There is no position in baseball (real or fantasy) that is less appreciated than catcher. Fantasy catchers are looked down upon so much, many rotisserie leagues are asking for just one catcher in the lineup. But those that wear the "tools of ignorance" are much more important to the game than any of us realize. Catchers are the only players that face the entire field of play. Catchers are the only players that have to understand the intricacies of pitching, defense and hitting.
Fantasy owners, however, look at catchers as more of a nuisance. Drafting one guy that you pray will hit .265 is bad enough -- but you have to draft two?!
Luckily, the position has enough excellent hitters, which means fantasy owners won't have to be too unhappy to add a backstop to their team.
From 2011-2013, there were 22 catchers that hit 10 or more home runs in a single season on average. There were 16 catchers on average that knocked in 50 runs in that span, with 19 catchers scoring 40 or more runs. (Just three catchers per season stole five or more bases, however.
Comparing those numbers against the steroid-heavy days, you'll notice not much of a difference overall.
From 2003-2005, 19 catchers hit 10 or more homers on average in any of those seasons, while 15 catchers knocked in 50 RBI. Then, 48 scored 40 or more runs, and four stole five or more bases.
Basically, the catcher position has improved a little bit over the past decade, but not enough to make too much of a difference in fantasy. Compare that to other positions, like first base or outfield, where power is necessary, and you'll see a much greater difference (43 first baseman, on average, hit .263 or better in a season from 2003-05, but just 26 first basemen hit .263 in any season between 2011-13).
We're also seeing a good number of catchers that are getting at-bats at other positions, like first base and designated hitter, which does a few things for the fantasy position. It keeps their bats in the lineup, helps prevent them from getting injured, adds position eligibility to some players in-season and adds more at-bats for other catchers, further deepening the position's effect on the game.
With this season's crop of catchers, we're seeing a few very good players, and a lot of second- and third-tier players that could be productive for our fantasy teams. Rather than seeing definitive tiers at the position, it seems more like there's a large amount of potential spread out around 10 or so guys. That makes your No. 2 catcher not quite as bad, knowing a large group in that category in the spring could end up being top-12 catchers by season's end.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
No. Buster Posey remains the top fantasy catcher in draft season -- no debate here. Granted, a few catchers had better seasons than Posey last year, like Carlos Santana, Jonathan Lucroy and Yadier Molina. But entering 2014, there's no one you want filling the catcher spot in your lineup more than the 2012 NL MVP.
Comeback Player: Miguel Montero
Entering 2013, Montero was considered one of the best fantasy catchers in the game, with a .825 OPS in his previous two seasons. But problems at the plate and in the training room derailed a third great season from the D-Back-stop. There are a few reasons we like him to bounce back in 2013, though. First, he's healthy again -- for now. Second, he's going to be batting cleanup between Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo in one of the cozier spots in the bigs. And finally, he has 42-year-old Henry Blanco backing him up, which means he won't lose a ton of at-bats if he struggles. If the Diamondbacks had a very good catching prospect waiting in the wings, there would be a little more reason for worry. You can draft him as a top-15 catcher, and possibly end up with top-eight stats.
Breakout: Salvador Perez
We define a breakout player as someone drafted in the middle rounds this year, but someone that could end up being an early round draft pick in the next season. Perez is a perfect example of this type of player, as he's getting draft in the early teens as a good No. 1 catcher, but he has the potential to end up being a top-five catcher by next season. After finally staying healthy in his third major league season, Perez really came on near the end of last season, posting 37 RBI in the last 50 games of the season. The first part of his season was bad enough to keep his '14 draft stock low, but remember that he's only turning 24 years old this May, and he's already entering his fourth MLB season. Catchers take longer to develop at the plate because their first responsibility is defense, but Perez has proven to be adept at both.
Potential Bust: Evan Gattis
With Brian McCann suiting up in Bronx pinstripes this season, Gattis will get full-time at-bats mostly at the catcher position in his sophomore season. As we mentioned previously, more defensive duty comes along with the full-time job behind the plate, but the Braves are confident Gattis can do it, while still keeping his power numbers up. As the 2013 season wore on, however, pitchers started to get a book on Gattis, and his HR-to-flyball split was cut more than half from the first half (23 percent) to the second half (11 percent) of the season. While you shouldn't avoid Gattis at all costs, you're most likely not going to get him where you want him -- which is outside of the top 12 catchers.
Sleeper: Devin Mesoraco
Mesoraco is one of the Reds' former top prospects and now he'll own the catcher's starting gig at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. With Ryan Hanigan working in a Rays' uniform, Mesoraco won't be held back.
Top Prospects: Travis D'arnaud, Josmil Pinto
D'arnaud still has rookie eligibility despite seeing a short stint with the Mets last season. There's no one blocking his path in 2014, and the youngster has great potential at the plate. A broken foot derailed his efforts last season, and injuries seem to pop up a lot with this guy, although, no specific injuries follow him. He's worth a gamble as a second catcher because he'll get a ton of at-bats, and he makes good contact.
When the only person you have to beat out for a starting gig in the majors is Kurt Suzuki, you have a pretty good shot. Not that Suzuki is the absolute worst, but he's really just more of a placeholder type for the Twins. Now that Joe Mauer is playing first base (this could be his last season with catcher eligibility), the Twins need someone else behind the plate. Pinto is actually older than Salvador Perez! He'll be 25 by Opening Day.
Our rankings only look at players who play catcher as their primary position, or played at least 20 games there in their more recent season in the major leagues. Some of the other players with different eligibility requirements are below:
• 10 games: Jordan Pacheco, 1B (15)
• Three games: Victor Martinez, DH
• No longer Catcher eligible: Mike Napoli
You'll also want to remember that while Mauer will likely lose his eligibility at catcher this season, Buster Posey will remain behind the plate for the Giants for at least one more season.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter.