If Geovany Soto returns to the Soto of 2008 the Texas Rangers are set at catcher this season.
The problem with that is that it’s 2014 and Soto hasn’t been an everyday catcher since 2011, when he batted just .228 and played his way out of a starting role with the Cubs.
The Rangers are hoping that Soto can carry the bulk of the load this season after making just 49 starts in 2013. Still even if he does, the Rangers are a mid-pack team at catcher in the American League West despite the addition of backup J.P. Arencibia.
Soto hit .245 with nine homers and 22 RBI last season, including a .324 average after the All-Star break.
What the Rangers get from Soto at the plate isn’t the reason he’s the primary catcher though. The club loves the way he works with pitchers, particularly ace Yu Darvish. Soto caught 15 of Darvish’s starts last season, including the final five of the season.
If Soto falters, the Rangers have a solid security blanket in Arencibia. Arencibia hit 21 homers last year for Toronto but like Soto, he struggles to hit for average. In 380 games, he’s a career .212 hitter and is coming off a 2013 season in which he batted just .194. That matched the lowest mark in the majors since 1905 for any player with at least 450 at-bats.
The Rangers also have spring sensation Robinson Chirinos if needed, but he still isn’t a lock to make the roster.
The team with the best catching situation in the West is in Houston where the Astros have Jason Castro.
Castro made the All-Star team in his first full season behind the plate and hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 435 at-bats. While those aren’t huge numbers, for a Houston offense looking for any spark offensively that makes Castro a middle-of-the-order threat. He’s also got a solid backup behind him in Carlos Corporan, who smacked seven homers last season in 179 at-bats.
Oakland mixes and matches behind the plate, but the Athletics got solid production last year with the trio of Derek Norris, John Jason and Stephen Vogt and will go that route again this season.
Norris will do the majority of his work against lefties, as he hit .320 with nine homers and 25 RBI against LHP last season. Those numbers dropped to .149 with no homers in 114 at-bats against right-handers. Vogt hit .256 against righties while hit .282.
Los Angeles would like for Chris Iannetta to get the bulk of the work behind the plate but he hasn’t had more than 333 at-bats in a season yet.
Iannetta played in 115 games last season but hit just .225 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI. His numbers did pick up down the stretch after he got used to new contact lenses. Former first-rounder batted .249 with seven homers and 21 RBI as Iannetta’s primary backup last season. But he’s just a .225 hitter in the majors. The Angels also have veteran Yorvit Torrealba in camp.
The best catching prospect in the West is in Seattle where the Mariners are hoping for big things from Mike Zunino. In case Zunino struggles, Seattle has veteran John Buck to help the cause. In his 173 at-bats as a rookie, Zunino batted .214 with five home runs and 14 RBI.
Seattle will be the sixth major-league stop for Buck. Between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh last season, he had 15 home runs and 62 RBI.