Minor League Report: The backstops
Thigpen, Diaz provide Jays with dynamic young catching duo
LAKELAND, Fla. -- It's a good problem to have for the Blue Jays. Toronto has two catching prospects who are nearly ready for the big leagues, but both need to have a steady amount of playing time at Triple-A Syracuse in the season's early months.
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, both Robinzon Diaz and Curtis Thigpen can man other positions. While one is behind the plate, the other can play in the infield or serve as a designated hitter. That way, both catchers can pile up the innings in their quest for a big league promotion later in the season.
"They're both versatile," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "It all finds a way of working itself out. I don't think we should get pigeonholed right now as to who's going to play where or what. They're going to go to Triple-A. Let them play, keep playing, and we'll make a decision on that later on. They'll both be in the lineup."
Thigpen, who can double as a first baseman on occasion, gained some Major League experience with Toronto last season. The 24-year-old spent 50 games with Syracuse and another 47 with the Jays, helping out behind the plate and at first. Thigpen hit .238 in his brief big league stint, but he managed a .285 average with three homers and 20 RBIs in the Minors in 2007.
Diaz, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, has yet to make it to the Majors, but Ricciardi said that fact might be a result of circumstances. As is the case for many players who come from Spanish-speaking countries, there are some hurdles that raw talent can't always overcome.
"He's a tough kid. He's physical," Ricciardi said. "But I think like most of the kids who come out of the Dominican, his catching up with the language and all that stuff has been really the only thing that's held him back. He's been around a long time now."
Over the past four seasons, the 24-year-old Diaz has been named to six Minor League All-Star teams, and he suited up for the World team in the Futures Game during All-Star week in San Francisco last year. In 2007, Diaz hit .320 with four home runs and 40 RBIs in 93 games between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Syracuse.
Besides catching, Diaz has some limited experience at second and third base. Ricciardi said the catcher is sound defensively, and while Diaz tends to be a free swinger at the plate, he's performed well offensively throughout his Minor League career. In 519 games in the Minors, Diaz has hit .305 with a .341 on-base percentage.
"He can hit," Ricciardi said. "He's not the kind of guy you look at and say, 'This is our ideal offensive posterboy,' but he can hit. He barrels balls. He'll barrel a ball off the top of his shoe, a ball over his head.
"He's a lot like a Nomar [Garciaparra] strike zone, or like [an Alfonso] Soriano strike zone. He's hacking when he goes up there, but he could be the exception to the rule. He's done well everywhere he's played."
Strong start: On Wednesday, the Blue Jays were trailing the Phillies, 6-0, in the bottom of the ninth inning, appearing well on their way to a second straight shutout loss. That was until top prospect Travis Snider drilled a pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
Toronto still wound up with another defeat, but not before Snider -- the 14th overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft -- could continue his hot streak at the plate. In his first five game appearances, Snider has gone 3-for-6 with two RBIs and four walks.
"That's his game: hitting," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's got a great feel for the strike zone and good discipline. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes on him. When you can get young guys doing that, that's when you know they're ahead of the game."
Snider has been getting his at-bats as a DH for the Blue Jays, because the outfielder's left elbow is still sore from an injury earlier this spring. It was originally believed that Snider would begin the season with Class A Dunedin, but Double-A New Hampshire now appears to be Snider's next destination.
A good eye: An impressive part of Brian Jeroloman's game is his keen eye at the plate. Last season with Class A Dunedin, the 22-year-old catching prospect had 85 walks and a .421 on-base percentage in 100 games. Over his first two pro seasons, Jeroloman has 111 walks, compared to 95 strikeouts, and a .404 OBP in 145 games.
"Jeroloman is probably the best defensive guy we have -- a flat-out defensive guy," Ricciardi said. "He can hit, too. Plus, he's got an unbelievable command of the strike zone. You see his walk rate last year in the Florida State League? He had like 80 walks last year.
"He's got a real good idea. It makes you think, from an evaluation standpoint, if a guy has that good of an eye from an offensive standpoint, he's got a pretty good idea of what a strike is and what a strike isn't behind the plate. He's a pretty intelligent player."
The Parrish plan: The Blue Jays had left-hander John Parrish pitch 1 2/3 innings against the Indians on Monday, leading to questions about what type of role might be in store for the pitcher. Ricciardi indicated that Toronto is stretching Parrish out in order to prep him for a possible spot in the starting rotation with Triple-A Syracuse.
They're No. 1: There's no room on Toronto's projected Opening Day roster for infielder Russ Adams, who was Ricciardi's first Draft selection in his tenure as the Jays' GM. Once the Jays' regular shortstop, Adams -- the 14th overall pick in the 2002 Draft -- will likely start the season with Triple-A Syracuse and work as a utility man. Toronto wants to get him innings at second base, third base and in the outfield.
Class of '07: Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays plan on having infielders Kevin Ahrens (16th overall), Justin Jackson (45th overall) and John Tolisano (85th overall) join the big league club for some spring games this month. Last season in the Gulf Coast League, Ahrens hit .230 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 48 games, Jackson hit .187 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 42 games, and Tolisano hit .246 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 49 games.
What they're saying: "He's a good hitter. He's trying to make the club." -- Gibbons, joking about Snider's performance this spring
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.