This story is the third in a series of position previews leading to Texas Rangers spring training. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is Thursday, and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 22 UFA.
A team can never have too many good players, or at least that’s what every general manager, manager and coach in every sport always says. Always.
The cliche/adage holds especially true in baseball at two specific positions, pitchers and catchers. Injuries at those positions test an organization’s depth, and many times make or break a team’s season.
Even though the Rangers are rebuilding and don’t expect to be in contention for the postseason in 2021, they aren’t short on catchers thanks to the undercard of the Elvis Andrus-Khris Davis trade.
That five-player deal saw the Rangers also acquire rookie catcher Jonah Heim, who was rated by Baseball America as the Oakland A’s No. 8 prospect. He made his MLB debut last season and collected his first career hit against the Rangers.
Now, he’s part of their long-term catching plans along with Jose Trevino and Sam Huff. The Rangers also signed veteran Drew Butera to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
While it appears Trevino is a lock for the Opening Day roster, the job to be his backup will be up for grabs in Arizona. As of last weekend, there’s an extra set of hands trying to grab it.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity for me to go out in spring training and show them what I’ve got and try to win a job,” Heim said. “I’m just going to try to do everything I can to help the team win. If that’s once a week or every day, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He might have to go to Triple A Round Rock first. Huff is expected to be there, too, so that he can get more seasoning working with pitchers, calling games and fine-tuning his receiving. Heim and Huff have combined 23 games of big-league experience.
Heim said his No. 1 objective is to help pitchers manage their way around a game, and he has a new pitching staff to learn. The Rangers, though, love what he does defensively, and believe the switch-hitter eventually will hit for more power.
He will get a long look during spring training in his bid to be on the Opening Day roster.
“Yeah, I would expect him to come in and compete for that. Absolutely,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I think we’re definitely willing in that regard. We got to see them a little bit last year.
I keep repeating it, but he’s got to come in and earn that. I fully expect them to come in with that mentality to come in and compete for that spot.”
Trevino, though, is a lock for Opening Day. He became the Rangers’ regular catcher once the rebuild started in earnest in late August, and took the bulk of the catching duties late in the season when paired with Huff.
No one has ever questioned Trevino’s defense, and he started to answer questions about his offense last season. He showed more pop, posting a career-best .434 slugging percentage, and for a stretch served as the Rangers’ cleanup hitter.
Nevertheless, Huff is considered a potential star at the position with his combination of power and defense. While not the best defensive catcher in the system, he’s also far from deficient despite being 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds.
“One of the themes for this season is competition and guys coming in and earning the opportunity for their playing time,” general manager Chris Young said.