Catchers Whose Ownership Rates Should Rise

Unless you play in a one-catcher league (bo-ring, to me, but I totally get why some people do it) or subscribe to a strategy that purports the selection of two top-rated catchers, you’re faced with the prospect of ownership of some serious crap at the position in at least one of your two C spots. We can’t all draft Devin Mesoraco. (Those who did may want to see what he’d fetch in a trade.) Some of us ended up with Alex Avila’s .175/.283/.250 and 58.3 contact rate through 47 plate appearances. (The Detroit Tigers tell us that he’s working through that awful start. Fingers crossed. At least he’s practically assured playing time.)

Despite the turnover that we often see in rotisserie or head-to-head leagues, there isn’t as much of it among backstops, for the same reasons that some of us prefer not to put much emphasis on the position in our auctions or drafts. We don’t expect one to make a significant difference more than another once we get that deep. Health is a greater concern for backstops than it is for other position players. They don’t play as often as other regulars because of the rigors of the position. Etc., etc., etc.

As it is, then, playing time (or the prospect of it) is more critical to the “value” of a catcher in fantasy leagues. Of course, if it’s putrid production that comes with the playing time, like anyone reasonably expected of Kurt Suzuki, then some of us don’t want it. But the negative impact of a dull catcher is diminished for the same reasons that owners tend to pay little for catchers.

The incentives to recycle low-end catchers aren’t great. I’m a Carlos Ruiz owner in two leagues, and I’m quite happy about it, although that’s because I expect his production to be at least adequate by season’s end. But because of those reduced incentives, there’s the possibility that some of us glaze the few opportunities that present themselves at the position.

Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

This is the one that really makes no sense to me. He’s owned in only one-fifth of CBS leagues, and hardly at all in Yahoo! or ESPN leagues. I understand if he wasn’t on your draft radar. But at this point, the information says that your radar was probably missing something, or you didn’t check out RotoGraphs’ consensus rankings with projection system averages.

The Friars have already made their position clear by divvying up the playing time between Grandal and Nick Hundley at a 2:1 rate in favor of the switch-hitting backstop who’s coming off August reconstructive knee surgery. In the early going, Grandal has acquitted himself with a .297/.395/.405 slash line.

Fantasy owners can’t necessarily expect top-level production from Grandal, 25, at least in terms of power. The strength around his knee can’t be at full capacity yet and is likely compromising something in his lower half. And PETCO Park kind of sucks. But the skills that made him so intriguing to the Padres when they traded for him before the 2012 campaign and that allowed him to hit .297/.394/.469 in 226 plate appearances that year are still intact. The threat of a PED suspension last season is one of a host of factors that could help to explain his tailspin in 2013. Whatever they are, they’re likely in the past.

A catcher who receives the majority of the PT and is a probable asset in the batting average category is plenty useful in fantasy leagues. GM Josh Byrnes told the team’s official site earlier this month that Grandal could make a quick recovery because there wasn’t collateral damage, so to speak, in other areas of his right knee. As long as Grandal continues to move toward 100 percent health, his upside will increase along with it.

Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins

I was a bit stunned that his ownership figures weren’t greater when I searched for them. He’s owned in only about a quarter of CBS leagues, where the competition tends to be fiercer, or at least deeper. The justification to roster Pinto exists in any two-catcher league of 10 teams or more, however. Even the CBS figure should pick up, I think.

You can’t be shocked that Pinto is here. He was a popular sleeper at the position even after the Twinkies signed Suzuki. Once it became clear that they were serious, though, the bandwagon lost some riders. But Pinto has garnered 56 plate appearances and has already hit four home runs. The .233 average is of course immaterial, especially because of his willingness to accept a free pass in the early going. We know of his talent as a hitter; it’s how the Twins justified his spot on the opening-day roster.

You may fairly view this opportunity for PT as a short-lived one. Pinto’s at-bats became regular after Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham both went on the DL (and after they added more fiber to their diet). Chris Hermann’s addition to the bench is what allowed Ron Gardenhire the flexibility (in his mind) to use Pinto at DH every day.

But there are several ways in which Pinto may remain more than relevant. Arcia is dealing with right wrist pain; Willingham, a small fracture in his left wrist. Willingham, especially, is no stranger to injuries, and the maladies for either player could linger. There’s also the possibility that Chris Colabello and Jason Kubel aren’t All-Stars, though I’m a quasi-believer in the former.

If Aaron Hicks’ struggles extend through May, then they’ll have to consider a Plan B in center. Unless that Plan B is the recently claimed Sam Fuld, Darin Mastroianni clears waivers or they want to depend on some other scrub from the farm, it’s not clear what that is, but it’ll require some roster shuffling: The Twins have excess corner outfielders and DHs, and they’ll have to something with one or two of them. It’s hard to believe that some team may really miss Alex Presley.

Pinto’s ability as a hitter is probably going to keep him relevant, even if he receives only 10 plate appearances a week on occasion. I picked him up in Tout Wars (15-team mixed league) before the season began and released because of some roster crunching, but I kind of regretted it, and now he’s owned. This is a really murky situation, but I think it’s justifiable to keep him active in a league like that, and even in some shallower ones, in the long term.

We know you play in all sorts of leagues. So to help you fine-tune the analysis you’d like to read, we’ve added three tags to the categories on the right: Roto, Head to Head, and Daily Fantasy Update. Use these to get the information that is most relevant to your leagues!

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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I have Pinto in my everyday lineup. Granted, my other options are Miguel Montero or the waiver wire, but he has pretty much been serving as the DH for MIN at this point and is getting everyday PAs. Top 50 in ESPN hard-hit average rankings. Also in a spot in the lineup where he comes up a lot with guys on base.