The catchers position is a lot different than it was in the game of baseball twenty or thirty years ago. Gone are the days of guys like Mike Piazza or Johnny Bench having a fifteen or twenty year career all behind the plate. The Texas Rangers franchise was fortunate enough to enjoy the benefits of having an all-time great catcher in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez behind the plate from 1991-2002 and saw him become an American League All-Star and Gold Glove winner for ten straight seasons between 1992-2001 and the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player. After Rodriguez left via free agency following the 2002 season, the Rangers began a search for that next franchise-caliber starting catcher that still hasn’t ended to this day.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training this week, the Rangers will have veteran catcher Jeff Mathis tutoring second-year player Isiah Kiner-Falefa on how to be a successful defensive backstop. While the 35-year-old Mathis is no threat to become the long-time answer for the Rangers at catcher, maybe Kiner-Falefa can learn enough from him to make leaps and bounds after a full offseason and spring training preparing to be behind the plate. The Rangers seemed to make the decision to convert “IKF” on the fly last season after his bat proved too valuable to take out of the lineup after injuries to third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Rougned Odor left nowhere for him to play in the infield on a regular basis.
After appearing in 35 games as a catcher for Texas last year, Kiner-Falefa joined the ranks of several dozen players who have played catcher for the Rangers since the 2003 season. There have been nine different players penciled in as the starting catcher on Opening Day for Texas in the last sixteen seasons and it will become ten when either Kiner-Falefa, Jeff Mathis or Jose Trevino are behind the plate on March 28th when the Rangers open the season against the Chicago Clubs.
It’s obvious that you’re very curious about ALL of the players who have played catcher since 2003– I could tell by that look on your face — I’ll go ahead and list all of them here for you in order of games played at the position from least to greatest:
36. Jose Trevino
3 games in 2018
I won’t make a comment on all of the players, but recency bias makes me want to include this memorable moment Trevino had on Father’s Day this past year.
35. Miguel Ojeda
5 games (2006)
34. Danny Ardoin
6 games (2004)
33. Chad Kreuter
T-32. Luis Martinez
10 games (2012)
T-32. Juan Centeno
10 games (2018)
30. Guillermo Quiroz
11 games (2007)
29. Ken Huckaby
16 games (2004)
28. Chris Stewart
17 games (2007)
27. Carlos Perez
20 games (2018)
26. J.P. Arencibia
22 games (2014)
Arencibia was the Opening Day catcher for manager Ron Washington in 2014, but would eventually transition to first base before being off the team entirely by the end of the season.
25. Adam Melhuse
23 games (2007)
24. Tomas Telis
24 games (2014-2015)
23. Ivan Rodriguez
28 games (2009)
Hey look! He even appears on this list! Did you even remember his second stint with Texas after he was traded here at the trade deadline in 2009? It was definitely a fun story whenever it happened.
22. Bryan Holaday
29 games (2016)
Attended W.T. White High School in Dallas. That’s about all he had going for him.
21. Carlos Corporan
33 games (2015)
20. Isiah Kiner-Falefa
35 games (2018-present)
19. Brett Nicholas
36 games (2016-2017)
18. Max Ramirez
38 games (2008, 2010)
From here on out, I think there’s a considerable line to draw in the home plate dirt, if you will. 40 or so games in a season or more is just spot duty for a player. Maybe they were called up for an extended DL trip for a starter or brought in as a veteran insurance policy whenever no other player in the minor league system was ready to perform at the major league level. Every player listed from here on out was/was intended to be the team’s starting catcher for a season or was at least in a platoon role that saw them start a few games each week during a season.
17. Sandy Alomar Jr.
46 games (2005)
Now long-time coach for the Cleveland Indians reportedly was a candidate for Texas managerial opening last fall.
16. Bengie Molina
57 games (2010)
“PIGS HAVE FLOWN IN BOSTON!”
Great work by legendary Rangers broadcaster Josh Lewin. Molina is also now immortalized with a statue of himself and Neftali Feliz celebrating the Rangers winning the 2010 ALCS. The statue is right in front of what will be the left-field entry gate of Globe Life Field and just to the east of Texas Live.
15. Todd Greene
62 games (2003)
14. Chris Giminez
69 games (2014, 2015)
My Hispanic wife always got mad at me for saying his name “JI-MINEZ” instead of the usual “HIMINEZ” pronunciation the last name Jiminez gets.
13. Bobby Wilson
73 games (2015-2016)
12. Matt Treanor
89 games (2010-2011)
Yes, yes… We all know he is the wife of Olympic beach volleyball player Misty May Treanor.
11. Einar Diaz
101 games (2003)
Opening Day catcher for Jerry Narron’s 2003 squad.
10. Jonathan Lucroy
110 games (2016-2017)
Very, very expensive trade deadline acquisition that had his hitting performance hit a brick wall the size of Texas in 2017. Was traded at the deadline less than a year after he arrived.
9. Geovany Soto
111 games (2012-2014)
8. Taylor Teagarden
118 games (2008-2011)
Went to a high school in the same school district as me (Carrollton Creekview). Other than that, might be the most forgettable player in the top ten.
7. A.J. Pierzynski
119 games (2013)
Polarizing player-turned-broadcaster that was the Opening Day catcher for the 2013 Rangers and member of the unlikely 2005 champion Chicago White Sox.
6. Mike Napoli
133 games (2011-2012)
Fan favorite who had the go-ahead hit hit in the late innings of game five of the 2011 World Series.
Would eventually return to Texas for the 2017 season but had stopped playing catcher for several years by that point.
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
160 games (2007-2010)
“Salty” was the main prospect the Rangers got in return in the now legendary Mark Teixeira trade that also netted them Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison from the Atlanta Braves. Saltalamacchia would be the Opening Day catcher in 2008 and 2009 for Texas before problems getting the ball back to the mound would cause his eventual exit.
4. Yorvit Torrealba
162 games (2011-2012)
Started at catcher on both of his Opening Day’s in Texas.
3. Rod Barajas
325 games (2004-2006)
Solid backstop that was an Opening Day catcher in 2005 and 2006 reportedly had a chance to be Texas’ new manager this winter before the team opted for Chris Woodward.
2. Gerald Laird
374 games (2003-2008)
Was team’s Opening Day catcher in 2004, 2007 and 2008 but could never stay healthy long enough to reach his potential. Apparently was a member of the evil 2011 St. Louis Cardinals team that defeated the Rangers in the World Series? Honestly do not remember that at all.
1. Robinson Chirinos
419 games (2013-2018)
One of the most underappreciated players of the Rangers teams of this decade, Chirinos was the team’s Opening Day backstop for both the 2015 and 2016 AL West Champions and then last season’s squad as well. Although he had a bat that was very capable of going on some very hot streaks, he was never consistent enough at the plate or defensively for the Rangers to fully commit to him as their long-term answer at catcher (hence the all-in type trade for Jonathan Lucroy and them passing on his very affordable team option for this season).
Although he’ll be wearing the hated Houston Astros orange when he makes his way to Globe Life Park this season, Rangers fans should show their appreciation for the contributions Chirinos made as a player and teammate over the course of six seasons.
So there you have it. A lot of respectable players. A lot of “huh” and “who?” probably coming from you. The bottom line: The Rangers are still looking for their next long-term solution behind the plate.
Will Isiah Kiner-Falefa get enough reps there this season to prove he’s worthy of becoming an everyday starter? If the Rangers infield stays healthy and performs to expectations, IKF’s utility role won’t be necessary and he can focus on catching. As we just saw last season when Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus all missed extended time in the first few months of the season, there’s certainly no guarantee of a healthy infield.
Even if that’s the case, a slew of other options at catcher wouldn’t be anything new to the Rangers.
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