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J.P. Arencibia's power is for real

6/8/2011

Last season, Los Angeles Angels slugger Mike Napoli led all catcher-eligible players with 26 home runs, followed by Brian McCann with 21. In 2009, Joe Mauer led the position with 28 home runs, while Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada and McCann all reached 21 or more. In 2008, McCann and Geovany Soto paced backstops with 23 home runs. So, you know what happened Tuesday that made me think about catchers hitting home runs?

Toronto Blue Jays rookie J.P. Arencibia blasted an eighth-inning shot off Kansas City Royals lefty Tim Collins and became the first catcher to reach 10 home runs this season. Don't scoff at the accomplishment. Over the past 15 seasons, Soto is the only catcher to reach double digits in fewer team games than Arencibia (59 to 61). Arencibia is currently on pace for 27 home runs and 85 RBIs, which really is quite valuable, and it seems unusual.

Sure, Arencibia has flaws, which is why there are 10 other catchers owned in more ESPN standard leagues, including Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers and slumping New York Yankees backstop Russell Martin, living off his fine April. Arencibia is hitting only .208 against right-handed pitching (.372 off lefties with a 1.205 OPS!), his overall batting average is .249 and let's face it, we don't know if he'll hold up in August and September. But he's always had power, and he's showing it.

If you want a ranking of catchers for the rest of the season, I'd go McCann, Martinez, Mauer, Carlos Santana, Alex Avila, Miguel Montero, Napoli, Matt Wieters, Yadier Molina and then Arencibia 10th. I am a bit worried that the batting average could fall more, but a 23-home run season does seem reasonable.

In addition to Arencibia, here are some other things I noticed about catchers from Tuesday.

Tigers hierarchy: I'd still choose Martinez over Avila if offered each in trade, but Avila isn't going away by any means. On Tuesday, each Detroit backstop -- Martinez is generally the designated hitter -- had three hits in five at-bats and scored twice. For the season, incidentally, Avila ranks first among catchers on the Player Rater, with more home runs and RBIs. I also think it's interesting the Tigers, with a few lineup gaps here and there -- notably where their outfielders hit -- have left Avila in the No. 8 lineup slot practically all season. He has a .979 OPS in that spot over 130 plate appearances.

No longer left out: It's well documented that Yankees DH and former catcher Jorge Posada can't really hit lefties anymore. On Tuesday, he came in relief for Mark Teixeira and got his first two hits off a left-handed pitcher all season. Posada was hitless in 27 at-bats against southpaws this season. Now he is hitting .069 against them. I originally ranked Posada my No. 10 catcher, but his inability to compete while hitting right-handed -- and he's not exactly torching right-handed pitching either -- makes him unownable. It wouldn't surprise me if prospect Jesus Montero takes over the DH spot in a month.

Putting the O in Olivo: Over the past seven days, the top 40 catchers in ESPN ownership have a combined 11 home runs. Olivo has three of them. And he's not really a fluke, either. Olivo did smack 23 home runs as recently as 2009, and last season at this time he was fantasy's top-ranked catcher, hitting for power and average for the Colorado Rockies. His new environment in Seattle is a lot different, but I could see Olivo hitting 20 home runs again. He's owned in fewer leagues than Buster Posey.

Getting on base: If you're in a league that counts walks or OPS, then Olivo's former partner in Colorado, Chris Iannetta, is far more interesting. Iannetta ranks 14th on the Player Rater among catchers, but first in on-base percentage and second only to Carlos Santana in walks. Ordinarily an analyst would proclaim this a great sign for Iannetta's development, and I concur. Look at Soto last season; he walked a ton and hit for power and average. I'm starting to believe Iannetta can actually hit .250, which with his 16 or so home runs would make him a reasonable option in standard leagues.

Other catcher thoughts: The Cincinnati Reds situation might be a timeshare, but Ramon Hernandez is the productive player. Ryan Hanigan hit a pair of home runs and knocked in four on April 3, and since then, he has no homers and just eight RBIs. ... Rod Barajas is second on the Los Angeles Dodgers in home runs. Of course, that says more about the Dodgers than Barajas. ... I do think Soto is going to hit, but since coming off the DL for a groin injury, he has only four hits in 25 at-bats, and one walk. He needs to walk more. ... Since May 1, the Yankees' Martin has hit .191. Be careful here. Meanwhile, Boston Red Sox starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia has hit .250 with five home runs in that span. Baby steps.