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.
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.
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 leader.....one 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.