Whether the Texas Rangers add another player such as Mike Napoli, the plan for 2017, in part, has been to rely on the full-season services of some late editions from a season ago.
The biggest of those is catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who is arguably one of the top two backstops in the game, the other being the Giants’ Buster Posey.
The Rangers hope Lucroy, 30, is just hitting his stride offensively and that he produces even bigger numbers at the plate than he did in 2016 in which he finished with a .292/.355/.500 slash line with the Brewers and Rangers.
“I’m looking forward to a whole year with them instead of just two months,” Lucroy said. “The two months I was here last year was just a blast being around them so I’m really looking forward to being around them for a full year.”
After joining the Rangers via trade on Aug. 1, Lucroy hit 11 homers and drove in 31 of his 81 RBIs in 47 games. His career-high 24 homers trumped his previous high by six.
“To be able to have him on the club the entire year [will be big], plus he’s going to get to know our pitchers more, probably have a little more insight, not as much learning on the go,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “Same thing with our pitchers, too.”
Robinson Chirinos provides a sturdy backup who has the respect of the pitching staff. Injuries have dogged Chirinos the past two seasons but with Lucroy starting most of the games that shouldn’t be an issue in ’17.
Both Lucroy and Chirinos have elected to play in the World Baseball Classic. While that sounds risky, neither will play every day. A benefit, however, is the chance it affords some of the younger catchers in the organization during spring training. Brett Nicholas, Patrick Cantwell and young rising prospect Jose Trevino will get ample opportunity to work with the major league pitchers.
Nicholas, 28, made his major league debut in 15 games last season. He’s likely to be the first man called up if injuries become an issue at the position.
The Rangers, of course, hope that’s not the case and that Lucroy is on the field for at least 145 or more games. If he is, they believe, it’s an automatic boost to the offense and helps cover the offensive void left with the departures of Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland.
“There’s a lot of reasons to believe we’re going to be better, but that’s all on paper,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “It’s got to play out on the field.”
Here’s a look at the catchers:
Jonathan Lucroy: He’s expected to be a major part of the offense in his first full season with the Rangers.
Robinson Chirinos: He provides a dependable backup to Lucroy after a couple of seasons in which injuries have limited his action.
Brett Nicholas: The 28-year-old made his major league debut with 15 games in ’16 but spent most of the year in Triple A, hitting .288 with 27 doubles and 13 homers.
Patrick Cantwell: He played in 54 games with Round Rock after spending much of 2016 spring training in major-league camp.
Jose Trevino: The 24-year-old prospect hit .303 with nine homers, 68 RBIs and 30 doubles in 109 games at High A High Desert and should be fun to watch progress at Double A Frisco this season.
Brett Hayes: The 33-year-old veteran has six seasons of major league experience with the Marlins, Royals and lastly with the Indians in ’15. He hit .188 with one homer in 31 games in Triple A in ’16.