Keeper Strategy — 2013 Impact Rookies: Catchers

It’s time again to look ahead to the 2013 fantasy baseball season by highlighting the top potential impact rookies at each position. Why? Because it’s never too early to begin thinking about next year, even if you’re still trying to win your league right now.

For those of you in keeper leagues, particularly deeper ones, these primers will be especially helpful, because you’ll find out which young players may be worth snatching up now — before other owners get a clue — so you can hang onto them next season, when their value kicks in. Think of it like an investment requiring only a little up-front cost that could pay off big in the near future.

Much like my Mining the Minors columns on this site, which focus on current-season impact more than long-term upside, these 2013 rookie primers are meant for players who will exhaust (or are expected to exhaust) their rookiedom next year. Also much like my MTM work, the point here is to find the right mix of opportunity and talent, so that you’re picking up a player who can contribute, either in a starting role or as a reserve, from Opening Day or soon thereafter. For now, it’s good to get ahead of the curve with a snapshot of the young talent at each position.

In case you need a brief example of how this sort of strategy can be worthwhile: In two deep leagues, one AL-only and one NL-only, that allow for up to 10 keepers, I picked up Jarrod Parker, Addison Reed and Will Middlebrooks, as well as Paul Goldschmidt, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart around this time last year, keeping them all for dirt cheap. Worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

First up? Catchers.

To be considered, the players must currently be eligible for rookie status in 2013, meaning they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 30 appearances. Certainly, a few listed below may surpass these numbers down the stretch this season, but nonetheless, it’s worth pointing them out now. The players are ranked in order of their potential 2013 fantasy impact and their current level is listed in parentheses.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Pretty? Far from it. Deep? Pffffft. Hopeless? Not at all. That’s the quick and dirty take on the 2013 Class of Rookie Catchers. There’s one future stud on the verge and another a little further off, a few platoon- or backup-worthy backstops and a handful of other options for deep two-catcher leagues. Still, considering the state of the catcher position in fantasy (hint: it’s icky), any prospect who dons the tools of ignorance is at least a name to know.

Travis d’Arnaud, Blue Jays (Triple-A)
The 23-year-old was well on his way to dwarfing his breakout 2011 by slashing .333/.380/.595 with 16 HRs and 52 RBIs in 67 games at Triple-A when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in June. All seems to be on track in his recovery, and even though the flawed J.P. Arencibia remains in the picture (albeit coming off his own injury-riddled campaign), d’Arnaud is not only the team’s catcher of the future — and near-present — he’s also the top catching prospect in baseball.
2013 ETA: Some time between Opening Day and June 1, depending on how the Blue Jays want to handle starting d’Arnaud’s service time clock and how much they need to see in his recovery from injury.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Starting catcher in mixed leagues once he’s up.

Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox (Majors)
After hitting 20-plus bombs each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 32 in 2011, Lavarnway’s power dropped this year (just eight homers at Triple-A). But the 25-year-old has proven he can hit ’em out and get on base (.376 OBP), and he’s also improved his D enough that he should be able to stick behind the dish, at least on a part-time basis, which is a big boost to his fantasy value. Jarrod Saltalamacchia remains Boston’s starting catcher heading into 2013, but Kelly Shoppach is no longer around, so Lavarnway’s path to PT cleared up a bit. A platoon between the lefty-swinging Salty and righty-hitting Lavarnway would make a lot of sense.
2013 ETA: Lavarnway is in position to be on the Opening Day roster.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Second catcher in mixed leagues that use two starting backstops.

Mike Zunino, Mariners (Double-A)
Admittedly, this is a gamble because Zunino might spend most or even all of 2013 in the minors, but when it comes to keeping a catcher, it’s better to shoot for a shining star than hang onto a dim beacon that may just be a lighthouse in the distance. The third overall pick in June, Zunino has made his case as arguably the most pro-ready bat in his draft class, hitting .360/.447/.689 with 13 homers and a 33:23 K:BB ratio in his first 44 pro games. He’s already rocketed up to Double-A, meaning he’ll likely start there next season, with a chance to jump closer to the majors — if not to the majors — during the year. If the M’s choose not to pick up the $3M club option on Miguel Olivo and let on-base machine John Jaso continue to handle starting duties while working in Jesus Montero occasionally, we may see Zunino, 21, sooner than anyone could’ve anticipated on draft day. Even with all the backstops in Seattle, there ain’t much blocking the plate for Zunino.
2013 ETA: Best case scenario is probably mid June, if Zunino continues to tear up the high minors, but there’s also a chance he’s merely a late-season call-up.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Starting catcher in AL-only play for next year, but a starter in mixed leagues down the line.

Rob Brantly, Marlins (Majors)
John Buck and his .201 average aren’t exactly standing, let alone squatting, in anyone’s way, which should give Brantly, who came over from Detroit in the trade for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, a chance to continue his role as a platoon mate for Buck in 2013. Brantly, 23, doesn’t have much offensive upside, but he can certainly be the type of catcher who doesn’t hurt fantasy owners in rate stats and occasionally helps in the counting ones.
2013 ETA: Given his solid showing in the bigs this season, Opening Day is likely.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Second catcher in NL-only leagues.

Tim Federowicz, Dodgers (Majors)
A.J. Ellis has had a surprisingly solid year (.802 OPS), so he’ll remain ahead of Federowicz on the depth chart, but he’s also 31 already and could use a better caddy than Matt Treanor. That could allow Federowicz, who’s 25 and slashed .294/.371/.461 at Triple-A this season, to carve out a good amount of ABs in a backup role.
2013 ETA: The deep-pocket Dodgers could always shoot for a big free agent, but Federowicz is ready to help in the majors at the start of next season.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Second catcher in NL-only leagues.

Austin Romine, Yankees (Majors)
After repeating Double-A in 2011, mainly because Jesus Montero was catching in Triple-A, Romine suffered a back injury just before the season started that lingered until well into the second half. Had it not been for that, the 23-year-old likely would have been backing up Russell Martin for a chunk of the year. Martin holds his own on defense, but his bat is basically good only for homers (15 despite a .203 average), so New York may decide against bringing him back for another year. Romine wouldn’t be the starter, but a big league role is likely.
2013 ETA: Depending on what the Yankees do with Martin or in free agency, Romine could start the year in the Bronx and should at least be in the mix as a backup by May.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Second catcher in AL-only leagues.

Tony Sanchez, Pirates (Triple-A)
The 24-year-old isn’t going to live up to being the No. 4 pick in 2009, but he’s still a strong defender with a future in the majors. His bat, which once appeared to be better than advertised when he hit .312 in his first two pro seasons, has fallen off some in the high minors (.246 across Double- and Triple-A in 2011 and 2012), but there’s enough contact-ability and some pop to make Sanchez an intriguing name to keep an eye on. Even with the surprisingly useful Michael McKenry proving he may be able to handle the gig in Pittsburgh, Sanchez could be serving his big league apprenticeship soon.
2013 ETA: Barring a poor start, Sanchez should arrive around the All-Star break.
POTENTIAL 2013 FANTASY ROLE: Second catcher in NL-only leagues.

OTHERS/NOTES
Sebastian Valle, Phillies (Triple-A); Josh Phegley, White Sox (Triple-A); Sandy Leon, Nationals (Triple-A); Chris Wallace, Astros (Triple-A); Stephen Vogt, Rays (Triple-A); Chris Herrmann, Twins (Double-A); Chun-Hsiu Chen, Indians (Double-A)
Yasmani Grandal, Padres (Majors): He would have ranked No. 1 on this list, just barely ahead of d’Arnaud, primarily because of his quality production in The Show (seven homers, .870 OPS, 22:18 K:BB), but Grandal has already surpassed the 130-AB plateau, making him ineligible for 2013 Rookie of the Year.

We hoped you liked reading Keeper Strategy — 2013 Impact Rookies: Catchers by Jason Catania!

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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

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ChuckNChino
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ChuckNChino

Nice Article — Agree with the strategy. What are you thoughts on Wellington Castillo?