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Here's a look at AL West's top catching corps

@JesseSanchezMLB
January 8, 2020

The Astros like Martín Maldonado so much that they traded for him twice in two years and signed him to a two-year deal in December to be their starter. With such a deep lineup, the Astros view catching as a defense-first position, and it’s easy to see why they are

The Astros like Martín Maldonado so much that they traded for him twice in two years and signed him to a two-year deal in December to be their starter.

With such a deep lineup, the Astros view catching as a defense-first position, and it’s easy to see why they are fond of Maldonado.

Maldonado's 1.96 average pop time ranked among league leaders in 2019 and his 87.1 mph arm strength on his max effort is also among the tops in baseball. He has a reputation for being among the best pitch framers in the game. In fact, Maldonado led all catchers in the category with a plus-20 in 2017, the same year he won a Gold Glove. Just ask Gerrit Cole how reliable Maldonado is. Maldonado caught all of Cole’s starts down the stretch last year.

Add Dustin Garneau, whom Houston signed in November for depth, and prospect Garrett Stubbs, who could win a spot as the third catcher, and it’s hard to blame the Astros for feeling good about their situation behind the plate. Houston's group is the best in the division and compares favorably against backstops across the league.

Best of the rest

Angels
There is a lot more clarity behind the plate in Anaheim. The club agreed to terms with veteran Jason Castro on a one-year deal worth $6.85 million last week after deciding to non-tender Kevan Smith on Dec. 2. Castro will be the Angels' primary catcher and will share time with Max Stassi, who is coming off right hip surgery. The Halos are hopeful that Stassi will be ready for Opening Day, but if he's not, Anthony Bemboom will serve as the primary backup catcher. Castro and Stassi are both considered above-average defenders, but Stassi has struggled to find a groove offensively so far during his time in the big leagues.

Athletics
There is potential for a huge upside with rookie Sean Murphy, Oakland’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He shined in his first taste of big league action last September. He also showed there is room for growth. In fact, Murphy and Austin Allen, who is projected to enter the season as the A’s backup catcher, bring a combined total of 54 games played in the Majors. Murphy has also dealt with a number of knee issues over the last two years. Overall, Oakland views him as a power hitter with a strong arm and potential Gold Glove-caliber defense. He’ll have to remain healthy in order to live up to the potential.

Mariners
General manager Jerry Dipoto felt so good about last season’s surprising emergence of Tom Murphy and Austin Nola that he traded offensive-minded starter Omar Narváez to the Brewers for pitching prospect Adam Hill and a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick. The 28-year-old Murphy posted a .273/.324/.535 line with 18 home runs in 75 games and graded out much better defensively than Narváez. Nola, 30, hit .269/.342/.454 with 10 homers in 79 games as a late-blooming rookie. Though he started just four games behind the plate while primarily playing first base, the Mariners like Nola’s catching and leadership skills and trust he can handle the backup duties while awaiting the eventual arrival of Cal Raleigh, their No. 7-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Rangers
The Rangers agreed to a contract Tuesday with Robinson Chirinos, a source told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. The club was looking for an upgrade after going with veteran Jeff Mathis and rookie Jose Trevino at the end of last season, and went back to a familiar face in Chirinos. The 35-year-old spent the first six years of his MLB career with Texas before batting .238 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs for the Astros in 2019. Mathis is solid defensively and works well with pitchers, but he struggled offensively.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.