Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Spring training preview: Catcher
By Richard Durrett
Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.
Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia will handle the catching duties for the Rangers this season.
Today's position: Catcher
Texas came into the offseason needing to fill a hole at catcher. With an aging A.J. Pierzynski back on the free-agent market, the Rangers needed to figure out what they wanted to do behind the plate. Brian McCann was a name that was talked about, but the club decided to not pursue the high-priced backstop and opted to re-sign Geovany Soto, who is familiar with the pitching staff and performed well at the plate in the clutch.
The club made Soto the primary catcher when he was signed earlier this offseason and the club then determined to add a low-risk/high-reward option in J.P. Arencibia, who struggled at the plate last season but showed power. He'll back up Soto.
The Rangers were middle of the pack offensively at the catching position, finishing seventh in the AL in RBIs and seventh in batting average. To improve on that in 2014, they'll need both Soto and Arencibia to hit better. Soto hit .245 with nine homers and 22 RBIs. But it sure seemed as if many of his hits came in key situations, especially late in the season. Arencibia, who just turned 28, batted .194 but had 21 homers and 55 RBIs. The Rangers are counting on that power to help them and that Arencibia, with some work with hitting coach Dave Magadan, can get his average up.
OUTLOOK: Catching, of course, isn't just about the offensive numbers listed above. Just ask manager Ron Washington. He stresses that the No. 1 job by his catchers is to manage the pitching staff. Soto knows the staff. He caught Yu Darvish down the stretch and the Rangers' ace certainly seems more comfortable with Soto behind the plate.
The first thing Arencibia mentioned in his conference call with reporters after his signing was that he wanted to get to know the staff's tendencies and put the pitchers in position to succeed. He knows that's his top job.
The Rangers need their backstops to give them some offense, but they are hoping that the trade for Prince Fielder and the signing of Shin-Soo Choo might lessen the pressure on the catchers to do too much. The high priority is to learn the staff and navigate them through games. The Rangers have two guys who can do that.