevermind that Montero was actually far more productive hitting sixth last season). Anyway, more than just lineup speculation, I'm concerned about the big jump in Montero's strikeout rate last season (he went from 97 Ks in 2011 to 130). I suspect his average will tumble a bit.
A.J. Pierzynski (Rangers): No, it's not a stretch to write that the 35-year-old who tripled his homer total on his way to a shockingly successful season might be in for a decline at age 36. Everyone knows that's coming. The disappointing thing here is that Rangers manager Ron Washington has said Geovany Soto will serve as Yu Darvish's personal catcher. That means he won't be trying to maximize offense from his lefty-righty catcher platoon. Pierzynski isn't bad versus southpaws, but every time he starts against a lefty and sits versus a tasty righty opposite Darvish is a missed opportunity.
Alex Avila (Tigers): The Wilin Rosario of 2011, Avila hit .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers and 82 RBI as a 24-year-old. One disappointing campaign later, he appears to be an afterthought in early drafts. Avila, though, isn't going to lose anything to Martinez's return. In fact, he'll gain a bit by having a quality OBP batting fifth instead of Delmon Young's dreadful mark. I don't see Avila matching his 2011 campaign, but he should be able to split the difference and hit .260-.270 with 15 homers. He's the ideal No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues.
J.P. Arencibia (Blue Jays): I've always been an Arencibia skeptic and still am in a way. That said, the guy is a legitimate home run hitter, and he's in an improved Blue Jays lineup that should give him plenty of RBI chances from the eighth spot in the order. Also, for what it's worth, his contact rate isn't quite as bad as his still terrible strikeout rate suggests. His average could take another tick forward as he delivers 20-25 homers and 60-75 RBI.
Nick Hundley (Padres): The best-case scenario for the Padres and fantasy owners would see Hundley reemerge as a solid starter early this year and turn into viable trade bait as Yasmani Grandal returns from his PED suspension 50 games in. If that happens and Hundley finds his way to a friendlier ballpark, he could be a $6-$8 player all year long. Before his disastrous 2012 season, he hit .288/.347/.477 in 2011.
George Kottaras (Athletics): Others will plug Derek Norris, and he does have the greater upside of the two. Still, I think the A's might end up going with Kottaras most of the time against righties. It's arguable, but I think he's the better defender of the two (faint praise as that might be) and he is a fine hitter despite the low batting averages. He's at .226/.315/.436 with 21 homers in 468 career at-bats against righties. (Update: So much for that... Kottaras has been designated for assignment by the A's following the John Jaso acquisition. Perhaps he'll be a sleeper somewhere else.)
- I'm rather bullish on both Jesus Montero and Salvador Perez, but based on where they're going in early drafts, I wouldn't label either underrated at the moment. They're my Nos. 8 and 9 catchers, respectively. ... Tyler Flowers has some Arencibia in him, but he's a long shot to hit the .230 or .240 he'd need to in order to be much of an asset. ... I prefer Wilson Ramos to Kurt Suzuki in Washington, though Suzuki will get the majority of the playing time initially. ... I expect we'll see top prospect Travis d'Arnaud come up and take over as the Mets' starting catcher about 2 1/2-3 months into the season, but I don't see him making an immediate impact in one-catcher mixed leagues. I'd have him in the 20-25 range among catchers if he were likely to start on Opening Day.