Jaso more than just a hot-hitting rookie 

June, 7, 2010
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, a wise and progressive skipper, is willing to try anything to help his team win, but when I saw catcher John Jaso leading off the other day, I did a double-take.

This is a team seemingly loaded with leadoff possibilities, including speedy options who don't necessarily get on base (I'm talking to you, B.J. Upton). It's not just that a catcher was leading off, which is rare enough, but this isn't someone with the track record of a Russell Martin, the only other backstop who has led off a game this season. This is a rookie catcher, a marginal prospect at best, batting first for baseball's best team and thriving with a homer, five RBIs and a stolen base Sunday.

Forgive me for acting surprised; I was the guy touting Kelly Shoppach in deep leagues before the season. I thought he'd beat out Dioner Navarro and return to his 20-homer ways. Instead, Shoppach got hurt and Navarro was awful, and that opened the door for Jaso, an on-base machine in the minor leagues who has busted into the top 20 among catchers on ESPN's Player Rater despite limited playing time. Well, his opportunities aren't limited anymore; this is a true feel-good story. I didn't expect to see the 26-year-old Jaso listed as one of the Rays' top prospects when I checked out Baseball America, but to see him ranked sixth at catcher alone, and not even close to the top 30 overall, proves just how surprising his .307 batting average and .888 OPS in the major leagues are. Jaso is fifth among rookies in RBIs, but the reason for his success is his plate discipline, with 19 walks against only 11 strikeouts.