[Editor’s note: With the fantasy baseball season fast approaching, SportsJudge continues its preseason positional preview. Please be sure to check back every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for a weekly positional analysis that will lead you right into your fantasy draft.]
Other Fantasy Positional Previews:
2. First Base
3. Second Base
5. Third Base
Welcome back to another edition of “The Buzz Around the Bullpen.” Let me first preface this by stating that I am writing this article on Saturday, February 28th because I’m headed on a little vacation for some R and R. With that being said, I can’t believe the audacity that Manny Ramirez and agent Scott Boras have shown this off-season. Is Manny Ramirez arguably the best right-handed hitter of all-time? Yes, but if I’m the Los Angeles Dodgers, I am chalking Manny’s recent stubbornness as a blessing in disguise. At this point, if I were making the decisions for the Dodgers, I would leave this latest offer as my final offer on the table. If Manny is not willing to work with the Dodgers when they are his only suitor, then maybe they're better off without him.
As I’ve stated in the past, Manny is someone that needs to be playing for something. Last year Manny was a stud in Los Angeles when he knew he was playing for a new contract. Rewind back to Manny’s last days a Boston Red Sox and you’ll see a totally different player. Granted he was still putting up above average numbers but he single-handedly was ruining the Sox clubhouse. The Dodgers have made a nice effort to build a contending team this off-season and it would be a real shame for the Manny-saga to continue into the regular season. My guess is by the time you’re reading this, Manny is signed and in camp for the Dodgers. The real question will be what Manny shows up for camp.
For right now, let’s get back to some preseason projections. Last week we focused on the Third Base position and today we will move behind the dish. Let’s talk about some Catchers.
1. Brian McCann (ATL): Brian McCann puts up stud numbers playing a position that lacks just about any offensive pop. In his rookie season, McCann was unreal hitting an impressive .333 with 24 HRs and 93 RBIs. After a still productive but more mediocre 2007, McCann returned in 2008 hitting .301 with 23 HRs and 87 RBIs. He has a tendency to “drop-off” a bit in the second half but this is clearly a product of the grind of playing the catcher position. I predict similar numbers to 2008 and he will continue to build on what has become an above average career with the Atlanta Braves.
2. Geovany Soto (CHC): Normally I’d like to see a little bit more out of a catcher before I’d rank him ahead of perennial stud catchers Russell Martin and Joe Mauer. However, I really like what I saw out of Soto in 2008. As the NL Rookie of the Year, Soto hit .285 with 23 HRs, 86 RBIs and 66 runs. Not too bad for a guy that only had 80 MLB at-bats coming into last season. He did show a tendency to be a “streaky” hitter in 2008 but as he matures, I expect to see more plate discipline and less erratic month to month numbers. I would select him over Martin and Mauer because he is the last guy available at the catcher position that has the chance to hit 25-30 HRs every year.
3. Russell Martin (LAD): If you take a look at Martin’s career numbers, his homerun numbers have fluctuated from 10, up to19, and then back to 13. His stolen base numbers over the past three seasons have varied from 10, to 21 and then to 18. I think it would be fair to predict that Martin probably projects as a guy that will hit .280-.300 with 15 HRs and 15 stolen bases. I am encouraged that his walks have increased each year but still those numbers put him slightly behind the two young studs mentioned above.
4. Joe Mauer (MIN): If there is one word that comes to mind when I think of Joe Mauer, it has to be “consistency.” Over the last four years, he’s never hit below .294 and has a career OBP of .399. He’s not flashy or sexy and nothing he does is going to amaze you but year in and year out, he continues to put up numbers that have him in the MVP race. While some predict his power numbers will come around as he matures, I don’t see Mauer ever hitting well over 16-18 HRs. It’s not that he’s not capable of doing so but I believe this guy is too focused on contact and is unwilling to give up an at-bat for the chance at hitting a homerun. If a homerun comes, great but its not his approach at the plate.
5. Victor Martinez (CLE): If I was completely convinced that Martinez was 100%, he’d easily slip right into the two or three spot in my projections. If you need some explanation, take a look at this guy’s numbers before last year’s elbow injury. Now that we know he had a serious enough injury which required surgery, last year’s awful start shouldn’t scare you. However, he was out for a significant amount of time and I’m anxious to see how he’s able to hit in the early chilly months of the season with a surgically repaired elbow. If healthy, this guy could be a great steal after the first four guys are off of the board.
6. Ryan Doumit (PIT): Speaking of staying healthy, Ryan Doumit and the Pittsburgh Pirates could really benefit from an injury-free 2009. For the first time in his career, Doumit had more than 300 at-bats in 2008. With the added opportunities, Doumit proved he had the ability to hold down the Buccos starting catching job hitting .318 with 15 HRs, 69 RBIs and 71 runs. For a guy that was once nicknamed Ryan “No-Mitt”, he’s developed into a nice MLB catcher. I ranked him in the sixth spot because I think he’ll continue to develop in 2009.
7. Bengie Molina (SF): As one of the 57 Molina brothers in MLB, Bengie has consistently put up numbers from the catcher position. He has quietly hit a decent number of homeruns each year over the course of his career, yet fantasy owners refuse to give him “lovin’” on draft day. You can’t put a price on consistency and he’s worth a look later in your draft. Even though I rank him at 7, he’ll most likely get drafted after a couple of guys that I rank lower than him.
8. Chris Iannetta (COL): Iannetta continues to be somewhat underrated in terms of fantasy catchers. While he put some above average power numbers in ’08, his average has kept him from being mentioned among the league’s top 5 catchers. I expect a little more discipline this year and with that, an increase in his average.
9. Ramon Hernandez (CIN): Hernandez was once viewed as one of the top offensive options at the catcher position. After some injuries and some offensive struggles Hernandez slipped into the middle of the pack amongst other catchers. I love his move to Cincinnati and I believe his numbers will benefit greatly. In case you don’t remember, take a look at what Cincinnatti’s home park did for catcher David Ross.
10. Matt Wieters (BAL): If you’re willing to wait a little while for some great production, take a chance with Matt Wieters. Although he may not break camp with the O’s, they can only keep him down for so long. There are rumors that he may follow the Evan Longoria path and come up sometime around the beginning of May for contractual reasons. Wieters is a future star and he is definitely worth drafting and holding on to until he gets his call to the bigs.
The Best of the Rest
11. Mike Napoli (LAA)
12. Pablo Sandoval (SF)
13. A.J. Pierzynski (CHW)
14. Dioner Navarro (TB)
15. Jorge Posada (NYY)
Please be sure to check back next week when we take a look at Relief Pitchers.
As with any SportsJudge articles, please feel free to post any questions or comments. Until next time, keep your ears open for the Buzz Around the Bullpen.