Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the first of many off-season fantasy reviews we begin our post-season analysis of the 2011 fantasy baseball season behind the plate. The catching position has come quite a distance in a short amount of time. It wasn't long ago that if you didn't select Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer or Braves catcher Brian McCann early in your draft, your catching production would be minimal.
Take 2008 for example. Of all the catchers in the majors, only Mauer, McCann and NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto had an OPS of 0.800 or better.
Fortunately, that wasn't the case in 2011.
The catching class of 2011 is much more proficient at hitting the ball. Although Mauer, the first catcher off the board, wasn't among the elite producers at the position this year, there were still plenty of "good sticks" at behind the plate.
Top-10 Fantasy Catchers
Mike Napoli (ADP 115) - Napoli simply didn't get enough respect on Draft Day. All he had done over the previous three seasons with Anaheim was hit 20+ homers and post a high OPS. Perhaps fantasy owners were concerned with his ability to get enough at-bats. And he did struggle mightily in May and June. Fortunately, Napoli finally started to take advantage of his new hitter- friendly ballpark and from July through the end of the year he was the best hitting catcher in baseball. After the All-Star break he batted .383 with 18 HRs, 42 RBI and an OPS of 1.171. As a 10th-round selection, he was a huge bargain. Fantasy owners won't make the same mistake next year, it will likely cost you around a fifth-or-sixth round to retain his services.
Victor Martinez (ADP 42) - Martinez did what he was supposed to do, make pitchers pay when they intentionally or semi-intentionally walked Tigers' slugger Miguel Cabrera. Martinez led the lead in batting average with runners in scoring position (.394) on his way to a fourth 100-RBI season (103). Eligible at both first base and catcher, the added flexibility only added to his value. The only "flaw" in his statistics this season was a low 12 home run total after hitting 20 and 23 the previous two seasons.
Alex Avila (ADP 343) - Avila seemingly came out of nowhere to become an offensive threat and fantasy-worthy catcher. He hit just .228 in 2010 and wasn't even on most fantasy radar screens back in March, but that quickly changed as he batted .286 with 10 HR and 46 RBIs in the first half of 2011. His improvement forced Detroit to shift Martinez to DH for the majority of his starts and may threaten Martinez's eligibility next season. Meanwhile, it will cost you a lot more than a free agent claim to get Avila next year.
Brian McCann (ADP 53) - McCann had been the most consistent fantasy catcher in baseball for the past five seasons and 2011 was more of the same. Had he played a full compliment of games, instead of the 128 he got into, he'd have matched his numbers from last year. Still, he's an elite fantasy catcher.
Miguel Montero (ADP 146) - Montero had his most productive major league season, posting personal highs in at-bats (493), runs (65), hits (139), extra base hits (55), home runs (18) and runs batted in (86). He's just 28-years-old and has his best years in front of him. Coming off an injury-filled 2010 campaign, he wasn't in high demand on Draft Day, going in the 14th round and ended up being a nice bargain.
Yadier Molina (ADP 314) - Most fantasy owners don't think of Molina when looking for offense, at least not Yadier. Brother Bengie had a few good years between 2003-2009 and was a fantasy factor, but the Cardinals' catcher was mostly known for his great arm and control of a pitching staff. This year, however, Yadier added a strong bat to his repertoire - hitting .305 with career highs in runs (55), HR (14), RBI (65) and OPS (0.814). Unlike 2011, he'll get drafted in 2012, though Molina is still a low-end fantasy value.
Carlos Santana (ADP 72) - His rookie year was cut short by injury (he played just 46 games), but in 2011 we saw his ability shine through. Santana's batting average will need some work, but the power numbers put him near the top of the position (27 HR, 64 extra base hits, 0.808 OPS). If the Indians can put a healthy club around him, he could be a 100-RBI guy next season to go along with all the power.
Matt Wieters (ADP 122) - Wieters had disappointed fantasy owners in his first two seasons, though some up that was due to the media hype which surrounded his arrival in Baltimore. His third year behind the plate was his most productive, hitting a career-high 22 homers, knocking in 68 run and scoring 72 times. His 0.778 OPS landed him a spot in the fantasy top-10 among catchers and owners should start looking his way again in 2012.
J.P. Arencibia (ADP 309) - Many fantasy owners drafted the Blue Jays' catcher sight unseen on the basis of his minor league power numbers. They were not disappointed as the rookie slammed 23 homers and knocked in 78 runs. If he can improve a bit on his batting average and cut down on the strikeouts he can be an annual fixture in the top-10.
Russell Martin (ADP 226) - Martin was coming off two really bad offensive seasons which was why the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't have much interest in keeping him. Neither did fantasy owners. He was a 19th-round pick that was probably more about him being in the strong Yankees lineup as much as a vote of confidence of his offensive abilities. And while his improvement didn't reach his 2007 level, he was much improved (18 HR, 65 RBI).