Fantasy Rankings: Catcher

Easily the thinnest fantasy position in baseball, there aren’t any catchers who should be ranked in the top 30 overall players. Even the best catchers have several question marks that could sabotage a productive season. (Note: Rankings are based on 5×5 Rotisserie scoring).

1. Mike Piazza, Mets: At 35 years old, Piazza has been in a steady decline the last three seasons and he lost much of last season to injury. While he has the most upside of any catcher in baseball, he’s certainly not the safest option available.

Still, if he can stay healthy, he should be the best offensive catcher in baseball again with an average around .290 to go with about 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Playing first base on occasion should help him stay healthy, and there’s still a chance that he could pop 35-40 balls out of the park.

2. Jorge Posada, Yankees: He’s coming off easily the best season of his career and, at 32 years old, it’s unlikely that he’s establishing a new level of performance. He’ll certainly regress somewhat, but he should still be able to hit .270-.275 with at least 25 longballs and if he’s not a better option than Piazza, he’s definitely less of a risk.

Playing in the loaded Yankees lineup should help him reach the century mark in RBI for the second straight season despite any dropoff in production. He should be drafted soon after Piazza, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world if you took Posada ahead of Piazza because he’s not as big an injury risk.

3. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers: Most people don’t realize this since the Marlins won the World Series, but Rodriguez wasn’t all that great during the regular season. He only hit .297 with 16 home runs, but he added fantasy value with 10 steals, 90 runs and 85 RBIs.

Moving from the pitcher’s park in Florida to the pitcher’s park in Detroit shouldn’t prevent him from hitting .290-.300 with 15-20 home runs and around 10 steals again. However, playing in the improved-but-still-weak Tigers lineup will limit his ability to score and drive in runs.

4. Javy Lopez, Orioles: Lopez will probably vary a ton on people’s draft lists depending on just how close you think he’ll come to matching his ridiculous 2003 performance. After hitting .252 with 28 home runs, 76 runs and 117 RBIs in 237 games the previous two seasons, he hit .328 with 42 homers, 89 runs and 109 RBIs in 129 games last year.

He’s 33 years old, and there’s simply no way he comes close to duplicating what he did last year. If you decide to take a chance on him, you should hope that he can hit .290 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs and consider anything more than that a bonus.

5. Jason Kendall, Pirates: His contract may be an albatross for Pittsburgh, but Kendall is still a good hitter for a catcher. He probably won’t hit .325 again, but he should easily top .300 and could have the highest batting average of any catcher.

Kendall is unlikely to hit more than 10 home runs, but he will probably lead all National League catchers in steals (although that’s not very difficult). Like Rodriguez, who he’s actually rather similar to fantasy-wise at this point, his run and RBI totals will suffer from a lack of quality hitters around him in the lineup.

6. Jason Varitek, Red Sox: He’s not real exciting offensively and he doesn’t have the potential to become one of the top three fantasy catchers, but Varitek is a solid fantasy contributor.

He can be counted on to hit around .270 any season, and since his power obviously returned last year once he was fully recovered from his 2001 elbow injury, he should be able to top 20 home runs again. He’s in a great lineup, but hitting near the bottom of it will prevent him from posting more than 80-85 RBIs.

7. Mike Lieberthal, Phillies: He’s had several problems with injuries throughout his career, but Lieberthal’s generally been a solid performer when he’s been healthy enough to play. He’s 32 years old now, so don’t expect him to suddenly hit 31 homers like he did in 1999 or even 20 homers like in 1997.

However, he should still be good for around a .290 average, 15 home runs, 65-70 runs and 75-80 RBIs. That projection depends upon him being able to play 130 games for the third consecutive season though, which certainly isn’t a sure thing.

8. A.J. Pierzynski, Giants: After hitting .306 over the last two seasons for the Twins, Pierzynski’s offense may suffer a little bit with his move to San Francisco’s pitcher’s park. Still, he should be able to hit around .300 and he doesn’t have much power to lose anyways.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

A big part of his value will depend on where he hits in the lineup. If he bats a couple spots behind Barry Bonds, he would be a very nice catcher with a .300 average, 8-10 homers and 80 RBIs. If he hits lower in the lineup, his RBI totals will fall. If he hits ahead of Bonds, which seems unlikely, he should score a lot of runs instead of driving them in.

9. Matthew LeCroy, Twins: He’s not really a catcher, but he played 22 games behind the dish last year and should qualify there in most fantasy leagues. He’s a good enough hitter to be a decent major-league designated hitter, which means he would be a very good offensive catcher.

If he gets 400 at-bats this season, he could hit 20 home runs to go along with a .275-.280 average and 75-80 RBIs. If he can get 500 at-bats, which would be almost as many as he had the last two seasons combined, he could move into the top five for fantasy catchers.

10. Craig Wilson, Pirates: For some strange reason, the Pirates don’t seem to want to give him a shot at a full-time job. It looked like he’d finally get his chance this year, but Pittsburgh went out and signed Randall Simon and Raul Mondesi and Wilson will be left picking up the scraps yet again.

However, even in just 677 at-bats, Wilson’s 34 home runs in the last two seasons are just one behind Rodriguez and Varitek for the fourth-most homers over that span by a player who qualifies at catcher. He should be able to hit .265 with at least 15 homers yet again, and if he somehow gets 400 at-bats, he could hit 22-25 home runs.

11. Ramon Hernandez, Padres: Hernandez was awful in 2002 and pretty good last year. I wouldn’t expect him to keep getting better, but he’s in the prime of his career and shouldn’t see his production drop too dramatically.

He’s hit at least 14 home runs three of the last four seasons and there’s no real reason to think he can’t do so again this year. He probably won’t hit .273 again, but he should be able to hit around .260 and knock in 75 runs.

12. Charles Johnson, Rockies: Johnson is probably best avoided unless you need home runs and don’t care much about your batting average. He hit 20 homers in just 108 games last year, but his .230 batting average was actually an improvement upon the previous season.

Health is also a problem, as Johnson’s played just 191 games the last two years combined and hasn’t played in 130 games since 1999. If he stays healthy and all goes well, Johnson could hit .250 with 30 home runs and 90 RBIs, but that’s asking an awful lot of him. He’s more likely to hit around .240 with 20 homers and 70 RBIs.

13. Jason Phillips, Mets: If he was just a first baseman, Phillips would have almost no fantasy value at all. Luckily, he played 29 games behind the plate last year and should play about that many there again this year.

If he can hit .285 with a dozen homers and 65 RBIs, which is about what he did last year, then he’s worth a spot on your fantasy roster as a catcher.

14. Paul Lo Duca, Dodgers: Lo Duca’s best attribute is that between being a durable catcher and playing some first base, he’s in the lineup a lot. His 296 games played the last two years are the most in the majors for a catcher.

His 2001 season was clearly a fluke, but there’s something to be said for a player who can hit .275 with 10 homers while filling your catcher spot nearly every day.

15. Joe Mauer, Twins: The real catcher in Minnesota is going to have a lot of pressure on him. He’s 20 years old, he’s only played 73 games above Class A and he was the top pick in the 2001 draft ahead of Mark Prior.

He has a .330 career batting average as a professional, but he hasn’t shown much power yet. Don’t expect him to hit more than a handful of home runs, but he should at least post a .280 average and could hit .300 even as a rookie who’s never played in Class AAA.

He’s got a lot more value in keeper leagues, as many people think he’ll eventually develop 30-40 home run power and he could be the best catcher in baseball over the next 10 years.

16. Toby Hall, Devil Rays: Hall was a very promising, young offensive catcher a couple years ago, but two consecutive disappointing seasons have dimmed his star. He’s 28 years old now, and unlikely to get too much better than he is right now.

He’s shown flashes of breaking out at times, but when all is said and done he’s only hit .255 with 18 homers in 215 games the last two years. Maybe he’ll bring the batting average up about 10 points this year and hit around 15 homers, but anything more is unrealistic and that Tampa Bay lineup won’t help his run and RBI totals.

17. Jason LaRue, Reds: His batting average isn’t really acceptable, but LaRue does have some pop in his bat. He should be able to hit .240-.245 with about 15 home runs, 55 runs and 55 RBIs. If he can play 135 games instead of the 115-120 he’s played the last three years, those counting stats would obviously go up a little.

18. Benito Santiago, Royals: He is ancient, but moving out of an extreme pitcher’s park should help offset any age-related decline headed his way, even though Kauffman Stadium will no longer be an extreme hitter’s park with the fences moved back.

Santiago should be able to keep his batting average around .280, and the new park could help him get back up to around 15 homers. He’s got the potential to be significantly better than LaRue, but he’s also a much higher injury risk.

19. Victor Martinez, Indians: Martinez has been highly touted for some time now, and he got a chance to show what he can do in the majors at the end of last season. He hit .289 in 159 at-bats, but only managed one homer.

He’s shown decent power in the minor leagues, however, and a .280 average with 10 home runs, 50 runs and 50 RBIs is a fairly safe bet. Playing time hopefully won’t be an issue as he should see some time at first base to make up for the fact that he might only start 105-115 games at catcher.

20. Miguel Olivo, White Sox: It would be an understatement to say that Olivo was not a good hitter last year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to your fantasy team. He hit six homers and stole six bases last year and had six home runs and 29 steals in Class AA in 2002.

If he can combine a .245-.250 average with 10 homers and 10 steals, which wouldn’t be unreasonable if he plays more and improves slightly, then he might be good enough to start and would certainly make a good backup.

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