Texas Rangers 2020 Positional Review: Catcher
The Texas Rangers sought to improve the club behind the plate after the 2019 campaign. Of everything that went wrong in 2020, improving at the catcher position was something that went right.
Rangers catchers had a .539 OPS in 2019, which was second-to-last to only the Detroit Tigers in all of baseball. In 2020, Rangers backstops had a .682 OPS, which was 10th in the American League and 16th in Major League Baseball.
The good news for the Rangers is the position improved by 143 points. The better news is the position improved solely because of their internal options rather than the short-term help that was externally supplemented.
The Rangers reunited with Robinson Chirinos last winter, adding a familiar veteran who had a career year with Houston in 2019. The tandem of Chirinos and Jeff Mathis would give a revamped starting rotation a pair of reliable veterans to work with. Meanwhile, Chirinos' bat would help improve Texas' dreadful offensive output from the position in 2019.
It goes without saying, but the COVID-19 pandemic obviously impacted how this would originally play out. However, every team had to deal with the same circumstances, so there are no exemptions here.
Due to the expanded rosters at the beginning of the 2020 campaign, the Rangers opened the season with three catchers, adding Jose Trevino to the mix along with Chirinos and Mathis.
Chirinos dealt with injuries to both ankles for nearly his entire tenure with the club in 2020. This paved the way to give Trevino a clear opportunity to prove himself on a number of levels.
Trevino slashed .250/.280/.454 in 24 games. He revamped his stance and hitting mechanics, which showed an uptick in his exit velocity and overall approach at the plate. A left wrist injury on September 9 unexpectedly ended Trevino's season.
However, Trevino's work to improve his hitting and rapport with the pitching staff did not go unnoticed. The local baseball writers voted Trevino as the 2020 recipient of the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award, sponsored by the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
When the Rangers fell out of contention around the trade deadline, they traded Chirinos to the New York Mets, along with cash considerations, in exchange for a player to be named later.
The Rangers used the last month of the season to allow some of their prospects to get some playing time since the minor league season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sam Huff, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the organization, was a part of the crop of young players that got a chance to play when Trevino went down with his wrist injury.
Huff made a strong impression in his first Major League action, registering a 0.5 bWAR—the highest among Rangers catchers—despite appearing in only 10 games. He also had the Rangers' first multi-homer game of the 2020 season on September 25 against the Houston Astros.
Projected starter: Jose Trevino
Internal Options: Sam Huff, Tim Federowicz, Nick Ciuffo
Offseason Priority: LOW
According to what Chris Woodward has said, Jose Trevino appears to be the unequivocal No. 1 catcher heading into next season. 24 games is a small sample size, but Woodward and coaching staff have seen enough to believe Trevino has all the necessary traits—tangible and intangible—to be the guy heading into 2021.
Despite a strong first impression, Huff is not guaranteed to start 2021 on the Major League roster. 10 games is an even smaller sample size. Additionally, Huff never played above Class A-Advanced before making his Major League debut in 2020.
However, the Rangers aren't ruling out Huff's place on the Opening Day roster. If he makes a strong enough impression over the winter and in spring training, he could force management's hand and earn a place in Arlington next April.
The Rangers will likely need to add a cheap veteran to play behind Trevino. A reunion with Jeff Mathis is not entirely out of the question. He's open to playing again in 2021 and the Rangers could use some familiarity with how many young pitchers will get an opportunity next season.
Texas could also go with what they have internally to back up Trevino. They have a couple of options in Tim Federowicz and Nick Ciuffo, who are both under club control. Both will be names to watch as the beginning of December draws nearer when the Rangers decide on who will be tendered contracts for 2021.