StrategyJanuary 3, 2008

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Two Up, Two Down ‘08: Catcher

By Ken Kesterson

Last year in this space we tried to talk you into moving Russell Martin (yes!) and Chris Iannetta (oops…) up in your cheat sheets, while moving Ivan Rodriguez (close) and Jason Kendall (yes!) down. This season I’ll bring up four more catchers, two I think will outperform their draft position and two I will let someone else draft too early for my liking. I will also address a couple of sleepers that are getting a lot of buzz and give you my two cents on them.

Rangers backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia is too obvious a choice to be an up sleeper pick, knowing how much fantasy owners (myself included) love youth and hot prospects. The prize for Texas in the Mark Teixeira trade, I could see him coming off the board as soon as the 6th catcher taken. That may be a bit high taking him over more proven veterans, but if 10 catchers are off the board and he’s still available, you have to pounce on him.

One young guy I’m not as high on is planned Cubs starter Geovany Soto. His 2007 monster year in AAA (26 HR, 1.076 OPS) may just be an aberration. It was his third trip through AAA, and prior to that he was a career .261 hitter with 25 lifetime HR after 1,574 minor league AB. I would take him if it were the end of the draft in an 18 team league and I need a high upside starter, just don’t read too much into his AAA mashing last season and pencil him to be your starter in a 12 team league.

With that out of the way, remember a player listed as up doesn’t mean they will light the fantasy world ablaze, nor does a player marked as down mean I think they will lose fantasy relevance. Just that I think they will perform better or worse than their draft position.


J.R. Towles – Astros
Rated the #1 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, Towles is clearly the catcher of the future in Houston, and with all due respect to veteran Brad Ausmus, the future is now in Houston. The trades for Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde signify the Astros plan on contending in a wide open NL Central, and the catcher who gives them the best chance to win is J.R. Towles. Towles is a career .300 hitter in the minor leagues with an OPS of .863. He only has 83 at-bats above AA, and 40 of those at the big league level, but he hasn’t appeared overmatched, busting a .375 BA and 1.007 OPS in his very brief MLB stint, which includes an 8 RBI game. Even more impressive is that he has only one strikeout in those 40 MLB at-bats. Despite his lack of experience, Towles is at the top of the Astro’s catching depth chart. He won’t begin the season as a fantasy starter, but keep him on your radar. If he gets 400 AB, his offense should help him finish as a starter on your squad.

Dioner Navarro – Rays
Navarro had a lousy looking 2007 on the surface, hitting just .227 with 9 HR in 388 at bats. I look more at his numbers in August and September last season, and see a breakout candidate. In those 44 games he hit .290 with 6 HR. He also slugged more than 140 points higher in those final 2 months than he had all season. I also see that he was only 23 years old. It may seem that he’s older because he’s had MLB experience since he was only 20. The Yankees signed him when he was just 16 year old from Venezuela. I think he could parlay his second half improvement with some more pro experience and what should be an improved Rays club, into a solid catcher option for your fantasy team in 2008. Don’t look for much speed, but a line in the area of .265 BA, 12-15 HR, 65-70 RBI and 55-60 Runs puts him right in that 6-9 tier of catchers.


Jorge Posada – Yankees
This one may be obvious, but the point of this article is to call to attention players who I don’t think will earn their draft position. If you draft Posada thinking you’re getting something, anything close to that .338 average he hoisted in 2007, you’re going to be sorry. All his peripheral numbers (HR, RBI, BB, K) remained relatively static, though his runs jumped by 26 that can be directly attributed to his being on base more. If that average “falls” to .300, which is still more than 20 points above his career average, I think those static peripherals also suffer causing a dip of 15-20%. The fact he has celebrated his 36th birthday, and you don’t quite ever see improvement by 36-year-old catchers, also leads me to list him down here.

Bengie Molina – Giants
Last season Molina ranked third among catchers in home runs with 19 and fifth among his peers in RBI with 81. However he only scored 38 runs, which means half the time he scored he drove himself in. With Barry Bonds moving on, there isn’t much left in the Bay Area for offense. I know has put together a few decent fantasy seasons in a row with respectable power and average numbers, but it’s hard to see them improving this season. He could still finish as a top 10 catcher, but with the weak looking Giants offense, I feel comfortable saying he won’t finish third in HR or fifth in RBI.

There you go. For me catcher is a fantasy position where I am not willing to pay premium money for an elite option. I would much rather wait out the draft while taking more productive players though there may be more depth at their respective positions. I would take a 35 HR hitting outfielder in the 4th round before I take Joe Mauer. Gems are found at every position, and catcher is just one of many, with few elite options to go around. If you wait and take a gamble, you could find yourself with the steal of the draft.

Keep checking the Cafe as we bring you a Two Up, Two Down article for every fantasy position this off-season!

Ken Kesterson is a die-hard Red Sox fan and one of a growing number of fantasy experts who spend too much time at work logged on the Cafe. You can catch up with Ken in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigken117.
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