The Blue Jays are planning to select infielder Gosuke Katoh to the big league roster, the team informed reporters (including Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet) this afternoon. Toronto already has a vacancy on the 40-man roster, meaning they won’t need to make another move in that regard.
Once finalized, Katoh will get his first MLB opportunity. The 27-year-old began his professional career back in 2013, when he was selected by the Yankees in the second round out of a California high school. The left-handed hitter spent the next few seasons in the low minors, drawing plenty of walks but rarely hitting for power and striking out quite a bit. He didn’t reach Double-A until 2018, and he spent some time there the following season after struggling to a .229/.327/.335 line.
After a more productive 2019 campaign split between the minors’ top two levels, Katoh qualified for minor league free agency. He signed on with the Marlins for 2020 but didn’t play in a game in the Miami organization because of the canceled minor league season. Katoh caught on with the Padres last winter and spent the entire year with their top affiliate in El Paso. He had a solid .306/.388/.474 showing over 402 plate appearances with the Chihuahuas. Katoh walked at a customarily strong 11.4% clip and his 20.9% strikeout rate was among the lowest rates of his minor league career.
That wasn’t enough for Katoh to get an MLB opportunity in San Diego, but he latched on with the Jays on a minors pact this winter. He impressed the front office and coaching staff enough to get a season-opening bench job that had been up for grabs. It had seemed as if first baseman Greg Bird was trending towards that spot, but Bird was let go this afternoon once the club had opted for Katoh instead.
In doing so, the Jays will forfeit some power potential for a bit more defensive flexibility. Katoh bounced between first, second and third base and left field for El Paso last season, whereas Bird would’ve been limited to first base or designated hitter. Katoh pairs with the righty-hitting Santiago Espinal as utility options behind the starting infield of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette. He still has all three minor league option years remaining, so while he’ll be receiving his first MLB opportunity, Katoh could bounce between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo for a while.