Texas Rangers Position Preview: Catcher is in flux, but Jose Trevino is on the way
By Ben Zajdel
No position is in more of a flux for the Texas Rangers than catcher. Here’s how you can expect the backstop to play out in 2019.
Who will be the Texas Rangers’ everyday catcher in 2019? The easy answer, at least right now, is some combination of Jeff Mathis and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The problem with that, however, is that neither player has started more than 90 games at catcher in their major league careers. One is a career journeyman with a career WAR of 1.0. The other is a second year super-utility man with an unproven track record.
While there’s no reason to be pessimistic about the Rangers’ duo of catchers, there’s also no reason to expect a breakout year by either.
Mathis didn’t do much at the plate last season, putting up a .200/.272/.272 slash. Though, he’s quite good behind the plate. He caught 36% of attempted base stealers in 2018, a number that would have placed him ninth in MLB if he had the minimum number of attempts to qualify. The Rangers brought Mathis in to be a clubhouse leader and to provide a veteran presence for the pitching staff and for an inexperienced Kiner-Falefa.
Kiner-Falefa started 35 games at catcher last season and he slashed .261/.325/.357 on offense. He has a better bat than Mathis, but probably can’t call a game as effectively. That shouldn’t matter, however, as Texas will trot out a veteran pitching staff, at least to start the year. Kiner-Falefa is comparable to Mathis as far as throwing out runners. I expect IKF to get most of the starts if he hits as well as he did 2018, with Mathis spelling him for rest on occasion.
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I suspect the Texas Rangers’ front office would like the season to play out like this: Kiner-Falefa and Mathis hold down the fort until late June, at which time Jose Trevino forces their hand and gets promoted to the big club.
Trevino will go to spring training, and Texas will hope he lights up the Cactus League. That might earn him a promotion to Triple-A Nashville (he still might be assigned there even if he struggles), and if he hits well enough, a mid-summer call-up seems likely.
Trevino already proved that the major leagues weren’t too big for him when he played three games for the Rangers last season. You may remember his exciting walk-off single on Father’s Day.
His hitting has been a problem at the minor league levels. Last year he batted only .234 at Double-A Frisco, but he was hampered by a shoulder injury the last half of the season. I expect a healthy Trevino to put up better numbers at the plate in 2019. Being more selective at the plate will be important.
The Rangers see Trevino as their catcher of the future. It would be ideal if he can take a leap in this rebuild year and get some reps at the major league level. The Rangers see themselves returning to competitiveness in 2020 at the earliest. The more major league pitching Trevino sees between now and then, the better.
I think the Rangers will consider the catcher position a success if Kiner-Falefa improves his hitting incrementally, proving himself to be a capable starter and eventual backup to the more talented Trevino. In a year that will probably be frustrating in the standings, Texas Rangers fans can look to the development of two young catchers as a measure of success.