Napoli taking nothing for granted
Rangers catcher ready to fight for starting job once again
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers catcher Mike Napoli strolled out to the back field on Monday morning with his left ankle wrapped tight in tape. He had just come from the Rangers' training room.
"This is the first time I've gotten a good tape job," Napoli said. "I won't know until I get out there, run around and see what I can do."
The ankle is a concern. Napoli suffered a severe high-ankle sprain in Game 6 of the World Series last October. He still played in Game 7, but there is no doubt if the injury had occurred in the regular season, Napoli would have been on the disabled list for an extended period of time.
"I sprained it pretty good," Napoli said. "Sometimes a high-ankle sprain takes awhile. I've heard some people [say] it's better to break it. I've sprained ankles before, but not like that. I was told it would take awhile."
Napoli said he expects no problems being ready for Opening Day.
"I think I was pushing it trying to be ready for Spring Training instead of being ready for Opening Day," Napoli said.
There is a reason Napoli was pushing it. He has arrived in Arizona with the mindset that he has to win a job. The Rangers still have Yorvit Torrealba on the roster, despite Napoli doing the bulk of the catching in the postseason.
He did so because he was coming off the best season of his career. Acquired a year ago from the Blue Jays, Napoli played in 113 games for the Rangers and hit .320 with a career-high 72 runs, 30 home runs and 75 RBIs. He also had a .414 on-base percentage and a .631 slugging percentage.
Napoli, who split the catching duties with Torrealba, missed three weeks in June with a strained oblique muscle, so he did not have enough plate appearances to be listed among the league leaders. But among American League players with at least 350 at-bats, he had the highest slugging percentage and was second behind Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays with a 1.046 OPS.
He also had a catcher's ERA of 3.16, the lowest for any American League catcher with at least 50 games caught. But, despite all those impressive credentials, Napoli still feels he has to win a job in Spring Training.
"I've always come into Spring Training trying to win a job," Napoli said. "That's why I pushed myself to get ready for this spring. I come in here not expecting anything to be given to me. Torrealba is a good catcher. He has been a starter in this league and can start for us.
"Hopefully we go out there and make it a competition. I always go out and try to earn a job."
Manager Ron Washington said both will play. The Rangers like their two-catcher system because it allows both to stay fresh during the long, hot Texas summers. Washington also said Napoli's outstanding offensive numbers were helped by not having to play every day behind the plate. So Washington will continue to use Napoli at first base and designated hitter.
Last year, Napoli started 57 games at catcher, 27 at first base and 18 at designated hitter. During the playoffs, he started all 17 games, including 14 behind the plate. Torrealba started 95 games at catcher during the regular season -- second-most in his career -- but just three in the playoffs.
"You don't know what Wash will do," Napoli said of Texas' skipper. "We have guys who can play different positions. I love catching. I love being back there working with pitchers. But if I have to play first base, I'm not going to be mad. I want to be in the lineup. If it's at first base, I'll grab my glove and get out there."
The Rangers showed their regard for Napoli this offseason when they approached him about the possibility of a long-term contract extension. Napoli, who was eligible for arbitration, can be a free agent after this season. The two sides were not able to reach an agreement on a long-term extension, but they did get a one-year deal done without having to go to a hearing.
"Hopefully we'll get back to talking again," Napoli said. "We'll see. I'm not focused on that. If it comes up, my agent will talk about it with them. Right now, I'm focused on getting ready for the season and get[ting] my ankle healthy."
Napoli, who made $5.8 million in 2011, asked for $11.5 million in arbitration and the Rangers were offering $8.3 million. That left a midpoint of $9.9 million and Napoli was willing to settle at $9.4 million to avoid a hearing.
"From the raises I got compared to other players, it was right for me," Napoli said. "I really didn't want to go into a hearing room. Talking to people who have been through it, it's not a fun situation. I'm glad we got a deal done and hopefully something else will get worked out."
That may come up again in Spring Training. Right now, the most important thing is for the ankle to be 100 percent. If that's not the case, all other issues could become irrelevant.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.