BY ROB SHAW
There are often a few catchers who stand out as the finest of their generation. In the 1980s it was Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. The 1990s brought us Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez. The 2000s were dominated by archrivals Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada. Now in the ’10s we have a fresh generation of talent.
The fifth best backstop this season will be Giants masked marvel Buster Posey. After a stellar rookie season that included 18 home runs and a .305 average, Posey was again enjoying some success last season while showing a little more plate discipline. This season Bloomberg Sports projects Posey to return to prominence after a nasty collision at home plate ended his sophomore season prematurely. Expect 17 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .282 batting clip.
Coming in at number four is the player with perhaps the most upside on this list, Carlos Santana. As a rookie last season, Santana powered 27 home runs with 79 RBI and 84 runs. Though he hit just .234, Santana’s 97 walks are a tremendous total for such a young player. Bloomberg Sports projects 25 home runs with 89 RBI and even five stolen bases for Santana this season.
The third best catcher this season is also the steadiest: Brian McCann. The Braves star has 20-plus home runs in five of the last six seasons. While he does not offer any speed on the base paths, he does have a great deal of power and usually hits for a high average. Expect 24 home runs with 85 RBI form the 28-year-old veteran.
Coming in as the second best catcher is Twins sensation Joe Mauer. Fantasy managers have to come to grips with what Mauer now offers. Since the move to Target Field, Mauer does not pack much pop. He also lacks speed due to the many leg injuries he has suffered behind the plate. On the other hand, Mauer is a high average option with solid run production. Expect 13 home runs with a .306 batting clip for the former MVP contender.
Finally, the top-hitting catcher in fantasy baseball is Mike Napoli. The Rangers slugger became a household name in Texas last season thanks to his 30 home runs and .319 average. Napoli proved his worth on the offensive and defensive side of the diamond and after going in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts last season he now ranks at the top of his position. Expect him to offer a repeat performance with 30 home runs and 87 RBI.
For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies
The 36-year old first baseman is having a blast from the past with six home runs, 19 RBI, and a .325 average. He has 3 homers in the last four games and now is just two shy of last year’s total of eight home runs.
Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
This 24-year old backstop is red-hot with a six game hit streak that includes 10 hits, 2 homers, and 9 RBI. He is now hitting .329 on the season. Lasts eason he hit just .256 with four homers, but this is a guy who once hit 20 homers in a season in the Minor Leagues.
Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers
At 22 years old, Porcello already has 27 wins under his belt, and he is currently riding three straight wins. Over his last 5 starts, Porcello has surrendered just 7 earned runs, and while he does not get many strikeouts, he has offered a solid 3.67 ERA.
Fernando Salas/ Mitchell Boggs
The Cardinal’s closer’s gig is back on the market after Eduardo Sanchez blew a few saves. There are two names to know right now. Fernando Salas is a 25-year old hurler who boasts a 1.15 ERA this season with three saves. He gets about a strikeout per inning, and the opposition is hitting .170 off him. Then there is Mitchell Boggs a 27-year old flame-thrower with a 19-4 strikeout to walk ratio this season. He also has three saves, but his ERA is up to 3.66 and he struggled when initially handed the job a few weeks back.
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees
As if a .165 batting average wasn’t enough to keep him humble, Jorge Posada then asked out of the lineup when he was slotted to hit ninth on a nationally televised Saturday game against the Red Sox. He regrets the decision, and he won’t be punished thanks to his tremendous career in pinstripes. However, it does bring greater attention to the Yankees DH slot. If he does not get his average north of .200 by the end of the week, he is bound to lose his job. He already sits against southpaws, as he hasn’t had a hit in 24 at bats against them this season. Posada actually hit .257 against southpaws last year with a .493 slugging percentage, which is higher than what he offered against right-handers, so the fact that he is now getting benched against southpaws looks more like an excuse to take him out of the lineup.
by Eno Sarris //
The man with a lot of names is bringing his game to River Avenue: Russell Martin has agreed to a one-year contract with the Yankees. He’s not much of a consolation prize for losing out on Cliff Lee, but Martin still fills a need, and may even enjoy a bit of a bounceback in the Bronx. The move also means a lot for the organization, as minor as the signing might seem.
The team had already announced that Jorge Posada would function mostly as the designated hitter in 2011. He hasn’t hit well as a DH in the past (.223/.336/.361), but being relieved of the rigors of catching might allow him to play more often and have a mini-resurgence of his own. At the very least, it rids the Yankees of Posada’s subpar defense behind the dish. By announcing the move early, the Yankees basically admitted that they would spend the off-season looking for a solution at the position.
The speculation to date had been that the team would play Jesus Montero for the lion’s share of the at-bats at the position – speculation based on the strength of Montero’s bat. That bat is impressive: Montero just hit .289/.353/.517 in Triple-A, with 21 home runs…as a 20-year-old. That’s made even greater by the fact that the International League is one of the minors’ toughest places for offense.
Unfortunately, Montero isn’t known for his work behind the plate, and even after four years spent shoring up his footwork and receiving ability, he may not be long for the position. Some prospect gurus, like Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, are more blunt about his flaws. Goldstein has also pointed out that Montero would be larger than any other catcher in the game. Now with Lee in Philadelphia, Montero might actually be the main chip in a trade to net another starter for the Yankees. He’s gone from Opening Day starter to a possible trade candidate in the span of a month or two.
Cue Russ Martin. After peaking with a .293/.374/.469 line (with 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases) in 2007, Martin has seen his statistics wither away – down to last year’s .248/.347/.332 with five home runs and six stolen bases in a career-low 387 plate appearances. The good news is that Martin has retained his excellent eye at the plate – he continues to walk (12.9% career) and not strike out too much (15.8% career).
Mostly, he’s lost his power and speed. His speed may not return – it’s rare for a catcher to continue stealing bases long into his career, and Martin is coming off of a leg injury. Martin never had much power: At his peak (.176 ISO in 2007) he was only slightly above average (.150 most years). The last two years, his power has been middle-infield-esque, though (.079 and .085 ISO respectively).
Can he return to respectability in that category? Maybe. The park factor for right-handed home runs in Los Angeles was 92 last year, and in New York it was 110. To take advantage of the friendly confines, Martin will have to get more balls in the air. If he, perhaps, puts up a flyball percentage like the one he showed in 2007 (34.1%) rather than the one he had last year (28.3%), he could see a few more big flies in 2011.
With a little step back in strikeouts (last year’s 18.4% was a career high), and slightly better luck on balls in play (.287 BABIP last year, .302 career), Martin’s batting average might also improve in 2011. With his walk rate as it is, he’s still a boon in leagues that count on-base percentage. And even with reduced speed, he should steal a handful of bases. Martin is a decent bet for a slight bounceback. He’s a worthy late-round flyer in mixed leagues.