Breakout or fakeout? Catchers edition

By R.J. White |

Devin Mesoraco has been one of the big surprises at catcher this April. (USATSI)
Devin Mesoraco has been one of the big surprises at catcher this April. (USATSI)

As the third week of the fantasy season comes to a close, we've seen a few young catchers once highly regarded as prospects who have jumped out to strong starts. The question on every fantasy owner's mind is whether each one is having a legitimate breakout season or not. Who's a fantasy breakout, and who will be revealed as a fakeout?

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco was rated as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball by and Baseball America as recently has 2012. After struggling in the majors in his first two seasons while serving in a timeshare at the position, Mesoraco has been on fire this April since returning from an oblique injury. After going 2 for 4 with two doubles Saturday, his slash line is up to .483/.515/.966 with three home runs, 10 RBI and one stolen base in 33 plate appearances. While no one would expect him to post those type of numbers over an entire season, even before I point out his astronomical .550 BABIP, Mesoraco proved capable of hitting for a quality average and power while rising through the ranks of the minor leagues. I think he's in the early days of a breakout 2014 season that could include hitting around .300 with 20-plus home runs if he can remain healthy.

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is a decorated college athlete who was selected third overall in the 2012 draft. He was able to shoot through the minor-league system and make his major-league debut less than a year after signing his first contract with the Mariners. Rated a top-25 prospect by and Baseball America before the 2013 season, Zunino struggled in his first crack at major-league pitching, but considering he didn't post very good numbers at the Triple-A level before his promotion, it's no surprise he was subpar at the plate in 2013. Zunino has turned things around so far this season, hitting .280/.294/.540 with three home runs and nine RBI in 50 at-bats. Extrapolated over 500 at-bats, that would make him a 30-homer, 90-RBI hitter with a decent average. I can definitely see that level of performance from him in his prime, but with a tiny walk rate, struggles to make contact and a potentially fortunate home-run-to-fly-ball rate, I think expectations need to be scaled back for the young catcher. Call him a .240 hitter with about 15 homers over the entire season, making his early numbers a slight fakeout.

White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers was never rated as highly in prospect circles as the previous two backstops, but he flashed enough power potential at each minor-league level that fantasy players were definitely looking to him as an intriguing option once A.J. Pierzynski left Chicago, presumably leaving Flowers will full-time starter duties. He received his first chance at extended playing time in 2013 but delivered just a .194/.247/.355 line with 10 home runs in 256 at-bats. That subpar effort had him in a position battle for the starting role this offseason, one he was able to win. After being named the starter, Flowers jumped out to an impressive start, hitting .370/.396/.457 with one home run and six RBI in 46 at-bats. Is this finally the breakthrough season fantasy owners have been anticipating? It's unlikely. Flowers has hit for virtually no power this season, with just two of his 17 hits going for extra-bases. Not only have his walk rate and strikeout rate failed to improve markedly from last year's down season, they've actually both went in the opposite direction. Once massive regression hits Flowers' .593 BABIP, he'll turn right back into waiver-wire fodder. This is a classic fakeout, as there just aren't any skills to back up the performance.

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