Surprise positional outlook: Catcher

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden will be battling throughout spring training to become the Rangers' starting catcher. US Presswire

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Fittingly, as pitchers and catchers get going here at spring training, we turn our attention to them in our positional outlooks. We'll look at catcher today and then shift to the five starting rotation spots next week just to give you a glimpse of each position and player.

One of the biggest questions of the spring is whether Jarrod Saltalamacchia can show he's healthy. If he is, he's expected to be behind the plate on opening day. But that doesn't mean it's simply Saltalamacchia's job to lose. Taylor Teagarden will get his opportunity as well.

So far, Saltalamacchia has progressed nicely since returning to baseball conditioning in January. He had a setback in winter ball, feeling some discomfort in his arm in his first few games. He was shut down for a month, but it was determined that he didn't suffer any additional damage to his shoulder or arm.

Saltalamacchia, 24, started the 2009 season as the No. 1 catcher, but played in just 84 games because of complications from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Saltalamacchia had right shoulder soreness and was having trouble throwing the ball back to the mound at times. He batted .233 with nine homers and 34 RBIs and had 97 strikeouts (and 22 walks) in 283 at-bats.

Saltalamacchia has talked this offseason about focusing on staying healthy and getting more consistent at the plate. The reality is the Rangers didn't get much offensively from the catching position all season. Rangers' catchers hit .234 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs. They had 188 strikeouts in 568 at-bats. Only the first base position had more strikeouts for the club last season. The catching batting average was 23rd in the majors and the strikeouts were No.1. But it wasn't all bad news from an offensive standpoint. The Rangers' catchers had 74 runs, eighth in the majors.

But there's no doubt, getting more from the catching position on offense is something the Rangers need this season. Taylor Teagarden could have a say in that as well. He was Saltalamacchia's backup last season and struggled at the plate himself. He hit .217 with six homers and 24 RBIs (with 76 strikeouts and 14 walks in 198 at-bats). The Rangers, needing some help at catcher, traded for Pudge Rodriguez in August when Saltalamacchia went down. But he's not back this season.

They did bring in veteran catcher Toby Hall as insurance should Saltalamacchia experience some setbacks.

But the Rangers want the two young catchers to grab the job. Manager Ron Washington talked last season about making sure both of them got to know the pitching staff and could call a good game. Both improved steadily in that area in 2009. And they'll start right now getting used to the new faces on the Rangers' staff. Saltamacchia's catching ERA was 4.10 with Teagarden at 4.60. They had a combined 13 errors in 2009.

The club considers both quality defenders and it's a part of the game they continue to work hard at. The key will be finding that balance of handling pitchers well, playing solid defense and contributing a little more at the bottom of the order with the bat.

"There's nothing wrong with some healthy competition," Washington said Thursday. "It's what I've always preached I've wanted to see from my catchers: handling the pitching staff, getting them through innings, helping through bad times. It gets back to leadership too."

Catching will be fun to watch this spring.