Friday, March 09, 2007

Sleeperville - the catchers
Build the coolest fantasy team in the land

As we inch closer to the Major League regular season so many questions hang gently in the air like a Mike Mussina fastball. Will Barry Bonds head eventually simply explode? Does Dan Uggla have the coolest name in baseball? Who is Cameron Maybin?

It is hard to build a dominant fantasy team and harder still to build a dominant fantasy keeper team. I am here to make that task that little bit easier. I am going to list the cool, chíc young/unheralded players that might not be obvious choices in your fantasy baseball draft. Stun your friends by grabbing those sleeper picks before anyone else.

Let's break it down. Starting with the catchers. A list of potential sleeper catchers and where they were picked in the .406 Club Forum fantasy keeper draft I took part in last month.

Remember, you won't find the 'usual suspects' here. Everyone knows about Joe Mauer, Jason Varitek, Jorgay Posada, Mike Piazza and Jason Kendall. These are the guys you might pick when working 'outside the box'.

57. Brian McCann (C-ATL)
129. Russell Martin (C-LAD)
152. Mike Napoli (C-LAA)
167. David Ross (C-CIN)
181. Chris Iannetta (C-COL)
276. Gerald Laird (C-TEX)
361. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - (C/1B-ATL)
364. Ronny Paulino (C-PIT)
417. Jeff Clement (C-SEA)

57. Brian McCann (C-ATL)
Brian McCann is only 23. He got his big break with the Braves when they traded catcher Johnny Estrada to the Arizona Diamondbacks, basically making McCann the Braves' everyday catcher in 2006. He had shown plenty of promise in 2005, but broke out in style in 2006. He hit a fantastic .354 batting average during the first half of the season and was named to the National League All-Star team. Plus, he is only 23! McCann kept hitting in the second half, batting well over .300 while hitting for even more power and driving in even more runs. Brian finished the season batting .333 with 34 doubles, 24 home runs, and 93 RBI in just 442 at-bats. In case I forget, he is only 23! Stunning numbers at the catching position. By the way, he's only 23.

129. Russell Martin (C-LAD)
Russell Martin, or, to give him his full name, RUSSELL NATHAN COLTRANE JEANSON MARTIN JR (seriously), is the starting catcher for the Dodgers at the tender age of 24.

Baseball America has him ranked 42nd on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

"He's obviously one of the better hitters in the league, yet at the most premium position. He basically shut our running game down and said, 'If you're going to run, you're going to make outs."
--West Tenn manager Bobby Dickerson

The only other catcher currently on the Dodgers books is Mike Lieberthal and he is there solely as a backup to Martin, who is set to shine in '07.

152. Mike Napoli (C-LAA)
Mike Napoli went 152nd in my draft, and I am delighted to say I snapped him up. Dayn Perry on Fox Sports would seem to agree with me that he's a good pick, putting him in his list of ten guys to watch for break out seasons from in '07. He wrote;

'7. Mike Napoli, C, Angels Age: 25
''The Angels have done a nice job emphasizing Mike Napoli's strengths. Napoli is the prototype of the neglected hitter. He doesn't hit for average, and he strikes out a lot. Those two deficiencies tend to obscure what he does do well - hit for power and draw walks. Credit the Angels for looking past Napoli's weaknesses and giving him a crack at the starting catcher job. He enters camp as the favorite, and if he wins the job, then don't be surprised if he gives the Halos 25-30 homers on the season. Needless to say, that's outstanding power production by positional standards.''

The only issue with Mike is that he is part of a bit of a log-jam at the catching position in Anaheim. They go into spring training with the current crew.
Mathis is another prospect while Molina is one of the 18 Molina brothers worldwide. The word on the street though, is that Napoli possesses the two tools in particular to make him front runner for the position, defensive play and big, sexy, home run power.

167. David Ross (C-CIN)
At 29 David Ross is still just about young enough to sneak under the draft radar as something of a sleeper. He has power to all fields, and most importantly looks to be the Reds starting catcher for the next two years. On November 20, 2006, his only real competition, JasonLaRue was traded to the Kansas City Royals for a player to be named later. On January 15, 2006, David Ross signed a two-year, $4.54m deal with the Reds making him their number one for the next couple of years.

181. Chris Iannetta (C-COL)
Christopher Domenic Iannetta is a 23 year old Rhode Island boy drafted by the Colorado Rockies. He played the majority of the 2006 season with Double A Tulsa Drillers before being promoted to Triple A Colorado Springs. Iannetta was promoted to the majors in late August and he collected first career hit August 27, 2006 against the San Diego Padres. He appears to be something of a paradox though, and possibly needs to sort his head out. Iannetta said that his favorite team as a kid was the Boston Red Sox and his favorite player was Alex Rodriguez. A Red Sox fan who's favourite player is A-Rod? That, like 'Microsoft Works' or Oktoberfest (starts in September!) is what we call a misnomer.

276. Gerald Laird (C-TEX)
The major aspect in Gerald's favour is if Laird hits he should start for the Rangers, who's current crop of catchers is pretty thin.
Bearing that in mind he should get plenty of at bats and picking him in the 300's wouldn't be a disgraceful move.

361. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - (C/1B-ATL)
Saltalamacchia, or 'Salty' as he is known amongst his Braves buddies, is a 21 year old first base/catching prospect for Atlanta. Saltalamacchia was selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2003 June free agent baseball draft. Interestingly, when he makes the majors, he will grab the record of having the longest last name in major league baseball history. Jarod is known as a blue chip prospect however the Braves already have Brian McCann (who is only 23!) in that spot, so this means that Salty will either have to learn a new position, become a backup or get traded. Anything is possible, the thing is, the kid has oodles of talent.

Baseball America has him ranked 18th on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

18. JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA, c, Braves "He's got a chance to be Jason Varitek to me. The size, the strength, the power are all there." --anonymous scout

364. Ronny Paulino (C-PIT)
Ronny Paulino could be a super sleeper in 2007. He grabbed the starting catching position in 2006 aged 24 and looks set to further solidify his position as the Pirates catcher in '07. In '06 Paulino was selected to the Dominican Republic team for the 2006 World Baseball Classic as a backup catcher. Paulino went 2 for 2 with a double, 3 walks, and a run scored in the Dominican's triumph over Cuba. The Pirates' pitching staff loves Paulino and that's always 3/4 of the battle.

417. Jeff Clement (C-SEA)
Clement was the Mariners' first round draft pick (third overall) in the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft. Baseball America has him ranked 33rd on their Top 100 Prospects list and has this quote on him;

33. JEFF CLEMENT, c, Mariners "You always hear about how he's an offensive catcher. But I was really excited to see him catch." --Mariners director of minor league operations Greg Hunter

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