DUNEDIN, Fla. — Justin Atkinson has learned to play nearly every position in the infield.
Now, the Blue Jays want to convert the Canadian into a catcher.
When he was told about the change ahead of the 2015 edition of spring training, Atkinson was sceptical at first but has since adjusted to his new role.
‘At first I thought they were just adding it to my utility,” said Atkinson. “I’ve asked them and I don’t think they’ve given me a definite answer if I’m going to be behind the plate 100-percent, but it seems to look that way and I’ve taken it upon myself to change and to adapt into that position.”
The 21 year old had the best year of his career in 2014 with the Blue Jays’ Class A affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. Over a total of 77 games, he had a batting average of .291 and 29 runs batted in, to go with an on-base percentage of .336.
He believes the switch is a result of Toronto trying to forge a smoother path to the majors for him.
“I feel like they think with my high (batting) average and being a catcher that I could potentially rise up the ranks quicker than being a utility player,” said Atkinson after training Friday.
However, when drafted by the Blue Jays in 2011 in the 26th round, he worried for his future after being immediately shuffled between positions in his first year. It wasn’t until he talked to a former all-star that he understood why they kept moving him around.
“At the beginning when I was younger I came in as a short stop and they started moving me all over the place and I was just like ‘What’s going on? Do they not like me here?’” said the Surrey, B.C. native. “And then I sat down with (catching instructor) Sandy Alomar (Sr.) and he explained it to me: ‘They’re moving you because they like you. They’re making you play other positions because they want you in the lineup.’”
Atkinson grew up supporting the Toronto club and recalled his favourite Blue Jays moment from his childhood.
“I think I was 14 or 15, being able to go to the Rogers Centre and actually be on the same field as those guys,” said Atkinson. “I don’t think I ever met any of them at that time but being at that age, being in a major league stadium is pretty cool.”
Asked if he thought Canada had room for another Major League Baseball franchise, the prospect had no hesitation with his response.
“Yeah, Vancouver,” said Atkinson with a smile. “Vancouver needs to get a team.”
Follow Jonathan Soveta on Twitter — @EighteenYards