Pierzynski gives Texas West edge behind plate

The American League West isn’t exactly a hot bed for catchers.

The best catcher in the West in 2013 didn’t even play in the division last year as Texas catcher A.J. Pierzynski came over from the Chicago White Sox via free agency.

Pierzynski is the only No. 1 catcher in the division who caught more than half of his team’s games last season, which is one of the reasons he’s elevated the Rangers to the top of the rankings in division catchers.

Here’s a look at the catching rankings for the West.

1. Texas – At one point in the offseason, the Rangers were planning to go with Geovany Soto as their primary catcher this season despite a 2012 year that saw him hit just .198 between the Rangers and Chicago Cubs. But Texas, which had Mike Napoli as its No. 1 last year, upgraded the spot by signing free agent A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski is as durable as they come behind the plate, having caught at least 112 games every year for the last decade. Pierzynski, 36, is coming off one of his best offensive seasons as he won a Silver Slugger Award for the White Sox. The left-handed hitting Pierzynski had 28 homers and 78 RBIs in 2012 to go along with a .278 average. He also threw out 26 percent of the baserunners who tried to steal against him. That’s not great, but it’s better than the 20 percent the Rangers got as a team last season.

Team production in 2012: .228 average, 23 home runs, 78 RBI, .708 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .260 average, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, .725 OPS

2. Seattle – Jesus Montero, who was one of the top prospects in the game entering 2012, will get a chance to be the No. 1 catcher for Seattle this season. Montero had a solid first season in Seattle last year, batting .260 with 15 home runs. The bulk of his work came as the Mariners designated hitter even though he batting .310 in games he caught. He only caught 55 games last season and struggled to throw out baserunners, hitting on just 11 of the 65 runners who tried to steal against him. But he’s still just 23 years old and the Mariners want his bat in the lineup. Seattle also has a solid safety net behind Montero in former Baylor standout Kelly Shoppach. The veteran Shoppach had eight homers and 27 RBIs in a part-time role last season for Boston and the New York Mets. He also threw out 33 percent of runners trying to steal against him.

Team production in 2012: .278 average, 27 home runs, 82 RBI, .783 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .280 average, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, .750 OPS

3. Los Angeles – The Angels need Chris Iannetta to do something this season he wasn’t able to do in 2012, remain healthy. Iannetta was limited to 79 games in 2012 after missing three months because of thumb injury and fractured wrist. He hit .240 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in the half season he played last year. He’s also got the ability to throw out 30 percent of baserunners when he’s healthy, which is something he did in 2011 with Colorado. The main reason the Angels need Iannetta in the lineup is because they are thin behind him. Hank Conger, who has made a career out of being a Los Angeles prospect, still hasn’t been able to make the transition to hitting in the majors. In 79 big-league games, he’s batting just .201. But the backup job is his this year. The Angels just have to hope that his role is only as a backup and Iannetta stays healthy.

Team production in 2012: .225 average, 15 home runs, 44 RBI, .652 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .250 average, 20 home runs, 65 RBI, .675 OPS

4. Oakland – The Athletics look to be setting themselves up for a solid platoon behind the plate this year. Oakland picked up veteran catcher John Jaso in a trade with Seattle last year and will likely pair the left-handed hitting Jaso with Derek Norris, a holdover behind the plate from last year’s division-winning team. Jaso is familiar with the role, having split time behind the plate in each of the last three years. He hit a career high .276 last year with the Mariners and also set career marks with homers (10) and RBI (50). Norris, who was a top prospect in Washington before coming to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade, barely managed to hit over the Mendoza line as a rookie. He batted .201 but did show some pop with seven home runs and 34 RBI, with those power numbers leading all Oakland catchers.

Team production in 2012: .204 average, 14 home runs, 69 RBI, .587 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .250 average, 25 home runs, 60 RBI, .650 OPS

5. Houston – The Astros, who had disastrous drafts in the last decade, actually may have hit on a top pick in catcher Jason Castro. A former first-rounder, Castro is expected to be the No. 1 catcher for Houston this season after sharing time with Chris Snyder last season. Castro played in a career high 87 games in 2012 and hit .257 with six home runs and 29 RBI. Those numbers are solid, especially when you consider that Castro missed the entire 2011 season because of a torn ACL. Houston would like to see him catch 125 games this season, with Carlos Corporan backing him up. Corporan hit .269 in 27 games for the Astros last year.

Team production in 2012: .224 average, 17 home runs, 63 RBI, .683 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .250 average, 20 home runs, 70 RBI, .650 OPS