Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Top Candidates: Josh Thole and Eric Kratz.
Considering that new starting catcher Dioner Navarro hasn’t caught more than 90 games in a single season since 2009, the team will likely be counting on its backup catcher to be behind the plate in a lot of games this season.
With top catching prospect A.J. Jimenez still requiring more seasoning in the minors after coming back from Tommy John surgery last season, Thole and Kratz will be battling for the backup catcher role in spring training.
Thole might have an edge considering that he was the team’s backup catcher last year and, more importantly, already has experience catching R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.
Catching Dickey will be one of the main roles for whoever wins the backup job. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has already confirmed that Navarro won’t be catching Dickey and that the 39-year-old knuckleballer will have his own personal catcher like he did last year.
Thole had a down year with the bat last season, hitting just .175/.256/.242 with one home run and eight runs batted in during 135 plate appearances. But the 27-year-old is a career .251/.322/.322 hitter in the major leagues. Last season’s struggles could’ve been a result of him having difficulty fitting in as a backup catcher after being a starter the previous two seasons.
Toronto is also taking a serious look at the 33-year-old Kratz who was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies last offseason in exchange for pitcher Brad Lincoln.
Kratz spent six seasons in the Blue Jays’ minor league system from 2002-2008 so the team does have some familiarity with him as well.
In 197 plate appearances with the Phillies last season, Kratz hit just .213/.280/.386, but he did have nine home runs and 26 runs batted in. Over a four year major-league career, Kratz has hit .220/.281/.407.
He has also developed a reputation as a good defensive catcher who can block pitches in the dirt.
The Blue Jays have paired Kratz up with Dickey early on in spring training to see if he can catch the knuckleball. Early reports have been positive and Dickey has said that he enjoys working with the veteran.
Projected Winner: Eric Kratz
While Thole has more upside with the bat, his struggles last season could lead to the Blue Jays turning to Kratz. At 6’4 and 255 pounds, Kratz is bigger than Thole and is defensively sound. That’s an important trait for a backup catcher, especially one who’ll be catching a knuckleball.
Considering that Thole is just 27-years-old, the Blue Jays may opt to have him start the season in Triple-A while initially going with the more veteran Kratz. This also would be consistent with what the team did last year, breaking camp with Henry Blanco as the backup catcher and calling Thole up to the majors later on in the season.