It’s draft day pre-2011. You’ve spent your time preparing, done all the research you need to do. You have the first overall pick in the draft and you couldn’t be happier.
You take Albert Pujols (duh) and then because it’s a snake draft, you have plenty of time before you get to pick again. So, you just sit back and think about what to do. By the time the other 11 managers draft two guys, you’re ready to roll. You take Matt Kemp, thrilled to get him late in the second round despite his down ’10 season, and then go with Joe Mauer as your catcher, excited to get the top fantasy backstop before anybody could even make a run on catchers..
If your draft played out exactly like that, I’ll bet you’re really kicking yourself right now.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. I won’t deny that. But I will question the decision to reach for Joe Mauer.
He proved last year that ‘09’s power numbers were a fluke and though he hit well (.327, 9, 75, 88 runs), those are numbers unworthy of a third round pick. Without a doubt.
So why did guys like Mauer and Buster Posey go as high as the third round? Because catchers generally suck in fantasy. It’s not their fault. The grind of the position increases the chance of injury and decreases energy throughout the course of a game and a season.
Go try squatting for two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds. Try it. Bet your legs would be aching. Now imagine that for at least an hour a day, while catching 90 mph fastballs, dealing with hitters swinging and fouling balls off of you and still hitting and running the bases (why are there no courtesy runners in Major League Baseball??). It’s no wonder why catchers get so burnt out.
And, in an effort to keep stud backstops like Mauer and Posey healthy, managers sit them twice a week so they’re as fresh as can be later in the season.
A .327, 9, 75, 88 season is then exceptional considering the season long grind for a backstop. Makes sense to reach for him in the third round when you consider the catcher going in the eighth round would put up numbers like .280, 17, 53, 47 (Geovany Soto’s 2010 stats).
But, is that truly the right strategy?
Should fantasy owners reach for stud catchers like Joe Mauer?
It’s the age-old question. Is Mauer’s improvement over a guy like Soto or somebody in the next tier worth picking so early? Figure, at the beginning of the third round, guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Upton, Prince Fielder, Andrew McCutchen, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all there.
So, what’s the best strategy—to pass up on one of them and take Mauer, or to draft one of them and then take Soto in the eighth or later?
At this point, it’s obvious going with somebody in the eighth round would have been better, but both Mauer and Soto have been injured for much of this season and ineffective when they have been on the field.
Along with them, Buster Posey is out for the season after a so-so start to the season. Carlos Santana, whom many were jumping on the bandwagon (pun intended) for, has been largely ineffective as well. Jorge Posada has flat-out sucked.
Only Brian McCann and Victor Martinez have lived up to their billing, and neither are providing eye-popping numbers that would necessitate such a high draft pick. Instead, 2011 has been the year of the no-name catcher.
The No-Name Stars
Guys like Russell Martin and Miguel Montero are not exactly “no-name” stars, but considering 2010 was dreadful for both players, they were easily overlooked heading into this season. Yet both are way up there in the ESPN player rater.
Yadier Molina and Mike Napoli are also in the Top 10 on ESPN’s value list as well as up-and-coming players such as Jonathan Lucroy and J.P. Arencibia and veteran Miguel Olivo.
But heading off the list? It’s a Detroit catcher, but not the one you’d think. Yes, Alex Avila, NOT Victor Martinez, is the best catcher in fantasy after the season’s first two-plus months. Alex Avila.
I’ll let that sink in for a second. Mauer and Soto are nowhere to be found on the list, though injury is the main culprit of that. Santana and Posey are still in the Top 15, but if you’re drafting a catcher in the first six rounds of the draft, you want that guy to be Top 5, not Top 15.
Even guys like Ramon Hernandez and Chris Ianetta, as well as the once-forgotten Matt Wieters—are performing above a lot of these so-called “studs” of the catching pool.
The Final Countdown
It’s not worth reaching for a catcher so early. Injuries are a part of the game and yes, any player can get injured at any time. But, catchers are much, much more at risk to wind up on the DL than an outfielder or a third baseman.
And one of the main reasons for drafting a guy like Mauer so early is because he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. That’s not the case this year, and may not be for a long while. Avila is very young and very good. Arencibia was a hot prospect and is starting to show signs of hitting as such. Lucroy doesn’t do much but hit for average, but he’s still there. Santana and Posey are going to be around for a long time, as well as sturdy veterans McCann and Martinez. Wieters is starting to turn his career around. Molina has become a solid source of average in a good St. Louis lineup. Martin has enjoyed a resurgence and plays for the star-studded Yankees. Montero is back from injury and looking like the Montero of old.
And then every year, there are guys like Hernandez, Oliva and Iannetta.
There’s a good 15 catchers to draft each year. Mauer is still the best, I’ll admit that. But, the gap has closed considerably and at this point, I’d be very happy with any number of the aforementioned guys on my squad.
And most of those guys, you wouldn’t have to reach for. As a matter of fact, most of the guys weren’t even drafted and any fantasy owner could have picked them up off the waiver wire. So, Mauer suddenly becomes less valuable because in order to get him, you’d have to draft way up and pass by studs like Adrian Gonzalez.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a team with A-Gon and Arencibia than Mauer and Mitch Moreland. But, maybe that’s just me.