Jin-De Jhang Getting More Opportunities Behind the Plate With Reese McGuire Gone

SURPRISE, AZ – When the Pirates traded Reese McGuire at the deadline, it opened up playing time for another catcher in the system, Jin-De Jhang. Prior to the trade, Jhang was no stranger to splitting time in the system, and having his development impacted by multiple catchers, specifically McGuire.

In 2014, Jhang was making the jump from Jamestown, the NYPL affiliate at the time. The natural progression would have been to send him to West Virginia, although the Pirates had McGuire making an aggressive jump from the GCL to West Virginia in his first full pro season. Rather than having the pair splitting catching duties, Jhang also received an aggressive promotion to Bradenton, jumping up to High-A in just his third pro season, with not a lot of baseball background prior to that.

Jhang’s offense, which was a highlight in the lower levels, struggled in 2014. That led to him returning to Bradenton in 2015, at which point his offense rebounded, but where he also found himself behind McGuire. He only had 46 games behind the plate that year, compared to 74 the year before, when he was splitting time with Jacob Stallings. Jhang spent over half of his season in 2015 as the designated hitter.

The Pirates moved Jhang and McGuire up to Altoona in 2016, with the same playing time expectations. Even though Jhang caught the final month as the starter after the trade, he still only had 48 games behind the plate, with McGuire having 73 in the first four months of the year. Jhang did briefly move up to Indianapolis, where he got five more starts, but he found himself with just 53 starts on the year, which was only slightly higher than his total of 45 in short-season in 2013.

Jhang was a pretty high profile signing out of Taiwan in 2011. His bonus of $250,000 was the highest bonus received by a position player out of Taiwan at the time. He immediately showed good plate patience, never going above a 12.3% strikeout rate, even in his 2014 season. He can draw some walks, but usually sits around 5.5%, as he makes good contact and can hit for a good average. He’s got some power potential due to his size, and while that hasn’t fully shown up, there’s the potential for double-digit homers one day.

One issue with the lack of playing time is that it has impacted Jhang’s development. That hasn’t seemed to hurt him as much offensively, as his hitting coach in both Altoona and in the AFL noted.

“I think that can be challenging for any player,” Altoona hitting coach Kevin Riggs said about his lack of playing time. “He knows what he needs to do before the game, so he gets his work in for when he’s called upon. He’s a true professional as far as that goes.”

The defense is where the lack of playing time really hurts. McGuire was always ahead of Jhang because he was one of the best defenders in the minors, and that defense will eventually get him to the majors in some role. His future hitting ability would eventually determine the role. In Jhang’s case, he’s got the hitting ability to at least be a backup in the majors, but the defense is a question for the long-term.

“He gives you a good at-bat, a professional at-bat,” Riggs said. “Controls his strike zone. Really doing an unbelievable job behind the plate as well.”

Jhang plays defense well enough to stick behind the plate, with a strong arm, good work with his pitching staff, and good agility for his size. The work with the pitching staff is impressive, as Jhang was already communicating without a translator in 2013, his second pro season in the US.

His size isn’t as much of an issue right now, but will be something to watch going forward. He entered pro ball with a lot of weight, and he’s always going to be a big catcher. He trimmed down after his first full season, but it will be an effort to maintain that weight as he gets older, which could be the biggest thing preventing him from being a catcher one day down the line. For now, he moves surprisingly well for his size, and that doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue.

Jhang just needs more practice behind the plate, which he didn’t see much of the last two years. Now that McGuire has been traded, that should create an opening for him to get more time.

“For me, I can play more, catch a lot,” Jhang said of the impact of the trade. “I just want to play. I just want to catch.”

The upside here probably isn’t more than a backup catcher, as Jhang might not have the defense to justify being a starter, unless his power potential really takes off and makes up for the average at best defensive upside. He could end up a strong offensive backup, with defense that won’t take away from the offensive value. In the short-term, he might have to return to Altoona for another season to get playing time, as he’d be blocked in Indianapolis by Elias Diaz. But that playing time should help him get the work he needs behind the plate, making it more likely that he reaches the majors.

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RobForsyth

The guy is intriguing. I hope he gets more playing time this year and hopefully he’ll develop more.

taylor26554

Chance that Jhang is added to the 40 man roster?

rich

Catchers are hard to hide on the roster as not many teams keep 3.

leowalter

Cubs found a way to win a World Series with 3 on the roster for a good part of the season.

Stephen Brooks

And their 3rd catcher (Willson Contreras) played a signifiant portion of his innings in LF or at 1B; that, and the Cubs’ ability to absorb Miguel Montero’s $14M salary to ride the bench, allowed them to make it work. A very unusual case that maybe only the Yankees – who have two catchers who can hit well enough to DH – could also get away with.

jiaqic

What does it mean when speaking of the defense value of a catcher? Framing? Fielding? Communicating with pitcher? Preventing steal? If as said Jhang has a strong arm and moves well, which part of defense is he lacking right now?

leowalter

Stephen Brooks has the good list, but blocking the slider in the dirt is right up towards the top of any list. Gary Sanchez of the Yankees has had a lot of problems with that part of the game by the way.

Stephen Brooks

The 5 facets and underlying skills you look for are

– Game calling (exploiting batter tendencies and weaknesses, managing your pitcher’s strengths and limitations)
– Receiving (setting up and framing)
– Blocking (quick hands, quick body positioning)
– Fielding (quick feet, sure hands and range for bunts, foul pop-ups and receiving throws)
– Managing base stealing (pop times, arm strength, arm accuracy)

Obviously some of those skill sets you either have or you don’t, while others can improve with repetition.

Y2JGQ2

I’m more interested in knowing which areas de jhang struggles with

leefoo

McGuire was all defense, no bat. Jhang just the opposite, it seems. End result is that both appear to have the upside of a backup catcher?

battlingbucs

I think McGuire has the higher upside but Jhang seems to be “safer”

Jason G

I’m not sure that’s the case. McGuire’s defense is likely major-league ready, while Jhang isn’t there offensively or defensively. I might even argue that McGuire is both safer and possessing higher upside.

Bruce Humbert

McGuire can’t hit well enough to be a MLB starter – Jhang can.

In any case it doesn’t matter any more – time to move on…

Y2JGQ2

Bruce…how old is Reese again? Please tell me the last time we saw a succesful Defensive catcher make the majors before age 24 and have the ability to hit well. Give the kid a break.

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