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2009 Impact Rookie: Taylor Teagarden

The Texas Rangers organization is rich in backstops. The club traded veteran catcher Gerald Laird to the Detroit Tigers this past winter (for much-needed young pitchers Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo), which still left the club with three young players at the position.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was obtained from Atlanta in 2007 in the Mark Teixeira deal, has the most experience at the position with 154 games at the Major League level. In 198 MLB at-bats in 2008, the 23-year-old switch-hitter batted .253/.352/.364. Max Ramirez, obtained in 2007 from Cleveland for Kenny Lofton, made his MLB debut this past season and appeared in 17 games. The 24-year-old spent the majority of his season in Double-A and hit .354/.450/.646 in 243 at-bats.

The best of the bunch though – and most well-rounded – is Taylor Teagarden, whom the club drafted out of the University of Texas in the third round of the 2005 draft. The 25-year-old’s road to the Majors was slowed by injuries (including Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow), but he made his MLB debut in 2008 and hit .319/.396/.809 with six home runs in just 47 at-bats.

Earlier in the season, while playing at Double-A and Triple-A, Teagarden struggled to hit for average but was once again battling injuries. In 2007, split between High-A and Double-A, the right-handed hitting catcher slugged 27 home runs and hit .308 combined. Teagarden is not likely to hit for a high average in the Majors, despite his previous averages, but the power is for real. He has a long swing and has trouble making consistent contact with strikeout rates of more than 30.0 K% in his career.

Regardless of his offensive contributions, the Texas native will be a valuable MLB catcher based solely on his defense. Teagarden was considered the best defensive catcher in college in 2005 – and possibly in the entire draft that season. In fact, some scouts had serious questions about his ability to hit professional pitching, but almost everyone agreed that he would play in the Majors thanks to his potential Gold Glove defense. He is also a leader on the field and throws well (38% caught stealing in 2008).

Although Saltalamacchia and Ramirez may offer a little more offense – especially in terms of average and consistency, Teagarden is the better all-around-player due to his defensive contributions (the other two are average at best behind the dish) and power threat. From a fantasy perspective, expect a .240-.250 average with 15-20 home runs if he gets the lion’s share of the playing time in 2009.