2024 Spring Training Preview- Catcher
The offseason is still not over and Texas could add another catcher to the roster before spring training. On January 3rd Texas has Jonah Heim, Sam Huff, and Andrew Knapp currently on the roster in position to compete for two roster spots. Let's examine what each of these guys brings and what they can improve upon from 2023.
We are going to start with Jonah Heim. He is going to once again get the most starts if he is able to remain healthy. It has been a good offseason to this point for Heim. When he returned from the IL in August, it was thought that he would need offseason wrist surgery. Once the season ended he got rest and it was determined after a few weeks that surgery would not be necessary. He will be entering spring training fully healthy. That is a nice surprise coming off a year where he caught 141 games. That was far and away a career-high for Heim and something to keep in mind for this upcoming season.
There are three things that I am going to be looking for with Jonah Heim this season. First, can Heim do just as much with less. 141 games and over 1,000 innings is a lot for any catcher especially one that is as tall as Heim is. I think Bochy is going to try and get him more games at DH this season and maybe more days off at least early in the season. Heim is a long-term investment for Texas and they want to make sure he is behind the plate for the next several years.
Second, I want to see Heim continue increasing his on-base percentage this season. In three seasons Heim has went from .239 to .317. If he can get that up just a little bit more he can become an .800 OPS player which would increase his value to this team and take him up another tier among offensive players. That would require more walks and more hits. I think he can get that up to maybe .330 and increase his batting average to .270. I don't know what his ceiling is, but I do not think he has reached it yet.
Third, this is just a nit-pick, but seven passed balls in 2023. Maybe cut that down slightly to five or fewer. He can maybe get that done, just by playing slightly fewer games. If he does this combined with everything else he provides he will not just become one of the best catchers, but one of the best players in the game.
Let's take a look next at Sam Huff. His production or lack of will determine how many games Heim plays behind the plate. If Huff is productive at the plate and plays well enough defensively then he will get two starts per week and maybe some weeks three behind the plate. Texas is betting big on Huff. They let Mitch Garver walk to a division rival in Seattle because they want to find out about Huff. He has to prove that he can be consistent at the plate and that his big body can play good defense. I think Huff needs to be a 20+ home run guy this season with 50 or more RBIs. The power is certainly there for Huff. He has hit 20 or more home runs three times in the minors with a high of 28 back in 2019. If he can do that then he will get more starts and allow Heim to get more rest. Second, Huff has to play good defense and earn the confidence of the pitching staff. That includes improving his pitch-framing abilities and calling good games. Huff has to get better at throwing runners out. Last season in the few starts he received Huff allowed six stolen bases and did not throw anyone out. He has to be quicker in those situations. Those stolen bases could be the difference between winning and losing in some situations. I will be watching what he does at the plate, but more importantly, what he does behind the plate will determine how much playing time he ultimately receives.
Finally, Andrew Knapp was brought in as a player with a minor-league deal who will receive an invite to spring training. He just turned 32 and Texas will be his eighth organization to play for. He played a few seasons in Philadelphia. He has spent time playing for Pittsburgh, Seattle, and San Francisco as well. He also was in the Cincinnati, Houston, and Detroit minor-leagues, but never got called up. He feels like a player brought in to be an extra body for spring training and if someone gets hurt he can be their backup catcher. He has not done much in his career offensively as he has a career .209 batting average. He spent the entire 2023 season in the minor leagues and hit .233 with nine home runs. I would expect that if Heim and Huff both are healthy for Opening Day Knapp is in Round Rock as organizational depth and will only be called up in case of an injury. He is a good insurance blanket to have much like Sandy Leon was early on in the 2023 season.
2024 will have plenty of surprises in store for Texas. Jonah Heim is going to hopefully be the starter at catcher. The big storyline to watch for this season will be the success or failure of Sam Huff. It has been almost eight years since he was drafted and he will be 26-years old by opening day. It is finally time to see what he has. Huff is at a similar point in his career as Heim was when Texas finally acquired him and gave him an opportunity. We will find out in 2024 if Huff is a late bloomer like Heim and can grab ahold of this backup catcher role. If he plays well he could earn some playing time at DH in a similar role to what Mitch Garver had in 2023. It will be a fun storyline to keep track of through spring training and into the regular season.