Next Year’s Rangers C’s: Robinson Chirinos, Tomas Telis?

It’s no surprise that the Texas Rangers found a taker for and traded Geovany Soto. Prior to this year, which is hardly a fair period on which to judge him, he’d been a plus defensively, including some mildly influential work as a pitch-framer. He’s also on a one-year deal, so there was no reason for the Texas Rangers to keep him around.

The Rangers are in the mode, and mood, to evaluate their pair of active receivers for next season. They have already had a decent look at Robinson Chirinos. Jon Daniels said that he wants to see if the 30-year-old backstop can be more than a backup. The club also called up Tomas Telis from Triple-A Round Rock to fill Soto’s spot on the roster. The organization must apparently decide this winter whether it’ll protect the 23-year-old on the 40-man. Ron Washington says his plan to have the two split time, although he’s not sure how yet.

Texas would create a nice advantage by heading into 2015 with a cost-effective, reliable catcher on the 25-man roster, considering other likely needs. Besides, it’ll surely be at least 2016 until we sniff Jorge Alfaro, and that’s an awfully aggressive timetable anyway, especially if it were to involve significant playing time. And Kiley McDaniel, FanGraphs’ new prospect appraiser, has legitimate doubts about the 21-year-old’s big-league future. He’s far from a sure thing.

The Rangers have some more immediate question marks, but they don’t have to rebuild and in fact could contend next season. That was their hope this year, well before they essentially became a lock to set the major league record for most players used in a campaign. A frugal approach at catcher doesn’t preclude them from being in that position next spring. Telis would obviously be cheap. Chirinos isn’t up for arbitration until 2016, either.

Telis has some promise on offense, at least if he produces a batting average that fuels a solid OBP. He’s exhibited doubles power, but the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder might increase that, in time. The switch hitter will succeed, if he does, because of a good contact rate, something he displayed in the minors. He’s hit for some high averages on balls in play, but they didn’t come with high reach rates, and he’s pilfered some bases at each of his levels, so he must have a little foot speed. He could continue to pull off that sort of trick.

Reps of the organization have said how pleased they are with Telis’ progress defensively, too. (He did catch eight shutout innings from Miles Mikolas, who entered that contest against the Seattle Mariners with a 7.48 ERA and 4.70 xFIP in nine starts.) Still, it sounds as if they have doubts about his prowess behind the plate. This is definitely TBD but still a potentially significant strike against him.

As such, the Rangers should be curious about whether Chirinos is more than a placeholder. He’s rated well above-average defensively this year. He’s thrown out about two of every five base-stealers. They seem to be pleased with how he’s handled the club’s pitching staff, in general, although he has work to do in that arena, from what I’ve read. He must have the hang of the whole “Don’t block the plate” thing, at least. He hasn’t, unfortunately, mastered the whole pitch-framing thing.

So he’s a work-in-progress when he’s wearing the tools. Chirinos didn’t begin catching, at least as a pro, until his age-24 season, when he was still in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Prior to that, he was a middle infielder, and that has probably helped him with things like his footwork and catch-and-release. Baseball America still rated him the best defensive catcher in the Cubbies’ pipeline following the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, while Welington Castillo was rising through it. Chirinos may be rough around the edges, but he isn’t too shabby.

It’s easier to doubt this right-handed hitter’s upside with the stick, though. Chirinos doesn’t have the tools to hit for average. He was supposed to show power to all fields, but that hasn’t materialized in the majors. He possesses some pop, nonetheless, as his 12 jacks in 342 MLB ABs attest.

I think the Oliver five-year projections are a little hard on Telis. Still, my guess is we’re looking at the prospect of a catcher with a batting average that won’t hurt you (.245 to .260?), maybe some good empty batting average (.275 to .290?) if things break right. If he proves to have become better defensively, perhaps even more so than Texas realized, then he becomes an interesting AL-only fantasy option in 2015. If we could project him for 350 to 400 plate appearances, then that’d be worth a few bucks in one of those, at least as a second catcher.

I’d be interested to see what Chirinos can do as a relative full-timer. I kind of liked him when the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. I acknowledge that there’s not much upside, offensively. Maybe he’d hit 15-plus bombs, but the average would be a bit of a drain. Oliver seems right on, minus 200 plate appearances, in my opinion. I’d take that kind of catcher, one who’d play at the bottom of a good lineup and in half of his games at Globe Life Park, for a few bucks in an AL-only league. If the Rangers continued to endorse him because of his defense, then I could be pretty confident in his forecasts for PT.

The hope for fantasy baseball purposes is that one of them distances himself from the other. The next five weeks are supposedly going to provide each with chances to begin to do that. We’ll see. Telis hit notably better left-handed while on the farm, so it’s conceivable that this duo could form a platoon. Still, the Rangers’ lineup should be fairly strong in 2015, assuming that health is on their side. They could be a mid-pack team again in terms of defensive efficiency. But they could probably use all the help they can get in making up for what’ll still be a flawed pitching staff. That, plus the management/experience factor, gives the early, obvious edge to Chirinos.

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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Chirinos is nice, but if they can get a guy like Russel Martin that would work well for them and the pitching staff