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Fantasy Baseball Preview: Catcher

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Victor MartinezDo yourself a favor: Don't overrate catchers on draft day . Nowadays, teams like to keep their catchers as fresh as possible (especially the contenders) and therefore, only a select few backstops will top 500 at-bats. Chances are, your catcher probably isn’t going to be the difference in your hoisting a fantasy championship at the end of the year, so don’t overvalue them.

Of course, we're not suggesting you completely ignore the position. If a stud like Victor Martinez, Russell Martin or Joe Mauer slips in the early rounds, don’t hesitate to plug them into your lineup and enjoy the the elite production. If the top guys are gone, however, there’s not that wide of a gap from the stars to the fallbacks, so don’t be afraid to wait on your backstop until the later rounds. Guys like Bengie Molina, A.J. Pierzynski and Ivan Rodriguez will provide you with above average production in one of the main categories (BA, HR, RBI, runs).

*NOTE: All analysis based on standard 5x5 roto leagues

The Studs

Victor Martinez, Cleveland Indians
.301, 25 HR, 114 RBI, 78 runs, 0 SB, 76 K, 62 BB, 562 AB

Can Martinez improve on his stellar 2007 campaign? He finished with career highs in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage, keeping his average north of .300 and belting 25 long balls. He leads all catchers in hits, home runs and RBI since 2004, and often gets a chance to rest his knees while playing first base and DH, making him the best fantasy catcher in any draft.

Joe MauerRussell Martin, LA Dodgers
.293, 19 HR, 87 RBI, 87 runs, 21 SB, 89 K, 67 BB, 540 AB

Some rank Martin ahead of Martinez with what he offers in stolen bases, but Martinez still has the better power potential at this point. Martin is a fine consolation prize to those who don’t land Martinez in the first couple rounds, and his power numbers should only increase with more at bats. Expect similar BA and stolen base numbers, with a slight jump in RBI and runs.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
.293, 7 HR, 60 RBI, 62 runs, 7 SB, 51 K, 57 BB, 406 AB

Mauer owners were left battered and bruised by his performance last year, especially coming off a 2006 campaign in which he hit .347 and reached double digits in home runs. Injuries sidetracked most of his production, but he should be healthy again, and it’s unlikely the Twins’ offense will be as bad this year as it was last. Expect a bounce back year from Mauer – maybe .300-10-85 – although certainly nothing close to ’06.

The Stars Letdown Alert
Jorge Posada, New York Yankees
.338, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 91 runs, 2 SB, 98 K, 74 BB, 506 AB

Want to rank Posada ahead of Mauer? That’s understandable looking at the numbers, but remember, Posada was set to become a free agent last year and produced career highs in hits and average. His .338 average wasn’t a fluke, but just be careful since he’s probably due for a letdown.

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
.270, 18 HR, 92 RBI, 51 runs, 0 SB, 74 K, 35 BB, 504 AB

Upset that McCann is in the star group after such a poor third season? Relax. He’s only 24 and was probably due for a letdown after coming into the league with a bang. His run production should increase, as well as his average. Don’t pass on him once the top backstops come off the board.

Value Alert
Kenji Johjima, Seattle Mariners
.287, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 52 runs, 0 SB, 41 K, 15 BB, 485 AB

While his numbers declined from his rookie season, only three catchers had a better batting average than the 31-year old Johjima, and actually, if it weren’t for a 26-game slump, he would have hit well over .300. Draft him in the middle rounds and have confidence that his numbers will increase in an improving Seattle lineup.
The Fallbacks
Take 'Em Joe Mauer, Twins
We know you were burned last year, but go ahead – indulge. He’s healthy again and primed for a comeback season.

Brian McCann, Braves
Much like Mauer, we would understand if you want to pass on McCann following a poor season. But he’s only 24 and will have Mark Teixeria hitting in the same lineup for a full year.

Bengie Molina, Giants
Draft him, cash in on his solid first half and then trade him to some poor sucker at the All-Star break. He’s likely to wear down in the second half, but he should be good out of the gates.

Leave 'Em Ronny Paulino, Pirates
He’s going to lose at bats to Ryan Doumit and he plays for the Pirates. What more do you want us to say?

Jason Varitek, Red Sox
Let somebody else deal with the fluctuating numbers and .250 batting average. You don’t need the aggravation for 20 dingers.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Braves
If you’re not in a keeper league, take a pass and go with a more proven commodity. He might not even start this year and even if he does, he’s likely to go through severe growing pains.

Value Alert
Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants
.276, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 38 runs, 0 SB, 53 K, 15 BB, 497 AB

Molina will hit cleanup for the Giants, which should produce plenty of RBI chances. He won’t steal bases, take walks or score many runs, but his power production will justify taking him among the top 10 catchers. Something to consider is drafting Molina in the middle rounds and shopping him at the All-Star break. He was great in the first half last year until fatigue caught up with him late in the year.

A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
.263, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 54 runs, 1 SB, 66 K, 25 BB, 472 AB

Nobody’s going to get excited over selecting Pierzynski no matter what the round, but you could certainly do worse. At this point in his career, you know exactly what you’re getting from him, which isn’t bad, but certainly not great, either. He’ll supply adequate power and if you’re lucky, maybe he’ll get his average back up to .280-plus (ala 2006).

Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
.281, 11 HR, 63 RBI, 50 runs, 2 SB, 96 K, 9 BB, 502 AB

Rodriguez gets a fantasy boost with the Tigers’ offseason additions of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria, but his best quality is actually his consistency. Over the past three years, he’s averaged .286 with 13 home runs and 61 RBI. While those totals aren’t as attractive as what he did from ‘96 to ‘04, he’s still an above-average fantasy option.

Ramon Hernandez, Baltimore Orioles
.258, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 40 runs, 1 SB, 59 K, 32 BB, 364 AB

With how bad he was last year, Hernandez is likely to drop lower than he probably should. His totals last year were his lowest since 2002, so he might be a prime candidate for a rebound season. After all, he’s not quite over the hill at 31, and if he returns to his .275-15-70 ways, he would be a great value pick in later rounds.

Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox
.255, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 57 runs, 1 SB, 122 K, 71 BB, 435 AB

If you can put up with a fluctuating batting average and gobs of strikeouts, Varitek will get you a decent number of home runs and RBI. He’s also in a stout lineup, which should provide a fair amount of scoring opportunities. Just don’t get frustrated if he hits .260 again.

The Future Letdown Alert
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas Rangers
.266, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 39 runs, 0 SB, 75 K, 19 BB, 308 AB

Salty has a ton of fantasy owners intrigued, but warning signs abound. He might not be ready to take on a full-time role right out of the gate, and he actually hit worse in Texas (.252) than Atlanta (.284). However, he plays in a hitter’s park and the Rangers didn’t trade for him to watch him rot on the bench. He could make a nice No. 2 catcher, but hold off on assuming he’ll be a solid No. 1 this season.

Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
.389, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 12 runs, 0 SB, 14 K, 5 BB, 54 AB
Soto might be the ultimate sleeper, but there’s also no guarantee he’ll start. He had monster numbers at AAA (.353-26-109) and was solid for the Cubs once he was called up in September, so keep an eye on what he does in spring training. Don’t overvalue him on draft day, but if he’s sitting there in late rounds and your roster is almost complete, he might pay off big.

Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay Rays
.227, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 46 runs, 3 SB, 67 K, 33 BB, 388 AB

Navarro’s final numbers scream pass, but with what he did in the second half, he’s worth a look this year. He hit .275 with eight home runs and drove in 36 RBI after the All-Star break, which was very close to his final numbers. Just like fellow youngster Kurt Suzuki, he might be a good player to keep your eye on once the season is a month or two old.

Kurt Suzuki, Oakland A’s
.249, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 27 runs, 0 SB, 39 K, 24 BB, 213 AB
Suzuki struggled mightily after inheriting the starting catcher job once Jason Kendall was traded to the Cubs. He hit only .204 in his first month, but eventually got on track and displayed some of his potential. Keep your eye on him if he goes undrafted – he might become a free agent steal if he has a hot start.

The Rest Letdown Alert
Ronny Paulino, Pittsburgh Pirates
.263, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 56 runs, 2 SB, 79 K, 33 BB, 457 AB

Paulino was decent last year, but there are some concerns. First and foremost, youngster Ryan Doumit will steal some at bats, and two, the Bucs’ lineup is brutal. Who knows though? Maybe he’ll find the .300 stroke he had when he was a rookie.

Chris Snyder, Arizona Diamondbacks
.252, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 37 runs, 0 SB, 67 K, 40 BB, 326 AB

Snyder’s final numbers in 2007 weren’t great, but he did hit .292 in the second half and knocked in 32 runs (he only finished with 47). He also had an on-base percentage of .889, so he’ll get the opportunity to keep his starting job. He must keep youngster Miguel Montero at bay, though.

Value Alert
Paul Lo Duca, Washington Nationals
.272, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 46 runs, 2 SB, 33 K, 24 BB, 445 AB
Looking for average out of your No. 2 catcher? Lo Duca’s your man. He’s the only catcher in the NL to post a .270 average every year from 2001 to 2007. But beware: While he’ll probably be a pleasant surprise in the first half, he’s prone to collapse in the second. If he has a decent first half, you might get decent trade value out of him.