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February 1, 2012

The Keeper Reaper

Second, Short, and Catcher for 2/1/12

by Michael Jong

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Carlos Santana | Cleveland Indians
Shallow (30 keepers)
: BORDERLINE
Medium (60 keepers): YES
Deep (90 keepers): YES
AL-only (60 keepers): YES
Super Deep (200 keepers): YES

Santana finished second only to Mike Napoli as the most valuable catcher in 2011. Santana's $19 season is even more impressive considering that he hit only .239 during his campaign; much of his contribution came from his 27 home runs and resulting counting stats. He seems to have a good chance to repeat his career 23 home runs per 600 PA rate, as his HR/FB rate of 15 percent seems reasonable given the scouting reports on him. Given his pedigree, one can only expect to see a bounce back to at least the 2010 version of his BABIP, possibly leading to a .250 to .260 batting average and even greater overall numbers.

One of the reasons to be happy if you own Santana versus some other catchers is that his playing time should be greater than most of his backstop peers. Right now, Santana actually profiles as the starting first baseman for the Indians, as he began filling that role more consistently at the tail end of 2011 when the Indians tired of Matt LaPorta's struggles. If the trend continues, Santana could find himself away from the rigors of catching for a significant amount of time in 2012, which would help to keep his knees healthy (remember, he is just a season removed from injuring one of those knees in his rookie year) and his plate appearances plentiful.

Sean Rodriguez | Tampa Bay Rays
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers): NO
Deep (90 keepers): NO
AL-only (60 keepers): NO
Super Deep (200 keepers): NO

Sean Rodriguez has been a player on the fringe for what seems like years now, both with the Rays and Los Angeles Angels. Last year, he received the most playing time of his career (436 PA) but turned it into just a .223/.323/.357 line. For most jobs, that would warrant a swift exit from the starting position, but in the case of Rodriguez, his primary competition is the equally inept Reid Brignac (.193/.227/.221 in 2011), so Rodriguez looks as though he will enter the 2012 season as the Rays' primary shortstop.

A starting Rodriguez is a much more appealing fantasy option than a starting Brignac. He steals bases and hits home runs, which always helps in his evaluation. He also struggles with strikeouts, though he improved his contact (up to 74.7 percent of pitches swung at) last season just enough to post an acceptable 20 percent strikeout rate. Because he is not a major slugger, he is always going to struggle with batting average, but a double-digit home runs and steals candidate in a decent Rays lineup would be good enough to consider in plenty of leagues.

The problem is that Rodriguez has an awful and apparent platoon split, and that split may prevent him from being the full-time candidate at the position. For his career, he has hit a strong .260/.360/.422 line against lefties but a terrible .212/.278/.337 against righties. While the sample size is small as far as platoon splits go, it could still give Joe Maddon pause when considering him as a full-time player, and given that his strength is on the small half of the platoon, the Rays could turn to a couple of other infield candidates until one sticks full-time, and at this point one should not bet on any one of those candidates in particular, including Rodriguez.

Miguel Montero | Arizona Diamondbacks
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers): NO
Deep (90 keepers): YES
NL-only (60 keepers): YES
Super Deep (200 keepers): YES

Montero's 2011 season was quite impressive, as he hit .282/.351/.469 with 18 home runs in 551 PA, good for a .279 TAv. Given his injury history (particularly his 2010), he may not have been on as many radars as he should have been, but PECOTA had projected him for a $15 value before the season began, and he exceeded expectations with a $17 season in 2011. Of course, it is easy to forget that this sort of season is not all that foreign to Montero, as he had a very similar year in 2009, albeit in fewer plate appearances. That season, Montero racked up 470 PA but still hit 16 home runs with a .294/.355/.478 line. In essence, Montero repeated his 2009 season and sandwiched a weaker, injury-riddled (but still useful) 2010 season in between.

Montero should fit into the Diamondbacks lineup around the cleanup spot, giving him plenty of opportunities to try and repeat his career-best RBI numbers from last season. Compound that with the favorable run environment of Chase Field (five-year park factor of 1.05 according to Patriot), and you have the makings of another excellent offensive season by Montero. A .270/..340/.450 season with his typical 16 home runs seems more than reasonable and would represent more of the same for Montero. He is on the high end of “DEEP” league keeper status and just on outskirts of borderline candidacy for “MEDIUM”-depth leagues.

Yadier Molina | St. Louis Cardinals
Shallow (30 keepers)
: NO
Medium (60 keepers): NO
Deep (90 keepers): NO
NL-only (60 keepers): YES
Super Deep (200 keepers): YES

Molina had a career year in 2011, batting .305/.349/.465 with 14 home runs in 518 PA, and some of those numbers sound believable and even repeatable. Molina has struck out at an 8.5 percent clip for his career, and that number has barely budged throughout his career. That sort of strikeout rate makes it easy for him to bat close to .300, and indeed Molina has twice hit .290 or above before 2011. The home runs were a new revelation, however, as he had never posted a HR/FB rate greater than 7.4 percent before his 9.1 percent (relative) outburst. Molina's 14 homers averaged just a 386-foot distance compared to the NL average of 398 feet as measured by ESPN Home Run Tracker. Compared to his three-year average of 388 feet per home run, this seems completely in line with previous numbers. This could mean nothing, or it could mean that he has not actually gained in strength and perhaps ran into more balls last season.

It would be advisable for fantasy owners to lean more towards the old Molina than the 2011 model, as the power was just fluky enough to warrant concern in terms of a repeat performance. Molina was only the 101st most valuable hitter in deep mixed leagues last season, and that was with the home run boost.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

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