With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at catcher Jonah Heim.
One of the hallmarks of Jon Daniels’ tenure has been a certain emphasis on gathering up young catchers in the system.
One of Daniels’ first trades, the infamous Adam Eaton trade, had the Padres sending catcher Billy Killian to Texas in the deal. a throw-in that the Rangers reportedly targeted, in part, because of the belief that there was value to be had in hoarding catching prospects.
When catcher Nick Trzesniak became a minor league free agent after the 2005 season, the Rangers reportedly money-whipped the former Padres first rounder on a minor league deal to get him to sign with the Rangers.
2007 saw the Rangers acquire Max Ramirez and Jarrod Saltamacchia via trade, joining 2005 3rd rounder Taylor Teagarden in the system. Kellin Deglan was a first round pick in 2010. More recently, the Rangers have used picks in the early rounds on Pat Cantwell, Matt Whatley, Jose Trevino and Ian Moller, have attempted conversions of Josh Morgan and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to catching, signed David Garcia out of Venezuela to a hefty bonus, and have generally cast a wide net in seeking out catching prospects.
Which makes it a bit ironic that they’ve struggled to find a quality long-term option at catcher during this time.
One of their more recent attempts to snag a young quality catcher occurred in the 2020-21 offseason, when the team traded Elvis Andrus, Aramis Garcia (another young catcher they had claimed on waivers just a couple of months prior), and cash to the Oakland A’s for Khris Davis, Jonah Heim and Dane Acker.
While the surface reaction was that it was trading broken Elvis for broken Khris Davis, the reality is that the Rangers were essentially buying a pair of prospects — Heim and Acker — for around $6 million, with Elvis and Davis providing a mechanism for moving the cash around. Acker was a hard throwing pitcher who had been drafted out of Zero U. in the fourth round in 2020 by the A’s, and Heim was a switch-hitting catcher.
A look at Heim’s transaction history helps illustrate why the Rangers see value in minor league catching prospects. Originally a fourth round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, Heim was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline in 2016 for Steve Pearce, and then was the player to be named later after the 2017 season in a deal that sent Joey Wendle from Oakland to Tampa.
Heim, who turned 26 last June, came to Texas with a reputation of a good game caller whose bat had some potential, but whose offensive development has been rather slow. In a rebuilding year, he was given the opportunity to split time with Jose Trevino for the Rangers in 2021, and ended up appearing in 82 games, registering 285 plate appearances.
Defensively, Heim’s framing graded out among the top of the league, and the organization was reportedly pleased with his game calling, pitcher handling, and the like.
Offensively...well, offensively, it was not a good year for Heim. Heim slashed .196/.239/.358 for the 2021 season. Even for a quality defensive catcher, that’s a real problem.
You might remember that Heim, at the end of July, hit a few homers — four, to be precise, in three games. That spurt led to optimism that the Rangers’ patience was paying off, and that things were starting to click for Heim.
After that three game stretch, Heim slashed .140/.188/.237.
The Rangers are reportedly not going to carry three catchers on their Opening Day roster, despite the expanded 28 man roster for the first month. Mitch Garver is going to be the starter, and the question that has to be decided by the time Opening Day rolls around in eight days is, who will be the backup — Jonah Heim or Jose Trevino?
The Rangers have indicated that there is trade interest in both Heim and Trevino, with teams supposedly expressing interest in whichever player doesn’t make the roster. Each player has options, however, and given the rigors of the catching position and the injury history Garver has, it would seem to make sense to keep the catcher who doesn’t make the team in Round Rock as insurance.
So Heim could start the season in Texas. Or he could start the season in Round Rock. Or he could start the season with another team.
Wherever he ends up for 2022, hopefully the bat gets going. If he hits a little, he will have a nice major league career.