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Fantasy Baseball 2013: Catcher Primer

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Buster Posey, no bargain in 2013 (USAT Images)

There are basically only two ways that a fantasy owner can avoid injuries at this position: Either you can draft a catcher-eligible player who spends most of his time at another spot — perhaps someone like Mike Napoli or Victor Martinez (both of whom have injury histories) — or you can simply get lucky.

And that's pretty much it. There's a strong chance that your fantasy catcher — whoever he is, wherever you draft him — is going to get hurt. This roster spot presents greater injury risk than any other everyday position. The physical demands at backstop are unlike those we find anywhere else on the defensive spectrum. Only six major league catchers managed to reach 500 at-bats last season, and only five appeared in 140 or more games.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

If you examine the medical files of the top-20 catchers in the Yahoo! preseason fantasy ranks, you'll discover that the group has collectively spent 900 days on the disabled list in just the past two seasons. That's an average of 22.5 days on the DL per player, per year. And three of the catchers in our top-20 — Wilin Rosario, Jesus Montero and Salvador Perez — actually spent most of 2011 in the minors.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to hear that many experts prefer to wait until the late rounds to land a backstop. There's almost never value to be found in the top-of-draft catchers. Over the past 10 seasons, just three players at this position have finished among the top-50 overall fantasy assets in the year-end ranks: Javy Lopez in 2003 (No. 25 overall), Joe Mauer in 2009 (13) and Buster Posey in 2012 (31). A handful of other catchers have approached top-50 status — V-Mart in '09, Jorge Posada in '07, Mauer in '06 and '08 — but only three guys in a decade have actually cracked the list.

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Of course the elite catchers can obliterate their position averages (see below), so the scarcity crowd invariably loves this spot. Loves it. They'll take Posey in the first, then immediately declare victory. But again, the trick is to find a catcher who won't break. Easier said than drafted.

With the usual caveats out of the way, our gurus will now tackle a few key catcher questions for 2013...

Let's just say, hypothetically, you're in a draft in which Buster Posey slips beyond his ADP (17.4), into territory where the potential reward of an 80-20-90-.320 catcher might be worth taking on the somewhat elevated risk. At what point do you pull the trigger on Posey?

Brandon - I'm probably the most bullish on Posey among Yahoo! experts. He's as good a bet for a .300-plus average as anyone, he'll play more than the other catchers because he'll get 20-30 games at 1B, and 90 RBIs as the Giants cleanup is conservative. I'd be looking at him in the mid-20s overall.

Andy - Well, the last time I shuffled my ranks, I slotted Posey as a mid-third rounder in a 12-team draft — just after Bryce Harper, before a collection of second tier starters (Hamels, Cain, Greinke). But I can't promise that I won't veer to another position when Posey's name is next in queue.

Dalton - I wouldn't start considering Posey until around pick No. 30, which means he'll almost certainly end up on none of my teams this year. It's not only the inherent injury risk that deters me but also the lack of runs scored and steals for such a high pick.

Who's your bet to lead this position in homers in 2013? Don't worry about runs or average or overall fantasy value. Let's just talk power.

Brad - WILIN ROSARIO. Trim down the strikeouts and the Silver Bullets will go down smoothly for all who invest in the Rocky. His .260 isolated power a season ago mirrored Curtis Granderson’s. There’s a 35 HR bat in that squat body.

Scott - It's hard to fight WILIN ROSARIO and the Colorado undertow, though I worry about his defense cutting into playing time. CARLOS SANTANA gets the nod in the American League.

Andy - JP ARENCIBIA. He has a clear path to 450-plus at-bats and he'll do his hitting in a power-friendly park. Arencibia cleared the fence 18 times in just 102 games last season, and he's just two years removed from a 32-homer campaign at Triple-A.

When draft season finally ends, which backstop's name will appear most often in your fantasy portfolio?

Scott - I'm generally agnostic at the table, content to take what the room gives, so it's hard to peg this stuff up front. I'm against targeting players if I can avoid it, especially at a deep position like catcher. I'd like to nominate Sal Perez, but he feels like America's Sleeper — adored and chased by everyone. I'm ready to go cheap with AJ PIERZYNSKI if needed, clubhouse chemistry be damned.

Brandon - SALVADOR PEREZ He's a high-average hitter who flashed some power upside last season (11 HR in 76 games). And because he missed half of '12, the price is nice (No. 11 among catcher ADP).

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Sorry, there are no open seats on the Sal Perez bandwagon at this time (USAT Images)

Brad - SALVADOR PEREZ. There’s a movement in the "experts" community he won’t crack 20 homers. Though I agree he will likely finish in 13-15 long-ball range, his strong batting average is a luxury item. Nothing worse than a backstop that taxes your BA with nightly donuts.

Who's your favorite catcher to target beyond the top 150 picks, using Yahoo! ADP?

Dalton - AJ PIERZYNSKI. His ADP is 179.3 despite coming off a .278-27-77 season. Sure, the home runs likely regress and he's 36 years old, but Pierzynski is extremely durable and is joining a Rangers lineup that led MLB in runs scored last season. Texas also has the third-highest HR park index for LHB over the past three years.

Brad - JESUS MONTERO. At 23, the former elite prospect still getting his feet wet. And this is off a noteworthy .260-15-62 first full season in the Bigs. Expect measureable growth across-the-board in the encore.

Andy - ARENCIBIA, again. To me, his ADP seems ridiculous (248.6). There's plenty of power here, and he'll do his hitting in one of baseball's better lineups. Take the discount and enjoy.

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Travis d'Arnaud, future of the position in NY (Getty Images)

Pick a prospect, thinking long-term: Travis d'Arnaud or Mike Zunino?

Andy - Close, but gimme TRAVIS. His spring is going well so far (5-for-11, 3 R, 2 RBIs), and he was a terror in a half-season at Triple-A last year (16 HR, .333/.380/.595 in 303 PA). We're likely to see him in the bigs by mid-season.

Dalton - D'ARNAUD. But it's a coin flip. He needs to prove he can actually stay healthy for a full season.

Brandon - ZUNINO. The M's aren't planning to let Jesus Montero hold down the backstop fort for long, so Zunino should get to Seattle by early summer. I think he has a leg up on d'Arnaud in terms of plate discipline. And d'Arnaud has a bit of an injury history. But I'm betting both will be factors for their parent clubs before the all-star break.

Who's your bet to lead this position in games-played and at-bats in 2013?

Dalton - JOE MAUER. That sounds crazy because of his past injury history, but realize he actually only caught 74 games last year, as he spent another 72 between first base and DH. Victor Martinez is another favorite here as a full-time DH, but he's coming off a serious knee injury.

Scott - More CARLOS SANTANA love from me, as he'll probably see plenty of work at first base and DH. Anything that steers him from the wear-and-tear of catching is a favor to us.

Brad - CARLOS SANTANA. Rest when you’re dead. That’s the Indians motto in regards to Santana’s playing time this year. He appeared in 155 games in 2011. It would be no surprise if he exceeded that number this season.

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Please name your all-time favorite catcher, not necessarily from the fantasy era (and not counting Ron Karkovice, because he's obviously first on all lists)...

Brandon - GARY CARTER Always played the game with a smile on his face. I got a chance to talk to him at a Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference once and he more than validated his "Class Act" label.

Andy - CARLTON FISK, easy. I can't remember being more excited by any free agent addition made by any Chicago franchise, ever. (OK, maybe Bryan Cox. Shut up).

Dalton - Well, as a Giants fan, it's safe to say BUSTER POSEY has already grabbed this label. He's played two full seasons and has already won Rookie of the Year, MVP, and two World Series titles over that span. Not bad.

Scott - I loved DARREN DAULTON before he went off the reservation. The moment Yadier Molina retires, he'll take this post for good. Honorable mention: Johnny Bench (for the Baseball Bunch years), Bob Montgomery (because he refused to wear a traditional batting helmet) and Doc (a solid backstop from one of those Alfred Slote books).

Brad - PUDGE RODRIGUEZ. His MVP year in ‘99 was arguably the greatest single-season by a catcher in fantasy history (.332-35-113-116-25). In a phrase: Juice-moving.

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Position averages for the top-15 fantasy catchers, last three years

2012 - 61.3 R, 19.8 HR, 73.6 RBIs, 2.9 SB, .278 AVG
2011 – 59.5 R, 18.9 HR, 70.4 RBIs, 3.1 SB, .267 AVG
2010 – 53.9 R, 14.7 HR, 62.2 RBIs, 2.6 SB, .274 AVG

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