DeRosa: Martin a culture changer

* Mark DeRosa of MLB Network predicts big things for Blue Jays newly-signed, free-agent C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.). ....  2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list …. Canadians in College 2016 Canadian draft list  Letters of Intent


By Bob Elliott

Mark DeRosa has always studying.

Whether it was game film as quarterback for University of Pennsylvania Quakers, in the video room with Marcus Giles Wes Helms and the 2001 Atlanta Braves or in his final season with Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. And he still is doing prep work in his new job as MLB Network commentator, studying the 2014 free-agent class.

“I felt Russell Martin was the biggest different maker position wise,” said DeRosa, the Face of the MLB Network on the new face of the Blue derosaJays.

DeRosa pointed out every successful team he’d played with: the 2000-03 Braves (Javy Lopez), the 2008 Chicago Cubs (Geovany Soto), the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals (Yadier Molina) and the 2010-11 San Francisco Giants (Buster Posey).

Those teams with those front line catchers averaged 94.5 wins and had seven post-season appearances in eight seasons, as DeRosa hit .358 in 22 October games.

The Jays don’t know who will be in left field on opening day, what the make up of the bullpen will be with closer Casey Janssen on the open market or who plays second, but step one into the free agent wonderland -- a franchise record, five-year $82 million US deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates free-agent catcher -- was a giant step in the right direction.

“For me Russell Martin is a culture changer,” DeRosa was saying the other day. “He’s truly a guy Toronto fans and fans across the country can wrap their arms around.

“(Manager) Clint Hurdle loved him. Russell can do some things offensively. Watching him last year he was really impressive, hitting third when Andrew McCutchen went down.”

DeRosa said Molina is the best defensive catcher, while Martin is better defender than Posey.

“Russell helped cultivate a winning atmosphere in Pittsburgh and will do the same in Toronto,” said DeRosa. “Jose Bautista and Eddie Encarnacion are obvious questions to lead.”

While veteran Mark Buehrle doesn’t need any help (DeRosa: “he’s as accomplished, as polished as anyone I’ve ever been around) those young pitchers will benefit from Martin’s game planning. (DeRosa: “To be able to go out there and not have to think makes their jobs so much easier.”)

When DeRosa was with the Jays he remembers Melky Cabrera, Buehrle and himself the only players to have won.

“Russell has won everywhere he’s been,” said DeRosa “I really believe in my heart he has figured out who he is from an offensive stand point.”

Martin hit .290 with a .402 on-base mark in 2014, compared to batting .226 with a .327 on-base percentage the year before.

“I’m not saying he’s going to go .290/.402 again but I bet my last dollar he does not revert to something like .220/.290,” DeRosa said. “The way Rogers Centre sets up you’ll see his power numbers jump.”

derosa 11Still count DeRosa among the shocked when he heard the news that the Jays had signed Martin. He didn’t think it was an area of need after the season Dioner Navarro had, “but when you had a chance to add a player like this ...”

DeRosa credited Martin for massaging Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.38 in 30 starts) into pitching like a No. 1 and helped Edinson Volquez 13-7, 3.04 in 31 starts) improve.

“Russell was the one guy who hit the market at the perfect time, I like the moxie, what he brings on and off the field, he’s a grinder,” said DeRosa, who understand the workload on a No. 1 catcher thanks to his former Atlanta teammate Brian McCann, now with the New York Yankees.

“As tight as I am with Brian, he’ll be the first to tell me he’ll be first to tell you how tough the second half is for a No. 1 guy.” DeRosa said. “Catchers should get a pass. If I was playing third I’d worry about where to position myself and my four ABs.”

Martin on the other hand has to meet with pitching coach Pete Walker, watch countless video of the opposing hitters and tendencies looking for hitters’ weaknesses ... and his at-bats.

“If a catcher gets the pitcher to give his best effort, he’s done his job,” said DeRosa, who describes the American League East as winnable.

“Baltimore has a lot of moving pieces, you don’t know what the New York Yankees are getting back from injury and Boston is trying to re-tool,” said DeRosa.

As step No. 1s go, signing Martin was a big one.

Now, how many more are needed?