The times, they are a-changin’.
For years it’s been common knowledge that outside of an elite two or three, any catcher you draft will probably see no more than 450 plate appearances. That’s always forced you to choose between three undesirable options:
Suck it up and draft an elite catcher early who plays almost every day
Plug in one of the 450-plate appearance, 135-game options available in tier two/three and just absorb the off days
Roster a second catcher and try to milk as many games as possible out of the position
None of those sound particularly appealing, but the good news is you no longer have to make that difficult decision. For the first time in five years, almost a full fantasy leagues-worth of starting catchers are getting over 550 plate appearances. The youth movement (Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana, Jesus Montero, Buster Posey) has introduced fresh, talented, capable-of-playing-every-day blood to a normally stale and unattractive catcher pool, and it’s changing the way we think about drafting backstops.
In 2013, drafting a catcher might even be exciting!
Last year seven catchers stepped to the plate at least 550 times: Mauer, Posey, Santana, Wieters, Miguel Montero, Molina, and Jesus Montero. Had Victor Martinez not missed the entire year with a torn ACL, that number likely would have been eight. To put that in perspective, last year there were 15 shortstops with at least 550 plate appearances. That means the second worst position in fantasy had twice as many 550-plus guys than catcher.
And all seven of those guys (plus Martinez) look like great bets to repeat the feat in 2013. Mauer plays only half his games behind the plate and gets plenty of chances to DH. Jesus Montero follows suit and DHs about two-thirds of the time. Posey is primarily a catcher but gets “rest” as a first baseman now and again. Molina, Wieters, and the NL Montero pretty much beast it out all season.
And that doesn’t even mention Brian McCann, whose workload has decreased for three straight years, but he could always return to that 500-550 plate appearance level, especially if the Braves decline his $12-million option and he moves to the AL.
What effect does this have on your catcher strategy? It’s now unwise to draft a catcher like Mauer, Martinez, or Santana early just because you can bet on their workload. They should all see their value (and draft stock) take a small hit in 2013. Even if their production remains the same, their production relative to other options at the position is on the decline. Toss in players like Mike Napoli, Wilin Rosario, Alex Avila, and (maybe) Salvador Perez, and we have the potential for unprecedented depth at a historically anemic position.