By: Ciarán Breen
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Justin Atkinson is spending spring training crouched in the bullpen, hoping to complete his transition to catcher and climb to where he wants to be.
Drafted in the 26th round in 2011, the Surrey, B.C., native is clear about one thing – he wants to play.
“I’ve set goals for myself as being a catcher,” said the 22-year-old. “I’m not too sure what (the Blue Jays) have for me this year but if I’m going to be a catcher I want to be a starter somewhere.”
Atkinson caught in spring training last year but spent the season playing first and third base with the class-A Vancouver Canadians, where he made the all-star team before being called back up to the class-A Lansing Lugnuts when the Midwest team made the playoffs.
“Last year I went down to Vancouver and played every day. Hopefully this spring I’ll show them that I can catch, I can be a starter,” said the well-built prospect. “If they want me in the line-up obviously I’m going to hit but the biggest goal for me is I want to be a starter somewhere.”
The 6-foot-1 catcher hit .294 in Vancouver last year and .265 for the season overall. While he has bought into the tag of utility player, Atkinson is optimistic that if he continues to hit and develops in the catcher’s role he will see more action behind the plate in the upcoming season.
“Since I’ve been with the Blue Jays I’ve been able to hit and that’s why they’ve moved me all over the place,” said the former high school shortstop. “Hopefully, catching sticks as my main position and I’ll continue to hit and that will bring me to the big leagues.”
Having been drafted at 17-years-old, Atkinson doesn’t shy away from leadership in the organization, even whilst he is finding his own feet in a new position.
“I’ve been here five years and I help the new guys find their routine, find what they need to do,” the backstop said.
“If they ask me a question I’m going to give them the truth. I’m not going to give the easy route and if they don’t like it, well as they say, if you don’t like it, play better.”
Going into his second season in the role of catcher, the big hitting Canadian is single-minded about improving his own game and is clear on where he wants his career to go.
“Catchers don’t need to hit .300 but if you do, you’re Yadi Molina, you’re Buster Posey.”