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Mitch Garver’s elbow and the roster situation

Mitch Garver is starting a rehab assignment, but it sounds like he won’t be catching anytime soon

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Texas Rangers v. New York Yankees Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Texas Rangers catcher Mitch Garver is starting a rehab assignment with AA Frisco today. Frisco is at home this week, which makes it convenient for Garver to join the Roughriders, especially since the Rangers are at home, at least through Wednesday. Texas starts a four game series in Houston on Thursday, and coincidentally (or not coincidentally) Round Rock is playing in Sugar Land this week.

For those who aren’t up on their Texas geography, Sugar Land is a suburb of Houston, and its about 20 miles from Constellation Park, where the Space Cowboys play, to Minute Maid Park. So we could see Garver shift from the Roughriders to the Express on Thursday, particularly if the Rangers think he could be activated this weekend. Reliever Albert Abreu is supposed to start a rehab assignment with the Express later this week, as well.

Garver, who landed on the injured list with a strained flexor tendon, is apparently going to be limited to DH duties, with some possible action at first base, for a while. You will note that “a while” is a pretty vague and indefinite period of time, and I do that purposely, as there’s been no real indication as to when Garver’s elbow will be able to handle the strain of catching. That said, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back behind the plate anytime soon.

Garver being limited to DH duty for a while is clearly not a good thing. That being said, given the current team circumstances, it isn’t as bad as it could be. Jonah Heim, whose glove has always been starting caliber, is also hitting well this season, slashing .277/.365/.523 with a .361 xwOBA. I don’t expect him to keep that up all season, but if he just hits decently, he’s a quality starting catcher, and he’s earned the opportunity, in Garver’s absence, to get the bulk of the playing time behind teh plate for the time being.

The Rangers also don’t have a “starting DH” since sending Willie Calhoun down. Chris Woodward has generally rotated players through the position, including on several occasions using whichever catcher wasn’t starting as the DH, so if Garver returns and is primarily a DH for a period of time, it isn’t as if he would be displacing anyone.

In the “maybe something bad, maybe something good” category, Sam Huff is now in the majors as Heim’s backup. We had talked coming into the season about the importance of Huff getting reps behind the plate, after the 2020 minor league season was wiped out due to the pandemic and an injury kept Huff from catching in 2021. At Round Rock, Huff would get to catch regularly, DH on many of the days he didn’t catch, get a lot of work behind the plate, and get to hit most every day.

That plan is, at least for now, out the window, as Huff — the only other catcher on the 40 man roster, aside from Garver and Heim — is now a major league backup catcher. Levi Weaver talked about this in his Weaver Wire, and how this is an opportunity for Huff to get more one-on-one work with catching coordinator Bobby Wilson and see how game planning and preparing is done at the major league level, and those can be positives.

The down side is that Huff probably isn’t quite major league ready yet. He has huge power, with his prodigious home runs making the rounds on Twitter, but also a lot of swing and miss, striking out around a third of the time in Round Rock this year, and striking out five times in fourteen plate appearances in the majors thusfar (while sporting a .357/.357/.357 slash line). Huff’s defense is also seen as needing refinement.

Huff will presumably return to AAA when Mitch Garver is ready to catch regularly again, unless Huff has played well enough that he forces the Rangers to keep him up. That said, if Garver is unable to catch for an extended period, there may come a point where the Rangers feel Huff needs to be in AAA rather than the majors, at which point Jack Kruger, perhaps, would be an option (he was on the taxi squad earlier this year), or the Rangers could go find an acceptable temporary backup from another franchise’s AAA squad.

From a roster management standpoint, the Rangers shouldn’t have a problem carrying Garver, Heim and Huff (or another backup catcher) for a while. While the Rangers currently have 14 pitchers on the active roster, all rosters will be capped at 13 pitchers as of May 30, so they would have to drop a pitcher by then regardless. Texas could — likely will, I’d think — just option Josh Sborz to make room for Garver when he’s ready to be activated.

The question beyond that is, who would be sent down if the Rangers were to promote a position player from the minors in the interim? The only player at AAA really pushing for a promotion is Leody Taveras, and I don’t think its a given he’s up anytime terribly soon. However, if Leody were to force his way onto the major league roster while Garver is still unable to catcher, the Rangers have a couple of options. Nick Solak, who is slashing .219/.306/.328, has been mentioned as a possible roster casualty. The Rangers could also option Andy Ibanez, who is slashing .198/.250/.256, and use a Brad Miller/Charlie Culberson platoon at third base for the interim.