The Bucs reeled in their first fish of the Hot Stove season...and it's *tada* Jason Jaramillo, the AAA catcher of the Phils. The Pirates had to give up their AAA catcher, Ronny Paulino, to seal the deal.
Jaramillo is the anti-Paulino. The 26-year old switch-hitter is a hard worker, supposedly an outstanding handler of pitchers, calls a good game, and is pretty solid defensively. His hitting is pedestrian, and he runs, well, like a catcher.
He was looked at as Mike Lieberthal's eventual replacement once upon a time, but was passed by a couple of other guys in the organization and is now thought of as MLB back-up material. So he'll be fighting Robinzon Diaz and maybe Raul Chavez to be Ryan Doumit's caddy in 2009.
Jaramillo is the son of a former migrant farm hand that moved to Wisconsin to find steady work, and eventually formed a construction company. He and his bro's learned early on that swinging a bat beats swinging a pick any ol' day; his brothers Francisco Jr. and Lee both played minor league ball.
JJ graduated from Racine's Case HS in 2001 and was rated the top senior high school baseball prospect in Wisconsin by Baseball America. He went to Oklahoma State, bypassing the Phillies after high school when they drafted him in the 39th round.
They eventually got his name on the dotted line in 2004, as a second round selection and the draft's 62nd pick overall.
After signing with the Phillies, he moved quickly through the system, spending 2004 in short-season Batavia, 2005 in A- Lakewood, and 2006 in AA Reading, skipping a level or two in the process.
In 2005, Jaramillo also played in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the AFL top prospect team and led all catchers with a .379 batting average.
The last two seasons were spent in AAA, where he hit .271 and .266, and showed little power, with slugging percentages of .361 and .371. Jaramillo caught for then-Ottawa manager John Russell in 2007, and we're sure JR had considerable input into today's deal.
JJ strikes out every 5 or 6 at bats, and gets his share of walks - his OPS was .711 in 2007 and 2008. He threw out 35.8% of runners that took off against him, a pretty good rate for the minors.
Jaramillo joined Team USA in 2007, and hit .316 in the Baseball World Cup while splitting catching duties with Bryan Anderson. Baseball America ranked him as the Phillies' #10 prospect going into 2008 (he was 15th in 2007), and the Phils protected him on their 40-man roster.
But Carlos Ruiz is da man in the City of Brotherly Love, and that made Jaramillo expendable. He was essentially blocked by Ruiz, Chris Conte and Lou Marson. Paulino's presence is rumored to be greasing Conte's exit now, as Philly is clearing its logjam behind the plate.
So what do the Bucs have in Jaramillo? Well, he's a catch-and-throw receiver, compared by Baseball Prospectus to Johnny Estrada defensively, and is considered a MLB prospect by the Phils, even if not a starter.
Jaramillo has two options left and Diaz one, so the Pirates can put Steve Lerud in Altoona and not worry about the catching at Indy. And catchers are notorious for developing later in their careers than other position players.
USA Today isn't so keen on the deal. They said:
"It's clear the Pirates badly wanted to be done with Paulino, but that's still not much of an excuse. At 26, Jaramillo is only a year and a half younger than Paulino, and his one decent offensive season came in low-A ball in 2005.
His defensive reputation is pretty strong, and he'd be a fine long-term backup if he could post .700 OPSs in the majors. Still, that's probably a stretch. Unless the Pirates add a veteran, Jaramillo could enter camp as the favorite to play behind Ryan Doumit."
Baseball America added: "The Pirates sold low on Paulino, who is a career .278/.331/.382 hitter, and ended up with a watered-down version of him in return, albeit one who switch-hits and has yet to accrue any big league service time."
As they say, mostly Pittsburgh got Ronny Paulino gone. Paulino was lobbying for a move, and he got it. The new suits have shown themselves to be more than happy to give Dave Littlefield's problem children a ticket out of town.
Whether the move will give the Pirates a guy with some future upside, just adds a little depth to the organization, or is a case of addition by subtraction will soon enough be seen. If nothing else, two guys get to change dugouts with the chance to start over again with a clean slate and new organization. And hey, that's a win-win in our book.