Now that rosters are taking shape and spring training games have begun, it's time to examine the top players at each position and what they can bring to your fantasy squad this season.
The first position up for ranking is catcher, a historically weak fantasy position with few surefire producers but several intriguing young options.
All rankings are based on a standard 5×5 category, 10-team rotisserie league scoring system.
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Mauer is unlikely to ever match his beastly 2009 campaign, but he's still the gold standard for fantasy catchers. Expect a batting average of at least .325, around 15 homeruns and 85 RBI and runs each. Mauer is especially valuable in leagues that include OBP as a category, and is a legitimate Top 30 pick.
2. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
A model of consistency, McCann has slightly less upside than the next three players on this list, but is the safest bet to put up excellent numbers. His average may wind up anywhere between .270 and .300, but he’s a shoe-in for 20-25 homers and 85 RBI as he bats in the middle of an improving Braves lineup.
3. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Martinez's poor defense will hurt the Tigers but improves his fantasy value, as he's likely to receive more at-bats than most catchers thanks to his ability to play first base and DH. V-Mart has hit under .300 just once in any season in which he received at least 500 at-bats, and he's a good bet for 15-20 homers as well.
4. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Many will be surprised to see Santana ranked ahead of fellow catching phenom Buster Posey, but Santana has more power and bigger upside. He'll be somewhat limited by the lackluster lineup surrounding him, but don't be surprised if Santana nears a .300 average with 20-plus homeruns and 80 RBI next season. Keeper league owners should do all in their power to acquire him.
5. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Posey will be considered a sexy pick this fantasy season, and the reigning NL Rookie of the Year is likely to be a Top 5 fantasy catcher for years to come. He's too good a hitter to suffer a dramatic sophomore slump, but isn't a lock for 20 homeruns and shouldn't be reached for higher than the fifth or sixth round.
6. Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
Soto rebounded from a miserable 2009 campaign last season, hitting a solid .280, 17-53 with a .393 OBP. It would be nice to see him increase his run and RBI totals, but he's a safe bet to hit above .270 and flirt with 20 homeruns again in 2011. Soto is the last catcher worthy of selection in the first 10 rounds of a standard 10-team draft.
7. Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
The Adam Dunn of fantasy catchers, Napoli will hurt you in average but should hit for more power than any other catcher-eligible player next season. He is a near lock to receive 500 at-bats for just the second time in his career, and his move to the hitter-friendly ballpark at Arlington means he has a shot at 30 homers.
8. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
Fantasy players have been hearing about Wieters' ability for several seasons now, so it's understandable if they're fed up with all the hype. But while he hardly inspired confidence last season, Wieters has some of the biggest offensive potential of anyone on this list, and could reward patient owners with a .290, 22-85 stat line in 2011.
9. Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics
Suzuki was hurt by an extraordinarily low .245 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season, and was hindered by one of the league's worst offenses as well. With better luck and a superior supporting cast, Suzuki is a threat to hit .275 with 15 homers and 80 RBI, and is somewhat underrated in the fantasy world.
10. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Fantasy owners were somewhat enamored with Montero after his solid 2009 campaign, but he mustered just 331 plate appearances in an injury-plagued 2010. Montero has the skill set needed to hit .270 with 20 homers and a solid RBI total, but is far from a sure bet to produce and should be drafted accordingly.
11. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees
For the first time in over a decade, Posada can no longer be considered a surefire top-10 fantasy catcher. He’s still capable of hitting 15-plus homers if given 500 at-bats, but I wouldn't count on him to hit over .270, and with Russell Martin and uber-prospect Jesus Montero in the mix, he could face limited playing time as the Yankees try to get younger.
12. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have seemed determined to block Iannetta from receiving playing time in recent years, but he should enter 2011 as their undisputed starter. Iannetta will always be somewhat of a liability as far as average is concerned, but he has the ability to turn into a poor man's Mike Napoli. Iannetta is the last catcher worth drafting in 10-team, single-catcher leagues.
13. A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
Pierzynski showed signs of regression last season and at age 34, his best years are behind him. He's still capable of hitting .280 with 10-15 homeruns, and Ozzie Guillen will give him plenty of rope, but with Tyler Flowers waiting in the wings, Pierzynski may start to see fewer at-bats this season.
14. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
Ruiz had what was far and away the best offensive campaign of his career in 2010, setting career highs in batting average, OPB, runs, RBI and slugging percentage. Advanced statistics suggest he's due for some regression, but he's improved his stats for three straight seasons, and could hit somewhere around .280 with 8-10 homers and 60 RBI.
15. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina lacks upside and shouldn't be drafted as a starter, but makes the list because of his consistency. You can bank on Molina to hit .280 or better with 5-plus homeruns and around 50-60 RBI, but he offers little else save for durability. The eight stolen bases Molina provided in 2010 were a pleasant surprise.
16. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays
Arencibia had a breakout season in Triple-A in 2010 and earned a call-up to the majors in September. He’s not a great natural hitter, but is similar to Iannetta and Napoli in that he has big power potential. Arencibia may not be the Jays' long-term answer at catcher thanks to prospect Travis D'Arnaud, but he could hit 20-plus homeruns in 2011.
17. John Buck, Florida Marlins
Buck had far and away the best season of his career in 2010, but his BABIP and walk rate suggest that he's a candidate for major regression next season. Buck has always been projected to hit for power and could approach 20 homers again, but don't expect him to hit above .260 and draft accordingly. Buck is essentially useless in OBP leagues.
18. Russell Martin, New York Yankees
Martin has been a poor fantasy option for the past two seasons, and while I doubt he’ll ever return to his pre-2009 form, he should benefit from Yankee Stadium and his supporting cast. How Martin performs early in the season will directly impact how much playing time he receives, and the Yankees have several players ready to replace him should he falter.
19. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox
Saltalamacchia is in a similar position as Martin in that he's done little to encourage fantasy owners, but suddenly finds himself in a position to thrive. Salty will be under a lot of pressure in Boston, but is still just 25, should primarily face lefties, and possesses 20-plus home run power if he can keep himself in the lineup.
20. Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh Pirates
You could argue for Chris Snyder, Rod Barajas, Jonathan Lucroy or Josh Thole here, but the first two will kill your batting average while the latter two have zero power. Doumit is far from a sure thing to contribute in 2011, but he's capable of hitting .270 with 15 homers if healthy, and has multi-position versatility to boot.
Prospects To Watch For 2011
1. Jesus Montero, New York Yankees
Arguably the best pure hitter in the minors, Montero dominated Triple-A in the second half of 2010 and should see some major league time this season. Montero is unlikely to remain a catcher in the long run, but is serviceable in the short term and would be an enormous offensive upgrade over Russell Martin. A must-own if he's called up.
2. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
A former first-round pick, Mesoraco resurrected his floundering career last season, skyrocketed through the Reds' system, and reached Triple-A by year's end. He's a poor defensive backstop and needs another half-season in the minors, but with only Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez in his way, he could be the Reds' starter from July on.
3. Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels
Conger might have made the Top 20 if he was assured of playing time, but it's not hard to see the defensively-inclined Mike Scioscia giving Jeff Mathis the majority of the at-bats in Anaheim. Conger shouldn't be drafted to begin the 2011 season, but deserves monitoring in all but the shallowest of leagues.
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