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Monday, January 24, 2011
Surprise positional outlook: Catcher

By Richard Durrett

With just a little more than three weeks before pitchers and catchers arrive in Surpise, Ariz., we'll take a look at each position (just like we did last year) heading into spring training. We will start at catcher, work our way around the infield, check out the outfield and finally the pitching staff and coaches.

Note: This has been updated to include the Mike Napoli trade from Tuesday.

Today's position: Catcher

The Rangers went into the 2010 season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starter. Taylor Teagarden also arrived in the desert to fight for a job behind the plate. The Rangers looked around for catchers and signed Toby Hall, but he was coming off an injury. Basically, Saltalamacchia's job was to show he could stay healthy and seize the starting job. As camp broke, Saltalamacchia was the starting catcher and he was behind the plate on Opening Day. He hit a walkoff single in the Rangers' win over the Blue Jays, but that was Saltalamacchia's only time to start behind the plate for Texas in 2010 (and his only hit in a Rangers uniform last year). He was traded to Boston just before the trade deadline expired.

Yorvit Torrealba
Padres pitchers compiled a 53-36 record and a 3.14 ERA when caught by Yorvit Torrealba in 2010.
So with Saltalamacchia on the DL the first week of the season, Matt Treanor was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to take his place. Treanor was acquired near the end of spring training for depth purposes and turned out to be an important piece for the AL champions.

Knowing that the club needed a veteran presence with postseason experience, general manager Jon Daniels traded pitchers Chris Ray and Michael Main to San Francisco at the end of June for Bengie Molina, who was the starting catcher for the rest of the season. Treanor became C.J. Wilson's personal catcher and provided some big hits for the club down the stretch. Molina was a steady rock and a leader in the clubhouse. And he hit one of the biggest home runs of the season in Game 4 of the ALCS in New York.

Treanor was signed to be the club's backup catcher this offseason, but the No. 2 catching spot got more interesting with the trade of Napoli. GM Jon Daniels said Tuesday that right now his plan is to have three catchers on the roster. But that could always change as spring training progresses. Certainly, the Rangers could utilize Napoli as more of a first baseman-designated hitter and leave the catching to Yorvit Torrealba and Treanor.

Napoli does have four seasons of experience at catcher and, as Daniels pointed out, knows how to handle a good pitching staff. His highest games played at catcher was 96 back in 2009. His pitchers had a 4.49 ERA in his four-plus seasons behind the plate.

Torrealba signed a two-year, $6.25 million deal before the winter meetings and is the unquestioned No. 1 catcher. The 32-year-old hit .271 with seven homers and 37 RBIs in 95 games for the Padres in 2010. More important: His pitchers sported a 53-36 record and a 3.14 ERA, the lowest to a catcher in the majors since 2003. Say what you want about the Padres playing in a pitcher-friendly park, that's a good ERA and indicative of a guy that can call a game and receive well.

Before Molina's offensive contributions in the postseason, the Rangers got very little at the plate from their catchers. Texas catchers had a .212 batting average in the regular season, second-to-last in the majors (only Seattle was worse). Torrealba should help with that.

The Texas heat means manager Ron Washington will be careful about rotating his catchers. Torrealba, who has played more than 95 games just once in his career, will be asked to start between 95 and 110 games. That leaves plenty of games for Treanor and a chance for both catchers to get some breathers.

"We want that person to be sharp and fresh," assistant general manager Thad Levine said in November. "We still have a relatively inexperienced pitching staff, so we’re asking for that position to be the captain on the field. There are a lot of physical and mental demands to the position, and add the summers in Texas. If we set the criteria for guys that could catch 130 games, it would be a short list. We want a group of catchers rather than one guy."

Torrealba said he's looking forward to working with the pitching staff and his main focus will be learning about the pitchers and getting comfortable with them before the season begins. And we'll see how the backup spot shakes out.