It’s time to wrap up the infield by ranking the only position that rivals shortstop in terms of awfulness, and that’s catcher. While the top of the pile is more encouraging than it has been in years thanks to a few talented sluggers, the fact that there are so many defensive-oriented backstops in the majors makes this position a chore to get through on draft day. It’s even worse if you play in a league that requires two catchers in your everyday lineup, but hey, you could be in the setup I’m in that is NL-only with two starting catchers. Imagine that depressing scenario when you’re having trouble picking just one catcher for your own team.

One thing you need to remember for these tiers-since stars are meant to be somewhat even across all positions for easy decision making, you will notice a lack of quantity in the five- and four-star tiers at catcher. Between the low offensive expectations at the position, even for those that are considered productive options, and the lack of playing time (no catcher plays every game), it’s very difficult to hit so well that you make yourself elite or just missed in those regards.

As for the previous rankings in the series, check out first basemen, second basemen, third basemen and shortstops. Now, here are the changes to this year’s ranking system:

  • Players are no longer ranked by number (the 1-20 system). Instead, I am implementing a tiered system using stars (five stars is the best, one is the lesser of your options). These stars are equal across positions to make comparisons between them easier-for example, there are three five-star first basemen, but there may be more or fewer than that at other positions-if it comes to it, the first player at a position may be a four-star option. You can derive positional scarcity from the number of four- and five-star players available and make decisions from there. Players are loosely ordered within tiers, with my first preference to my last.
  • I am no longer just covering 20 players per position-each list may be a bit different in length, but this list of catchers is 49 players long. This should let players in AL- or NL-only league be as prepared as those in mixed leagues. There are two things I did to make this happen. First, I used the depth charts as my guide (this is also where the projections listed come from) and picked the starting player for every team at the position, giving me a minimum of 30 guaranteed choices. Second, for players with multiple position eligibility, I included them in the list for each position. It is possible they will have different star ratings at different positions, though, so make sure you reference the correct set of rankings. Victor Martinez is a three-star first baseman-it’s a very crowded position, and his numbers are very average for it-but at catcher, where the talent pool is shallower, Martinez is worth more. This allows me to show you at which position a player is most valuable. If there is anyone I missed that you want to know about, please ask me about them via e-mail or in the comments, and I’ll get back to you with my thoughts.

Five Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Joe Mauer        456  .328/.418/.482 84 15  78  4

I’m sure seeing Mauer here by his lonesome was shocking. It isn’t even that other catchers aren’t capable of putting up the line listed in the forecast above-seeing Brian McCann hit .328 wouldn’t be a shocking development, and he could even do it with more power than that. No, what separates Mauer from the others, and allows him to be considered elite, not just as a catcher but as a hitter, is the fact that this is just one of many likely scenarios for him. His 70th percentile has him at .336/.438/.522, and his 90th is .344/.473/.553. After watching him hit .365/.444/.587 last year, with 94 R, 96 RBI and 59 extra-base hits, both of these seem possible. Banking on last year would be a bit much, but it’s good to see PECOTA feels it’s in the cards.

Four Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Brian McCann     542  .290/.366/.488 58 20  84  3
Victor Martinez  556  .286/.363/.463 62 18  81  1
Jorge Posada     433  .270/.361/.440 44 14  56  2
Chris Iannetta   457  .253/.372/.461 54 16  63  0

McCann’s forecast looks a lot like his 2009 campaign, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he reached his 70th percentile of .307/.386/.543. Maybe with a tad less power, unless he reproduced his career high ISO, but his weighted mean seems to be on the safe side. Martinez gets bonus points since he’s eligible at first base and may pick up some at-bats there or at DH when he’s spelled behind the plate. Being in the lineup everyday is an advantage over 95 percent of the players listed behind him, and that’s without mentioning that he’s a better hitter than just about all of them.

I don’t expect 2009 out of Posada again, but this forecast is still a bit low to me. I like his 70th of .287/.386/.490 a bit more, though the power there may be a little high-it’s still a drop below his 2007 and 2009 performances, but within the realm of realism. Iannetta had a low batting average last year, partially from a .253 BABIP, and he didn’t get the playing time to let things level out. He did, however, have a ton of power, with an ISO of .232 to follow up on 2008’s .240 mark. If he can get that batting average straightened out-and Coors Field is the place for bringing a BABIP back up-then he’s going to be worth this position.

Three Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Geovany Soto     499 .276/.367/.476  55 17  71  1
Ryan Doumit      482 .290/.346/.468  54 16  65  4
Matt Wieters     513 .296/.367/.479  62 19  68  2
Mike Napoli      356 .261/.356/.509  59 24  55  5
Miguel Montero   387 .272/.350/.454  47 13  48  1
Kurt Suzuki      608 .282/.344/.417  66 14  71  5
Yadier Molina    563 .297/.364/.416  48 11  63  4
Russell Martin   499 .277/.375/.414  62 11  56  8
Bengie Molina    457 .282/.310/.452  39 15  71  0

If PECOTA can forgive Soto his 2009 without even knowing he legitimately came into spring training this year in the best shape of his life (hint: the shape was not round) then I guess I can, too. His BABIP needs to rebound for his line to come back, but there’s really no direction for a .246 one to go except up -as long as he can avoid the injuries that diminished his production in 2009, he should be fine. Doumit is another catcher who dealt with injuries in 2009, as a broken wrist knocked him out of action and kept him from doing well upon his return. He was forecasted for .281/.344/.453 in 2009, and finished strong in September, so the hope is that his wrist is fully healed and he can go back to doing what he’s capable of.

I was very much against Wieters’ forecast for 2009, but this 2010 one seems much more reasonable. He hit .288/.340/.412 in his rookie season, including a strong finish of .333/.395/.486 in September/October. Do I expect him to play like that in 2010? Of course not. But by year’s end, this projection will seem right, even if it isn’t evident the first month or two, Napoli has two issues: playing time split with Jeff Mathis and his batting average. You can live with one of them and maybe even plop him into the four-star category, but unless he’s consistently hitting for a high average or locks Mathis into the equipment closet on days he’s supposed to start, then he’s regrettably in the three-star tier. It’s a shame. How many other .500-plus slugging percentages do you see forecasted for catchers without resorting to the 70th-or-above percentiles?

Montero matched his forecast for 2009, which was actually a little more optimistic than this. Though he’s splitting time with Chris Snyder, he’ll still get the majority of the playing time, and he’s capable of at least the forecast above. Suzuki’s line isn’t the prettiest, but he’s expected to play a ton, which is rare at this position. This should help out his counting stats, which is good for both roto or head-to-head. It’s funny to think Yadier Molina may be the best-hitting Molina, but there he is, ranked above both of his kin. Like Suzuki, he’s about quantity over quality, though he won’t hurt you with what he does offer.

Martin’s appeal wears thinner with the fewer bases he swipes and the more his power diminishes, so instead of being an elite option, he’s now down here with the average folk. I’m not giving up on him entirely based of off 2009, though I did rank him No. 5 last year ,but if you’re expectations are even lower than mine then feel free to kick him into the two-star tier.

When you combine Bengie Molina’s OBP with the Giants‘ offense, you end up with a projected 39 runs scored. He should pick up some RBI and hit for some solid power, and his batting average can help you stay afloat. This is a three-star that I can very easily see being a two, especially if Buster Posey starts to cut into his playing time.

You may have noticed we’ve gone through three tiers and have covered 14 of the 60 catchers. The last two tiers are loaded, but in the same way that the shelves in a dollar store are always full of stock that no one wants, even at a fair price.

Two Stars
Player                 PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Kelly Shoppach        323 .240/.335/.449  39 14  39  0
Jesus Flores          308 .255/.321/.408  28  9  47  0
Brayan Pena           291 .287/.339/.439  29  7  33  2
A.J. Pierzynski       453 .276/.318/.417  45 12  40  1
Nick Hundley          399 .232/.302/.404  39 14  50  3
John Baker            342 .259/.353/.402  38  8  39  1
Ronny Paulino         308 .262/.335/.412  28  8  34  1
Chris Snyder          281 .231/.343/.408  27  9  36  0
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 299 .265/.337/.456  49 16  46  1
Taylor Teagarden      266 .237/.318/.447  31 11  32  1
John Buck             411 .225/.300/.411  39 15  45  1
Carlos Ruiz           433 .262/.363/.404  43  9  47  2
Gerald Laird          399 .253/.326/.386  48  9  36  3
Rod Barajas           299 .247/.299/.433  31 11  41  0
Gregg Zaun            389 .230/.349/.373  37  9  37  0
Buster Posey          140 .268/.344/.427  17  4  15  1
Miguel Olivo          246 .251/.289/.447  24  9  31  3
Lou Marson            420 .260/.354/.364  46  6  42  3
Rob Johnson           399 .255/.319/.374  35  7  35  3
Dioner Navarro        323 .268/.325/.412  34  8  34  3
Ramon Castro          161 .257/.326/.501  19  9  27  0

Shoppach is harmful to your batting average, but should have plenty of power for the position, and gets on base enough that he’ll be able to pick up some runs in the Rays lineup. Flores would easily be a high three-star player (forecast notwithstanding) if he was guaranteed 60 percent of the playing time. His 90th percentile of .276/.346/.456 seems like it should be his weighted mean after hitting .301/.375/.505 in 2009-his .381 BABIP is of concern, but the regression here seems extreme. He’s still young and developing, after all.

Pena should easily match his forecast, if for no other reason that it will make every Jason Kendall plate appearance that much more of a problem for Royals fans. Pierzynski seems to be everyone’s option when they miss out on the elite catchers, but you can’t all have him. Don’t any of you play in leagues together? Hundley won’t pick up all of the playing time thanks to the Yorvit Torrealba acquisition, but the depth charts are confident he’ll still pick up most of it by year’s end. Petco Park is a problem, but his numbers are still adequate for the position.

Baker doesn’t have a ton of power, but he gets on base and will pick up runs. He’s like a poor man’s version of the Suzuki-type. Paulino also fits into that mold, though with less in the on-base department. Snyder could be a starting catcher for many teams in the league, but he’s paired up with the talented Montero, and therefore sits in the two-star tier with the rest of the playing time-impaired.

You would think the Rangers could grow one worthwhile catcher from their crop, but as of yet, they have harvested nothing but disappointment. Saltalamacchia’s line would be a huge improvement over 2009’s .233/.390/.371, and Teagarden’s .217/.370/.374 shows he has just as much to prove. They are here for their upside, otherwise their performances would have them ranked even lower. You know what you’re getting with Buck: a low average but good power for a catcher. The R and RBI depend on his lineup, but the Blue Jays should have a decent one this year.

There isn’t much to say about the rest of this group. Posey is intriguing because the Giants are willing to give him at-bats elsewhere on the diamond rather than wasting him on the bench. Castro and Olivo are players to target in-season if the starters in front of them go down, as both provide huge power for catchers. The rest of these guys are one-star catchers with the plate appearances of someone better, which will hurt your rates but help your counting stats if you’re that desperate for a catcher.

One Star
Player                 PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Jason Kendall         356 .266/.340/.350  30  3  33  3
Ivan Rodriguez        342 .251/.286/.373  30  7  32  2
Ryan Hanigan          342 .263/.380/.350  32  4  25  1
Ramon Hernandez       342 .269/.345/.429  43 13  62  1
Humberto Quintero     333 .252/.295/.366  27  6  26  0
Omir Santos           266 .248/.298/.350  21  5  29  0
J.R. Towles           266 .243/.290/.412  30  7  32  2
Jason Varitek         259 .223/.339/.374  21  6  24  0
Jeff Mathis           259 .226/.301/.372  30  7  26  1
Jason Jaramillo       259 .256/.324/.375  24  5  26  1
Brian Schneider       233 .259/.353/.382  17  5  26  0
George Kottaras       233 .222/.317/.381  22  7  22  0
Alex Avila            199 .249/.336/.415  19  6  29  1
Adam Moore            199 .241/.299/.388  19  5  22  0
Yorvit Torrealba      199 .244/.310/.361  18  4  21  1
Francisco Cervelli    180 .254/.322/.354  16  2  15  1
Koyie Hill            166 .231/.297/.348  15  3  16  1
Mike Redmond          161 .270/.323/.347  12  2  17  0
Jose Morales          152 .289/.349/.395  13  2  11  0
Landon Powell         152 .223/.324/.400  16  5  18  0
Chad Moeller          137 .230/.280/.328  11  2  12  1
Raul Chavez           137 .241/.275/.340  11  2  12  1
Brad Ausmus           133 .244/.323/.351  10  2  10  1
David Ross            108 .222/.336/.383  9   3   9  0
Jason LaRue           105 .214/.291/.332  9   3   9  0

Remember how I said I would order them within tiers using the “gun to my head” principle, meaning that if you forced me to choose between evenly-distributed talent, I would name so-and-so over that guy? Well, here I used that idea, down in the dank depths of the catcher rankings, to organize the tier by playing time. This far down, all you are looking for is someone who will pick up some plate appearances-otherwise, why would you care who any of these guys are? Excepting the terrible twosome of Kendall and Rodriguez at the top, no one here will have a starting job, and these aren’t interesting backups either, like your Penas of Floreses from above.

The one item of separation these catchers have is their playing time, as none have impressive rates (excepting Hernandez, who has a forecast that I will politely refer to as “suspect”). It’s all about how many R, RBI and HR they can accumulate for you in your second catcher slot or as a desperation backup on a deep roster.