The Washington Times - February 23, 2009, 12:06AM

Fantasy players shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the catcher position. Second-tier options at several other positions will put up better numbers than even the elite backstops, so your best bet is to let others in your league scramble for the McCanns, Martins and Mauers and focus on filling out the rest of your lineup card. Once the better fantasy catchers are off the board, there’s a large group of guys who will all offer about the same production and can get the job done for you. Some will still be there near the tail end of your draft.

1. Brian McCann, ATL

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The Braves backstop is durable, hits for both average and power and rarely strikes out. And since he’s still only 25, it’s likely he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling. He lost 20 pounds this offseason and appears primed for his best year yet. A .300 average and 25 jacks are realistic expectations.

2. Russell Martin, LA

Martin regressed slightly in 2008 but turned in his third straight solid season. It looks like a standard Martin season will include an average around .285 with 15 or so homers, and he’s the only catcher that will even approach 20 stolen bases.

3. Joe Mauer, MIN +

Mauer captured his second batting title in 2008 and stayed healthy all season after missing time in 2007. He draws walks and rarely strikes out, and his only drawback is his lack of power. Kidney problems could delay the start of his season.

4. Victor Martinez, CLE

Martinez entered 2008 as the No. 1 backstop but then hit .278 with no home runs through mid-June because of an elbow injury. He missed two months and looked better in September. Chalk it up as an off-year and expect a return to form.

5. Matt Wieters, BAL

Wieters might not start the year in the bigs but will be an impact player as soon as he arrives. The switch-hitter hit .355 with 27 jacks in the minors in 2008 and showed great plate discipline. If you draft him, be sure to grab a placeholder late.

6. Ryan Doumit, PIT

The longtime prospect finally had his breakthrough season in 2008, hitting .318 with 15 homers. He’ll get more at bats with Ronny Paulino now in Philly and could post McCann-like numbers. He has a history of being injury prone, though.

7. Geovany Soto, CHC

Soto followed up his breakout 2007 season in triple-A by hitting .285 with 23 jacks to claim the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. His strikes out too much (121 last year) but if that’s not a problem in your league, bump him up a few notches.

8. Bengie Molina, SF

The 34-year old isn’t exciting, but he’s a virtual lock for an average between .275 and .300 and 15 to 20 home runs, and he rarely strikes out. Molina generally flies under the radar and could wind up as one of the best bargains in your draft.

9. A.J. Pierzynski, CHW

Pierzynski is a lot like Molina in that you have a good idea what you’ll get from him, year in and year out. He could hit anywhere from .250 to .300, but should be good for around 15 home runs and 50 to 65 RBI. He’s very durable as well.

10. Yadier Molina, STL

Bengie’s brother has made a lot of progress at the plate over the past few years and enjoyed his best season in 2008, hitting .304 with seven homers. He walked more than he fanned last year. At 26, there’s still room for improvement.

11. Ramon Hernandez, CIN

The Orioles moved Hernandez to clear a path for Wieters, but the 33-year-old definitely still has at least some gas left in his tank. A .270 average and 15 or so homers are reasonable expectations, but be aware that he’s injury prone.

12. Dioner Navarro, TB

Navarro finished strong in 2007 and the momentum carried over to 2008, as he hit a career-best .295 with seven homers. Navarro doesn’t strike out much and hits in a great lineup. At age 25, he probably has yet to reach his ceiling.

13. Chris Iannetta, COL

Iannetta flopped as a rookie in 2007 but bounced back strong in 2008. He slugged 18 homers in just 333 at bats and though he hit just .264, his on-base percentage was .390. He whiffs too much, but a breakout year is a real possibility.

14. Kurt Suzuki, OAK

Few fantasy players were probably targeting Suzuki entering last season, but those who nabbed him late in drafts couldn’t complain. With another year under his belt, expect the 25-year-old to improve on his 2008 totals (.279, 7 jacks).

15. Jorge Posada, NYY +

The longtime Yankee enjoyed a career year in 2007 (.338, 20 homers), but shoulder problems hurt his play early in 2008 and he shut it down in June for surgery. Posada is now 37 and won’t play every day, but writing him off would be a mistake.

16. Jesus Flores, WAS

The Nats stole Flores from the Mets as a Rule 5 pick in 2007 and he continued his progression in 2008, hitting .259 with eight homers in 301 at bats. Like many young hitters he has poor plate discipline, but he’s a great sleeper pick.

17. Mike Napoli, LAA +

Napoli has great power (46 homers in 714 career at bats) but it comes with a low average (.248 career) and a ton of whiffs. He splits time with Jeff Mathis, hurting his value. Recovery from shoulder surgery may limit him early in the season.

18. Chris Snyder, ARI

Snyder is like Napoli in that he has good power but also hits for a low average, whiffs too much and splits time - in Snyder’s case, with Miguel Montero. Snyder will probably post similar numbers this year, but could lose more time to Montero.

19. Kelly Shoppach, CLE +

Shoppach enjoyed a breakout year in 2008, hitting .261 with 21 home runs. On the downside, he fanned 133 times in 352 at bats. He’s also going to be fighting Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko for at bats at catcher, first and DH.

20. John Baker, FLA

Baker was called up last July after hitting .321 in triple-A and was a pleasant surprise, hitting .300 with five homers in 197 at bats and earning the starting gig entering 2009. At 28 his upside is limited, but he could be a late-round bargain.

THE BEST OF THE REST

21. Jeff Clement, SEA +
22. Jason Kendall, MIL
23. Gerald Laird, DET
24. Rod Barajas, TOR +
25. Taylor Teagarden, TEX
26. J.R. Towles, HOU
27. Kenji Johjima, SEA
28. Brandon Inge, DET (3B)
29. Carlos Ruiz, PHI
30. Brian Schneider, NYM
31. John Buck, KC
32. Jason Varitek, BOS
33. Michael Barrett, TOR
34. Angel Salome, MIL
35. Lou Marson, PHI
36. Miguel Montero, ARI
37. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, TEX +
38. Max Ramirez, TEX
39. Nick Hundley, SD
40. Ivan Rodriguez
41. Miguel Olivo, KC
42. Josh Bard, BOS
43. Gregg Zaun, BAL
44. Jeff Mathis, LAA
45. Luke Montz, WAS
46. George Kottaras, BOS
47. Yorvit Torrealba, COL +
48. Ronny Paulino, PHI
49. Lou Palmisano, HOU
50. Francisco Cervelli, NYY

PROSPECTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

1. J.P. Arencibia, TOR
2. Landon Powell, OAK
3. Bryan Anderson, STL
4. Adam Moore, SEA
5. Carlos Santana, CLE
6. Hank Conger, LAA
7. Wilson Ramos, MIN
8. Tyler Flowers, CHW
9. Buster Posey, SF
10. Jason Castro, HOU

 

FANTASY PREVIEW SCHEDULE

Monday, Feb. 23 - Intro & Catchers
Wednesday, Feb. 25 - First Basemen
Friday, Feb. 27 - Second Basemen
Monday, March 2 - Third Basemen
Wednesday, March 4 - Shortstops
Friday, March 6 - Outfielders
Monday, March 9 - DH-only
Wednesday, March 11 - Starting Pitchers
Friday, March 13 - Relief Pitchers

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo by the Associated Press