The Fantasy Landscape: Catchers

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Kantecki jumpstarts catcher week with an overview of the position, including his thoughts on AL-only/NL-only leagues and draft strategy.

Today is an exciting day at Fake Teams, as Ray and the gang start to roll out preseason rankings by position, player profiles and much, much more. Each week will begin with an overview of a new position, followed by a jam-packed schedule dedicated to all things at that week's position. As a new feature, we're very excited to bring you Daniel Schwartz's personal projections and auction values from Rotobanter, providing you with yet another tool to help dominate your draft.

As Ray outlined in an earlier post, here is the schedule for catcher week, which includes the final two installments of the 2014 Minor League Keeper Thoughts for the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants (if you haven't followed along, you're doing it wrong, but can catch up by clicking here):

Time Slot/Day

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

7am

MLKT: Padres

Prospect Profile: Max Stassi (Jason)

Top 30 Catcher Rankings, Part 2 (Ray)

MLKT: Giants

Catchers to Avoid (Staff)

10am

State of the Position (Alex)

Prospect Profile: Travis d'Arnaud (Brian)

Prospect Profile: Jorge Alfaro (Matt)

Prospect Profile: Austin Hedges (Jason)

AL-only sleepers (Dave)

12pm

Top 30 Catcher Rankings, Part 1 (Ray)

Catcher Profile:Devin Mesoraco (Daniel K)

Prospect Profile: Josmil Pinto (Jason)

Catchers to Target (Staff)

NL-only Sleepers (Ray)

2pm

Catcher Profile: Jason Castro (Zack)

Catcher Profile: Jonathan Lucroy (Alex)

2014 Catcher Draft Strategy (Zack)

Catcher Profile: Evan Gattis (Daniel K)

Bust Candidate: Buster Posey (Ray)

4pm

Catcher Profile: Yan Gomes (Joe)

Catcher ADP Trends (Ray)

Breakout Candidate: Wilson Ramos (Zack)

Catcher Profile: Geovany Soto (Daniel K)

The Lay of the Land

2012 was Buster Posey's year, but a funny thing happened in 2013: Six catchers -- if you include Cleveland's Victor Martinez -- topped the former king of backstops, throwing a giant curveball slider in the dirt into the draft strategy at the catcher position. Instead, it was a 31-year-old Yadier Molina who led the way despite an underwhelming 12 home runs. Compared to 2012, the top tier of catchers was a much closer bunch. Wilin Rosario opened eyes in Colorado with a surprising mix of average and power, Jonathan Lucroy stepped up in the absence of a suspended Ryan Braun, Martinez produced quietly in Mo Town and Mike Napoli did his usual swing-hard thing en route to a catcher-leading 23 long balls (unfortunately, neither Martinez nor Napoli will call catcher their home in 2014).

The offseason has provided plenty to look forward to at the catcher position in 2014. After signing a five-year, $85 million contract, Brian McCann will play half of his games in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, a big step up from Turner Field in Atlanta. Joe Mauer is abandoning the dish and moving to first base full time, which should lead to an increase in playing time. And with Yan Gomes taking over everyday catching duties for the Indians, Carlos Santana is preparing to play third base for the first time since 2006. Really. He is.

This year's biggest advantage at the catcher position will come from players with catcher eligibility playing at non-catcher positions (ala Mauer). The majority of these players reside in the American League and their ability to collect extra at-bats -- and extra counting stats -- will be a huge difference maker. The best example from last season is Napoli, who played exactly zero games at catcher and finished top five at the position.

The Great Divide (AL/NL)

The official Fake Teams catcher consensus rankings will be coming out shortly (in two posts of 15, with the first in a matter of hours and the second on Wednesday), and there isn't a significant advantage for either league. Overall, the National League leads by the slimmest of margins, 16 to 14, but the AL does stake claim to six of the top 10.

Posey is still the cream of the crop in the Senior Circuit, of course, but NL-only leaguers need not worry, as the middle-tier of catchers is littered with several impact bats, including Wilson Ramos, Miguel Montero and Evan Gattis. And that's after a talented group of catchers with clear top-10 upside (the aforementioned Molina, Rosario and Lucroy).

McCann's switch from the NL to the AL is a big boost to his value and a big win for AL-only leaguers, as optimistic forecasters are calling for 30 home runs in New York; 25 is a much safer number to lean on, but there's no denying McCann's change of scenery as one of baseball's biggest offseason value boosters in fantasy.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia moves from the AL's Boston to the NL's Miami and clearly loses values as a result. I don't need to tell you about the titanic-sized gap in talent and offensive production between the two ball clubs, so don't go nutty for Salty.

The Draft Strategy

Drafting catchers is always a dicey proposition, as the position lends itself to injuries, decreased playing time and, in the worst-case scenario, a lost season. That could change in 2014, however, as the league voted to ban home-plate collisions in an attempt to ensure the safety of home-plate defenders everywhere.

In standard mixed leagues (12 teams), there's no real need to reach for your catcher on draft day, but I don't suggest standing on the sideline for too long, either. The earliest I'd consider taking one is in the fifth round, but you'll risk missing out on Posey and Mauer if you do. Consider waiting until the top tier of catchers is about to run dry and select one from the group of Molina, Rosario and Lucroy.

If you play in a two-catcher league, the last thing you want is to end up with a one-two punch of J.P. Arencibia and Ryan Doumit (no offense, guys). That's why I think it's in your best interest to spend more loosely in this format. Otherwise, you'll be kicking yourself when setting your lineups each week. You don't have to go all out in your pursuit of a no. 1 catcher, but it should at least be a higher priority if you're rostering two catchers.

As an overall strategy, I think it's silly to be the one owner who refuses to draft a catcher before everyone else secures theirs. I see this happen all of the time and there's simply no benefit in waiting for other teams to decide your fate at catcher. There's value to be had at every position, catcher included, so don't be the team who refuses to spend any more than $1 or $2 at the catcher position. If you do and I play with you, I will mock you.

The New Kids on the Block

According to the most recent NFBC mock data, Travis d'Arnaud will be the highest rookie drafted at the catcher position in 2014. The Mets acquired the former no. 1 organizational prospect from the Blue Jays in the trade that sent Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto, and the 24-year-old backstop struggled to the tune of a .202/.286/.263 slash line and one home run in 31 games. Brian Creagh will provide a full player profile on d'Arnaud on Tuesday, but, on the whole, I tend to avoid first-year catchers in re-draft leagues, even if their prospect stock is high. That said, if you play in a deeper league, I can see the attraction and might budge accordingly.

With Jesus Montero no longer in the picture (behind home plate at least), Mike Zunino is set to take over as the full-time catcher in Seattle. He struggled in his big-league debut, hitting .214/.290/.329 with five home runs and a 25.4 percent strikeout rate. Zunino can provide some nice pop, but at what cost in batting average?

What's Next?

In short ... a lot. I've already provided you with the schedule for catcher week above, as the FT staff works hard to provide you with one-of-a-kind preseason coverage. In two short hours, we'll unveil our top-15 catchers for 2014, and, as I have the privilege of previewing posts prior to publish, I must applaud the work done by Ray and Jason Hunt -- they truly went above and beyond. So sit back, relax and enjoy all of what's coming this week and beyond. And, as always, we welcome all feedback, both good and bad (but mostly good).

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