IN THIS COR­NER

National Post (National Edition) - - POST SPORTS - Steve Buffery CANA­DIAN-BORN CATCHER LOOKS TO RES­UR­RECT CA­REER WITH DODGERS Steve Buffery, Post­media News SBuf­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/Beez­er­sun

No doubt Rus­sell Martin is thrilled to be head­ing to Los An­ge­les, and not just be­cause the weather is nice.

The vet­eran catcher looked like he was suf­fo­cat­ing in Toronto last sea­son and will now be get­ting a fresh start with a team he’s very fa­mil­iar with.

The Jays traded Martin on Fri­day to his for­mer club, the Dodgers, for a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing prospects, 19-yearold short­stop Ronny Brito and right-handed pitcher An­drew Sopko. Jays GM Ross Atkins de­serves ku­dos for be­ing able to ship out the ag­ing Martin and his $20 mil­lion con­tract (though the Jays will eat most of that) and get­ting some­thing de­cent in re­turn. Whether Brito and the 24-year-old Sopko even­tu­ally progress into qual­ity ma­jor league play­ers, no­body knows for sure. Both are in­trigu­ing tal­ents, par­tic­u­larly Brito, who has been de­scribed as hav­ing Gold Glove tal­ent at short.

The Jays did not want Martin around for an­other sea­son, de­spite the fact that he’s one of the best at call­ing a game, fram­ing pitches and gen­er­ally lift­ing his pitch­ing staffs. The 2018 sea­son was a night­mare for the Toron­to­born catcher. Martin, who turns 36 next month, hit just .194 with eight dou­bles, 10 home runs, and 56 walks over 90 games last sea­son.

Worse than that, he looked like he was ready to snap at times, and did lose his cool near the end of the sea­son when he was asked how he felt about not play­ing in Septem­ber. Martin gra­ciously agreed to step back in the fi­nal month of the sea­son to al­low ris­ing young

Right-handed pitcher An­drew Sopko may not be as highly touted as Ronny Brito, but clearly the Jays like what he brings to the ta­ble.

The Mis­soula, Mont. na­tive was the Dodgers’ seventh-round pick in 2015 out of Gon­zaga. He’s had a bit of an up-and-down mi­nor­league ca­reer but did show signs of fig­ur­ing things out in 2018. He started last sea­son with the Ad­vanced-A Ran­cho stars Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire han­dle most of the du­ties be­hind the plate, but he clearly wasn’t happy. And you couldn’t blame him.

The Mon­treal-raised catcher has been a win­ner through­out his ca­reer, and not play­ing on a team go­ing nowhere fast had to be ex­tremely frus­trat­ing, though the Jays did go out of their way to ap­pease the vet­eran catcher. Man­ager John Gib­bons let him play around the in­field at points dur­ing the

Cu­ca­monga Quakes where he went 3-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 starts. He was pro­moted to the Dou­ble-A Tulsa Drillers in June and posted a 3-1 record with a 3.88 ERA across 14 games to close out the sea­son.

Sopko has posted a ca­reer mi­nor league record of 27-17 while record­ing a 3.61 ERA and 363 strike­outs over 394.1 in­nings. His fast­ball sits in the low-90s and touches 95 sea­son and Martin ac­tu­ally man­aged the fi­nal Blue Jays game of the year.

But his of­fen­sive skills have eroded con­sid­er­ably the last cou­ple of sea­sons and the writ­ing was on the wall. The four-time all-star joins the list of other ag­ing stars who have been shipped out of Toronto, in­clud­ing Josh Don­ald­son, J.A. Happ and Troy Tu­low­itzki. With Rowdy Tellez wait­ing in the wings, it’s likely first base­man Justin Smoak is next out the door.

NEW JAYS’ PITCHER SHOWS PROGRESS

mph, though he’s a fly ball hit­ter and that might not play well at the Rogers Cen­treifheev­er­make­sit­tothe bigs. His pri­mary off-speed pitch is a mid-70s, 12-6 curve ball. He also throws a change-up.

An­other rea­son why Toronto GM Ross Atkins (and pres­i­dent Mark Shapiro), may like Sopko? He grew up a Cleve­land In­di­ans fan.

Through jaded eyes, and most non-Rogers em­ployed jour­nal­ists suf­fer from that af­flic­tion, Brito might not seem like much of a prospect. He was No. 23 on the Dodgers’ prospect list and his bat has been noth­ing to write home about. But the young in­fielder’s de­fence is said to be world class. He signed for $2 mil­lion out of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic as an in­ter­na­tional free agent by the Dodgers but missed most of 2017 after breaking a leg while turn­ing a dou­ble­play, though he bounced back to have a strong 2018.

His of­fen­sive num­bers are trend­ing up­wards and Toronto’s prospects at short are get­ting more ex­cit­ing all the time, with Lour­des Gur­riel Jr., Bo Bichette, Richard Urena and now Brito in the mix. The scout­ing re­port says Brito has soft hands and a quick first step at short and a strong arm. Of­fen­sively, he is a switch hit­ter with “promis­ing” bat speed.

Over three mi­nor league sea­sons, Brito the short­stop has com­bined to hit .259 with 32 dou­bles, six triples, 15 home runs, and 104 RBI in 148 games.

All in all, a pretty good pay­out for Atkins.

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