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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
Padres P Tyson Ross feeling good, ready for start of season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:46 pm ET) Padres pitcher Tyson Ross is feeling ready to get the season under way, according to the Press-Enterprise.

“Physically I felt good,” he said. “It’s been a good spring so far, another step in the right direction … I had a good feel for my sinker today and I was able to get some strikeouts with that, running it back away from right-handed hitters and not just using my slider.”

Ross is working on his changeup and he wants to use it more often.

“It’s kind of hard when the other pitches are working well, but it’s going to be a pitch I need to use the third time through the lineup, to get a little separation (in speed) off the fastball and slider,” he said. “I mixed in a couple today and I’m going to keep working it in.”

Manager Bud Black said that could be what he needs to get to the next level.

“It’s tough, because if you take a regular season game and he’s fighting like heck to keep the other team from scoring, you never want to get beat on your third or fourth pitch,” Black said. “The other two are so devastating, it’s tough not to go in that direction.”

Ross, 27, has a career ERA of 3.70 with 416 stirkeouts and 186 walks in five years of play.


Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta does it all in start Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta tossed five strike outs over four scoreless innings of work Saturday. Arrieta also added a three-run home run and an RBI double to help his own cause, something he simply called a good work day, reports MLB.com.

"i like it," Arrieta said. "I think it allows us to put a little speed behind me. I feel I can handle the bat well. Depending on the situation, I feel I can put a bunt down efficiently."

Arrieta feels comfortable with the bat in his hand, partially why manager Joe Maddon is considering batting the pitcher eighth in the order.

"It is the pitcher, and it seems like a break in the lineup, but we feel we can do some damage there and help us out," Arrieta said.


Astros pitcher Roberto Hernandez making final staff decision difficult
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:39 pm ET) Astros pitcher Roberto Hernandez is still in the fight for the final spot on the pitching staff. He continued to prove why he belongs Saturday, allowing one run on three hits in five innings of work against the Marlins.

Manager A.J. Hinch continues to like what he's seen from the veteran, who is battling with Asher Wojciechowski, reports MLB.com.

"He had a nice game by getting through some very difficult jams and also getting a lot of ground balls," Hinch said. "I don't know what his total was, but it felt like they were pounding the ball into the ground, which is vintage Roberto Hernandez. There's a reason he's lasted this long in the league and you know what you're going to get and he found a way today."

Hernandez threw 71 pitches Saturday with 43 going for strikes.

"I don't think about that," Hernandez said when asked about his chances of making the team. "I want to continue my work and I never think about, 'Is it my last start?' I'm happy."


Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva expecting to make team
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva wants to make sure he is on the major league roster this season, reports MLB.com.

After St. Louis announced the trade of Sam Freeman earlier Saturday, it opened things up for another arm to make the team. Villanueva also has an opt-out clause in his contract to be released if he is not on the roster for Opening Day.

"My preference is to stay here with this group," Villanueva said. "After that first game out there, I felt that I've thrown the ball very well. I have no regrets about how I've pitched. It's not like they haven't seen it before. I think what they needed to see from me is what they've seen in previous years. It's a decision that's out of my hands after that."

Manager Mike Matheny still doesn't know what he plans to do.

"It's coming down to the wire," Matheny said. "We probably have more questions than most clubs do late because we've given ourselves flexibility to not have it done halfway through. We're taking our time to watch these guys compete and also allowing for the potential if something doesn't go right."


Indians Closer Cody Allen changes regimen to be ready this year
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:15 pm ET) Indians closer Cody Allen has changed his throwing routine in order be ready to go for opening day, reports MLB.com.

The team has mixed in Minor League appearances with his Cactus League play.

"I think what happened the last two springs, I was ready too far ahead in the spring," Allen said on Saturday. "So, when they'd try to pull me back a little bit, I'd lose my rhythm a little bit and then try to get it again before the season started. This year, I've been able to build up to being in that perfect spot right at Opening Day."

Allen has posted an ERA of 1.50 with two walks in six innings of work this spring. Last season he finished with an ERA of 2.07 with 24 saves, throwing 91 strikeouts and 26 walks in 69 2/3 innings pitched.


Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia not concerned with runs allowed
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia isn't worried about how spring training has gone so far. The former Cy Young award winner doesn't care that his numbers, an 11.57 ERA in 4 2/3 innings, look so bad, reports the New York Daily News.

"I don't give a (expletive) what stock (people) put in it," Sabathia said. "It is what it is. I've had spring trainings where I've given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I've had spring trainings like last year where I didn't give up no runs and I gave up five in the first game. Y'all can put stock in whatever you want. I'm not really worried about it."

Manager Joe Girardi expressed a similar mindset.

"The bottom line is that he's right Opening Day," Girardi said. "You try to evaluate his stuff and how you feel about that. What we've seen this year is much more positive than what we’ve seen the last, you know, in velocity, the discrepancy between that and the change up and slider, so now to me it's just ironing out and being more consistent."


Braves P Shelby Miller looking forward to new start
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) After being traded from the Cardinals, Braves pitcher Shelby Miller is looking forward to a new start with his new ball club, reports MLB.com. He spent his first three years with the Cardinals.

"I'm looking forward to a clean start to the season because getting traded over from St. Louis, you never really expect that," Miller said. "It's everything I've known, being drafted by them and coming through the farm system and stuff like that.

"But it's exciting. You're getting traded from a good team to another. I'm excited about the opportunity with my new teammates. I think we have a great chance to do something special here in Atlanta, and I'm looking forward to helping however I can."

Over his career, the right-hander has an ERA 3.33 with 312 strikeouts and 134 walks.


Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes shines again in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes continues to impress the club with his poise and prowess on the mound, reports the Boston Herald. Barnes was called on with two runners on and two outs after previous pitcher, Stephen Wright, gave up five unearned runs.

He managed to get a groundball and get out of the inning. He finished with four strikeouts and no runs allowed  in 2 1/3 innings of work.

"It was good to be in a situation like that, coming in, especially in the middle of an inning, I haven't done that in a while, starting an inning with a guy on second and having to pitch through that," said Barnes. "I was happy with all of it."


Athletics' Tyler Ladendorf pushing for spot on Opening Day roster
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:51 pm ET) Athletics utility man Tyler Ladendorf is increasing his chances by the day of making the Opening Day roster in Oakland, reports MLB.com.

Ladendorf, who was suspended for 50 games last year after testing positive for a drug of abuse, has turned heads just about every day he's been on the field.

"Tyler's really emerged this year for us," manager Bob Melvin said this week. "To me, he looks a lot more confident here. We put him on a roster for a reason. His versatility stands out, and we're all about versatility. He has a similar versatility to Ben Zobrist. He can play any of the outfield positions, any of the infield positions, and does well defensively, and his bat emerged last year as well. He's one that's stood out."

Ladendorf just hope it translates into a roster spot.

"Any time you got them talking about you," Ladendorf said, "you're doing something right."


Tigers P Bruce Rondon not a lock for the roster
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) After spending last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Tigers pitcher Bruce Rondon believes he'll be ready to go for the start of this season, reports MLB.com. But the pitcher is not guaranteed to make the roster.

"I know that we've been discussing it quite a bit," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I do think you have to keep in mind that he came to Spring Training and hadn't pitched in a game in a long time. Whether he makes the team or not, or whether we think he needs more development, the important thing is his strength is there, the arm strength is there. In the long term or even in the near term, you would think he's going to have some impact on the Detroit Tigers. But I think your questions are fair and they're certainly questions that we've discussed."

Rondon has yet to pitch a full season at the Major League level. This spring he has an ERA of 5.68, allowing 10 hits, two home runs while walking two batters.


 
 
 
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