Tiers, Not Fears: Catchers

Things are looking up for Carlos Santana
Photo Credit: SD Dirk

“After laughter, comes tiers”- Wu Tang Clan, “Tierz”

Even Shaolin’s Finest understood the power of tiers. So it’s only right that we kick off the Sons of Roto 2012 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit with a run down of the top 45 catchers in fantasy baseball, tier-by-tier.

Why 45? It’s a nod to the Wu Tang Clan’s “Enter the 36 Chambers.” Confused? You should be. Only real hip-hop fans like myself know that there were nine extra chambers that couldn’t be mentioned on the album because they were so deadly.

More after the jump:

The “One Man” Gang
1. Carlos Santana
Your boy Big Poppa Pockets already went into great detail about why Carlos Santana is a first round fantasy draft pick, so just peep the link because I’m not repeating myself.

The “Second One Man” Gang
2. Mike Napoli
I wanted to think of Napoli in the same class as Santana, but the difference in PAs (Santana had over 200 more) just makes that impossible. Plus, there is no way Napoli improves on his numbers from 2011. Homeboy’s ISO (.312) was only eight points less than his BA! Last year was as good as it will get for Napoli, but his role in a potent Texas offense and his plus power make him a cut above the catchers not named Carlos Santana.

The “Cripps”
3. Buster Posey
4. Joe Mauer
Posey and Mauer had their 2011 seasons marred by injuries, but both are talented enough to finish the season as fantasy’s top catcher … While Posey posted a mere .105 ISO in 2011, he only had 185 PAs. His .200 ISO in 2010 (443 PAs) and .209 ISO throughout the minors are a better indicator of what his power can be. Couple that with his ability to hit .300 and you have yourself the third best catcher in fantasy … Despite Mauer’s injury history, he is averaging over 541 PAs since 2005. The team does its best to get him PAs even when he isn’t behind the plate, so if he’s healthy, expect him to surpass 600 PAs. Just don’t expect his power to reach the lofty heights of 2009.

The “Eh, I Guess They’re Kind Of Elite Too, Maybe?” Posse
5. Brian McCann
6. Matt Wieters
McCann has been a quality contributor for years, but I’m reluctant to call him “elite.” Granted, McCann has rapped 20-plus HRs in five of the last six years and is still in his prime. However, he’s not in the greatest shape (he missed time in 2011 with an oblique injury) and Atlanta’s offense is uninspiring. 20-plus HRs looks probable and he can top 80 RBIs, but you are getting nothing in runs (has never scored 70). A three-category player (even one as reliable as McCann) is still a three-category player … Wieters put his power to work in August (.267 ISO) and September (.294 ISO) and is still only 25. He also finished the season batting fifth on most nights and Baltimore’s lineup is pretty damn good on paper. His .276 BABIP, coupled with his improved strikeout and contact rates, portend an upgrade on his .262 BA from last year. The only wart that keeps me from putting him higher on this list is the fact that 10 of his 22 HRs were of the “just enough” or “lucky” variety according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. Regardless, Wieters certainly looks like he will be joining the upper echelon of fantasy catchers. Just be prepared to pay for his ceiling on draft day if you want him.

The “Don’t Forget About Us” Movement
7. Jesus Montero
8. Miguel Montero
9. Alex Avila
10. J.P. Arencibia
All of these catchers have what it takes to move up a tier or two, but they have some obvious flaws … Jesus “Christ” Montero will not be a right-handed savior for the Yankees after all, but the good news is that playing time should never be an issue in Seattle. Unfortunately, the confines of Safeco Field just aren’t as generous as Yankee Stadium, so that awesome power potential may be somewhat hindered in his first full season. Still, his talent puts him above the rest in this tier … Miguel Montero is a touch overrated. Yes the potential for 20 HRs is there, but his 86 RBIs from last year could end up being a career-high and you’ll never see 70 runs out of the guy. His ceiling is that of a Brian McCann, but only because he sees so many PAs (553 last season) … Avila’s .295 BA should come screaming down as his .366 BABIP and 75.9 Contact% do not support such a lofty mark. That said, his RBIs should remain solid in Detroit’s lineup and he posted some impressive peripherals in his breakout 2011 that point to future success (13.2 BB%, .211 ISO, 21.1 LD%, and .383 wOBA) … When you strike out almost 30 percent of the time, your batting average will suck. That’s what J.P. “Whiff-le Ball” Arencibia discovered last year. The problem was amplified by the fact that when he wasn’t hitting a HR, he was making relatively weak contact (15.2 LD%). Fortunately, his .219 ISO was second only to Mike Napoli among catchers so as long as he keeps driving the ball over the fence, he’ll have considerable fantasy value.

The “Now We Are Getting To The Unattractive Portion Of Our Tiers” Tyrants
11. Russell Martin
12. Geovany Soto
13. Yadier Molina
14. Wilson Ramos
15. John Buck
These guys could all end up finishing outside of the top 12 at their position, but they have interesting aspects about them … Martin socked 18 HRs last year and had his moments as a member of a potent Yankees offense. However, his .237 BA and the fact that he hits near the bottom of the lineup hamper his value. It’s a good thing Jesus Montero was shipped out of NY, because Martin could’ve slid even further down this list … Soto was once a premier player at his position, but his skill set is in decline. His K% soared to 26.2 percent last year, while his walk and contact rates dipped. While he is 29 and still technically in his prime, his eroding plate skills point to a player who will struggle to hit even .250 … Yadier Molina had his best season ever in 2011, and it still wasn’t all that impressive. Don’t get it twisted, the .305 BA was great, but when your best season “boasts” a .160 ISO and 65 RBIs, you know your offensive ceiling isn’t that high … Jaycee Dugard eat your heart out. Wilson Ramos’ well-documented kidnapping didn’t yield much of a return for his assailants. Now they know what his fantasy owners will feel like. While Ramos showed solid pop in his rookie year (.177 ISO), his power showing was inconsistent throughout the minors and he posted a wretched 13.4 LD% last year. He should still be good for about 10-15 HRs, just don’t go expecting anything crazy. Fortunately, his low strikeout rates should lead to a solid BA, which has value in a position loaded with BA assassins … Uncle Buck’s ISO dipped to .139 last year and his .227 BA was atrocious, but fortunately, he still socked 16 HRs. The good news is that his walk and strikeout rates both trended in the right direction and you have to figure more RBI opportunities will come in the newly enhanced Miami offense.

The “Fresh Start” Fraternity
16. Chris Iannetta
17. Devin Mesoraco
18. Ryan Doumit
This tier features backstops who are starting a new phase of their careers and have reasonable upside … Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks Iannetta is a fine defensive player and plans on having him catch 100-plus games, which is great. Not so great are the below-average contact rates that have left Iannetta with a .235 career BA. Even worse is the fact that Iannetta’s career ISO of .160 is rather underwhelming for a player former Rockie. Iannetta obviously has some power upside, but there is no reason to reach … Talent-wise, Mesoraco looks like he will be a top 10 fantasy catcher for years to come. Unfortunately, we can’t expect too much in 2012. His power in the minors has been at times prolific (.285 ISO in 2010), but he socked just 15 HRs last year in 499 PAs in AAA and despite the Great American Ballpark Factor, we can’t just assume he’ll frolic to 20 HRs this year. It remains to be seen how he will adapt to major league pitching and Dusty Baker’s management style (ole’ Dusty has already said that Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan will split time to start the season). Potential is definitely there, but realistically, the breakout will probably be on hold until 2013 … Doumit is taking his catcher eligibility to Target Field and is still technically in his prime at age 30. His .171 ISO will probably take a hit in Minnesota, but he can produce a good BA and should see a lot of PAs due to his versatility as long as he stays healthy. Of course, for the injury-prone Doumit, health seems to always be an issue.

The “Why Did I Join A Two-Catcher League?” Syndicate
19. Kurt Suzuki
20. A.J. Pierzynski
Neither of these guys should go near a fantasy league unless you are rocking a two-catcher format … Suzuki rocked 14 HRs last year and plays almost everyday. Unfortunately, his power is modest at best (career .130 ISO) and he no longer offers up any SB help (two last year) … Pierzynski is in a contract year and has always been a useful BA contributor (.287 career), but he’s failed to hit double-digit HRs the last two years, has Tyler Flowers nipping at his heels, and is 34 years old.

The “Fuck, I Waited Too Long To Draft My Second Catcher” Conglomerate
21. Jonathan Lucroy
22. Josh Thole
23. Rod Barajas
24. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
25. Ramon Hernandez
What can you say about these guys? Not much … Lucroy hit 12 HRs and posted a 24.2 LD%, but he has minimal power and shares time with George Kottaras … Thole registered an impressive 89.4 Contact% last year and does a solid job of getting on base, but he offers no power and is stuck in an awful offense … Barajas has pop (.200 ISO last year) but be prepared for a BA that sags lower than the Fabulous Moolah’s breasts … Saltalamacchia’s 2011 wasn’t terrible (16 HRs and .215 ISO), but Boston has Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway able to fill in. Plus, Salty’s high whiff rate (career 28.8 K%; 30.8 last year) means fantasy owners should be ready to saddle a terrible BA … Hernandez will be playing in Coors Field this year, but don’t expect a massive power boost. Despite calling Great American Ballpark home the last few years, Hernandez hasn’t broken the .170 ISO threshold in five seasons. He’s also turning 36 in May and has Wilin Rosario ready to put in work behind him (pause).

The “Interesting To Keep An Eye On” Band
26. Nick Hundley
27. Josh Donaldson
28. Chris Snyder
29. Stephen Vogt
These players will probably do jack shit for your fantasy team, but they are worth monitoring in case things click … Hundley impossibly owns a .207 ISO in Petco Park compared to a .127 mark on the road. He also finished 2011 on a tear, posting a .367 BA, 6 HRs, 14 RBIs, and 19 Rs in his final 37 games. Unfortunately, the team didn’t show much confidence in him by acquiring John Baker, who could form a lefty-righty platoon with Hundley … With Scott Sizemore out for the year, Donaldson is poised to receive many ABs at 3B this season. He owns a .187 ISO and 12.0 BB% throughout the minors, but the best thing about him is the catcher eligibility he carries. He’s worth keeping tabs on this spring … Snyder was once a top 12 fantasy catcher and has twice popped at least 15 HRs, so he could be of some value in 2012. Then again, he’s been crazy injury-prone the last couple of years and Jason Castro (once healthy) could steal PAs … You probably have no idea who Stephen Vogt is, but he is the most interesting fantasy option the Rays have at catcher. He hit .298 with 17 HRs and 105 RBIs across AA and AAA last year and can play multiple positions (which Joe Maddon loves). Sadly, Jose Molina, Robinson Chirinos, and Jose Lobaton are all in the mix for catcher duties, so it’s very possible that Vogt may not sniff the majors.

The “Somebody Has To Draft Them In A 20-Team, Two-Catcher Format” Clan
30. Carlos Ruiz
31. Ryan Hanigan
32. A.J. Ellis
Well, somebody has to own these scrubs … Ruiz knows how to get on base (11.1 BB%) and post solid BAs thanks to his low strikeout rate, but that’s as good as it gets. Ruiz has little pop, has never reached 60 RBIs or 50 Rs in his career, and is 33 years old … Hanigan’s career 22.3 LD%, 12.2 BB%, and 93.5 Contact% are great peripheral foundations to build around, but with no power and Devin Mesoraco ready to steal a mess of PAs, you are most likely looking at a platoon player … Another dude who knows how to get on base (15.9 BB% in minors) and can hit for a decent average is A.J. Ellis. Like Hanigan and Ruiz, he has no power to brag about. Like Hanigan, he has to split time with another player (Matt Treanor).

The “Hopefully We Get Enough PAs To Matter” Association
33. Jason Castro
34. Miguel Olivo
Both Castro and Olivo are in tough spots. They each have someone ahead of them on the depth chart, but are each capable of being solid fantasy backstops with regular playing time. Olivo has the power and Castro has the BA potential, but without regular PAs, neither of them have a prayer. It’s possible either or both players get traded, which would certainly give a boost to their respective fantasy values.

The “Backups Who May Back-Handed Slap The Incumbents” Mob
35. Kelly Shoppach
36. Salvador Perez
37. Tyler Flowers
38. Wilin Rosario
39. Ryan Lavarnway
40. Derek Norris
41. Hank Conger
These guys are all backups, but they each have enough talent to make an impact in 2012 … Shoppach has the appearance of a throw-away fantasy option thanks to his absurd career 33.0 K%, but he’s always had well above-average power and is moving to a hitter’s haven. If Saltalamacchia struggles, it’s easy to envision a changing of the guard … Salvador isn’t a backup per se, but he just had knee surgery and is out indefinitely, which is the reason he’s buried on this list. With a low strikeout rate, Salvador Perez looks like a solid BA option and he’s only 21 years old. Yet with a poor walk rate and meager power, you are pretty much hoping Perez has decent enough counting stats when he returns in order to make it worth your while. Don’t hold your breath on that … A.J. Pierzynski will really need to struggle to give way to Tyler Flowers, but such a move would make Flowers a hot commodity in two catcher formats. Flowers had a .209 ISO throughout the minors and has posted terrific walk rates throughout his career … Rosario has battled BA issues thanks to his strikeout rates, but the power is real. He’s posted a .231 ISO the last two years in the minors and would be a great fit for Coors Field. While he’s yet to see AAA pitching, a good performance there in 2012 may lead to a mid-season call-up … Lavarnway found himself hitting in the middle of Boston’s lineup at the end of last year as the Red Sox struggled to get their offense going. He still needs to work on his defense and would have to leap over both Shoppach and Salty, but his bat looks major league ready and he is the rare backstop who can hit for power and average … While he certainly needs more seasoning (has yet to play in AAA), Derek Norris looks legit. With a robust 19.0 BB% in the pros and a .237 ISO in AA last year, he’s certainly on the right path. His struggles with strikeouts are not uncommon for young prospects, but he’ll need to shore it up a bit if he has any designs on supplanting Kurt Suzuki … Conger’s poor defense has kept him from truly making his case as an answer behind the plate for Mike Scioscia’s club. Scioscia demands great defense from his catchers, so unless Conger dramatically improves in that regard, his upside-filled bat will remain on the bench.

The “Probable Non-Factors, But Still Worth Monitoring” Outfit
42. Jose Molina
43. Robinson Chirinos
44. Yasmani Grandal
45. Travis D’Arnaud
We should have called this tier the “Why The Hell Did I Rank 45 Catchers” Community … Molina and Chirinos both suck. Molina is an all-glove/no-bat backstop who only makes the list because he is currently the default starting catcher. Chirinos broke a bone near his right wrist in winter ball, but even if he was healthy, there ain’t much to see here. Outside of a .187 ISO in AA, his pop has been very inconsistent and he’s 28 years old. Not exactly a big time prospect here … Grandal came to San Diego in the Mat Latos trade and does have some upside. He’s rocking a .185 ISO in the minors and flew up the ranks the last two years. That said, with Nick Hundley and John Baker in SD, the odds are pretty great that Grandal continues to get seasoning in the minors all year … Arencibia and D’Arnaud are actually very similar players. Both have experienced challenges with whiffs and both have plus power. D’Arnaud hasn’t even stepped into a AAA batter’s box yet, so he’ll need an Arencibia injury to have a shot at fantasy relevance.

*Last updated on March 14th, 2012


About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.