I have to admit that I'm sort of obsessed with catchers. While in most years it can be hard to find a decent one, 2012 has been a surprisingly strong year for backstops, though for reasons many of us never expected. Young players like Matt Wieters, Alex Avila, and Jesus Montero were expected to become stars, but have been generally underwhelming. Meanwhile, old farts like A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz, and Yadier Molina have busted out with incredibly valuable career years. Many fantasy pundits gave a conservative projection to Buster Posey because of his 2011 ankle injury, but he's turned into one of the best overall fantasy producers in the game.
Overall, they're a very unpredictable lot. Here I've tabbed five young catchers who could become major impact fantasy catchers in 2013 or take the next step and become stars.
Rosario was a preseason sleeper pick of many, and those who followed that advice have been rewarded with one of the top offensive seasons at catcher this year. Rosario shot past Ramon Hernandez on the Rockie depth chart early this season, and is now riding a .274/.314/.537 line, with 26 home runs, which ties him for the most by a catcher in all of the major leagues. He has his flaws (namely, he doesn't draw walks and was sporting an OBP below .300 just a week ago), and he's not the same hitter away from Coors Field (but who isn't?). However, he isn't just a product of his home park; he's hit some mammoth shots in some difficult home run parks this year.
His ability to stick as a top catcher is in doubt, however, and it's not because his bat will regress. It's an open question if Rosario can stay behind the plate because he's been a white-line nightmare defensively. You could charitably call Rosario a work in progress behind the dish this year, as he leads the world in passed balls and has drawn some criticism from within the organization for his receiving skills (or lack thereof).
The team has experimented with him at first and third base. I was at the game last Thursday where he made his first start...ever...at first base, and it got real ugly out there, believe me. I haven't watched him in the three games he's played at third base, but I can only imagine they were equally unwatchable. Rosario will be a top fantasy catcher as long as he's hitting the long balls, but monitor this situation, as his horrid defense might lead the Rockies to explore a heavier platoon option in 2013.
It's a rare bird that can overcome Petco Park's stifling effects on offense to be a legit fantasy producer, but so far in his major league career, Grandal has done just that. One of the key pieces acquired by San Diego in the Mat Latos trade, Grandal immediately earned the moniker of San Diego's catcher of the future. When called up in June, he turned heads immediately, smashing two home runs in his first major league start. Since then, he has continued to show solid power and good plate patience.
The only question with Grandal going forward is whether or not, over a larger sample, Petco will eventually sink its claws into him and dent his overall line like it has so many others. It's already made a bit of an impact in the early-going. So far this year, Grandal is hitting .234/.359/.351 at home, as opposed to a scalding .322/.412/.563 on the road. Petco is clearly sapping his power a bit. However, we've seen Chase Headley overcome his home ball park to become a star this season. Grandal is probably talented enough to do the same over the next few seasons.
Travis d' Arnaud
The day of d'Arnaud will likely be upon us very, very soon. After all, there's probably only so much more the Blue Jays can take of J.P. Arencibia and his whifftastic bat and surly Twitter persona. d'Arnaud (boy, that lower case "D" is messing with the AP Style Nazi within me) broke out last season in AA, and he completely tore up the joint in AAA Las Vegas this season, hitting .333/.380/.595. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise, since everybody looks like a star in Vegas, but d'Arnaud is viewed as a legitimate star prospect and he landed at #17 on Baseball America's prospect ranking before the season.
He has demonstrated very good contact skills along with a decent eye in his minor league career, which means he's basically the dark mirror version of Arencibia. With a year of AAA under his belt, he's a good bet to fight Arencibia for the starting catcher job next spring. He's almost certainly stashed away in most keeper leagues, but he's a great sleeper in redraft leagues.
Everything I read about Lavarnway going into 2012 was that his bat was miles and miles ahead of his glove, to the point where many doubted he'd remain as a catcher once he reached the major leagues. Seriously, his defense behind the plate was regarded as a Rosario-level disaster (sorry, Wilin). So it looked like Lavarnway had a future with the Red Sox, just as either a converted first baseman or DH.
Then he went and got himself named the International League's top defensive catcher, and now he's saying that one of his top goals is to win a Gold Glove. What? With his newfound defensive prowess, Lavarnway likely isn't going anywhere, which is bad news for Jarrod Saltalamaccia owners. Salty is having a fine year, but he's an extremely flawed hitter whose value is tied almost exclusively to his ability to hit home runs. While he hasn't hit much this season (small sample size alert!), Lavarnway is projected as the whole package offensively, and would probably more than just the extreme Three True Outcomes guy that Saltalamacchia is. The Sox might look to dump further salary this offseason by non-tendering the arb-eligible Salty, so it could open the door for Lavarnway to rise in 2013.
Here's a disappointment. Mesoraco was labeled one of the top rookie catchers in 2012 and a Rookie of the Year candidate, but he hasn't hit a lick and has made it that much easier for Dusty Baker to stick with his much-beloved veteran backstop, Ryan Hanigan. A putrid .519 second half OPS has also pretty much done him in for 2012. Despite the struggles, he has youth on his side, and he plays in the right ball park to develop his hitting skills. His minor league production showed a guy with the ability to draw walks and hit for power, which is somewhat rare for a catcher. He's not a guy to give up on, but unfortunately he's with the absolute worst manager to keep struggling under.