Surprise Candidate, Jaso Finishes 5th in Rookie of Year Vote

Given his pedigree as a former top prospect, Wade Davis finishing fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year award voting is not much of a surprise. He was not as dominant as AL winner Neftali Feliz or as game-changing as the NL winner Buster Posey, but did a stellar job in his first full-season – especially when you consider he threw nearly 170 innings in baseball’s toughest division.

On the other hand, John Jaso finishing fifth right behind Davis in the AL R.O.Y. vote came as a complete shock to fans, the organization, and probably Jaso himself.

When 2010 started, the Tampa Bay Rays featured a platoon of Kelly Shoppach and Dioner Navarro at the catcher position. Meanwhile, the platoon did not quite fit. Shoppach is a right-handed batter who mashes left-handed pitching. Although he is a switch-hitter, Navarro hits better from the right side also against LHP. As fate would have it, the platoon would last about a week until Shoppach suffered a knee injury and miss significant time.

Enter John Jaso…

Jaso, 26, got his first big league cup of coffee in September 2008. Never much of a prospect, Jaso seemed more like organization filler than starting catcher. He spent the entire 2009 season in the minors and entered 2010 as a distant third on the depth chart. He has always been a decent offensive player, but his defense was far behind. In fact, he spent most of the 2010 spring working with Bobby Ramos on his mechanics behind the plate than actually competing for a job.

With Shoppach out and Navarro stuck in a season-plus long slump, Jaso was thrust into action. He not only held his own in Shoppach’s absence, but forced Navarro back to the minor leagues when Shoppach returned. While the incumbents had success against lefties, Jaso, a left-handed batter, excelled against righties.

In 404 plate appearances overall, Jaso hit .263/.372/.378. His average and home run power are largely lackluster, but his ability to get on-base is a definite plus. Consider this; Jaso is just the third American League catcher since 1980 to post an on-base percentage over .370 in a season (min. 400 plate appearances) before the age of 27. The other two catchers are Victor Marinez and Joe Mauer. Jaso’s on-base ability was so good against righties (.379 OBP) he ended the season as the teams’ primary leadoff man – something seldom seen from a catcher.

In most cases when a player breaks out at an older-than-expected age, many will write it off as a fluke. However, in regards to Jaso, the on-base skills appear legitimate. While he batting just above .260, he showed an amazing batting eye which lead to a walk rate of 14.6% compared to a strikeout rate of just 11.5%.

As unlikely as it seemed a year ago, Jaso is headed into 2010 as the team’s primary backstop. Given his patience at the plate, maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that his rise took a bit longer than most. After all, good things come to those who wait.