Gregor Chisholm: The Blue Jays know you can never have too much of a good thing, but they might be close with their catchers
|Toronto Star 10 Jun 2021 at 21:20|
The Blue Jays might not be getting the level of production they were hoping for behind the plate this season but it’s unlikely to remain an issue for much longer. This is one spot on the diamond that figures to be covered off for years to come.
Unlike some of the other weak positions on the roster — starting rotation, bullpen, and potentially one of the infield jobs pending the outcome of Marcus Semien’s free agency — the Jays have options at catcher. A lot of them, actually.
The duo that started the year, Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk, are both on the injured list. They’ve since been replaced with competent backup Reese McGuire and Triple-A catcher Riley Adams. Behind that group is arguably the most promising prospect of them all, Gabriel Moreno.
The oldest players are Jansen and McGuire, who are both 26. Adams is two years younger, Kirk is 22 and the 21-year-old Moreno is so young he wasn’t even born before Y2K. Not everyone is going to pan out, but from the Jays’ perspective, the beautiful thing is they don’t have to. Only one or two of them must become something special for this to work out in Toronto’s favour.
“Catching is like pitching, you can never have enough,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said late Thursday afternoon. “It’s such a tough spot, people get hurt all the time, and it’s a demanding position. So, to have that many options is great for us.
“You don’t know who is going to step up and take the job. But right now, I’m excited for what Riley has done in his first two games. Hopefully, he keeps that going. Who knows who’s going to be that guy? I’m excited we have enough choices; they’re all going to get a chance to see who the guy is going to be.”
The Jays entered spring training with all five guys on their 40-man roster, which was unusual because teams typically limit the catchers to three of four. The extra bodies were the direct result of needing to protect Moreno and Adams from the December Rule 5 draft.
The less-than-ideal roster construction led to a lot of trade speculation. Surely, the Jays would look to move one of their backstops as part of a bigger deal. They instead decided to go in another direction, carrying all five through spring training and eventually designating McGuire, who arguably has the lowest upside of the group, for assignment.
It looks like that patience is going to pay off. Adams got off to a strong start with the Bisons, posting a 1.010 on-base plus slugging percentage in 19 games. Since he arrived with the Jays, the six-foot-four rookie hasn’t looked out of place. He doubled on Tuesday to pick up the first major-league hit and two days later had already gained enough trust from his manager that he was asked to catch ace Hyun-Jin Ryu. His value is increasing.
Moreno’s stock is rising too, perhaps faster than anyone else’s in the system. He entered play Thursday with a slash line of .375/.430/.602 for Double-A New Hampshire and had thrown out 37 per cent of baserunners. As expected, following last year’s cancelled minor-league schedule, Moreno, now two years older than the last time he played, returned with more power and even better skills behind the plate. After Austin Martin, he’s likely the best prospect the Jays have.
Then there is Kirk, who appeared to be on the verge of taking Jansen’s job as the No. 1 catcher until he strained his left hip flexor. The native of Mexico only appeared in 17 games before the injury and won’t be eligible to return until early July, but that’s not enough to take away from his meteoric rise through the system a year ago. There are still questions about his defence, but that bat should only get better as he grows into his power.
Where that leaves the incumbent Jansen is difficult to say. He opened the year as the starter and clung to that job until he went on the injured list earlier this week with a strained hamstring. When he returns, it will be to the big-league roster, but in what capacity remains to be seen. A month from now, Kirk should be nipping at his heels again and Adams will have received an extended shot.
Jansen didn’t do himself any favours by getting off to a horrific start, hitting .045 through the opening month. His numbers ticked up in May, with a .217 average and a .709 OPS, but he has yet to become the threat he was in the minors. It’s possible he never will, but he’s a favourite of the pitching staff and the preferred catcher for Ryu. McGuire, meanwhile, profiles as a backup and remains a disposable asset.
The decision on who should stay and who should go doesn’t have to be made now. It might not even have to be made this winter because the only catcher on this list who is out of options is McGuire and the Jays have already shown their willingness to put him through waivers. But a final call will have to be made at some point and finding the appropriate time to make a deal is key.
What’s also important is identifying the right catcher(s) to hang onto. From the outside looking in, Moreno and Kirk appear to be the long-term keepers, but the projections could change if Adams has a productive opening month. At the very least, a strong run will cause his trade value to increase even more.
Having too many young catchers is a good problem to have. The Jays’ catching numbers don’t look pretty right now, but if they stick it out with the right guy, it won’t take long before a new narrative is written.
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