IN THIS CORNER
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.