The old adage is that a team has to be strong up the middle. The Phillies knew that they were going to have an opening behind the plate when Mike Lieberthal either retired or went elsewhere. Well, now he's a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Phillies are looking to close ranks on their catching position with Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas. If that idea doesn't work, the Phillies have some young catchers coming along through the minor league system and the closest to the majors is Jason Jaramillo. While some expected more out of Jaramillo, it's easy to forget that he made a double jump last season going from Lakewood to Reading. Late in the season, he wound up at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, although he struggled a lot with the Red Barons. Normally, Jaramillo would first be heading to Double-A this season, so you have to keep last season's numbers in context.
Having said that, Jaramillo did struggle last season at both Reading and Scranton and some are wondering if the double jump was a wise move by the Phillies. One reason for the move was that the Phillies wanted Jaramillo to catch the bigger names in the organization and many of them - Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood - were starting the year at Double-A Reading. Jaramillo was primarily at Double-A to handle the pitching staff, which is something that he does very well.
Jason Jaramillo's career stats
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Acquired: Drafted by the Phillies in the second round (62nd overall pick) of the 2004 Draft out of Oklahoma State University. It wasn't the first time the Phillies had drafted him. They initially drafted him in the 39th round of the 2001 Draft, but Jaramillo decided to attend Oklahoma State and he didn't sign with the Phillies.
Batting and Power: Jason Jaramillo isn't going to set the world on fire with his offense. He'll knock a few pitches out of the park on occasion and it's likely that he'll hit in the .260 region and possibly a little higher. The good news is that he has developed plate discipline and didn't strike out very much last season, but it seemed like he lost some of his aggressiveness at the plate. In other words, Jaramillo may hit a little higher if he's more aggressive, but he'll strikeout more. It may be a situation between deciding on a higher average with more strikeouts or a lower average with less strikeouts.
Baserunning and Speed: Jaramillo will bring back memories of Greg Luzinski if you watch him on the bases. He doesn't have any speed to talk about and has only the element of surprise going for him when it comes to stealing bases. He doesn't generally run into too many outs though because he's smart enough to know that he doesn't have much speed.
Defense: As mentioned earlier, Jaramillo is valued primarily because of his defense. He blocks pitches well, works well with pitchers and has a good arm. In 2005, Jaramillo was named the best defensive catcher in the South Atlantic League. His defense actually got better in terms of fielding percentage in 2006 and he was still the same young catcher who threw himself in front of pitches and did all he could to help his pitcher along.
Projection: Jaramillo will likely start the year at Triple-A Ottawa, but with the cold weather there, they might let him warm up - pardon the pun - at Double-A Reading and then move him to Ottawa a little later in the season. The added time at Reading wouldn't hurt Jaramillo, who was expected to put up slightly better numbers there than he did last season. It's very possible that Jaramillo could see some playing time in Philly in September as a late season call-up. It's going to be interesting to see how the catching spot plays out in 2008 between Ruiz and Jaramillo. Possibly, Ruiz will take the lead at catching with Jaramillo playing somewhat of a second fiddle role.
Comparison: Jaramillo likely will wind up with lesser offensive skills than Mike Lieberthal, but will be an even better defensive catcher. Both he and the Phillies hope that he can avoid injuries like Lieberthal couldn't, which would help Jaramillo to become a better overall player.