With the deaprture of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, we look at the evolving role of the Toronto Blue Jays backup catchers.
The short reign of Jarrod Saltalamacchia as Blue Jays backup catcher is over. As I’ve said before, I had all the patience in the world for a player with a 14-letter Italian last name that includes “cchi”, but even that extra patience was running thin. He departs with the highest strikeout rate in the majors among batters with 20+ PA (61.5%). This was driven primarily by the MLB’s tenth highest swinging strike rate (18.3%) and 21st lowest contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (73.1%). Put together, his production amounted to a -80 wRC+, the worst mark in the majors.
Luke Maile is next up. A defensive catcher, Maile has produced a wRC+ of 50 in his 161 MLB PA. We probably shouldn’t expect much more than that going forward, as his AAA career has seen him produce 75 and 88 wRC+ in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. His 12 wRC+ this season (42 PA) does not create much offensive optimism. That said, he could make a big impact defensively. Saltalamacchia has been pretty bad at pitch framing this season, with his -0.9 adjusted framing runs above average (a stat that measures a catcher’s framing, blocking and throwing skills) sitting 50th among 69 catchers. Maile showed above-average defensive skill last year (his 1.4 Adj. FRAA sat 31st among 104 catchers). Saltalamacchia did not (he produced a -9.7 Adj. FRAA last season, good for 98th).
In case Maile does not perform to expectations, next on the list is Mike Ohlman. He’s a guy with an interesting back story and a ton of offensive potential. He has produced at every level of the minors, culminating with a 108 wRC+ in his first season of AAA last year. He’s followed that up by raking thus far with the Buffalo Bisons. His 150 wRC+ (61 PA, so small sample size alert!) puts him 18th among all batters in the International League with 50+ PA. He is the classic three true outcome hitter. He strikes out a ton (39.3%, 4th most in International League), but he walks a lot too (16.4%, 6th). The combination results in a fairly average walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.42 BB/K).
Most importantly, the guy mashes. His four dingers are tied for fourth in his league so far, while his .300 ISO is second highest. That is not a level that anyone can possibly sustain, but he was able maintain a decent .146 ISO in the upper minors of the Cardinals system (2015-16). Fangraphs projects him to produce a modest 70 wRC+ this year. That’s not great, but it would still be an above-average level of production for an MLB backup catcher.
While Ohlman is not a defensive specialist, he isn’t a slouch either. His defensive stats were slightly below-average in 2016 across AA and AAA (-0.4 and -1.6 Adj FRAA) and average in 2017 so far (0.1 Adj FRAA). Put it all together and you have the ideal backup catcher (potentially). He can handle his defensive duties reasonably well and chips in with his bat too.
I haven’t forgotten about the Jays’ primary catching prospect, Reese McGuire. Given how well Francisco Liriano has produced, we’ve sort of forgotten that McGuire and Harold Ramirez were the key parts of that deal for the Jays at the time. As we still hope for him to be our catcher of the future, the best place for him to be right now is AA. He needs to polish his hitting chops in order to have a shot at being an MLB starter and he can’t do that as a 22 year old MLB backup. Promisingly, some progress is being made on that front. A big knock on McGuire has been his inability to get the ball in the air (he has never had a ground ball rate below 50% in his minor league career). In his first 48 PA this season, he has kept a career-low GB rate of 36.4% and career-high FB rate of 51.5%. This has helped him put up a great .205 ISO thus far.
*Featured Image Credit: Dave Nelson UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.