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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fantasy focus: Catcher confusion

Too say it hasn't been a good start for fantasy's best catchers ranks somewhere between "Boy, Coach Taylor is getting a raw deal" and "Minka Kelly is nice to look at" on the obvious scale (and if you have no idea what I'm referring to, you need to give "Friday Night Lights" a chance).

Thursday, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit, who led all National League catchers with a .318 batting average last season, is having surgery on his right wrist and is expected to miss 8 to 10 weeks. The consensus No. 1 catcher entering the season, Atlanta's Brian McCann, is batting .195, hasn't driven in a run since April 12 and is adjusting to a new contact lens after being bothered by blurred vision in his left eye.

The AL's top-hitting catcher last season, Minnesota's Joe Mauer, is out until May because of a back injury, and the Dodgers' Russell Martin (a consensus top-three catcher prior to this season) is batting .245 with zero home runs and zero stolen bases after averaging 16 and 19.5, respectively, in those categories the previous two seasons.

Did we mention that the Cubs' Geovany Soto, who had 23 homers and 86 RBI en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors last season, is 3-for-26 (.115) with no extra-base hits?

Yes, it's been that bad.

If you drafted Doumit, are still waiting on Mauer (who is expected to return next weekend) or are just worried about the position in general, let's look at five catchers who might be available in your league (all five are owned in fewer than 50 percent of the leagues on All stats are through Wednesday:

5. John Buck, Royals (12.8 percent): He's got the best numbers of the five (a .409 batting average and 10 RBI), but he has only played in six games (to teammate Miguel Olivo's eight), which limits his value significantly. Even the 2008 McCann could only be so effective playing 80 games a year.

4. Ivan Rodriguez, Astros (17.7 percent): He's a shell of his former self and no longer is a threat to hit more than 12 to 14 homers, but he's capable of batting .270 and driving in 55 to 60 runs.

3. Jason Varitek, Red Sox (24 percent): He was more dreadful than Joe McCoy (watch FNL, folks) last season, but he's shown some life early, hitting three homers in 39 at-bats. Like Pudge, Varitek's days as a fantasy standout are long gone, although I wouldn't be surprised if he was at least serviceable in deeper leagues the rest of the way.

2. John Baker, Marlins (23.4 percent): The 28-year-old batted .299 in his major-league debut last season, and he's off to a productive start in 2009 (.308, nine runs and nine RBI in 39 at-bats). Baker drove in 312 runs in 2,108 minor-league at-bats.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (43.7): That percentage seems low, since he's a starter in every league in which I play, but if Molina is available in your league, acquire him. He's batting .340 with a .424 on-base percentage, and he drove in 56 runs and batted .304 last season.

And if you're really desperate ...

Doumit's backup, rookie Jason Jaramillo, has four hits in 14 at-bats. The 26-year-old, a second-round pick by the Phillies in 2004, has decent minor-league numbers (.271, 29 homers, 213 RBI in 1,747 at-bats), but he's not much of a power threat. ... The Nationals' Jesus Flores, 24, drove in 59 runs in 301 at-bats last season, and he has an impressive 89 RBI in 519 big-league at-bats in his career. The not-so impressive number: Flores' career batting average in the minors: .250.

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