Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Clutchlings Notebook Vol. 4 Ed 4

Angel Perdomo
Milb.com photo

 More goings on around the Blue Jays minor league system:

The New Lansing Three
   In 2012, a number of Blue Jays officials passed through Lansing in order to get a closer look at prospects Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, and Aaron Sanchez, three prized young arms who had landed in the Midwest League at the same time.  No one knows for sure where the term "The Lansing 3" came from (I suspect it was Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, though I can't confirm), but the young trio attracted a lot of attention that year.
   Lefty Angel Perdomo, andright-handers Sean Reid-Foley and Francisco Rios may not match the projections for the 2012 threesome, but they are getting rave reviews for their performances to date.

   Perdomo was an under the radar IFA signing in late 2011.  Like many young Dominicans, his playing experience as a youngster was very limited, and he was quite raw as a result, and the Blue Jays moved him slowly.  Last year, after taking the wraps off him, Perdomo pitched at two levels, finishing at Vancouver.  This year with Lansing, he's been lights out:

    The 6'6" Perdomo stands tall on the mound, and gets plenty of extension on his fastball, giving it mid 90s velo and late life.  With his delivery, left handed hitters have difficulty getting a clean look at the ball as he releases it. With his size, he almost seems to be landing on top of them.  Perdomo is generating swings and misses on his fastball, change, and slider this year both in and out of the strike zone.  Midwest League hitters are managing just a .143 average against him.  The knock against him prior to this year was command of that fastball, but he has filled up the zone this year, and has shown an ability to turn a lineup over.  The next challenge for Perdomo is to pitch deeper into ball games - he's been held to between 75 and 80 pitches in his last two starts, but when you strike out 9 and 7 batters, it's tough to go beyond the 5th.
  Perdomo was a sleeper prospect for me two years ago.  He was likely one of the reasons former GM Alex Anthopoulos was not afraid to deal much of the organization's prospect depth last July.  AA told Baseball America:
“We feel like with some of these guys, because some of them are so young, a bunch of them are ready to take the next step. We’ve got a lefty, (Angel) Perdomo, who we like a lot and was in Vancouver this year. He’s got great stuff but when they’re at the lower levels they don’t get the notoriety. Once they start getting to the Florida State League and they get to New Hampshire then they really start emerging on the scene."
 He's mostly been off the prospect radar, but is about to start lighting things up.

   Rios was also a less than heralded IFA signing in 2012.  Unlike Perdomo, the Mexican was considered a fairly polished prospect - Mexicans tend to have more playing experience than their Dominican counterparts have, and Rios moved more quickly, and skipped the GCL after pitching in the DSL in 2014.  He pitched at Vancouver last year, and seemed to find himself after being installed in the C's starting rotation in August, striking out better than a batter an inning for the rest of the season.
  Chad Hillman is a Michigan-based, self-professed "Prospect Nut," and made this observation after watching him pitch last week:

   Not overpowering, Rios relies on his fastball command to set up his secondary pitches.  And so far, Midwest League hitters are overmatched against him, as he's fanned 33 of them in 24 innings.

  Reid-Foley is easily the most recognizable name of the three.  The 2014 2nd rounder was challenged by a promotion to full season ball last year, starting with Lansing, and even spending a few weeks in Dunedin. Sent back to Lansing to work on his fastball command, SRF has shown that he may not be long for the Midwest, limiting hitters to a .177 average in his first four starts.

   With 2015 1st rounder Jon Harris pitching well in his first start since spending a week on the Temporary Inactive list, this trio may soon turn into a quartet.

  Sticking with Lansing, we have to talk about the Lugs' bullpen, which currently sports a  36 2/3 scoreless innings streak.  Led by vets southpaw Colton Turner and righty Dusty Isaccs (who have accumulated 7 saves between them), the group also features Starlyn Suriel, who couldn't even crack the Lansing rotation even after 18 mostly decent starts last year, Josh De Graaf, a 31st round choice out of NAIA Taylor (IN) University, and Daniel Lietz,  a promising 2013  5th round draft choice who has yet to really put things together, but has pitched well (other than a couple of ERA-inflating bad outings this year).  The group has been bolstered by the addition last week of righthander Gustavo Pierre, who has one of the most interesting stories in the system.  Originally a high-profile IFA signing by the Jays in 2008, Pierre was traded to the Phillies at the end of August, 2014. Traded back to the Jays a year later, Pierre was sent back to Florida to convert to pitching.  Pitching last night against Cedar Rapids, he picked up his first career W in relief of Perdomo.
   It's true that low-level bullpen guys do not have a lot of value.  Very few of them progress all the way up the ladder to the bigs.  But with this collection of arms backing up the stars of the starting rotation, the Lugnuts appear poised to make a second consecutive playoff appearance this season.

  One more Lansing story.
I really want to start following and writing about Andrew Guillotte, the Lugnuts' sparkplug LF and leadoff hitter, and not just because his dad followed me on Twitter last week.
The 32nd round choice out of McNeese State last year began his pro career with Vancouver, and moved up to Lansing this year.  Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler perfectly described Guillotte:
Andrew “G” Guillotte is 5 feet, 8 inches tall. He leads off. He hustles, gets his uniform dirty, steals bases, draws walks, fights through tough at-bats, strikes out rarely, plays multiple positions, is awesome in the clubhouse, and is described in terms of being a “baseball rat” or a “dirtbag” or, at the very least, as someone who utterly loves the game.
   His .316 BA and .409 OBP lead the Lugnuts, and put him at around the top 10 in the MWL in those categories.  A player with maybe only one truly elite tool (speed) in his kit, Guillotte has quickly become a fan favourite in Lansing (as he did in Vancouver), grinding out at bats, getting on base, hustling at every opportunity, and doing all that he can do to help his team win.  Guillotte may not be a top prospect, but he's turned more than a few heads with his play already, and will be interesting to follow as he progresses up the ladder.

   As good as Lansing's starting rotation has been, Dunedin's has been hit hard, and is one of the reasons the D-Jays, thought to be as good a collection of talent in the system, are two games under .500 a month into the season.  Dunedin's pitching ranks dead last in the Florida State League in ERA, over half a run worse than the next-to-last place team.
   Beyond top pitching prospect Conner Greene, the rotation is a bit of a shambles.  Ryan Borucki, who has missed most of two full seasons since being drafted in 2012, is making another comeback, and has had a tough time finding the strike zone this year, and when he has, FSL hitters are hitting him at a .413 clip. Canadian Tom Robson also missed last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and has had his own command issues, walking 22 hitters in 16.2 IP.  I saw Robson pitch against the Canadian Juniors in spring training, and the young hitters were simply no match for his 96 mph fastball.  Against tougher competition, it's been a different story.  Luis Santos was a stabilizing force along with Greene, but his promotion to New Hampshire has left a hole in the rotation.
   Luckily, the Dunedin bullpen continues to be highly effective.  LHP Tim Mayza has only given up one earned run in 15 innings over 9 outings, Adonys Cardona hasn't given up a run in 8 appearances, and Matt Dermody and Alonzo Gonzalez have also pitched solidly.
   The best news of all for Dunedin has to be the return of top prospect Anthony Alford.  Alford injured his right knee in the first game of the season, and returned to the lineup last night, DHing and batting second.

  It's still incredibly early in the minor league season, but we have enough of a sample size to start making some judgments.  And of those concerns New Hampshire's Rowdy Tellez, one of the top bats in the system.  At first glance, his current .164 batting average would suggest that Tellez is off to another one of his customary slow starts.  When you put his numbers into context, however, you see a bigger picture.
   New Hampshire currently sits at the bottom in most Eastern League offensive numbers.  The Fisher Cats .209 average is dead last in the league, and their OBP and Slugging rates are near the bottom. That, coupled with his 23% walk rate would suggest that Tellez does not have a lot of support around him in the lineup, and is not seeing a lot of hittable pitches as a result.  A Tellez AB in a recent game against the Phillies' Reading affiliate was typical of many he's had this season:

  Hitting around Tellez in the New Hampshire lineup are hitters like Dwight Smith Jr (currently hitting .148/.229/.197), Matt Dean (.179/.277/.304) and K.C Hobson (.228/.319/..354).  Hopefully, the warmer May weather will help this group collectively warm up.


   This humble little blog recently passed a milestone of 100 000 page views.  Truth be told, some posts were for another website, and had I known several years ago about how to market content in an online world, the total would likely be much higher.
   This accomplishment would not have been possible without the support of my regular readers, as well as the sources that I've accumulated along the way.  Huge thanks to both.  I hope it doesn't take me three full seasons and part of a fourth to hit 200 000 views.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Clutchlings Notebook Vol 4 Ed 3

"I was never drafted and I've bounced around and I came out of independent league ball," Allen said. "Every time my name gets called, I know I have to pitch like it's the last time I'm ever going to throw. That's the mentality I need to take. At times, it's been successful and if not, you just have to learn from it."    Brad Allen, as told to Milb.com
L/R:  Mike Reeves, Tim Mayza, Brad Allen, Adonys Cardona
Brad Allen/Instragram

  Welcome to a wrap of activities around the Blue Jays farm system for the past week.....

Dunedin bullpen tosses a no-no
   In last week's notebook, I wrote about how the Dunedin Blue Jays bullpen had been lights out to that point in the season.  And then they threw up a bit of a hairball this week.
   The group rallied over the course of the weekend, the highlight of which was a  no-hitter by Brad Allen, Adonys Cardona, and Tim Mayza who combined to no-hit the Tigers' Florida State League affiliate Lakeland to sweep a double header.  
   Minor league doubleheader games are only seven innings in length, but it was an impressive display nonetheless.
   Allen was part of a no-hitter before in 2013, when he retired 25 in a row en route to a complete game no-no.  The former indy league hurler was let go by the Diamondbacks in 2014, and the Blue Jays signed him to help bolster Lansing's starting rotation a few weeks later.  Moved to the bullpen in High A this year, Allen was pressed into service as a starter when a Friday night rainout forced the Saturday doubleheader.
   Allen threw four scoreless frames before handing things over to righthander Cardona.  The one-time starter and Top 10 prospect has had more than his fair share of injuries, but has been very effective in the D-Jays pen so far.  Cardona surrendered a pair of walks over 1.2 innings before giving way to southpaw Mayza, who shut the door and preserved the win, as well as the no-hitter.
   Allen told Michael Leboff of Milb.com that the no-no was a team effort:
"This no-hitter is a testament to our defense," he said. "One thing [manager] Ken Huckaby has preached since the beginning of the year is that we have an excellent defense, so he wants us to go right after the hitter. I can think of a few plays that our defense made big plays. That's kind of been our MO the whole time -- these guys will make the plays for [the staff]."
  Allen posed with his fellow no-hit hurlers after the game, and included Peterborough, Ontario's own C Mike Reeves, who caught the game.  It was the first no-hitter thrown by a Blue Jays minor league team in almost a quarter century.

Conner Greene Update
   I was as surprised as anyone when Greene did not return to New Hampshire, where he finished 2015, to start this season.  He caught a heavy dose of helium last summer, and pitched at three levels in his first year of full-season ball.
   Obviously, the new administration felt that Greene still had some things to work on, like command of his fastball and the development of his secondary pitches, and his assignment to Dunedin perhaps signalled that the new regime was not as comfortable with aggressive promotions as the last one was.
   Will Haines of Baseball Prospectus took in game one of that Dunedin-Lakeland twin bill, in which the young righthander started the first game.  Haines was impressed, and thought that Greene was barely challenged:
 Greene cruised through this Saturday start, and a promotion back to Double-A couldn’t be more than a week or two away. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound righthander racked up six strikeouts and left Tigers hitters frustrated at the plate.
  Haines had Greene topping 97 with his fastball, and sitting 93-95.  Greene was able to command both sides of the plate, and Haines terms the pitch "MLB-ready"; in fact, once he adds more weight to his frame, he thinks Greene might be able to touch 99 with it.  While velocity in the hierarchy of pitcher effectiveness is no more important than movement and location, so much of a pitcher's success comes from it.  "Fastball command is the perfect building block for the rest of the arsenal," wrote Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus.  "It creates the opportunity for a more effective secondary arsenal before the secondary arsenal is even deployed."
   Greene added 10 mph to his curve last year, which was part of the reason for his ascension to AA.  Haines terms it a work-in-progress, as Greene is still unable to replicate his fastball arm speed with it, allowing hitters to pick it up.  Haines was also impressed with Greene's cutter, which he did not use all that much in this start, but feels that it will grade as a solid-average pitch, as it "kept hitters honest."
   For Greene to reach his projections, Haines says that he will have to continue to refine his secondaries, "but the strength of the fastball alone should allow him to move quickly through the system." Haines suggests that Greene may only be a week or two away from a promotion back to the Eastern League.  The Blue Jays do tend to wait until the mid-way point of the minor league season in June to do that, but perhaps the new management team may feel otherwise.

Max Pentecost Sighting
  Like the Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, or Ogopogo, appearances by the 2014 first round pick have been few and far between, but intrepid reporter Eddie Michels of rocketsports.com snapped photos of the rehabbing backstop in extended spring training.
Eddie Michels photo
 Pentecost, whose injury history has been well-documented, DH'd in a pair of games this past weekend.  He came to training camp in early March mostly to continue to rehab his shoulder after his most recent surgery, but his appearance may have led some to believe that he was close to game-ready.  Similarly, because the club had talked about getting Pentecost at-bats at another position until he was ready for the rigours of receiving, there were some who thought a position switch may be in the offing. The truth is that the club wants to take things slowly with the 2014 Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation's top college Catcher.  Moving him to another position for now at least allows him some reps at the plate.  With Russell Martin under contract for three more seasons after this, the club can afford to take their time with Pentecost, and will likely give him every opportunity to return to his Catching duties when he's ready.

The long and winding road of Jake Anderson
   Taken in the compensation round, 34th overall out of Chino (CA) HS in 2011, Anderson gained plenty attention when he won the Under Armour All-America Home Run Derby at Wrigley Field in 2010.  Baseball America gave this assessment of him heading into the draft:
Tall and projectable at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he is a long strider with solid-average speed under way, and he profiles either in center or right, where he should have adequate arm strength. Anderson is a physical specimen with plenty of leverage and solid-average to plus raw power potential in his slightly uphill swing. 
    Anderson's road to full season ball has been significantly derailed by injuries.  After his second year of pro ball at short-season Bluefield, he headed to Florida for Instructional League play.  When diving in the outfield for a fly ball one day, Anderson landed awkwardly, Afterwards, he had chest pain, and tingling and numbness in his right arm left him unable to throw.  After an attempt at rest and rehab, the young prospect was discovered to have thoracic outlet syndrome, where the blood vessels and nerves in the space between the first rib (the thoracic outlet) become compressed. Surgery to remove the first rib to alleviate the symptoms was eventually performed, costing Anderson all of 2013.  A knee injury limited him to 10 at bats in 2014, and he did not return to full-time duty until last summer, returning again to Bluefield.
   Healthy for the first time in several years, Anderson was assigned to full season ball at Lansing this year.  In his first game with the Lugnuts, he went 1-4 with a double.  On Friday night at home against Lake County, he did something he hasn't done since August 12, 2012:


Anthony Alford Injury Update....
   In this space last week, I wrote about one of the frustrations of minor league ball being the lack of information about injuries to prospects.  Teams don't tend to get pressed for details by the mainstream media, so there is an air of secrecy about it.  I said that given the club's past history, rest and rehab is the club's preferred route when a player suffers something less than a full, surgery-requiring tear of a ligament. Given this photo of Toronto's' top-ranked prospects I came across from Eddie Michels as I was closing tabs prior to publishing this post, I think the knee brace Alford is wearing provides ample evidence of that:
Anthony Alford Takes BP with No Problems (EDDIE MICHELS PHOTO)
"Anthony Alford Takes BP with No
Eddie Michels photo

Saying Goodbye To.....
RHP Scott Copeland, who was sold to LG Twins of the Korean League.  A long-time Blue Jays farmhand, Copeland made his MLB debut last year, and pitched well in one start, and not so well in another, along with a couple of relief appearances.
C Humberto Quintero, signed as a free agent in the off season. An injury to Detroit C James McCann had the Tigers scrambling for some minor league depth, and they scooped up Quintero late last week.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Look at Jeremy Gabryszwski

MiLB.com photo
   The Blue Jays had 7 of the first 78 picks in the 2011 draft, and used them all on high schoolers.
The first of those picks was Massachusetts high school RHP Tyler Beede, who spurned the Jays offer, and headed off to Vanderbilt.  The pick the team received as compensation the following year, as is well known, was used to select Duke RHP Marcus Stroman.
   With their first of two second round picks, Toronto chose Texas RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski.  With their second, part of the compensation for the loss of free agent Scott Downs, the Blue Jays selected Tennessee LHP Daniel Norris.
   Baseball America's draft profile of Gabryszwski:
   Jeremy Gabryszwski excited scouts when he touched 94 mph with his fastball in his first scrimmage. He sat at 92-93 for three innings, and also showed a plus slider and an average changeup. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander didn't maintain that stuff throughout the season, often working in the high 80s. He had surgery to repair a displaced bone in his elbow in 2008, with doctors placing a screw in his elbow. He's a Lamar recruit.
    Both second rounders fit what would become the Blue Jays typical choice for a high school pitching draftee:  long, lean, and athletic.  But while Norris, who after struggling in his first year of pro ball, rocketed through the system in 2014 before being dealt to Detroit last summer, Gabryszwski was brought along much more gradually, progressing one step at a time, posting consistent numbers along the way.
   Never a fireballer, Gaby give up well over a hit an inning at Lansing and Dunedin last year, and it was a bit of a surprise that he was named to the Blue Jays contingent of prospects who headed southwest to play in the Arizona Fall League, and an even larger one when he was named to New Hampshire's Opening Day roster.
   After three starts with the Fisher Cats this young season, it's becoming apparent why the team thought he was up for the challenge of an assignment to AA.
   Gabryszwski does not light up a radar gun, sitting between 88 and 91.  In his April 18th start against Colorado's affiliate Hartford, it was obvious that a huge improvement in his slider has been responsible for his strong start.

   Gaby breezed through the first three innings, needing only 34 pitches, and helping out his own cause by snaring a line drive at knee height, and alertly doubling the runner on first.  He gave up no hard contact until the 4th, when he surrendered a run on two hits, and needed a pick off of the runner on 2nd by his Catcher Wilkin Castillo to end the inning.

  In the 5th, Gabryszwski began to lose the strike zone a bit, and gave up some more hard contact, needing 16 pitches to get out of the inning in which he gave up another run on a pair of hits.  The 6th saw a return to form, as he regained some of the bite on his slider, and struck out highly-ranked Rockies prospect David Dahl to end the frame on three pitches.

  In the 7th, facing the heart of the Yard Goats' order for the third time, Gaby had trouble staying ahead of hitters, and with a pair of runners aboard via a walk and a single, he had reached his pitch limit.

   Gabryszwski effectively commands both sides of the plate.  His fastball has good sinking action which can make it difficult for hitters to square him up, as evidenced by the number of foul balls in the early innings.  His slider has great depth and late breaking action, and was very effective as a swing-and-miss pitch to lefthanders, looking like a fastball on the inner half of the plate, until darting to bat-dodging country on the inside corner at the last second.  As he tired, Gaby threw a few 58-foot versions of the pitch.  Sitting 91-92 with his fastball, he does not overpower hitters, but relies on command and that slider to keep hitters off balance.  He was able to throw his change for strikes on occasion as well.

   On the day, Gabyrszwski threw 90 pitches, 61 for strikes.  He pitched 6.1 innings, giving up 6 hits, 3 runs (1 unearned), walked a pair, and struck out 6.  He threw 4 groundball outs, against 3 fly ball outs.  Gaby threw 1st pitch strikes to 14 of the 24 hitters he faced, and had 13 swing-and-misses on the day.

   With Castillo, Jon Berti, Jorge Flores, and Roemon Fields supplying the Fisher Cats up-the-middle defence on this day, it's easy to see why Gabryszwski may be more successful at the higher levels than he was at the lower ones.  As a groundball pitcher who pitches to contact, Gaby will always need strong defensive play behind him.   One concern was how hitters began to start squaring him up as he fatigued and lost both some zip on his fastball and the strike zone, but this was only his third start of the season, and he no doubt will get stronger as the season progresses.  A young pitcher throwing into the 7th inning of only his third start at AA is no mean feat.
   At 6'4" and a listed 195 (he looks a bit more solid than that), Gabryszwski profiles as a pitch-economizing innings eater.  He has clean mechanics, and repeats his delivery consistently, and disguises his slider very well.  Never considered a top prospect, it may be time to reconsider where he fits in the Blue Jays long range plans.