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January 13, 2014

Fantasy Players to Target

Catchers

by BP Fantasy Staff


As our eminent leader Bret Sayre outlined in the Baseball Prospectus draft prep guide, the fantasy staff here at BP is aiming to bring you a comprehensive look at each and every position on a weekly basis. From prospects to veterans, superstars to scrubs and sleepers to potential busts, we want you to have a thorough understanding of every player at every position when you hit your drafts this winter and next spring.

With that in mind, we’ve polled the fantasy staff here for a player to target and a player to avoid for each position, to run every Monday and Friday, respectively. We don’t always agree on every player, which is why you’ll see some names pop up more than once, but we hope those debates give you even more insight as to who you should or shouldn’t select on draft day.

Without further ado, let’s kick this series off with several catchers you should set your sights on in 2014.

Jason Castro, Astros
Castro will likely be the 8-12th catcher taken in most mixed leagues. We know the usual suspects at the top, but I think Castro will make a case this year that while he’s not in the Buster Posey/Yadier Molina tier of catchers, he might only be a notch below it. Castro slashed .276/.350/.485 on a bad Astros team. He had a very healthy 10.2 walk rate and displayed good power with 54 XBH in 435 AB. The park helps him (Minute Maid played as a +108 HR park in 2013) and a trade would hurt his stock, but I think he has the secondary offensive skills to survive moving to a more HR-neutral park. People will be turned off by the lack of RS and RBI opportunities that Castro will have surrounded by a tanking Astros team, but you shouldn’t be. He should produce above-average numbers for catchers in both those categories and he provides a good average and a decent home run total. —Mauricio Rubio

Yan Gomes, Indians
Yan Gomes posted a strong 131 wRC+ in a half-season worth of plate appearances in 2013 and appears poised to benefit from a reduced workload behind the dish for Carlos Santana next season. Scouts have long questioned his hit tool, and caution is certainly warranted until we see how he performs with more exposure to major-league pitching. But there are signs that Gomes’ performance may not be due for all that much regression. For one, Gomes has always shown decent pop, and last year’s .188 ISO (seventh among catchers, min. 300 PA) was not out of line with his career .197 mark in the minors. Nor was his Major League whiff rate, which he was actually able to cut slightly relative to his career minor league performance. There’s some room for growth as well: last year’s pronounced platoon split (158 wRC+ vs. LHP, .115 vs. RHP) flew in the face of almost 700 plate appearances in the high minors, where he posted an OPS 80 point higher against same-handed pitching. So while an increased role may expose holes in Gomes’ offensive game, there’s also some modest upside here, and I see plenty of reason to believe he’ll be able to provide a solid return on what should be a modest draft day investment. Particularly for owners in roto and two catcher leagues he makes for a smart target as a source of cheaper power. —Wilson Karaman

Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
Lucroy was excellent last year and I’m not sure we’ve seen his best yet. He was the third-best catcher in the fantasy in 2013 (unless Victor Martinez was a catcher in your league, then he might fall to fourth) behind only Yadier Molina and Wilin Rosario. With the cost disparity and so much of Molina’s value coming from batting average and run scored, I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer Lucroy to him. The speed factor is an interesting one to monitor, too. If his nine stolen bases from 2013 are real, he has a great shot to be baseball’s best fantasy catcher despite going after five or six others. —Paul Sporer

Joe Mauer, Twins
It may seem like picking some low hanging fruit to have Mauer as my guy here, but as he's my no. 1 fantasy catcher for 2014, this seems like as good a place as any to make sure he gets the airspace he deserves. We all know the type of pure hitter he is, but this is about the fact that he'll be eligible at catcher while he plays first base. There are few things I believe in more for fantasy than to draft catchers who will not be playing the position. With a potential full slate of games, Mauer has the ability to reach 15 homers and increase his counting stats by around 10 to 15 percent—which were already consistently among the best at the position. And that's not even touching upon the belief by some that the lack of wear-and-tear on his legs will lead to more power at the plate (I'm not paying for that, but it's out there). —Bret Sayre

Brian McCann, Yankees
Baseball’s biggest party pooper predictably changed uniforms to play in the Land of No Beards, inking a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Yankees. You don’t have to like McCann the person, but there’s plenty to like about McCann the fantasy catcher. The nine-year vet moves to a premiere destination for left-handed power hitters, and the switch from the NL to AL could allow for extra at-bats at designated hitter. After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery over a year ago, McCann recorded his sixth consecutive 20-homer season—and seventh in eight years—despite logging only 402 plate appearances; 25 to 30 home runs is a real possibility in New York. For 2014, there are only three backstops I’d select ahead of McCann: Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana. In karaoke leagues, I’ll take the field. —Alex Kantecki

Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
Montero hit just .230/.318/.344 with 11 homers and 42 RBI last season, finishing 28th among catchers on ESPN’s Player Rater last season. As such he tends to be outside the Top 12 on most rankings I’ve seen, but I think discrediting Montero based on his 2013 season alone is a mistake. Montero enjoyed two consecutive strong performances in 2011 and 2012, averaging 16.5 homers, 65 runs, and 87 RBI along with respectable averages. While his .362 BABIP clearly aided his 2012 campaign, his .282 mark in 2013 is nearly as unsustainable in the context of his .312 career mark. Montero doesn’t have the upside to match some of the elite names in fantasy baseball this year, but I’m not buying that his best days are completely behind him as he enters his age-30 season in what’s still a hitter-friendly home ballpark. If you can get him a few rounds later than Salvador Perez, Jason Castro, or Wilson Ramos, that’s a tradeoff you should take. —Ben Carsley

Wilson Ramos, Nationals
The short case for Ramos: He’s a poor man’s Wilin Rosario and you won’t pay nearly the price for him that you would for Wilin. Neither backstop walked much last year, though Ramos does have a 12.5 percent and 8.7 percent walk rate in his past, so there’s hope that he can combine those skills. Ramos has shown impressive power for a catcher in limited at-bats, and if he stays healthy, 20 home runs seem like a lock. He tends to be viewed as a catcher outside the top 10 in value, but he absolutely has that type of upside, as he’s shown the ability to hit for average, hit for power, and should be part of a good Nationals lineup. Ramos should get the lion’s share of at-bats for the Nationals at catcher, and while it’s dangerous to project his stats out over a full season’s worth of at-bats, even a small dropoff from his current rates will be plenty valuable. —Craig Goldstein

Carlos Santana, Indians
In fantasy, we all like catchers who are still eligible at the position but no longer playing there. With Yan Gomes expected to get the bulk of the playing time, Santana will mostly DH for the Indians in 2014. Santana was already playing a fair amount of games at first base and DH, but with the strain of playing behind the plate removed entirely, he may see some mild to moderate improvement at the plate. —Mike Gianella

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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