Two weeks ago, the Rangers placed catcher Mitch Garver on the 10-day injured list with a flexor sprain in his throwing forearm. That proved a minimal stay, as he was back on the roster in short order, but he’s not likely to return behind the dish any time soon.
Garver has worked exclusively as a designated hitter in the six games since returning from the IL, and he tells Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News he’s expecting to remain in the bat-only role for the time being. The organization doesn’t have plans for Garver to begin an imminent throwing program, and Grant suggests it’s possible the 31-year-old could be limited to DH or first base for the entire season. That’s not definitive, but in any event, it seems unlikely we’ll see Garver donning the tools of ignorance anytime soon.
Texas manager Chris Woodward has nevertheless penciled him into the lineup for all six games since his return from the IL. That’s a testament to his offensive productivity, particularly from a power perspective. Garver is only hitting .220 with a .298 on-base percentage, but he’s popped six home runs and a trio of doubles to post a .430 slugging percentage that’s well north of the .382 league mark. He’s shown no ill effects of the injury offensively, hitting three homers within the last week.
When the Rangers acquired Garver from the Twins for shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa over the offseason, they no doubt envisioned him as their primary catcher. That he’s only managed 14 starts behind the plate and won’t be able to get back imminently is a bit disappointing, but the blow has been softened by excellent starts from their other backstops.
Jonah Heim, acquired from the A’s last February in the Khris Davis — Elvis Andrus swap, has made a team-leading 23 starts at catcher. The 26-year-old is sporting an excellent .270/.356/.494 line, collecting five homers of his own. More importantly, Heim has more than doubled his walk rate relative to last season while slicing his strikeouts by more than five percentage points. After hitting .196/.239/.358 last season, the 26-year-old looks to have made strides from a plate discipline and power perspective. He probably won’t keep hitting at this pace, but he’s earned the opportunity to continue playing regularly.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old Sam Huff is up as Heim’s backup after hitting .260/.349/.575 in 19 games with Triple-A Round Rock. Huff only has 18 games of MLB experience under his belt, but he’s been regarded as one of the better prospects in the system for a while. Evaluators have long raved about his right-handed power potential, although he’s faced some questions about his receiving ability and lofty strikeout totals in the minor leagues.
While a Heim — Huff pairing isn’t the most proven group, there’s obvious upside with both players. Despite an active offseason, Texas is still using 2022 as primarily an evaluative season with an eye towards more earnest contention next year and beyond. They’ll welcome the opportunity to get younger players like Heim and Huff into the lineup so long as both are performing well, but Garver’s (at least immediate) move down the defensive spectrum will necessarily come at the expense of a few others.
As Grant covers in a second piece, that could mean fewer starts for Nathaniel Lowe and Andy Ibáñez, in particular. Lowe has been the team’s primary first baseman after a solid .264/.357/.415 showing last season. He’s not off to a good start, though, with just two homers and a .245/.300/.317 line through 150 trips to the plate. The left-handed hitting Lowe has made virtually zero impact from a power perspective, and he’s seen his walk rate fall as he’s gotten more aggressive. Huff got the start at first base against Angels left-hander Reid Detmers last night, and Grant suggests he could see more time there — particularly against southpaws.
“I still believe Nate Lowe is an everyday talent,” Woodward told reporters yesterday. “He just hasn’t performed the way we’ve [expected]. I’ve been really honest with all of our guys about that. I think it’s really important to set a standard there. When you aren’t performing and somebody else is, I have a responsibility to the team.”
With Garver commanding everyday reps at DH, Lowe’s only real path to playing time is at first base. Ibáñez’s ability to play third base and the corner outfield could afford him a bit more run, but he’s off to an even worse start at the plate. Through 107 plate appearances, Ibáñez is hitting just .180/.234/.230. Among 244 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, only four have been less productive offensively by measure of wRC+. Woodward also expressed faith in Ibáñez’s ability to turn things around, but he’ll no doubt need to start performing better if he’s to hang onto his near-regular role.