Texas Rangers Need More Production from Catcher to Remain in Contention

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Texas Rangers Need More Production from Catcher to Remain in Contention
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With roughly a quarter of the 2010 MLB season in the books, the Texas Rangers currently find themselves in sole possession of first place in the AL West.

Entering play Thursday, the 23-18 record quite nearly has the team on track to match Nolan Ryan’s prediction of 92 wins. The current pace would leave the Rangers about one win shy of the mark if the numbers were extrapolated across a 162-game season.

In order to stay in contention, the organization hopes to have a number of issues resolved as the season progresses.

Offseason acquisition Rich Harden hasn’t panned out as of yet, but with the money invested in him, it remains likely the Rangers will continue to hope he will rediscover the velocity and command that once made him virtually unhittable, when healthy.

With fastballs consistently topping out between 90-91 mph, Harden has looked anything but dominant thus far in 2010, struggling to get deep into games and having nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

At first base, generally regarded as an offensive-heavy position, the Rangers quickly demoted Chris Davis after he failed to carry over his spring training production to the regular season. His replacement, highly-touted prospect Justin Smoak, has yet to put up gaudy numbers, yet has managed to get on base by drawing 16 walks.

While in previous years, pitching has been the main concern for the organization, this version of the Rangers may actually have more to worry about at the catcher position.

While prospects from the 2007 trade of Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves have helped the Rangers tremendously—Elvis Andrus already looks to be a perennial All-Star at shortstop and Neftali Feliz, at the very least, looks to be a solid closer/reliever—the main acquisition for the Texas Rangers in the trade, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has yet to pan out.

In the 1994 movie Major League II , a veteran catcher/manager on the team, Jake Taylor, is asked to help rookie catcher Rube Baker with a problem. While the story takes some time to develop, the audience eventually learns that, while Baker is able to make all of the flashy plays, he struggles getting the ball back to the pitcher. At one point in the movie, Taylor begins to ask Baker questions as the following exchange ensues:

“Rube, what's going through your head just before you throw the ball back to the pitcher?”

I'm thinking, ‘Damn, I don't want to screw this up.’"

“Well, what are you thinking when you throw a strike to nail the runner down at second base?”

“Well, I, I'm not thinking nothing. I just throw it.”

“You see what I'm getting at?”

“You want the pitcher to pitch from second base?”

The notion that a professional-caliber catcher would have difficulty getting the ball consistently back to the pitcher seems laughable, yet is the exact reason that Saltalamacchia—the same player that gave the Rangers a win on opening day with his walk-off single—is stuck in AAA Oklahoma City.

By many accounts, during a game Tuesday, May 11, Saltalamacchia was unable to get the ball to the pitcher on at least 12 occasions. While the initial cause of the throwing problems resulted from thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosed during the 2009 season, Saltalamacchia has seemingly been able to make all of the other plays in AAA, including hitting .339 with three home runs and nine RBI in 19 games for the RedHawks.

While Saltalamacchia will visit a sports psychologist for the issue, which now seems to be more mental rather than physical, the Rangers hope he recovers sooner rather than later. Expected backup Taylor Teagarden was more than awful at the plate and has seen himself demoted to AA Frisco, leaving the Rangers with veteran journeyman Matt Treanor and unproven Max Ramirez.

The Texas Rangers will need more offensive production than what has been offered if the team plans to remain a contender and potentially make a playoff run. While no one expects Joe Mauer, most would love to see better than the .194 batting average that has been sported by the catchers on the roster.

A good portion of the 2010 losses have stemmed from an inability to get key hits with men on base. At times, this entails the bottom part of the order—for example, the catcher—being able to get a few timely hits. While it hasn’t caught up to the team yet, the Rangers can’t expect the rest of their division to play so inconsistently for the rest of the season.

For the record, Rube Baker eventually ironed out his problem by reciting lines from a lingerie catalog.

The Rangers know it won’t be that easy for Saltalamacchia, but they would sure rather him figure out his mental block sooner rather than later; their playoff future could hinge on it.

Brandon Land is the founder and columnist for View from the Bench Sports, found at viewfromthebench.com

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