Catching situation tops Rangers' spring list
Saltalamacchia, Teagarden competing for starting job
ARLINGTON -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, recovering from shoulder surgery, expects to be ready to go at the start of Spring Training and 100 percent by the beginning of exhibition games.
Taylor Teagarden, after a year as a backup catcher, says he is coming into camp in the best shape of his career.Both met with manager Ron Washington in Arlington in January. Both were told to be ready to compete for a job as the Rangers' starting catcher this spring. "It's open competition, may the best man win," Washington said. "It's out there on the table. That's what I told them. Whoever wins the job, wins the job." The catching situation is just one of several key issues that will be addressed beginning Friday when the Rangers open up Spring Training at their complex in Surprise, Ariz. That's when the first workout for pitchers and catchers take place while first full-squad workout takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Thursday is when pitchers and catchers are supposed to report but reporting days have become irrelevant, especially since the Rangers moved into the complex they share with the Royals in 2003. A number of players are already in Surprise working out and most of the full squad will be in camp before the first official full-squad workout. The Rangers need to decide who will be their catcher. They need to identify the last two members of the rotation. They need to set the bullpen and figure out the makeup of their bench. But the main goal of Spring Training for the Rangers is to reaffirm the mindset that it is time to win again. "That's the main thing I want them to know is that we can win," Washington said. "Our mantra is going to be, 'Why not us?' We know other teams in the division are better but we feel we're better. I'm going to continue to pound, 'Why not us?'" The Rangers were 87-75 in 2009, finishing in second place in the American League West. It was their first winning season in five years and Washington said he is going to continue emphasizing what he always has as Rangers manager, believing that's what led to last year's success. "We're going to emphasize a continuation of pounding the strike zone with our pitchers," Washington said. "We're going to emphasize a continuation of taking our defense seriously and taking it to the next level; a continuation of running the bases better, a continuation of getting better in all aspects of the game and recognizing situations. "Playing baseball better. Last year we experienced how fundamental baseball can make you successful. We just need to do it regularly and we're going to continue this spring to emphasize fundamentals. Once again, it comes back to pitching and defense." The Rangers were improved in both pitching and defense last year. They had a 4.38 team ERA, which dropped from 5.37 in 2008. That was the biggest improvement in the Major Leagues. Defensively the Rangers committed 26 less errors in 2009, leading to 65 fewer unearned runs than the year before. But the Rangers still finished just eighth in the American League in pitching and 12th in fielding. "I like what we've done with our pitching," Washington said. "We finally had some depth and that gives it a chance to be an area of strength where it wasn't before. Defensively, it's something we're finally thinking about and taking seriously. We're starting to head in the proper direction; this year, I want to take it to another level. We may even be able to take it up to the gold standard level." The Rangers expect 56 players in camp, including 31 pitchers. They are expecting six catchers, 10 infielders and nine outfielders. They have 40 players on the 40-man roster and 14 players in on Minor League contracts. They also have pitchers Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando, who will technically remain on the restricted list until the end of Spring Training. But they have their visas after a five-year banishment and will be working out on Friday with everybody else. Pitcher Eric Hurley and outfielder Brandon Boggs are the only two players who might be physically restricted. Hurley missed all of last year after undergoing surgery 13 months ago to repair a torn rotator cuff. He is healthy and throwing again but the Rangers will take it slow with him. He is expected to remain in Surprise for extended Spring Training and probably won't starting pitching in the Minor Leagues until May 1 or later. Boggs had offseason surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder and will likely have to take it slow in drills. Everybody else is expected to be ready to go.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.