Name: Carson Blair
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 215
How Acquired: Signed as a minor league free agent on Nov. 12, 2014
When the Oakland A’s signed minor league free agent Carson Blair last off-season, the news came with little fanfare. The 2008 35th-round pick never made it past Double-A with the Boston Red Sox, but the A’s liked the progress Blair made during his final year in the Red Sox system and his overall athleticism. The A’s invited him to major league spring training, giving him exposure to the higher levels he had never received while in the Boston system.
Blair played in eight major league spring training games and he had a double in five official at-bats while walking three times. At the end of camp, the A’s assigned Blair to Double-A Midland, where he teamed with fellow top-50 prospect Bruce Maxwell behind the plate for the RockHounds.
Carson Blair statistics
Before the 2015 season, Blair had played all of 17 games above the A-ball level. Despite that inexperience, Blair hit the ground running with the RockHounds. He had a huge first half of the season with Midland, earning a spot in the Texas League All-Star game. In 55 games with Midland, Blair hit .272/.389/.509 with 25 extra-base hits and 33 walks.
Shortly after the midway point in the season, the A’s promoted Blair to Triple-A. He spent the entire second half with the Nashville Sounds. Blair’s offense dropped off with the Sounds, as he hit .221/.280/.327. However, he worked well with the veteran Nashville pitching staff and when the A’s decided to add a third catcher in September, they called on Blair.
Blair made his major-league debut on September 6, 2015. He appeared in 11 games with the A’s before his season ended early when he tore a meniscus in his knee. Blair hit .129/.229/.226 with a homer and four walks in 31 official at-bats.
After the season, Blair was outrighted off of the A’s 40-man roster, but he re-signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent once again and he received an invitation to big league spring training. As of this point in the off-season, Blair remains third on the A’s major-league depth chart at catcher even though he is not on the 40-man roster.
Although Blair was a minor league free agent signing last off-season, he is still relatively young. He turned 26 in mid-October. Oakland A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman calls Blair “one of the most athletic catchers that we have had in [the A's] system in a long, long time.”
Although Blair caught only 24% of would-be base-stealers this season, both Lieppman and A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens noted during the season that Blair has above-average arm strength and a quick release.
Blair is still learning how to attack advanced pitching while at the plate, but Lieppman said that Blair made impressive adjustments at the plate while with Midland.
“He really can swing the bat,” Lieppman said. “I didn’t really expect to see the adjustments that he has made with the bat – cutting his swing down and hitting the way that he has.”
At 26, Blair is just now entering the prime years of his career and his tools started coming together last season.
“When he went to Triple-A, the results weren’t quite as good as they were in Double-A, but realistically, he only had about 30 or 40 games above A-ball going into the 2015 season,” Owens said. “For him to slug and get on-base like he did in the Texas League, to show that really good glove, to have the quick release, to get a taste of what Triple-A is all about in the last two months of the season and then to get a call to the big leagues, it was a very exciting year for Carson Blair.”
Blair’s power has developed slowly but he hit 10 homeruns between the minors and the majors in 286 at-bats. He also showed good strike-zone awareness. As he gets more used to how advanced pitchers are attacking him, Blair should see his walk-rate rise and his power numbers continue to creep upwards. He has always had swing-and-miss in his game and that is likely to always be part of his game. However, he is a tough out. Blair destroyed left-handed pitching while with Midland and has historically fared well versus southpaws. He isn’t likely to hit for average at the major-league level, but he could put up better-than-average power numbers for a catcher and he should draw his share of walks.
Defensively, Blair has all of the tools to be an above-average defensive catcher. Blair has one of the most impressive physiques in the A's system. Although he is tall for a catcher, he moves well behind the plate and he has a strong arm and good throwing mechanics. He is still learning the nuances of game-calling at advanced levels, but he improved as his time in Triple-A went on. Blair is a hard worker and should benefit in 2016 from the familiarity of having been in the A’s system for a year.
It will take an injury to either Stephen Vogt or Josh Phegley for Blair to land on the A’s roster next season, but unless the A’s make a trade or signing, Blair would be the next in-line should the A’s need to dip into their catching depth chart next season.