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Blue Jays' Top 5 catchers: Brudnicki's take

@baseballexis
March 23, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favourite at this position.

Here is Alexis Brudnicki’s ranking of the top five catchers in Blue Jays history. Next week: Keegan Matheson takes a look at the franchise’s first basemen.

1. Ernie Whitt, 1977-89
Key fact: He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Recency bias may account for the fact that Whitt doesn’t get more love among Toronto’s most-tenured position players, especially as the man who appeared in the sixth-most games in franchise history. Over 1,218 games in a Toronto uniform, the backstop posted 19.3 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, accumulating a .253/.327/.420 slash line to go along with 131 of his 134 career home runs and 518 of his 534 career RBIs.

Along with bringing reliability and stability behind the dish, the Michigan native impressed at the plate for the Blue Jays, hitting at least 10 homers in eight straight seasons and helping the club to its first division title in 1985 -- a banner year in which he represented Toronto in the All-Star Game and hit a career-high 19 homers, a mark he would reach just once more two years later.

Whitt remained with the Blue Jays beyond his retirement as a player, coaching and managing for parts of 12 seasons. He continues to be a mainstay on Team Canada rosters after beginning his managing tenure in 1999 and winning two Pan Am Games gold medals for his adopted country, while also racking up other accolades in the red and white uniform.

2. Russell Martin, 2015-18
Key fact: He was named the unofficial manager for his last game with Toronto in 2018.

Martin was already a three-time All-Star when he joined the Blue Jays ahead of the ’15 season, and the home-country favourite added to that tally in his first year with the club. He hit .240/.329/.458 with a career-high 23 home runs, 23 doubles and 77 RBIs in 129 games in that All-Star season, helping Toronto to its first playoff berth in 22 years. The veteran catcher spent four of his 14 big league seasons to date donning the maple leaf.

3. Gregg Zaun, 2004-08
Key fact: He racked up 10.7 WAR during his five seasons with Toronto, a huge chunk of the 13.7 he accumulated in his 16-year MLB career, according to Baseball-Reference.

Zaun posted some of the best years of his playing career with the Blue Jays, hitting .255/.354/.399 with 45 home runs and 219 RBIs. The California native had one of his best big league seasons in 2006, when he slashed .272/.363/.462 with a career-high 12 homers in 99 games.

4. Darrin Fletcher, 1998-2002
Key fact: He remains the University of Illinois’ all-time leader in career and single-season batting average, holding those records since 1987.

Fletcher finished his 14-year Major League career with five seasons with the Blue Jays, getting into 540 games and slashing .276/.318/.434 during that time. He had the best year of his career in 2000, a season that saw the above-average defender hit .320/.355/.514 over 122 games with a career-high 20 homers.

5. Pat Borders, 1988-94 and '99
Key fact: He played more matchups in the Minor Leagues than in the Majors, surpassing the 1,000-game milestone at both levels.

Borders rose through the franchise’s catching ranks to round out this list in part for sentimental value. The 1982 sixth-round Draft pick will forever be remembered by Blue Jays fans for his incredible performance in the 1992 World Series. He slashed .450/.500/.750 against the Braves and helped Toronto to its first championship as the Fall Classic’s Most Valuable Player. Borders spent eight of his 17 big league seasons with the Jays, slashing .256/.290/.388 with 54 home runs and 272 RBIs over that span.

Honourable mentions
• Despite posting 3.4 WAR over just 178 games as a Blue Jay, Charlie O’Brien was edged out of the fifth spot by the memories Borders created.

Buck Martinez, who spent time managing Toronto in 2001 and ’02, remains in the broadcast booth for Blue Jays games, and ranks sixth on the Baseball-Reference WAR leaderboard among Toronto catchers.

Dioner Navarro spent parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays and racked up a 3.1 WAR over that time. He also left his mark with one of the most iconic images of Toronto’s first playoff run in more than two decades.

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.