Top 20 Catchers in 1998
1. Mike Piazza - Even though he got off to a terrible start last year, his numbers were excellent as usual in the end. Once he rounded into form, he carried the Dodgers' moribund offense. He finished with what may be his best Fantasy totals ever: 40 home runs, 124 RBI and 104 runs scored. At what may be the game's thinnest position, he gives you an annual dosage of amazing totals. A definite top-five pick in your 1998 draft.
2. Ivan Rodriguez - His power numbers are improving, and he's developing into one of the game's best all-around hitters. Hit a solid .313 last year, while adding 20 HRs and 77 RBI. He's a smart baserunner who will not steal a lot of bases, but will use his speed to turn the obvious single into a double. He is a rarity among his peers because he consistently puts up good numbers in every category. Look for another solid season, and he will stay right behind Piazza in the rankings while Todd Hundley recovers from a shoulder injury.
3. Javier Lopez - Javier Lopez - Hits for average and power, but he tends to disaapear for long stretches. Also sits whenever Greg Maddux pitches. Injuries bothered him in 1997, yet he still posted highly-respectable numbers, hitting .295 with 23 HRs. He has the potential to hit more than 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. Would rank lower if his power totals weren't so solid on an annual basis. He is a stud catcher if you play in a rotissiere-style format.
4. Sandy Alomar - He finally stayed healthy last year, and was one of the season's pleasant surprises. Flashed awesome power early in the year, and finished strong. His 30-game hitting streak was a run of sheer joy for head-to-head league owners. Led AL catchers in four categories, including batting average (.324), homers (21) and RBI (83). He usually sits once or twice a week, which means he'll always have trouble reaching 500 at-bats even if he stays healthy. But he'll give you fine production when he does show up on the Cleveland lineup card.
5. Dan Wilson - You could do better, but you could also do a lot worse. You know what you're getting here: A .270-plus average, and 15 homers or better every year. Wilson will get a lot of at-bats because of his defense, and he'll get RBI opportunities because he plays in one of baseball's best offenses. He'll never put up Piazza-type numbers, but he's a safe draft choice. Could hit more than 20 homers if he has a breakout season.
6. Jason Kendall - His numbers may not reflect it yet, but he's quickly on the rise. Seemed to improve as the season progressed last year, and was always involved offensively, whether it was hitting doubles, stealing bases or scoring runs. Hit an impressive .294 and stole 18 bases. He is showing signs of becoming a fine Fantasy player and could hit 12-16 homers in 1998. Kendall is learning how to use the dimensions at Three Rivers Stadium to his advantage, and could threaten the 70-RBI mark if he continues his upward climb.
7. Charles Johnson - This longtime defensive standout finally showed some offensive punch in 1997. He sizzled in the second half as usual, when Florida made its pennant drive. Totaled 19 homers, and was not intimidated by the cavernous dimensions of Pro Player Stadium. Still has a looping swing that must become steadier in order for him to hit above .270. He could get better this year, but Fantasy owners fear that he could go back to being a .218, 13 HR guy. This season may determine if he is indeed a legitimate Fantasy threat, or a player who rode Florida's wave of 1997 success.
8. Mike Lieberthal - If he can get his batting average up, he'll be one of the best catchers available. He finally got a chance to play full-time in 1997, and he showed tremendous power potential. Hit 20 homers and drove in 77 runs in just 455 at-bats. He's still improving, and he could hit more than 30 HRs in one of the next few seasons. A fine pickup for players in keeper leagues, and a player to watch in 1998.
9. Todd Greene - This highly-regarded youngster will get a shot at Anaheim's full-time job this year, and Fantasy players are well aware of his potential. He is healthy and apparently ready to join a productive Angels offense. Hit 25 homers in the Pacific Coast League last year, and excited Fantasy players with his late-season glimpse of power in 1097. Hit 40 HRs in the minors in '95. His exploits as a full-timer will be under every Fantasy player's microscope this season.
10. Eddie Taubensee - With Joe Oliver gone to Detroit, Taubensee gets to display his offensive skills on a full-time basis. Hit 10 homers in just 254 at-bats last year, and he could easily hit more than 20 as a full-timer. Has always shown good power and an ability to hit better than .280. Not known for his defensive skills, Taubensee will be handling a young pitching staff. He should stay in the lineup for his bat, and he could be one of your league's pleasant surprises in 1998.
11. Terry Steinbach - A return to his roots in Minnesota was supposed to produce an incredible season, but even the favorable conditions of the Metrodome couldn't prevent a drop in his totals. He returned to earth after an incredible 1996 season in which he hit 35 homers and drove in 100 runs. He slipped badly to 12 HRs and 54 RBI last year. Age may be taking a toll on him.
12. Chris Hoiles - A knee injury hurt his production last year, but he was still a solid Fantasy contributor when he was able to get into the lineup. Hit 12 homers and drove in 49 runs in just 99 games, showing he still has good value. If he can stay healthy, Hoiles will definitely threaten the 20-homer mark. But don't expect him to hit much better than .260, or drive in more than 75 runs. He is a good middle-round draft pick who won't hurt you unless he gets hurt himself.
13. Darrin Fletcher - He should outdistance Benito Santiago for Toronto's starting job, but don't expect overwhelming numbers. Santiago's HR power and fat contract will dictate cutting into Fletcher's playing time. But Fletcher has shown good power of his own in the past, and could hit more than 20 HRs if he gets more than 400 at-bats. He hit 17 homers in just 96 games with Montreal last year. Fletcher can hit .270 or better, but he must show he can adjust to American League pitching.
14. John Flaherty - He certainly won't be more than a mid-round draft choice, and he's an awful player in head-to-head leagues. He's a consistently average performer who can be counted on for a little bit of everything. He will always get around 400 at-bats, and will hover around 10 homers and 50 RBI. He'll even throw in three or four stolen bases. Flaherty could put up decent numbers as a full-timer in Tampa Bay, and he'll help you when he gets on one of his usual hot streaks.
15. Jim Leyritz - He should get a lot of at-bats in Boston, as he will also play some DH. Boston will look to get his bat in the lineup as often as possible, and they'll be duly rewarded. Leyritz can easily hit more than 20 homers if he can get 450 or more plate appearances. He's as intimidating presence at the plate, and the ball usually gets smoked when he makes contact. The Red Sox may give him the full-time role he deserves, and Leyritz could respond with his best season ever.
16. Brad Ausmus - He's a smart and patient hitter who seems to be improving. He doesn't hit for a lot of power, but will surprise you if he drives in 50 runs, His playing time is steadily increasing, and his speed is eye-popping for a catcher. His 16 swipes last year were impressive for a player at any position. Houston may score more runs this season, and Ausmus will be one of the beneficiaries of that added output.
17. Jeff Reed - Fantasy players are wondering why such a good hitter platoons with Kirt Manwaring. When Reed did get in the lineup last year, he made a lot of noise with his bat. In just 256 at-bats, he hit 17 homers and drove in 47 runs. He also hit above .280 for the second consecutive year. Manwaring's defense keeps him as part of Colorado's platoon, but Reed is certainly the better offensive catcher of the two. If he played full-time, his numbers would be devastating. Even as a part-timer, his totals are better than a lot of other catchers.
18. Brian Johnson - San Francisco claims that he is their clear-cut starter, but he may get pushed by Brent Mayne. But Johnson is certainly the better hitter of the two, and he is capable of posting good numbers as a full-timer. He has always shown good power potential, and he hit 13 homers in just 318 at-bats last year. If Johnson can keep Mayne on the bench, he could become a fine regular in a Giants' offense that could use any help it can get.
19. Chris Widger - With Fletcher gone from Montreal, Widger should get a shot to be a full-timer. He can reach double figures in homers and has shown good Fantasy potential in the past. In 1996, he hit .304 with 13 homers in just 97 games. The Expos hope he can retain that form, and hit better than .234, the average he finished with in 1997.
20. Scott Hatteberg - Leyritz may cut into his playing time, but Hatteberg gives you decent production even if he doesn't crack 450 at-bats. Last season, he hit 10 homers and drove in 44 runs in just 350 plate appearances. Leyritz will also see a lot of time at DH, because you can't keep Hatteberg on the bench too often. His power numbers could rise this year as he fights to become a full-timer.

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