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2014 Draft Prep: Catcher profiles

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Al's profiles: Cs | 1Bs | 2Bs | SSs | 3Bs | OFs | Ps

The art and science of making projections isn't so hard sometimes. We can feel confident in knowing Joe Mauer will hit well over .300, Clayton Kershaw will get between 230 and 250 strikeouts and Brandon Phillips will hit 18 home runs for the fifth year in a row. (Actually, I have Phillips projected to hit only 16 this year.) Most players aren't quite that consistent, though, which makes projecting a far more interesting, and occasionally, far more aggravating task.

Over the coming weeks, I'll be using this space to explain the rationale behind some of those more gut-wrenching projections. Each column will focus on a different position, and I'll dig into the projections for six players who are hard to pin down, have had surprising trends (either good or bad) or are simply the targets of many of your Twitter and e-mail questions.

We'll start with catchers, laying out their projected slash line, 5x5 stat line and overall value. For Rotisserie value, I'm using their projected Standings Gain Points, a measure introduced decades ago by Alex Patton. It estimates how many cumulative places in the standings across the five hitting or pitching categories the player will lift your team, based on his projected stats in those categories. For Head-to-Head value, I am citing the projected number of Fantasy points the player will earn this season, based on a standard scoring system.

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And now on to our half-dozen catchers, who have helped to change the way I am viewing the position in advance of Draft Day. Rising elites like Jonathan Lucroy have me thinking that my early-round catching options aren't just limited to the big three of Mauer, Buster Posey and Carlos Santana. Evan Gattis and Yan Gomes are not quite in the same class, but they're emerging talents who have strengthened the corps of No. 1 catchers, making it plausible to wait on filling that slot -- not because the position is weak -- but because there are now several more enticing options to fall back on.

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

2014 projections: .291/.344/.476, 20 HR, 79 RBI, 65 Runs, 6 SB in 525 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 11.6 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 3rd among catchers; 412 Fantasy Points, 4th among catchers

Going into last season, a discussion of elite catchers was essentially a discussion of the aforementioned Big Three. Though Lucroy didn't put up astounding numbers in 2013, he has nonetheless earned admission into the catching elite. His 18 home runs didn't draw much attention, but for the second straight season, he showed above-average power for a catcher. He also posted his second straight season of striking out in fewer than 14 percent of his at-bats. Lucroy was likely cheated on last year's .280 batting average, as he hit just .196 on grounders after exceeding .250 in his three previous campaigns. My projection of a .291 average may even be a little conservative. Even if he falls a little short of his projected 20 home runs, Lucroy could make up for it with a .300- plus average.

Evan Gattis, Braves

2014 projections: .253/.296/.486, 27 HR, 89 RBI, 68 Runs, 0 SB in 490 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 11.1 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 6th among catchers; 371 Fantasy Points, 6th among catchers

Because Gattis has just 105 major league games and a limited minor league track record under his belt, he's not the easiest player to project. At least he has consistent power production in his favor, so it doesn't feel like a stretch to project him for six more homers than he hit last year, especially since he's the Braves' No. 1 catcher now and he can also play first base and outfield. If he can improve his batting average and on-base percentage, and in turn, score more runs, he goes from being a second-tier catcher to the top echelon. In order to accomplish that, Gattis needs to reduce his strikeout and popup rates, and his minors stats suggest that he has at least a chance to do it. Until he actually demonstrates a greater ability to hit for average, I'm projecting Gattis for only a mild improvement from last year's .243 average and targeting him as a second-tier catcher.

Yan Gomes, Indians

2014 projections: .257/.296/.430, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 63 Runs, 1 SB in 460 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 8.3 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 11th among catchers; 291 Fantasy Points, 12th among catchers

Gomes snuck into a regular role last season by riding a second-half hot streak to a .294 batting average. Having played in only 88 games, Gomes' 11 home runs, 38 RBI and 45 runs represent some impressive power and run production, and he will have a chance to build on that by opening this season as the Indians' primary catcher. Gomes' power was no fluke. Though he did play parts of his minor league career in hitter-friendly venues (most notably Las Vegas' Cashman Field), he was also capable of hitting home runs while playing in tougher venues like New Hampshire. Gomes should have little problem hitting 15 to 20 home runs, but don't look for him to come close to last season's batting average. He is a subpar contact hitter, and as someone who doesn't hit many line drives and lacks speed, he probably won't make up for strikeouts with a high rate of hits on balls in play like he did last year (.349 BABIP). This is why there is a good chance he won't hit .260 or exceed 65 RBI or runs.

Jason Castro, Astros

2014 projections: .254/.335/.427, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 61 Runs, 1 SB in 445 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 7.4 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 14th among catchers; 296 Fantasy Points, 11th among catchers

Castro is a line drive hitter who had shown some decent contact skills in the minors, so it didn't come as a complete surprise that he broke the .270 and 30-doubles barriers last season. His 18 home runs in 120 games, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. The only time Castro had shown more than a modicum of home run clout was in the California League, and his home park in Lancaster is especially power-crazy. Because Castro outstripped even his Cal League homer pace in 2013, I was suspicious of a repeat. And when I get suspicious of home run power, one of my first moves is to go to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, and the site confirmed my suspicions. Half of his homers were in the "just enough" distance category, whereas a typical hitter might hit only about a third of his homers for short distance. I expect Castro to lose some doubles power, too. Though he's good at hitting liners, he's not likely to repeat a 29 percent line drive rate that was the eighth-highest in the majors last season (min. 400 at-bats). The loss of homers and doubles should help to knock Castro's projected batting average into the .250s, especially since he's not been the contact hitter he was as a prospect. Projected for 30 doubles and 15 home runs, Castro now appears to be a borderline No. 1 catcher at best.

Travis d'Arnaud, Mets

2014 projections: .264/.319/.443, 16 HR, 53 RBI, 48 Runs, 2 SB in 420 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 7.4 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 15th among catchers; 273 Fantasy Points, 14th among catchers

Last season was not what d'Arnaud's owners were hoping for, as he missed more than three months with a broken foot and then failed to produce during his first exposure to major league pitching. Maybe the best thing to do is give d'Arnaud a do-over on his injury-tarnished season, but deep within his .202/.286/.263 slash line with the Mets, there were some good signs. In 112 plate appearances, he struck out 21 times -- not a horrible rate -- and walked 12 times. His 33 percent flyball rate was only a little lower than his minors rates, though you'd like to see him show more power when he does loft the ball. Given that he didn't become a slap hitter even when returning from his foot injury, his good power numbers in the upper minors and a home park (Citi Field) that has become one of the better home run parks in the National League, a projection of 16 home runs could be conservative. Don't look for d'Arnaud to repeat the high BABIP-driven batting averages of his recent minor league career, but with better line drive and flyball power, he should muster an average in the .260s.

Dioner Navarro, Blue Jays

2014 projections: .262/.326/.403, 13 HR, 57 RBI, 49 Runs, 0 SB in 370 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 6.9 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 16th among catchers; 260 Fantasy Points, 21st among catchers

Navarro not only resurrected his career as a backup for the Cubs last season, but with 13 home runs, he registered his first double-digit homer season. Now for the first time since 2009, Navarro is being entrusted as a primary starting catcher, as the Blue Jays signed him to take over for J.P. Arencibia. Having played the bulk of his career with the Dodgers and Rays, Navarro never had much of an opportunity to take advantage of a good hitter's park, and his .336/.414/.595 slash line at Wrigley Field showed that he enjoyed the Friendly Confines. Rogers Centre, Navarro's new home venue, has been even more amenable to extra-base hits. Not to give too much weight to Navarro's 2013 breakout, I have projected him for another 13-homer season, but with 130 more at-bats. Still, that gives Navarro a .141 Isolated Power, which would be his second-highest mark for a season with at least 100 at-bats. He's also due for a correction in batting average, as his .261 mark on ground balls last season doesn't square up with a career .193 batting average on grounders. A lack of doubles power makes Navarro irrelevant in standard mixed Head-to-Head leagues, but a combination of decent batting average (buoyed by a low strikeout rate), power and run production allow him to be a solid No. 2 catcher in Rotisserie.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney likely to be sent to Triple-A
(7:02 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia has indicated that pitcher Andrew Heaney will begin the season in Triple-A, according to MLB.com.

The team's top pitching prospect, Heaney has allowed 13 earned runs in 14.0 innings (8.36 ERA) in four starts this spring.

The Angels are expected to open the season with a four-man rotation that will included Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago.

Starter Garrett Richards is recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Reds pitcher Jason Marquis continues to make case for pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Reds pitcher Jason Marquis gave up three earned runs on seven hits in six innings of work Sunday. Marquis, who also added three strikeouts, now has a 3-1 record with a 3.46 ERA in six starts.

"He's really taken advantage of his opportunity," manager Bryan Price said. "I'm pleased with the way he's thrown the ball. When he’s been down in the zone with that sinker and slider and split combination, he's been pretty effective. He had another pretty good start today."

Marquis used 96 pitches to get through his outing.

"After the last outing, I felt pretty good with going deep into games," Marquis said. "I responded really well after the last start. Today coming in, I didn't know what my pitch limit was but I felt good enough to treat it like a regular season game. I was glad I was able to get that far."


Orioles reassign three players to minor league camp Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:45 pm ET) The Orioles made another wave of cuts Sunday, reassigning outfielder Dariel Alvarez, utility man Chris Parmelee and pitcher Chaz Roe to minor league camp, reports MASN.com.

Alvarez hit .343 in 35 spring training at-bats with two home runs and seven RBI. Parmelee hit .241 in 29 plate appearances with one double and two RBI. Roe posted a 5.91 ERA in seven appearances in 10 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts.


Angels 'most likely' to start year with four starting pitchers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks he will start the season with a short staff, reports MLB.com. The team will "most likely" start the year with four starters in the rotation and 12 pitchers overall, Scioscia said Sunday.

The expected starters would be Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago with Garrett Richards still recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Blue Jays LHP Mark Buehrle said he'll make first start April 10
(6:35 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said he will make his first start of the season April 10 in Baltimore, reports MLB.com.

The Blue Jays have not yet officially announced their rotation but it is expected they'll go in the order of: Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez.

"Doesn't matter to me," Buehrle said when asked if he had a preference. "I'm going to get 33 starts in by the end of the year, so it doesn't matter."

The left hander has started three games this spring, posing a 2.45 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.

Rangers' Jake Smolinski could be unexpected Opening Day left fielder
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:21 pm ET) Prior to spring training Jake Smolinski was not on anybody's radar, but a strong camp has put the outfielder in strong contention to be the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder, according to MLB.com.

Smolinski is hitting .333 this spring, with a home run, four doubles and a triple in 39 at-bats.

"I had some setbacks early in my career, some serious injuries," Smolinski said. "I battled back, struggled in the minors but just stuck with it and continued to get better."

Smolinski did get a Double-A call up last season, hitting .389 in 11 games, but broke a bone fouling a pitch off his left foot and missed two months.


Mets' Matt Reynolds could start at second if Daniel Murphy isn't ready
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:20 pm ET) Mets middle infielder Matt Reynolds may get the nod at second base if regular starter Daniel Murphy is not healthy enough to play on Opening Day, reports MLB.com.

Reynolds, who spent most of last season in Triple-A, is hitting .381 in 42 spring training at-bats, making the decision tough for manager Terry Collins.

"He's a baseball player -- everybody keeps saying that about him, but that's what he is," Collins said. "He handles the bat, he runs the bases, he does a lot of little things right. But Danny Muno's a dangerous bat -- I'll tell you what, he can get a hit. And the other kid, Ruben, he's played there. He's played there under the bright lights and been very successful. So we've got a lot of options."

Murphy is still recovering from a hamstring injury and is uncertain for Opening Day.


Braves third baseman Chris Johnson making adjustments at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) Braves third baseman Chris Johnson needed to make some slight adjustments to his swing at the plate to get things on the right track, reports MLB.com. Johnson, who struggled early in camp with a 4 for 30 stretch, has now hit two home runs in the last four days.

"It was not easy during the first couple weeks of games," said Johnson. "I struggled, and it was hard for me mentally. I'm a results-oriented kind of guy. So, it was tough for me. Being able to stick with it and then see results is a lot of fun."

After he realized he needed to lower his hands at the plate, Johnson improved his reaction time and is able to pull the ball better.

"Pulling the ball is good for me because the book on me is to pitch me [inside] and not allow me to go to right field," Johnson said. "The new approach and [placement of my hands] is allowing me to get [opposing pitchers] out of there. Then when they go [outside], I'll be able to do what I want to do."


Astros pitcher Scott Feldman struggles with command Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:00 pm ET) Astros pitcher Scott Feldman surrendered three runs on seven hits with two walks in 4 1/3 innings pitched against the Yankees Sunday. Feldman needed 83 pitches to get through the outing and most concerned with his pitch location, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I want to get my command better before the season starts," Feldman said. "It's just a progression, trying to just set the foundation here and take it into the season."

Feldman was taken to deep right field in the third for his first run by Chase Headley.

"Headley is a good hitter," said Feldman, who will start the second game of the season. "I kind of just got it into the happy zone for him, and he put a good swing on it."


Dodgers' Dustin McGowan pitches back-to-back days
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Dustin McGowan threw 19 pitches in a minor-league game Sunday, and it was the first time this spring he has pitched on back-to-back days, MLB.com reports.

"Haven't felt this good since I was completely healthy -- a long time ago," McGowan said Sunday. "Knock on wood."

McGowan has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career while also undergoing Tommy John surgery once. He's given up six runs in eight innings while competing for a bullpen role.

"I don't think he's comfortable yet," Mattingly said. "We've seen some good sliders, offspeed [pitches], but I don't think he feels as consistent, throwing the ball where he wants. It's spring training and a new organization factors with him. That makes the situation tougher to figure out."

McGowan will receive a $1 million bonus if he spends one day on the active roster this year, due to the terms of his contract. He is out of minor-league options and must clear waivers before being sent down.


 
 
 
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