Photo credit:Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Blue Jays, Position by Position: A three-man catching tandem? Or a trade?
1 year ago
Although the 2022 season is ongoing, unfortunately, it’s not for the Toronto Blue Jays. That means we have to look at the past season in retrospect, as well as look ahead to the future.
This is a new series, which will focus on the current roster, position by position. As you can presume by the title, we’ll be looking at catchers and how they did in 2022, who’s pushing the issue in the minors, and what may happen to the position in the off season.
How did the Blue Jays catchers do in 2022:
It’s not unfair to say that the Jays had two of the best catchers in the MLB, as well as one of the best catching (and overall) prospects coming into 2022. Let’s see how each of them did.
I think it’s fair to say that Alejandro Kirk was the best all-around catcher in the majors this season. Prior to the start of the season, I had said he was “average” defensively, but Kirk proved me and everyone wrong by posting some of the best defensive numbers behind the plate.
In my opinion, the best all-around defensive catching metric is Baseball Prospectus’ Catching Defensive Adjustment (CDA). This tool measures three of the most important defensive actions a catcher can do, framing, blocking, and throwing.
In 2022, Kirk had a 12.1 CDA, which ranked third in the league and second in the American League (next to Jose Trevino, a shoo-in for the Gold Glove). Kirk had the fourth-highest Catcher Framing Runs, which counts how many runs were saved by framing borderline pitches (he had a 9 CFR, per Baseball Savant).
The 5’8 catcher also allowed only 12 wild pitches. Per SIS_Baseball on Twitter, Kirk had only allowed 11 wild pitches in 248 opportunities on September 2nd. I’d imagine that the opportunities rose quite a lot, while he only allowed one more wild pitch.
In fact, on the same day which that statistic stemmed, they reported that Kirk was the second best blocker in the MLB, only behind Austin Barnes.
Although he excels defensively, he’s also one of the best players with the bat. As was promised in his scouting report, Kirk is a great hitter with a fantastic eye at the plate and pop in his swing.
He finished the season slashing .285/.372/.415 with 14 homers in 541 plate appearances. Kirk had an 11.1 BB% and a 10.7 K% as well, and he was one of only six players with a higher walk rate than a strikeout rate in the MLB this season.
Altogether, Kirk had a 129 wRC+, which ranked tied for third amongst Blue Jays batters (there were six players between 132 and 129).
He was only one of five qualified catchers in the league, and his 129 wRC+ ranked first (with J.T Realmuto, Will Smith, and Sean Murphy trailing by less than 2 wRC+.) In terms of catchers with 300+ plate appearances, his 129 wRC+ ranked fourth, behind William Contreras (138 wRC+), Adley Rutschman (133 wRC+), and Willson Contreras (132 wRC+).
Top three in catching defensive, and top five in catching offense? Kirk was one of the best, if not the best, catchers in the MLB in 2022.
I had to choose my words in Kirk’s section carefully there because although he was one of the best-qualified hitting catchers, Danny Jansen was the most impactful hitting catcher for the Jays. His 248 plate appearances (which is the second most in his career, by the way) didn’t qualify him, but he had a .260/.339/.516 slash line in that short stretch.
Despite his lack of plate appearances, Danny Jansen hit 15 homers, a new career high. In fact, those 15 homers ranked 12th in the MLB for all catchers, with the majority of the catchers ahead of him having at least 200 more plate appearances.
Is this because he had two hot streaks at the start and end of the season, with very little game time in between? I have no idea. Something tells me this is a fluke season, and that Jansen needs to do this over a full season before I personally declare him a good hitting catcher.
Defensively, Jansen has dropped off since he finished second in Gold Glove voting in 2019. That year, he had a 12.7 CDA, but over the past three seasons, he has a 0.5 CDA, which included a -0.3 CDA in 2022.
This is likely due to his bottom-of-the-zone framing, as he has a tendency to “stab” at pitches that are low in the zone. Despite that, he is also one of the best blockers according to SIS_Baseball on Twitter.
Lastly, we come to the final catcher of the three that suited up for the Jays, Gabriel Moreno. He only had a brief time in the MLB, slashing .319/.356/.377 with a homer and a wRC+ of 113 in 73 plate appearances. The 22-year-old had a 5.5 BB% and an 11 K%.
Moreno played most of his season in Triple A, slashing .315/.386/.420 in 267 plate appearances. He had three homers, a 9 BB%, and a 16.9 BB% for a wRC+ of 120. There was a notable decrease in power in 2022, as he hit eight homers in only 149 plate appearances in New Hampshire in 2021 before a thumb break essentially ended his season.
Moreno is a similar hitter to Kirk, using all parts of the field to get on base. He also has the ability to steal a base (he stole seven bases in eight attempts in the minors). If he can find that power that he had in 2021, Moreno will be an absolute weapon for the Jays.
Defensively he showed some promise, with a 1.2 CDA. According to Baseball Savant’s Catching Framing Runs, Moreno had a 0 CFR (average), and a strike rate (essentially the percentage of borderline pitches that were called a strike)
Where Moreno really excelled, however, is with the arm. In the majors, he threw out 7 of 17 would-be base stealers for a 41.18 CS%. In Buffalo, he threw out 18 off 44 would-be base stealers for a CS of 40.91%, a much larger sample size.
Not just that, but Moreno has been described as the most athletic catcher since J.T Realmuto, with a strong arm and an insanely fast pop time. The opportunity to move around the field may come to fruition, as he’s already played left field, second base, and third base in the majors.
Which prospects are in the mix:
The Jays have graduated two excellent catchers in the past two seasons, and now the depth of that position in the future will be questionable moving forward… or will it?
The Jays selected outfielder/catcher Zach Britton in the fifth round of the 2020 draft. To say he broke out in 2022 would be an understatement.
The 23-year-old slashed .239/.390/.441 with seven homers in 236 plate appearances with the Vancouver Canadians. While his 29.7 K% was on the rather high side, Britton’s 17.4 BB% was absolutely phenomenal. This led to a 136 wRC+ before his promotion to Double A.
There, he slashed .234/.355/.453 in 76 plate appearances. His K% dropped to 22.4%, while his BB% was still pretty darn high at 15.8%.
He has a great eye at the plate, has some pop, and isn’t afraid to steal a base. Zach Britton could be a catcher to keep an eye on moving forward.
An honourable mention goes to Luis Meza, their top signing in the 2021 International Free Agency period. Meza is many years away from the majors but is an exciting prospect to keep an eye on.
What could happen in the off season:
There are two roads the Jays could go down in my opinion The first is that the Jays may trade one of their three catchers, and I don’t think it’ll be Kirk. That leaves Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno.
Jansen, who was once a former Top 100 prospect, tried to pull the ball more and it obviously changed his game. He hit 15 homers in 248 plate appearances, which shows impressive raw power.
However, I don’t know if he’s legit, and if the pitchers didn’t have enough time to adjust.to his new strategy as he missed a large portion of the season.
If the Jays feel that he won’t even come close to repeating his 2022 performance, they could capitalize on his sky-high value, as it’s likely the highest it will ever be. When you add on the fact he has two more seasons of arbitration, Jansen could be moved for pitching help.
Moreno, on the other hand, clearly has promise, but the lack of power is concerning. Add in the fact that both Jansen and Kirk played like top 5 catchers in the MLB in 2022, and Moreno may be the odd man out.
Perhaps the Jays feel as if they’re comfortable enough with Jansen and Kirk, and move Moreno, a highly regarded prospect, for a starting pitcher who may become available.
The other road that they could take is to keep all three catchers, which I believe to be the most likely option. If Moreno continues to increase his versatility, he could play around the field, while Kirk and Jansen catch. They could also use Danny Jansen as a designated hitter, as he’d have to worry less about defense, allowing him to hit even more bombs.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what the Jays do with the position at which they have the most depth. The next article in this series will focus on their infielders, so stay tuned!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D.
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