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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
Nationals taking a cautious approach with Nate McLouth
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) Nationals manager Matt Williams said Thursday the team will take a cautious approach with outfielder Nate McLouth, who has started a throwing program coming off shoulder surgery in August.

"If we were to say at the end of this week that we're going to play a game and Nate was going to go two innings, we probably wouldn't do that at this point because he has got to go through that progression," Williams said, per MASNsports.com. "What that timeframe depends on is how he feels. You can look at the big picture and say well, you need X amount of rehab for this particular surgery. Everybody is different, of course. But we want to make sure that when he's ready to play, he's ready, because we don't want a setback.

"That being said, he's going through the progression of all of his throwing, he's hitting right now. He doesn't have an issue with that. It's going to get sore, we know it. So there's going to be days where he's going to have to just shut it down for that particular day. Which is frustrating because you want to play. We'll get through spring training with him and kind of monitor him on an everyday basis to see where he is at and act accordingly."


Red Sox's Betts focused on preparing for season, not OF competition
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Mookie Betts knows he will have to put his best foot forward this spring in order to land a starting spot in the Red Sox's outfield. Betts, however, is not trying to think as much about the competition and rather focus on what he needs to do to prepare for the 2015 season.

“I feel as if I’m just getting ready for the season,” Betts told WEEI.com. “Whether it’s in the big leagues, Triple-A, Double-A, wherever it is, I’m just getting ready for the season and not really focusing so much on making the big-league team, just really just getting ready."

If Betts doesn't win a starting job in the outfield, then he could be a bench option for Boston instead of heading back to the minors.

“Whatever [manager John] Farrell and [general manager Ben] Cherington, whatever they do is what’s going to be best for the Red Sox,” Betts said. “And if that’s me sitting and watching, that’s perfectly fine and I’ll just fill into my role.”


Red Sox's Mujica reveals neck injury played part in 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Red Sox reliever Edward Mujica got off to a rocky start in 2014, posting a 6.41 ERA through the first two months of the season. He eventually settled down, posting a 2.68 ERA and seven saves over the final four months.

On Friday, Mujica revealed a neck injury played a part in his early season struggles. Mujica was diagnosed with his C1 vertebrae being out of place when he signed with the Red Sox and added the issue didn't clear up until midway through the 2014 season.

“My neck was bothering me when I got here, I got treatment and in spring training I felt good because of the weather,” Mujica said, per WEEI.com. “But then I felt sore in the neck because of the cold weather. I was also adjusting to the American League, all the teams have pretty good hitters 1-9. I just kept working every single day, watching videos, got that [physical] adjustment and got going in the second half.

“The C1 was a little moved out of place, but they put it in the right place in spring training to get through the season. With treatment every single day it helped me a lot after the first two months.”


Cardinals' Adam Wainwright targeting 2-3 weeks for spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:12 am ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is targeting 2-3 weeks before he is able to pitch in a spring game, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright was diagnosed with an abdominal strain Thursday after heading back to St. Louis for further evaluation.

Wainwright will have 4-5 days of light activity before he can gradually increase his workouts. He will be re-evaluated Monday before the Cardinals decide if he can rejoin the starters’ throwing program.

“The good thing is it doesn’t hurt so I can continue to throw off the mound and face hitters,” Wainwright said. “I can throw live BP and just won’t field my position.”

With his current timetable and barring setback, Wainwright could make four starts during spring training. 

“Everybody was saying that you need to scale back your innings in spring training,” Wainwright said. “God just naturally found a way to make that happen without ticking me off. ‘OK, Adam, you don’t want to have time off? I’ll make you take time off.’”


Report: Bartolo Colon in the running to start opening day for Mets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) The Mets are strongly considering veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon for the opening day start April 6 at Washington, multiple sources told ESPN. The sources added the Mets have narrowed the choices to Colon and one other pitcher, who was not named.

If Colon, who went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA in 2014, gets the nod, then he would become the oldest pitcher (41 years, 317 days old) to start on opening day in the majors since Jamie Moyer (43 years, 136 days) and Randy Johnson (42 years, 205 days) in 2006. He also would become the oldest Mets' opening day starter, surpassing Tom Glavine in 2007 (41 years, 7 days). 

Colon has started six times on opening day. Dillon Gee started on opening day for the Mets last season.


Rays' Archer changes offseason program, already seeing benefits
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:45 am ET) Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer has spent the early days of spring training picking the brain of manager Kevin Cash about how Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber transformed into the 2014 AL Cy Young winner, according to The Tampa Tribune. Before taking the job with the Rays, Cash was the Indians bullpen coach (2013-14).

“Kluber has always had stuff, he just hasn’t had the success on that level,” Archer said. “And I’m trying to apply those things, because he saw it firsthand.”

Thus far, Cash has raved about Archer's bullpen sessions and said Archer appears to be game-ready. Archer believes the change in his offseason program is contributing to his promising start to spring training.

“In September, I had success but the body was tired, so I paced myself better in the offseason and I feel really good now,” Archer said. “I would just cycle it a little better to pace myself, because I’m thinking those (less intense) weeks in the offseason are going to help me feel better on the back end (of this season).

“I got to pump the brakes a little bit, because I don’t want to overdo it right now. Because what good is February and March? I’m trying to be good April through October.”


Ernesto Frieri hoping Rays pitching coach can revive career
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Rays reliever Ernesto Frieri said one of the reasons he signed with Tampa Bay was for the opportunity to work with pitching coach Jim Hickey, per The Tampa Tribune.

“That’s why I’m here,” Frieri said. “I’ve seen Hickey, he’s the man. He knows what he’s doing. He fixed a couple of guys before, and I hope I’m not the exception. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the right information and I’m going to take advantage.”

The 29-year-old Frieri had a good run as the Angels closer in 2012 and 2013 before the wheels came off in 2014. He lost the closer's job with Los Angeles and was eventually traded to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, he was only there a few months before more struggles led to his release.

Frieri said his 2014 struggles were because he developed bad habits. Instead of getting quicker to the plate, he was taller in his delivery, which robbed him of the deception, and caused his fastball to flatten out. The results were a 6.39 ERA with the Angels and a 10.13 ERA with the Pirates.

"(Fernando Rodney was) decent before he got here, but when he got here, wow, he got amazing,” Frieri said. “Hickey said something to him that really worked for him. Hopefully he says something to me that really works for me.”

Thus far, Frieri appears to be the ideal student.

“He seems to be extremely eager to hear what we have to say,” Hickey said. “You never know (how it will turn out), but at least it demonstrated his willingness to be open and try things.”


Report: Angels' Hamilton likely to receive suspension
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2:05 am ET) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will likely be suspended for at least 25 games, according to FoxSports.com.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball on Wednesday for a disciplinary hearing. CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman reported that Hamilton experienced a drug relapse a few months ago, and confessed that relapse to MLB. 

This is technically Hamilton's second violation as a major-leaguer. Hamilton was on the Rays 40-man roster during his first suspension, making him a major-league player. Typically, players who violate their drug treatment program for the first time are subject to a 15-25 game suspension. Given that this is Hamilton's second violation of his drug treatment program, it's unclear how severe the punishment will be.

With that said, commissioner Rob Manfred is reportedly trying to be lenient with any punishment. The league has a "favorable view of Hamilton's efforts to remain sober." Since his return to the majors, Hamilton has spoken honestly about his struggles with addition.

On top of that, Manfred is concerned about making the punishment too harsh. Hamilton's past relaspes have come when he's been away from the game. Manfred reportedly is not close to making a final decision on Hamilton's punishment at this time. 

Hamilton was already expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a shoulder surgery. It's unclear how much longer he'll be out due to a suspension.


Angels, Huston Street haven't talked extension yet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) The Angels and closer Huston Street have not talked about an extension yet, according to MLB.com.

Both sides are reportedly interested in a deal, but Street wanted to wait a week in order to settle in to camp. Once that happens, the two sides are expected to start negotiating a new deal. Street is entering the final year of his contract, and will make $7 million in 2015.

Street, 31, posted a 1.37 ERA over 59 1/3 innings last year.


Phillies' Ryan Howard working on his swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is working on his swing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Howard has spent time working with Charlie Manuel during camp. Manuel was brought in as spring training hitting instructor. Manager Ryan Sandberg has noticed the change in Howard's approach already. "As far as making some adjustments there, to really zone in to something that can really be productive for him and a little bit more consistent," Sandberg said. "I think there has been a little tweaking going on there."

Howard apparently has looked different at the plate. His stance has been described as "looser" and his hands are much lower when he starts his swing. 

The 35-year-old hit .223/.310/.380 over 569 at-bats last year. 


 
 
 
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