Taylor Teagarden likes major league pitchers. Some seem to have taken a particular liking to him as well, but only those wearing the same uniform.
The 24-year-old, who hit .315/.448/.606 for Bakersfield and .294/.357/.529 for Frisco in his breakout 2007 season, with a combined 28 doubles, 27 home runs, and 83 RBI in just 110 games played, hit just .211/.319/.374 between Frisco and Oklahoma this year, with seven doubles, nine home runs, and 22 RBI in 73 games. He hit .188/.381/.313 for Team USA in Beijing, with two doubles among his three hits in 16 at-bats.
There’s no reliable trend in those numbers, other than Teagarden’s proven ability to reach base even when he’s not hitting. He’s a walk machine.
That is, until you look at his big league statistics, which include zero bases on balls in 20 at-bats.
Then again, a .350 on-base is a .350 on-base, and you’d gladly take three home runs, a double, and three singles in those 20 trips, knowing that even when that .350/.350/.850 line comes back to earth, Teagarden will probably start to add some walks to the ledger, as he always does. He’s going to reach base.
But as Teagarden’s manager said, after his latest effort, which included a run-scoring single off Feliz Hernandez and a two-run double off Randy Messenger last night: “The catcher’s job is to have a positive impact on the pitcher, and Taylor Teagarden is doing a good job of that. He’s been in sync with the guys on the mound. What he hits is not important to me. It’s how he gets his pitchers through innings is important.”
Starting pitchers, in Teagarden starts, have a 3-2, 3.16 mark in five games, which included, on one hand, two bad lines — one from Kevin Millwood (Teagarden’s debut, which was also his only hitless game in the bigs) and one from Brandon McCarthy — and on the other, three efforts (Vicente Padilla, Dustin Nippert, and Padilla again) in which the starter gave up no earned runs.
Weighing in on the catcher situation a week ago, I suggested that if it were me, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s elbow progresses enough this off-season to attract the kind of starting pitching offers that Texas is looking for, I’d trade Saltalamacchia and go with Gerald Laird and Teagarden as my catcher duo next year, and possibly in 2010, Laird’s final season before free agency.
I’m not going to get carried away with .350/.350/.850 yet, but Teagarden’s work behind the plate — which, unlike the production at the plate, meets squarely with expectations set for the University of Texas product since his third-round arrival in 2005 — is doing nothing but strengthening my conviction on that idea.
Teagarden probably isn’t ready to catch 140 games in the big leagues, but he’s absolutely ready to catch big league pitchers, manage big league game plans behind the plate, and run into his share of home runs and reach base while at the plate. We may decide next summer or next winter that he’s ready to step in fulltime, making the idea of trading Laird at that point more palatable, and maybe Ramirez or Manuel Pina will give the Rangers confidence that they’re ready to catch once a week to smooth that transition.
But for now, at a time when Teagarden was expected to be rounding out a minor league season en route to a November addition to the 40-man roster, he’s been one of the really good, really encouraging stories of the Rangers’ second half, and I’m all but certain at this point that he’s the least likely of the Rangers’ four major league-ready catchers to be traded this winter.