Alejandro Kirk is performing well for the Blue Jays again this spring, but he has a few variables working against him to break camp with the team. The sample size is small, but the 22-year-old has been impressing during the Grapefruit League season, going five for his first ten at the plate, including a home run. He’s also drawn the praise of veteran starter Tanner Roark for his work on defence, which certainly won’t hurt his cause. Even still, it’s going to be an uphill battle to start the year in the big leagues. There are multiple reasons, but the biggest is likely the need for continued defensive development, even if he’s already impressing Roark. Prior to his MLB debut last year, Kirk had never played above High-A ball, and skipped some important steps without a minor league ladder to work with in 2020. His bat may be advanced enough to handle the highest level, but just like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a few years ago, his glove needs to catch up in order to be a thriving every-day player. That will be especially important for the Blue Jays in 2021, as they’re working with an interesting pitching staff. While there is lots of depth and plenty of upside among the group of arms, the Jays will need to milk the best performance they can out of guys like Roark, Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, Ross Stripling, and several younger, less experienced arms. Danny Jansen isn’t exactly a veteran receiver yet either, but he has a Gold Glove nomination on his resume, and he has parts of three seasons and 181 games caught under his belt. That could be especially important for the aforementioned younger arms such as Nate Pearson, Tom Hatch, Anthony Kay, and more.
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In my opinion, it would be better for Kirk to start 75-80% of the games in Triple-A rather than 40-50% in Toronto, at least to start the year. If Jansen’s performance isn’t up to snuff, you can always call Kirk up to the big leagues mid-season, and it could be a nice shot in the arm for the lineup at that time. In theory, offence shouldn’t be the problem anyway. The second problem is the fact that Kirk’s biggest competition for the job, Reese McGuire, is out of minor league options. The Blue Jays may hand him the back-up catcher’s job simply because they’d like to keep him on the depth chart. Ross Atkins has shown more aggressiveness in that way this offseason, designating Shun Yamaguchi for assignment and eating what was left on his contract as an example, but McGuire might be a different story. His stock was relatively high this time last year, and I could see the Blue jays giving him some early opportunities, even if it’s motivated by the chance to showcase him for catching-needy teams. The third factor I’ve already touched on, and it’s that the Blue Jays already have a stacked lineup and shouldn’t need to worry too much about offence from the catcher’s spot. Sure, it’s even better if lineup is nine threats deep, but the Jays should have one of the best hitting teams in baseball as it is. Should they really concern themselves that much with the offence they’ll get from the ninth spot in the lineup, especially when it’s an important defensive position like catcher? Even on the days that Jansen would be starting, having Kirk as the back-up isn’t ideal. In theory there are going to be times that Charlie Montoyo will turn to Randal Grichuk or Rowdy Tellez to hit for Jansen late in the game, and Kirk would then have to come in as a defensive replacement for the last inning or two. In that case, having a more glove-minded catcher would probably make a lot more sense.
I fully believe that Alejandro Kirk’s time will come with the Blue Jays, but I’m just not sure that the start of the 2021 campaign will be it.