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NL Catchers: Day One

by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Catchers with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
B = Bats.  T = Throws.  Age = Player's Age as of October 1, 2006.
Proj. = Rotohelp's projected 2006 stats and fantasy values for each player.
2006 = Each player's final 2006 stat line and fantasy values.
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2006.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement; aRAR = RAR adjusted to
consider a player's 2006 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players by position in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed all players in the league where they began the season.

1.  Brian McCannATL BravesAge: 22B:L   T:R

Despite missing a couple of weeks in late spring with a sprained ankle, McCann still paced all NL catchers and now falls just short of Joe Mauer as the best young backstop in the game. With strong plate discipline and a very good .79 G-F, he possesses both the patience and the power to echo this performance every year for the rest of the decade. McCann easily could spend 2007 hitting fifth behind Chipper and Andruw, virtually insuring him of no worse than a .300/20/80 performance, as well as an easy $20 roto value.

2.  Paul Lo DucaNYNAge: 34B:R   T:R

Maybe Lo Duca didn't collapse this year, but he still turns 35 in April, swings at everything in sight, and hasn't offered much help in the power categories for several years. Nor does he possess any speed, so if his batting average ever drops, his value vanishes. He appears a terrible choice for the #2 slot in New York given the availability of David Wright, but until the Mets actually acquire a quality second baseman with the true skills to fill that hole, Lo Duca seems stuck hitting second. While I still see little upside in spending the $15 necessary to acquire him due to his limited quantitative potential, he also seems healthy and should enjoy another respectable year as he looks to land one more big deal as a free agent next fall.

3.  Russ MartinLA DodgersAge: 23B:R   T:R

Martin took full advantage of Dioner Navarro's injury, successfully Pipping the Dodgers' other young catcher to the extent that Los Angeles dealt Navarro to Tampa well before the trade deadline, ending the debate about the Dodgers' catcher for the rest of the decade. With plate discipline that rivals Brian McCann's patience only adding to a speed and power combo reminiscent of a young Ivan Rodriguez, Martin looks like the only five-category threat among NL catchers. I view 2006 as his baseline for future development, so although bidding well into the teens seems excessive, he certainly qualifies as a good value in the $12-14 range.

4.  Michael BarrettCH CubsAge: 29B:R   T:R

Continued power growth pushed Barrett on pace for the best year of his career right until he suffered an intrascrotal hematoma at the beginning of September courtesy of a foul tip that hit him in the groin. He required multiple procedures to alleviate the discomfort, so while nothing in Barrett's skills portends problems in 2007, the long-term effects of such a pointed injury fundamentally concern me. Expect a return to 425 AB, albeit with a BA back under .300 and similar power numbers, with a dozen extra RBI comprising the only real improvement in his stats.

5.  Johnny EstradaARI DiamondbacksAge: 30B:S   T:R

Dispatched to Milwaukee with Claudio Vargas and Greg Aquino last month for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland, and Dave Krynzel in a deal that looks better for the Brewers by the day, Estrada rediscovered his power stroke in the desert and now provides Milwaukee with the young, offensive-minded catcher so desperately needed by the organization. Of course, switching from Chase Field to Miller Park will affect Estrada's stats across-the-board to the displeasure of all his owners. He also could find himself in a fairly straight platoon with Damian Miller. With his rapidly deteriorating plate patience and questionable future power potential, bidding into double-digits for Estrada leaves you little chance of seeing any profit on your investment.

6.  Ronny PaulinoPIT PiratesAge: 25B:R   T:R

While we considered Paulino an excellent prospect entering the season, his quick ascent into the starting job rather surprised us. However, after Ryan Doumit's injury opened the roster spot in Pittsburgh, Paulino quickly passed Humberto Cota and now ranks among the Pirates' best young players. Yes, he demonstrated a little less power and plate discipline than expected, but that excellent .310 BA provides an excellent foundation for further development, especially when supported by an .82 contact rate that appears perfectly decent for a rookie. I also don't foresee a sophomore slump from Paulino, instead suspecting a gradual tradeoff of batting average for power in the coming years. He shouldn't hurt you at any price shy of $10.

7.  Mike PiazzaSD PadresAge: 38B:R   T:R

Departing perhaps baseball's toughest park for right-handed hitters for a far less limiting environment creates intriguing possibilities for the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer. More importantly, moving to DH after well over a decade behind the plate should allow Piazza to receive an extra hundred at-bats due to the reduced injury risk obtained by rarely playing the field. He still owns decent plate discipline, as well as plenty of power potential, so I see no reason why he shouldn't prosper while slotted between Milton Bradley and Eric Chavez. Bid into the teens for Piazza in almost any league.

Catcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Right now I expect to see three rookie catchers starting for 2007 NL clubs, three backstops beginning their second tour of the league, and two more catchers entering their third campaign as regulars. With so many available youthful options full of undiscovered upside, only roster an experienced veteran like Lo Duca or Estrada if bidding stalls well below their projected prices.

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