AFL: Scouts enamored with Thigpen

Just before the first pitch of the Arizona Fall League showcase last week, a scout talked about Toronto Blue Jays catching prospect Curtis Thigpen.

"He's getting a lot better behind the plate, the difference between last year and this year is amazing. At the plate, he's a lot like Jason Kendall, real good command of the strike zone, not much power, but goes with the pitch and will hit the ball all over the field."

That pretty much summed up Thigpen's game that night. In a tightly contested, well pitched game, Thigpen worked the count, drew a walk, and then scored from first on a double in the seventh inning that tied the game. It was classic Thigpen, patient, smart, hustling.

The top rated catcher in the Blue Jays organization, Thigpen has had something to prove essentially since day one in the Blue Jays organization. In one of the richest catching drafts in recent memory Thigpen was taken in the second round out of the University of Texas. The Blue Jays saw him as a catcher from day one, despite playing first base at UT, and Thigpen saw himself as a Major Leaguer, regardless of position.

"When you come here, you want to improve and impress," Thigpen said.

As one would expect, there were early struggles behind the dish for the youngster, but Thigpen's work ethic, which draws praise from anyone within earshot of the question in the AFL, has helped transform him into an above average defender who is still getting better.

"He's always working on his footwork, you can see it in the games," the scout said, "sometimes he's thinking about it too much, but that will come with experience. At the beginning I didn't think he would stick as a catcher, that they would move him back to first. I've changed my mind."

Thigpen gets the extra added pressure, or benefit, depending on your point of view, of playing alongside Landon Powell of the A's in the Arizona Fall League this year. Powell is generally considered one of the best defensive catchers in the minors, and has been donning the tools of ignorance since he was 10 years old.

"I think anyone can learn from other guys," Thigpen says of working alongside, and with, Powell everyday in the AFL, "I know there are things I can learn from him, and there are things he can learn from me."

True to his reputation, Thigpen isn't shy about picking Powell's brain.

"We talk about the good parts of his game, and the good parts of my game. I'm here to get better, here to work."

Thigpen had an up and down season, at least statistically, in Double-A, and moved up to Triple-A midway through August. It's not unusual for a player in only his second full season to go through struggles, but for Thigpen, everything is a work in progress, and the numbers don't tell the whole story.

"He is always ready to try new things," the scout said, "and they worked with him at the plate this year. Even if he struggled initially, he improved, and that's part of his maturity, understanding it's not going to come right away."

Thigpen clearly knows this.

"I don't feel like I struggled at all in Double-A, and that's why they moved me up."

With the Blue Jays catching situation far from decided, it stands to reason that a good AFL could propel Thigpen into the conversation coming into Spring Training.

"He might need another year," the scout said, "but he's shown a lot out here [in the AFL], and there's no telling how much better he'll be when the Spring rolls around. He's got the tools."

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