Kevin Gray's On Baseball: With Fishers, it takes a catcher to coach a catcher
MANCHESTER — Sal Fasano, a former catcher, sounds more like a physics professor when talking about angles and proper fundamentals of blocking pitches behind the plate.
The Fisher Cats manager says things like “angle in, angle out” and “keep your surface area square” while teaching the finer points of catching to Blue Jays prospect A.J. Jimenez and backup Brian Jeroloman. There is never an off day for the two catchers.
Before a game, you might see Fasano throwing one-hoppers into the chest of Jimenez. At spring training, the reigning Eastern League Manager or the Year walked around carrying a 5-foot-long tube of PVC pipe, a teaching tool for proper foot alignment and posture.
Class is in session when Jimenez arrives at the park four hours before the game.
“Unfortunately, for him, it's good and bad that I'm his manager,” Fasano, a big-league catcher for parts of 11 seasons, said. “There are times when most (managers) would just let him go. I'm always looking at the finer things about catching and all the detail work that needs to be done.”
Jimenez, the top-rated catcher in Toronto's system, has thrown out 11 of 20 base stealers (55 percent) and picked off three runners. During the last homestand, he fired a laser from his knees to nail a Reading runner at second base. Not even Fasano can teach that technique.
“That's instinct. It's hard to plan it when you're throwing from your knees,” Fasano said. “Most of the time, you're working with a breaking ball, and you see the runner has a good jump. You end up staying right there and trying to make a good throw.”
Jimenez, of Puerto Rico, can hit. He led Advanced-A Dunedin with a .303 average last season and was named the team's MVP. Thursday night, he stroked a deep sacrifice fly to left-center field to give the Fisher Cats a 2-1 lead against the Binghamton Mets in the fifth inning. In 2010, Jimenez played under Fasano at low-A Lansing, batting .305. This season, the Blue Jays want Jimenez to master the mental side of game, learning how to mix pitches and outthink the opponent.
“We're really spending a lot more time this month focusing on that when we get together and talk,” Fasano said. “Defensively, there are always slight adjustments. If you look hard enough, you can always find something. Unfortunately, that's what I always do with the catchers.”
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Vlady Watch: Toronto signed Vladimir Guerrero to a minor-league contract on Thursday, assigning the future Hall of Famer to extended spring training in Dunedin, Fla. If the 37-year-old still hits most everything thrown toward the plate — Guerrero has a .318 career average — the Blue Jays will bring him up through the minors and perhaps give him a stop at New Hampshire.
Last season, Guerrero batted .290 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs for the Orioles. In 2010, he was an All-Star with Texas. He has 449 homers in a 16-year career. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported that Guerrero would earn a pro-rated portion of $1.3 million if the Blue Jays called up the slugger.
In 1996, Guerrero played for Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League, leading the circuit with a .360 average. He made his big-league debut for the Expos later that season.
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Fisher tracks: The Blue Jays have more talent at catcher than Heinz has pickles. Travis d'Arnaud, the 2011 Eastern League MVP, helped lead Triple-A Las Vegas to eight straight wins entering Thursday night. Get this: d'Arnaud hasn't been the best catcher on the team. Yan Gomes, batting .371 for Las Vegas, has turned himself into a legitimate prospect the past two seasons …Former Fisher Cats All-Star shortstop Adeiny Hechavarra, batting .301 for Las Vegas, made a start at second base Thursday night. That could be an indication of Toronto's long-term plans for the slick-fielding infielder. By season, the Blue Jays may have Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Hechavarria at second.
Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com.