2015 Preview – Catcher

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As we draw closer to Spring Training 2015, I will continue my tribute to the late Richard Durrett by previewing each position on the Rangers, just as he did. Every position, the pitching staff, and even the coaching staff will be evaluated and discussed. Click any of the links below to read a preview that has already been published.

2015 Preview: The Closer

2015 Preview: The Bullpen

2015 Preview: The Rotation

Let’s get this party started with this weeks position: Catcher.

One of the issues that Jon Daniels and his club wanted to address this winter was the number two spot – not in the lineup, but on the field. Since the days of Mike Napoli, the team has seen Geovany Soto, Yorvit Torrealba, A.J. Pierzynski, J.P Arencibia, Chris Gimenez, Robinson Chirinos and Tomas Telis take up the catcher’s gear and hold down the fort behind the plate. This position was marred by injury last year, like most of the Rangers positions around the diamond, and the front office has wanted to find a consistent tandem that can hold things down for 2015 and perhaps 2016 to bridge the gap to prospect Jorge Alfaro.

In 2014: Like several positions on the field, the catcher on Opening Day was not who the Rangers expected to see behind the plate going into the year. The winter signing of J.P. Arencibia was made to supplement incumbent catcher Geovany Soto with an experienced receiver. Arencibia had been known to be a liability offensively, but the experience he had behind the plate looked better at the time, than what returning backup catcher Robinson Chirinos could provide.

Those plans took a hit when it was revealed that Soto was going to need surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his right knee. The injury would end up costing Soto the first three months of the season and forced J.P. Arencibia into the role of primary catcher with Chirinos, who was supposed to just be a depth piece at Triple-A, as the backup.  After being charged with marijuana possession in July, Soto caught 10 more games for the Rangers before being traded to Oakland.

Arencibia’s offensive troubles reared their ugly head again, as the former Toronto Blue Jay spent the first month of the season hitting a horrific .086 over 13 games. It didn’t take the team long to realize that Arencibia just couldn’t be the number one catcher at this pace and the duties shifted to the older, less experienced Robinson Chirinos. As Chirinos began to assume primary catching duties, Arencibia continued to see his production at the plate drop. There was one glimmer of hope during a game against the Yankees at the end of July where Arencibia looked to be locked in – he went 4-for-5 with two homers, two doubles and seven RBI – but that proved to be a blip on the radar, as he had only one other multi-hit game the rest of the year. The closest that Arencibia ever got to the Mendoza line for the season was .198 for one game at the beginning of August. He finished the season with a .177/.239/.369 slash line.

Chirinos, in the meantime, had seen his defensive value soar, not just with his glove, but with his arm. By the end of the season, the 30-year old had been seen as a lethal weapon behind the plate. He finished the year with a ridiculous 40% caught stealing rate.  This far surpassed the league average of 27%. Offensively, it might not say a lot, but Chirinos was tied for second on the team in homers with 13 and played in 93 games, finishing with a .239/.290/.415 slash. He completely won the primary catcher job, not just for the end of 2014, but for the next year as well. He even became a fan favorite; all in all, not a bad Rangers run for a guy whose career was in jeopardy after a series of concussions early in his career.

The other pleasant surprises for the Rangers were Chris Gimenez and Tomas Telis. Gimenez was a trade acquisition from Oakland who ended up being the primary backup catcher after Arencibia transitioned to first base. Gimenez became ace Yu Darvish’s personal catcher as the season progressed, up until the point where he was traded to Cleveland. He caught 34 games for the Rangers, becoming more of an offensive contributor that anybody might have expected, posting a .262/.331/.355 slash. Once Gimenez was traded away, Tomas Telis was called up to supplement Chirinos and showed he could handle being a Major Leaguer, if only for the short time he was on the roster. Telis wound up catching 17 games for Texas in what amounted to a “scouting period” for the 23-year old.

In 2015: Geovany Soto has signed with the Chicago White Sox. J.P. Arencibia has signed with the Baltimore Orioles. Both were Major League catchers with the Rangers in 2014 and both have signed minor league deals with their new clubs. The Rangers have made moves to both improve the Major League club and increase the catching depth, allowing them to keep prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro at about six or seven on the depth chart and giving him plenty of time to hone his skills and develop into the franchise player of the future.

Robinson Chirinos has already been tagged as the primary catcher for 2015. He has said he is training to catch 150 games (I’m not aware of a primary catcher who doesn’t want that), and Rangers front office and fans alike are wondering what he could do with a full season under his belt. His age might be a hindering factor in his ambitious goals, as could the neck injury he found himself battling towards the end of the season. Given his short tenure in Major League Baseball, it can be hard to remember that Chirinos is going to be 31 in the middle of this season. However, he’s shown himself to be an asset behind the plate for his pitchers, a weapon with his arm, and he possesses enough pop in his bat to be a positive contributor in the lineup. The winner of the inaugural Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award is poised to really become a star in the Texas club. He wasn’t the hole that the Rangers were looking to fill. JD and company are committed to him for 2015, but they wanted to find a veteran backup to help his development and bring a stable alternate option behind the plate.

After rumors involving Soto, Pierzynski, John Buck, Gerald Laird, Russell Martin, Yasmani Grandal, Wilin Rosario, Dioner Navarro, Wellington Castillo, Evan Gattis and other proven catchers, the Rangers’ veteran solution came from an unlikely, in-division source. After the Houston Astros acquired Texas-native Gattis, there was a glut of catchers in their system. With Jason Castro as their All-Star and the acquisition of Gattis, it was a toss-up as to whether Max Stassi or Carlos Corporan was going to be given up. Houston decided to go with age over experience and kept Stassi, designating Corporan for assignment. The Rangers took their chance and made a trade. 2013 2nd round pick Akeem Bostick was shipped south in order to bring the 31-year old with five years of Major League experience to Arlington.

Offensively, Corporan brings about what you would expect from a backup catcher. He has a career .226/.286/.350 slash, a career high of 7 homers and strikes out at a relatively high rate. His switch-hitting capabilities are obviously of interest to the Rangers, who don’t mind having another bat from the left side. Defensively, if you haven’t read fellow SDI writer Dustin Dietz’ article about what Corporan brings, you can do so here. With Chirinos and Corporan, under perfect circumstances, the expectation would be a 110-120 to 42-52 game split between the two.

Behind those two, the Rangers brought back Chris Gimenez on a minor league deal and could still add him to the Major League roster as the third catcher if that’s how Jeff Banister plans to use the bench. Tomas Telis will start the season in the minors as well, and the Rangers are bringing 24-year old Pat Cantwell to Spring Training to see whether he can contribute at some point this year.

Hot Stove: The Rangers made their move with the acquisition of Corporan. Their depth at the catching position is in good shape and it doesn’t look like Texas will make any further moves in this area.

How do you feel about Chirinos and Corporan as your catching tandem for 2015? How confident are you that Chirinos can be a signature player on this team? Next week, we’ll start going around the infield, starting at 1st Base.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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