Blue Jays Spring Training: 4 Key Roster Battles
Mar 2, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (55) catches a pitch in the first inning of Monday
R.A. Dickey’s Catcher
The front runner:
Josh Thole: Because all of R.A. Dickey’s success in the MLB has come with Josh Thole behind the plate, he enters Spring Training as the favourite to continue to be the catcher whenever R.A. Dickey is on the mound. Since the 2013 season opener when J.P. Arencibia looked absolutely lost trying to catch Dickey’s knuckleball, there haven’t been any serious challengers to dethrone Josh Thole’s as R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. The fact that there is some competition in 2015 is good news for Jays fans.
Thole is not a good hitter. He doesn’t really get on base much (career .322 OBP) and possesses absolutely zero power (8 home runs in 410 games). Last year, he struck out almost twice as many times as he walked. In the last two seasons, every 5 days the Jays would basically have a black hole in the catcher spot of the batting lineup. Yet, because no catcher could catch the knuckeball and because of Dickey’s relentless insistence on having Thole behind the plate, this was a necessity. Thankfully, there’s some competition this year.
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Russell Martin: It was all smiles for Jays fans when after Dickey’s first bullpen session with Martin as catcher, the knuckleballer had nothing but praise for the veteran backstop. Martin is known for his defensive prowess and an excellent pitch framer (accoding to Shi Davidi, in the last seven years Martin has been in the top five catchers each year in the “extra strikes” metric).
While it’s too early to tell if that means he’ll be able to handle the knuckleball there is hope that Martin could solve a real issue for the Jays. If Martin demonstrates in Spring Training that he is comfortable catching Dickey, the Jays won’t need to carry Thole on the roster, opening up the opportunity for Dioner Navarro (who had a decent year offensively in 2013 and is a switch hitter) to get more at bats between DH’ing and relieving Martin of catching duties 1-2 times a week. The batting lineup looks infinitely better with Martin penciled in and without Thole every 5 days, so Jays fans should be wholeheartedly rooting for Martin to seamlessly transition into a knuckleball catcher.
Now in years past, this wouldn’t have even been a possibility because of Dickey’s non-negotiable attitude towards having Thole as his personal catcher. The good news is that Dickey seems to have relaxed a bit on this stance, and this has opened the door for an opportunity for Martin to catch the knuckleball. Throughout Spring Training, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Martin’s acquaintance with the knuckleball and whether he can make Josh Thole a fleeting memory for Jays fans.