Posey leads the way among fantasy catchers
There is little doubt that catcher is the weakest position in fantasy baseball. The rigors of the job make catchers a major injury risk. And even when they are healthy, their focus on offensive skills often takes a back seat to their work behind the dish.
However, fantasy baseball owners will be in big trouble if they don't address the position, as finding at least one useful backstop is a key component of securing a league championship.
TIER 1: Buster Posey
While no catcher has established offensive dominance over his peers, Posey is generally regarded as the top option. Last season, the 26-year-old Giants star was well on his way to repeating the numbers that helped him to win the 2012 National League MVP Award before tailing off badly in the second half to the tune of two homers and a .244 batting average. After a restful offseason, Posey should be ready to return to the 20-homer, .300-average benchmarks this time around.
TIER 2: Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Carlos Santana, Wilin Rosario, Yadier Molina
There is little to separate the second tier of catchers.
Mauer's move to first base gives him a slight edge over the rest of this group. His .323 career batting average shows that he offers a distinct advantage over his peers, as he is one of the few backstops who can help fantasy owners in that category. And without the rigors of daily work behind the dish, Mauer could be in line to appear in 150 games for the first time in his career.
McCann's offseason relocation to the Bronx has fantasy owners excited over a possible uptick in power production. The former Braves star is a lefty masher who could use the short porch in right field to set a career high in homers. And a little more power could help McCann to reverse a two-year trend during which his batting average dipped noticeably below his .277 career mark. The Yankees will have the option of using their designated-hitter spot to get McCann in the lineup as much as possible, which could result in him having a career high in plate appearances.
Santana could be in a similar position as Mauer, as the Indians have considered him as a regular at designated hitter, first base or third base. The 27-year-old is a consistent source of production who has topped 70 runs and RBIs in each of his three full Major League seasons. Santana is a patient hitter with an excellent walk rate, and he possesses enough power to possibly lead all catchers in homers this season.
If McCann or Santana do not lead all catchers in home runs, that distinction will likely fall to Rosario. The right-handed slugger has used the thin air in Colorado to help him hit 49 homers over the past two seasons. Rosario lacks patience at the dish (42 walks in 949 career plate appearances), but he has managed to overcome that weakness and record a healthy .277 career batting average.
Molina may not offer as much power as the other players in the second tier, but his ability to hit for average keeps him in this group. The 31-year-old has hit above .300 in each of the past three seasons. And despite smacking just 12 homers last season, Molina posted his first 80-RBI campaign.
TIER 3: Matt Wieters, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy
Fantasy owners who miss out on the top groups of catchers can still find great value in a talented third tier that includes Wieters, Perez and Lucroy.
Wieters has not yet developed into the elite offensive player many projected, but it's hard for mixed-league owners to ignore a 27-year-old who has posted three consecutive 20-homer seasons. With an improvement on his .255 career batting average, Wieters could move up a tier this season.
Perez and Lucroy both offer balanced offensive portfolios that will appeal to fantasy owners in the second half of their 2014 drafts. Both catchers are able to hit for average and chip in some power, and both are young enough to find greater offensive success in the coming season.
TIER 4: Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro, Miguel Montero, A.J. Pierzynski
Owners who wait until the late rounds of their draft to address the catcher position will likely choose from the fourth tier, consisting of Ramos, Castro, Montero and Pierzynski.
Ramos will be a popular late-round pick this season after he hit 12 homers and drove in 42 runs in the second half last year. Castro also broke out in a big way in 2013, with 18 homers and a .276 batting average in 120 games.
Unlike the ascending Ramos and Castro, Montero will need to get his career back on track this season, as he took a major step backwards with 11 homers and a .230 batting average in 2013.
Pierzynski offers little upside, but his consistent ability to hit for average and mix in a few homers has made him a viable mixed-league catcher for the majority of the past 12 seasons.
Fantasy owners in a one-catcher league may choose to wait to draft a catcher, as the difference between the receivers in Tier 2 and Tier 4 is relatively minimal. But owners in two-catcher leagues will need to make a priority of securing the services of at least one backstop from the above list in order to avoid carrying two weak hitters on their active roster.