Catching trio fueling Texas' success behind -- and at -- the plate

October 30th, 2023

PHOENIX -- Any time the camera pans to the Rangers’ dugout this postseason, you’re likely to get a glimpse of third-string catcher , who is usually putting on a display as the world’s biggest hype man.

Hedges has had just one plate appearance this postseason, but he’s having the time of his life riding the wave of Texas’ postseason run. But don’t let the lack of playing time fool you. He’s been a vital part of this run.

The Rangers are carrying three catchers on their postseason roster -- , and Hedges. All three are different players with wildly different personalities, but all three have been essential to Texas’ success this postseason.

“They are different, and they all bring something different,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That's the great thing about having more than one set of eyes and ears. They help each other in the meetings, when they work out, whether it's doing catching drills, blocking, things like that, [or] going over the game plan. It's a nice luxury.”

All three catchers were acquired via three different trades in three different years: Heim in 2021 in the deal that sent Elvis Andrus to Oakland, Garver in ‘22 from Minnesota for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Hedges for cash from Pittsburgh at this year’s Trade Deadline.

Heim has started every game since Sept. 17, including every game of the postseason. Garver has primarily been Texas’ designated hitter down the stretch, with Hedges working as a late-inning defensive replacement when necessary.

It’s a system that’s worked for the Rangers so far without question … until Game 1 of the World Series, when Bochy pinch-ran for Heim with Josh H. Smith in the bottom of the eighth inning, leaving Hedges to replace Heim in the lineup and catch the ninth.

When the Rangers tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on Corey Seager’s two-run homer, Hedges came up in Heim’s spot in the lineup four batters later. He struck out swinging on three pitches.

“He didn't get a hit, but he is capable of getting a hit,” Bochy said the next day.

Bochy's comment was said almost jokingly, but it illustrated the clear roles of the three catchers on the Rangers’ roster. Heim is the rock, catching games at an old-school rate and holding down a pitching staff littered with veterans. Garver is the former Silver Slugger Award winner who mashes fastballs and is batting in the middle of the lineup with a .899 OPS in this year’s postseason.

Hedges plays a much different role than his catching counterparts, but it’s just as crucial for the Rangers’ success. He only appeared in 16 regular-season games after joining the club, starting just five of them. He’s the hype man, yes, but his value comes on the defensive end, whether he’s in the game or not.

Like Heim, Hedges is an elite defensive catcher, ranking in the 98th percentile in Statcast’s framing metric and 90th percentile in catcher blocks. It’s easy to overlook Hedges because of Garver and Heim’s offensive production, but he’s been an integral part of the club’s success down the stretch.

The Rangers’ pitchers and catchers, as well as pitching coach Mike Maddux and catching coordinator Bobby Wilson, do a lot of work on the advanced side of the game, including meetings before each series that are structured like open discussions instead of lectures.

“It's just a good open session,” Garver explained. “I think that's something that flies under the radar a little bit, especially with the addition of Austin Hedges, who has been really good for us and coming from a different organization. He likes to bring in things that they talked about when he played for the Pirates or Cleveland, whoever it may be. It's always a good open discussion and very productive for us.”

The chemistry of the pitchers and catchers obviously has an effect on games day in and day out. But the relationships between Garver, Heim and Hedges have also driven each other’s successes since Hedges arrived to complete the trio.

“It's been great,” Garver said. “Obviously, Jonah has taken the bulk of this year's catching duties and run away with it. His talent is something that this team really, really needed. Hedgie came in and brought the personality side of it, but he's also very smart when it comes to game calling and preparation.

“I like to add my two cents every once in a while, and I think I've added a little bit of something for Jonah to be that older leadership type personality for him, but also one that can instill confidence and let him become the player that he can be.”