Fantasy baseball sleepers at catcher
Each FOXSports.com fantasy contributor shared three-to-five fantasy baseball sleepers to keep an eye on heading into owners' fantasy baseball drafts. Over the next two months, expect several updates to our positional fantasy baseball catcher rankings.
Jesus Montero, Mariners – Montero didn’t quite live up to his heightened expectations in his rookie season, but he wasn’t dreadful, either, hitting .260 with 15 jacks and 62 RBI. He was a bigger disappointment in OBP leagues (just a .298 mark) and playing half his games in Safeco Field isn’t doing him any favors (.227/.268/.337 in 70 games). However, after a slow start in the Emerald City, Montero showed signs of life in the second half, posting a .278 average after the All-Star break. Moreover, the 23-year-old is expected to make a majority of his appearances at designated hitter, bestowing more playing time than most players with catcher eligibility. With the potential of a top-five player at the position, Montero’s expected draft selection in the later rounds is a steal.
Player A: 592 PA, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 67 R, .249/.329/.435
Player B: 520 PA, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 68 R, .278/.326/.501
The former would be Baltimore backstop Matt Wieters, most likely the third catcher picked in your draft, while the latter is Pierzynski, who will go unselected in a fair amount of standard leagues. Highly unlikely that the 36-year-old Pierzynski replicates his bomb barrage from last year, as the former All-Star hit just 43 four-baggers in the previous four campaigns. However, Pierzynski is remarkably consistent from an average perspective, with a .283 figure from the last five seasons. Better yet, Pierzynski joins one of the more explosive offensives in the American League that plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Though the long balls will drop, envision the ribbies and runs to remain solid, if not improve.
Ryan Doumit, Twins – Like Montero, Doumit’s greatest asset is that he won’t necessarily be featured as a catcher, logging more than 55 percent of his playing time in 2012 at designated hitter or in the outfield, saving his legs and extending his appearances. At first glance, duplicating last year’s 18 blasts may be a tall order for Doumit, yet the elevated figure is more a byproduct of increased plate appearances rather than coincidence, as his home run to fly ball rate was consistent with his historical output. His value takes a slight decline in OBP formats, and his average will likely regress in 2013, yet as a No. 2 catcher or starter in deeper leagues, Doumit is a dependable entity.
Alex Avila, Tigers – At this juncture last winter, Avila was ranked in most preseason lists as a top-five player behind the plate. Heading into 2013, Avila is on the outside looking in on most top-15 backstop rankings. The drops in power and run production were the upshots of decreased playing time and injuries, and though his .295 average from 2011 might be an aberration, the Detroit catcher’s 23.8 line-drive percentage states his .243 batting mark from last year should have been better. The upcoming campaign will only be the fourth full year in the majors for the 25-year-old, making expectations for improvement a realistic endeavor.
Kurt Suzuki, Nationals – Wilson Ramos is expected back from his 2012 knee injury, but the Nats’ website says he’ll be brought along slowly, leaving Suzuki atop the depth chart when Spring Training begins. Why would you want a catcher who’s batted .242, .237 and .235 over the past three seasons? Because he perked up in the second half of last season, hitting .267 with six homers and a .733 OPS (and a lower strikeout rate). Remember 2008 and 2009, when Suzuki batted in the .270s and averaged double-digit homers? We might see that guy again. Suzuki isn't a bad choice for a mixed-league second catcher, even with Ramos looming as a playing-time threat.
Jason Castro, Astros – No, I will NOT make a “Castro the Astro” joke. Castro hit four home runs in the final seven games of 2012, but that’s not why he’s here – at least not entirely. After missing 2011 with a knee injury, Castro batted .267 with a .735 OPS (19th among catchers with 250 plate appearances). He has a pretty good eye, and a minor-league track record of solid batting averages. Castro won’t give you tons of pop, but as a mixed-league No. 2, he could provide decent counting stats with a solid BA. There are a lot of .230 hitters at this position, in case you forgot.
Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox – At press time – do they still say “press time?” – the Sox were close to signing Mike Napoli, but he’s expected to spend most of his time at first base. That currently leaves them with a catching platoon of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross.
Salty got some credit for a breakout 2012, but his 25 homers were weighed down by a .222 BA, a .288 on-base percentage and whiffs in 31 percent of his plate appearances – a rate exceeded by only five major leaguers with more than 300 at bats. Whether the Red Sox are contending or rebuilding, they probably know that the powerful Lavarnway (34 HRs across three levels in 2011, only 10 HRs with an .815 OPS in 2012) is a better hitter than Saltalamacchia, who could be dealt before Opening Day. Even if Lavarnway starts the season in the minors, and even if he shares time with David Ross in Boston, the bet here is that he’ll hit a dozen homers with a solid BA.
Michael Zunino, Mariners – Zunino isn’t in my top 40 yet, because even though he’ll reportedly compete for the starting job in Spring Training, actually <i>getting</i> it with only 57 plate appearances above A ball sounds like a longshot. Still, he hit 13 homers with a 1.137 OPS in 161 at bats between rookie league and Double A. Whenever Zunino gets the call to Seattle – and it could be right out of Spring Training – he should play and provide enough pop to make himself useful in deeper mixed leagues. Keeper leaguers should snatch up Zunino in drafts.
Salvador Perez, Royals - As far as I see it, the term “sleeper” carries several different meanings in fantasy baseball circles. For Sal Perez, the hype is evident and nobody is sleeping on the Royals’ catcher.
However, that hype turns off some fantasy owners and knocks him down composite rankings. Those owners will wait for their buddy to reach on Perez, in favor of finding better value with their pick that round.
Well, at this point, I’m “that guy” buying into the hype. In an abridged 2012 season (knee surgery), Perez hit .301 (.328 OBP) with 11 home runs in 289 at bats. In 32 winter-league games (Venezuela), Perez hit .371 (.412 OBP) with eight home runs and 39 runs batted in. His minor league numbers suggest with temper power expectations, but the average is comparable. With a shallow talent pool at catcher, I’m willing to gamble early on a guy who can hit around .300 with 15-20 home runs
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers - Although it was a freak accident, owners were displeased with the wife of Jon Lucroy last May when she dropped a suitcase on his hand, broke it and forced the Brewers’ catcher to miss all of June and most of July. Despite the absence, digest these year-over-year stats:
2011: 430 AB / 45 R / 16 2B / 12 HR / 59 RBI / .265 BA
2012: 316 AB / 46 R / 17 2B / 12 HR / 58 RBI / .320 BA
Carlos Ruiz, Phillies - “Chooch” broke our hearts after testing positive for amphetamines this past November. He’s suspended the first 25 games of the season, which allows him to return to the Phillies in late-April. His three-year average is over .300 with over 100 hits in each of the last three seasons. However, at the age of 34 (as of January 22), Ruiz’s ancillary fantasy stats, especially his unexpected 16 home runs in 2012, could sway drastically to the negative. Ruiz falls into my buyer beware bucket.
Welington Castillo, Cubs - It’s no secret that the new Chicago front office is in the midst of a long-term building plan. Castillo was one of the first new pieces put into place when he took the reins as the Cubs’ everyday catcher in August. He batted .294 with 13 extra-base hits and 18 RBI over 41 games in August and September. There’s certainly concern about his contact rate, as Castillo struck out in 30% of his at-bats. However, you need to pause and celebrate his .422 BABIP during that two-month period.
Castillo posted a double-digit home run count in four of his five complete minor league seasons.
Travis d’Arnaud, Mets - The former top prospect in Toronto came over as part of the R.A. Dickey trade. d’Arnaud batted .333 with 39 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and 52 RBI in 63 games for Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League. He’s a former first-round pick of the Phillies who has demonstrated strong gap power through six minor league seasons. The missing piece of the equation is d’Arnaud’s low walk rate (one per 14 plate appearances).
The current state of the New York lineup and low expectations for the squad dictate that a shift to a young player with great upside will be in the offing. John Buck is not that player. So, while d’Arnaud may start the season in Triple-A, I believe that he’s a fantasy force at the position as the season progresses.
Derek Norris, A's - Norris batted an anemic .201 in 60 games last season with a frightening strikeout rate (31.6% of his at-bats). Despite his low batting average, Norris did present solid output in several categories. Norris produced 16 extra-base hits (seven home runs) with 34 RBI and five stolen bases.
Looking through his minor league career, the 23-year-old Norris (he’ll turn 24 on Valentine’s Day) has twice hit at least 20 home runs and twice stole more than 10 bases. Norris’ strikeout rate is concerning, and regular at-bats in Oakland (and on the road in Seattle) will turn home runs into doubles and outs. There’s still enough to intrigue me as a back-end C2.
Victor Martinez. Tigers - This is less of a "sleeper" and more of a reminder. VMart sat out the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL and this year joins a stacked Detroit line-up. He'll bat in the company of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Torii Hunter. In 2011, Victor led all catchers in hits (178), doubles (40), RBI (103), and batting average (.330). Since 2005, when he plays in at least 120 games (almost 4 ABs per game), Martinez averages 96 RBI, 19 HR, and 170 hits per season. He's in the midst of a baserunning program now and trainers say he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Ryan Doumit, Twins - When you think of a catcher in Minnesota , Doumit probably isn't your first choice. But, he hit a career high 18 home runs, more than Joe Mauer (10) last season. The Twins won't be contending for an AL Central title in 2013, so Ryan can just focus on getting more and more reps in a starters role. The stat that I look for in a quality catcher is games played. Obviously, human backstops can't play all 162 games, even when they have the option to DH or play first base, but Doumit played in a career high 134 games and finished ninth in GP out of all other catchers. Plus, while he doesn't have eligibility in the OF or DH spot yet, all it takes is 10 starts, adding versatility to your roster.
Salvador Perez, Royals - Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of this guy. I thought he would be successful in 2012 and then Perez missed 86 games with a knee injury. After the All-Star break, Sal concluded the season in the top 10 of catchers in hits, runs, and RBI. He's played in 115 official MLB games since 2011. In that duration his career numbers include a .311 avg, 60 RBI (about an RBI every 2 games), and 14 HRs. After the regular season, Sal returned home and played in the Venezuelan League and won Rookie of the Year. Depending on your league setting, owners should draft only one catcher. Perez will probably be one of the last taken and finish as one of the best.