5: Matt Wieters (Baltimore Orioles)
The young phenom out of Georgia Tech has developed himself into a very good and consistent player at the major league level. He’s been, and will continue to be, a very important center-piece to the success of the Baltimore Orioles. Entering his fifth big league season, Wieters has been able to stay healthy as he has played at least 130 games each of the last three seasons. His career slash line sits at a very respectable .260/.328/.421. His home run power has been consistent the past 2 years with 22 and 23 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. His batting average took a dip down to .249 in 2012, however he was able to walk 60 times which is his career high. He also managed an OPS+ of 107 after posting a 110 OPS+ in 2011. Wieters has played very well behind the plate (knew I had to throw that phrase in there somewhere) with an total zone runs of 7, 10 and 9 for each of the past three seasons respectively. He has also improved his caught stealing percentage each year, throwing out 39% of runners in 2012. Wieters enters his prime years in 2013 and I predict that he improve in 2013. Look for him to be a 3.5-4 win player next season.
4: Miguel Montero (Arizona Diamondbacks)
The 28 year old Diamondbacks backstop has put together back to back very solid (nearly identical) seasons. Montero has been sturdy the past two years as well, playing in at least 140 games each year. He is coming off an impressive slash line of .286/.391/.438 with an OPS+ of 120 in 2012. His home run power tends to sit in the mid-teens with 16 in 2009, 18 in 2011 and 15 a year ago. One thing that noticeably improved for Miguel in 2012 was his plate discipline. He worked 73 walks last year with his previous career high at just 47. He did however strikeout 130 times, going over the 100 mark for the first time in his career. Overall his offensive production is very solid for anyone, and well above average for a catcher. Defensively, he has been terrific and amongst the league’s best. He has thrown out 32 runners each of the last 2 seasons. His caught stealing percentage is 40% and 42% in 2011 and 2012 respectively. His total zone rating has also been solid the past 2 years at 10 and 8 runs above average, respectively. He also was a well above average pitch framer going by Mike Fast's catcher framing data. When the whole package is put together, Montero should be about a 4 win player in 2013 as his consistency with the bat and glove has been a big key for him.
3: Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins)
Joe Mauer has been one of the best players in the game throughout his 9 year career, winning 3 batting titles and partaking in 5 all-star games. The number one overall selection out of high school in the 2001 draft is still just 29 years old as he heads into 2013. Mauer has been one of the best in the business at getting on base with a career OBP of .405. After an injury plagued 2011, Mauer bounced back and had a typical Joe Mauer all-star season in which he hit .319/.416/.446 with an OPS+ of 141. With consistency becoming a theme with these catchers, Mauer has been just that throughout his career. He has been able to stay on field (with 2011 being one exception), has batted over .300 in all but 3 of his 9 years and has never hit below .287. In addition his OBP has never dipped below .360 (2011) in a single season, and has been over a 100 OPS+ in every season. Mauer’s biggest campaign came back in 2009 when he won the American League’s most valuable player. That year he won what we here at BTP believe would be a better Triple Crown option, with a slash line of .365/.444/.587. He also led the league with a 171 OPS+ and that is all the more impressive considering Mauer’s postion on the field. Speaking of defense, Mauer has been very solid throughout his career. He has thrown out 32% of runners in his career. However, in 2012 he only caught 74 games and spit up his other games at DH and first base. 2012 also marked the first year in which Mauer’s defensive runs saved went under 0 at -6, which possibly hints at future time at first base. Although Mauer may be slowing down a bit at the catcher position, he is still among the league’s elite hitters in the game which puts him at number 3 on the catcher countdown. I would expect the Minnesota home grown product to be around a 4-5 win player in 2013.
2: Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)
With Yadier Molina, I think it is appropriate to begin with defense. The St. Louis backstop established himself as a defensive gem very early in his 9 year career. During his first full season in 2005, Molina threw out a whopping 65% of would be base stealers. He is also coming off an impressive season in which he gunned down 48%. His career defensive runs saved has amounted to 86 in his career with 36 combined runs saved the past two years. There’s no question Molina’s defensive skills are tops in the game right now, and expect more great glove work from Yadier in 2013. As for offense, Molina has always been solid for a catcher. However, in 2011 and 2012 he broke out as an elite offensive weapon for the Cardinals. In 2012 he batted a career high .315/.373/.501 with an OPS+ of 127. He was also able to steal a surprising yet impressive 12 bases which is also a career high. Molina has been impressive in the postseason for the Cardinals as well, leading them to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. He has a career .299/.352/.388 line in 63 career playoff games. Molina had a WAR of 6.7 in 2012, a difficult number to repeat in 2013. I still expect Molina to be an elite catcher and should be around a 5-6 win player.
1: Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)
The number one catcher heading into 2013 is also one of the best players in all of baseball period. He is just 25 years old and only has 2 1/2 years of experience in the major leagues. What he has accomplished in that short amount of time, howeve,r is what makes him the game’s best catcher. He is coming off a well-deserved Most Valuable Player award in 2012 after winning the Rookie of the Year in 2010. Many people thought it would take Posey a while to become the player he was in 2010 after a horrific knee injury in 2011 that limited him to just 45 games played that season. His critics were proved wrong as Posey hit .336/.408/.549 with an OPS+ of 172 in 2012. That knee injury proved to be a non-issue for Buster as he caught 114 games in 2012. He is an important reason as to why the Giants’ pitching staff was among the league’s best in 2012. He has never had a negative total zone run total or defensive run saved total in his career as a backstop and has a career TZR of 12 and DRS of 11. He has also thrown out 33% of baserunners in his career which is above league average (27%). Posey was an All-American shortstop at Florida State, making it all the more impressive that he was able to not only make a transition to catcher, but he was
able to thrive at a young age. It is also not a coincidence that Posey’s Giants won the World Series in both seasons Posey was healthy. Of course, in his injury year of 2011, the Giants did not even reach the postseason. Overall, Posey had a WAR of 7.2 in 2012 and look for him to be around that mark again in 2013.
A.J. Pierzynski (Free Agent, spent 2012 with Chicago White Sox)
Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians)
A.J. Ellis (Los Angeles Dodgers)