Notes: Quiroz running out of options
Backup catcher's time with Blue Jays might be ending
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Call it a string of bad luck; he calls it added experience. But one thing the last three years have been for Guillermo Quiroz is one big missed opportunity.
The young Venezuelan catcher has suffered several injuries that cost him valuable playing time at a key development stage, and now his time with the Toronto organization could be coming to a close. Quiroz was expected to battle for the backup catching job with the Major League team this spring, but that chance was taken away when the Blue Jays signed Bengie Molina.
Now, Quiroz is out of options and will be exposed to waivers if Toronto wants to send him back to Triple-A Syracuse. There's always a chance that other teams could pass on the 24-year-old, but the reality is that another club would likely pick him up.
"I just set my mind to go out there and play hard every day. Whatever happens, I think it'll be a plus for me," Quiroz said. "If I stay here, great. If I get a chance to play with another team, I'll play even harder there. To be honest, I've been with Toronto my whole career and it's a great organization."
Quiroz signed with the Jays as a non-drafted free agent at 17 years old in 1998. As he moved up the organizational ladder, he became regarded as the team's future behind the plate. In 2003, he hit .282 with 20 home runs at Double-A New Hampshire and seemed to be on the fast track to the Majors.
That's when he suffered his first collapsed lung. He got over the injury and was back on the field in 2004, until he was hit by a pitch that broke his wrist. Last spring, Quiroz had another collapsed lung and later had surgery to build up scar tissue in order to prevent it from happening again.
Quiroz has attended four Spring Trainings with the big-league club and has a .205 average in just 29 games in the Majors. Despite all the setbacks, though, he's maintained a good attitude.
"Things happen for a reason. I think I've been able to get experience with each year. I know I have to fight even harder now," Quiroz said. " I think I'm a little bit more mature and I can think about the situation. And since the injuries, I've gotten stronger."
Quiroz admitted that he wasn't even aware of his shaky future with Toronto when Molina agreed to sign. A few of his friends were the ones that broke the news to him.
"I didn't know. I was working out at home and the guys that I was working out with were the ones that told me about it," Quiroz said. "I said, 'Well, I guess that's a plus. We got a guy that's going to help out the team.' We'll see how it goes."
Toronto manager John Gibbons knows that it might not go exactly the way Quiroz wants. That's why he made a point to talk to Quiroz when they arrived at camp.
"The first day we got down here, I said, 'The numbers are against you, but you still need to approach it like you're going out there to try and make this team.' I just want him to have fun," Gibbons said. "I don't know what teams are looking [for a catcher]. Certain teams, if we try to get him through [waivers], there's teams that may want to go with the young guys and might take a chance on him. It's unfortunate he had those couple years where he was injured."
Other options: If Jason Phillips doesn't break camp with the Major League team -- the most likely scenario at this point -- he will have the ability to explore his options with other organizations. Gibbons said that the Minor League contract Phillips signed on Jan. 3 allows for him to decline a Minor League assignment when Spring Training is over.
"Nobody likes or knows Phillips as much as I do," Gibbons said. "It's going to be really tough to break [camp with the big-league club], barring an injury. Phillips at least has an out in his contract at the end of spring. He could go somewhere else. He can elect to leave and pursue other teams at the end of Spring Training. He likes it here. He'd love to play here, he said, and he had some other options this winter."
Back and forth: Pitcher Ted Lilly was absent from camp for a little more than an hour Saturday afternoon. Lilly was present for the morning photo sessions being held by various media outlets, but he left the Bobby Mattick Training Center for what Gibbons referred to as "personal business."
When asked about his early departure, Lilly said he had a "routine checkup" with a local doctor. He also said that he had been feeling weak and wasn't sure why. When the left-hander returned to camp, he threw in the bullpen and during batting practice. He said the trip to the doctor had nothing to do with his throwing arm.
This is the first Spring Training that Lilly has been able to attend with the Blue Jays. Last year, he missed camp due to a shoulder ailment, and he missed time the previous spring after injuring his wrist.
Good news: Toronto reliever Justin Speier was back in camp on Saturday after going to Baltimore on Friday to see a specialist for his injured right middle finger. He returned in a good mood after learning the injury was not too serious.
Earlier this week, Speier felt pain in the same finger he suffered a strained tendon in last September, when he had to cut his season short. That history had the 32-year-old reliever worried about what reinjuring the finger could mean.
"Last year, I had to rehab it for two or three months," Speier said. "So when [I injured the finger again], I had that timetable in my mind. But the doctor said it was just a minor setback."
Speier said that he would be able to throw again in a couple days. Gibbons noted that the pitcher was given a splint that he could wear while throwing, but that it was up to Speier to use it or not.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.