Rangers' depth at catcher 'really exciting'

May 27th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry's Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In the final innings of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Angels, both Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver homered to prevent a shutout. The game prior, a 5-2 loss to the Astros in Houston, included another home run from Garver, plus a 2-for-4 day at the plate from Sam Huff, the third catcher on the depth chart.

How many catchers is too many catchers? For the Rangers, right now, all three will have to do. But they have three catchers, lots of offense, but not enough positions to keep them all in the day-to-day lineup.

Garver can’t catch and won’t for the foreseeable future due to a flexor muscle strain preventing him from throwing. So manager Chris Woodward has to mix and match how all three are used.

With Garver limited to DH duty, Woodward and catchers coach Bobby Wilson believe Heim has earned the majority of reps behind the plate. The mixing and matching only becomes difficult when Huff slots in to give Heim a day off at catcher.

Woodward calls Heim the most consistent hitter on the squad this season, but it’s hard to deny Garver’s past credentials -- including a 2019 Silver Slugger Award -- and recent hot hand when filling the DH spot on those days.

“I’ve got too many good-hitting catchers right now,” Woodward joked. “It's a problem I love to have, too many good players, too many options.”

Woodward jokes, but he’s right. Over the previous seven games entering Wednesday's finale against the Angels, all three catchers had slash lines laid out like this:

• Garver: .320/.393/.680
• Heim: .286/.348/.476
• Huff: .435/.435/.435

If Woodward especially wants all three catchers in a single lineup, Huff could even play first base, having played 59 games there over three Minor League seasons.

But one thing is clear: Woodward can’t really go wrong with whatever combination of the three he writes on the lineup card.

“I think at the end of the day, I'm going to do my best to look at some matchups and if I feel like this trio is better to match up and play these guys, I'm gonna play that,” Woodward said. “I think I've shown that to the team. It's just like, somebody's gonna have to sit out that day. Whoever that may be.”

The most notable limitation in the trio is in Huff’s slash line: His batting average is the same as his on-base percentage, which is also the same as his slugging. It’s not a glaring issue considering his ability to put the ball in play, but it’s notably missing any walks or home runs. That won’t play for long in the big leagues, but right now, as the backup catcher, he has time to develop his presence at the plate.

Huff -- the club’s No. 11-ranked prospect -- may be missing out on valuable, consistent reps both at the plate and behind it in Triple-A. But Wilson still feels it’s beneficial for Huff to be up with the big league club working with himself, Garver and Heim.

Garver is a six-year big league veteran, and Heim is an elite defensive catcher who has made tremendous strides at the plate this season. If a prospect needs to be called up “before they’re ready” due to outside circumstances, there couldn't be a much better situation for Huff to learn and grow.

“I don’t think Mitch will be catching at all in the immediate time,” Wilson said. “But even though he’s serving as DH, he’s gonna be a huge help for Sam. Jonah has earned most of the time at this point, like he deserves to be in there every day and I think we're gonna give him a run.

“It’s three guys that I would think it'd be frontline [catchers] for a long time. It’s actually really exciting. Sam is still a part of our future. It's gonna be tough grooming him in the Major Leagues compared to being able to let him learn in the Minor Leagues. It's gonna be a little bit of work. There's gonna be some growing pains at the Major League level, but having Mitch and Jonah, it's really good for Sam.”