Outside of pitchers, catchers have the most demanding job on the diamond and finding and developing good catchers is equally demanding for every organization in baseball.
Defensively, they are tasked with helping to control the running game, stop pitches in the dirt from getting away, cleanly and quickly fielding bunts, and occasionally holding onto a ball while getting plowed over by a baserunner. And with all that going on they have get in a rhythm with the guy on the mound with pitch selection.
Oh, and they get to hit four or five times a game too.
Often times teams must settle for an outstanding catcher in the field with no bat, or vice-versa as there are only so many Joe Mauers to go around. Some teams employ one of each, like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (that's still their name right?) do with the defensive minded Joe Mathis and the power hitting Mike Napoli.
A look over the Blue Jays catchers in the minors shows a group with plenty of potential both offensively and defensively, hopefully ensuring the Jays will be able to field effective catching tandems for the foreseeable future.
Right at the top of the system at Triple-A Las Vegas resides the Jays top catching prospect, J. P. Arencibia . As we noted last week , Arencibia is showing signs of progress at the plate in 2010. Defensively, he's gotten off to a bit of a slow start catching only five of 22 would be base stealers, a 23 percent rate that's just behind his 25 percent of a year ago.
However, he has had better success. In 2008 he caught runners 38 percent of the time. One good sign so far, Arencibia has committed just one error in 23 games after making 13 errors last season in 104 games.
Just like Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman had a lackluster 2009 with the Double-A Fisher Cats. That seems like a distant memory now as his repeat stint in Double-A has seen Jeroloman off to a torrid start.
After hitting just .217 with an underpowered ISO of .099, he finds himself ninth in the league in hitting at .329 with ample power to go with it (.199 ISO). He had no problem drawing walks last year, earning a free trip in 14.3 percent of his plate appearances, but this year he's gotten even better drawing a walk 16.3 percent of the time.
According to Sean Smith's TotalZone for catchers , Jeroloman was six runs above average gunning down and picking off runners in 2009. He's started off 2010 a little behind catching 28 percent of base stealers, down from his career mark of 38 percent.
Arencibia stands a good chance to get his first trip to the show at some point this season, and Jeroloman looks ready to give Triple-A another go around. Should those two move on up there is more to come behind them from Single-A.
Even at Double-A, backup catcher Jonathan Jaspe has been effective in limited playing time hitting .412 in 17 at-bats, collecting three doubles and a triple. He's also nailed three of the five runners attempting to steal off him.
Jaspe is a little old, 25, for his first taste of Double-A ball but his defensive numbers have been impressive at each step up the system. He's shown himself to be a solid hitter as well, last season for Dunedin he hit .271/.319/.416, solid numbers for a catcher in the hitting depressed Florida State League.
Moving on to Advanced-A Dunedin, another piece of the Roy Halladay trade is doing his part to a show a good return on the blockbuster trade. Twenty-one-year-old Travis d'Arnaud has already left the yard three times and collected five doubles in 64 at-bats.
Certainly still looking at a small sample size, but he seems to be cutting down on the strikeouts so far this season, going down way of the K in only 10.9 percent of his at-bats. He's never been one to walk much, just 7.5 percent of PAs last year ended in a walk, making consistent contact all that more important.
This year the hits have been falling in enough for a .328 batting average. His ISO also has a jump over last year's .164 sitting at .219 thus far.
His control of the running game hasn't been anything to get excited about to this point in his career. TotalZone for catchers has him at nine runs below average headed into 2010. But he could be turning that around this season, he's had early success slowing down the running game catching 36 percent of potential base stealers.
It doesn't end there either. The Lansing Lugnuts have a stud catcher of their own too in 20-year-old youngster A.J. Jimenez . Following the trend, he's gotten off to a hot start at the plate hitting .309 with a .346 on-base percentage.
A.J. had problems at the plate last season with his propensity to strikeout with a whopping 72 in 278 at-bats (25.8 percent of ABs). This year he's started off at a more acceptable 20.5 percent and he's almost matched his walk total of a year ago too.
Yes, that's correct, he walked seven times in 294 plate appearances a season ago and has drawn five already this year. He might never draw a league average number of walks but the improvement is certainly welcome.
Defense is where Jimenez has shined in his pro career putting up a +5 TotalZone (TZ for catchers is based off handling the running game only) rating in 90 games behind the plate across '08 and '09. This season would-be base stealers better get a good jump, or just stay put, because Jimenez has taken down seven runners in 13 stolen base attempts.
How many of these guys will end up being contributors in the show remains to be seen but the Jays have a talented bunch to move forward with for now.
(Photo taken by flickr member tedkerwin in May 2009)