- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz smacked a three-run home run and walked twice for Class A Clearwater on Wednesday night, a reminder that his season-opening suspension is nearing its end and fantasy owners will soon enjoy another productive player. Ruiz wasn't among the top-10 catchers in ESPN average live drafts nor should he have been, considering he was forced to miss the first 25 games for testing positive for a banned drug. However, when he plays for the Phillies on Sunday, it's worth remembering he finished the 2012 season as fantasy's No. 4 catcher, hitting .325 with 16 home runs.
The only three catchers who topped Ruiz in fantasy last year were Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer, and they came off the draft board in that precise order in most drafts, and in the first six rounds. It's worth noting that Ruiz, even had he not broken the rules, would not have been ranked next, but he would have been in my top 10, with similar value to Salvador Perez and Jonathan Lucroy, two fellows I've been defending for their slow starts. The point is, from Sunday onward, Ruiz doesn't have that proverbial strike against him. He could play as many games as any other catcher the final five months, and while some batting average regression seems warranted, he should produce.
In ESPN standard mixed leagues, in which only one catcher is needed per team, it's not a bad idea to stream options unless you own one of the obvious stars at the position. Despite his 2012 campaign, Ruiz isn't in that class, but there seems little momentum in his current ownership. He's at 5.5 percent owned, barely top 20 among backstops. He's better than that, and I suspect myriad Miguel Montero, Jesus Montero, Ryan Doumit and Perez owners are ready to move on. In shallow leagues, there's almost no need to worry about dropping a second-tier catcher and having it cost you later; streaming the hot option is wise.
It's only a bit more than three weeks, but with numerous power surprises at this position, I figured I'd re-rank catchers to see where Ruiz falls from this point forward, because really, it doesn't matter what New York Mets catcher John Buck has done already, but what he will do. The statistics are already in the bank. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Mr. Buck will not remain the top catcher on the Player Rater much longer. OK, so I suspect many would agree, but is he top 10? Let's see. Here are my catcher rankings as if I were drafting today:
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants: Off to a rough start -- he's behind Francisco Cervelli on the Player Rater -- but he's still the best. That said, he's not a top-20 fantasy option in my book a month ago, and he wouldn't be now.
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: Still no change. He'll hit .300 with 20 homers again, and remember he even steals bases.
4. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians: I remain a big fan, and while he might drop 100 batting average points off his current mark, considering all the walks he draws, he really should hit better than .250.
5. Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox: I'm moving him up, because he looks healthy and there is a constant flow of men on base for him to knock in. No catcher hit 30 homers and had 100 RBIs in 2012, but a healthy Napoli should make a run at it. By the way, for those in keeper formats, it's unlikely he will qualify at catcher for 2014.
6. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies: Hard to argue with placing this guy fourth at the position. He shouldn't have been able to hit .270 with his lack of plate discipline, but he did it, and he's currently at .302, with power and three stolen bases.
7. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: Just a slow start in the batting average department, but people treat him as if he's so much better than Santana and will only get better. I think last year is what he is, which is still fine. By the way, this is the last catcher that should be owned in 100 percent of leagues.
8. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks: Tough start, but he's drawing walks and he's far better than a .194 hitter. I'm not giving up, but I admit I would cut him for a hotter player.
9. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers: Clearly I'm more a fan than most, but he hit .320 with 12 home runs in only 96 games last year. He's getting better. The Brewers see it; they've been hitting him cleanup.
10. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies: I say he hits .300 with double-digit home runs, enough to earn this spot from here on out. Plus, watch him bat fifth for Philly, with Michael Young moving to second or third. When Ruiz hits next week, he'll be on ESPN's most-added list quickly.
11. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals: He's not going to hit near that .300 mark many projected him to if he's getting just one walk per month.
13. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays: Seems to be hitting a homer per day, and a final tally of 30 is hardly outrageous. He also has walked twice versus an unfathomable 31 strikeouts. Watch him hit about .210 this year.
14. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers: His awful start could be related to knee woes, but he's still capable of hitting .300 in any month and will knock in runs. Don't bet on more than 12 home runs, though.
15. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners: Believe it or not, there's actual risk he gets sent back to the minors. But in multi-catcher formats, you can't punt him.
17. John Buck, Mets: While I'm skeptical his 2013 resurgence is a result of an adjusted swing -- he hit just .192 last year -- we should give him credit for this hot start. Buck won't be pushed by prospect Travis d'Arnaud (broken foot) until August, but it doesn't change the batting-average risk. Hope for .250 with 20 homers.
18. Ryan Doumit, Minnesota Twins: Terrible start, but he still has a pretty decent track record. Consider him an underrated option.
19. Evan Gattis, Braves: It just seems a bit unlikely that he'll play a lot when McCann returns, but even if he did, there's still no track record here, and his 53 percent fly ball rate is unsustainable (Arencibia's is 58 percent!). Sorry, this is not the NL Rookie of the Year.
Eric Karabell lays out his 2013 expectations for Carlos Ruiz, who is expected to return Sunday, and updates his top-20 catcher rankings.