2006 - The Highs
The fact that Gerald Laird was once tabbed to be the starting catcher of the Rangers three years ago tends to be an afterthought with the common Ranger fan. After the trade of then starting catcher Einar Diaz in 2004, Laird was thrust into the starting role and did so quite well, batting over .300 over the first month of his career as a starter. Then Laird suffered a torn left thumb ligament in a play at the plate and his season was put on hold. Rod Barajas was moved up the depth chart and took over catching duties - for the next three years.
Fast forward to 2006, where the uproar from fans and the media alike began to get louder and louder in regards to playing Barajas over the up-and-comer Laird. His time to shine did come, however, when physical ailments to Rod Barajas began sending him to the bench more and more often. In 243 at-bats, Laird ended the '06 campaign with a .296 average, seven homers, and 22 runs batted in over 78 games.That was the 12th-highest batting average among Major League catchers with at least 70 games played, and his .470 slugging percentage as a catcher was the ninth highest in all of baseball.
If anything, the lowest low of last season in the catching department was the mis-utilization of the two catchers for the Rangers - especially during the first half of the season. While Rod Barajas hit at a modest .265 before the All-Star break, Laird was busy tearing the cover off the ball with a .323 average and a .556 slugging percentage in limited playing time. And although you could make the case of his late-season workload catching up to him, Laird went into a deep slump late in the season that saw him hit only .191 in the month of September. He also struggled against left-handed pitching hitting only .241 as opposed to a .400 average against righties.
2007 Camp - Who's Invited?
Barring injury, Laird will once again leave camp as the starting catcher for the Texas Rangers. The club feels he's improved in every facet of his game including his ability to handle a pitching staff and call a game from behind the plate. Laird will also look to remain a tough catcher for opposing teams to run on by improving on his 40.7 percent caught stealing success rate(which by the way, is the fourth highest among active catchers who have started at least 130 games.)
He's the first of few candidates in line to fight it out for the role of backup catcher on the 2007 squad. Although he won't be a world beater by any sense of the imagination, he's a pretty decent option to have as a backup catcher with a lifetime .289 average with runners in scoring position.
On The Bubble
Quiroz is good insurance policy to have should Miguel Ojeda not be able to cut it as a backup to Laird. He's still very young, and it's very likely that he'll at least be able to put together a nice career as a backup catcher in the major leagues one day. Quiroz was given a bum deal by the Mariners last season who, after claiming him off waivers, had him play behind two other catchers in the minor leagues. Here in the Rangers organization, he will surely have the opportunity to be the starting guy at Triple-A until a time comes when he's needed at the big league level.
Sure, I may label him a long shot. But if there's an underdog to bet on in this race, it's definitely him. Stewart was acquired in a trade with the White Sox in January because the Rangers believed they needed more depth after losing Barajas and minor leaguer Nick Trzesniak. It's hard for me to believe his time will come this season, at least not right away. But Stewart is a great defensive catcher and has all the right tools to become a backup in the future.
Picked up in the Rule V Draft last year by the Rockies and traded to the Rangers, Mariquez will find himself among a litany of prospects at the catcher position throughout the Rangers' minor league system. He's in the right place to grow and become better and better.
Richardson turned in an outstanding year last season at Double-A Frisco. When he's not getting some work in with the pitching staff, he'll likely begin his season on the Triple-A roster as a catcher and part time designated hitter.
Position Battles: Catcher
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