Going into the 2021 season, catcher Gabriel Moreno was ranked as the #8 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system by Baseball America. He finished 2019 playing A-ball, but due to the pandemic wiping out the entire minor leagues in 2020, he had yet to play at the higher levels of the minor leagues.
But in the first few months of the 2021 campaign, Moreno’s stock shot straight upwards. He started the season at Double-A and hit eight home runs in 32 games, slashing .373/.441/.651. His strikeout and walk rates were both better than average, coming in at 15.2% and 9.7%, respectively. Unfortunately, a broken thumb derailed him for a few months. He returned in September and played a couple of Complex League games, followed by three Triple-A games. In order to make up for lost time, he went to the Arizona Fall League and got into 22 games there, slashing .329/.410/.494, with an equal number of walks and strikeouts, 13 of each.
Baseball America now considers him the #1 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, as well as #8 in all of baseball. Their scouting report highlights his eye for the strike zone, his developing power, his 41% caught stealing rate, with improved blocking and receiving. They predict Moreno, who turns 22 on Valentine’s Day, will be a future all-star who should make his MLB debut in 2022. That means the Blue Jays have a positional crunch on their hands, as Moreno is one of four catchers on the 40-man roster, with the other three all finishing the year with the big league club.
Danny Jansen, 26, made a couple of trips to the IL due to hamstring injuries but still got into 70 games in 2021. He hit 11 home runs and slashed .223/.299/.473 for a wRC+ of 105. When combined with positive marks for his defense, he was worth 1.4 wins above replacement in those 70 games, according to FanGraphs.
Alejandro Kirk, 23, also spent significant time on the IL and only got into 60 games on the year. He hit .242/.328/.436, with incredible strikeout and walk rates of 11.6% and 10.1%, respectively. His wRC+ of 106 is just a hair ahead of Jansen, but his work on the other side of the ball wasn’t graded as favorably, meaning his fWAR was only 0.7 on the year.
With Jansen and Kirk on the opening day roster in 2021, that meant there was no room for Reese McGuire. McGuire, 26, was designated for assignment, as he is out of options. He stayed with the Jays after clearing waivers and was selected back to the roster in May after Kirk went on the IL. Due to both Kirk and Jansen missing time, McGuire eventually got into 78 games, the most of the trio. He hit .253/.310./343 for a wRC+ of 78. Due to solid defensive marks, he was worth 1.3 fWAR on the year.
All of this means that the Blue Jays have decisions to make, as they are approaching a situation where they have four MLB-caliber backstops, with most clubs usually only rostering two. The team has had Moreno dabble at third base, as he played one game there at Double-A, which suggests they have at least considered the possibility of carrying three out of this group. That would still leave them with a surplus at some point, though, as none of this foursome is nearing free agency anytime soon. Danny Jansen is the closest to qualifying for the open market, but he still has three years of club control remaining.
It’s possible that the club may just want to hold onto all four, at least for the short-term. Last year, they went into spring with Jansen, Kirk and McGuire and just DFA’d McGuire once Opening Day rolled around and all three were healthy. Maybe they will just take the same approach, with Moreno getting more reps in Triple-A until either an injury creates an opening for him or he plays so well that they call him up and try to make the three-catcher scenario work.
However, there’s also the catching market to consider. This year’s crop of free agents was fairly limited and many of the stronger options have already been removed, as Yan Gomes, Manny Pina, Sandy Leon, Pedro Severino, Andrew Knapp and Roberto Perez all have new teams for 2022. For catching-needy teams, the best options available are now older veterans such as Robinson Chirinos and Kurt Suzuki.
Even the trade market has been picked over, as Jacob Stallings and Tucker Barnhart have already been shipped this offseason. Willson Contreras has been rumored to be available, especially with the Cubs signing Gomes. But Contreras is turning 30 in a few months and is entering his final year of club control, making him a different type of trade chip than the Jays’ backstops. The Athletics have reportedly considered shopping Sean Murphy. However, their highest priority in the post-lockout period will be moving their players that are closer to free agency than Murphy, who still has four years of team control remaining. Carson Kelly makes some sense as a trade candidate, but that doesn’t seem to be in the Diamondbacks’ plans. Due to that shortage of available options, it’s possible that some team might make the Blue Jays an offer strong enough that they consider subtracting from their depth.
Regardless of how it plays out, it seems to be an enviable position for the Blue Jays brass. FanGraphs’ depth charts currently rank the team second at the backstop position, trailing only the Dodgers, ahead of the J.T. Realmuto-led Phillies and the Yasmani Grandal-led White Sox. And that’s even without any contribution from Gabriel Moreno, who should be one of most interesting prospects to watch this year.