Texas Rangers Positional Preview: Catcher

** This is the third installment of a new series at Shutdown Inning. This series will look at the 2012 Texas Rangers roster position-by-position each day leading up to Opening Day.  

The Starter

Vernon Wells should be one of the most popular players in Texas. Not because he should play in Texas, but because the Los Angeles Angels traded Mike Napoli for him. Without that trade, Texas would likely not have had the opportunity to land Mike Napoli. Even when Texas did trade for Mike Napoli, I’m not sure anyone believed it would work out as well as it did for Texas.

The story on Napoli’s time in LA is familiar to a lot of us. Manager Mike Scioscia did not think Napoli was a good enough defensive catcher to be “the guy” behind the plate. Instead, LA chose to trade Napoli and play Jeff Mathis behind the plate in 2011. That is a move I’m sure LA would love to take back.

Not only did LA trade for one of the worst contracts in baseball history by acquiring Vernon Wells, they got rid of Napoli so they could play a catcher that put up one of the worst offensive seasons we have ever seen. Meanwhile Napoli was traded to Texas where he played stellar defense and was the best offensive catcher in baseball in 2011.

2011 was by far Mike Napoli’s best year as a professional baseball player. Before he was widely regarded as a power hitter who dominated lefties, but couldn’t do much else. Now he is looked at as one of the few elite catchers in the game. Catcher is a position, much like short stop, that is such a defensive premium that it is hard to have a subpar defender play there. Many, myself included, worried that Napoli would not be able to handle the rigors of being a team’s primary catcher.

Fast forward to now and Mike Napoli has laid many of those questions to rest. His work behind the plate improved greatly since he has been in Texas. (Which is really hard to believe considering Mike Scioscia is widely regarded as one of the best coaches for catchers in the league) Mike Napoli now projects to be the Rangers opening day starter, and primary catcher for 2012. This is the last year Mike Napoli is under team control, and many fans would like to see the Rangers lock Napoli up long term.
Coming off of a career year, Napoli is looking for a larger contact than Texas is comfortable with at the moment. 2012 will be a crucial year for Mike Napoli. If he has another campaign as strong as his 2011 season, he could be in line for a larger contract than Victor Martinez signed with Detroit prior to the 2011 season. Mike has established himself as an elite catcher, but many will be watching to see if 2011 was an anomaly.

The Bench

Before the Rangers traded for Mike Napoli, they signed Yorvit Torrealba who was supposed to be the Rangers starting catcher for 2011-2012. Obviously those plans have changed with the arrival and explosion of Mike Napoli. Now Texas has taken a position that has been troublesome ever since Ivan Rodriguez left, and turned it in to an area of strength. With Yorvit and Napoli on the roster, Texas has one of the best catching tandems in the league. Yorvit is a defensive specialist who doesn’t kill you offensively. He doesn’t have the pop that Mike Napoli does, but Yorvit is a line drive hitter capable of putting a few in the seats.
Luis Martinez is the rangers “emergency catcher.” He will likely spend most of the year in AAA Round Rock. Martinez doesn’t profile as much of an offensive player, but his defensive work behind the plate is very impressive. For Texas to have an emergency catcher capable of handling a major league staff is a real benefit. If either Yorvit or Napoli goes down for a short period of time, look for Martinez to pick up the slack.

The Projection

Mike Napoli will catch 70 games for Texas with Yorvit Torrealba catching another 70. Injuries from the catcher position are common so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luis Martinez come up and catch a few games during the season, as well as some in September. I’ll say he will catch 22 games for Texas this year.
The Stats
  Avg     HR  RBI SB  BB    K   E
Mike Napoli: .290   28    85    3    50    95   4
The Rest:      .255     8     45    3    25    70   5

Lincoln Floyd is a Senior Staff Writer for ShutDownInning.com. He can be reached via email at Lincoln.Floyd@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @SDILincoln
Lincoln Floyd

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