There is no easing into the position breakdowns this year; I'm starting right off with my most controversial spot. Never before have I ranked two catchers as highly as I have Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana this year, and it's not even close. I had Mauer ranked ninth in the 2010 Top 300 following his MVP season in 2009, but the No. 2 catcher that year was Victor Martinez at No. 43 and that's the only time since at least 2003 that I've had a catcher in the top 10. I might have had Mike Piazza there in my first Rotoworld rankings back in 2000 or 2001, but those appear to be lost to the ether.
So, placing Mauer and Santana 8th and 10th, respectively, was quite the unusual step. And it might have been overcompensating a bit. That is where I place them in two-catcher leagues, but a whole lot of fantasy leaguers still play in one-catcher leagues. It used to be that I'd compromise for the top 300 and rank catchers somewhere in between, essentially placing them as if there were 1 1/2-catcher leagues. But I've gotten away from that lately, and now that I have two catchers I'm very high on, it shows. So, I am downgrading the catchers a bit in the top 300.
Enough of that. In these position breakdowns, I'll be listing some underrated and overrated players, as well as some sleepers. I'll also try to sell you on the online draft guide, because we've been working on it for months and the revenue from it and the season pass is what allows us to keep the rest of Rotoworld free. The online guide is updated continuously through the start of the season and includes projections for about 1,500 players, writeups for about 1,000 and rankings for keeper leagues, mixed leagues and AL- and NL-only leagues, as well as a number of columns.
Joe Mauer - Twins - The big reason I'm so high on Mauer: I have Mauer's batting average producing the second highest score of any category among position players this year, trailing only Billy Hamilton's steals. That is a little dangerous, to bank so highly on batting average given the way it can fluctuate, but Mauer has hit .319 or better in five of the last six seasons. His lifetime average is .323. And now he's completely free from catching duties. I'm not even projecting that to lead to a spike in his performance, though it might. What I am projecting that to do is allow him to reach 550-600 at-bats for the first time in his career. Over the course of his career, Mauer has hit .323 with 14 HR, 90 R, 83 RBI and 6 SB per 575 AB. That's what I'm looking for. I do wish his teammates were a little better; I'm projecting him to fall a bit short of those totals in runs and RBI. But his average should be extremely valuable, and there's just one other catcher who should come anywhere near his run total.
Carlos Santana - Indians - That catcher is Santana, of course. Like Mauer, he's through as a primary catcher, but in his case, he should still catch enough to remain eligible at the position in 2015. I will need a spike from Santana to justify his lofty perch in the rankings, but that hardly seems unrealistic. He's upped his line drive rate and average the last two years. He's swinging and missing 20 percent less than when he entered the majors. Less catching means less wear and tear on his body, as well as less chance of a significant injury. Plus, he's now a cleanup hitter, having assumed that spot for the final month and a half of last year. Besides maybe Adrian Beltre in Texas, Santana could have as many RBI chances hitting behind Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis as anyone in the AL. Perhaps I'm wrong about the breakthrough, but he's certainly never had this much working in his favor before.
Wilson Ramos - Nationals - Last year, 28 percent of the flyballs that Ramos hit resulted in homers. If that sounds extreme, it is. It's more than 2 1/2 times as high as the league rate. Chris Davis, hitting in cozy Camden Yards, was the only major leaguer to do better. It surely was something of a fluke that Ramos fared so well, but it still attests to his strength. One big question here is health. He missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL, and he played in just 78 games due in part to a pair of hamstring injuries last season. He's also probably going to be hitting seventh for the Nationals, which will limit his run and RBI output. Still, he should be a fine mixed-league starter when he's in the lineup.
Miguel Montero - Diamondbacks - With no other left-handed power in the starting lineup, the Diamondbacks badly need Montero to return to the form that saw him hit in the 280s and finish in the high 80s in RBI in 2011-12. On merit, he'd probably be dropped to seventh or so in the order after coming in at .230/.318/.344 last season. However, the ideal for Arizona is that Montero claims the cleanup spot behind Paul Goldschmidt this spring. Otherwise, they'd be starting off their lineup with five straight righties. I'm far from convinced Montero will bounce all of the way back -- my projection calls for a .259-15-66 line -- but he's a guy with top-10 catcher upside who should last pretty late into drafts.
Yadier Molina - Cardinals - Molina went from 22 homers and 12 steals in 2012 to 12 homers and three steals last year, yet he remained a top fantasy catcher anyway thanks to the career-high .319 average, 68 runs scored and 80 RBI. A lot of the credit for the last two numbers goes to the fact that the Cardinals as a whole scored 144 more runs than the average of the rest of the NL teams. That's almost one run per game. The Cardinals should have the league's best offense again, but they can't possibly be that dominant two years in a row. Consequently, I doubt Molina will be worth the premium he'll command.
Jason Castro - Astros - Houston's brightest light last year, Castro broke through with a .276/.350/.485 line that made him one of the game's most valuable catchers. However, because he struck out so much -- 26.5% of the time -- it took a .351 BABIP to produce a .276 average, and that's probably not repeatable. After all, this is a guy who hit .234 despite better strikeout rates in his first 452 at-bats in the majors. The expectation here is that Castro reverts to hitting .250-.260 this year, and while he should have decent run and RBI numbers as the Astros' No. 3 hitter in the early going, he might drop to fifth or sixth in the order if some other players emerge.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Marlins - This isn't one of my more controversial choices. Salty's BABIP was a remarkable .372 last year, the seventh highest mark of the 204 players to get at least 400 plate appearances last season. He stands out like a sore thumb up there, too: everyone else in the top 10 hit at least .300 for the season, while Salty came in at .273. Plus, now he's going from hitter friendly Fenway Park to home run-depressing Marlins Park. Not only should his average plummet, but he'll also fare very poorly in runs and RBI if he ends up hitting sixth or seventh.
Yan Gomes - Indians - Gomes didn't only hit better than expected last year (.294/.345/.481 with 11 HR in 293 AB), but he was so strong defensively that it made it an easy call to shift Santana off catcher this year. I doubt we'll see anything close to a .294 average from Gomes this year -- I have him projected at .245 -- but the ample power should make him a solid starter in AL-only leagues and a fine No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues.
Devin Mesoraco - Reds - With a .225/.282/.359 line to date, Mesoraco has been a disappointment in two seasons sharing time with Ryan Hanigan, and I'm not convinced he's ever going to meet the high expectations from his days as a prospect. That said, he's probably worthy of a little more hype than he's getting now that he's penciled in as a starter for the first time. He strikes out at a rate under the league average, and he has managed 16 homers in 538 at-bats as a major leaguer. Also, if he can get off to a fast start, he could leap past Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick and find himself in a very cushy spot in the Reds lineup. My projection calls for a .250 average and 15 homers, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if he ended up at .270-20 instead.
Geovany Soto - Rangers - Soto's strong second half as A.J. Pierzynski's backup (.185/.279/.348 before the break, .324/.392/.620 afterwards) convinced the Rangers to bring him back as a cheap starter this year, even though he was pretty much worthless the previous year and a half. I wasn't a big fan of that decision, but Soto does have a couple of strong seasons in his past and he's not all that old at age 31. Considering that he hit nine homers in 163 at-bats last season, 20 seems well within his range for this year. He'll probably be a liability in average, but he'd work well as a complement to Mauer, Molina or Salvador Perez in a mixed league.
Travis d'Arnaud - Mets - In six full seasons as a pro, d'Arnaud has topped 80 games twice, making him a very difficult guy to count on as a No. 1 fantasy catcher. As a No. 2 in mixed leagues, he offers tantalizing upside. He's hit .328/.402/.588 with 18 homers in 381 career at-bats in Triple-A, which is exceptional even after accounting for the fact that 279 of those at-bats came for Las Vegas. He also came in at .306/.367/.539 with 22 homers in 451 at-bats in Double-A. He should be a solid all-around fantasy catcher for however long he stays healthy this season.