Mathis to mentor Rangers pitchers, catchers

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers catchers Jose Trevino and Isiah Kiner-Falefa already have a nickname for Jeff Mathis.

The Wizard.

"I think me and Izzy were picking his brain the first day we were out there, already," Trevino said. "He probably didn't know our names yet, and we were like 'Hey, why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?'"

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Catching school is now open in Rangers camp with Mathis as the head instructor. Mathis is a 14-year veteran with an outstanding reputation for defense and working with pitchers. The Rangers signed him to a two-year deal to be their No. 1 catcher, but also to mentor Kiner-Falefa, Trevino and other young catchers in the organization.

"That's an important theme in Spring Training," manager Chris Woodward said. "As soon as we signed Jeff, I reached out to both Kiner and Jose and said, 'I want you to introduce yourself to this man because he is the ultimate professional.' He kind of resembles what I would want out of a catcher in every way, the humility, the selflessness, the care, everything. Obviously the work and the trust he builds with pitchers is incredible."

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Mathis expected that to be a part of his job.

"I'm whatever you want to call me," Mathis said. "I'm here to help and do whatever I can to make whoever better -- catchers, pitchers any teammates. That's what I like to do and take a lot of pride in. That's part of learning and getting better."

Mathis learned from one of the best. His first seven seasons in the big leagues were spent with the Angels under manager Mike Scioscia, a two-time All-Star catcher and two-time World Series winner with the Dodgers.

Scioscia has a well-deserved reputation for being tough on his catchers. But the Angels won three straight division titles in 2007-09 with Mathis and Mike Napoli sharing the catching duties.

"I'm very appreciative what I learned and what was done over there," Mathis said. "A lot of those values apply to this day. He taught us a lot. Nap will tell you the same thing. I learned a lot and I'm very appreciative of that. Just try to apply it day in and day out."

Mathis will be tutoring two converted catchers. Trevino was a third baseman at Oral Roberts before switching to catcher over his final two seasons. He played both spots in 2014 in his first year in the Rangers organization but has been strictly a catcher the past four years, winning two Minor League Gold Glove Awards.

Kiner-Falefa didn't start catching until 2016, his fourth year in the Rangers organization. He has split time between there and the infield over the past three years, but the Rangers want him to concentrate on catching this spring. He played 35 games for Texas at catcher as a rookie last year and it appears his future is behind the plate.

Mathis will be the Rangers' No. 1 catcher with Kiner-Falefa as his backup and Trevino in reserve at Triple-A Nashville.

"[Mathis] is the best defensive catcher in the game," Kiner-Falefa said. "To have the best defensive catcher on the same team and in the same clubhouse is ... it can only go up from here. Now it's up to me, it's my job to learn. Everything is right in front of me, and it's what I make it, pretty much."

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