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Sleepers & Busts: Injured Backstops

Buster Posey made a lot of people look smart in 2012. His hype machine was derailed somewhat by a grotesque injury, but those who put their faith in him on Draft Day reaped the benefit of said injury's negative impact on his value.

It's not an uncommon scenario. Well, ok, a catcher blowing out his knee then returning a year later to win the MVP is slightly uncommon in real baseball, but in terms of fantasy baseball we see the re-emergence of injured players each and every season. Here are three banged up catchers that are in comparable situations...

Victor Martinez, DET - ADP 109

Martinez enjoyed a strong season in his first year with Detroit, hitting .330/.380/.470 and driving in 103 runs. His power dipped (12 homers), but to call that "elite" production from a catcher would be putting it lightly.

However, V-Mart would then injure his left knee during his offseason training regimen. While there was some speculation that he could return late in the season, Martinez didn't play a single game in 2012.

He's currently the 10th catcher off the board over at MockDraftCentral, going ahead of Salvador Perez. If you look at ESPN's preseason rankings Martinez is the sixth catcher. That places him ahead of Perez, Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero and Wilin Rosario, to name a few.

I understand that Victor Martinez has long been a strong hitter, but the fact of the matter is that he recently turned 34, his power dipped in 2011 as it was, and he's coming off of major reconstructive knee surgery. In fact, before he could even undergo surgery to repair his torn ACL, he first underwent microfracture surgery and had to have his MCL and meniscus repaired. That's not an encouraging injury for someone who caught 6,532 innings from 2004-10 (fifth most of any player in baseball).

If you're still a believer, take a look at the last 20 years of catchers' age 34-36 seasons (min. 400 PAs). Only 10 times has a catcher even managed to be a league-average hitter, per wRC+. Only nine times has a catcher clubbed 15 or more homers at age 34-36.

Martinez at one time was an elite offensive force, but I can't see the justification of drafting him ahead of Perez's .301/.328/.471 batting line with 11 homers (76 games). Nor do I find him justified to be ranked ahead of any of the aforementioned players on ESPN.

Martinez is going two rounds ahead of Perez, per MDC, and a full five rounds ahead of fellow injured backstop Brian McCann. McCann may miss the first few weeks of 2013, but he said mid-January that he's targeting an Opening Day return. Even if he does miss a few weeks, I'll wager that 90% of a full season from the 29-year-old McCann ends up being superior to a full season of the 34-year-old Martinez.

Final ruling: Bust

Brian McCann, ATL - ADP 170

Speaking of McCann, let's discuss the former Top 3 backstop. He underwent shoulder surgery following the season after playing through some serious damage. He received a cortisone shot in August which allowed him to push through October, but an MRI following the Braves' playoff exit revealed a torn labrum. After doctors opened him up, it was discovered that the tear was larger than the MRI had shown. Whoops. And ouch.

As I stated above, McCann is projected to miss the early weeks of 2013, though he himself remains confident that he'll be able to be in the Opening Day lineup. Even if he's out for the first month or so, remember that this is a once-elite catcher who still managed to post his fifth consecutive 20-homer season despite a torn muscle in his shoulder.

He hit a career-worst .230, but that was largely because of a career-worst .234 BABIP. McCann saw his pop-up rate and ground-ball rate both rise, both of which could potentially be attributed to bad swings due to a bum shoulder. He also hit just .623 on line drives (more than 100 points below average).

McCann's plate discipline remained keen. He still whiffed in just 15.6 percent of his plate appearances and walked nine percent of the time. He rarely chased pitches out of the zone (28 percent), and his 87 percent contact rate was the best of his career. He swung through pitches just 5.4 percent of the time -- a noticeable departure from the league average of 9.1 percent.

McCann's value is being deflated by his injury, but he looks primed for a rebound season. Even if his shoulder has deteriorated, McCann still has 20-homer pop in his bat and will hit in the middle of a stacked lineup. If he does miss the early weeks, stash him in a DL spot and employ Erik Kratz for the first 25 games. Carlos Ruiz will be suspended for those games anyhow, and Kratz posted a sky-high .255 ISO for the Phillies last season. That may not be repeatable, but his .206 mark over seven Triple-A seasons suggests he can come close.

I prefer a McCann/Kratz pairing (if Kratz is even necessary) to Ryan Doumit, Jonathan Lucroy and certainly Martinez. Feel free to reach a round or two -- the power and RBIs will be worth it from your catcher slot.

Final ruling: Sleeper

Wilson Ramos, WAS - ADP 278

Ramos may have had arguably the worst 2012 ever. His season began with being kidnapped duringWinter Ball in Venezuela and ended when he tore his ACL in early May. Not exactly the follow-up to his .267/.334/.445, 15-homer 2011 season that many were anticipating.

With a (somewhat) rejuvenated Kurt Suzuki in the fold for the Nationals, Ramos will once again have to beat out an underwhelming veteran to secure the role of Davey Johnson's everyday catcher. Suzuki rebounded offensively to an extent with the Nats, but it barely moved the needle on what has been a horrible three-year stretch. Dating back to 2010, Suzuki has batted .238/.295/.361. And while he's typically around league-average in limiting the running game, he caught just five of 33 potential thieves with Washington in 2012.

In other words, Suzuki doesn't appear to be an iron-clad road block for Ramos to reclaim the starting job. Ramos was long considered one of the game's best catching prospects while with the Twins organization, and he delivered on some of that upside with a strong 2011 showing. He has 15-20 home run power and will be in a better lineup than in 2011.

Still, Ramos is a forgotten man among draftees. He's coming off the board after the likes of Wellington Castillo, Derek Norris (who no longer has a starting job) and Tyler Flowers (career 34% K-rate). Ramos should be a late steal in two-catcher leagues and is a wise target in NL-only leagues as well. I don't anticipate a Top-12 finish, but as the 28th catcher off the board currently he's clearly undervalued.

Final ruling: Sleeper



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