These ain't your daddy's catcher rankings.
Those had Mike Piazza at the top, followed by a big, white space, followed by everybody else. Maybe they also had Ivan Rodriguez at the top. Or maybe they were actually your older brother's rankings and had Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann at the top.
But whatever was at the top was always small in number and behind it was always a big, white space. It meant that if you didn't pay for high-end production at the catcher position, you shouldn't expect much production at all.
No, these ain't your daddy's catcher rankings, full of hopelessness and woe. Instead of catering only to the big spenders, they offer a little something for everybody.
The transition began slowly, with the introduction of players like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters. Then, right about the time those three showed improvement, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy and Yasmani Grandal burst onto the scene. It's like after watching Mauer win the AL MVP in 2009, every team decided it had to have a catcher that could hit, Brad Ausmus be darned.
Hence, the position is deep. It's still low-scoring relative to other positions, which will always be the case since catchers are predestined to get fewer at-bats, but it's no longer marred by a sudden drop-off in talent. In fact, you could argue the first two tiers go 16 deep, which means, in leagues with only one catcher spot to fill, everyone walks away happy -- or at least not feeling like he has a black hole in his lineup.
Granted, it won't stay that way. Given the physical demands of the position, injuries and sudden regressions are common. Perhaps, then, waiting rather than reaching is the most logical approach to take at catcher, even if it means settling for the lesser of the top two tiers.
Top 10 catchers for 2013:
1. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
2. Joe Mauer, C/1B, Twins
3. Carlos Santana, C/1B, Indians
4. Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
5. Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks
6. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
7. Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
8. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies
9. Brian McCann, C, Braves
10. Salvador Perez, C, Royals
You may notice the top three catchers are also eligible at first base. It's no coincidence. Their teams have decided that playing them at a less-demanding position from time to time is as beneficial -- or close to as beneficial -- as giving them a day off, which is obviously good news for Fantasy owners. More at-bats means more Fantasy points, especially from players who contribute more points per at-bat to begin with.
Even with the boost of playing out of position, Santana might seem a bit out of place in these rankings when comparing his and Molina's stats side by side. But you can't underestimate the impact a mechanical flaw early in the season had on his final numbers. From July 18 on, Santana was a different player, averaging more Head-to-Head points per game during that stretch than Buster Posey did over the full season. He's elite, and he's still growing at age 26.
Montero had a similar situation, posting a .674 OPS through May 29 compared to an .893 OPS the rest of the way. Because the second version is more in line with what I'd expect from a player with his pedigree, it's the one I trust to continue. And it's more than I've seen from Wieters, who continues to underwhelm despite having the higher ceiling. Rosario belongs in the same discussion, offering power that's second to none at the position. Though those three can't compete with the Poseys and Mauers of the world, they'll be in high demand on Draft Day because of the assurances they offer at catcher.
After them is where the position gets interesting. Whatever quibbles you may have with the order of the top seven are nothing compared to what you're about to experience with these next nine, whose potential outcomes form such a tangled knot that I had to ask my Twitter followers to help me untie it.
Basically, I put together an impromptu focus group and fed it a bunch a side-by-side comparisons. Do you prefer this guy or this guy? What about this guy or this guy? What if you could have this guy instead? The responses were, as you might expect, less than unanimous.
Which more or less confirms my suspicion that all nine of these catchers are in the same boat, offering the potential for high-end production but without the same assurances of the top seven. Whether because of injury, age or lack of track record, they're not entirely trustworthy.
But they're still promising enough that I'd rather wait around for one of them, especially since they're so plentiful that some of them will last into the late rounds.
The only two I'd prioritize over the others are Ruiz and McCann because they've already performed at an elite level and have the clearest path to getting back there. Ruiz just needs to prove his 2012 wasn't a fluke. His peripherals say it wasn't, but at age 34, Father Time is against him. McCann just needs to prove his shoulder is healthy again after playing with a frayed labrum half the year. If he does, he might rank up there with Molina by spring training.
As far as I'm concerned, though, I'd be equally happy with any of the next seven, beginning with Perez and continuing with ...
Next 10 catchers for 2013:
11. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
12. Mike Napoli, C/1B, Rangers
13. Yasmani Grandal, C, Padres
14. Jesus Montero, C, Mariners
15. A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox
16. Ryan Doumit, C/OF, Twins
17. Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
18. Alex Avila, C, Tigers
19. John Jaso, C, Mariners
20. J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays
What makes Perez better than Lucroy? What makes Lucroy better than Grandal or Jesus Montero? My responses are based on hunches rather than deep-seeded convictions. Be forewarned.
Of the remaining catchers, Perez and Lucroy were the most productive on a per-game basis in 2012, which immediately bumps them to the top. Perez gets the edge because his production has been steady from the time he reached the big leagues. Lucroy has had more peaks and valleys, but because age 26 is a reasonable time for a breakout, I'm trusting that the 2012 version is more or less legit.
Napoli is older and, as we saw this year, certainly has the lower floor, but considering the numbers he put up two seasons ago were among the best for any catcher in recent memory, I wouldn't want to bury him in the rankings. If he ends up leaving Texas, I could see myself dropping him a couple spots, but as things stand now, I think he's worth the gamble over Grandal and Montero.
After all, it's not like those two are infallible. Well ... Grandal pretty much was in his 192 at-bats so far, living up to the hype that made him the 12th overall pick in 2010, but I've learned my lesson about buying into partial-season production from high-profile rookies. Yeah, Grandal could maintain it, or he could go the way of Brett Lawrie, Eric Hosmer, Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore and -- oh yes -- Jesus Montero. Maybe Montero bounces back Jason Heyward-style -- the Mariners' decision to move in the fences certainly helps -- but I wouldn't want to take the chance on another .685 OPS from my catcher if I can have a solid .800 instead. I'm happy letting Montero be the last of the high-upside types to go off the board.
Pierzynski and Doumit are part of the nine I mentioned earlier and are certainly passable starters in mixed leagues, but given their lack of upside at ages 35 and 31, they're in a slightly different category from the other seven. At first, it wasn't so obvious. Pierzynski's career-high 27 home runs made him the fourth-ranked catcher in Rotisserie leagues this year. But my little focus group on Twitter was adamant about not wanting him, and frankly, I don't either. I'm fine dismissing his 2012 as a fluke and letting him prove me wrong if he's the one who falls to me. By ranking him this low, he's basically a no-risk pick.
The remaining four -- Ramos, Avila, Jaso and Arencibia -- are all relative gambles, but even they offer the potential for big rewards. Avila was a high-end option entering 2012, and Ramos was considered one of the next in line. With improved health, both could still live up to expectations. Arencibia is the kind of all-or-nothing slugger worth starting for the home runs alone, and if you lump Russell Martin and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in with him, that's 22 catcher-eligible players with genuine mixed-league appeal. The days of starting Rod Barajas in a two-catcher league are over.
And if, by chance, Victor Martinez ends up being eligible at catcher in your league after missing all of 2012 with a torn ACL, the position is that much deeper. Since he'd be playing more or less every day as the Tigers DH, he'd rank as high as fifth at the position for me, right after Molina.
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