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Painting the Black: Catching Fire

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis is a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. Drafted 102nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, he played 9 professional seasons altogether with the Tribe, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. Lewis amassed a career of 7-11 in 161 games, good for a 3.68 career ERA in 198 innings. He helped the Indians win the AL Central in 2007, becoming a key cog in their bullpen, on a postseason run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Lewis went a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with the Indians in 2008 as their closer and was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2010. The award recognizes the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field as well as representing the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs. A Vanderbilt University graduate with a BS in Communications, Lewis now works as a broadcast personality with Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio in Cleveland. He continues to be involved in Cleveland Indians Charities providing support to the Cleveland community, making visits to local hospitals and participating in the annual Tyson Food Distribution event held before Thanksgiving. A diehard Cleveland fan his entire life, he still holds out hope that the Tribe & Browns championship droughts will come to an end during his lifetime.


PAINTING THE BLACK: CATCHING FANTASY FIRE
FOUR CATCHERS TO ACQUIRE

Offense behind the plate comes at a premium. Depending on your draft or offseason acquisitions, a few fantasy GMs are probably staring at their rosters pining for more production from their hindsnatchers. Obtaining that kind of talent can be a bit of a tightrope, however, in the fantasy landscape. There are the obvious "untouchables" in Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. Unless you're in such dire need, neither of those two should leave your lineup.

But who's somebody that can really jumpstart your fantasy offense from Memorial Day on? Who are the guys people may be casually passing over? With the injury bug affecting nearly every position quite early in the 2014 season, who are the backups that can see significant time while their incumbents are on the mend? In this fantasy version of "The Hunger Games", the odds can forever be in your favor by picking up or getting your hands on these 4 catchers:

STEVE CLEVENGER/CALEB JOSEPH, BALTIMORE ORIOLES

With the news that incumbent Matt Wieters will consult Dr. James Andrews on his apparent elbow injury, there are two schools of thought: go Clevenger with the major league experience, or Joseph with more offensive upside. Obviously, if Wieters's diagnosis becomes a season-ending result with UCL surgery, both Clevenger & Joseph could split time in the early going. My gut feeling is Clevenger in the short term, but Joseph will certainly get plenty of looks as his bat provides much more offensive promise. In Double-A Bowie for the 2013 season, Joseph hit .299 with 22 HRs in 570 plate appearances. Trying to translate that in fantasy terms against big league pitching, especially AL East staffs that are somewhat down in 2014, is easier said than done. I like the potential and both are easy adds on any roster to protect against Wieters possibly being out for any prolonged time.

Hank Conger, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Chris Iannetta is the Angels starter - for now. With Josh Hamilton out still and a Halos offense always looking for consistent production, Conger is an excellent find, not only because he's been C.J. Wilson's personal catcher pretty much the entire season, but the constant threat of him hitting the long ball. In many fantasy leagues that require carrying two catchers, the beauty of Conger is he'll catch some games, but then DH others. As he continues through the season, I won't be surprised if the continued success catching Wilson brings him more opportunities with younger starters Garrett Richards & Tyler Skaggs. Conger caught both of them in the minor leagues and already maintains a great comfort level with them. Obviously, Conger's downside is a high strikeout percentage. Ultimately, for fantasy owners looking at a position that craves power numbers, Hank Conger can put a charge in many lineups going forward.

Brayan Pena, CINCINNATI REDS

Devin Mesoraco's hamstring still isn't right and manager Bryan Price will not rush him back despite the Reds lineup lacking significantly in offensive punch. Enter Brayan Pena, who's performed masterfully in Mesoraco's absence. He's dealing with a tender hamstring himself, yet I don't see that drastically affecting his ability to play most days going forward while Mesoraco is on the mend. Here's the real upside to Pena - the most HRs he's hit in a single season is six. He's already got three in only 58 ABs. With the uncertain timetable on Mesoraco's return, as well as the sudden fragility, Pena is a sure-fire insurance policy to keep your catching contingent on-point. Yes, he's going to share a couple days per week with Tucker Barnhart. However, the offensive upside Pena brings in Mesoraco's absence could be just the cure for your catching ills.

IF YOU'RE LOOKING TO TRADE, THE TOP 3 STARTING CATCHERS I'D TARGET:

1. MIGUEL MONTERO, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (.281, 4 HR, 19 RBI)

As a former teammate, the strength of Montero is his adaptation to pitcher's sequencing throughout the season. He's got a unique ability to go the other way with power that many catchers do not. If you can swing a deal for him, Miggy will certainly do you plenty of favors down the stretch.

2. A.J. PIERZYNSKI, BOSTON RED SOX (.275, 3 HR, 15 RBI)

Fenway Park may just be what Pierzynski needed to extend an already impressive offensive career. He's only had one year of an OPS under .700 and only 2 years under double digit homers. As reliable a catching weapon at the plate there's been in the AL for the past 5-10 years.

3. YASMANI GRANDAL, SAN DIEGO PADRES (.253, 4 HR, 11 RBI)

A spacious Petco Park plays perfectly into Grandal's gap-to-gap approach. He's got plenty of juice (the legal kind now) to all fields and will be heavily counted on in the middle of the Friars lineup. With a .787 OPS average so far in his career, you've got to be encouraged.