Yesterday, flying under the radar of a 5-2 Blue Jays win against the New York Yankees, came the announcement that 25-year-old catcher Sean Ochinko of the Buffalo Bisons was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines. It is a similar suspension to the one that Marcus Stroman had last year but in Ochinko’s case, word hasn’t trickled out as to what kind of amphetamine he tested positive for.
Ochinko isn’t really considered a prospect for the Blue Jays but has become a solid, high-minors organizational catcher. Ochinko was drafted in the 11th round in 2009 out of Louisiana State University and has put up numbers that have gradually dropped at each new level of competition.
In 2009, his draft year, he was outstanding in Short-Season A-Ball in Auburn, putting up a .324/.382/.527 line with 6 home runs and 20 doubles in 207 plate appearances. He continued to show some pop the following year in Lansing with an excellent .311/.360/.459 slash line that included 37 doubles and 8 home runs (in a very spacious Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing) that he translated into 16 home runs in Dunedin in 2011. That year, he had a .771 OPS despite a 50-point drop in batting average (from .311 to .261) and a corresponding drop in OBP although his 35 doubles to go along with the 16 home runs really helped him keep his SLG up.
It appears that in 2012, Ochinko’s playing time dropped, particularly due to a log-jam in catchers with the bigger-name prospects A.J. Jimenez and Carlos Perez moving up in the organization and with Travis d’Arnaud still around. Still, Ochinko put up some solid numbers in 2012 between high-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. In 350 plate appearances, he hit 9 home runs and hit .278/.327/.428 despite worse numbers at the higher level.
This season, with d’Arnaud and Perez out of the organization, Ochinko earned a non-roster invitation to Spring Training with the Blue Jays (his 3rd) and got into some action as a catcher. In 17 plate appearances, he had three hits (including two doubles) and walked twice and struck out four times.
After Spring Training, with Jimenez on the DL, Ochinko was playing almost every day (splitting time with Jack Murphy behind the plate) and put up some solid, if unspectacular numbers. He hit .243/.329/.375 (his lowest slugging percentage he’s ever had in pro-ball) in 164 plate appearances before being moved up to Triple-A after Henry Blanco‘s release and Josh Thole‘s promotion. Ochinko proceeded to hit better than Mike Nickeas (which isn’t saying much) but still saw a severe drop off in his numbers at the higher level. At the time of his suspension, Ochinko was hitting .220/.294/.313. In 335 total plate appearances in 2013, he only has 5 home runs.
What has this shown about Ochinko? It appears that his power, a big part of his game in A-Ball, has slowly been deserting him. In my opinion, his bat is what’s going to help him stick at the higher levels of the minors. He’s not a defensive catcher by any means (his best CS% is 26% at any level) and when he’s not hitting in the .260 range, his OBP isn’t good enough to make him a really attractive prospect. The most troubling aspect of Ochinko’s professional career is that his K% has risen at each level he’s been at, culminating at 20.5% this season in Triple-A. While it has dropped off a bit when he’s repeated a level to start a subsequent year, it’s been very consistent in rising when he’s moved up a level. The bit of good news in his stat line has been that he’s become more patient and has seen higher walk rates at the higher levels as well.
Having seen Ochinko in person (in Triple-A in Buffalo and at Spring Training), all I can really say is that he’s a solid organizational player. He could improve with the bat next year when he returns but I have a feeling that, like with a lot of the players in the Jays’ minors affiliates, what you see is what you get. Ochinko’s ceiling is that of a back up but I’m not sure if his defense is what you want out of a major league backup, particularly if his bat doesn’t play at the major league level.
So what are the Jays going to do with him? I have a feeling that they’ll keep him around in the organization after his suspension is over. He’s a useful guy (who can also play 1B and 3B) and he’ll be given a chance to see if his bat will play at Triple-A over a longer period of time. I don’t see Mike Nickeas being back next year, so I think that if A.J. Jimenez becomes the starter in Buffalo next year, Ochinko could certainly be his backup.
What do you think? What will the Jays do with Sean Ochinko?