(*) MARKET PULSE: Catchers
Mock Central's ADP report can be found here. Note that this article assumes a standard 15-team, mixed, 5x5 league, though the recommendations here will generally apply in most formats.
Please note that as an exercise in identifying the gaps between the valuation of the "popular" market and that of BaseballHQ.com, not every eligible player is covered in this article. If a player is not mentioned, readers can safely assume that there is little difference between the popular ranking and the BaseballHQ.com ranking.
You can do all the research you want: identifying sleepers and breakouts, assessing risky players, and researching prospects. But if you don't understand how the rest of the world values each player, you're at a disadvantage. You could easily end up taking players several rounds earlier than you have to (or overpaying at auction). Over the next few weeks, we'll try to identify where the values lie within each position. We'll primarily examine players we feel are undervalued, but won't limit ourselves to that.
This week, we'll look at the catchers. As usual, this is a very thin position, with only half as many positive-value players as needed (17 out of 30, to be precise). This creates a huge positional adjustment factor, creating both opportunity and risk.
While there are a handful of elite catchers available (relative to the position; none of the catchers are truly elite hitters), you're better off avoiding them unless they drop unexpectedly. Focus your early rounds on reliable, full-time players who put up big counting stats. Since catchers tend to rest more often and are more exposed to potential injuries (and generally don't hit as well as the elite hitters), they are generally poor choices in the early rounds.
The first four rounds
We're really talking about three elite catchers here, led by Buster Posey (C, SF). He is going in the first round in most drafts, but would be a fourth-rounder without the positional adjustment. You're just giving up too much if you take him in the first two rounds.
The other two elite players, Yadier Molina (C, STL) and Joe Mauer (C, MIN) are going in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. While these are reasonable values for these players, there are better values available later.
The early middle
This phase of the draft represents your best opportunity to fill your catching slots, as every catcher currently going in rounds 5-10 represents pretty good value. At the very least, don't wait past the 10th round to grab your first catcher, as the pickings are quite slim beyond that point.
For those who want a near-elite catcher, take a look at Matt Wieters (C, BAL). He's going as early as the 4th round, but at his 6th-round ADP, he's a very good value. He's shown a stable skill set the past two seasons, and is one of the few 20+ HR catchers who won't kill your BA. He's flirted with hitting the BaseballHQ.com skill benchmarks the past two seasons, and a season of 10%+ bb%, 80%+ ct%, and 120+ PX is certainly possible. At 26, too, he's young for a catcher, leaving plenty of room to grow. Target Wieters in the 5th round if you just have to have a top catcher.
On the one hand, with all the new faces in Seattle, Jesus Montero (C, SEA) will need to step up his performance to maintain his playing time. On the other hand, he could see time at DH, limiting his exposure to potential injuries. He can be had in the 6th-7th round in most drafts, which reflects his uncertain situation and underwhelming debut. While he's one of the few catchers with the potential for 25+ HR, he's also quite a risk. But if you want to take a chance, he's certainly got some upside.
Here's some simple advice: if Jonathan Lucroy (C, MIL) is still there in the 9th round, grab him. Of all the catchers on this list, he looks best poised to have a breakout season. His nice jump in skills in 2012 was masked by his limited playing time as the result of an injury. If he can hold onto his 86% ct% and 100+ PX over 500+ AB, he'll make the jump to the next level. And he's still a fair value if all you get is a repeat of 2012. What's not to like?
The other players in this group are all going a couple of rounds later than where BaseballHQ.com has projected them, making them all good values: Miguel Montero (C, ARI, 5th), Carlos Santana (C, CLE, 6th), Wilin Rosario (C, COL, 7th), and Salvador Perez (C, KC, 9th).
The late middle
Ryan Doumit (C. MIN) and A.J. Pierzynski (C, TEX) are going in the 11th and 12th rounds respectively, which is pretty good value. But both give you reasons to stay away: Doumit's injury history is too long to be read in one sitting, and Pierzynski's 2012 power spike has "outlier" written all over it. If you missed on a catcher in the first 10 rounds, these guys may be worth the risk, but not otherwise.
Brian McCann (C, ATL) is coming off a rough year, but a torn labrum in his shoulder is a likely culprit. He's going in the 12th round, about where he's projected. But there's a good chance that his off-season shoulder surgery fixes his problems, setting him back on the road to being a top catcher again. While he'll miss the first couple of weeks of the season, adding to his risk, he's worth the chance if you can get him after the 10th round.
Perhaps the gem of the catcher position (strictly in terms of where he's being drafted) is John Jaso (C, OAK). Look at his 2012: 83% ct%, 16% bb%, and 115 PX. He hit 10 HR in less than 300 AB, and stands to see a big increase in playing time, hitting on the good side of the Oakland platoon. These numbers wouldn't be all that exciting in an outfielder, but for a 16th-round pick at catcher, they're pretty darn good.
This is a minefield, with very few value picks and even less talent.
If you can offset his low BA somewhere else, Chris Iannetta (C, LAA) will provide some pop. In 2012, he was headed for his highest PX in four years before breaking his wrist, and that should help his power output. Expecting 20 HR is a stretch, but he's still a good endgame value.
Tyler Flowers (C, CHW) is a BA risk, but his power (163 pPX) is legit, and he'll get the bulk of the playing time in Chicago. He's often one of the last catchers taken, but he's a much better gamble than most of the end-gamers who go ahead of him.
Wrapping it all up
The strategy here is pretty simple: pass on a catcher in the first four rounds, then target one of the second-tier guys discussed above. Fill up both slots if you like, or take one catcher by the 10th round and pounce on one of the endgame guys, especially Jaso if you can get him cheap. And do whatever you can to make sure you fill your slots from the top 20 or so, as you quickly get into serious negative territory.