The Toronto Blue Jays announced a few players would make the roster for Opening Day this year, with top-catching prospect Alejandro Kirk joining the team when they roll into New York City on April 1st.
Ranked as the Blue Jays 5th top prospect, Kirk played a small sample size with the club last year, appearing in nine games and slashing .375/.400/.583 with one home run and three RBI. Known for his ability in the batter’s box, Kirk has hit at every level that he has played in, amassing a .315/.418/.500 with a .918 OPS and 17 home runs and 101 RBI in 151 MiLB games. Before last season, the catcher had never appeared past A+ ball.
As Spring Training rolled through March, there was no real indication from the organization as to whether Kirk would make the Opening Day roster until the announcement yesterday. Kirk has played in 11 games so far this Spring, slashing .292/.333/.583 with a .917 OPS, two home runs, and six RBI along with six strikeouts and one walk.
Defensively, Kirk has caught various Blue Jays pitchers including Anthony Kay, Robbie Ray (x3), Ross Stripling, Tanner Roark, Jordan Romano, Tommy Milone, and T.J. Zeuch (amongst others). Early indications are pointing to Kirk catching Ray on a full-time basis this season, which would slot Kirk into the lineup at least once every five games.
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We already knew that Danny Jansen would be the primary catcher this season and now Kirk will be the backup on the active roster. The Jays also have Reese McGuire on the 40-man roster, who was looking to be the backup until the emergence of Kirk this Spring/last season. The organization has yet to comment on the status of McGuire, and he is out of minor league options and would have to be designated for assignment and exposed to waivers, unless they keep three catchers on the active roster (which seems very unlikely).
With Kirk earning his way onto the Blue Jays for his first Opening Day, one has to ask the question: Is it too soon?
Looking at the bigger picture, Kirk does appear ready for the challenge of major league pitching even with his small sample size last year and how he is faring so far this Spring. His defensive ability could be argued as a ‘work in progress’ but his arm is strong enough to throw out base stealers and it’s no secret that it’s his bat that is carrying him to New York City this week. The backstop just rakes at the plate and the Blue Jays seem to have faith that his defence is good enough to get the job done when needed and that the bat is going to perform at the major league level over the course of a full season. The decision also shows that the organization is trying to win now with Kirk being on the roster, ignoring the service time manipulation argument for one of their top prospects.
With his ability at the plate and raw power being one of his stronger aspects, I must say I am a tad surprised to see the Blue Jays bring him to the active roster considering he doesn’t have a lot of professional experience under his belt. He has never played a single game in AA or AAA and really hasn’t had the opportunity to develop like other top prospects at just 22 years old with around 150 games as a professional.
Additionally, the Blue Jays have usually never been one to rush prospects to the big league roster, so the fact that Kirk is making the jump means management must be impressed with what they are seeing. The catcher has already received some high praise from his teammates and from various Blue Jays reporters throughout the Spring Training campaign, enough so that many were not surprised to see Kirk being penciled into the active roster. I can see why the Blue Jays decided to add him to the team based on his ability, but history usually sides on them taking their time with prospect development (whether it be for the good of the player or for an extra year of control).
Development wise, he won’t get the same opportunities compared to beginning the season in the minor leagues, most likely working in a starting capacity and getting regular at-bats as well as additional time behind the plate. One could argue that more development could create a more defined product both offensively and defensively, even though he appears ready to face major league pitchers. Even with him catching the Blue Jays pitchers and learning under the MLB coaches/staff, the argument that more exposure/game time could help his overall development is pretty strong.
On the flip side, Kirk is performing well this Spring and the Blue Jays want to field the best team possible considering they are looking to reach the postseason once again this year. Having Kirk go down to AA or AAA and performing well doesn’t help the team now, especially if McGuire struggles at the plate like he did last season.
Another aspect to consider is if Kirk would be able to handle the daily workload if Jansen was to go down with an injury. I do hope Jansen is healthy and performs well this season, but the reality with this position is that catchers get beaten up behind the plate (foul balls, getting ran over, etc). If Jansen was to be out for an extended period of time, could Kirk handle a regular catcher’s workload for a full season?
I’m not saying that Kirk isn’t going to have a good season because he made the jump from A ball to the MLB, players have done it before in the past (cue John Olerud and his college to the MLB route). One just has to consider the argument(s) of the promotion possibly being too fast and too soon, especially since the Blue Jays do have another catching option in McGuire (even if he couldn’t find the barrel to the ball last season).
Honestly, this argument will resolve itself when the Blue Jays begin the season and Kirk starts to play over the next few months.
If Kirk can continue to put the ball in play and perform at least at an average level behind the plate, then the argument(s) becomes moot and the Blue Jays will look great for calling him up to the big league squad. Hitting home runs and putting runs on the board tends to have that effect.
Alternatively, if Kirk struggles in the box and his defence just isn’t up to par over the course of a full season, it will be a tough blow for the Blue Jays considering McGuire could be gone via waivers and the other catchers in the organization are a year or two away in Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno (Adams being next on the depth charts).
Regardless of your opinion on the decision, congratulations are in order for the young catcher for landing his first Opening Day with the Toronto Blue Jays. He obviously played well enough to turn heads in the organization and performed at a high enough level to earn a shot to begin the season with the Toronto Blue Jays. Many fans and scouts have been impressed by Kirk, especially since he came into 2021 in better shape and picking up where he left off last season this Spring Training.
On a personal level, I am excited to see Kirk on the active roster to begin the year. I like how the Blue Jays are bringing up who they think will make the team better while ignoring service time and any other non-baseball arguments, focusing on who is doing well and can make the current team win ball games so they can reach the playoffs once again. There will always be an associated risk with calling up a prospect like Kirk, but the minor leagues are a step away if he really finds himself in a funk and needs a quick reset. I understand the arguments for development and if he truly is ready, but I feel like he’s earned this shot.
I have to ask though: do you think Alejandro Kirk should have made the Opening Day roster?