As we've done in past years, we're going to go through each Rangers position as a way of previewing things before pitchers and catchers arrive in Surprise, Ariz., next month. We will discuss catcher and the infielders first, then move onto the outfield, bench, pitching and coaching staff.
Today's position: Catcher
This time last year, the Rangers were just about to complete the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. Once the Angels dealt Napoli, the Rangers pounced, bringing him to Texas.
At the time, the club already had two catchers in Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor. Napoli was slated to be a part-time first baseman and emergency catcher. Things changed even before spring training ended. Napoli showed he was healthy, could call a nice game and play defense. So when the club wanted to carry an extra reliever, Treanor was shipped to Kansas City and Napoli became the backup catcher.
He hit just .206 in May and .179 in June before an oblique strain landed him on the disabled list. He returned and put up ridiculous numbers. He batted .443 in July and ended up hitting .383 with 18 homers and 42 RBIs after the All-Star break. He was so hot that manager Ron Washington had to do what he could to keep him in the lineup, playing him at first base some to give him breaks behind the plate.
If the Rangers had won the World Series, Napoli would have been the MVP. He hit .350 with two homers and 10 RBIs and seemed to constantly come up with a big hit or big play.
The club talked to Napoli's representatives about a long-term deal earlier in the offseason but decided to just focus on a one-year deal as part of his final year of arbitration eligibility. The two sides are $3.2 million apart, but Napoli said last week that he thinks a deal can be reached to avoid an arbitration hearing.
Napoli comes into spring training as No. 1 on the depth chart, but in the Texas heat, two catchers are needed a lot more than other places. That means Yorvit Torrealba will probably get a bunch of playing time.
Torrealba signed a two-year contract prior to the 2011 season to be the starter. He's slated to make $3.25 million this season. He hit .273 with seven homers and 37 RBIs in 2011, playing in 113 games. Manager Ron Washington is aware of how important it is to have fresh catchers, so look for both to get plenty of time in 2012.
It's interesting how for 2012, the catching position is looked at as a position of strength. For a few years, the Rangers tried to find a consistent backstop and couldn't. Bengie Molina struggled at times in 2010 but had a solid run in the playoffs. The club wanted a longer-term solution and that's why it signed Torrealba. The Napoli trade netted them a catcher with a lot to prove, and he proved it. So they head into 2012 feeling good about the catching spot.
As for Napoli's health, the catcher said last week that he ran on his injured ankle (from Game 6 of the World Series) and it felt good. He'll continue to build up strength but is confident he'll be ready when pitchers and catchers report in a month.