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Lobaton, Suzuki and Buck? Oh My!

Posted By Howard Bender On April 1, 2014 @ 1:15 pm In Catchers | 5 Comments

Happy Opening Day to you all. Hopefully you were able to enjoy at least some of it and didn’t spend your entire day sweating managerial decisions, pitcher blow-ups and closer changes too much. Obviously if you have a chance to pick up a player like Matt Lindstrom or Francisco Rodriguez, then fine, make your move, but looking back and playing the ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ game with your draft because Cliff Lee gave up eight earned runs to the Rangers does nothing positive for you. It’s the first day. Just relax. It’s a long, long season.

As a result of it being so early in the year, we have limited things to discuss with regard to the catcher position. Rather than try to force something out of one day’s worth of numbers, we’re just going to look at a few catcher situations that will probably require more of your attention than just the cursory glance. If you are using one of the following backstops on your roster, you may want to take note.

While Wilson Ramos was everyone’s draft darling this spring, it could be Jose Lobaton who proves to be the most valuable backstop in Washington. Ramos has outstanding power potential, as evidenced by his .199 ISO last year and 16 home runs in just 287 at-bats, but the biggest red flag of them all, the dreaded injury-prone label, has already reared it’s ugly head. Initial reports of a fracture were false as we learned that x-rays came back negative, but there is still something wrong enough to warrant a visit to a hand specialist Tuesday. Even if nothing is wrong or the injury is something very minor, this could open the door for the Lobaton to start seeing more time behind the plate. Defensively, he’s solid. He’s not the be-all, end-all, but he’s definitely not a liability behind the dish. Offensively, he’s obviously not as strong as Ramos, but he becomes a passable option as a second catcher with an increase in playing time. He’s got mid-level power, capable of hitting 10-12 home runs should he see 300-350 plate appearances and could post an on-base percentage of .320 or more. Keep an eye on Ramos’ condition this week and, if you own him, be wary of the fact that the Nats could limit his starts per week should they believe it will keep him healthy.

When the Twins brought in Kurt Suzuki during the winter, the initial assumption was that he would be the primary backstop with sleeper-favorite Josmil Pinto learning from him while assuming the back-up role. However, during the spring there was a lot more talk of an even split in playing time as Pinto looked better defensively than he had in the past and was also out-hitting Suzuki. Pinto’s ADP began to climb late in the spring while Suzuki remained undrafted in most mixed leagues. Well, the Twins’ original plans are apparently back in effect and the majority of the work is going Suzuki’s way. Fantasy-wise, there’s still not a whole lot to like about Suzuki’s game as his power and playing time these last two years has been heading south. But should he really end up with the lion’s share of the work and the Twins do continue to bat him second in the lineup, then he just might be worth a look in deeper leagues.

This last one is more speculative than anything else as we have all heard the reports that Lloyd McClendon wants Mike Zunino behind the plate for the majority of games this season. However, while the youngster was fast-tracked through the system and showed tremendous power potential in the minors, he struggled mightily at the plate last season. He actually struggled with his plate discipline back in Triple-A but because of a .211 ISO, most seemed to dismiss his 28.8-percent strikeout rate. But you need to take into account that the Pacific Coast League is a notorious hitter-friendly league, so to me, the strikeouts stand out a whole lot more than the power stats. Should Zunino’s plate discipline issues appear front-and-center again this season, it might not be long before we start seeing John Buck, a notorious fast-starter, behind the plate more. The Mariners were supposedly committing more to their offense this season, so we could see Zunino’s playing time diminish which would obviously have an adverse effect on his fantasy value.


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