Wasted Talent in Texas

You have to give Texas manager Ron Washington some credit for helping to turn around the Rangers franchise and make it a legitimate playoff contender in 2009. You can also, though, give the third-year Texas manager credit for wearing down his regular position players, and especially his starting catcher. To make matters worse, Washington is also ruining a pretty good talent in the process.

To this point, Texas has played 74 games. Young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 24, has appeared in 58 games (78%). Back-up catcher and promising rookie (among the club’s 10 best prospects entering the season) Taylor Teagarden, 25, has appeared in just 19 games (26%).

I could maybe understand this if Saltalamacchia was head-and-shoulders above Teagarden both offensively and/or defensively. However, the starting catcher does not have the strongest reputation as a defensive catcher. In fact, there was talk at one point that he would have to move to first base. Teagarden, on the other hand, was considered the best defense catcher in all of college baseball when he was drafted in the third round out of the University of Texas in 2005. He continued to showcase good defensive skills in the minors, as well as the ability to throw out a ton of base runners on a consistent basis.

Offensively, Saltalamacchia is hitting .250/.297/.377 in 204 at-bats on the season. He also has a strikeout rate of 37.3%, which is borderline horrendous. Toss in a walk rate of 6.4%, as well as the habit of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone almost 35% of the time, and you have a pretty poor approach at the plate. Teagarden is hitting .230/.299/.311 in just 61 at-bats so he hasn’t even had a chance to get in a groove. The rookie has played in back-to-back games just twice this season and the last time came on April 30/May 1. His last three appearances were on June 12th, 18th, and 24th – each six days apart. Is that any way to treat a promising rookie?

This is not the first time that Washington has ridden his starting catcher too heavily. In 2007, he played Gerald Laird in 120 games, while relying on back-up catchers Adam Melhuse and Chris Stewart for just 41 games combined. I also watched a number of Rangers spring training games that season and was amazed at how many innings the manager had Laird play in the Arizona heat.

Texas is not an easy place to play because of the extremely warm weather in the summer, and the catcher’s position is the most demanding, for obvious reasons. Sure, Pudge Rodriguez caught an inhuman number of game behind the plate in his Rangers career, but he was an exception to the rule. Under the heavy workload, Saltalamacchia’s numbers have dipped each month, from .276/.300/.448 in April to .239/.271/.299 in June. His OPS has gone from .748 to .707 to .570.

There is absolutely no reason why Washington should be relying so heavily on Saltalamacchia, while an equally-promising young catcher (more so on defense) wastes away on the bench. There are plenty of veteran minor league catchers who could offer league-average offense for a back-up catcher, while providing excellent mentoring for Saltalamacchia and leadership to the young pitchers on the staff. Three names to consider would be Sal Fasano in Colorado Springs, Mark Johnson in Iowa and Dusty Brown in Pawtucket.

Teagarden has above-average raw power and excellent defensive skills, which could make him an extremely valuable starting catcher for a long time, even if he does hit just .230-.250. Washington’s use of him, though, is hurting his present and future value. The young catcher would be much better off playing everyday in the minors. The club could also use him as trade bait to bring in some MLB-ready pitching. The problem is, though, that the club is also ruining his trade value. If Teagarden ever escapes from Washington’s treatment, he has the potential to become a solid fantasy league option at the catching position.

Someone needs to step up and talk some sense into the manager.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

8 Responses to “Wasted Talent in Texas”

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  1. Rob says:

    Ian Kinsler could use a break, too.

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  2. Bozo says:

    “Someone needs to step up and talk some sense into the manager.”

    Good luck with that, they have another clown as GM. Remember all the teams who so badly wanted/needed one of the Rangers’ catchers at last year’s trade deadline and even the offseason ?

    Now most of them have found internal replacements or wouldn’t come close to offering what they would have before. One of Daniel’s SEVERAL flaws, not knowing the right time when to trade or trade for a player.

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    • t ball says:

      “Remember all the teams who so badly wanted/needed on of the Rangers’ catchers…”

      Ok, that’s just funny. The market for catchers was not very good last offseason or trade deadline, and Laird got injured last July, and both Salty and Teagarden both had injury and performance ups and downs last year. Daniels chose not to sell low and you’re saying he doesn’t know the right time to trade?

      Daniels did the right thing, got some decent value for Laird, and has plenty of time to evaluate which of Salty/Tea/Max is a keeper while waiting for a better catchers market. You’re a fool.

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  3. Ezra says:

    Teagarden for Penny.

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  4. Goyogringo says:

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant piece! Almost as good as Carruth’s Feliz screed.

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    • Xman says:

      “Almost as good as Carruth’s Feliz screed.”

      The one that included “Guess what Rangers, your rotation sucks too?” and apparently got deleted?

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  5. Aaron/YYZ says:

    Amen, Marc! There’s so very little to recommend Salty over Teagarden performance-wise, and stunting the latter’s growth is a terrible long term strategy.

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  6. Choo says:

    Worse yet, Teagarden has only appeared in two games in which he hasn’t started. In other words, he isn’t spelling Salty at all during the late innings of blow-outs or close games when Texas is protecting a lead.

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