Key Stats: Mike Napoli started only 102 games last year, but still came out as a top 60 overall player in the Yahoo rankings. He went to the DL in June with a strained oblique, but other than that was healthy for the rest of the regular season. And the numbers showed it. Napoli hit .443 in July and .383 in the second half last season. He smashed 18 home runs after the all-star break. You could make a case given the position scarcity that he was the most valuable player in fantasy baseball after the all-star break last season.
Skeptics Say: Game six of the World Series saw a pretty ugly injury to Napoli (as well as the most painful loss in Rangers history), and Napoli said the ankle still isn’t 100%. He did claim that he could hit and throw fine, but that doesn’t mean the injury will get worse if he pushes himself.
Peer Comparison: Although Tristan Cockcroft agrees with me, nobody else at this site ranks Napoli ahead of Carlos Santana so I feel obligated to defend my stance which is pretty simple. Napoli is 30 years old. He’s right in the prime of his career and coming off of his best season ever. He benefitted from the best BABIP of his career last year while his line drive rate did not change at all. Clearly he had some luck as any player does in a career year. At the same time, Napoli also had the best strikeout rate of his career. A stat not based on luck. He also saw his HR:FB% rise because he went from one of the worst home run parks to the best according to ESPN Park Factors.
Here is what Bill James projects:
Santana: 101 R 25 HR 103 RBI 6 SB .262 AVG
Napoli: 77 R 31 HR 83 RBI 5 SB .271 AVG
On the surface people believe that Santana has much more room for growth because the .239 batting average he had last year will likely be the floor for his average while Napoli’s .320 average is likely to be the ceiling. I will concede that point, but what about the runs and RBI. If Napoli and Santana stay healthy, which lineup around these two players is better? Santana will probably hit in a better spot, but does that mean anything if guys aren’t on base? Santana has too far to climb without the resources to do it and Napoli will fall, but given that the Rangers are the same and he’s still going to play at a high level it won’t matter.
Lineup Outlook: While Napoli’s ankle isn’t 100%, Ian Kinsler claims his is 100% for the first time in a couple years. Between Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Napoli the Rangers have five hitters that have hit 30 home runs in a season who are between 29 and 32 years old. If all of them ever could stay healthy (impossible, I know) it would be a lineup that could score 900 runs.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline: #3 Catcher; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #1 Catcher & #44 Overall; Yahoo: #2 Catcher & #58 Overall; Mock Draft Central ADP: #3 Catcher & #45 Overall; RotoChamp: #32 Overall
Projection: I’m going to be a little more generous than Bill James.
79 R 32 HR 87 RBI 4 SB .280 AVG .370 OBP .905 OPS in 535 plate appearances