It’s no secret that the Blue Jays are perhaps the deepest organization at catcher in all of baseball – second only to maybe the Yankees – since they have the luxury of multiple quality catching prospects in their system. With a lot of attention being paid to current big league rookie J.P. Arencibia, Halladay trade piece Travis d’Arnaud, and three-time organizational MVP Carlos Perez, current Dunedin Blue Jays catcher A.J. Jimenez often gets overlooked.
Jimenez, a native of Puerto Rico, often gets overlooked on many standout prospect rankings because, like many other non-American players, there’s not as extensive of a background on him. I wrote an in-depth scouting report on him (which includes an interview and videos) back in February when he ranked 17th on our pre-2011 top 50 prospects list, and given his torrid pace out of the gate this season with Dunedin, it’s a realistic possibility he could silently emerge as Toronto’s catcher of the future.
Traditionally known for his skillful game-calling, blocking ability, 1.9 second pop time courtesy of a cannon for an arm, and an ability to throw baserunners out from his knees, Jimenez has continued to showcase those traits with Dunedin this season. Though he has committed three errors, he has allowed just two passed balls, and has thrown out 12 of 28 (43%) would-be basestealers.
Strong defense, though, is almost expected from the now 21-year-old Jimenez. The question with him going forward as he moves up the minor league ladder has been whether or not he can effectively contribute at the plate.
Since making his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old in 2008, Jimenez’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage have increased every season, and so far with Dunedin, he’s continuing that trend. In 30 games with the D-Jays this season, Jimenez is boasting an unbelievable .357/.393/.504 slash line, with nine doubles, two home runs, 13 RBIs, and 17 runs scored, on top of being a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts.
Not only does Jimenez lead all Florida State League catchers in average, OBP, SLG, stolen bases, runs, hits, total bases, and doubles, his .357 average is third-best among all hitters in the FSL, and his impressive numbers are some of the best among all catchers at the Hi-A level entirely. Though Jimenez is very close behind California League catchers Gorman Erickson, Yasmani Grandal, and J.T. Wise in certain offensive categories, he’s the youngest of the group by at least a year and a half.
It will be interesting to see if Jimenez can maintain this kind of production for the rest of the year – considering he has never played more than 80 games in a season – but he has already been freakishly consistent so far this season.
After managing one hit in his first three games of the season, Jimenez went on a tear, hitting safely in 15 straight games from April 11-29. During that hitting streak, Jimenez hit .419 (26-for-62) with five doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs, and eight runs, upping his batting average from .111 to .380 in the process.
Then, after failing to record a hit the two games after that and receiving two games off as well, Jimenez found his stroke again, currently riding a 10-game hitting streak dating back to May 3. While not as impressive as his first hitting streak of the season, Jimenez has hit .368 (14-for-38) so far in this streak with three doubles, a triple, two walks, and two RBIs. All in all, Jimenez has managed at least one hit in 26 of the 30 games he has played this season.
Jimenez’s splits so far this season have also been interesting. He’s actually performed better away from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, hitting .382/.424/.564 in 14 games on the road so far. He’s also performed better against right-handed pitching over southpaws despite being a right-handed hitter – .366/.410/.516 in 93 at-bats versus RHP so far this season – though the sample size against lefties is small. Jimenez has also been clutch with runners in scoring position with a .368/.400/.553 slash line, which is even better, albeit marginally, than his already impressive .361/.400/.525 slash line with the bases empty.
After flourishing under former big-league-catcher-turned-manager Sal Fasano and developing a connection with him last year in Lansing, Jimenez hasn’t missed a beat this year with Dunedin. That being said, though, Fasano currently manages the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats – just one level higher on the minor league ladder – and the possibility of reuniting him with Jimenez is certainly enticing. The only problem with that, however, is that New Hampshire currently has well-advertised catcher Travis d’Arnaud (in addition to Yan Gomes) on their roster.
While d’Arnaud is definitely an impressive prospect, his numbers, both offensively and defensively, haven’t exactly been jaw-dropping this year and over the course of his minor league career. He has, however, shown glimpses of his potential and his baseball IQ and ability to frame pitches are definitely noticeable, but injuries have hindered him during his time with the Blue Jays. It doesn’t really help, either, that d’Arnaud received extra attention by being part of the Halladay trade or that he has been hyped by publications like Baseball America, where Jim Callis recently said that the Jays’ catching depth “is led” by d’Arnaud and that Jimenez is a “decent sleeper”.
On the flip side, Jimenez has had virtually no media attention on him as a relatively unknown player from Puerto Rico. Having recently seen both Jimenez and d’Arnaud in Spring Training in March, it’s easy to tell that both players are definitely gifted at catcher, but I wouldn’t say that d’Arnaud is astronomically farther ahead of Jimenez like it might appear.
With Triple-A catchers Brian Jeroloman and Ryan Budde contributing absolutely nothing offensively so far this season in Vegas and baserunners stealing at will on Jeroloman (39-for-42, 93%), a door could eventually open there for d’Arnaud should he continue his current production at the plate. After starting the year 6-for-38 (.157) at the plate, d’Arnaud has gone 10-for-29 (.345) with three doubles and a 1.009 OPS over his last ten games, bringing his slash line on the season up to a more respectable .254/.338/.408.
As enticing as it is – should he continue to rake with Dunedin – to consider reuniting Jimenez with Fasano in New Hampshire, the only way that would probably happen would be if d’Arnaud was in Triple-A, seeing as the mere mention of the Fisher Cats keeping all three of Gomes, d’Arnaud, and Jimenez on their roster is unrealistic. Keeping d’Arnaud in New Hampshire all season as the starting catcher also has its advantages, primarily getting him to work with Fasano day in, day out.
The Blue Jays’ plan all along has likely been to let all of their catchers progress gradually and look something like this in 2012, which is pretty impressive in its own right:
Las Vegas: d’Arnaud
New Hampshire: Jimenez
That being said, though, it’s always fun to explore other options that could take place. With the way Jimenez has been swinging recently, he’s making a case to be considered by New Hampshire as a call up, especially if his production continues well into the summer. Should d’Arnaud’s prior concussion-like symptoms or back injuries resurface, that could open the door for Jimenez as well.
All in all, Jimenez is certainly opening eyes with his trademark defensive abilities and breakout offensive display this season. He shouldn’t go unnoticed by anybody going forward, and he’s just another one of the very exciting prospects the Jays have in their minor league system.