Sixth in a series of spring training previews
This won’t be the first time that Robinson Chirinos enters a season as the Texas Rangers’ No. 1 catcher, nor will it be the first time that the Rangers are weary of Chirinos’ ability to stay healthy over the course of a full season.
Chirinos is entering his fifth full season, yet he has never started more than 88 games behind the plate. That came in 2014, when J.P Arencibia was signed in the off-season to carry the catching load.
Arencibia didn’t last, nor did the Rangers’ playoff hopes because of the mother of all rashes of injuries, and Chirinos got his chance. He was in the Opening Day lineup the next two seasons, starting 73 and 46 games.
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A strained non-throwing shoulder and a broken right arm cost him time in 2015 and 2016, and so did the acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy. He was the Opening Day starter last season, and Chirinos gutted his way through a Grade 2 hamstring strain down the stretch after Lucroy had been traded.
That history shows that the Rangers might have to put a heavy workload on their backup catcher, and maybe even the first man up in the minors. Even if Chirinos stays healthy, catcher is the one position in baseball where it’s not uncommon for the backup to start one-third of his team’s games.
One of the handful of things the Rangers must figure out this spring is who will be the backup. They are still scanning the free-agent market.
Here is a look at the candidates currently signed up for camp, excluding 40-man member and infielder-transitioning-to-catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Brett Nicholas: A front-runner to get the first crack at being Chirinos’ backup is this minor-league veteran who has shown well in brief big-league opportunities the past two seasons.
His strengths are his left-handed power and his deep knowledge of the pitching staff after eight seasons in the organization. But he wasn’t always a full-time catcher in the minors, and he’s still not a finished product defensively.
Curt Casali: No other candidate has as much big-league experience as this non-roster invitee, who has spent the past four seasons with Tampa Bay. He as shown ample pop at the plate, albeit with meager averages, but had only nine at-bats last season.
He’s capable defensively, with good pitch framing to go with an average arm. He also is a former Rays teammate of Matt Moore, one of the five members of the Rangers’ projected rotation.
Juan Centeno: The off-season waiver claim has the most MLB experience among the backup candidates on the 40-man roster, most recently with the Houston Astros. If the Rangers are seeking an edge against the reigning world champs, who will visit Globe Life Park to open the season, perhaps Centeno can provide some inside info.
He batted .311 last season in Triple A, but with only one homer. He swatted two for the Astros in his first stint with them, but didn’t hit another. There have been concerns about his pitch framing, and he has thrown only four of the past 29 attempted base stealers.
Mike Ohlman: This is one big human, so he should fit right in the Rangers’ clubhouse at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. With that size comes some pop at the plate, but the vast majority of his career has been in the minors.
Ohlman, who made his MLB debut last season, won’t wow with the glove. He won’t hurt the Rangers with his arm, but he won’t shut down opposing running games. Despite his size, he moves well behind the plate.
Jose Trevino: If the decision came down strictly to defense, Trevino would win the job. He has won consecutive Gold Gloves as the best defensive catcher. The former college shortstop threw out 41 percent of base stealers last season, picked off four runners and had only three passed balls in 99 games.
The Rangers also love Trevino’s game calling and leadership, and say he can catch in the majors now even though he has never played above Double A. But he will likely open at Triple A Round Rock because his bat isn’t ready for the majors.