Sunday, July 23, 2017

What To Expect From Chris Rowley

Eddie Michels/ photo

   One early sweltering early August Florida afternoon in 2013, RHP Chris Rowley took the mound for the Blue Jays Gulf Coast League entry.  After limiting the Pirates' GCL team to one run on four hits over six innings, Rowley jumped into the team traniner's car the following morning (his 23rd birthday) for the airport.  His destination:  New York, from where he would travel to West Point to begin fulfilling his service commitment after graduating from the US Military Academy that spring.
   Four years later, after serving his two-year hitch, which included a deployment to Eastern Europe (where he threw to the company medic to keep up his arm strength), Rowley is on the cusp of a big league job, having faced down incredibly long odds just to make it to pro ball.

  Rowley was lightly scouted even though he was the ace of the Black Knights' staff in his senior year at West Point; his military commitment no doubt dissuaded most teams.  He quickly signed with the Jays, who needed pitching for their GCL club after the 2013 draft. He was one of the team's most effective starters (1.09 ERA, 10.6 K/9) for the GCL Jays, but while other pitchers on the club received promotions to Bluefield or Vancouver as the summer progressed, Rowley remained in Dunedin, with the 60 days he had to report after graduating quickly counting down.

  After two years of service, Rowley was released from further commitment by the Army under a new program that allowed elite athletes in the military to pursue their sports.  Rowley reported to Florida for Instructs in the fall of 2015, and has quickly made up for lost time.  He was a mainstay in High A Dunedin's bullpen in 2016, and moved up the ladder to New Hampshire this year, where he continued his strong relief work until injuries in the Fisher Cats' rotation forced Manager Gary Allenson to press Rowley into starting duties.  Rowley did not miss a beat, and after taking a shutout into the 6th inning in his first start, he didn't allow more than one run in his next three.  That helped earn Rowley a promotion to Buffalo, where he returned to the bullpen.  Injuries and call ups forced him back into the starting rotation, and Rowley has not allowed a run over his last two starts.

   Chris Rowley does not blow hitters away.  He relies on his command, and a sinker that he says, "I couldn't throw straight even if I tried."  He mixes in a rapdily improving change up and a late-breaking slider with good depth.  He throws all 3 pitches from the same arm slot, making it very hard for hitters to pick up spin/rotation.  Rowley works quickly, standing on the rubber and peering in for the sign from his Catcher as soon as he gets the ball back.  His delivery has a slight pause, which can disrupt hitters' ability to time him.  Rowley is a good athlete who lands in a good fielding position, and is quick off the mound.  Most important of all, he pounds the lower part of the strike zone, walking only 20 over close to 90 innings. Hitters at two levels have found him extremely tought to square up.

   Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim calls Rowley, "A solid make up guy, (and) a true professional."  He is respectful to all throughout the game, and faithfully answers questions from a writer who's followed him for several years.  The Toronto media will no doubt quickly latch onto his Cinderella story - in a little under two years, he's gone from the US Army to the brink of the major leagues.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Look at What's In the System

Tim Mayza - Clutchlings Photo

   With the Toronto Blue Jays struggling to score runs,  and a recent Statscast release demonstrating that in terms of baserunning speed, they have one of the slowest lineups in baseball,  thoughts of many fans are turning into what volume of selling the club will be doing at the trade deadline.
    It's hard to predict either way what the team will do at the end of this month.  A decent winning streak could put them right back into the thick of things.  But with Troy Tulowitzki struggling, Kevin Pillar reverting to career norms, and minus the spark that Devon Travis provided, it's hard to see this team playing meaningful September baseball.  The question for Blue Jays management is whether or not a quick fix, in the form of trades to shore up weak spots in the lineup is the answer, or if a complete tear-down is more in order.
   Before a team decides to blow it up and start from scratch, they have to take stock of their minor league systems.  Are there players who are close enough that their development as every day major leaguers won't be impaired by rushing them?  Are there enough players at key positions?  Will rebuilding be a long, painful, and attendance-costing process, or is there enough talent at the upper levels of the system to keep the team competitive?

   Here's a look, position-by-position, at what's in the system, and how close those players might be.

   This is possibly the deepest position in the system - quite a turnaround from even a year ago.
Danny Jansen has gone fron oft-injured to AA All Star in the course of a year.  Reese McGuire underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in May and is out until at least August, and was replaced by Jansen.  Max Pentecost returned to Catching duties this year after two  Going deeper into the system, recent draftees Riley Adams and Hagen Danner show tremendous promise.
   Jansen and McGuire (that's the order I see them in - Jansen should become the everyday receiver, with McGuire a more than competent back up who can allow the Blue Jays to keep Jansen's bat in the lineup once in a while as a DH) are both at least a year away, while the newbies in the system are several.
   With Russ Martin under contract for two more years, and Miguel Montero just picked up from the Cubs, this position does not seem to be a priority for the Jays to re-tool.  With 3 decent prospects in full season ball, and a pair in short season, this is a position of strength for the organzation, and if the club was looking to upgrade the major league roster, this might be an area to deal from.

Corner Infielders
   This was the year that Rowdy Tellez was going to challenge Justin Smoak for a job by mid-season.
   So much for that.
    Tellez faced on and off-field struggles this half   His bat has started to show signs of life, but he's hovered around the Mendoza Line for much of the season to date.  Tellez was one of the youngest players in AA last year, and at 22, he's one of the youngest again at AAA.  There's not much to be gained by rushing him at this point.
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr may be on his way to best-prospect-in-baseball status, but he's still only 18, and several years away.
   There isn't much else at these positions.

Middle Infielders
    There is truly a glut of players in the system who can play 2nd and SS.   The most promising, of course, is Guerrero's bashing Lansing brother Bo Bichette, who is still a few years away as well.
  Richard UreƱa was one of the youngest players in AA at the start of the season.  After settling many questions about his bat the past two years, he's struggled at the plate this year.  There is no doubt about his defensive skills.  He is the eventual successor to Troy Tulowitzki, but he likely is destined to be a bottom third of the order hitter.
    Jason Leblebijian has had the most successful season of any Blue Jays middle infielder.  Once viewed as an org guy, he went to Australia a couple of seasons ago, mashed his way to an MVP award, and seemingly hasn't stopped hitting.  At 26, his prospect status is starting to wane, however, and he can't really be viewed as a long-term answer.
    Top draft pick Logan Warmoth made his pro debut in the GCL, and now is a fixture in Vancouver's lineup.  He may even make it to Lansing by the end of the summer. He's not likely to make his MLB debut this decade, though.
   Lourdes Gurriel is something of a wild card here.  He could profile as a SS, 2B, or a LF.  After not playing for almost two years following his defection from Cuba, the Blue Jays expected some rust, but injuries have slowed his development this year.  A recent series against Bradenton showed some issues with bat speed and timing, but that apepars to be coming around now that he's healthy and in the lineup of AA New Hampshire every day.

   Blue Jays fans got a glimpse of the future when toolsy Anthony Alford made his MLB debut this year.  It was a brief one, of course, but if his recovery from wrist surgery goes well, (he's been back for about a week), there's every chance we see him in a Blue Jays uniform this summer.
   And the stock of good players at this position who are close begins and ends with Alford.  Roemon Fields has put together a surprising .298/.348/.385 line at Buffalo, but has struggled throughout much of his full-season minor league career to get on base enough to take advantage of his speed.  Dwight Smith Jr likewise has put up decent numbers at AAA, and even hit well in a brief audition with the big club, but he and Fields really should be considered to be no more than fourth outfielders at best.
   Edward Olivares has opened at lot of eyes at Lansing this year, but has to prove that he can maintain that kind of contact at the higher levels.  An aside: watching Olivares take BP earlier this year, it was kind of mystifying to watch him drive so many pitches into the top of the cage in an obvious attempt to put some loft on the ball.  Given his build and speed, an observer might have been tempted to think that a line drive, on-base approach might be better.  During the game that followed, Olivares lofted a HR over the wall in Left-Centre, a noteworthy blast in April at Cooley Law School Stadium.  He is a five-tool player (leads all Midwest League OFs in Assists) and a premium athlete who is still several years away.
2016 2nd rounder J.B. Woodman has swung and missed at a lot of pitches so far this year in the Midwest League.
  Dalton Pompey continues to try to stay healthy and see his name on the lineup card every day.
  This is not a positon of depth in the system, however.

Starting Pitchers
   Sean Reid-Foley would have been considered the top starting prospect in the system this year.  In his first try at AA, he's been too fine with his pitches, and has had his ups and downs, athough his most recent outing was a gem.  He's also only 21, and obviously needs more time.
    The same could be said of Conner Greene, who's walking hitters at a career-high rate (5.5/9) as SRF's rotation-mate.  Greene has shown flashes of brilliance, but has yet to put a solid stretch together - he walked 8 and fanned only 2 over only 4 innings in his last start.
   TJ Zeuch, the club's 1st round pick last year, showed promise in High A, but struggled to stay healthy as many pitchers do in his first full season, and is on the DL.  He's resumed baseball activities since being shut down a month ago, but there is not date for his return.
   Ryan Borucki was added to the 40-man last August, but his lengthy injury history prompted the team to shut him down briefly early in the season, and he was on a pitch-count limit until June.  Teammate and GTA product Jordan Romano has probably been the best starter in the Blue Jays system this year, although he may profile more as an MLB reliever. Both have to be considered two-three years away.
   Justin Maese reached Lansing in only his second pro season (quite a feat for a high school P) last August, but he too has been shut down with shoulder issues.  He returned to action in a GCL rehab stint this week, but the club is likely understandably reluctant to rush things.  Both Maese and Zeuch are several years away.
   Southpaw Angel Perdomo has been brought slowly through the system, and has pitched well at High A this year.  Most scouts are of the belief that his lights-out fastball will play better in a bullpen one day, but the Blue Jays are content for now to allow him to continue to develop as a starter.
   2015 1st rounder Jon Harris has had his struggles at AA this year, but seems to be turning things around.
   Yennsy Diaz has dazzled Midwest League hitters with his electric fastball since making his full season debut last month.  If his secondaries continue to develop, he will be an arm worth watching.

Relief Pitchers
   If there is one area that has consistently been one of the deepest pools of talent in the system.
Which is a good thing, considering the short shelf life of the modern day MLB reliever.
   Chris Rowley has rocketed through the system after being released from his military commitment last February.  He does not blow hitters away, but uses a combination of location and movement to keep hitters off balance.  He pitched in relief last year and for the first two months of this year, but injuries in New Hampshire's rotation forced him into a starting role.  He has been lights out in either capacity, earning a promotion to Buffalo.  The Blue Jays would have preferred to keep him in relief, according to a team official, but he's proven valuable in the swing man role.  He's knocking on the door of a major league job.
   Southpaw Matt Dermody has made tremendous strides since being switched to full-time bullpen duties two years ago, and even made a few appearances with the big club last fall.  He was hit hard in his only MLB outing this year, and has given up some contact with Buffalo, but is still striking out a batter per inning.  Fellow lefty Tim Mayza turned some heads in spring training, and after dazzling with an electric fastball that hits 97.  RHP John Stilson and his 96 mph fastball have been knocking on the major league door for some time, but injuries seem to keep getting in the way.
  At AA, Dusty Isaacs and New Brunswick's Andrew Case (recetnly promoted to Buffalo) haven't had a lot of opportunities to close the door on opponents for the last-place Fisher Cats, but have been very effective in late inning situations.  And while we usually don't go below that level to look for potential bullpen arms, Kirby Snead, Zach Jackson and Jackson McClelland have put together impressive seasons first at Lansing and now Dunedin.
   This is another position of strength for the organization in terms of depth.

Zach Jackson - Clutchlings photo

    In short, this is a system with a growing stockpile of talent, but there is little of it that's ready to step into an everyday role with the big league club.  Alford is the most obvious candidate, but the struggles of Tellez, Reid-Foley, and Greene indicate that they're still at least a year away.  Bichette and Guerrero are clearly the jewels of the system, but 2019 would have to be the earliest we would see them, and that date is probably a bit on the optimistic side.
    There is some trade depth if the Blue Jays were looking to upgrade the major league roster.  If Pentecost does not pan out behind the plate, his athleticism would be a fit for many teams.  Olivares offers a toolkit that might be very tempting.  And despite not being able to offer more than a $300K bonus to any of their international signings last year in the hangover that was the 2015 Vladdy Jr signing, there are some intriguing arms in that group.
    It's hard to say which way the Blue Jays management group is leaning, but if past performance is any indication, this is an administration which prefers to build from within, using young controllable players.  We're not apt to see the likes of Alex Anthopoulos' dealing two years ago (he traded 18 prospects in the span of eight months).   Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro is well aware of the risks of doing a full-on tear down, and is not likely to make a wholesale overhaul of the major league roster. The deals that he and GM Ross Atkins would make, if any, would probably involve the return of upper-level prospects for players on the 25-man with soon to be expiring contracts.  With a stable of prospects reaching the middle levels of the system this year, and a likely Top 10 draft pick next year barring a remarkable second half turnaround, it seems more likely that the Blue Jays will not be holding a fire sale later this month, but may look to move one or two contracts, with an eye to the club becoming more competitive in the next two years.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Mid-Season Prospect Update with Gil Kim

Clutchlings photo

   Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim is a busy, busy man.
Between overseeing players and staff among the Blue Jays 8 minor league affiliates, co-ordinating with the High Performance division, and meeting recently drafted players at the Bobby Mattick Minor League complex in Dunedin at a four-day mini-camp, he can be a hard man to pin down.

   Kim did agree to take some time out to discuss the progress of several prospects throughout the system.

Injury Update
   The Blue Jays opt to err on the side of caution with their younger prospects, particularly those who are relatively new to full season ball.  As a result, placing players on the DL and sending them to Dunedin for rest and rehab is a common precautionary practice.  That seems to be the case with Max Pentecost, who hasn't played since June 9th.  Slowed by a back strain in his return to full-time Catching duty after Danny Jansen was promoted to New Hampshire to replace the injured Reese McGuire, the Jays opted to shut the 2014 1st round draft choice down for a few weeks.  According to Kim, all indications are that he's doing well in rehab, and should be back in action shortly.
  Speaking of McGuire, who underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in late May, Kim reports that he is rehabbing well, but there is no timetable for his return, although it's expected to be before the end of the season.
   2016 1st rounder T.J. Zeuch has been on the DL since the beginning of June.  Kim wouldn't disclose what the injury was (it has to be shoulder related), but Zeuch is on a throwing program and is expected back soon.
   Lansing starting pitching stalwarts Justin Maese and Patrick Murphy have both been shut down. Maese has been rehabbing a sore shoulder, and hasn't started in a month.  A hamstring slowed Murphy down, and he hasn't pitched in three weeks.  Kim says both are on the mend, and should return to action shortly.
   Anthony Alford, as has been well documented, had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his wrist.  He too is doing well in Dunedin, and is expected back for the second half of the season, but there is no timetable yet.

Bo and Vladdy Jr
   As fans, we check out the MiLB box scores every morning to see how our favourite prospects fared. Each promotion up the ladder brings them one step closer to the Major Leagues, where we can see them live and in person.  If there's one question I've been asked most often lateley, it has to be, "when are Bo and/or Vladdy Jr getting promoted?"
   It's understandable that we want to catch a glimpse of players who for the most part have been only names on a webpage.  It's just as understandable that MLB teams want to stick to the plan for their top prospects.
  Kim was non-commital about when (or if) the two Lansing sluggers will get promoted.  All minor league prospects have a skill set that they're working on, and it's no big secret that the High Performance department has been working on agility and strength on the defensive side of the ball with both prospects.  Bichette, in particular, has been working on first-step quickness, working with Lansing Manager Cesar Martin and Hitting Coach Donnie Murphy on fielding countless groundballs.  Guerrero, for his part, is working on his defensive game, too, trying to become quicker at fielding slow rollers, and improving his overall range at 3rd. Both are learning how to play every day, to prepare for games, and how to recover from them afterwards.  As much as we want this to be a fast process, sometimes it isn't.  Both players are very age-appropriate for Low A ball, and Kim's philosophy could be summed up as, "why rush things?"
   Certainly, both have laid waste to Midwest League pitching.  After hitting the .400 mark a week ago, Bichette is hitting .394/.457/.627, and leads the league in several offensive categories.  He's hit in 51 of the 59 games he's played in, and has gone hitless in consecutive games only once.  Guerrero's numbers (.313/.406/.457) are not as gaudy, but no less impressive.  He's hit only .158 over his last 10, perhaps showing some signs of fatigue.
     The most likely path for Bichette is to spend at least the next few weeks with Lansing.  He has a decent chance of being named to July 9th's Futures Game roster, so a promotion after that may be in the offing.  Or, the team may decide to wait a few weeks and see what Lansing's post-season chances look like. Development does trump winning at the minor league level, but teams do like their top prospects to play together on teams that are making a playoff run.  Whatever the case, a promotion for either Bichette or Guerrero will not happen until there's a consensus among the Lansing and minor league staff that one or both are ready.
      A cautionary tale:  there's not a huge jump in terms of the quality of pitching between Low and High A, but the experience of Bradley Jones is one worth considering.  A more seasoned (22 years of age) college grad, Jones was promoted to Dunedin in early June after posting a line of .326/.394/.560 at Lansing.  Facing pitchers with better command of their fastball and secondaries, Jones has scuffled with the D-Jays, hitting only .156 and striking out in almost half of his 68 PAs.  Is the risk of Bichette having a similar experience (perhaps not to the same extent) worth the challenge of moving him to the next level?  Particularly as the season winds down, and his fatigue likely increases?  The Blue Jays will have those and other factors to consider very shortly.

The Importance of Make Up
   Kim stressed the importance of this aspect, which he called "the sixth tool," in evaluating and recruiting players for the organization.  It was a phrase which came up several times in discussions about prospects.  When I spoke to Angus Mugford a few weeks ago, it also was something we talked about at length.  The thinking is that there is so little difference among just about all players in terms of their physical abilities, but when push comes to shove, make up can be the difference.

Talking Prospects
   On Rowdy Tellez, who has scuffled mightily (.197/.273/.321 to this point):
  Rowdy we remember last year numbers-wise didn't get off to the start that we had wanted, then rebounded.  He kept working hard and finished the year off very well, and then he went to the Dominican Winter League and had a good season there.  I think right now with Rowdy - he's a young player in Triple A, and he's going through some experiences that are teaching him a lot about who he is, and we fully support him.  He's working hard in Buffalo with Devo (hitting coach Devon White), Meach (manager Bobby Meacham), and  (Field Co-ordinator) Eric Wedge.  We're confident that he's going to be fine, and this experience will be one that we're going to look back on when he's in the big league as one that helped him.

   On Max Pentecost, who returned to Catching duties for the first time since August, 2015:
We really can't say enough about his perserverance through the whole process, and his positivity....being able to channel that positive outlook into his daily routine.  He has done well on the offensive side, which was no surprise, but we were definitely surprised with the strides he's been able to make with his blocking, receiving, and game-calling - despite not having been back there a whole lot in the last couple of years.  It just helps so much when you have a former Catcher like John Schneider (Dunedin's Manager) back there who's passionate about teaching Catching, and has been a great help.

   On Anthony Alford:
Anthony probably along with Danny Jansen are the two most improved players we have, which in Anthony's case is no surprise, given his work ethic and positive attitude.  He became more consistent with his timing, and put in a lot of reps in the Outfield in Spring Training, and he's improved all around in terms of approach and consistent hard contact, and his OF/CF defence.  It's been a pleasure to see the type of player he's made himself into....this is all on him.

   On Danny Jansen, who was leading the Florida State League in hitting before being promoted to New Hampshire to replace McGuire:
Jano's a of our strongest make up guys in the organization.  And what he's doing is not surprising, because he's one of those players who make adjustments and improve.  Coming into it, he was a late invite to big league camp, and his game has just taken off since the Arizona Fall League.  He's concentrating on using more of the field offensively, and has been improving his game-calling.  Schneider and (New Hampshire Manager and former MLB Catcher) Gary Allenson have been a big help there.

   Sean Reid-Foley, who has struggled this year (4.25 BB/9 rate, lowest - 40.7% GB rate of his career), but has started to turn things around in his last few starts:
Sean maybe didn't have the start that he had envisioned, but he has bounced back, and is getting back to his dominant self.  He maybe was pressing a bit early, but he's been doing very well working on maintaining that power delivery, while trying to incorporate his change up more.

   Conner Greene, who has not dominated in his second go-round of AA as some thought he might, although his 59% GB rate is second-best in the Eastern League:
Conner has improved....that's all we can ask.  He's taking all those steps every day to get better - consistency of delivery, fastball command.....hitters aren't necessarily as comfortable against his fastball as they were earlier in Spring Training or last year.  His curve has come a very long way - tighter spin on it, with harder action and depth.

  Chris Rowley, who has been something of a revelation this year, starting in New Hampshire's bullpen before being called upon to fill in for injured starter Francisco Rios.  Rowley is now pitching out of Buffalo's pen:
Chris just knows how to pitch.  He keeps hitters off balance, throws strikes, and competes.  He's another solid make up guy, a true professional, and we're not surprised by the strides that he's made.  We have no plans at the moment to move him out of the pen in Buffalo.
   2nd round draft pick Hagen Danner:
Hagen is going to Catch.  He'll start in the Gulf Coast League, like many of our high school players do.
Players Who Have Surprised
   When asked who has made some giant leaps forward in terms of their development so far this year, Kim offers two names:

Yennsy Diaz, RHP, who started the year in Extended, and has struck out 18 in 11 innings over 3 starts since being promoted to Lansing earlier this month:
Yennsy really has some of the best stuff in the organization.  He's worked hard at getting more consistent, and getting over top of the baseball on his pitches.  He's had a pretty solid start at Lansing.
OF Edward Olivares, who has quietly put together a .279/.315/.513 mark with 14 steals for Lansing:
Edward was injured last year, skipped a level this year.  He has some of the best tools in the organization, and is working hard at dialing it in and refining his game. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Look at Yennsy Diaz photo

  When spring training camp breaks each April, major league teams give prospects a laundry list of things to work on.  Some are assigned to full season affiliates, while others remain behind for an extended spring training season in Florida.  All have various facets of their games to work on:   pitchers have to sharpen their command, continue to develop their velocity, and work on their between-outings routines.  Hitters have to work on pitch recognition, get stronger, and hone their defensive skills.  All players have to work on how they prepare and recover from competition.  Every player in the Blue Jays system has a personal workout plan to improve upon some or all of strength, agility, and endurance.

  It's not until all the boxes on their lists are checked that teams will consider moving players up to the next level.  And as fans, we can all get a little impatient.  But teams stick to the script, and we have to bide our time to wait for a player we really want to see.

   Like Blue Jays RHP Yennsy (pronounced 'Jennsy') Diaz.  With Lansing's starting pitching staff mostly a shambles beyond stalwarts Justin Maese and Patrick Murphy, Diaz' name was one I was continually looking for in the minor league transactions page each day.  But even though the Lugnuts needed starting help, Toronto was not going to be deterred from following the process.  As June approached (and both Maese and Murphy landed on the DL), the 2014 IFA, who has averaged a strikeout per inning through three minor league short seasons, was finally promoted from Extended to Lansing.   And in three pitch-count limited starts, he has been nothing short of electric.

   In his first start, Diaz fanned four in two innings, following that up with 8Ks over 4.2 innings in his second one.  Diaz' third start was a thing of beauty:  facing a tough West Michigan lineup, Diaz set down the first 9 Whitecaps' hitters to come to the plate, striking out 5.  Returning after a half hour rain delay, Diaz was not quite as sharp over the next two innings, but the 20 year-old Dominican offered a glimpse of what is to come.

   Diaz' main weapon is a 97 mph fastball with excellent movement and some arm-side run.  Pitching from a drop-and-drive delivery, Diaz' mechanics are clean.  He can pound the bottom of the strike zone for weak contact, run the ball in on right-handed hitters, or elevate it when he has two strikes on a hitter. West Michigan batters were simply overmatched through the first three frames, where Diaz sat 96-97, and touched 98.  He showed that his secondaries are still a work in progress, however, and he generated few whiffs on off speed pitches.  That fastball gives him a wider margin for error with them, however, and will buy those secondary pitches some time as he develops.

   Diaz' to-do list for April and May included continuing to work on his mechanics.  Diaz can overthrow at times, and that has limited his ability to get behind the ball and impart sufficient movement-inducing spin on his fastball.  For the most part, he stayed with his delivery in his most recent start, but did show a tendency sometimes to come out of it as he tried to keep the ball down in the zone.  He finished out front on the majority of his pitches, however, and mastered hitters through the first three innings.  When he came back after the rain delay, Diaz caught too much of the strike zone, and gave up contact.

   Given that dominant fastball, the previous management regime might have been tempted to acclerate Diaz' development and turn him into a reliever in the hopes of uncovering a back of the bullpen power arm.  With the current administration, Diaz will likely get plenty of time to continue to develop as a starter.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Blue Jays Draft Tracker

  The Blue Jays selected 40 players in the MLB draft last week.  As of this writing (6/23/2017), the following players have signed.  Bonuses, for the most part, have not been confirmed by the club. High School players are indicated in bold.
    Please @ me on Twitter (@Clutchlings77) if you come across any announcements.

  The Blue Jays had $8.23 million to spend on picks for the first ten rounds.  The Danner signing leaves them with about $5.35 million to spend on top picks Warmoth and Pearson.  There's a bit of room (5%) to go beyond that before the club faces any penalties.

   Another update:
      Warmoth and Pearson have signed.  The former has started his pro career in the GCL, the latter is still waiting to make his debut.
    Family matters and the limitations of the 24 hour day have prevented me from delivering a more in-depth analysis of this draft, but it's coming.  Scouting reports, observations from a Blue Jays exec, and more are on their way.  An upcoming trip to Vancouver in August should hopefully yield some more reports.
    Thanks to all who have provided updates.

Logan Warmoth12795                2820
Nate Pearson12302                2453
Hagen Danner210431500
Riley Adams3542542
Kevin Smith4405405
Cullen Large5302302
Brock Lundquist6234175
Colton Laws7183183
Kacy Clemens815250
Zach Logue9139125
Justin Dillon101325
Donnie Sellers11125
Matt Shannon1280
Brody Rodning13signed
P.K. Morris14206
Ryan Noda15125
Ty Tice1690
Kobie Russell17
Jordan Barrett181
Cordell Dunn19
Tanner Kiwaner2040
Turner Larkins21signed
Gunner Halter22
Daniel Ritcheson23
Colin Brockhouse24125
Cooper Davis25
D.J. Neal26100
Sam Weatherly27
Davis Schneider28                   50
Joe DiBenedetto29signed
Reilly Johnson30signed
Graham Spraker31
Jacob Condra-Bogan32
Matthew Gunter33signed
Maverik Buffo34signed
Brandon Polizzi35
Jonathan Cheshire36signed
Justin Watts37signed
Marcus Reyes38             signed
Ben Farris39
Sean Ross40

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bo Bichette Pursues .400

Clutchlings Photo

   It's a magical number - .400.   Ted Williams was the last to reach it 66 years ago.  Rod Carew flirted with it in the late 70s, as did George Brett in 1980.  Tony Gwynn was the last to approach that plateau when the labour disruption of 1994 ended his season in early August with a .394 average.  Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette reached that number with an incredibe 7-8 performance against the Cubs' Midwest League affiliate South Bend in a double header last night.

   Here's a breakdown of Bichette's incredible night:

At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs' RHP Duncan Robinson, who stood 3rd in the MWL in ERA entering the night, he took an 0-1 fastball on the outer edge of the plate to right field for his first hit of the night in Lansing's top of the 1st.

At Bat #2
   Robinson clearly wanted no part of Bichette, offering up a steady diet of breaking balls in the top of the 3rd.  With the count 2-1, Robinson tried to get a fastball in on Bichette, but missed badly.  Bichette hammered it into the gap in Left Centre, driving in a run.

At Bat #3
  Bichette led off the top of the sixth, and Robinson continued to avoid giving him fastballs anywhere near the plate.  He hung a 2-2 change, and Bichette hammered it into the LF bleachers for his 7th Home Run, touching off a 5-run frame for Lansing.


At Bat #4
  After sending 9 men to the plate the previous inning, Bichette led off the top of the 7th, the final frame of Game 1 against reliever Jared Cheek.
   This 9 pitch AB may have been his best of the night.
   Down 0-2, Bichette fouled off a number of borderline pitches, before Cheek caught too much of the plate with a breaking ball, which Bichette lined into CF for a base hit.  His average now stood at .394.

Game 2
At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs RHP Erling Moreno, Bichette hit a 2-1 pitch into the hole at short, and beat the off-line throw to first for an infield single.

At Bat #2
   Moreno continued the breaking ball regimen.  Bichette hammered a mistake fastball all the way to the wall in Right Centre field, raising his average to .399.

At Bat #3
   Facing soft-tossing reliever Tyson Miller, Bichette showed some rare impatience, chasing a breaking ball out of the zone, and fout-tipping a low fastball into the Catcher's mitt for a swinging strikeout.  .400 would have to wait.

At Bat #4
   In his final at bat of the night, Bichette looped a fastball on the outer half to right field for a base hit, and his average finally reached .400.

  Of his 7 hits on the night, at least 5 of them were of the hard-hit variety.

   Coming into the season, teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr received all the attention, but Bichette, who hit .427/.451/.732 in a rookie season shortened by appendicitis in the GCL, has taken over the spotlight.
And rightly so.  Bichette leads the MWL in batting average, hits, doubles, OBP, Slugging, wRC+, and Line Drive rate.  He has hit safely in 46 of his first 52 games.  And he's not just feasting on mediocre pitching - Bichette has hit .361 against Top 20 prospects in his brief career.

    Blue Jays director of minor league operations Gil Kim had indicated earlier this year that the plan for the teenaged Lansing sluggers (Guerrero is 18, Bichette 19) was to stay in Michigan for the whole season, their first year of full season ball - the Blue Jays stated preference is to have their prospects spend a whole year at one level.  Kim, of course, is not tipping his hand, but you have to wonder if there is intense debate within the organization to up that timetable as the calendar flips from June to July.

   When Bichette reaches Advanced A, he will have adjustments to make.  The Pitchers there can locate their fastballs better, so he will likely see fewer mistakes to jump on.  Their secondary pitches will be better in terms of deception and location, so his pitch recognition skills will be tested.  Still, he has literally torn the cover off the ball, hitting .407/.463/.669 in 331 PAs over 72 games in his first two pro seasons.  Bichette is patient, does not expand his strike zone when down in the count, and hits the ball to all fields.  Quite simply, he's the most promising bat in the system right now.  Guerrero may catch up to him, but Bichette has raked..