Chung a fast mover behind the plate

* Derrick Chung, a converted infielder, impressed in his first year as a catcher in 2013, throwing out 43% of attempted base stealers in the Florida State League and earning a spot in the Arizona Fall League. Now, he's in big league camp with the Jays. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list

By Bob Elliott

DUNEDIN -- Remember the name Derrick Chung.

It wouldn’t be fair -- or very nice -- to hang the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future tag on him.

A.J. Jimenez has that title ... but shhhhh ... don’t tell him.

Sports Illustrated has its cover jinx, and the Blue Jays organization has its Catcher of the Future jinx.

Chung, 26, remains a fast mover.

A back-up infielder at class-A Vancouver in 2012, Chung caught one game. He asked the Jays if he could come to camp last spring to catch (“they always need extra catchers in the spring,” Chung said). Assigned to class-A Dunedin in April, he threw out a whopping 43% of attempted base stealers in the Florida State League, earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League, and is now in big league camp with the Jays.

That’s break neck speed for climbing a minor-leaguer ladder. He leapfrogged Daniel Klein, Tucker Frawley, Leo Hernandez and Santiago Nessy, skipping class-A Lansing like a University of Michigan-bound blue chip legacy recruit. Frawley and Hernandez have since been released.

And, best of all, Chung has a sense of humour.

“I’d throw you out,” he eventually told Jays minor-league coach Tim Raines, after the former Montreal Expos speedster had teased him.

“What’s your time throwing to second?” asked Raines.

“Maybe 1.85, 1.9 seconds, you put Marcus Stroman on the mound with a 1.3 second release time and we’ll throw you out,” said Chung.

“Ah, I’ll steal second and be heading to third,” said Raines.

“What if my pitcher is 1.1 seconds to the plate?” Chung asked.

“I’m not stealing then,” said Raines. “I’m staying put.”

Raines has seen Chung throw. “He’s Mike Fitzgerald, maybe a little better,” said Raines, looking at Chung who had a 'Who in the Heck is Mike Fitzgerald?' look.

“Who threw you out the most?” Raines was asked.

“Nobody,” said Raines. “Sal Butera got me once. You know those bloopers that you dunk into right field over the first baseman’s head ... you know, the ones ... we call hitting a Chung? When I played, we called it a Butera.”

Butera is the longest-serving member of the Jays' scouting staff. Raines and Butera were teammates with the Expos.

Growing up in Cypress, Calif., Chung, whose parents are from Korea, played for the Artesia High Pioneers and was in the same graduating class as James Harden of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Anthony Gose and the rival Bellflower High Buccaneers were in the same conference. Both pitched, and as a grade 11 student Gose tripled off Chung, who is a year older.

Chung headed to the Sacramento State University Hornets for five years as an infielder. He broke his hand as a junior so he had a medical red shirt season.

The next fall one catcher was ruled academically ineligible, and in the last practice the other injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Coach Reggie Christenson asked Chung to move behind the plate.

“All those ground balls, all that practice ... gone, but I was one of the older guys, I should have been the one to move,” said Chung. “Looking back on the move now, I’m thankful.”

Jays scout Darold Brown of Elk Grove, Calif. drafted Chung in the 31st round. He was given a $1,000 US signing bonus ... and a chance.

“I didn’t have a lot of time between the last workout of the fall and start of spring workouts, but it helped make the adjustment as an infielder,” said Chung. He praised the Jays roving minor league instructor Sal Fasano and minor league field co-ordinator Doug Davis, a former catcher, for helping him make the transition.

At age 26, Chung has a way to go and a short time to get there. Yet, converted infielder Pat Borders was a corner infielder with little power at double-A Knoxville when Jays minor-league guru Bobby Mattick moved him behind the plate at age 24 in 1987.

A year later, he was in Kansas City as the Jays opened the season, platooning with Ernie Whitt under manager Jimy Williams. Borders went 3-for-4, including a triple, and five RBIs in Game 2.

He celebrated his start the way most from Lake Wales, Fla. would: taking his father to Denny’s near Kauffman Stadium for the Grand Slam breakfast. Borders was sent to triple-A Syracuse as the aforementioned Butera arrived. Borders stuck with it, playing from 1982 until 2006.

He played with the Jays for eight seasons, winning the World Series MVP in 1992.

Borders came so quickly there wasn’t any time to hang the Catcher of the Future Tag on him.

And we did not, repeat did not, hang that tag on Chung.


Jays Catchers of the Future

Name, Round/Drafted, Year, MLB Games 

Brian Milner, 7th, 1978, 2 Matt Stark, 1st, 1983, 13 Jeff DeWillis, 3rd, 1983, 13 Jeff Hearron, 4th, 1983, 16 Randy Knorr, 10th, 1986, 253 Sandy Martinez, FA, 1990, 218 Josh Phelps, 10th, 1996, 465 Guillermo Quiroz, FA, 1998, 146 Kevin Cash, FA, 1999, 246 Robinzon Diaz, FA, 2000, 44 Curtis Thigpen, 2nd, 2004, 57 J.P. Arencibia 1st 2007 380

(FA denotes free agent signing)