By Tommy Rancel
Catcher is arguably the most difficult position to draft in the major leagues; real world or fantasy. In fantasy, there are three tiers of catchers: Joe Mauer is alone at the top. Brian McCann and Victor Martinez make up tier two; the rest fall in line after that
Bloomberg’s Demand vs. Scarcity chart does a great job of illustrating this.
If you are not fortunate enough to land one of the elite backstops, selecting a catcher can be a difficult process. With that in mind, keep an eye on these names when selecting your 2010 fantasy catcher.
Position Rank: 5
When Diamondbacks’ starting catcher Chris Snyder went down with a back injury last summer, Miguel Montero made the most of his Wally Pipp opportunity. For the first time in his four-year career, Montero was given more 400 at-bats. He responded by hitting .294/.355/.478 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 16 home runs and 59 RBI. His .327 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was above the expected norm (around.300), but Montero has sustained a BABIP over .320 in each of the past two seasons.
Even if his batting average regresses to the .275 area, his power numbers pass the test. Montero’s .184 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was within his career average of .178 and his 12.7% home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB) wasn’t far from his career number, 11.3%.
Montero goes into 2010 as the clear-cut starter for the Diamondbacks and could top 500 at-bats if Arizona can find a trade partner for Snyder. Another season with 15 to 20 home runs is well within reach.
Position Rank: 8
Like Montero, Chris Iannetta enters 2010 as his team’s clear number-one catcher, after being mired in a time-share for several seasons. The Rockies did sign Miguel Olivo to replace Yorvit Torrealba, but Iannetta received a three-year extension from Colorado, showing that he is the team’s first choice.
Iannetta hit just .228 last season. That was actually an improvement over his .218 mark in 2008, though still a huge drag on his fantasy value. Iannetta’s batting average on balls was just .245 in ’09 though, well below his .283 career mark and the league-wide of just over .300.
Despite the low batting average, his selective batting eye led to a healthy .344 OBP. Unlike his new teammate Olivo, Iannetta will take a walk. He walked 12.3% of the time last season, while Olivo took a free pass just 4.6% of the time.
In addition to getting on base, Iannetta has shown excellent power from the catcher position, his ISO topping .230 in each of the past two seasons. In 2009, his HR/FB of 14.0% matched his career number. Playing his home games in Coors field is an added bonus, but Iannetta’s home/road power splits show some balance: His home slugging percentage sits at .466, vs. .427 on the road.
The low batting average and BABIP make Iannetta a bounceback candidate in 2010. His impressive power from the catcher position makes him a good buy-low candidate in the late rounds of a mixed-league draft.
Position Rank: 10
Matt Wieters is no stranger to hype. That hype fizzled a bit when he got off to a slow start in 2009, though. During the first half of the season, he hit just .259/.316/.407 in 117 plate appearances. As his playing time increased during the second half, so did his production. Over the final 65 games of the season he hit .301/.351/.415 in 268 PA. This included a monster final month of the season, where he crushed the ball at a .333/.395/.486 clip.
Wieters’ .356 BABIP last season is likely to regress toward the .300 level. But the Orioles catcher can make up for it in other areas: He walked just 7.3% of the time while striking out 24.3% last season, numbers that are likely to improve given his superior minor league walk rate (14.7%) and strikeout rate (18.3%).
Wieters is not a true “sleeper” with an ADP of 96.5; however, that is 49 spots later than McCann, 72 spots later than Martinez, and 85 spots behind Mauer. Not yet in that upper echelon of backstops, Wieters’ late-season charge could portend a big season, turning the top catching trio into a fantastic four.
For more info on major league catchers including: player cards, position rankings, average draft positions, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.