Regardless of how you summarise the offseason for the Blue Jays, spring training is nearly here. In fact, we're just two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Dunedin.
As part of Jays Journal's preparations for the 2024 campaign we're taking a look at the various players on the Blue Jays roster. With this in mind, here is our preview of the catcher position:
The 2023 campaign was one of both disappointment and encouragement for Alejandro Kirk. More specifically, his offensive production took a step back, while his defence behind the plate improved.
Starting with Kirk's offence, his previous season had represented a breakout year, as he produced 14 home runs, 63 RBI and 63 walks. This contributed towards an excellent .285/.372/.415 slash line and .786 OPS in a career-high 139 games.
With optimism and expectations high entering last year, the 25-year-old was unable to reproduce to a similar level with his bat. He essentially dipped across the board, finishing with eight homers, 43 RBI, 42 walks, a .250/.334/.358 slash line and .692 OPS in 123 appearances.
It isn't entirely clear why Kirk's offensive form took a step back, although Jays Journal's Eric Treuden offers a feasible explanation. Due to his baby girl being born in February and him subsequently reporting late for spring training, it's entirely possible the understandable distraction and delay contributed towards his never quite being able to get on track.
In any event, the Tijuana, Mexico native is predicted by FanGraphs to rebound and have a better year at the plate this coming season, albeit not quite back up to his level of 2022. ZiPS projections have him producing 12 home runs, 50 RBI and 46 walks, on the way to a .263/.345/.403 slash line and .748 OPS.
Turning to Kirk's defence, the Blue Jays will be hoping it's a case of more of the same in 2024. His play behind the plate at least helped balance out his overall importance to and impact on the team last year.
Of particular note, the 2022 All-Star finished third among all Major League catchers with a 1.7 dWAR and, as per The Fielding Bible, second with 17 Defensive Runs Saved. In addition, when you look at The Catcher Framing Leaderboard, he was tied-seventh with six Catcher Framing Runs and eighth in Strike Rate.
Overall, as long as Kirk maintains a similar level of consistently behind the plate, while also hitting closer to what he's achieved previously, the Blue Jays will be over the moon. With his combination of age, upside and durability, consider him favourite to be the main catcher this coming season.