Double-A catcher hits at every level, but prides himself on defense after surgery
NEW YORK -- A.J. Jimenez has been through a lot in the past year. A torn ligament followed by Tommy John surgery relegated the Blue Jays' prospect to the bench for almost all of last season. Then he fought his way back to the field with a methodical rehab.
On Sunday, Jimenez suited up with some of the top Minor Leaguers in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field as a member of the World team.
Once he got back behind the plate, Jimenez has put together a strong season for Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. In 33 games between both levels, Jimenez is hitting .376 with a .403 on-base percentage. Defensively, he's thrown out 41 percent of attempted basestealers.
"It is special to be here because it's been a long year so far with all the rehab and the surgery," said Jimenez, a Puerto Rico native. "I came back playing hard, working my butt off. It's good to be here, good to be around these guys."
This was by the far biggest crowd Jimenez has played in front of. He said he felt some pressure and jitters through the first inning, but after that, settled in.
"Just a little nervous, I think that's normal," Jimenez said. "I'm in a new place right now, but I was excited, I was happy about it. I played hard."
In his first at-bat in the third, he grounded a pitch back up the middle to U.S. pitcher and D-backs prospect Archie Bradley. Then he walked in his next at-bat in the fifth.
Much of the thrill, though, came in catching some of the most highly touted pitchers in the Minor Leagues, including World Team starter Rafael Montero, who pitches in the Mets' organization for Triple-AAA Las Vegas.
"I'm so excited to catch big names like that," Jimenez said. "It was so easy to catch them because they control the ball so well."
Jimenez, 23, was drafted by Toronto in the ninth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He's climbed through the organization, putting up solid numbers at each level, but the Tommy John surgery set him back.
The Blue Jays set up a "step-by-step" rehab for him, which he said went smoothly with the exception of a minor complication during Spring Training.
Jimenez said his arm feels 100 percent, something to which the seven baserunners he's caught stealing can attest.
Jimenez is most proud of his standout defense. Productive hitting comes and goes. Being able to providing a sturdy presence behind the plate consistently is something he can always control.
"I'm proud of what I'm doing right now. I take more pride in my defense," Jimenez said. "It's good when you see the scoreboard and you're hitting good, and defensively you're good too. That's how you win games."
Jimenez has scouted many of the players sharing the clubhouse with him. He said it feels like any other game, since he knows so many of them. But after going through his injury, surgery and then a resurgence that's earned him ample attention, playing in the Futures Game isn't really just any other experience.
He's overcome too much to take this for granted.
"I was so happy about it," Jimenez said. "I couldn't wait for this day to come."
Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com.