For Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, it's taken him quite a while to get to this point. But now in his 11th season of professional baseball, he's putting together a season to remember. Like his fellow Rangers teammates, Jonah has exceeded expectations in 2023. And also like the rest of the clubhouse, it took a lot of work to get here.
Life in the minor leagues
As a fourth-round selection for the Baltimore Orioles in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, Heim didn't come in with astronomical expectations. But he wasn't exactly your protypical "underdog," either. After all, some pretty big names have come from the fourth round in history. Hall of Famers like shortstop Ozzie Smith, first baseman Jeff Bagwell, and stolen base king Rickey Henderson lead the list.
But still, Heim struggled for the first couple of seasons in the Baltimore farm system and by the 2016 MLB trade deadline, the Orioles had shipped him off to the Tampa Bay Rays in an attempt to bolster their short-lived 2016 playoff appearance.
While things got better for the young backstop, he still found himself dealt away yet again in the 2017 offseason to the Oakland Athletics as the back end of a winter deal.
It took until the winter of 2019 before Heim finally cracked an MLB 40-man roster. The previous season in AAA, he'd batted .359 with a solid .412 OBP in 119 plate appearances. While he hadn't shown much power, he did manage four dingers that year, catching the attention of Oakland brass.
Making the Show and the move to Texas
Jonah made his MLB debut in the midst of the odd, COVID-shortened 2020 season. However, he didn't do anything spectacular in 13 games with a .211 average. And the kicker to the story is that all eight of his first MLB hits that season were singles.
So the following spring, it probably didn't surprise him much to see he was sold off yet again. Although this time, the Rangers brought him in and they happened to need a catcher.
Since he didn't register much playing time at the MLB level, he spent 2021 officially as a "rookie." Suddenly, his power came back and although his batting average still suffered some, he belted 10 home runs and drove in 32 runs while playing 82 games, playing 74 of them at catcher.
Jonah particularly shined batting 8th in the lineup that year where he hit three of his 10 longballs and batted .293 with a modest .349 OBP. The rookie wasn't setting the world on fire by any means, but he was producing for a team that badly needed offense.
Discovering new talent
Then last season, Heim beat his rookie homer total by six and drove in a career-high 48 runs with a new career-high .227 average. By this point, his offense was decent, but he'd earned his spot for his defense.
As many Ranger players and fans quickly discovered, Jonah has a pretty spectacular gift. Yes, he's not bad at throwing out theiving baserunners. But the guy can frame a pitch like nobody's business. Honestly that in-and-of-itself makes him an asset at catcher that Rangers fans haven't felt this way about since Hall of Famer Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez, if he could just get his bat going, too. Enter 2023.
This season, Heim is on another level. He's upped his game, and maybe the time with Rangers hitting coach Tim Hyers has finally started making a difference. But either way, the switch-hitting catcher has already matched last season's home run total (16) after his seventh inning grand slam last night against the Toronto Blue Jays. As a side note, here's a fun fact: His previous home run was a grand slam in a game against the Minnesota Twins that we won't mention otherwise.
What should Texas do now with Jonah Heim?
So what is the point of all this? Jonah is about to become arbitration eligible, and had made just $746k for the season. And while most would love to make that in a year, it ranks him 44th among all catchers. To further illustrate this point, think about the following.
His current backup, Austin Hedges, who came over from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline, will make $5 million this season. His second backup, Mitch Garver will make $3.9 million. Furthermore, 12 teams have multiple catchers making more than Heim this season. It's high time to pay the man.
Currently, Heim leads all players listed primarily as catchers in RBIs (82), and ranks in the top 10 in home runs and runs scored. Also, while Heim currently sits 22 plate appearances shy of "qualification" in the batting average race, his current average would put him at fifth among currently-qualified catchers. And if we were to just hand him the 22 plate appearances (as is the custom at times when a player still has a high-enough average to lead the league), that would still rank him among the top 10 catchers in batting average.
He will be arbitration eligible for the 2024 season, and becomes free agency eligible following the 2026 campaign. While he will more than likely sign one big one-year deal and then make his case the next offseason, let's just put some quick numbers together to lock him up through that 2027 season.
He's an offensive threat to go deep and drive in runs while getting on base himself. His glove helps pitchers earn more strike calls on average, and he throws runners out at a pace better than the major league average. This puts him easily among the top 10 of current catchers.
Yan Gomes of the Chicago Cubs makes $6 million this season and currently ranks 10th. Perhaps General Manager Chris Young should start by offering a four-year deal worth $7.5 million per season. That might be enough to keep him well-paid and happy here in Arlington until free agency hits. And as long as he keeps hitting, fans would be happy with that deal, too.