The Arizona Fall League is two weeks in but the results from the desert as not as pleasant as they…
Catchers Shine for Jays in 2005
There is a saying among baseball scouts that says 'finding a catcher with a plus bat is a premium and considered rare.' However, most of the times when a team does find that rare catcher with an above-average bat, and solid receiving skills they tend to look to move him to a position that would keep him in better shape than behind the plate. This past season in the Blue Jays system the organization saw plenty of success from their catchers. Some possess the rare quality of producing with the bat and also leading a team behind the plate, while others were not as developed in their receiving skills but had the skills with the bat many organizations look for in their catchers.
One of the several catchers that impressed the organization in 2005 was Curtis Thigpen. The 2004 draft pick began the season with the Lansing Lugnuts, of the Midwest League, but struggled in his first month of play. Thigpen hit just .256 over his first 21 games of the season, but found his groove after that point. The 22-year-old hit .310 (31-100) in 27 games during the month of May as he drew twenty free passes and struck out just thirteen times. His productive ways continued into June as he hit above .300 once again and walked sixteen times in seventy-three at bats while striking out just six times. Thigpen would not stick around to finish the month of June as he received a promotion on July 11. Over his last fifty-eight games of the season the Lansing catcher hit .297 with four home runs and twenty-seven runs batted in. Thigpen drew forty-three walks during that span while striking out just twenty-one times. When Thigpen received a promotion during the middle of July it did not come as a surprised, and many thought it was even later than expected. However, the surprise was where the promotion occurred. Thigpen was told he would skip the Florida State League, and surpassed Robinzon Diaz, the Dunedin catcher, as he made his way to Double-A New Hampshire.
During his stint with the Fisher Cats Thigpen proved the Jays made the correct choice with the promotion. In thirty-nine games he hit .284 with four home runs and fifteen runs batted in. Over his final twenty-nine games of the season the young catcher hit .310 with three home runs and ten runs batted in. There is no denying how productive Thigpen could be with the bat, however, several talent evaluators predict a position change in the future. The base that mostly arises in the discussion is first base, a place where Thigpen played during college, when he played for the University of Texas.
"I don't think there are any expectations for me to play at first right now" Thigpen told InsideTheDome. "Maybe in the future" said the current catcher.
Thigpen, who says catching is his favorite position, played first base at the University of Texas because the team did not have a first baseman and could have used Thigpen there.
"I do like to play other positions. It keeps the game fun for me and it is a change of atmosphere."
The aforementioned catcher in this piece, Robinzon Diaz, also had a solid season despite not beginning the season on a good note. Diaz hit .246 during the first month of the season and .250 during the month of June. The 21-year-old was hitting just .260 after his first fifty-eight games, but began hitting the way many in the organization expected him to hit around the time that Thigpen received his promotion. Diaz hit .324 during the month of July and .337 during the month of August. Over the last two months of the season the catcher hit .331 in forty-two games. Diaz also proved he can hit in the clutch as shown by his numbers with runners on base and runners in scoring position. Diaz hit .385 (47-122) with runners in scoring position, and .358 (67-187) with runners on base. That compares to his .234 average (47-201) with the bases empty.
The third catcher in the system to have an above par season was Auburn's catcher Brian Bormaster. It was the second time that Bormaster repeated the NY-Penn League level but proved once and for all he should be given a big promotion in 2006.
"I was on the extended spring training roster, which was kind of a disappointment, but the only person I could blame was myself. I didn't perform well enough to make a full season team" Bormaster said.
The 23-year-old hit .325 with Auburn in forty-one games and surpassed some obstacles during the year. Bormaster began the season as a reserve player. Auburn had three catchers on the squad, including 2005 sixth round pick Josh Bell. However, with his outstanding leadership and defensive skills all that Bormaster needed to do to get playing time was perform with the bat - and he did just that. With runners in scoring position Bormaster hit .424 (14-33) and with runners on base he hit .357 (20-56). His season was good enough to warrant him a spot on the first ever NY-Penn League All-Star Team, as he was one of four Doubledays to earn a spot.
Finally the fourth catcher to open some eyes this season was Jonathan Jaspe, the catcher of the Pulaski Blue Jays. The 20-year-old hit .299 with three home runs and thirty-one runs batted in during his forty-seven games in 2005. He finished the season off with a bang as he hit .325 (26-80) over his last twenty games of the season.
Not mentioned, was highly profiled catcher Guillermo Quiroz, who missed most of the season as he was recovering from a collapsed lung. Quiroz played in twenty-five games with the Syracuse SkyChiefs after joining them from a rehab assignment with Dunedin, and hit .229 with six home runs and eighteen runs batted in. Quiroz hit well at home but struggled on the road. In fourteen home games he hit .271 (13-48) and on in eleven road games he hit .171 (6-35). All six of his home runs and seventeen of his runs batted in came while playing at home.
"It's frustrating," Quiroz says, "and it does start to worry you, getting that 'injury prone' label, but I really don't think it's anything about my body, they've just been freak injuries. I got hit on the hand and it broke a bone, that caused me to miss two months, and then I missed a month because of my shoulder, and then I had a collapsed lung, and I had to have surgery on that. There's nothing I can really do about it, but it still is frustrating."
Scouts and coaches consistently praise Quiroz's defense, both the physical, blocking balls and an above average arm, and the mental side, where Quiroz has shown poise beyond his years in handling pitchers and calling games.
"I take pride in my defense, all aspects of it. A couple of days ago I was catching, and the pitcher was leaving the ball up. I got the nod from my manager, and I went out and talked to him, just calmed him down, letting him know what he was doing wrong. You can't talk down to those guys, you're just trying to help them."
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