Pitchers and catchers reported on Sunday and among them was 25 year old AJ Jimenez. For those who have closely followed the Blue Jays over the last few years the name should ring a bell. From 2012-2014 Jimenez was consistently in the Jays top 15 prospects. He was considered a defensively elite catcher who had the ability to be an above average offensive catcher (think Carlos Ruiz or Yadier Molina).
Jimenez was a large reason the organization felt comfortable trading Travis d'Arnaud in 2012. In 2013 Jimenez had the best year of his career. He hit .287 across three levels while continuing his top defense. He was selected to the Future's Game that summer and was expected to get added to the roster in the fall. But, discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder caused him to miss the end of the season.
Nevertheless, the Jays released Arencibia in December and although they had signed journeyman, Dioner Navarro, many thought Jimenez would have a chance to conribute for the big league club by the end of the 2014 season. But, Jimenez struggled at the plate through most of 2014 and never found his way to Toronto. He battled injuries throughout the year and was losing his place as potential catcher of the future.This fate was sealed when the Jays signed Russell Martin to a five year deal in November 2014.
.By the time the 2015 season started Jimenez had been counted out of being a contributor for the Jays as they already had two capable catchers. He started the season in Buffalo but was eventually sent down to New Hampshire. His season eventually ended due to needing wrist surgery. In all, Jimenez played just 28 games in 2015 where he only batted .194. It would seem that at this point Jimenez is no longer a top prospect. Instead, the Jays are now hoping to get any value they can out of the catcher.
This is why we might finally see Jimenez in the majors in 2016. Russell Martin got the job of catching RA Dickey last year. While he got the job done he did mention how hard catching the knuckleball was on his body. When you've given a 32 year old catcher a 5 year contract you need to do what you can to keep him healthy. That's why, for the 2016 season, RA Dickey will once again get a personal catcher. Josh Thole is the obvious candidate for this job as he has worked with Dickey extensively in the past. But, allow me to propose another option.
What if Jimenez is allowed to be Dickey's personal catcher this season?
Yes, the initial idea is kind of weird and many might wonder why. But, it could be worth a look in spring training. Since Thole came to the Jays with Dickey he has amassed a slash line of .212/.283/.258. These numbers are fairly abysmal if you ask me. Obviously, Jimenez's track record of offense isn't much better. But, over the course of 8 years in the minors, Jimenez has slashed .272/.314/.381. While these numbers are subject to some level of regression, it's still not inconceivable to think his offensive numbers would be just as good (if not better) than Thole's.
I also like Jimenez defensively as a whole than Thole. Since Thole's career has been mostly based on catching Dickey it's hard to come up with concrete numbers to compare the two defensively. But, what the eye test tells me about Thole is that he's above average defensively as a whole but Jimenez seems to still be a better athlete behind the plate and a better defensive player as a whole. Thole has been below league average in caught stealing percentage throughout most of his career. But, it does need to be noted that he spent most of the last few years catching a knuckle baller. By contrast, Jimenez has thrown out 40% of would be base stealers throughout his career and his been applauded for his arm strength for years.
All of this only matters if Jimenez is able to handle catching the knuckleball. But, his defensive prowess and athleticism behind the plate indicate that there's a good chance he could handle the knuckleball. Jimenez is in a decent position as he doesn't need to be better than the rest of catchers in camp. He just has to be better than Thole.
AJ Jimenez is no longer the Jay's catcher of the future. With Martin signed for the next four years the Jays don't need a starting catcher. But, a backup catcher who candle handle the knuckleball and provide top notch defense could be very appealing to the big league club. If Jimenez doesn't get the job of catching Dickey then he would be exposed to waivers since he's out of options. The general feeling is that he would make it through and start the year at Buffalo. But, I for one think that a true position battle between Thole and Jimenez could lead to a new backup catcher in Toronto this season.