Spring Training is upon us. Between the months of February and April, teams flock south in order to ready themselves for the rigors of the upcoming 162 game season. Arms are stretched out, bat speed is dialed in and fake games are played while management attempts to iron out any serious questions headed into the new campaign.
One of those questions regarding the Blue Jays in 2013 is who will back up starting Catcher, J.P. Arencibia when the teams heads north in a few weeks.
After a series of trades, Toronto finds itself short on Catching depth, a one time strong point for the club. With a fresh crop of new faces at the position, the Blue Jays brass are going to have to make a decision on which player fits the requirements needed when the team squares off against Cleveland on April 2nd.
We know this… John Gibbons will have R.A. Dickeys Knuckleball in mind when making his final choice at the end of camp.
There’s no doubt that GM, Alex Anthopoulos had his Ace’s number 1 weapon in mind when completing the trade that sent top prospect Travis d’Arnaud and John Buck to the Mets. In another one of his savvy moves, Anthopoulos made sure to nab the two catchers in New York’s system who come with experience catching the Knuckleball. Following the deal with the Mets, AA went on to sign yet another experienced catcher with ties to R.A.
Former Mets Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas and Henry Blanco have all spent time catching Dickey during the past 3 years as he has become one of the top pitchers in the game. In fact, if you take a look over the list of Catchers that have caught the newly acquired Ace over his career, you will find that this trio combines for 556 Innings with R.A. and they rank #1, #3 and #5 in all time innings caught with the 38 year old Cy Young award winner.
Since R.A. Dickey has appeared exclusively Knuckleball pitcher, Josh Thole has the lead with 424 IP’s, sandwiched between the second and fourth spots on that list is Canadian Mike Nickeas with 82 Innings under his belt while rounding out the fifth spot is the 41 year old journeyman Henry Blanco who has an even 50 innings with Dickey.
With A.J. Jimenez coming off Tommy John surgery and surely requiring more seasoning before making his MLB debut, the back up role should come down to 1 of the 3 newly acquired Catchers.
Blanco comes with the most experience having appeared in 921 games over the course of 15 years in the Bigs. Over this span he has managed to post a career slashline of .227/.291/.367 while establishing himself as a solid defensive player.
Thole would be next in line having virtually served as Dickeys personal Catcher over the past 2 seasons. Ironically he split time with Blanco in 2010, catching 17 games with Dickey opposed to the veterans 7. Thole comes with a career line of .261/.331/.333 and has proved to have quite the eye in the past posting as high as a .357 OBP while with the Mets in 2010 (73 games).
Nickeas comes with the least experience at the MLB level having only appeared in 73 games as a Big Leaguer. During parts of 3 seasons with the Mets, the Vancouver native has posted a .180/.241/.238 slashline.
Both Thole and Nickeas come with options on their contracts leaving them susceptible to start the season in the Minors. As for Blanco, the depth (or lack there of) at the Catching position could aid the 41 year old’s chances of breaking camp with the team as the 750 000 dollar(non guaranteed) contract comes with out the option of sending him to Buffalo.
Gibbons was quoted on Wednesday saying “If we’re better off with one of the other guys catching, then he’ll catch Dickey. We’ve got to think about Dickey right there”. Having said that, it appears as if Arencibia’s shot at catching Dickey in the Opener is on the line should he struggle with the Knuck during the spring.
If anything, this should be an interesting story line to follow as we push closer to Opening Day.