Every season there is a great debate as to if fantasy owners should target a catcher early in their draft (or spend a lot of money on one in their auction). In two-catcher formats things are a little bit different, but in single catcher leagues it often makes little sense. Recently there always appears to be players available either late in your draft (or during dollar derby of your auction) or on the waiver wire who emerge as go to options.
The prime example in 2011 was Alex Avila, though he has far from matched that type of potential this season. So far in 2012 we’ve seen players like Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Pierzynski or Jarrod Saltalamacchia explode and help carry fantasy squads.
If either you don’t trust the option that you have or have just been in need since Day 1, here are a few catchers that are worth targeting in the second half:
Carlos Santana – Cleveland Indians
Considered one of the top options in the league heading into the season, Santana has once again failed to produce for fantasy owners. He did miss time due to a concussion and has suffered the normal bumps and bruises due to being a catcher, but there really is no excuse for him to be hitting .221 with 5 HR, 30 RBI and 31 R.
He did have similar struggles last season, though hitting 6 HR in each August and September helped him to reach 27 HR on the season. Right now we have to hope that he can replicate that type of late season success.
The underlying numbers do indicate that better days should be ahead. He’s always proven that he is an above average hitter and he has made decent contact (20.3% strikeout rate) and improved his line drive rate (20.1% vs. 15.4% in ’11) this year. So, seeing his average as low as it is is a bit of a surprise. A .266 BABIP is the culprit, though you would have to think that would improve.
If the luck turns, with the potential for power, things are going to change significantly. He was considered one of the top catchers in the league prior to the season for a reason, so if you can get him for pennies on the dollar now it is well worth it.
Derek Norris – Oakland Athletics
He has made a little noise early on, though he has shared time with Kurt Suzuki and struggled heading into the break. Overall he’s hitting .244 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R and 2 SB over 41 AB. However, in July he has gone just 2-21 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R and 2 SB. Between his struggles and the explosion Yasmani Grandal has made since being recalled, fantasy owners may be souring on Norris as the hot new catcher in the league.
That, however, would be a major mistake. We can’t make decisions based on small sample sizes or one little struggle. Grandal, while he’s shown power thus far, doesn’t offer the same overall potential that someone like Norris does.
I’ve compared Norris to Russell Martin circa 2007, which I think is very fitting. In that season Martin hit 19 HR and stole 21 bases. While Norris may not provide quite that much power, he has already shown that he can steal a few bases in the Major leagues. In 334 AB in 2011 at Double-A he swiped 13 bases, so in a full season would 15-20 really be impossible? So far in 2012 only one catcher has more than 4 SB (Yadier Molina has 8). This type of potential gives Norris a huge advantage over the field.
Throw in the fact that Kurt Suzuki could be traded, opening up even more playing time (which he may get even if Suzuki stays in Oakland) and there is a lot to like.
He should hit for a decent average (.250+, which, for a catcher, is enough) to go with 10/10 potential in the second half. Exactly what is there not to like?
Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers
Remember him? Out since the end of May due to surgery on a broken hand, Lucroy was a popular sleeper of mine prior to the season. He looked like he was going to live up to the hype early on, hitting .345 with 5 HR and 30 RBI in just 139 AB.
Granted, his average is going to regress significantly thanks to a .381 BABIP. However, he should return to the middle of the Brewers lineup (along with Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez) and has consistently proven that he can hit the ball with authority. Last season he posted a 24.2% line drive rate, similar to his early season 24.6% mark.
In the 2012 Rotoprofessor Draft Guide I said:
“Being given the opportunity to be the top catcher in Milwaukee, Lucroy delivered by hitting .265 with 12 HR, 59 RBI, 45 R and 2 SB. Things would’ve looked even better had he not hit .188 in September (courtesy of a .184 BABIP). Assuming he can avoid wearing down like that once again and improve upon his 21.2% strikeout rate (his 14.1% minor league mark over 1,261 AB gives hope), there are a lot of reasons to like him as a cheap second catcher or a late round flier.”
Early on he had improved the strikeout rate, with a 14.6% mark, and those September struggles were long forgotten. If the owner in your league is happy with the replacement that they found, don’t let Lucroy rot on their bench.