FANTASY PLAYS: A primer on catchers (yes, they're necessary)

Fantasy baseball catchers are like tight ends in fantasy football, root canals, and purple Skittles: they are necessary evils.

Since playing fantasy baseball gives us the illusion of running a baseball team, drafting a catcher is a must, and most leagues draft at least two. But since fantasy offenses are based on hitting stats alone, and not whether the catcher handles a pitching staff well, has a strong arm or blocks pitches, a fantasy catcher is usually a rotisserie albatross (which is not nearly as good as rotisserie chicken).

Low batting averages, minimal power stats and absent stolen bases make fantasy owners cringe when thinking about catchers. But there are some drafting strategies you can employ that won't let them be your team's anchor.

HOW TO DRAFT CATCHERS

While no strategy is perfect, improve your fantasy team's chances of rising to the top by waiting on catchers. For 2017, Buster Posey is the cream of the crop, but drafting the best catcher means burning a third- or fourth-round pick on a player that has a much better chance of getting injured than any other position player.

Catchers spend most games stuck in the crouched position, with 90-mph foul tips bouncing off their throwing hand, groin area and biceps, and they often get barreled over at the plate.

That's part of the problem, though. Catchers are tough and they'll play through injuries many times, to the chagrin of your lineup. Or even worse, they sit for a few games after your lineup is set. Those are wasted at-bats you'd rather have replaced by a healthier, albeit lesser, catcher.

It's also important to remember that major league teams ask different things from a catcher than they do all the other positions. A catcher needs to know pitching, defense ... and hitting! A young catcher will often get to the majors because of those first two skills, and a team will wait for him to develop at the plate. That means he'll post plenty of below-average at-bats.

Why risk sinking your team by drafting a catcher in the early rounds? Wait until seven or eight catchers are off the board, then pick one up after using those earlier picks to fortify stat-rich players at other positions.

You can also avoid dealing with the worst catchers by doubling up on the position (in leagues that force you to start two) in those middle rounds. You will have two of the top 10-15 at the position at little expense, without the risk of having a .220 hitter on your team, but also not wasting an early pick.

SLEEPER

Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics. Naming a sleeper at this position is tough because a sleeper in one-catcher leagues is a starter in two-catcher leagues. In one-catcher leagues, a veteran catcher like Stephen Vogt is a decent late option because even though his batting average dipped down to .251 in 2016, his BABIP also dipped 15 points to .275. That could portend better luck coming down the pike. Drafting a catcher that's leaned on for designated hitter at-bats, like Vogt, is also a good thing for Fantasy owners. Colorado's Tom Murphy is a nice sleeper option, too, despite his youth.

DEEP SLEEPER

Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds. A sleeper in two-catcher leagues (the more popular setup in fantasy) works for someone like Mesoraco. He's one of the best hitting catchers in the league when he's healthy. Hip and shoulder injuries have limited him to just 39 games over the past two seasons, but he's also just one of four catchers to have hit 25 homers in a season since 2014.

There are already questions about whether Mesoraco's playing time will be limited to start 2017, but if you have disabled list spots on your lineup, roll the dice on the 28-year-old as one of your final picks.

Francisco Cervelli is also an attractive late sleeper pick.

BUST

Gary Sanchez, N.Y. Yankees. Speaking of avoiding young catchers, let someone else hope Sanchez avoids a sophomore swoon. You can count on one mitt how many young catchers blew up in their rookie year and followed through with a similarly great second season. The odds are against Sanchez, so spend that early pick on a great player at another position, and avoid the risk.

NOTE...

Kyle Schwarber only played two games (in the outfield) last regular season before his knee injury, so he doesn't have catcher eligibility in 2017. This will push him down in drafts, near the top 70-75 players. Since most leagues require five games played for catcher eligibility, he might get those by May. Value!

DAVID'S TOP 12 FANTASY CATCHERS

1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

2. Jonathan Lucroy, Texas Rangers

3. Gary Sanchez, N.Y. Yankees

4. Yasmani Grandal, L.A. Dodgers

5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

6. Evan Gattis, Houston Astros

7. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

8. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins

9. Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays

10. Brian McCann, Houston Astros

11. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

12. Welington Castillo, Baltimore Orioles

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com .

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