Napoli Could DH's Lyle Spencer continues to beat the drum for the Angels to give Mike Napoli significant time at designated hitter in 2009.  He says Mike Scioscia's stance has softened on the idea recently and it will be discussed during Spring Training.

With 406 ABs, we have Napoli as an $18 player given his catcher eligibility.  We're currently ranking him 5th among catchers due to a projected 26 HR.  Bump that to 500 ABs, though, and Napoli easily passes Joe Mauer as fantasy baseball's most valuable backstop.  His only negative would be a .250 AVG, easily overcome by his other stats.

Napoli is currently being drafted in the 15th round, 10th among catchers.  In a recent Mock Draft I did, I was chilling and waiting to take Napoli in the 14th or 15th.  Instead, some guy using AutoSelect took him in the 11th.  Not sure if it means anything.  MDC says Napoli has been picked as early as the 8th round.  If you become dead set on Napoli, and that's a dangerous thing to do with any player, you might have to plan to take him around the 11th or 12th round.  Last year I reached on Rafael Furcal, Corey Hart, and Matt Kemp, and it paid off for the two outfielders.  It is possible to get too reliant on Average Draft Position data.

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Mike Napoli: Top Five Catcher?

One fantasy baseball issue to follow closely for 2009 is the playing time of Angels catcher Mike Napoli.  Napoli got only 227 ABs for the Angels in '08, putting up a massive .273-20-49-39-7 line in that time.  He missed a month due to a shoulder injury, but even without that he would've projected for about 320 ABs. 

When a catcher shows that kind of massive home run power (and speed!), fantasy leaguers get delirious thinking what he could do with 400 ABs.  Reasonably, he'd have a shot at 30 HR, which would probably lead all catchers.  In a November mailbag,'s Lyle Spencer discussed the idea of having Napoli spend some time at DH, getting him 500-600 ABs.  Let's not get greedy - 400 would be great.  If Napoli is healthy, there's no reason Jeff Mathis should be stealing an abnormal amount of playing time.  The Angels are rumored to be in on various corner outfield/infield types, which would presumably leave less of a chance for Napoli to DH.

If Napoli gets those 400 ABs, he has a legitimate shot at being a top five catcher (and that allows for his AVG to drop under .260).  He is being drafted 11th among catchers, in the 19th round.  One health issue to monitor - he had arthroscopic shoulder surgery on October 31st.

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Catcher Ranking Comparison

My catcher rankings back in March:

Rnk Name $ VAL
1 Russell Martin $23.39
2 Victor Martinez $22.40
3 Joe Mauer $21.32
4 Brian McCann $18.38
5 Jorge Posada $17.43
6 Geovany Soto $12.22
7 J.R. Towles $12.15
8 Kenji Johjima $11.63
9 Bengie Molina $8.79
10 Carlos Ruiz $7.94
11 A.J. Pierzynski $7.49
12 Ivan Rodriguez $7.23
13 Ryan Doumit $6.86
14 Ramon Hernandez $6.70
15 Ronny Paulino $6.26
16 Jason Varitek $6.11
17 Mike Napoli $5.24
18 Paul Lo Duca $4.74
19 Chris Snyder $3.64
20 Kurt Suzuki $2.32
21 Johnny Estrada $2.28
22 Jarrod Saltalamacchia $1.55
23 John Buck $1.30
24 Josh Bard $1.00
25 Dioner Navarro $0.95
26 Gregg Zaun $0.58
27 Gerald Laird $0.40
28 Michael Barrett $0.10
29 Yadier Molina $0.02

The actual rankings for 2008:

Rnk Name Round
1 Joe Mauer 5
2 Brian McCann 5
3 Russell Martin 3
4 Ryan Doumit 26
5 Geovany Soto 14
6 Bengie Molina 19
7 Kelly Shoppach N/A
8 A.J. Pierzynski 20
9 Chris Iannetta N/A
10 Yadier Molina 25
11 Ivan Rodriguez 14
12 Kurt Suzuki 27
13 Dioner Navarro 28
14 Ramon Hernandez 21
15 Mike Napoli 23
16 Gerald Laird 28
17 Chris Snyder 27
18 Miguel Olivo 28
19 Rod Barajas 28

Shoppach was the biggest surprise at catcher in 2008.  Doumit and Soto have been huge, but they were definitely on the radar as preseason sleepers.  Suzuki, Navarro, and Iannetta came up at various points in that thread too (though Iannetta only received a brief mention).  Shoppach came up with a .268-21-55-66-0 line in 339 ABs, ranking behind only Soto and McCann in HR. 

Could this have been predicted?  PECOTA had Shoppach at .231/.305/.414 heading into the season, only a slight nod to his power.  He slugged .472 in limited duty with the Indians last year, so it wasn't out of nowhere.  I would've had him down for 16 HR if I knew he was getting 350 ABs.  We couldn't have seen the injury to V-Mart coming.

Martinez, Posada, Towles, and Johjima were high-profile busts.  As a 16th round pick, Towles' rookie failure didn't kill anyone's team.  Those who took Martinez as a top 30 overall pick got burned pretty badly though.  Three of the big five catchers came through, making early-round catcher picks pretty risky this year.  Martinez and Posada are the oldest of the five, so maybe that's the lesson to be taken away.  If you're going catcher early, he'd better be young.  I'd add Soto to the Mauer/McCann/Martin mix for '09, but no other catcher gets into the elite tier.  Martinez could be undervalued, but not if picked in the fifth round.

Don't think you're playing it safe waiting for that third tier crapshoot of catchers, though.  Sure, you might snag a Doumit or a Molina.  But catchers are scarce, and if you guess wrong you could be stuck with crap (Jose rather than Bengie/Yadier) all year.  If you're in a two-catcher league and plan to wait back for both, you'd better add security by drafting a third catcher as a reserve.  You also need to pounce on any chance to upgrade (for example, I dropped Ruiz for Doumit in April in one league).

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A Look At Chris Iannetta

Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta was considered a nice sleeper heading into the 2007 season.  While he did draw quite a few walks, his '07 performance was a fantasy disappointment.  The Rockies were also disillusioned, as they signed Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal.

It often happens that a sleeper breaks out one year later than we'd expected.  Iannetta is off to a blazing start, though it's only been 58 ABs.  Iannetta has become the starter, though, so I'll assume he plays in another 95 games and ends up with 375 ABs.

Using only his '08 performance, we'd look for a .328-19-91-52-0 line from Iannetta in those 375 ABs.  That'd be worth $21 and make him a top five catcher.  Obviously Iannetta is a bit over his head.

Coming into this season I had him at .268-11-50-52-1 if he were to get 375 ABs.  That'd be worth $5.30, more than Jason Varitek or Mike Napoli.  If Iannetta simply plays to my projection from here on out, he'll finish at .277-13-56-52-1, a performance worth roughly $8.  This puts him in the range of Bengie Molina, Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Pierzynski, and Ivan Rodriguez.  It seems that Iannetta is a top ten catcher, but we have only 66 plate appearances with which to judge his possible breakout. 

I'd rather have Iannetta than Paul Bako, but I prefer other breakout types like Ryan Doumit or Chris Snyder.  And keep an eye on Dioner Navarro.

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A Look At Chris Snyder

Longtime reader finite24 has been talking up Chris Snyder quite a bit recently, and the Arizona catcher deserves a closer look.

I have the 27 year-old hitting .252-14-54-44-0 in 375 ABs, a $3.64 value.  That's about what he did in '07 except for a few less ABs.  Let's dig a bit deeper though.

  • Snyder hit .262-10-37-25-0 in the season's final three months (221 ABs).  It makes you wonder if .262-20-74-50-0 is possible; that'd be worth $10.
  • There are signs Bob Melvin might move Snyder up from the eight-hole in the lineup.
  • Snyder is clearly ahead of Miguel Montero on the depth chart this year.  Plus, Montero is a bit behind this year because of a broken finger.
  • Snyder's hitting .342/.419/.842 with five homers this spring in 38 ABs.  That's .455 above his career SLG of .387, which indicates he will have a better than normal season.
  • It's hard not to like Snyder; he's flying under the radar and is a fine endgame catcher.

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Roundtable: Catcher Strategy

I recently contributed to a fantasy baseball roundtable on the subject of catcher strategy.  This was the question:

Is it important to get a top 5 catcher, or do you prefer waiting until rounds 15+? After Victor Martinez and Russell Martin, what catchers should go next and when? What catchers should be targeted late?

I was surprised to see that most of the other contributors did not agree with me on this topic.  What do you think?

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The Catcher Dropoff

Sometimes a position has a clear dropoff.  Catchers are bunched up that way this year, in my opinion.  I see the five elite, and then a mixed bag of other stuff.  I hate to leave a draft without one of these five.

1. Russell Martin - .286-16-74-82-15 in 504 ABs - $23.20.  ADP: 30.88.  Martin, Joe Mauer, and perhaps J.R. Towles are the only backstops you can look to for double-digit steals.  That is one reason I'd take Martin over V-Mart - Martin provides more balance to your lineup.  Plus, Martin is only 25.  Compare this projection to his '07 numbers - I'm not calling for a repeat, but imagine if you get it!  Gravy.

2.  Victor Martinez - .297-20-93-78-0 in 546 ABs - $22.21.  ADP: 29.28.  The market says V-Mart and Martin are almost identical and value, and I have them separated by only ninety-nine cents.  If V-Mart pops 22 HRs and drives in 95 instead, he wins. And just like Martin, I'm not calling for a repeat for Martinez but his '07 shows what he can do.

3.  Joe Mauer - .309-11-71-76-9 in 492 ABs - $21.12.  ADP: 59.13.  Instead of using a very early third-round pick for one of the above two, you could roll the dice a bit and wait til the fifth.  This projection is something of a middle ground of Mauer's last two seasons.  Like Martin, it's his age 25 season and there's room for growth.  The guy won the batting title in '06.         

4.  Brian McCann - .290-20-85-62-1 in 481 ABs - $18.17.  ADP: 55.89.  If Mauer is Martin Lite, then McCann is V-Mart Lite.   Just 24, McCann knocked in 92 runs in an "off year" in '07.  The low run total kind of stinks though.

5. Jorge Posada - .284-19-78-74-2 in 466 ABs - $17.22.  ADP: 91.23.  Wow, eighth round for Posada?  To me, the lack of respect is an overcorrection.  People think, "Posada, he can't hit .338 again!  And he's old!"  So what?  A repeat of his '06 would be worth $18.98.  There is no good reason for the ADP gap between Posada and Mauer/McCann.  This is not an aggressive projection for Posada.  It is very achievable and worthy of better than the eighth round. 

After Posada there's a clear dropoff.  Soto and Towles at $12, Johjima at $11, Molina at $9, Ruiz, Pierzynski, Pudge, and Ramon Hernandez around $7.  Johjima typically kicks this tier off in the 11th round.  I see nice value for Molina and Ruiz if I stoop to this tier.  And I have to say again - why the hell is the market putting Salty in this group?  No.

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A Little Caution On J.R. Towles

I've been hyping Houston's J.R. Towles pretty often here on RotoAuthority as a sleeper at the catcher position.  He's intriguing in two-catcher mixed leagues or NL-only leagues.

I project Towles at .271-11-57-60-11 in 388 ABs, an $11.91 value.  That's seventh among backstops.  However, there are reasons for caution here.

  • Towles is currently dealing with a strained hamstring.  Say that instead of 11 steals, he's careful because of the hammie and his precarious rookie status and just swipes two.  35% of his value disappears.
  • Towles started last year in A ball.  He played 26 games there, 61 at Double A, 13 at Triple A, and 15 in the bigs.  So, just a half season worth of high minors seasoning.
  • He's a rookie catcher learning to handle a big league staff.  That's a tad stressful, and it could affect his hitting.
  • The Astros have loved Brad Ausmus for far too long, and if he were to split the gig evenly with Towles I would not be shocked.
  • So make sure you have a good #1 if you're going to use Towles as your #2.  And if you went a few extra bucks for more known commodities like Kenji Johjima, Bengie Molina, Carlos Ruiz, or Ryan Doumit, I would not fault you.  Hell, Jorge Posada seems to be getting no love in fantasy leagues, and he's not much worse than Martin/Martinez/Mauer/McCann (the Four Ms).

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2008 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Catchers

Let's get back to basics and find undervalued players at each position.  I'm definitely interested to hear your sleepers in the comments.  We'll start with backstops today.

  • I have a feeling the word is fully out on the Cubs' Geovany Soto; hell, he's on the cover of the new Baseball Prospectus annual.  I have him at .279-18-68-58-0, an $11.98 value (sixth among catchers).  Soto's being picked in the 14th round, foolishly after Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
  • Playing in a smaller market, Houston's J.R. Towles gets less press than Soto.  I value him at only pennies less though, with a .271-11-57-60-11 line.  Russell Martin is the only other backstop projected to reach double digit swipes.  New Astros baserunning instructor Gary Redus will work one-on-one with him, which bodes well.  Towles is being drafted in the 17th round, foolishly after Ivan Rodriguez.   
  • Carlos Ruiz projects at .271-11-56-50-5, a $7.67 value.  That puts him 10th in my rankings, but he is being drafted in the 25th round as if he's the 20th best catcher.
  • I'm a Ryan Doumit fan; I have him at .271-13-51-48-2 in 350 ABs.  If he manages to find 450 ABs (maybe via an Xavier Nady trade), he's up there with Soto and Towles.
  • Michael Barrett and Ramon Hernandez were absolute studs in 2006; now they're chopped liver.  Barrett would need a trade or injury to find full-time duty.  A healthy Hernandez could work his way up the Orioles' batting order and post a 20-80 season.
  • Dioner Navarro is making some sleeper lists on the virtue of two fine months to close out his '07 season.  Here's something to consider: if he can replicate his August-September '07 performance for all of '08, he's the sixth best catcher in fantasy baseball at .294-18-69-75-0 (not far behind Jorge Posada).  Remember that as he goes undrafted in your mixed league.

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