The landscape surrounding the AL-Only catcher pool is both intriguing and depressing. On one hand, we have Joe Mauer, now a full-time first baseman, but with catcher eligibility for the 2014 season. As such, I have Mauer in a tier all by himself for 2014 AL-Only leagues.
The next tier of catchers has some familiar names, including Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters and new-comer, Brian McCann. McCann is definitely the shiny new toy, but the optimism surrounding him isn’t unjust. Perez brings 15+ home run power with a potential .300+ batting average. At 24 years of age, that’ll play. Santana is Mr. Consistency and I fully expect another highly productive season from the Indians part-time backstop. Wieters is definitely the wild-card, but his floor seems well established and there’s still 30 home-run upside here.
The third tier of catchers brings us our first AL-Only Sleeper. Among the A.J. Pierzynski’s, Jason Castro’s and Alex Avila’s, sits Dioner Navarro. Coming off a season no one projected in 2013, many will shy away or even forget about Navarro on draft day. It seems the biggest knock against Navarro is his future power projections. While he won’t hit over 18% of his fly-balls out of the park again in 2014, what’s to say he can’t hit 15% this season? Even if you feel that number should be slightly lower – and remember catchers typically develop later offensively – he’s going to see more at-bats this season. If you bump his at-bat total of 240 from 2013 to 375 he can still provide you with 15-17 home runs simply from more playing time. Navarro is also an above average contact hitter, meaning he shouldn’t kill you in batting average either. A catcher who can provide 15 home-runs with a .265 batting average certainly has a place on my AL-Only roster – even as a back end number one option (although he’s a better second catcher)
The final tier of valuable catchers brings us to John Jaso and two more of my AL-Only Sleeper picks. The first of these catchers is Josmil Pinto of the Minnesota Twins. It seems Pinto has already gained some traction in drafts and as such I wonder if this pick will receive too much hype before our March drafts. Pinto has some promise, but he’s a rookie catcher, it’s all about getting him at the right price. Pinto certainly had an impressive 21 games for the Twins in 2013. Over 83 plate appearances he hit 4 home-runs and posted a .342 BA (thanks to a .440 BABIP.) Luckily, the sample size was small enough that I believe most will not try to project those numbers out over a full season and simply draft based on that. Instead, I feel Pinto could provide low double-digit home runs and a .270ish batting average. Pinto is not starter worthy in any format, but is a nice number two catcher option in AL-Only leagues this season.
My final AL-Only Sleeper pick is Geovany Soto. Soto appears to be the starter in Texas at this point. That alone will add production to Soto’s fantasy line, but that’s not the only reason I like him. Soto also possesses above-average power. While his contact ability will ultimately limit his total power numbers (and batting average), he can still provide 15+ home runs next season. The batting average won’t be pretty, but remember, we’re dealing with a league-average batting average of .256 in the American League. A .240 batting average with 15 home runs as a number two catcher in AL-Only leagues is a player worth looking at. Soto shouldn’t command a large investment on draft day, making the potential return on investment a worthwhile gamble.
That wraps up the AL-Only Sleeper portion of Catcher Week here at Fake Teams. While Navarro could be a starter for managers who wait on catcher in AL-Only leagues, all three of these backstops are best as second catchers. Taking the entire American League catcher landscape into consideration, I recommend spending enough on Joe Mauer, Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann or Matt Wieters, to ensure locking down a top catcher. After that, the three catchers named above make great low-cost pick-ups.