Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monday Notebook


 It was another week of comings and goings in the Blue Jays minor league system...

  We were somewhat surprised to see that Deck McGuire was DFA'd.
The Blue Jays first round pick in 2010 had mostly underachieved since turning pro, repeating AA for the third time this season.  He had pitched well at New Hampshire over the last half of the season, and gave the club reason to place him on the 40-man roster, in order to avoid potentially losing him the the Rule 5 draft.
Promoted to Buffalo in May, he was rock solid in his first three starts, the highlight being an outing against Toledo where he struck out 10 over 7 innings, but seems to have progressively lost the strike zone with each passing start, to the point where he walked 7 in just 4 innings in his last start.
   The move was made in order to accommodate the re-acquisition of lefthander Brad Mills, likely to help bolster the big league bullpen, but it was curious in that it left Buffalo with only 4 starters, with Kyle Drabek and now Aaron Sanchez plying their trade in relief for the Bisons.
   McGuire watched the Bisons the night he was DFA'd not from the dugout, but on his tv, and you had to feel for him:

Watching the on tv right now is one of the hardest things I've ever done!

   Taylor Cole took over the minor league strikeout lead with a 12 K performance over 6.2 innings earlier today for Dunedin-.
   Not known for being a strikeout per inning guy prior to this season, it would appear that the work that Cole has done with the weighted ball program has paid off.  Just the same, the club placed him on the 7 day DL in late June.  Over three starts from June 18th to 28th, Cole was hammered, giving up 23 hits in 14 innings, and sported an ERA of 9.00.
   Likely suffering from a dead arm, Cole was given 12 days of rest, and it appears to have paid off.  In his last 3 starts, Cole has struck out 27 over 16.2 innings, and has surrendered only 2 earned runs.  The 12 strikeouts today were a career high, and raised his total to 133 for the season.
   At 24, the BYU Grad is a little old for High A, of course.  The 29th round 2011 draftee did a two-year mission after his first year of university at the College of Southern Nevada (which produced Bryce Harper), and was drafted in the 31st round by Arizona, but opted for missionary work for the Church of Latter Day Saints.  He was sent to Canada, and spent time knocking on doors in Toronto as part of his mission.  After completing his two year stint, he transferred to BYU in 2010.
   This year, Cole has used his fastball, which was clocked at 94 in today's game, early in the count to get ahead of hitters, then has used his slider and change to keep hitters off balance.  Cole has walked only 29 hitters in 109 innings.
   One would think that Cole will be in line for a promotion at some point and join his former D-Jays rotation mates Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris in AA, although with Dunedin already having clinched a spot in the Florida State League playoffs, we could see him remain in the Sunshine State for the rest of the season.

   Roberto Osuna hasn't pitched since his first post-TJ surgery outing almost two weeks ago, and it's been the cause for some alarm amongst some of our friends on Twitter.
   We're not surprised that he hasn't thrown since that 1-2-3, 2K inning, in which he sat between 95 and 97 with his fastball.  He's less than a year removed from the surgery, and setbacks during recovery are not uncommon.  That the Blue Jays haven't said a word about it isn't all that unusual, either.  Really, 2014 should be a write off for the still-young righthander, who we didn't think would see game action until August, anyway.  There may have been some soreness after that July 9th outing, or maybe after a subsequent sideline session, and a shut down of a couple of weeks shouldn't be a huge concern.  We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation.

   And as we were about to hit the "publish" button this morning comes word of the promotion of Aaron Sanchez to the big club, along with infielder Ryan Goins.  Sanchez has pitched out of the Buffalo bullpen for the past week in preparation for this move.  As a starter, we don't think that Sanchez is quite ready, although he has been a bit of a victim of BABIP the past few weeks, and for that reason, we think the promotion of Goins was a wise one.  Goins has been the Bisons' best defensive player, and has actually hit well in AAA after struggling at the plate in his first big league go-round.  His presence in the infield, wherever he plays, will be a help to Sanchez, who has morphed into a groundball pitcher.   Marcus Stroman did not take well to the bullpen role when he was first called up this season, but he and Sanchez are different pitchers, and while we ultimately want to see Sanchez in a starting role, he might be a shot in the arm to the club's sagging pen down the stretch.

   Lastly, we were remiss last week in not talking about Dunedin RHP Kendall Graveman.  The 2013 8th rounder out of Mississippi State, Graveman may have been overshadowed by his more illustrious D-Jay fellow starters Norris, Cole, and Boyd, but he has been just as effective in his own right.  Graveman started the year in Lansing, but was quickly promoted to High A.  In 90 innings, Graveman has surrendered 81 hits, and sports a tidy 2.30 ERA, with 62 Ks and only 16 walks.  There may not be room above him for another promotion, but Graveman has been a mainstay in the D-Jays rotation.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Notebook

   Another busy week of Blue Jays minor league play just concluded, with a great deal to report on (as usual):

   The week culminated with the Futures Game, which kicked off the All Star Game celebrations in Minneapolis.  The Blue Jays were represented by A.J. Jimenez, Dalton Pompey and Daniel Norris, who acquitted themselves well in front of the biggest live and television audience the trio have likely ever played in front of.
  Leading off for the World team, Pompey flew out and struck out in his first two at bats, but then lined a pair of singles (including one off of a 97 mph fastball from Reds top prospect Robert Stephenson), and scored a run.
   Norris worked an efficient 11-pitch second inning, striking out Gabby Guerrero (nephew of Vlad) of the Mariners organization to complete a 1-2-3 frame.  Norris has picked up considerable helium this year, and has leaped into many pre-season top prospect polls.  Baseball America has him ranked as their 25th prospect, and Baseball Prospectus has him at #33.  His name has been mentioned frequently in trade rumours, and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous has suggested that both Norris and Aaron Sanchez could help the parent club out of the bullpen down the stretch.
   In front of an audience that included numerous scouts and BA's Ben Badler, Norris didn't make it out of the first inning of his start last week, pulled after throwing 33 pitches.  A 9-day layoff, thanks in part to rainouts and a reshuffling of New Hampshire's rotation, may have been the culprit.

   Roberto Osuna made his first rehab start for the GCL Jays last week, a little under a year after having Tommy John surgery.  Osuna pitched an easy 1-2-3 first inning against overmatched young hitters, striking out a pair.  BP's Chris King had Osuna at between 95-97 with his fastball.  Osuna's outing wasn't the only highlight of the night, though.  Max Pentecost, the second of the club's two first round picks last month, made his second start and picked up his first pro hit, then picked up four more in a 5-5 night.
   Sean Reid-Foley, the Jays second-round pick in June, had a much better second pro outing, giving up only 1 hit in 2 innings, striking out 3.
   Another name to keep tabs on from the GCL is lefthander Angel Perdomo.  The 6'6" Dominican was signed as a free agent in November, 2011, and was invited to Instructional League last fall.  In his first stateside game action this season, he has been lights out in the GCL Jays pen, with 24K's in 18 innings over 5 appearances.

   The players on their roster are far away from a shot at the bigs, but the Bluefield Blue Jays are fast becoming one of our favourite farm teams.
   The Jays won 6 out of 7 games last week, much of it on the strength of its pitching staff, which fired a pair of shutouts during that stretch.
   On Monday, a quarter of hurlers, led by starter Joey Aquino, held the Royals' Burlington affiliate to no runs and five hits, and then Daniel Lietz and Jesus Tinoco blanked the Bristol Pirates on six hits, to go along with 8 strikeouts.  And on Sunday, while the parent club was losing against the Tampa Bay Rays, Bluefield took a second straight game from their Appy League club in Princeton, with Francisco Rios, Oscar Cabrera, and Canadian Jordan Romano holding the P-Rays to a run and six hits.
    While the pitching staff has been the backbone of the team, the offence is picking up.  Rowdy Tellez snapped an 0-26 streak on Tuesday, and his 7 for his last 16 at bats.  Shortstop Richard Urena hit an extra-innings home run against Princeton to lead the Jays to victory, and is hitting .302/.333/.467, as well as playing stellar defence.  Outfielder Josh Almonte is hitting .318/.363/.447, and might not be at this level for much longer if he continues to hit at this pace.

   We were about to write about New Hampshire starter Casey Lawrence and his scoreless innings streak, but it was broken at about the same time we sat down to tell you about it.  Lawrence had not allowed a run in 32 innings over 5 starts, when he surrendered a pair of second inning runs to Portland.  Included in that streak was a near-perfect 7 inning one hitter.  At 26, Lawrence, who has had an up and down minor league career, is no longer considered a prospect, but he's had a nice run this year just the same.
   Lawrence's teammate Andy Burns had a day to tell his grandchildren about last Sunday.  It was his girlfriend's 23rd birthday, and he gave her 23 roses, each with a note attached with a different reason about why he loved her.  He had a special 24th rose ready for dinner after the Fisher Cats game that day.  Problem was, the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Burns took matters into his own hands, and hit a two-run, walk-off homer that gave New Hampshire the win.  Burns' teammates knew that he had planned to propose to his girlfriend after the game, and the Fisher Cats wives and girlfriends were in tears as he rounded third.
  Later that night, the pair met up with several teammates, whereupon Burns took out the 24th and final rose, got down on one knee, and popped the question.  She said yes, of course, and budding photographer Daniel Norris was there to take photos.

   Their games are often finished long after those of those in the Eastern Time Zone have called it a night, but the Vancouver Canadians, Canada's only Milb team, continue to be fun to follow.  The C's 18-12 record puts them in 2nd place in the Northwest League's North Division, and the rest of the baseball world is starting to take notice.  Pitcher Miguel Castro was the NWL Pitcher of the Week for the week of June 30 - July 5.
   We've taken quite a liking to outfielder Roemon Fields.  Fields, a Seattle native, played at tiny Bethany College in Kansas, where he put up huge numbers on the ball field, and was a 60m sprinter during indoor track season. Since much of his stats were compiled against NAIA competition, he didn't draw much attention from pro scouts, and was working for the US Postal Service last summer after failing to get drafted by an MLB team.
   Fields' junior college coach contacted him to see if he was interested in playing in an international tournament in Prince George, BC, that summer.  While there, Fields caught the eye of a Blue Jays scout, and was signed to a pro contract last fall.
   Fields has wasted no time in making a name for himself in the NWL.  He has hit .302/396/.397 as a fixture at the top of the Canadians' order, and after stealing his 23rd and 24th bases on Sunday, is one away from tying the Vancouver franchise record.
   At 23, Fields may be a touch old for short season ball, but he has quickly made a name for himself, and we're anxious to see what he can do at higher levels.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bluefield Building a Solid Pitching Staff

   They may be several years away from the big leagues in even the most optimistic of best-case scenarios, but the Blue Jays have assembled a talented starting pitching corps in Bluefield.
   The Bluefield Jays stumbled out of the gate a little bit, but have come on in Appalachian League play of late, largely due to it starting pitching.  Among the leaders of the group are:

Ryan Borucki
 The tall lefty is the type of lean, athletic, projectable pitcher that the Blue Jays covet.
The top-ranked LH pitcher in Illinois before the 2012 draft, Borucki grew almost half a foot between his sophomore and senior HS seasons, with an accompanying increase in velocity.  Not surprisingly, thought, Borucki injured his elbow early in the spring of his draft year, and played mostly first base.
  Borucki came back to pitching just before the draft, and showed enough for the Jays to take a flyer on him in the 15th round.  He pitched in only 4 GCL games before being shut down, and continued to battle elbow soreness for the next several months, until he underwent TJ surgery the day before his 19th birthday in 2013.
   The velocity is starting to come back for Borucki, who threw between 91-93 before his injury.

Jesus Tinoco
   Tinoco was not one of the glamour names in the Blue Jays international free agent class of 2011 ( which included Osuna. Becerra, Lugo, Tirado, Labourt, and Castro), and signed in September of that year for $400 000.
   The 19 year-old Tinoco has a similar build to Borucki's, but throws from the right.  Cuffed around a bit in his first and third starts with Bluefield, he was solid in his second, and lights out in his fourth, giving up just a run on four hits, with 7 strikeouts over 6 innings.  Which is a pattern he will probably repeat for much of the season.
   Ben Badler of Baseball America described Tinoco as "a potential power arm with a loose arm, solid delivery, and a good feel for a mid-to-high 70s curveball."

Miguel Burgos
   At 5'9" and 155 lbs, the 17 year old Venezuelan is a younger version of Marcus Stroman.  The 19 year-old Venezuelan was part of the 2011 class with Tinoco et al.
   In his first year stateside, Burgos skipped the GCL and is pitching in the Appy League - which says a lot about how the organization feels about him.  They believe he has the physical and emotional maturity to make the leap.
   With his size, he may not have a lot of projection, but he pitched very well in his small sample size, throwing five scoreless innings against the Twins affiliate in his most recent start, striking out 6.

Joey Aquino
   At 24, the well-travelled Hawaiian is a bit old for the Appy League, and really can't be viewed as a prospect.
  Aquino was chosen in the 35th round in this past June's draft out of San Diego Christian College.  He also spent time in junior college in Texas, as well as a year at Tarleton State.  So he's been around.  You have to admire his perseverance.

   Add to this staff pitchers like Matt Smoral, Alberto Guzman, 2013 draftee Daniel Lietz, and the recently promoted Evan Smith, and the Blue Jays have a wealth of young arms in the West Virginia town.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hurricane Anthony Alford: Why Do You Taunt Us?


 Like a late summer hurricane, Blue Jays two-sport star Anthony Alford has come and gone.  There was much eager anticipation for his arrival,  but he came and left in a whirlwind, and we're all left to try to put the pieces together in his wake.
    The Blue Jays gambled on Alford with a $750 000 signing bonus after selecting him in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft.  Considered a fringy first round pick that year, teams were no doubt scared off by his desire to play Quarterback for Southern Mississippi, even though he was a four-year baseball starter at Petal HS. Alford played in 5 GCL games that summer, giving the briefest glimpses of his five-tool potential by knocking one homer and stealing five bases in that limited action.
   The 2012 college football season was a disaster for both Alford and the Golden Eagles, who went 0-12.
Alford was arrested with aggravated assault after allegedly taking out a gun in an on-campus dispute.  The charges were dropped the next day and replaced with less serious ones, but the net result was that Alford left the school, and enrolled at Ole Miss for the following year.
   Alford returned for another week's worth of GCL action  last year before returning to Ole Miss, where he had to sit out a season, as per NCAA transfer rules.  Alford reported to extended spring training once again in early June of this year, and was assigned to rookie-level Bluefield in mid-June.
   In his first shot at "under the lights" ball, with crowds and travel on a small scale,  Alford hit .209/.343/.310, with a stolen base.  That earned him a promotion to low A Lansing, where he put his prodigious baseball talents on display for the first time in his fledgling pro career.
   In one week, Alford hit .320/.320/.480, with a home run and four stolen bases. Included in that small sample were nights of 2-5 and 4-6.  Fellow Mississippian DJ Davis, showing a glimpse of his own potential after being dropped to second in the order, was 4-14 hitting behind Alford, no doubt seeing a lot of fastballs when the footballer was on base.  After 5 games, he was gone, back to Mississippi to get married, and prepare for the upcoming football season.
   With three seasons of college football eligibility remaining, the Jays don't have to place Alford on the 40-man roster for purposes of protecting him from the Rule 5 draft until after the 2016 season.  Which means that we likely will have at least two more of these summers to endure.  Granted, we didn't see a whole lot his first two, but Alford turned a lot of heads in a very short time this summer.  We had thought that his limited baseball action (59 PAs in 3 seasons) would see Alford overmatched at Lansing.  To be sure, his lack of experience showed with 8 strikeouts in 25 at bats, including the Golden Sombrero in his last game, but Alford held his own against competition far beyond anything he had faced before.
   Why do the Blue Jays continue to allow this?  We can think of 750 000 reasons.  The club has an investment in him, and as long as he's willing to cram five weeks of baseball into his year, the organization is content to let him, hoping at some point he will see the light, and realize that his path to the pros might be faster and more likely through baseball.  There is no position player in the system with Alford's combination of speed and power.  He's basically already been paid for, so why not give him two more summers?
   But what are Alford's football prospects like?  As a high schooler, he was rated the #2 HS QB in the state, and one of the top recruits in the country.  After his Southern Miss debacle, Alford switched to Safety at Ole Miss, and is part of a deep defensive backfield for the Rebs.  He's in a fight to earn a starting job, but is considered one of the most athletic players on the team, just as he's considered the best athlete in the Blue Jays system.  As he proved last week in Lansing, he's a quick study, and a year of no football and learning a new position may not be insurmountable for him.  We should have a better idea by the end of the season how well he's taken to the new position, and what his future may hold.
   Alford is still very young (he won't turn 20 until later this month), and the Blue Jays obviously are willing to wait for him, even if he successfully goes the pro football route.  We haven't seen the last of Hurricane Anthony.
   Alford hit a monstrous home run against Great Lakes that was best described by Lugnuts' broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:

I'm not sure we can properly illustrate how far Anthony Alford's HR traveled... but it cut in front of a few kids in line at the moonbounce.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Top Ten Mid-Season Report

      The minor league season has actually long since passed its halfway point, but given that it's now mid-season in the Major Leagues, we offer a look at how our pre-season Top 10 Blue Jays prospects have fared this season.
   This is not a re-ranking of the prospects, and while we will suggest some names that could merit end of season consideration for our updated list, we don't think a mid-season adjusting of the list is fair, given that not all prospects are at the same point on the development curve.
   To keep things simple, we have three evaluations for each prospect:  Above Expectations, Met Expectations, Below Expectations.

1 .  Aaron Sanchez
   There always seems to be the feeling that Sanchez is much more than the sum of his parts, and that he's fallen short of expectations.  We would argue that he's just about right on schedule.
   The 3rd-youngest player in the International League, Sanchez was promoted to Buffalo, and had what was likely his most effective start at any level this season last weekend.  Some shoddy defence and questionable defensive positioning marred what was otherwise a dominant outing.
   Control problems have still plagued Sanchez at both AA and AAA this season.  The organization has continued to tinker with his mechanics, and he has struggled at times to find a consistent release point, and has had trouble repeating his delivery.  At the same time,  Sanchez has been next to impossible to square up.  When he's on, Sanchez pounds the strike zone down low with a 96 mph fastball, which generates swings and misses, or weak contact.  When he's not, Sanchez misses high in the zone, resulting either in walks or decent contact.  The just-turned 22 Sanchez is still learning to harness that fastball. His curve is already graded as a plus pitch, and will only become more effective once he improves that fastball command.
   Sanchez had an electric outing against the Mets in the Jays final pre-season game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.  As the starting rotation faltered in mid-April, there were many calls for his promotion to the bigs.  The Jays, wisely, have stuck to their timetable.  Once he had ironed out the latest adjustments to his delivery at AA, the club challenged him with a promotion to AAA.  With the bullpen having faltered a bit likely as a result of early season overuse, GM Alex Anthopolous has suggested that Sanchez could bolster the Blue Jays 'pen.
   Sanchez's name, of course, has been mentioned prominently in trade rumours for several months now.  Those who think he might not be ready for the pressure of a pennant race might forget that he's been under the microscope every time he takes to the mound for about a calendar year now, and that he's had to pitch knowing that he could be dealt at any moment.

Evaluation:  Met Expectations

2.  Marcus Stroman
   It's been a tale of two seasons for the Duke grad.
Dominant in April at AAA, Stroman was summoned from Buffalo at the end of April to help shore up a fatigued bullpen.  Some would suggest that this was where the right hander deserved to be, but he struggled in the role, and was shipped back to Buffalo a few weeks later. He actually struggled in two starts with the Bisons after his return, but that may have been due more to rust than anything else.
  Promoted to the rotation at the end of May, Stroman has been solid, posting 3 wins and a tidy 2.43 ERA since that time.  He's pitched into the sixth inning in all but one of his six starts, when Yankee Stadium's freakish dimensions got the better of him.  Stroman atoned for that outing by blanking the Yanks over 8 innings at home in his next start. We expressed concerned about the high pitch count when he came out to start the 8th, and all he did was throw another 7 scoreless innings against the Athletics in his next start.
   Stroman commands both sides of the plate with a fastball in the mid-90s, complemented by a wipeout slider.  He tends to struggle when he tries to nibble, as evidenced in the Yankees game.  With an elevated pitch count, he was gone from the game before the end of the fourth inning.
   Stroman too was mentioned in off-season and even early season trade talks.  Having firmly established himself in the rotation, we're no longer hearing these rumours.  Our only concern going forward is Stroman's innings total, which will likely far exceed his previous pro high.  In the midst of a pennant race, you can be sure that the club is monitoring it, but is hoping to have to deal with it later rather than sooner.

Evaluation: Above Expectations

3.  Daniel Norris
   It could be said that Norris has made the largest strides of any Blue Jays prospect this year.
After dominating High A hitters in the Florida State League for two months, Norris was promoted to AA, and hasn't skipped a beat, and was named to the US squad for the Futures Game.
   Milb.com's pitcher of the month for May, Norris has struck out an amazing 101 hitters in 82.2 innings so far this season.  Commanding a mid 90s fastball, Norris throws four pitches extremely well.  With his control, Norris can throw any pitch in any count, and keeps hitters consistently off balance.  The only thing he appears to need to work on is economizing his pitches by attacking hitters a little more.
   This guy has been lights out.  His name has been prominent in trade rumours as well, but we've argued against that.  As long as Yankee Stadium has a chipping green for right field bleachers, strong left handed pitching is a must for any AL East opponent.

Evaluation:  Above Expectations

4.  Sean Nolin 
   The big left hander has had a hard time staying healthy this season.  Thought to have an outside chance at a back end of the rotation spot in the spring, Nolin's performance matched Stroman's for the first six weeks of the season, before being sidelined by a groin strain in mid-May.  He came back for a pair of starts in early June, but struggled before going on the DL again.
   Nolin reports feeling better, but has not progressed to throwing off of a mound yet, and the organization likely wants to take things slowly with him this time around.
   No longer in the picture for a promotion to the majors at this point, Nolin will need a prolonged period of health and effectiveness before he returns to consideration for a big league role.

Evaluation:  Below Expectations

5.  Kevin Pillar
   The object of a lot of criticism on Twitter, Pillar to us has been everything he's been advertised to be. More valuable as a role player at this point in his career than as an everyday player, Pillar has played all three outfield positions, and has flashed speed on the basepaths.  In his most recent call up, he appeared on the verge of putting things together at the MLB level, when an apparent mini-tantrum over being pinch-hit for was caught by Sportsnet's cameras.
   When you have all of 139 major league plate appearances and are fighting to keep a big league job, you don't show up the manager (or your teammates) like that, and Pillar was promptly shipped back to Buffalo the next day.  He's struggled a bit since his return, but a jammed wrist may be to blame for that.
   When will Pillar return?  That's hard to say.  He needs to play every day, and likely do his penance by spending time in Buffalo.  We still prefer him in the fourth outfielder role over Anthony Gose.  He's more versatile, and has proven that he can hit at every level.  Gose may have the better toolkit, but Pillar has done more with his, and has shown a higher baseball IQ.
   If you see Pillar as an everyday, middle of the order type of player, you're bound to be disappointed in him.  If you view him more as that overachieving fourth outfielder type, you won't.  Some fans are already writing Pillar off as a AAAA player.  We say it's way too early to apply that label to him.  We think the club will bring him back before September, and he'll play an important utility role down the stretch.

Evaluation:  Met Expectations

6.  Roberto Osuna
   The young right hander is a veteran of minor league ball, but he only turned 19 this past February.
Sidelined since the end of last July after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Osuna is nearing a return to competition.  As we reported last weekend, Osuna has just started throwing live BP sessions in Florida. Venezuelan-Mexican baseball reporter Alexander Azuaje tweeted this week that Osuna was hitting between 95 and 97 with his fastball during Tuesday's session, and barring any last-minute setbacks, is set to make his return to competition with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays next week.

Luego de 2 live BP (rectas entre 95 a 97 MPH), el mexicano está listo para su 1ra apertura vs en la Rookie League
Translated from Spanish by 
After 2 live BP (straight lines between 95 to 97 MPH), the Mexican is ready for his opening 1st vs in the Rookie League)

   While this is exciting, and Osuna is pretty much right on schedule, we're not expecting to see him return to form until next year.  What we're hoping to see is a slimmed down pitcher who pays more attention to his fitness than he previously did.  A healthy Osuna just adds to this organization's pitching depth.

Evaluation:  Met Expectations

7.  D.J. Davis
   The Blue Jays surprised many observers when they assigned Davis to full-season ball at Lansing.  We had thought he might be sent to extended, then to Vancouver, with a promotion to Lansing by mid-summer, if all went well.
   The Mississippi high school product, to us, has a lot in common with our own Dalton Pompey.  When they were drafted, both had obvious physical tools, but were behind players who came from more traditional baseball hotbeds in terms of development.  Pompey didn't begin to start to recognize his potential until the latter stages of his fourth season in the minors, and has fully taken off now in his fifth.  We can foresee a similar timeline for Davis, with the obvious difference that as a 16th round choice, Pompey could develop out of the spotlight, while Davis as the 17th pick in the 2012 draft has had to do so under the spotlight.
   One of the youngest players in the Midwest League, Davis has experienced numerous growing pains this season.  He is on pace to strike out 170 times, and has yet to improve his pitch recognition.  Despite his speed, Davis has still not learned the fine art of base stealing, and while he has made some highlight plays in the outfield, he still takes some curious routes to flyballs.
   There are encouraging signs that Davis is starting to put things together.  Over his last 10 games, Davis has slashed his way to a .293/.326/.463 line.  Davis has been dropped to 2nd in the batting order, behind either Chaz Frank or recently-promoted fellow Mississippian Anthony Alford,  and perhaps the pressure to get on base is off (and he's seeing more fastballs) .  Regardless, Davis is still several years away, but we're encouraged by the last two weeks.

Evaluation:  Met Expectations

8.  Andy Burns
   Sent to AA, where he spent half of last season, we had high expectations for Burns, who enjoyed a superb 2013 season, and we could even envision a super-utility role for him with the big club.  Without a lot of protection in the New Hampshire lineup, however, Burns has struggled this year, hitting .235/.314/.374, although he's hit .270/.349/.514 over his last 10 games.  He hit only .200 for April and .223 for May, but hit .272 for June, so he is on the upswing.
   Spending most of his season at 3rd base, Burns has provided stellar defence for the Fisher Cats.   If Burns had gotten off to a better start, he may have been in consideration for a call-up when Brett Lawrie went on the DL.  We think he's still worth a spot on a big league roster, but his timetable has been moved back a bit.  We could see a September call-up if the Jays are still in a pennant race.  Burns can play multiple positions, is an effective righthanded bat, and can pinch run.

Evaluation: Below Expectations

9.  Franklin Barreto
   We've had to wait a while for him, but Barreto has been everything we thought he would be.
We had originally thought he might start the season with Lansing, but the organization wisely kept the youngster in extended, with an assignment to Vancouver in mid-June when the Northwest League season opened.
  After a torrid start, the 3rd-youngest player in the league has cooled off a bit, but still hits in the heart of the Canadians order, with a line of .304/.389/.392.  Barreto barrels up plenty of balls, and is viewed by many as a one-day impact bat at the major league level.
  The only question about Barreto is his eventual position in a big league lineup.  Many scouts feel that he has neither the arm or footwork to stay at short stop, and his 9 errors so far might seem to bear that out, although the stats suggest that Barreto is getting to more balls than he did in his two previous minor league seasons.
  With Ryan McBroom starting to swing the bat in the lineup behind him, and first round pick C Max Pentecost on his way to the middle of the Canadians' batting order, Barreto should see plenty of good pitches to hit this summer.  He is still several seasons away, but will be well worth the wait.

Evaluation:  Above Expectations

10.  Alberto Tirado
   We originally applauded the assignment of Tirado to the Midwest League, but the challenge of full season ball proved to be too much, too soon for the right hander.  Sent back to Florida for extended, Tirado was sent to Vancouver, but apparently is going through a bit of a dead arm stretch, and won't be pitching again until he's overcome the fatigue.
   At 19 years of age and with a fairly slight build, this may be nothing to worry about.  As far as we have been able to ascertain, Tirado is still with the C's, so that should be seen as a good sign.  If the club feared some elbow or shoulder damage, he likely would have been sent to Florida for rest and rehab.
   Tirado's biggest challenge in Lansing was finding the strike zone, walking 39 hitters in 40 innings.  That Tirado has been mentioned in some of those trade rumours discussed above is indicative of how other organizations feel about him, and he wouldn't be the first Latin pitcher to take a step back after his first shot at full season.

Evaluation:  Below Expectations

Who's Not on the List...but Could Be.

Dalton Pompey
 Promoted to AA, named to the Futures Game, and bandied about in those trade rumours.  That's been Pompey's first half.  Pompey is a true five-tool player.
  He's had a bit of a rough start in AA, where many of the pitchers he's facing have a plan, and he'll have to adjust accordingly.
   Jon Morosi of Fox Sports was one of the first to include Pompey's name in trade speculation.  He also said Pompey was about a year away.  We think it's more like two.
   And while it's great that Pompey is a good Ontario boy, we don't really care what a player's birth certificate says if he can help the team.  And if that good Ontario boy was part of the price for a player who could upgrade the major league roster, so be it.

Miguel Castro
   The tall right hander had pitched only 17 innings stateside before this year.  Sent to Vancouver, he's responded well to the challenge, playing at 19 against a league stocked with recent college grads.
  With a fastball that has touched 98 and sits at 95/96, with a slider that's a work in progress, we're intrigued by this live young arm.

Anthony Alford
   We've written extensively about the two-sport star, and we had pretty much abandoned hope for him ever reaching the majors.  Playing for only a few weeks each summer while he chases his football dream, we felt that Alford's development would lag far behind his cohorts.
   Alford started the season with Bluefield, and was then sent to Lansing, where he has shown the speed/power combo that caused the Jays to gamble a 3rd round pick and $750K bonus on him two years ago.
   Alford just spent his last weekend with the club, returning to Mississippi to get married, and prepare for the upcoming college football season.  It was but a tease, and given that he will have two more seasons of NCAA eligibility after the 2014 season, we may have to get used to it.

Mitch Nay
   After a hot April, Nay cooled off in May, but he has been labelled by some scouts as the best position prospect in the system.  Reports indicate that he has improved his footwork at 3rd, which some suggested would eventually move him off of the position.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Time for A.J. ?

   As the absence of Jose Bautista painfully showed during the week he was lost to the club due to a hamstring injury, the Blue Jays are extremely vulnerable to left handed pitching.  With Brett Lawrie out at least another month, that situation isn't getting any better.  With the club rumoured to be seeking to bolster the club through the trade market, we suggest that there's one upgrade already on the club's 40 man roster in Buffalo catcher AJ Jimenez.
   Josh Thole has had a decent season with the bat, although he's regressing to his career mean, and has actually hit left handed pitching well this season, albeit in a limited sample size, and with no pop.  Jimenez has hit .295/.301/.366 at Buffalo this year, including .359/.390/.513 over his last 10 games.  He would be an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Thole.
  Of course, there's the no small matter of Thole's expertise at catching R.A. Dickey's knuckleball.  Thole has caught Dickey almost exclusively for the past three seasons.  There was plenty  derisive chatter on Twitter last evening about Dickey having a "personal catcher," but what many fans fail to realize that Dickey is not the first knuckleballer to pitch to one catcher.  The pitch is that difficult to catch, and one has to look no further than the difficulties J.P. Arencibia had trying to catch Dickey early last season.  That Dickey has a personal catcher owes more to the capricious nature of the pitch, and less to the contractual status of the former Cy Young winner.
   The Blue Jays signed converted knuckleball pitcher Tomo Ohka in the off-season, and sent both he and Jimenez to AA to start 2014, likely with the idea of giving Jimenez exposure to handling the pitch in mind.  That move didn't pan out after Ohka's knuckler was pounded in the spring, and he's now pitching in the independent Atlantic League.
   So, Jimenez may have limited experience in catching the pitch.  Everything we have read and seen suggests that he is more than ready defensively to be in the majors.  Jimenez's presence would also take some of the pressure off of Dioner Navarro, who is not an every day catcher.   He would be an upgrade over Eric Kratz, who quite frankly leaves something to be desired when it comes to handling pitchers and blocking balls in the dirt. Jimenez would give the roster some flexibility in this day and age of multi-man bullpens.  
   The question mark has always been the bat, but Jimenez appears to have answered that.  Jimenez will never post high OPS numbers, but he would definitely solidify the position, and has some familiarity with young pitchers like Stroman, Sanchez, and Norris. Whether the Blue Jays want to throw a rookie into a pennant race, and have him handle a difficult pitch at the same time is something the front office types are likely debating as the season reaches the halfway point.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Notebook: Pompey Rising & an Osuna Sighting!

    Mississauga's own Dalton Pompey has certainly caught a major helium updraft this year.
   The 16th round pick from the 2010 draft had toiled mostly in anonymity through his first four seasons, which were all spent in A ball.
   Widely regarded as toolsy but thanks to his Canadian upbringing painfully raw, Pompey began to figure things out in Lansing last year, and put together a torrid last half of August last season, hitting .339/..473/.554 over that stretch, including a streak where he scored an incredible 9 times in a row after reaching base.
   Pompey has picked up this season exactly where he left off.  Starting the year in Dunedin, Pompey capped off a .319/.397/.471 half season with the D-Jays with a selection to the Florida State League All-Star Game, followed by being named to the World squad in Milb's upcoming Future Stars game, which was then followed by a promotion to AA.
   With trade rumours heating up as the July 31 deadline approaches, Pompey's name has started to be prominently and frequently mentioned as part of a package the Jays might offer to acquire a frontline starter to bolster their rotation.

   After a few months of silence, we have news of a Roberto Osuna sighting.
   Osuna was shut down in May of last year with elbow soreness, which eventually resulted in Tommy John surgery at the end of July.
   When last we heard, Osuna was starting to throw on flat ground at the end of spring training.  Now comes reports that he threw a live batting practice session in Florida, which was confirmed by the young righthander himself on Twitter:

Threw first live bp since last year , feel blessed to be at the mound again thnks to everyone!

   Playing stateside for the first time, Tejada has already acquired quite a following.  King says he took note of Tejada after just one batting practice session.  He's several years away, but his name is one worth filing away for future reference.

    He isn't getting a lot of publicity for doing so, but Jeremy Gabryszwski is turning in yet another solid season for Lansing.  The Jays 2nd round pick in 2011 has worked his way up the ladder one step at a time, but has gained a reputation for pitching to contact, and not missing a lot of bats.
   This year, he's fashioned five games where he's averaged at least a strikeout per inning, striking out 7 in 6 innings in his last start on Saturday.  In 92 innings, he's given up 104 hits, and Midwest League hitters are batting .287 against him.  That's still a lot of contact, but he's managed a tidy 3.33 ERA this season.  What helps Gaby is that he's usually around the plate, walking only 13 so far this season.
   He's still a longshot to earn a spot in a major league rotation, but we like the way he eats up innings.  He has made 16 starts this season, and has pitched into the 5th inning in every one of them, and into the 6th inning ten times.

   Chaz Frank, like Gabryszwski, has flown under the radar for much of the season.  The 2013 20th founder has risen quickly.  We liked what we saw of him in a brief glimpse of him at Vancouver last season.  He was maybe a touch too aggressive on the base paths, but he has shown a penchant for getting on base (.382 OBP), and has taken over from D.J. Davis at the top of the Lansing batting order, which likely will mean Davis gets to see a few more fastballs with the speedy Frank on base, which might be a huge confidence builder for the struggling Davis.

   To make room for Pompey on the New Hampshire roster, outfielder Kenny Wilson was promoted to Buffalo.  After being named to the 40-man roster in the off season, it's been quite a roller coaster ride of a season for the 6 year minor league vet.  He was DFA'd in May, and was claimed by the Twins, only to be claimed back by Toronto a few weeks later when Minnesota made the same roster move.  After a very slow start, Wilson has started to show the ability to get on base and speed that caused the Jays to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last fall.  Over his past 10 games, Wilson is .324/.425/.896, with three straight two-hit games at the top of the Bisons lineup.