2012 Fantasy draft tiers: Catcher
Backstop options are plentiful even after top tiers
The 2011 season saw offensive breakouts from several top catchers, leaving fantasy owners with the tricky task of determining which backstops are worth an early pick in 2012 and which will revert back into average options. The Jesus Montero trade and Victor Martinez's season-ending injury have also shaken up the ranks among the position's elite.
Because even the most potent offensive numbers from behind the dish are likely to pale in comparison to the gaudy counting stats of the game's top corner infielders and outfielders, it's best to pass on all catchers until at least the third round. And like in 2011, a surprising amount of depth behind the plate makes waiting until the final rounds of a standard mixed-league draft a viable strategy for selecting a backstop.
TIER 1: Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann
Napoli paced all catchers with 30 homers in 2011, but questions about his ability to repeat that Herculean total leave Santana (27 HR in '11) as the top fantasy option behind the plate this season. Due to regular starts at first base and DH, the 25-year-old is perhaps the only backstop who can be counted on for 600-plus plate appearances. McCann's final numbers were solid as usual last season, and a .306/.375/.514 line prior to a his late-July DL stint suggests another step forward could be in store at age 28.
TIER 2: Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters
Mauer and Posey are injury risks following abbreviated 2011 campaigns, while Wieters has developed slower than expected and still struggles against right-handed pitching. However, each player has the upside to finish as the game's top catcher if things break right this season. Mauer has been there before (in an MVP '09 campaign), while Posey's .305-AVG, 18-homer 2010 showed his near-limitless potential. Wieters has made year-to-year improvements, but has yet to fully deliver on his top-prospect pedigree.
TIER 3: Miguel Montero, Alex Avila, Jesus Montero
Two Monteros in one tier! Some owners may be tempted to select the youngster (Jesus) over the veteran (Miguel), but remember that Arizona's Montero stayed healthy and delivered career highs in runs (65), homers (18), and RBIs (86) last season while posting a valuable .282 average. An offseason trade away from the Yankees' mashing lineup and hitter-friendly ballpark may limit Jesus' upside, but he has a clearer path to regular playing time with the Mariners. He's the upside pick, while Miguel is the safer bet. Avila's 2011 breakout turned heads, but knee injuries resulting from a massive workload make a repeat unlikely.
TIER 4: J.P. Arencibia, Russell Martin, Chris Iannetta, Wilson Ramos
None of these backstops are likely to help in the average category, but all four possess the ability to be major contributors in other areas. Arencibia is one of the few locks for 20-plus home runs from behind the dish, while Martin may be the only backstop to deliver double-digit steals. Iannetta also has the pop to deliver more than 20 dingers, although an offseason trade from Coors Field to Angel Stadium limits his upside. Ramos, with age on his side (24) and an increase in playing time, should top the 15 homers and 52 RBIs he totaled last season -- and could emerge as the prize of this tier.
TIER 5: Geovany Soto, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Yadier Molina, Kurt Suzuki, Nick Hundley
This bunch represents the last of the starter-caliber catchers for standard formats. Soto has top-12 upside in a full season, although a long history of shoulder injuries makes that a long shot. Saltalamacchia, while powerful, could end up in a platoon with Kelly Shoppach. Molina's 2011 power surge was probably an aberration, while both Suzuki and Hundley are limited by inexperienced lineups and pitcher-friendly home parks.
TIER 6: Ryan Doumit, John Buck, Carlos Ruiz, Ramon Hernandez
Doumit has a good chance at staying healthy if he sees significant time as the Twins' DH, meaning career highs in homers and RBIs are within reach. Buck, now on the wrong side of 30, was Arencibia-lite with 16 homers and a .227 average in 2011. Neither number is likely to improve much this time around. Ruiz and Hernandez can still hit for average, but their pop may leave something to be desired.
TIER 7: Ryan Hanigan, Salvador Perez, A.J. Pierzynski, Miguel Olivo, Josh Thole, Rod Barajas, Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco
If top prospect Mesoraco can pry playing time away from Hanigan, he'd be the name to target in this group. Each tier-7 catcher figures to accumulate 300-400 at-bats, but only Olivo and Barajas are likely to deliver double-digit long balls. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Olivo's power comes with a low average, and his playing time could be jeopardized by the arrival of Jesus Montero. Barajas should pop 12-15 big flies but has hit just .235 over his last 474 games.
Steve Adams is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.