Up The Middle: Twin Cities, Three Catchers
When the Twins announced that Joe Mauer would move to first base on a permanent basis a few weeks back, fantasy owners around the world cringed. Mauer will be an excellent hitter no matter where he plays, but the thought of losing yet another impact fantasy catcher is unpleasant: after all, Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli will lose eligibility this offseason, and Wilin Rosario could follow in Mauer’s path and lose eligibility before 2015.
Younger players like Devin Mesoraco, Travis d’Arnaud, Yasmani Grandal and Mike Zunino will do their parts to help ease the sting of losing stalwart fantasy catchers, but they don’t possess the same upside as many of the players listed above. It’s difficult to project anything on such a macro level, but it appears as though the market for elite catchers could become even more competitive over the next two-or-so seasons.
Yet way up north in Minnesota, on a team with relatively few enticing fantasy options, live three potential Top 20 fantasy backstops for 2014. Despite the power-suppressing tendencies of Target Field, a weak lineup and concerns over playing time, the Twins could prove a savior of sorts for those in AL-only or two-catcher leagues this season.
Let’s go over the candidates:
1) Joe Mauer
Mauer will move to first base full-time this year, but that should actually give his fantasy value a boost for 2014. Minnesota’s wonder boy will retain catcher eligibility, since he played 75 games behind the plate last season, but playing at first base should allow Mauer to play in more than 140 games for just the fourth time in his career. What does 600-plus PA from Mauer Look like? Probably a .320 average, 10-15 homers and 60-70 RBI, with 70-80 runs to boot.
Mauer finished as fantasy’s eigth-most productive backstop last year when he hit .324/.404/.476 with 11 homers, 47 RBI and 62 runs. There’s little reason to think those numbers won’t improve with health in 2014, and Mauer should be a preseason Top 3 backstop option. Fantasy owners everywhere should take advantage of his last year of catcher eligibility.
2) Josmil Pinto
Pinto was one of 2013’s more surprising pop-up prospects, as the 23-year-old mashed in Double-A and at a brief stop in Triple-A before riding a .440 BABIP to a .342 average in 21 MLB games. There’s a pretty good chance that Pinto enters 2014 as Minnesota’s starter behind the plate now, and fantasy owners should be attracted to his offensive upside.
Pinto doesn’t project as a star, but he’s hit quite well in each of the past two seasons and is MLB ready now. Both Jason Parks and Bret Sayre pegged him as a .270-.275, 15-20 homer type in Baseball Prospectus’ Twins Top 10 list. That’s a lot like what Jason Castro produced in 2013, and he finished as fantasy’s 11th most productive catcher. I’d shoot a little lower with Pinto, but would be fine heading into 2014 with the rookie as my second catcher.
3) Ryan Doumit
Doumit is hardly the sexiest name on the market and he’s often overlooked in fantasy now thanks to his lack of a ceiling. But he finished as the 19th best fantasy backstop last season, and that was in a year when a low BABIP and drop in ISO led to his worst offensive output in three years. He still finished well a head of the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Miguel Montero and Alex Avila, but odds are you’ll be able to land Doumit far later in your drafts this spring.
I’m not advocating relying on Doumit as a starting catcher next season, but don’t overlook his stable mediocrity. He’s going to hit between 13-18 homers, he’s going to knock in between 50-70 RBI and he’s going to score 40-60 runs. The only thing in flux is his average, which can range from .250-.280, but that’s an acceptable risk to take for a player with dual C/OF eligibility who’ll come quite cheaply. Doumit is a player I often end up nabbing with my final pick in deeper drafts, and that’s generally a decision I don’t regret.
Apologies to Chris Herrmann!