Position Primer: Catcher

Victor Martinez (29.3)
Russell Martin (30.6)
Joe Mauer (57.5)
Brian McCann (57.7)

Jorge Posada (92.5)
J. Saltalamacchia (139)
Kenji Johjima (126.8)
Geovany Soto (166.1)

Ivan Rodriguez (170.5)
Bengie Molina (219.4)
Ramon Hernandez (263)
J.R. Towles (264.0)
A.J. Pierzynski (225.3)
Jason Varitek (235.1)
Carlos Ruiz (310.1)

Ronny Paulino (285.0)
Mike Napoli (280.1)
Josh Bard (303.1)
Kurt Suzuki (320.2)
Ryan Doumit (303.6)

John Buck (301.6)
Dioner Navarro (331.9)
Paul Lo Duca (264.0)
Johnny Estrada (288.4)

Yadier Molina (295.6)
Chris Iannetta (–)
Yorvit Torrealba (330.9)
Chris Snyder (324.9)
Jason Kendall (–)
Gregg Zaun (–)

Note: #'s denote latest ADP values from MockDraftCentral

More Position Primers:1B

Whether you're talking about what Brian McNamee is to Roger Clemens, uncooperative girlfriends are to Elijah Dukes or the credibility police are to John Rocker, it's evident, in the baseball universe, thorns are embedded in several of its current and former participants' sides.

Fantasy baseball is no different.

For those of us that participate in Grand Canyon-deep, two-catcher leagues, secondary backstops are perpetually stuck in our collective craws.

Typically, second catchers are viewed as batting average black holes. Too often, their minimal impact impedes our fantasy team's ability to climb the roto standings ladder. Cincinnati's David Ross and his upchuck-worthy .203 BA last season is a prime example.

Because many owners fear owning one, if not two, soul-sucking backstops, this season, prolific '07 producers Victor Martinez and Russell Martin are going for obscene premiums. Based on data compiled by MockDraftCentral, both premiere signal callers are being selected at/or around pick 30 overall in 12-team mixed league drafts. Essentially, that's similar territory as first-class power contributors Lance Berkman (ADP: 26.78), Magglio Ordonez (33.18) and Justin Morneau (35.99).

The haughty perception of the "Marts" begs the question: Is it worth sacrificing elite power production to dodge potential catcher headaches?

The answer: not even if David Ross suddenly morphed into Johnny Bench.

To illustrate my point, examine the following stat lines below. Each line represents the difference in outputs between Berkman, Maggs, and Morneau from V-Mart's three-year average. Due to injuries suffered in '05, Ordonez and Morneau's numbers are based solely on returns from the past two seasons.

Berkman: – .011 BA, + 14 HR, + 11 RBI, + 8 R, + 4 SB
Ordonez: + .024 BA, + 6 HR, + 27 RBI, + 20 R, + 2 SB
Morneau: – .011, + 13 HR, +26 RBI, + 11 R, + 1 SB

The potential power losses from Berkman and Morneau and batting average and RBI penalties from Ordonez, outweighs addressing the catcher position early in drafts.

Sure, those that abandon V-Mart in favor of a bigger bat at a different position will lose the immense statistical advantage he can provide over other catchers. But the difference in power numbers between V-Mart and incognito backstops such as Geovany Soto (166.1), Ryan Doumit (303.6) and A.J. Pierzynski (225.3) won't be as extreme as you might think.

Martin supporters will contend that the Dodgers' enhanced offensive potency and his ability to swipe 15-plus bases are major advantages. To a point, they're right. However, with base burglars such as Michael Bourn (ADP: 201.2), Corey Patterson (243.3) and Jerry Owens (298.3) going in the beer-hazy hours of drafts, steals are hardly a luxury item this year. Also, as with any catcher, the rigors of catching 140-plus games could eventually catch up to Martin.

The bottom line: fill your fantasy shopping cart with reputable catchers from the thrift store, not from one of the expensive Marts.

Here is a preview of the risers, fallers and baby crawlers at catcher this season:

RNK = Y! experts composite ranking
ADP = Average draft position as of Feb. 12 from MockDraftCentral
RD = Equivalent 12-team mixed league round value based on ADP

2008 Catchers: On the Rise
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, 1B 6 138.9 11.6
Lowdown: Owners with lofty perceptions of the Sultan of Sodium could suffer from congestive heart failure by year's end. No longer trapped behind Brian McCann in Atlanta, Salty is expected to see increased playing time in Arlington. However, Gerald Laird's superior defense has some close to the organization calling for the 22-year-old to net more Triple-A seasoning. Offensively, the switch-hitter exhibits excellent natural loft on his swing from both sides of the plate. But, his occasional over-aggressiveness at the dish (24.4 K% in '07) proves his approach is still relatively raw. Many owners have already set unattainable benchmarks for Salty this year, which makes him one of the more over-hyped players in fantasy drafts. Those who foresee 20 homers and 70-plus RBI in his immediate future are misguided. With Laird likely to steal a minimum of 250 at-bats, expectations should be tempered for the youngster in the short-term.
Fearless Forecast: 350 at-bats, .270 BA, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 48 R,
Josh Bard C 18 303.1 25.3
Lowdown: Ignoring stolen base and run totals from a season ago, statistically speaking, Bard is a mini-Mauer. The epitome of a contact hitter, Bard applied wood on the ball 85 percent of the time, a number that rivals some of the elite batters in the game. Although his elevated 51.8 groundball percentage in '07 indicates his power peak is 9-11 homers, his discerning eye (11.4 BB% in '07) and ability to make consistent contact makes him very valuable in OBP leagues. After hitting a blistering .372 in the Pads' final 11 games last year, its apparent Bard has a significant advantage over former Cub Michael Barrett. Bard will be involved in a rough platoon, but San Diego expects the 30-year-old to start a minimum of 100 games. Because of his spectacular batting average numbers, he's one of the most unheralded values in drafts this season.
Fearless Forecast: 400 at-bats, .298 BA, 8 HR, 56 RBI, 48 R, SB
Mike Napoli C 17 280.1 23.3
Lowdown: Napoli's batting average might be the fantasy equivalent of waterboarding, but his marvelous .351 OBP and 13.1 BB% are flashing signs his average could surge upward. In order for that to occur, his contact rates must continue to climb. Trimming five percentage points off his K% and boosting his LD% by 4.8 percent a season ago are two additional pieces of evidence he's growing as a hitter. Because many owners find his batting average returns over the past two seasons largely undesirable, Napoli is a bargain after Round 20 in 12-team mixed drafts. This could be the year he sheds the "David Ross of the AL" stigma.
Fearless Forecast: 330 at-bats, .253 BA, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 49 R, 5 SB
Ryan Doumit C, OF 20 303.6 25.3
Lowdown: If Doumit can avoid the locker-room spa, he's a viable double-digit home run threat. A walking, breathing eggshell, Doumit has logged a whopping 146 DL days in his brief big league career. Despite his fragile physical state, his 15-20 homer pop and ability to hit for average labels him a low-risk-high-reward late-round ruby. Before the break last season he tallied an impressive .303 BA with six homers and 21 RBI. Only six catchers comprised the .270 BA/12 HR club last year. If Doumit can stay healthy, he'll be a club member in '08. Look for him to split time with Ronny Paulino behind the plate and net additional playing time as Xavier Nady's backup in right.
Fearless Forecast: 330 at-bats, .277 BA, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 43 R, 2 SB
Carlos Ruiz C 15 310.1 25.8
Lowdown: Ruiz's name may sound like a Mexican soap opera character, but his power upside and respectable batting average totals indicate he's "muy beuno" in mixed leagues. The 29-year-old homegrown Phillies' product tallied a .259 BA, six homers, 54 RBI and six steals in 374 at-bats last season. A rock solid defender with plus power, Ruiz should net a surplus of at-bats this season now with former platoon mate Rod Barajas in Toronto. Disciplined in the box (10.1 BB% in '07), Ruiz should reach base consistently and score ample runs with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley at the top of the Philly lineup. Don't be surprised if he finishes on the cusp of the catcher top-10 by year's end.
Fearless Forecast: 430 at-bats, .276 BA, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 57 R, 5 SB
2008 Catchers: On the Decline
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Ivan Rodriguez C 9 170.5 14.2
Lowdown: I-Rod is an aging triceratops with one leg firmly embedded in a pool of tar. Over the past four seasons, the nearly extinct 36-year-old backstop's eye (1.8 BB% in '07) and muscle have slowly plummeted toward fantasy irrelevance. Also, during that span, his GB% has rapidly surged upward while his LD% has dipped dramatically, clear-cut signs of his eroding skills. With his strikeout totals stratospheric (19.1 K% in '07) and his other numbers spiraling downward, I-Rod is nothing more than a slightly above average second catcher in mixed leagues this season. Ignorant fantasy owners will overpay based on his name recognition, but don't be that obtuse.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .276 BA, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 53 R, 3 SB
Ramon Hernandez C 10 262.8 21.9
Lowdown: Last year, nettlesome oblique and groin injuries trimmed 33 games off Hernandez's season and sapped his 20-home run power. Evident in his nosedive in LD% ('06: 18.6, '07: 16.2) and FB% ('06: 37.9, '07: 35.1) and his acute advance in GB% ('06: 43.5, '07: 48.7), the injuries stymied his offensive talents. With Peter Angelos and Andy MacPhail looking toward the future, and because Hernandez hasn't registered 400 at-bats in a season since '04, it's likely he could be either dealt or replaced by No. 1 pick Matt Wieters come August. There's minor hope for a power resurgence, but given Hernandez's history of injuries and the O's lack of offensive potency outside of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, 20 homers is a pipe dream.
Fearless Forecast: 400 at-bats, .265 BA, 13 HR, 64 RBI, 50 R, SB
Paul Lo Duca C 23 264.0 22.0
Lowdown: No longer under the microscope of the New York media, Lo Duca is now apart of the diaper-clad Nationals. Bothered by a hamstring injury for a large chunk of the '07 second-half, Lo Duca buzzed the heads off gophers, compiling a 47.7 groundball percentage. His fading power, OBP and batting average numbers – his .272 BA was his lowest career tally with 400 at-bats – signifies that the once-respected fantasy producer is on a downward slide toward obscurity. With Jonny Estrada now in the picture and Jesus Flores poised as Washington's long-term solution, Lo Duca will struggle to eclipse 400 at-bats in '08. To complicate matters further, he's expected to miss 2-4 weeks of spring training after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. His batting average won't be cumbersome, but he's only worth $5-$8 in NL-only leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 350 at-bats, .273 BA, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 51 R, SB
Johnny Estrada C 24 288.4 24.0
Lowdown: Washington should be renamed, "the land of the washed up catchers." Signed by the Nationals in late January, Estrada will be locked in a near 50-50 platoon with Lo Duca this season. Much like his platoon mate, the 31-year-old Estrada was confounded by knee and hamstring injuries while in Milwaukee last season. More alarming, his eye continued to deteriorate as his four-year decline in BB% bottomed-out at 2.6 percent last year. Because he's slightly more formidable defensively, he could accumulate more at-bats, especially if Lo Duca's knee issues linger. Similar in statistical style and substance as his tag-team catching partner, Estrada won't demolish your team batting average, but he's nowhere near the caliber of player from '06 (.302 BA, 11 HR, 71 RBI).
Fearless Forecast: 375 at-bats, .275 BA, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 42 R, SB
Michael Barrett C N/A 328.8 27.4
Lowdown: Undraftable in fantasy egg-tossing leagues, Barrett's defensive inadequacies and dugout spout with Carlos Zambrano earned him a one-way ticket out of the Windy City. Acquired by the Padres in late-June, Barrett's season-long swoon continued in San Diego. In 133 at bats with the Pads, he compiled a horrific .226 BA, with zero homers, 12 RBI and a 21:2 K:BB split. His sharp rise in infield FB% ('06: 7.5, '07: 12.5), FB% ('06: 35.7, '07: 41.2) and dip in GB% ('06: 44.8, '07: 39.8) over the entire season demonstrated obvious "dipsy-do" mechanical flaws in his swing. More jarring, while sidelined with for 19 games with a concussion in August, the 31-year-old lost significant '08 playing time due to Josh Bard's offensive explosion. This year, Barrett is only expected to spell Bard roughly 30-50 games, which makes him virtually worthless.
Fearless Forecast: 225 at-bats, .263 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 25 R, SB
2008 Catchers: Prospects to Watch
Player Team POS RNK ADP RD
Geovany Soto C 8 166.1 13.8
Lowdown: Soto's well-rounded offensive and defensive assets have him on the fast-track to fantasy stardom. In 439 at-bats between Triple-A Iowa and the senior club, Soto smashed 29 homers, drove in 117 runs and posted a Mauer-like .357 BA. The reigning Pacific Coast League MVP showcased outstanding plate discipline at both levels, notching a 10.6 BB%. Given his eagle eye, natural power and the Cubs' loaded offensive arsenal, he could reach the bleachers 17-22 times and drive in 70-plus runs this year – only V-Mart, R-Mart, Jorge Posada, Bengie Molina and Brian McCann attained that level in '07. Move over Rich Hill, Soto's name encased in hearts may become the featured doodle in the Noise's fantasy diary this season.
Fearless Forecast: 430 at-bats, .284 BA, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 59 R, SB
J.R. Towles C 12 264.0 22.0
Lowdown: Fantasy owners investing high dollars in Towles are hoping he's not a lethal concoction of once revered, now jeered catching prospects Chris Iannetta, Miguel Montero and Jeff Mathis. The 24-year-old newcomer is a polished prospect at the plate who posted a respectable 8.1 BB% in 299 combined minor and major league at-bats last season. More impressive, Towles made contact 87 percent of the time in those at-bats, a clear sign he's capable of hitting .280-plus. Athletic and aggressive, the youngster could be the only catcher other than Russell Martin to reach double-digits in homers and steals this season. Reports out of Houston have said that, barring a spring collapse, he'll be the 'Stros Opening Day starter over Brad Ausmus. The possibility of drafting Soto and Towles after pick 160 in 12-team mixed drafts is titillating.
Fearless Forecast: 400 at-bats, .279 BA, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 65 R, 12 SB
Jeff Clement C N/A 330.2 27.5
Lowdown: Blocked by "George McKensey" (Johjima, Kenji), Clement was the subject of several trade rumors during the offseason. However, it appears Seattle is content on keeping its former No. 1 pick. In 455 at-bats at Triple-A Tacoma last season, the booming lefty blasted 20 homers, drove in 80 runners and tallied a .275 batting average. His blazing bat speed and keen eye (11.8 BB% at Triple-A) are Major League ready, but his suspect defense is disconcerting. If he scorches this spring, look for John McLaren to find creative ways to get him into the lineup regularly. Given Richie Sexson's proneness for epic droughts, the rookie could earn at-bats splitting time between first, catcher and DH. Those in AL-only leagues should slap the wallet for an extra dollar. With 300 at-bats, Clement could be an unexpected offensive juggernaut.
Fearless Forecast: 325 at-bats, .270 BA, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 40 R, SB
Jesus Flores C N/A 335.0+ 28.0+
Lowdown: With Estrada and Lo Duca ahead of Flores on the depth chart, Nationals fans will have to wait for the Rapture. A former Rule 5 draftee, Flores has been described by scouts as a rare blend of power-hitting and defensive aptitude. Still rather callow at 23, he's expected to be assigned to Triple-A to continue developing his plate discipline and overall hitting skills. Making the leap from Single-A to the Majors in '07, Flores logged an unrestrained 26.7 K% in 180 at-bats. Flores has the potential to be a perennial 10-15 homer contributor, but he's not rosterable in non-keeper leagues until 2009.
Fearless Forecast: 145 at-bats, .250 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 17 R, SB
Matt Wieters C N/A 335.0+ 28.0+
Lowdown: Wieters is a Sasquatch with shin guards. The 6-foot-5 switch-hitting skyscraper, the Orioles' No. 1 pick in last year's draft, is a toxic mixture of hitting brawn and defensive brains. Playing with the Honolulu Sharks in the Hawaii Winter League, Wieters batted .283 with nine doubles, a home run and 17 RBI in 106 at-bats. Most appealing, he amassed a .364 OBP and a 10.1 BB%. Several scouts suggest he needs plenty of seasoning in the minors, but given the managerial mindset change in Baltimore and Ramon Hernandez's injury imp magnetism, a September call-up is certainly possible. AL-only keeper leaguers looking for the next Joe Mauer should fight tooth and nail to acquire the former Ramblin' Wreck standout.
Fearless Forecast: 70 at-bats, .278 BA, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 9 R, SB