Heim the 'unsung hero of this postseason run'

October 15th, 2023

ARLINGTON --  has always loved the state of Texas.

A native of Amherst, N.Y., about 15 miles outside of Buffalo, he doesn’t remember when or why that started.

“Crazy, right?” Heim joked. “I don’t know, I just always thought Texas was something bigger than just a state. It just meant something to me. With my dad being in the military, obviously, there’s a lot of military bases around here and it's a big military state. We spent maybe a month or two here with my dad and I just kind of fell in love with it.”

Heim couldn’t have known back then how the state would eventually change his life and his career. Acquired in the same trade that sent Elvis Andrus to the A’s for Khris Davis in February 2021, Heim was originally expected to be a depth piece. He entered Spring Training in ‘21 and ‘22 as the backup catcher.

But a midseason injury to Mitch Garver in 2022 thrust Heim into a starting role he never expected, one that turned him into the All-Star catcher he became. 

“Oakland gave me my first shot, so that was cool,” Heim said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming to Texas, but coming here was probably the best thing that’s ever happened in my career. Getting with [catching coordinator Bobby Wilson] and this coaching staff has changed my career in a big way.”

Always seen as a defensive-minded catcher, Heim continued that trajectory in 2023, leading AL catchers in defensive runs saved and ranking third in MLB in catcher framing.

What’s propelled him even further forward has been his offensive development. Heim posted career highs in homers (18), RBIs (95), doubles (28), runs (61), hits (118), fWAR (4.1) and bWAR (2.9) while appearing in a career-high 124 complete games at catcher.

“It's very hard to develop catchers,” Wilson said. “It's very hard. [Rangers manager Bruce] Bochy had Buster [Posey]. Buster is a unicorn. He figured it out quick. For most guys, it takes a few years to get that figured out. Jonah’s learning curve has been expedited to make sure he's in the right spot. I’m obviously super proud of him.

“It's been a special year for him. He should, in my opinion, be the Gold Glove [Award] winner as well. We talk about what he's done offensively, but what he's done defensively has been pretty special as well.”

Perhaps Heim’s biggest accomplishment has been the handling of a pitching staff that includes multiple Cy Young Award winners (when healthy), a number of All-Stars and a group of relievers that throws in the upper 90s and can hit triple digits.  

Jordan Montgomery, Sunday’s ALCS Game 1 starter who joined the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, praised Heim’s ability to learn a pitcher quickly and make the staff comfortable day in and day out.

“He's awesome,” Montgomery said. “To have a catcher that plays every day like he does, you really grow comfortable throwing to him. He has an idea of what you want to throw, kind of how you like to work and how fast you like to work. He's just a really talented player.”

Heim shrugged off the praise and said he’s just doing his job. He also noted that game-calling is a work in progress, and there’s never a perfect answer for each pitcher-and-catcher duo. 

Everything begins and ends with Heim’s pregame meetings with Wilson, the catchers, the pitchers and pitching coach Mike Maddux. Heim couldn’t do his job as well as he does without the group of coaches and players around him.

“Watching Jonah grow this year has been great,” Maddux said. “As it's come down to where he's caught every game now, he's getting better and better and better. He's getting more comfortable. Jonah has definitely learned, and he has stepped up his game and he's taken full responsibility back there. 

“He's not the loudest guy in the world, needless to say. But his heart’s big and he gives a damn. That's the one thing that we can't overlook just because he's a quiet guy. He is really engaged in every pitch we throw and really with the advanced stuff when we sit down every day. Jonah has been the unsung hero of this postseason run.”