A.J. Jimenez was once considered the Blue Jays catcher of the future, but the 2016 season is his make or break year
The value of a good back-up catcher can’t be understated. Unfortunately, it is a position that too gets glazed over during the off-season. In 2015 the Toronto Blue Jays had an excellent tandem behind the plate with Russell Martin and Dioner Navarro. The pair combined to hit .243 with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, 93 runs in 183 games played.
Navarro provided the Blue Jays with a reliable back-up with a decent glove and solid bat, while forming bonds with two of the Blue Jays more reliable starters in Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada. Unfortunately for the Dioner fans, he lacked the ability to catch R.A. Dickey‘s knuckle ball which is why Toronto required the services of Josh Thole. It also allowed him to sign with the Chicago White Sox this off-season, leaving Josh Thole as the obvious choice to assume the vacant back-up role.
Josh Thole does one thing well. He catches Dickey’s knuckle ball. In the 3 yrs with the Blue Jays Josh has hit .175, .248, and .204 with a grand total of one home run. Those numbers don’t make it easy for manager John Gibbons to pencil his name in the line up on days that R.A. isn’t pitching.
What happens if Russell Martin is lost for any length of time?
What happens if R.A. Dickey is lost for any length of time or traded?
Having Thole behind the plate for more than 20-25 games in 2016 is not something many Blue Jays fans could stomach, but what other choices are there?
The 36-yr-old Humberto Quintero, signed to a minor league contract, would be an upgrade over Thole, but he hasn’t played more that 50 games in the majors since he played 79 in 2011 for the Houston Astros.
A more logical choice would be a younger catcher with more upside, like A.J. Jimenez.
Jimenez still remains in the Blue Jays farm system, but you wouldn’t know it by the number of games he’s played the past few years. As a 9th round pick of the 2009 draft, A.J. Jimenez came to the Blue Jays with a cannon behind the plate and excellent blocking and receiving skills. Jimenez showed excellent gap power and an ability to barrel up the ball which allowed him to maintain a high batting average in the lower minors.
A.J. steadily rose through the system, reaching A-Ball Lansing Lugnuts in his 2nd year as a 19-yr-old, getting to Advance-A Dunedin for 102 games in 2011 as a 21-yr-old and Double-A New Hampshire in 2012. Durability was always an issue for the native of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The 2012 season looked like it would be A.J.’s coming out party. He received a non-roster invitation to Spring Training and was set to start the year in New Hampshire. But on May 13, after 27 games, Jimenez was pulled from the game against the Binghamton Mets after one at-bat. He was placed on the 7-day disabled list 2 days later and required Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm.
The next 3 seasons have not been kind to the 6’0″ backstop, as he has dealt with a number of different injures. The most recent being wrist issues which required “surgery to clean up some cartilage issues” and caused his season to end after 28 games.
A.J. Jimenez still has the talent to become a very good back up catcher. He could be a very good defensive starting catcher for a team that doesn’t need a lot of offense from behind the dish, like the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays and A.J. Jimenez are at a crossroads in their relationship. Do the Blue Jays continue to hold onto the former top 15 prospect with the hopes that he will one day stay healthy long enough remain on the field and reach his potential? Or do they walk away and place their bets on another oft injured catcher in Max Pentecost or Danny Jansen.
The 25-yr-old Jimenez is still young enough and talented enough that he would provide the 2016 Blue Jays with a better option behind the plate than Josh Thole, but can he catch a knuckleball? Anyone remember the Tomo Ohka signing in 2014?
*FEATURED IMAGE Credit: Dave Nelson UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER@JAYSFROMCOUCH AND LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE JAYS NEST PODCAST!