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Getting to CHS Field

American Association Honors Saints Catcher Justin O'Conner As Defensive Player of the Year

ST. PAUL, MN September 5, 2018

Run at your own risk.  If St. Paul Saints catcher Justin O’Conner wore a sign around his neck that is what it would read.  For his incredible work behind the plate, erasing baserunners who tried to run on him and handling a staff with a sub 4.00 ERA O’Conner was named the American Association’s Defensive Player of the Year.

 

          The 26-year-old O’Conner threw out 36.0% of would be base stealers (18-50), but more importantly it was the runners he prevented from running at all.  The top three teams in the league in stolen bases, who swiped nearly 300 bases, ran just 11 times on O’Conner in 17 games and O’Conner threw them out on seven of the 11 tries.  O’Conner was also instrumental in the Saints 3.96 ERA, only the fourth time in franchise history the Saints had a sub 4.00 ERA.  He was well-respected by the pitching staff and helped the Saints record 791 strikeouts, the highest total in franchise history by more than 100.  In addition, O’Conner led the league in assists (52) and double plays (13) among catchers and was third in caught stealing percentage, among catchers that played at least 50 games.  No catcher, who caught at least half his team’s games, was run on less than O’Conners 50 stolen base attempts.  O’Conner caught the second most games in the league at 76, only behind Sioux City’s Dylan Kelly, who caught 87.

 

          In his career O’Conner has thrown out an astounding 41.92% of would be base stealers (for context Yadier Molina is the Major League record holder throwing out 40.98% in his career). 

 

O’Conner was a first round draft pick (31st overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 out of Cowan (IN) High School, becoming the first catcher taken in the first round in Rays history.  He threw out 43.6% of base stealers, an incredible percentage made even more remarkable by the fact he didn’t start catching until his senior year in high school. 

 

In 2011 O’Conner spent the entire season with Princeton in the Rookie Appalachian League.  He was tops in the league in throwing out base runners at 35.6%.

 

After not catching in 2012 due to an injury, he spent the entire 2013 season at Single-A Bowling Green in the Midwest League threw out an amazing 55.6% of base stealers.

 

The breakout season for O’Conner came in 2014 when he received numerous accolades.  He spent most of the season at High-A Charlotte in the Florida State League and was a mid-season All-Star, but more importantly, was chosen to play in the Futures Game on the U.S. squad.  He was promoted to Double-A Montgomery on August 6.  Between the two stops he threw out 55.0% of base stealers.  Following the season, he was rewarded with an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star, Baseball America High Class-A All-Star, and Post-Season All-Star in the FSL.  He played in the prestigious Arizona Fall League where he was selected as a Rising Star and was on the All-Prospect Team.

 

O’Conner spent all of 2015 in Montgomery and threw out 48.3% of base stealers and led the league among catchers in total chances (865), putouts (759) and assists (91). 

 

O’Conner was considered the top prep backstop in the 2010 draft.  ESPN analyst Peter Gammons described him as a “very athletic catcher,” and called him “one of the fastest-rising players heading into the draft.” 

 

On September 3 O’Conner was named an American Association Post-Season All-Star.  He is the second Saints player to be named Defensive Player of the Year since the award was first given out in 2011.  Center fielder Jonathan Van Every received the honor in that first year.

 

The Defensive Player of the Year award was voted on by the 12 managers in the American Association and 12 “media” representatives from each team, usually the teams’ play-by-play broadcaster.

 

The Saints begin the 2018 playoffs with Game 1 of the North Division Series on Wednesday night at 7:05 p.m. against the Gary SouthShore RailCats.  They will host Game 2 on Thursday, September 6 at 7:05 p.m. before heading to the U.S. Steel Yard for Games 3-5 on September 7-9.