Certain positions are difficult to assess in a single sentence, but this one's easy: Very soon, catchers will rule the Earth.
That's all you really need to know. We will be their supplicants, they shall be our overlords. We stand at the dawn of a great new era. Take heed, citizen. The age of humans has passed; the age of backstops is at hand.
Consider the following facts:
• The presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft is Bryce Harper, a catcher
The only logical conclusion to draw is that an epochal leap is now occurring, that catchers will soon be this planet's dominant creatures. When they become self-aware, they may revolt against us, erasing our culture to advance their own. But until that time we can draft them in fantasy leagues.
It seems likely that within the next few years, as several elite talents advance to the majors, catcher will become a deep position. For now it's still the usual suspects in the upper tiers – Mauer, Victor Martinez(notes), Brian McCann(notes) – followed by a collection of predictable vets and less-predictable youths in the middle tiers. The fifth tier below is worth browsing if you play in a two-catcher league or a dynasty format. The sixth tier is full of bad ideas.
This is a notoriously injury-prone roster spot, of course, and there's exceptional downside risk attached to any early round catcher, whoever he may be. The safest option is a guy who qualifies at catcher, but actually plays elsewhere. (Unfortunately, the Panda needed two more starts for eligibility in Yahoo! leagues). Position-scarcity fetishists have nonetheless been overspending on catchers for years, paying substantial prices for relatively modest stat sets. For example: Brian McCann's 2009 fantasy line (63-21-94-4-.281) made him the No. 3 catcher in the year-end Yahoo! ranks, but he only finished at No. 134 overall. His '08 line (68-23-87-5-.301) made him the No. 2 catcher, yet he placed No. 94 among all players. Drafters are routinely willing to pay a top-40 price for borderline top-100 stats.
Mauer presents the greatest challenge to those of us who prefer to address catching needs late in drafts. In 2009, he was the most useful fantasy catcher by a wide margin and he ranked No. 6 among all batters in the player pool, behind only Albert Pujols(notes), Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez(notes), Prince Fielder(notes) and Ryan Howard(notes). That's clearly impressive company. Mauer has also won three of the past four A.L. batting titles, so we can confidently say that he'll be dominant in at least one category (which is more than we can say about any other catcher). In fact, he's one of only three catchers in baseball history who've claimed a batting crown, and the other two – Ernie Lombardi and Bubbles Hargrave – accomplished the feat in the first half of the previous century. We basically know that a healthy Joe Mauer will be phenomenal. We don't yet know if last year's power (28 HR) was an aberration, however. If you're drafting him at his current ADP (13.3), then you clearly think he'll hold last year's gains.
For a lengthy consideration of the Mauer risk/reward dilemma, follow this link. If instead you're interested in sifting through the tiers and blurbs, then please continue scrolling. Either way, you'd do well to remember that catchers will soon have dominion over us all.
Position averages, top 15 catchers in year-end Yahoo! rank
2009 – 61.3 R, 16.8 HR, 70.1 RBI, 3.3 SB, .280 AVG
2008 – 55.6 R, 14.4 HR, 63.9 RBI, 2.3 SB, .265 AVG
Catcher – Tiers
Joe Mauer, $42
Victor Martinez, $31; Brian McCann, $25
Ramon Hernandez(notes), $0; Carlos Ruiz(notes), $0; Ivan Rodriguez(notes), $0; Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes), $0; Kelly Shoppach(notes), $0; Greg Zaun, $0; Nick Hundley(notes), $0; Miguel Olivo(notes), $0; John Buck(notes), $0; Dioner Navarro(notes), $0; Tyler Flowers(notes), $0; Taylor Teagarden(notes), $0; Lou Marson(notes), $0; Gerald Laird(notes), $0; J.R. Towles(notes), $0; Derek Norris, $0
Five Catchers I Love
1. Geovany Soto – Substituted broccoli for burgers over the offseason, dropped several pounds; excellent 20-25 HR rebound candidate.
1. Matt Wieters – He was the playoff MVP for thousands of head-to-head owners, batting .362/.425/.511 in September. Roto owners didn't notice.
1. Miguel Montero – Post-hype sleeper paid off in his "26 with experience" season. No Arizona sham here, as power breakout came on the road (11 homers).
2. Kelly Shoppach – If he wins heated battle with Dioner Navarro, he'll reward the Rays/owners with 18-22 HRs.
2. Mike Napoli – This guy has hit 40 homers over his last 609 at-bats, yet his ADP is just 166.4. Napoli is the best value at the position.
2. Geovany Soto – Some growth was hidden in miserable year (improved batting eye), now he's trimmed down and ready to make amends.
3. Yadier Molina – Tremendous BA contributor who's also capable of swiping bases – Yadi yes.
3. Miguel Montero – In '09, he finally delivered the season some of us were hoping for two years ago, when we first hyped him. At 27, he can match last year's rates.
3. Kurt Suzuki – Even if he splits the difference between 2007 and 2008, you'll make a profit here.
4. Miguel Olivo – Very quietly cracked 23 bombs a year ago, he could rack 15-20 HRs with 350 at-bats in Colorado's thin air.
4. Bengie Molina – This is the Molina you're looking for. Don't be confused by imposters. This year, he's commonly taken outside the top 150.
4. Yadier Molina – Nothing sexy, but his average and PT make for a nice fit as your second catcher.
5. Bengie Molina – The Alec Baldwin of Molinas should again yield bountiful riches in two categories (HR/RBI); don't worry about Posey yet
5. A.J. Pierzynski – Not a high-end option by any means, but A.J. reliably delivers stats that don't fall that short of those you'll find in the tier above.
5. Holden Caufield – Salinger's crazy endgame shouldn't detract from the legacy of his work.
Five Catchers I Hate
1. Joe Mauer – He's redefining the position, but Round 1 price tag says overpriced; would you really draft him over Wright, Crawford or Kinsler?
1. Yadier Molina – Offers the worst counting stats of any player who will be heavily owned. He's never reached 50 R, 10 HR or 60 RBI in any season.
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Coming off two messy seasons and there's no guarantee he beats out Tyler Teagarden. Arlington can't help you when you strike out a third of the time.
2. Russell Martin – Undesirable before manhood-threatening injury, he's starting to prove '07 was an outlier.
2. Jorge Posada – He's the No. 5 catcher in terms of ADP (120.2), yet you can find similar (if not better) stats 40-50 picks later.
2. John Baker – A .410 slugging leaves me cold, and he's not going to play much against lefties (.171).
3. Rod Barajas – OK, so he's higher in my ranks than anyone else's. But he's not that high. Move to Citi limits power, his one useful trait.
3. Rod Barajas – The pop is nice, but expect less of it in New York. And the more he plays, the more he taxes your average.
4. Chris Iannetta – One epic drought away from being an afterthought; he's essentially Olivo 80 picks earlier
4. Rangers catchers – One of these guys – either Salty or Teagarden – will emerge as Texas' No. 8 hitter. But it's a battle between flawed players.
4. A.J. Pierzynski – He's fine as a fantasy investment, but his personality will poison your clubhouse.
5. Rod Barajas – Another BA vampire with plus pop but transition to cavernous Citi Field could snatch away handful of dingers
5. Rays catchers – Another tussle between uninteresting fantasy assets. For Tampa, it's either Shoppach and Navarro. And death is not an option.
5. Carlos Santana – A fine prospect, but don't waste a redraft pick on someone ticketed for Triple-A to start the year.
Top 5 Catcher Prospects
1. Carlos Santana – Victor Martinez clone the position's next megastar; .290-23-97 line at Double-A last season.
1. Carlos Santana – Last year's V-Mart trade cleared a path to the majors. He's an OBP machine who hit 23 home runs at Double-A last year.
1. Buster Posey – Can't-miss stud should throw Bengie Molina out of the way by midsummer.
2. Buster Posey – Developmental curve and Bengie stunting fantasy growth, however the future remains very bright; eventual .285-15-70 producer.
2. Buster Posey – He's as ready to contribute as any catching prospect in baseball, but the Alpha Molina is a temporary obstacle.
2. Carlos Santana – Smooth switch-hitting backstop with power, you'll want him – in 2011.
3. Tyler Flowers – 2011 Pierzynski replacement will get feet wet this season; middle-of-the-order hitter in the very near future.
3. Jesus Montero – There are concerns about his defense, but nobody doubts his bat. Montero is an exceptional hitter, expected to head to Triple-A at age 20.
3. Jesus Montero – No one debates the offense, but Yanks might not be able to salvage him as a catcher.
4. Jesus Montero – Should supplant Posada full-time within the next season or two; raw power scored 80 on scouts' 20-80 scale.
4. Jason Castro – At 22, Castro is involved in a position battle in Houston, and the competition isn't so intimidating.
4. Tyler Flowers – His offensive game (power, patience) belongs in the majors right now, but he's another work in progress behind the dish.
5. Jason Castro – Former Stanford standout duking it out with Towles for starting gig this spring; quality high BA source with developing power.
5. Bryce Harper – Probably the only junior college player ever to appear in a primer. Harper has ridiculous power; he should be the top pick in this year's draft.
5. Derek Norris – Broken hand late in 2009 might hold back power development this year.