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Top Five Targets: Catchers

Earlier today Howard debuted our preseason catcher rankings, and three familiar names sat at or near of top. Joining them were a pair of players that started last season in the minors but excelled in (somewhat) limited big league action and grabbed a premium ranking in what is traditionally fantasy’s thinnest position.

The King: Joe Mauer

Fantasy’s best option is back at the top of rankings, even though his first season in Target Field wasn’t as kind as he would have liked (.351 wOBA at home, .394 on the road in 2010). His worst batting average in three seasons still tipped the scales at .327 last summer, rarefied air for a backstop. The nine homers were nothing special even accounting for position, but the projection systems have him climbing back into the double digits and sitting around 15 HR in 2011. Mauer is a must have in OBP leagues, getting on base more than 40% of the time in recent years. Another .320+ season with 12+ homers and 70+ RBI is the floor here.

The biggest knock on Mauer is durability, but that’s not terribly uncommon for a catcher. He missed a total of 24 days with foot, shoulder, and knee issues last season (no DL trips), and he’s battled neck and knee issues in the past. Mauer makes up for the lost time by rarely taking a day off when he is healthy, racking up a ton of plate appearances at DH (97 PA as a DH, 480 as a C last season). Most mocks have the Twins’ franchise player going in the mid-to-late third round of a standard 5×5 league. If your league counts OBP, he’s a second round target, maybe even late-first if you’re feeling frisky.

Robin to Mauer’s Batman: Brian McCann

About 95% of Mauer’s production with 10% of the hype, McCann enjoyed another stellar season in 2010 with little love from the mainstream media. He hit 21 HR for the second straight year, the fourth time in his five full seasons that’s eclipsed the 20 HR plateau. With the homers comes a ton of RBI, though 77 in 2010 were his career low. Usually he’s over 90. McCann’s batting average is more “mortal” than “Mauer,” sitting around .275 over the last two years. With the exception of a two week stint in 2009 (eye infection), he hasn’t been on the disabled list since 2007 and has even managed to limit the day-to-day stuff of the position in recent years. A giant chunk of that is luck though, catching is a brutal occupation.

The projection systems call for a typical McCann season in 2011, great news for fantasy players. He’ll turn just 27 this coming weekend, so theoretically he’s entering his prime and could be in position for a career year. Grab him in the fourth round and take .270+/20+/80+ to the bank.

The Phenom: Buster Posey

The NL Rookie of the Year did what Matt Wieters couldn’t do two years ago: come up and be an impact player immediately. En route to the World Series, the 23-year-old (24 in March) had a four win season that featured 18 HR and 67 RBI in just 114 team games, and his .305 AVG was second only to Mauer’s. AT&T Park really suppressed Posey’s offense (.306 wOBA at home, .425 on the road), which isn’t terribly surprising, though his .265 home BABIP should climb a bit just as .367 road BABIP should drop a bit. The power is very real (projections have him at 20+) and the RBI’s will come.

Part of the pitfall of being the game’s premier under-25 catcher is being overrated to a certain extent, especially in fantasy. I’ve seen Posey going as high as the third round in mock drafts, which is at least a full round too soon, maybe even two. Potential is a great, but Mauer and McCann are proven commodities at a scarce position. Sophomore slumps come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s definite value in predictability. Posey doesn’t offer much of that right now. That said, I’d be thrilled to have him.

Ol’ Reliable: Victor Martinez

The ideal fantasy catcher doesn’t catch at all, he plays another spot full-time. It reduces the number of days off for rest and the number of days missed due to injuries, plus it (theoretically) keeps the player fresher late into the season. These guys are rare, but Martinez is going to be one in 2011. He figures to do the lion’s share of the DH’ing for the Tigers, filling in behind the plate whenever Alex Avila needs a day off, ditto first base with Miguel Cabrera.

I tackled V-Mart’s projections a little over a week ago, so there’s not much to add. He’ll flirt with .300 and should pop at least 15 homers if healthy, though his new ballpark and age-related decline (32) are a concern. Most mocks have him coming off the board later in the fourth round.

The (Other) Phenom: Carlos Santana

As Dave Cameron was fond of pointing out, Santana was playing at a seven win clip last year, racking up 2.0 WAR in just 46 team games before that brutal knee injury. He was spectacular at the dish, walking more than he struck out (37 BB, 29 K) with a .207 ISO. Although Santana hit just .260, his BABIP was on the low side (.277) and we’re dealing with a small sample (192 PA). He’s hit at least .290 in each of his last three minor league seasons, which is a better indicator of his true talent level.

The projection systems love Santana, with Marcel coming in as the low man on the triple-slash numbers (.270/.373/.456) while Bill James and the fans foresee 19+ homers and 90+ RBI in regular playing time. That’s really good production for an outfielder, but put him behind the plate and you’ve got a star. Santana falls victim to the same thing as Posey, meaning his limited track record. He legitimately has the potential to be the best fantasy catcher in the game, but there’s a lot of risk right now. I’ve seen him going anywhere from the sixth through tenth round in mocks, but I lean towards the early side of that range. In an OBP league I could see him coming off the board as high as the fourth round, even ahead of V-Mart.

Here’s where you can submit your fan projections for Mauer, McCann, Posey, Martinez, and Santana.