When Jonah Heim arrived at big league spring training, he found his new best friend. And what a friend it was.
Athletics manager Bob Melvin, a former catcher, takes an interest in his young backstops. He worked with Heim and helped him learn a few of the intricacies of his very difficult job.
“Bob Melvin gave him some really good information about what he saw in him, and how he thought he could improve,” said Athletics farm director Keith Lieppman. “Jonah took it to heart and made adjustments to his game. I think that was the start of his metamorphosis.”
Heim has improved every aspect of his game during the first part of this season, Lieppman said, particularly his ability to block balls and call games.
“Pitchers have been asking for him to catch them,” Lieppman added. “When that happens, you know that’s a good indication.”
The A’s obtained Heim from the Rays after the 2017 season in exchange for Joey Wendle, who has become a regular in the Rays’ infield. A fourth-round pick of the Orioles out of high school in 2013, Heim has been on the long slog through the minors ever since. He turned 24 years old in June, shortly after being promoted to Triple-A. He hit .285 in his first 45 games at Double-A Midland.
The Athletics grade Heim as a 60-grade defender on the 20-to-80 scouting scale with an average catcher’s arm. His bat ranks as average, but he has shown the ability to produce high on-base percentages. At Midland this year, he had 21 walks and only 23 strikeouts. He has shown occasional power that could increase his home run production as his body matures, and, as with most catchers, Heim is a below-average runner.
“The power is there,” Lieppman said. “He came back this year a lot stronger. I believe it will develop the more he plays. His focus is on defense now. His bat will improve as he continues to get consistent.”
As a switch-hitting catcher, Heim is a coveted asset in a time when teams search for best matchups. The A’s hope they are seeing the beginning of the maturation of a future major league catcher.
— Long-injured righthander James Kaprielian continues to show major progress. He has been assigned to high Class A Stockton, where he is pitching with an innings limit. His fastball velocity has improved to 93-95 mph through five appearances.
— Righthanded reliever Jesus Zambrano has been promoted to Double-A Midland, and, at 22, he is showing big promise. In his first 15 appearances for Stockton, he recorded a 1.88 ERA, and he has kept his ERA low after his promotion.