Sports Baseball

BUFFERY

Catcher Juan Graterol looking to impress Blue Jays

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros slides in safely to score a run ahead of the throw to catcher Juan Graterol #57 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Oct. 1, 2016 in Anaheim, Calif.  (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images File Photo)

Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros slides in safely to score a run ahead of the throw to catcher Juan Graterol #57 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Oct. 1, 2016 in Anaheim, Calif. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images File Photo)

DUNEDIN — The past six months have been a time of celebration and mass confusion for Blue Jays catcher Juan Graterol. With the emphasis on the latter.

On Sept. 2, after spending 11 years in the minor leagues, Graterol finally made his Major League debut, hitting a double and scoring a run for the Los Angeles Angels in a 11-8 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

The Aragua, Venezuela, native appeared in six games in total for the Angels, collecting four hits in 14 at-bats, and after so many years slugging it out in the minors thought perhaps he might stick around in the big leagues for awhile.

But it wasn’t to be.

Graterol was designated for assignment by the Angels on Nov. 22 and then claimed by the Cincinnati Reds on Nov. 28. And then the real fun began.

He was designated for assignment by the Reds in December, and claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Dec. 24. Arizona designated him for assignment on Jan. 13, after signing Chris Iannetta.

The Angels claimed Graterol off waivers on Jan. 19. The Angels waived Graterol again and the Blue Jays claimed him on Jan. 23. Apparently, all the clubs wanted him but just didn’t have room on the 40-man rosters.

But now the 28-year-old has landed in Dunedin hoping to impress the Jays enough that he might stick around for a while, or at least start the season with Triple-A Buffalo.

Of course, Russell Martin is the Jays’ No. 1 catcher and the organization brought in Major League veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia to back up Martin. Graterol is generally considered third on the club’s catching depth chart after A.J. Jimenez being released on Feb.13. He’s thrilled to be with the Jays.

“It’s awesome,” said Graterol. “It’s great. When you look at the roster and I see I have the opportunity to play, I said thank to the Blue Jays for giving me the opportunity.”

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound catcher admitted that there were times during the off-season when was getting anxious wondering where he would land next.

“It was crazy you know. I was playing winter ball (in Venezuela) at that time so I just had to concentrate on the games,” he said. “So I just talked to my agent and he said, ‘Don’t be crazy, relax. Just keep going. I know it’s crazy right now. But it’s okay, just relax and keep breathing. Whatever’s going to happen will happen.’”

Graterol put together a .270BA .320OPB .335SLG .655OPS slash line in the minors and is known as a good defensive catcher and good game caller. He’s excited about getting to work with Martin in spring training.

“I asked Russ how he’s been able to be around for so many years (in the Majors) and he said, ‘You know, just be a good teammate, try to help the other guys and if you want to be better, your pitchers have to be better. And always compete. Compete like a winner,’” said Graterol. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. He’s a really good guy and now that I’ve met him, it’s just awesome.”

Toronto manager John Gibbons, a former catcher, has liked what he has seen from Graterol so far.

“He’s a big, strong kid, does a nice job behind the plate, looks good in BP right now so we’ll see how it all plays out,” said Gibbons. “We’re glad to have him. We’ve heard nothing about good things about him.

“I’ve kind of been in his shoes a little bit,” added Gibbons, who also spent 11 years in the minors between appearances with the New York Mets. “So I know what he expects. Really, it’s just sticking it out until he gets that opportunity. A lot of times that’s all it takes.

“But that’s never easy,” Gibbons continued. “You end up signing with a team that’s got that good front-liner and there’s another veteran or two on the team (Saltalamacchia). It’s difficult. But there’s a lot of great stories out there, guys that persevere and end up finally getting that break somehow and the next thing you they turn out having a nice little career.”

Gibbons comments were music to Graterol’s ears.

“I’m just coming in every day and doing my job, help the team and learn the pitchers and get to know everybody and just try to learn something everyday,” said Graterol.

sbuffery@postmedia.com