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02/10/11 12:00 PM EST

Fantasy draft tiers: Catcher

Owners can afford to wait on deep backstop pool

More positions: Top 100 | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

When it comes to drafting a catcher, resisting the temptation to snag a backstop early simply because everyone else is doing so is often a key to success.

In every draft, there's an owner who sets the tone by taking Joe Mauer somewhere in the second or third round. Like dominos, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann fall off the board soon thereafter.

Because of a perceived lack of depth at the position, some owners panic when "The Big Three" disappear. This year's class is much improved from the recent past, however, so a premature move for a catcher can be a costly mistake.

The lesson, as always: Refrain from drafting a backstop unless the time and price is right.

Tier 1: Joe Mauer

There's Mauer, and then there's everyone else. Because his power numbers came back to earth last season and he typically misses at least 20 games, Mauer doesn't project as a first-rounder in standard mixed leagues. However, his ability to make an annual run at the AL batting title is cause enough to command big bucks on draft day.

Tier 2: Victor Martinez, Brian McCann, Buster Posey

Posey joins the usual suspects in this tier on the strength of an eye-popping rookie season and formidable postseason run. There's no doubt Posey has the makings of Mauer 2.0 -- their respective career arcs are quite comparable to this point -- but is it worth taking the young stud over a pair of established rakers in V-Mart and McCann? Maybe next year.

Tier 3: Carlos Santana, Geovany Soto, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters

The many variables -- physical or otherwise -- that affect a catcher's statistical output from year-to-year make it difficult to have absolute confidence in any backstop after the top two tiers. Santana clubbed 19 homers between Triple-A and the Majors last year before an injury shelved him for the final two months. Soto was phenomenal in 2008, flopped in '09 and came back strong last season. Not coincidentally, injuries played a role there. Wieters showed lots of promise his rookie campaign but struggled to balance a full season's worth of catching and hitting duties in '10. Napoli should see his value increase this season in Texas.

Tier 4: Miguel Montero, Chris Iannetta, Kurt Suzuki, Jorge Posada, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miguel Olivo, A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin

With all due respect to the players on this list, some are frequently drafted too early because of panicked position runs in the middle rounds. At the end of the day, the difference between a Montero and a Martin isn't drastic enough to justify selecting one over the other when a better overall player (or 10) is still on the board at another position.

Tier 5: Carlos Ruiz, Yadier Molina, J.P. Arencibia, John Buck, Jesus Montero, John Jaso, Josh Thole

Since catchers typically don't hit for high average, finding one who's capable of popping a few homers is usually the way to go. For that reason, Buck -- who cranked 20 homers in 118 games last season -- looks to be the score of this crew. Durability is another important trait to look for in a backstop, which makes Molina a solid play. Ruiz has more value in head-to-head formats because of his tendency to catch fire for limited stretches.

Tier 6: Nick Hundley, Alex Avila, Chris Snyder, Ryan Hanigan, Ryan Doumit, Jason Castro, Bengie Molina, Ramon Hernandez, Rod Barajas

Barajas, who's smacked a combined 36 home runs over the last two years, would certainly satisfy a minor power need in the late rounds. Doumit holds some value because of his eligibility in the outfield while Hundley could surprise as a deep sleeper.

Tier 7: Jeff Mathis, Jonathan Lucroy, Ivan Rodriguez, Yorvit Torrealba, Wilson Ramos, Brayan Pena, Hank Conger, George Kottaras, Dioner Navarro, Jason Varitek

Outside of deeper AL- and NL-only formats, these catchers figure to begin the season on the waiver wire.

Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.