Welcome to Part 2 of this epic series of posts. Let’s get right into today’s subject of the Jays roster: the catcher. We will go over all of the catchers currently in the system and discuss what potential moves may be in store for the Jays before the season begins.
MARTIN IS KING
The catcher position may be the most secure spot in the entire roster. As of the writing of this column, Russell Martin remains the uncontested starter for the Jays going in to the second last year of his big deal with the team. He is currently 35 years old, which is a lot older than you would want your catcher, but he is still very serviceable behind home plate.
Offensively, Martin has yet to see the level of success he saw his final year in Pittsburgh. His batting average has gone from .240 (2015) to .231 (2016) to .221 (2017). Luckily, his on base percentage has hovered around the same level with .329 (2015), .335 (2016) and .343 (2017). A healthy Martin still has significant pop in his bat and is capable of hitting 20 home runs and 70 RBI. Last season, his numbers took a hit simply because he only played 91 games. He should bounce back this season, but one wonders if 2019 will be close to the end of his career given injuries and the reality of playing as a 38 year old catcher.
For 2017, his time missed makes it difficult to place him in the grand scheme of catchers using only statistics. Looking solely at Catcher ERA, Martin placed 18th among catchers last season. This isn’t enough to fully judge his effectiveness. If we look at the percentage of players he caught stealing, Martin finished 26th at .200 as a percentage. Again, the numbers take a hit from missing time and it would not be fair to stack him against the players who were able to put in a full, uninjured season.
We can glean from the numbers that relatively speaking, his time out on the field was below average. This was likely due to nagging injuries, but undoubtedly is a sign of his decline. Still, Martin is without question the best catcher on the team and is just a few seasons removed from All Star appearances and recognition as one of the top defensive players at his position. Fans should be satisfied with his performance as Baseball Reference projects him to hit 17 home runs, 55 RBI, and a .230/.329/.414 slash line. In short, a Martin regression is coming, but won’t be full steam ahead this coming season.
A MIXED BAG
I promised myself I would do what I can to remain unbiased as I write these articles…but at catcher, the situation is pretty dire if Martin goes down with a serious injury. The depth for Toronto at catcher takes a significant nosedive with the current backup catcher projected to be Luke Maile. Last season, Maile was a -0.2 WAR player who batted a .146/.176/.231 slash line in his 46 games in 2017. There’s no getting around it—Maile struggles at the plate at an MLB level. Fortunately, he is still okay at fielding and can be a serviceable emergency option even knowing he is a liability facing MLB level pitching at the plate.
22 year old catcher Danny Jansen currently resides in the Toronto system and represents a promising future if he continues to progress at the plate as quickly as he did in 2017. Between three leagues including AAA, Jansen had a .323/.400/.484 slash line in 104 games. Minor league pitching doesn’t quite match up to MLB’s, but Jansen’s rise in ability came as a pleasant surprise. He continues to be marked as one of the Jays’ best prospects, but could be a season or two away from featuring regularly in MLB. He is not a power hitter by any means, but he was strong behind the plate with a .995 fielding percentage across three leagues.
Fellow 22 year old prospect Reese McGuire rounds out the remainder of catchers currently on the team’s depth chart. Not much can be said about the young catcher at this point. His 2017 season included just 45 games with the highest level being AA. His line was .295/.376/.483 and his fielding was a perfect 1.000. He spent time in the 2017-18 Dominican Winter League and continued to perform alright with a .283/.411/.283 slash line. He is certainly below Jansen in terms of development and time will tell where he ends up in the system come fall.
The Blue Jays should pursue either a backup catcher for Martin or someone who can split the time and eventually take over for him by 2019. Currently, there are some names still available but may command more money than is worth investing. With that said, there is one option to think about before the season starts: Alex Avila.
Avila is only 30 years old and just came off of a season where he earned just $2 million. He batted a .264/.387/.447 slash line with the Tigers and Cubs, and continues to be a strong fielder behind the plate. With a 2.7 WAR, Avila will likely command more money than what the Jays can afford, but if he can be convinced to a mid length deal at a decent amount of money, he can be the player the Jays desperately need to transition from Martin to Jansen.