May 05, 2010

In the world of baseball, the physical demands of the catching position are second to none. In an effort to protect them from the potential hazards that are simply a part of the job, catchers don a mask, chest protector, and shin guards -- "the tools of ignorance".

Ignorance is a word that also speaks directly to the feeling many fantasy baseball owners feel when attempting to evaluate the catching landscape. It is a position that is largely defined by inconsistency and injury, peaks and valleys. Through it all, it's easy to lose focus on the bigger picture as the colors of the picture seem to run together. If fantasy baseball is an art, ignorance is frequently applied with broad brushstrokes.

Already a month into the 2010 season, the image has become distorted with even the "sure-things" at the position becoming a source of major frustration. Reigning American League MVP Joe Mauer is out for an undetermined period of time with an injured heel. Slugger Victor Martinez is hitting nearly 60 points below his career average, while Brian McCann's slugging percentage is a full 100 points less than his career mark. With so much uncertainty, it's important to know which potential replacements might be quality additions to a fantasy baseball team (For better), and which may fall short (For worse).

Miguel Olivo, C, Colorado Rockies. Let it be known that Olivo is a player with obvious warts, none more prominent than his career .248 batting average. He's not going to be an asset in that category, no matter what his current .278 mark might suggest. What Olivo can do is hit home runs. He hit 23 HR in '09 in just 114 games, and he already has five in his first 17 games with the Rockies. With former platoon mate Chris Ianetta working on his game in the minor leagues, Olivo is now a full-time player with power upside -- a winning fantasy combination.

Rod Barajas, C, New York Mets. Speaking of power upside, Barajas is an interesting fantasy candidate. He's topped 20 home runs before ('05) and managed to hit 19 last year to go with a career-high 71 RBIs. Sadly, Barajas has never hit better than .256 in any of his 12 seasons as a majorleague catcher. 2010 is no exception. While he's only hitting .230 on the year, he already has six home runs, the most of any C-eligible fantasy player. Considering the overwhelming lack of depth at the position, Barajas is suddenly a worthy option.

Chris Snyder, C, Arizona Diamondbacks. Teammate Miguel Montero was the hot commodity entering the '10 season, but his injury thrust Snyder into the starting job, and he's rewarded fantasy owners in spades. His five home runs are tied for second most among catchers, and his 16 RBIs are the best in the game. With Montero expected to be out for approximately two more weeks, Snyder will have every opportunity to continue his hot hitting for a Diamondbacks team that leads the Major Leagues with 153 runs scored.

A.J. Pierzynski, C, Chicago White Sox. Entering '10 Pierzynski had reached double-digit home runs in seven straight seasons. Yet, through his first 23 games of the year, he has yet to deposit a single ball over the wall. Further, this .284 career hitter is batting just .208 this year. Perhaps even more worrisome, Pierzynski's SLG (.247) and OBP (.256) are also lagging behind his career batting average. Considering one of the White Sox most highly regarded prospects (Tyler Flowers) also happens to play catcher, management may soon look for an internal solution to their lack of production behind the plate.

Mike Napoli, C, Los Angeles Angels. Coming off back-to-back 20 HR seasons and absent of the competition for playing time from injured teammate Jeff Mathis, Napoli seemed to be a strong potential addition for fantasy owners. Sadly, he's done little to impress. While he's never been known for his batting average, a .192 mark with zero home runs is not the type of production fantasy owners were hoping for from a hitter that was supposed to be good enough to warrant part-time DH consideration. Until he starts showing some signs of regaining his signature power stroke, Napoli needs to be avoided.

Jason Kendall, C, Kansas City Royals. While Kendall's current .289 batting average may seem enticing, potential buyers should beware. Somewhat surprisingly, Kendall has actually hit .300 or better in six different seasons. Sadly, those seasons were long ago. Since the last time he topped .300 ('04) Kendall's batting average has been a pedestrian .261. Kendall also hasn't hit more than three home runs since '03, and last reached double-digits in '01. To be perfectly honest (perhaps brutally honest), as starting Major League catchers go, there isn't really one thing Jason Kendall does particularly well -- something that should scare away potential fantasy owners.

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