03/27/09 7:28 PM ET
Blue Jays deal Thigpen to A's
Prospect once considered Toronto's catcher of the future
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
For Thigpen, it was welcome news. Considered Toronto's top catching prospect only a few seasons ago, Thigpen was a long-shot candidate for the backup job this spring. When it became obvious that the reserve role was going to fall to either veteran Michael Barrett or Raul Chavez, Thigpen was more than ready to embrace a change of scenery.
"I'm pretty excited, to be honest, for a couple of reasons," said Thigpen, when reached by phone. "One, it's a fresh start and a new beginning to get out there and make a good first impression with a new organization, a new team. Two, just overall, it's probably a better opportunity for myself, personally.
"I had a great experience over the past five years with Toronto up until now, and I've been pretty fortunate. But I definitely think it's time to move on, and I'm looking forward to it and excited to start new again."
The Jays were impressed with Thigpen's hitting ability in college with the University of Texas, with whom he won a College World Series title in 2003, and the club selected him in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Thigpen rose quickly up the organizational ladder, reaching Triple-A in his third professional season, but landing a job with Toronto proved to be a difficult task.
Over the past two seasons, Thigpen's stock with the Jays began to slip, and other catching prospects passed him on the organizational depth chart. In 2007, Toronto used a first-round Draft pick on catcher J.P. Arencibia, who is now being promoted as the club's everyday catcher of the future.
Under the circumstances, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was happy that Thigpen found a new home this spring.
"That's good for him," Gaston said. "He gets another chance somewhere else, so that's great for him. I always tell these guys, 'There are 29 other teams. We'd like for you to play for us, but if you can play somewhere else, that's great.' He's a good kid. I'm happy for him."
Entering the offseason, the 26-year-old Thigpen was the leading candidate to serve as the backup to starting catcher Rod Barajas this season. Over the winter, though, Toronto signed Barrett and Chavez -- each veterans of at least 10 big league seasons -- to add more competition for the No. 2 job behind the dish.
On Feb. 4, the Blue Jays designated Thigpen for assignment, removing him from the 40-man roster in order to clear room for pitcher Brian Burres. On Tuesday, Thigpen was returned to Minor League camp without a clear place within Toronto's farm system.
With the Jays, Thigpen would have likely ended up back with Double-A New Hampshire for the first time since 2006, serving as the backup to catching prospect Brian Jeroloman. Arencibia is ticketed for regular playing time with Triple-A Las Vegas, where either Barrett or Chavez will likely occupy the reserve role.
Toronto also discussed having the athletic Thigpen play multiple positions in order to provide him with more playing time. Thigpen, who has also played first base in the big leagues, prefers to remain behind the plate, but he is not opposed to moving around the field for Oakland, if that's what the team wants.
"If an opportunity presents itself where I can play some other positions, I would never turn that down," Thigpen said. "I'm open to suggestions for things like that. I would say that's just another asset that I have to play other positions, as a backup or just in another role. But first and foremost, I want to catch."
In five seasons in Toronto's Minor League system, Thigpen hit .266 with 28 home runs, 185 RBIs and a .347 on-base percentage over 409 games. Over the past two years, Thigpen appeared in 57 games for the Blue Jays, hitting just .229 with one homer and 12 RBIs. In 2008, Thigpen hit .222 over 96 games with Triple-A Syracuse and .176 in a 10-game tour with Toronto.
Thigpen feels he is capable of more than what he showed last season, and he's hoping that he can find a place on Oakland's big league roster before too long.
"I've kind of gotten to that point where I'm tired of the Minor Leagues," Thigpen said. "I know last year I struggled, but I feel like I'm at that point where, given the opportunity, I'm ready to play in the big leagues. I mentally believe that I can. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to do that over there.
"I know the situation doesn't set up that way right now, but it looks like I'm in a pretty good spot to get an opportunity over there."
Also on Friday, the Jays released pitchers Mike Maroth and Rick Bauer. Veteran right-hander Matt Clement, who was returned to Minor League camp on Tuesday, also agreed to accept an assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas. Clement, 34, who hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2006 due to right shoulder issues, was a candidate for a rotation job with the Jays 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.