Like many positions in 2021, the Texas Rangers remained relatively healthy behind the dish. And also like many positions, catcher was manned by inexperienced players.
Leading the way was Jose Trevino, who — despite starting his service time clock in 2018 — went through his first full, 162-game season behind the plate. Rookie Jonah Heim, who was acquired in the Elvis Andrus trade with Oakland, nearly split time with him evenly, due to a hot streak and Trevino's short trip to the Injured List in the middle of the season.
Both Trevino and Heim had two very similar seasons. Overall, the two combined for an even 0.0 bWAR, playing right at a replacement level. They also had similar slash lines, with Trevino edging Heim in both OPS and OPS+, despite Heim's superior home run threat.
In 88 games (81 starts), Trevino slashed .239/.267/.340/.607 with five home runs, 30 RBI and a 67 OPS+. For Heim, he slashed .196/.239/.358/.598 with 10 home runs, 32 RBI and a 63 OPS+ in 80 games (75 starts).'While these offensive numbers are underwhelming, the duo excelled behind the dish.
Heim and Trevino were part of a three-way tie for the American League lead with eight Runs from Extra Strikes, which is a Catcher Framing stat that converts strikes to runs saved. In addition, Heim and Trevino were the top two catchers in the AL in converting non-swing pitches into called strikes (Heim at 52 percent, Trevino at 51.8 percent).
In simpler terms, both Heim and Trevino were better than any other duo in baseball in stealing strikes.
In addition, both had a great rapport with the pitching staff. Trevino has the edge in terms of experience, but Heim did more than enough to earn the trust of even the most experienced pitcher on the staff.
As far as throwing out runners, Heim had a better performance. Heim threw out 23 percent of baserunners trying to steal, which was right at league average. Trevino only threw out 15 percent.
While Trevino spent time on the IL, the Rangers called on John Hicks from Triple-A Round Rock. While Hicks didn't provide the same quality behind the plate, he provided plenty of pop with the bat. In his 10 games with the big league club, Hicks slashed .258/.258/.677/.935 with four home runs, seven RBI and a 146 OPS+. Despite the big numbers, the Rangers opted to keep the pair of Trevino and Heim once the former was healthy again.
After raking in Triple A, Yohel Pozo also earned a call-up in August, but played 17 of his 19 games as a designated hitter. Offensively, Pozo posted a modest .284/.312/.378/.690 slash line with one home run, nine RBI and a 90 OPS+, but was optioned back to Round Rock in mid-September.
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Projected Starter: Jose Trevino
Internal Options: Jonah Heim, Sam Huff
Offseason Priority: LOW
While Trevino and Heim provide plenty of upside, manager Chris Woodward has been very clear that the Rangers need more from the position in terms of offense. Catcher may not an offense-first position, but after finishing 23rd in OPS and 28th in on-base percentage among catchers, the Rangers would like to see an uptick in production.
That offense could come from within. Rangers No. 5 prospect Sam Huff is on the cusp of a return to the big leagues after a short 10-game stint in the truncated 2020 season. In all honesty, that big league call-up likely would not have happened if the minor league season hadn't been canceled that year.
Huff is an offense-first catcher, with potentially more raw power than former Ranger Joey Gallo and a cannon for an arm. Huff hit two homers in excess of 500 feet in the minors this season, and even the homers that don't eclipse that mark are not cheap. Due to a knee injury from spring training that required surgery, Huff did not catch during the minor league season, giving him more time to focus on his offensive game.
However, the Rangers were a bit disappointed with Huff's overall output. In 46 games with Double-A Frisco, Huff slashed .237/.309/.439 with 10 home runs, 23 RBI and an alarming 77 strikeouts to only 16 walks. Huff fared much better in seven games with Triple-A Round Rock after the Double A season concluded (.273/.320/.727/1.047, three home runs, seven RBI), but his chances of making the big league roster out of camp next spring are very slim. Simply, the Rangers need to see more before throwing him into the big league fire.
This winter's free agent class is deep in several positions, but catcher is not one of them. Also, it really doesn't match up with the Rangers' timeline. Buster Posey, Mike Zunino, Tucker Barnhart, Christian Vázquez and Roberto Pérez could all make the free agent class more interesting, but all have club options and stand a good chance of remaining with their respective teams.
Outside of that, the free agent class is highlighted by Manny Piña (34 years old), Yan Gomes (34), Alex Avila (35) and Stephen Vogt (37). If the Rangers seek to upgrade externally, the trade market might be a better place to look.
With the many other holes on the roster, and with 2022 not quite being the year the Rangers will be ready to compete, expect the duo of Trevino and Heim to return. Both are capable of hitting more consistently and already have the trust of the pitching and coaching staff with what they can do defensively.
Huff will likely start 2022 at Triple-A Round Rock, and will be returning to his catching duties. If he gets off to a good start offensively, Huff could make his way to Arlington in June or July.
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