Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reconsidering Alford

  In our day job, we spend a lot of time trying to understand, predict, and deal with the behaviour of young people.  And while behaviour is a product of a complex and variable set of physiological, psychological, and environmental factors, it can usually, to some extent, be rationalized.  With that as a backdrop, we would like to take another look at two-sport star Anthony Alford, who is currently toiling in the lowest levels of the Blue Jays system as a promising but raw outfielder.
   Alford, a product of small town (pop 10 000) Petal, Mississippi, was drafted by the Jays in the 3rd round of the 2012 MLB draft.  Alford led Petal HS to a pair of state baseball championships, but given his stated desire to play Quarterback for Southern Mississippi, and most scouts' aversion to the state, where football is king, and the level of baseball competition uneven, to say the least, most teams had accordingly ranked him far down their lists.  The Blue Jays, with their gambling approach to the 2012 draft, took Alford in the 3rd round, and gave him a $750 000 bonus, and their blessing to chase his football dream in between baseball seasons.
   Alford was one of the most sought-after high school football recruits in the country.  He was rated a 4-star prospect by and, and was the state Gatorade Player of the Year as both a junior and a senior. He led his team to the state 6A title in his senior year.
   His  2012 football season with Southern Miss, as has been well documented, was nothing short of a total disaster.  Alford was one of 4 quarterbacks who stumbled their way through the season for the Golden Eagles, scuffling along to an 0-12 record which cost coach Elliot Johnson his job. The Golden Eagles offense, according to the Hattiesburg American, was a mess.  Alford's high school coach, Steve Buckley (whose hiring,  the American suggests, was a major reason for Alford's signing), was thrown into the offensive coordinator position when coach Rickey Bustle had to step down because of health reasons.  Buckely, according to USA Today, "has not been up to the task."
   In October, Alford's mother Lawanda was arrested by Hattiesburg police  after getting into a verbal altercation with a pair of fans who were berating her son's play during a 59-24 loss to Marshall. While we all can appreciate a parent's wounded pride, this was not the first time his mom had been involved in such an incident.  The American reported:

   "This past spring, she came out of stands and onto the field of play at Petal High School's baseball stadium after her son was ejected for arguing a called third strike during the first game of the South State playoffs against Harrison Central. After showing her displeasure by screaming at the umpire, she was escorted from the stadium by school officials."

   Things only continued to get worse from there.  On the evening of November 28th, with the football season finally put out of its misery, Alford was charged with aggravated assault after a campus incident. Teammate Korey Hathorn was charged along with Alford.  The charges were eventually reduced to conspiracy to possess a firearm on campus and hindering prosecution.  Two other students, who were presumably in conflict with Alford, were later arrested on unknown charges.
   The Southern Miss student newspaper, The Student Printz, reported that an incident developed as a late-night fight between Alford/Hathorn and two other students.  According to University Police Chief Bob Hopkins,

  “As calls continued to come in, it developed into an issue where an individual apparently drew a weapon and made some threats,” Hopkins said. “It [the altercation] seems to be a  simmering problem that’s been going on for a few weeks.” 

   The pair of football players were suspended.  Alford, apparently, didn't wait around for the outcome of the school's investigation, and left campus.  He was released from his scholarship in December.  According to the American's Stan Caldwell, Alford was actively shopping around his services and was looking to transfer out of Southern Miss before the incident. In the New Year, Alford signed on with Ole Miss, and attended spring practice as a defensive back.
   So, if we want to look at environment, even based on a few newspaper accounts, it's likely that his upbringing may not have been the most balanced.   Mom, we think it's safe to say, may have been one of "those" parents - for us mapleheaded pucksters, the kind that yells at pretty much everyone in the rink - refs/players/other spectators. They mean well, but their emotions get the best of them, and they get wrapped up in the events of their kid's game. They let their emotions get the best of them. A bad call here, or a bad break there, and they lose it.  And they lack the resiliency to get over such  disappointments.  Luckily, our parents were not like that, because it's hard to imagine growing up with that kind of pressure, and that kind of burden - your poorly behaving parent.
   For an athlete like Alford, who had experienced nothing but success on both the ball diamond and the gridiron, the 0-12 season must have been a major humiliation, and again, there's not a lot in his background to suggest that he was equipped emotionally to deal with it. All athletes must learn to deal with adversity at some point. He may not have had the support he needed to put the disastrous season into perspective.
   Our fellow blogger Charlie Caskey, who writes a great blog about the short season Vancouver Canadians, the Jays' Northwest League affiliate, interviewed C's catcher Matt Hill, who was Alford's roommate for a few weeks at extended spring training this year (because of spring practice with Ole Miss, Alford didn't arrive until late May).  Paraphrasing Hill, Caskey writes about the November incident:

  Regarding the arrest. I don’t think I’ll find out exactly what happened unless given the opportunity to speak to Anthony himself, but by the sounds of it, he felt unsafe on campus. For lack of a better word, he was bullied, having received a 750k bonus from baseball, drove a nice car, etc. Is it an excuse? I’m going to reserve judgement until I know more.

   It's easy to see how an 18 year-old from a very small town deep in the American south felt unsafe on a university campus in a bigger city.  Given the poverty of Mississippi (the per capita income of Petal is 18% below the national average), and the difference in crime rates between Petal and Hattiesburg, Alford may have been unable to handle the responsibility that would come with having such a huge amount of cash thrust upon him, and  became very mistrustful of most people around him.  And it's easy to for us Canadians to forget that there is something of a climate of fear in the U.S. that seems to grow as you move further south.  One could suggest, of course, that maybe putting that $750 large in the bank would've been a better idea, and maybe spending some of it on, say, an Escalade, might invite the sort of bullying Alford was supposedly subjected to, but our bet is that he didn't have many (if any) people around him recommending that sort of thing.
   The Jays, for their part, have been very patient with Alford, allowing him to leave in early August last year and this in order to get ready for football season.  He is starting the season with the GCL Jays, where he had a brief trial last year, and may be accelerated to either Bluefield or Vancouver, depending on his progress.
   Chris King of Baseball Prospectus watched Alford in a GCL game this week and came away impressed:

   Sportsnet's Shi Davidi offers the following insight:

‘There’s a school of thought that the environment in Vancouver plus the day-to-day life of professional ball combined with the reality that Alford must miss a year of football because of his transfer (he also will be switching to cornerback from quarterback) may convince him to focus exclusively on baseball.’

   None of this is meant to excuse Alford's behaviour last fall.  It is meant to remind us, however, that he is very young, and may not have come from an upbringing that left him best prepared to deal with the circumstances he found himself in last fall.  The Jays, for their part, seem to be catching on to the need to surround Alford with positive role models.  Hence his rooming with Hill, who is a college grad - Alford acknowledged that he learned a great deal from Hill in his short time with him.  Keeping him in the GCL, which is the lowest level of baseball's minor leagues, where there are sparse (if any) crowds for their Florida afternoon games, is also sheltering him a bit.  Alford had told Jason Munz of the American that he figured he was bound for Vancouver after extended spring training (which would be two levels above the GCL). Given his stalled professional development, however, keeping him in the GCL is perhaps the best idea, at least until he has shown that he has outgrown that level.
   The thing to remember, of course, is that small-town boy Alford just turned 19 years old, and was handed a great deal of the spotlight and money before he was really ready to handle it, and didn't have anyone around him giving him the right kind of advice and support.  On various Jays forums last fall, many posters complained about Alford's lack of character.  And that's really not fair, because it's a judgement not necessarily made with all the facts. 
   In some earlier posts, even though Alford has all-world athletic ability, and has been labelled the best athlete in the Jays system, we've been hesitant to rank him as a top prospect because of his football commitment.  It's cost him some precious development.  At the same time, his development as a young man in more important.  Hopefully, the Jays are considering that as much as they are his ability to hit breaking balls.
   Again, this is not an apology for Alford's actions.  It's an attempt to understand it.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Weekend Wrap

   With the opening of the short season leagues, things are becoming very busy for a prospects blogger.
We thought we would provide a brief summary of the many and varied things going on in the Blue Jays system this past weekend.

AAA- Buffalo
   The Bisons enjoyed the presence of a rehabbing Jose Reyes both on the field and at the box office this weekend.
  Reyes went 5-13 for the Bisons, as they took 2 of 3 from Durham.  Sunday's finale was a 14-inning affair, which the Bulls won, 1-0.
   Outfielder Kevin Pillar, who was promoted from New Hampshire, went 3-11 for the weekend.
   Buffalo drew over 40 000 fans for the series.

AA - New Hampshire
   The Fisher Cats took 2 of 3 from Harrisburg.
On Friday, Marcus Stroman continued his mastery of Eastern League hitters, giving up a run on 3 hits over 5 innings, with one walk and 4 K's. The bullpen couldn't hang onto the lead Stroman had left them, dropping the opener.
  Sean Nolin matched his career high with 7 strong innings on Saturday, getting his 4th win of the season, as the Fisher Cats topped the Senators, 4-1.  Nolin gave up a run and 4 hits, struck out 7, and walked none.
  Marcus Walden gave New Hampshire their third straight strong starting performance on Sunday, tossing a 3-hit shutout in a 7-0 victory.  Walden, a 9th round draft choice in the 2007 draft, rarely tops 90 on the radar, but kept Harrisburg hitters off balance all day, scattering 3 hits, and allowing no walks while striking out 5.  In his tidy, 90-pitch effort, Walden had 19 groundouts.

High A - Dunedin
   The D-Jays lost 2 of 3 to Daytona, and took on Brevard County on Sunday.
Top prospect Aaron Sanchez returned to the mound on Friday night after a month-long shutdown because of shoulder issues, and showed no effect from the layoff, tossing 3 scoreless innings.  Sanchez allowed only one hit, walked none, and struck out 3. The lights-out bullpen duo of Tyler Ybarra and John Anderson recorded the win and save, respectively, in the Jays' victory.
  On Saturday, righthander Kyle Drabek made his first rehab start after sitting out almost a year recovering Tommy John surgery. In 2 1/3 innings, Drabek allowed 5 hits and a pair of runs, striking out 2 and walking 1.  Drabek took the loss as the D-Jays fell to the Cubs, 2-1.

Low A - Lansing
   The Lugnuts had their hats handed to them by division rival Bowling Green Hot Rods, who swept all three games.
  In the opener, 4 Hot Rods' pitchers combined to toss a no-hitter against Lansing.
On Saturday, Roberto Osuna, in his 3rd start since returning from a stint on the disabled list, was roughed up for 6 runs in 3 innings by Bowling Green hitters.  Osuna gave up only 3 hits, but was uncharacteristically wild, allowing 4 walks, while striking out 3.

Short Season - Vancouver
    After dropping 3 of their first 4 games, the two-time defending Northwest League champs reeled off 5 wins in a row.
  Thunder Bay, ON, native Eric Brown has started the season 2-0, with a 1.54 ERA. The Jays selected the UBC grad in the 50th round of the 2011 draft.

Rookie - Bluefield
   The Jays took 2 of their first 3 games.
Chase DeJong, Toronto's 2nd round choice in the 2012 draft, threw 5 scoreless innings to get the win in the club's Appalachian League season opener.  Shane Dawson, of Drayton Valley, AB, tossed 4 innings without giving up a run to get the save and preserve the shutout. Dawson surrendered only one hit and one walk, and struck out 5.
  Shortstop Dawel Lugo, a 2011 international free agent signing, went 5-13 over the first 3 games, while centrefielder DJ Davis, the Jays' first round pick in the 2012 draft, opened the season 5-14, including a pair of triples.  Davis is repeating at Bluefield after struggling at Vancouver after a late season promotion last year.  At the rate he's going, Davis may not be in the Appy League for long.

Rookie - GCL Blue Jays
   If a home run is hit in the GCL, does anyone hear it?
   The Gulf Coast League is the league that nobody sees.
Played at the major league clubs' spring training complexes, the GCL doesn't charge for admission - since the games are played mostly in the heat and humidity of a Florida summer afternoon, attendance is minimal, anyway. Throw in a lack of concessions, and there isn't much incentive to go.
  Populated mostly by high school grads and international signees getting their first taste of pro ball and life in America, the GCL is all about development.
   Two players of note that we've been following are shortstop Franklin Barreto and outfielder Anthony Alford.  Barreto, a top  international signing last year, went 2-5 and drove in a pair of runs in his pro debut this weekend.  Baseball America had this to say about him:

  There are few amateurs who have ever had Barreto's extensive track record of dominance representing Venezuela during international competitions. Barreto has played in international tournaments since he was 10 in 2006. He was the MVP at the Pan American 12-and-under tournament in September 2008, then later that month led Venezuela to another title by winning the Criollitos de America title en route to being named the 2008 athlete of the year by the Corporacion Criolltos of Venezuela. He won another MVP in July 2010 at the 14-and-under Pan American championship, then last August starred at the 16-and-under World 
   Barreto only turned 17 this past March.  Normally, kids his age would be kept in the Dominican complex league for the summer, but his advanced approach at the plate has likely accelerated his development.

   Alford, the Jays' 3rd round pick in last year's draft, has been seen as a gamble because of his football committment.  After a brief audition last year, Alford is repeating the GCL again.  He went 1-5 in his first game.  Alford was late coming to extended spring training because of football, and will be leaving in early August to continue to chase his football dreams, but will be quickly promoted by the Jays just the same if he shows signs of progress.  He is easily the best athlete in the system, a true five-tool player.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Droppings: Sanchez is Back !!

  A few items for a Friday.....

   Righthander Aaron Sanchez, our top ranked Blue Jays' prospect, is making his return to the mound  for Dunedin tonight against the Cubs' Daytona affiliate in Florida State League action.
   Sanchez has been on the minor league disabled list since May 18th with shoulder soreness.  He was immediately shut down, and then apparently was placed on a throwing program.  According to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi earlier this week, the Jays were very silent about Sanchez' recovery timetable.
   At the same time, it's good to see Baseball America's 65th ranked prospect back on the mound.  The D-Jays, who won a close Northern Division first half race last week, are likely just as pleased to see one of the anchors of their rotation returning.

  In other news.....

   The Bluefield Jays, the club's Rookie team in the Appalachian League, opened their 2013 season with a 5-0 home shutout of the Greeneville Astros.  Chase DeJong, the Jays' 2nd round pick in the 2012 draft out of Woodrow Wilson HS in Long Beach, CA, didn't have his best stuff, but stayed down in the zone, and got some timely plays in the field behind him in throwing 5 shutout innings. Shane Dawson, a Drayton Valley, AB native who the Jays drafted in the 17th round of the 2012 draft, threw four scoreless innings, striking out 5, to preserve the shutout.  Shortstop Dawel Lugo had 3 hits for the B-Jays.

   Earlier this week, we nominated 8 players who we thought merited a promotion to the next level.
With the advancement of outfielder Kevin Pillar from AA New Hampshire to AAA Buffalo, we're now at least 2 for 8.  3B Gustavo Pierre was promoted from Low A Lansing to High A Dunedin earlier this week, and there are rumours that Dunedin 3B Andy Burns has been sent to New Hampshire to join the Fisher Cats.
   The Jays signed Benedict (SC) College infielder Lydell Moseby and assigned him to the rookie level Gulf Coast Jays. Moseby was not drafted in the recent MLB entry draft.  Moseby hit .418 with 11HR and 55 RBI, and was named the SIAC Utility Player of the Year.    He is the son of Lloyd Moseby, whom the Jays picked 2nd overall in the 1978 draft.  The elder Moseby made his MLB debut in 1979, and stayed with the Jays until the end of the 1988 season, and was named to the All Star game in 1986.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sanchez/Norris Updates: Not Really

   The Jays have been very tight-lipped about the return to action timelines of most of their minor league prospects this season, and are continuing that trend with righthander Aaron Sanchez, and lefthander Daniel Norris.
   Sanchez, Clutchlings' #1 top-ranked Blue Jays prospect, has been on the milb disabled list since injuring his shoulder on May 18th.  GM Alex Anthopolous told Sportsnet's Shi Davidi on May 29th that Sanchez felt great, and was ready to get going "soon."  Assistant GM Tony LaCava told yesterday that Sanchez is now pain-free, and making progress with his throwing program, but wouldn't commit to a timeline for his return.  Sanchez was 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA with Dunedin before being shut down.  Obviously, the Jays are taking things very conservatively with their prize prospect. 
   Norris, #4 on our list, was coming into his own with Low A Lansing in May.  Despite an 0-4, 5.80 ERA, Norris posted a 1.29 ERA over 5 starts before leaving a June 9th start with forearm stiffness in the 2nd inning.  The move was precautionary, but the club sent Norris for an MRI to be certain.  Norris announced his fitness on Twitter:

  The organization has similarly taken a cautious approach with Norris.  LaCava says that he will be starting a throwing program - you guessed it, "soon."
  Righthander Roberto Osuna returned to action with Lansing after being diagnosed with a tear in his UCL, and threw 5 shutout innings on June 9th, and 6 innings, giving up only an unearned run on the 14th.  Osuna was shut down in May, and sent to Florida for rest and rehab.
   On a related note, the Blue Jays have perhaps gotten a jump on the competition by hiring renowned pitching mechanics trainer Jamie Evans.  Evans has helped many pitchers at all levels with his Velocity Program.  Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, and Dustin McGowan have all experienced success with the regimen. Evans' program involves the use of weighted balls to strengthen the shoulder muscles, reducing stress on the elbow.  The idea was borrowed from a program used by tennis players.  Given what we have learned from our earlier study of pitchers' injuries, this hire makes a great deal of sense.

Promotions ?

   With most minor leagues taking an all-star break this week after having reached the half-way point of the milb season, many organizations shuffle their affiliates' rosters a bit, promoting players who need to be challenged more at the next level.  We have absolutely no insight into what the Blue Jays will do, other than the fact that they prefer to take things slowly, especially with high school grads in their first year or two of pro ball.
   Promoting a player can be a risky business.  Sometimes they don't respond well when they have their first struggles at a higher level, which can stall or set back their development.  Leaving a player where they are at, on the other hand, may allow a player to postpone making necessary adjustments that will allow them to succeed on the higher rungs of the developmental ladder.  It likely depends on the prospect; some thrive on the adversity, others shrink in the face of it.
   These are the Jays' minor league players we think deserve a promotion:

1.  Kevin Pillar: New Hampshire to Buffalo
   All Pillar has done so far this season with New Hampshire is lead the league in hits, and is in the top ten in runs, doubles, and stolen bases. He's sixth in hitting, and has a line of .316/.364/.450.
   Most scouts agree that he would benefit by playing some more center field, to help boost his versatility. Playing time at Buffalo, of course, would be the issue, and with an outfield of Eugenio Velez, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, and Ryan Langerhans already there, there might not be enough AB's for Pillar.  Gose and Sierra merit playing time to be certain, but Langerhans, at 33, really doesn't, and even though Velez has played well, at 31, it's tough to make a case for him playing ahead of Pillar.
At 24, time is becoming a bit scarce for Pillar, who has been labelled as too old for many of the lower levels he's played in.  So, since overachieving fourth outfielder is the tag he's been given, why not give him some time at Buffalo to see exactly what the club has ?

2. Sean Nolin/Marcus Stroman: New Hampshire to Buffalo
   Neither pitcher started their seasons until last month, but both have been very effective for New Hampshire.  Nolin, of course, was summoned for a disastrous start by the big leagues, but other than a rough outing after his return, hasn't been greatly challenged by EL hitters.  He sports a 3-2, 3.09 record, with a .256 OBA.
   Stroman, whose season debut was delayed until mid-May as he sat out the rest of his 50 game suspension for PEDs, has also shone on the Fisher Cats' mound, with a 3-1, 4.15 ERA.  If you take out a strafing by Portland, his ERA drops to 1.80.  Stroman has struck out 29 EL hitters in 26 innings.  The 2012 1st round draft choice was called the most major-league ready pick of all the first rounders, but the suspension set that timetable back.  His most likely route to the majors was through the bullpen, but the Jays have opted to stretch him out as a starter
   With Buffalo having used 14 different starters, and with Ricky Romero and Chad Jenkins needing to take their regular turn, along with Dave Bush, who remains an insurance policy against further injuries to the major league staff, Claudio Vargas and Justin Germano have gotten most of the leftover starts for the Bisons.  It's hard to make a case for both of them taking starts that could go to Nolin or Stroman.

3.  Andy Burns: Dunedin to New Hampshire
   Burns has been off of our radar.  Until this year.
An 11th round draft pick two years ago, Burns had to sit out the 2011 college season, because he transferred from Kentucky to Arizona.  Missing a full season as a 20 year old set his development back, and he put up nondescript numbers at short season ball in 2011, and at Low A Lansing last year.
  This year, however, has been a different story.  Burns has hit .315/.376./.513 for High A Dunedin, at a level not known for its high offensive output.  Burns currently is 6th in the league in hitting, and has helped the club to the top of the Northern Division standings.  He gets the thumbs up from Keith Law:

   At New Hampshire, Kevin Ahrens and Ryan Schimpf are receiving the bulk of the playing time at 3rd. Ahrens, a first round pick in 2007, has underachieved for most of his minor league career, and will likely be a minor league free agent at the end of the season.  Schimpf can be shifted to second.  Neither should be blocking Burns' way.

4.  Scott Copeland:  Dunedin to New Hampshire
   With the possible promotions of Nolin and/or Stroman, a vacancy will be created in the Fisher Cats' rotation.  Copeland, who at 25 can't really be thought of as much of a prospect any more, has put together a decent season at Dunedin.  His record in 6-2, with a 2.41 ERA.  If Aaron Sanchez is as close to returning as the club has been hinting he is, that would help make up for some of the innings Copeland has logged for the North Division-leading D-Jays.
   Copeland was drafted by the Baltimore in the 2st round of the 2010 draft, was released by the Orioles in 2012, and signed with the Jays in July of that year. He has pitched well in almost a full season in the FSL, and even though he is more of an org guy at this point, he takes a regular turn in the rotation, and eats up a lot of innings.  A promotion to a higher level would be a reward for the turnaround he's experienced since joining the Jays' organization.

5.  Gustavo Pierre:  Lansing to Dunedin
   This is another domino move.  If Burns is promoted to AA, Pierre would nicely do as a replacement at Dunedin.
  Pierre was a much-heralded international signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 as a 16 year old.  In 4 minor league seasons, none of which were above Low A, Pierre didn't distinguish himself much with the bat, never hitting above .259, and showed diminishing range at short. That prompted a move to 3rd this spring with Lansing, and he seems to be finding himself at the plate.  Pierre is hitting .292/.300/..438.  A little alarming are his 2 walks in 223 AB, but it's worth a shot to move him up a level to challenge him a bit more.  Again, the clock is ticking, and the Jays perhaps need to see what they have before.

6.  Justin Jackson: Lansing to Dunedin
   A 2nd round choice in 2007, Jackson too had largely underachieved until a position switch this year.
Because he had always shown a strong, accurate arm at shortstop, the Jays persuaded Jackson to switch to the mound at spring training this year.  He spent a month at extended spring training in April, was assigned to Lansing in May, and has shown electric stuff since then.
   In 12 appearances out of the bullpen with the Lugnuts, Jackson has an 0-1 record, with a 1.47 ERA.  He's struck out 16 batters in 18 innings, and MWL hitters are batting only .197 against him.  While he's still learning how to pitch, Jackson shows a plus fastball, good command, and as a former infielder, fields his position well.
   Since the Jays risk losing Jackson in the Rule 5 draft this fall, it might be time to move him up a level, and see if he is an arm worth placing on the 40 man roster.

7.  Ben White:  Lansing to Dunedin
   A non-drafted free agent signee in 2011, righthander White struggled through two seasons of short season ball before this season.  Promoted to Lansing, he's showed signs of putting things together.
   This year, he's 4-3, with a 2.79 ERA for a team which has struggled to score for him.  Over his last 4 starts, White has been lights out, going 2-0, with a 0.75 ERA.
   At 24, White may be too old for this level, and should be promoted to Dunedin to see how he fares against High A hitters.  If Copeland is promoted, a spot in the rotation would be opened up for White.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jays Welcome Several Draftees to the Nest

   The Blue Jays announced today that they have signed a total of 16 players from last week's MLB entry draft, including 5 players taken in the first ten rounds.
   The first to sign was Arizona HS righthander Patrick Murphy.  Murphy was one of the state's top-ranked prep pitchers last year, until he underwent Tommy John surgery last April.  Murphy had little leverage heading into the draft because of the surgery, and signed for about $150 000 below slot value.
Murphy fits the Jays' philosophy of drafting high-risk, high-reward players.
   Also signing was Alabama HS leftie Evan Smith, taken in the 4th round.  At 6'5", Smith also fits the organization's preference for tall, lean, projectable pitchers.  Smith signed for about $96 000 below slot value.
   The Jays also signed, but didn't release signing amounts for 5th rounder Daniel Lietz, a rhp out of junior college in Illinois,  7th round pick California HS rhp Conner Greene, or Garrett Custons, a catcher taken in the 10th round out of the Air Force.  If the club holds to last year's form, they will sign some or all of these picks to minimal bonuses, then use the savings to go after their top two picks, high school pitchers Phil Bickford and Clinton Hollon.  The club has about $6.3 million to spend, and with today's signings are almost $250K under slot value budget.
   The assigned value for Bickford, taken with the 10th pick, was $2.9 million, but it is rumoured that Bickford, who has committed to Cal State Fullerton, has an asking price over $1 million higher.
   The club will likely take things very slowly with Murphy, who began throwing again in March, as well as Smith, who will likely make a few appearances in the Gulf Coast League before the summer is over.  It's possible that Lietz and Custons may play in both the GCL and the Appy League this year, because they're a little bit ahead of the high schoolers on the learning curve.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Justin Jackson Conversion Update


   One of the more interesting stories of the Blue Jays minor leaguers that has been lost in the shuffle of some higher-profile prospects has been the conversion of shortstop Justin Jackson to pitching.
   A first round draft pick in 2007, Jackson has struggled with the bat, never hitting over .249 in a season, and playing in only 94 games above A ball, playing a reserve role with AA New Hampshire last year.
   Jackson has always shown a live arm, so the move was somewhat natural.  The Jays assigned him to Low A Lansing at the beginning of May, and the results are encouraging.  Pitching out of the bullpen, Jackson has appeared in 11 games, and in 17 innings, has and ERA of 1.56, striking out 14 while only walking 8. MWL batters are hitting .191 against him.  Still learning to pitch, Jackson throws a low 90s fastball, slider, and changeup. As a former infielder, he fields his position very well.
   If Jackson isn't added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season, he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in November, and will become a six year minor league free agent. The Jays have some thinking to do about him, as a result.  Do they promote him to High A to see what he can do against tougher competition ?  Will he be worth a spot on the 40 man, or do they risk losing him as a Rule 5 or milb free agent ?  Initially used in bases empty situations, he has been used more in high leverage outings .  Is he  being challenged enough at this level ? Is he ready to move up?
    This one bears continued watching.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

D-Jays on the Move ?


  The speculation along Florida's Gulf Coast is growing that the Blue Jays are considering moving their spring training home of Dunedin for a shared facility with the Astros at Palm Beach Gardens, on Florida's east coast.
   Dunedin has been the spring home of the Jays since their inception.  Their 15 year lease with Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (home of the Class A Dunedin Jays of the Florida State League) expires in 2017.
   Jays President Paul Beeston told Canadian media this spring that while his heart was still in Dunedin, and in "a perfect world"  he would prefer to keep the club's spring headquarters there, the stadium is about six km away from their spring home at the Bobby Mattick minor league training centre. Players, scouts, media, and front office personnel need to be shuttled back and forth between the two sites. Florida Auto Exchange Stadium itself was built in 1930, and was renovated in 2002, but is still short of state of the art, with cramped washroom and concession space, and limited parking. The D-Jays have had the FSL's worst home attendance for 6 straight years.  To date, their average attendance after 30 home dates is a paltry 735 fans per game - about half the league's average.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium
   The City of Dunedin has been trying to have a sit-down with Beeston since he made those comments, but the Jays haven't been returning calls. Mayor Dave Eggers' many calls and emails to Beeston have gone unreturned over the last month.
   In April, South Florida media was reporting that newly proposed legislation at the state level was geared at granting millions of dollars to cities that renovate or build new two-team stadiums, with the joint Jays-Astros complex at the heart of the proposal.  The Astros indicated that they have received indications that the Jays are interested. The Marlins and Cards train in Palm Beach County, while the Mets are in nearby St Lucie County.
  Mayor Eggers continued after spring training ended to try reach Beeston, who at one point sent a brief email to say he would visit to discuss get negotiations underway in two weeks, but didn't.  Former Jays trainer Ken Carson, who runs the Mattick Complex, speculated that Beeston is preoccupied with trying to get the AL East cellar-dwelling Blue Jays back on track, and while he acknowledged that teams are courted and do consider offers when their leases are about to expire (the Jays looked at other sites, including Las Vegas, before the most recent renewal in 2002), he denied that the Astros and Jays have a deal in place.
    How much of this is part of the normal give and take, back and forth, we'll be in touch manner of negotiations between a municipality and a professional sports team, is hard to say.  There are still several years left on the lease.  This may also be an attempt by the Jays to wrangle a better deal out of Dunedin.  It may also be an attempt to upgrade their training and minor league facility.  Either way, the club's silence on the matter speaks volumes.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Big On Bickford ?


   With the 10th pick in last week's MLB Entry Draft, the Blue Jays went off the board slightly in selecting California high school righthander Phil Bickford. The fireballing hurler, who struck out 18 in his final high school game on the Saturday before the draft, caught a heavy dose of helium, and rose rapidly in the rankings.  While he was a bit off of our radar (Baseball America had him ranked at 20th), Bickford fits the Jays recent draft history model - a power high school arm, adding to the stockpile of arms the club has at the lower levels.
   Jays' director of amateur scouting Brian Parker told Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star that Bickford has one of the best fastballs in the draft. Some scouts question Bickford's secondary pitches, suggesting that his low 3/4 arm slot causes his breaking pitches to flatten.  Bickford has good command of his fastball, however - a quality that the organization covets.
  The assigned slot for the 10th pick in the draft is $2.9 million.  Rumour has it that Bickford's asking price is just over $4 million, and if the two sides can't come to an agreement, Bickford has committed to Cal State Fullerton.
   So, there's a bit of a risk in taking Bickford, and even though the Jays will get a compensation pick if they don't sign him (like they did when they failed to sign Tyler Beede two years ago), he's a bit of a curious pick.  Here are some possible reasons why they took him:

1.  The players they really liked (Trey Ball, Austin Meadows) were taken before him, and they
didn't like some of the position players (Reese McGuire, Hunter Renfroe) they were linked to.
So when in doubt, pick a pitcher.  Unlike a position player, you can quantify what a pitcher does
(ie., speed of a fastball, differential between fastball and change, depth of breaking pitches, control) better than you can a hitter.. Even better if it's a high school pitcher with command and a mid 90s fastball.
2.  They didn't like the quality of any of the supposed top ranked players in the draft, so if Bickford
fails to sign, they get a 2nd first round pick next year.
3.  They do like him, but not that much, and have no plans to go very much over slot to get him (if Bickford fails to sign and attends school, he won't be draft eligible until the end of his junior year).
rated high school players whose stock fell due to college committments out of that decision.
4.  Maybe they actually liked Bickford.  He would join Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez,
Chase DeJong, and Tyler Gonzales in the Jays' stable of young power arms. They will have to go over slot by quite a bit to get him, and are prepared to do so.

   The Jays and Bickford have until July 12th to reach a deal.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

   Roberto Osuna made a triumphant return from rehabbing an injured elbow to lead the Low A Lansing Lugnuts to a split of their doubleheader with West Michigan.  Osuna was diagnosed with a torn UCL in early May, and was sent to Florida for treatment.  It was feared that Tommy John surgery might be needed, but the regimen of rest and arm strengthening seemed to have worked, as Osuna blanked thenWhite Caps over 5 innings, allowing only 2 hits, walking none and striking out 5.
He threw 57 pitches, 39 for strikes.
   In Erie, Marcus Stroman was also sizzling for AA New Hampshire,  allowing 1 run over 5 innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 walks, striking out 9, as Fisher Cats topped the Sea Wolves, 3-2.  Stroman threw 91 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. Stroman had to sit out 50 games over this year and last for a positive PED test, returning to action last month.  The Jays first round pick in 2012, many scouts had deemed the Duke righthander as the pick closest to major league- ready.  While the major league rotation has straightened itself somewhat, Stroman could still get the call to the bigs before the end of the season.
   Not all the prospect news was good yesterday, however.  Lefthander Daniel Norris, who sported an ERA of 1.29 over his last 5 starts, had to leave with two outs in the bottom of the 2nd in the Lugnuts' opening game against West Michigan.  Reports indicate that he was pointing to his hip as the trainer came out to the mound, so removing him from the game may have been precautionary.

A Fine Night for Pitching

   The Blue Jays received stellar efforts from a number of pitchers at several levels of the organization last night.
   The major league team, of course, overcame a rare blown save by Casey Janssen to outlast Texas 4-3 in a club-record tying 18 innings.  The bullpen, which has been lights out of late, blanked the Rangers through the extra frames, receiving strong efforts from recent call-ups Dustin McGowan, Juan Perez, and Neil Wagner.
   In the minors, Lansing righthander Kramer Champlin took a perfect game into the bottom of the 7th, as the Lugnuts blanked West Michigan in both ends of a doubleheader.  Champlin, making just his first start of the season as the club faced a pair of twin bills this weekend, lost his bid for perfection when Shortstop Emilio Guerrero got caught on an in-between hop on a ball hit by West Michigan's Devon Travis which was ruled a hit.
   Undaunted, Champlin struck out Jeff Holm looking to finish with a one-hitter. He finished with a season high 10 strikeouts.  Taken by the Jays in the 33rd round of the 2011 draft from Weetern Nevada JC, Champlin has pitched mostly out of the bullpen since turning pro.  He pitched with Lansing last year, posting a 4-1 record with a 4.09 ERA.
  In the opening game, starter Ben White blanked the Whitecaps 3-0. White gave up 5 hits, walked only 1, and struck out 7, and evened his record for the season at 3-3.
   And at New Hampshire, lefthander Sean Nolin picked up where he left off before making a start for the parent club in May, as the Fisher Cats defeated Erie, 6-2.  Nolin, who lasted only an inning and a third in his big league debut against the Orioles, was roughed up by Binghamton in his return to the Eastern League, but showed a solid return to season form against the Sea Wolves.  Nolin pitched 6 innings, allowing 3 hits, 2 runs (only 1 earned), didn't walk a batter, and struck out 9, getting the win.  For the season, Nolin is 3-1, with a 2.87 ERA.  In 31 innings since being activated from the DL at the start of May, Nolin has struck out 35, with a 1.26 WHIP.  Eastern League batters are hitting .254 against him.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Minor League Pitcher Abuse Points

  "Pitching is an unnatural act that invites injury.
The stress that it places on the bones of the shoulder, arm, and back is immense.
The strain it places on the 36 muscles that attach to the humerus, clavicle, and scapula is remarkable.
It is widely accepted by sports medicine practitioners that every pitch causes at least some amount
of damage to the system"
-"The Injury Nexus," by Nate Silver and Will Carroll, The Baseball Prospectus, Feb. 26th, 2003

   The rash of injuries the Jays' pitchers have been experiencing at both the major and minor league levels has caused us to wonder about the whole issue of shoulder and elbow mishaps.  Why do these injuries happen ?  How do they happen ?  Is there a way to predict when and if they will happen ?  Are these injuries preventable ?
   That's a pretty lofty set of questions to answer, and we don't have any medical training beyond basic first aid/CPR/Defib, so we'll rely on the internet to help answer some or all of these questions.

   The most common pitching injuries occur to the elbow or shoulder.  In the elbow, the Ulnar Collateral Ligament often starts with a small tear that slowly grows over time, until a major tear takes place.  "Tommy John" surgery is used to correct this, taking a ligament from somewhere else in the body to replace the torn UCL.   In the shoulder, injuries can occur to the capsule/ligaments, the rotator cuff, and the labrum.  Sometimes rest and physiotherapy overcomes these injuries, and sometimes surgery is the only answer.

Is There a Way to Predict These Injuries ?
   Rany Jazayerli of BP coined the term Pitcher Abuse Points as early as 1998.  Jazayerli studied pitch counts and injury data, and came to the conclusion that the number of innings or pitches thrown is not the issue - it's the number of pitchers a pitcher throws after he becomes tired, when his mechanics get sloppy, his muscles are sore, and his body isn't able to handle the stress of each successive pitch.  All of these factors put increased risk on the major components of a pitcher's arm - the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons involved in the process of throwing a pitch.  Jazayerli developed a point system (Pitcher Abuse Points) to determine the wear and tear on a pitcher's throwing arm over a season.
    Here's how his first point system looked:

Situation                                                                           PAP/pitch
pitches 1-100                                                                          0
pitches 101-110                                                                      1
pitches 111-120                                                                      2
pitches 121-130                                                                      3
pitches 131-140                                                                      4
pitches 141-150                                                                      5

   Using this method, a 115 pitch outing would result in 20 PAP's, a 120 pitch outing is worth 30 points, etc. Of course, no one throws anywhere close to 150 pitches in a game anymore (or even approaches it), so his points system is a little outdated.  His first list in 1998 was populated by veteran pitchers like Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling.  The "young" pitchers on his most "abused" young pitchers list featured names like Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez, and Jesus Sanchez, 2 of whom went on to have fairly long careers despite the early apparent misues.  So, although Jazayerli was among the first to systematically study pitch and inning counts and their relationship to injury, it's hard to say that his first efforts made a definitive link between the two.  Just the same, a strong correlation between pitcher fatigue and injury risk was established.
   Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci took this concept one step further when he developed the Year After Effect (sometime mistakenly called the Verducci Effect; he didn't coin this latter term).  Citing the research of Oakland pitching coach Rick Patterson, Verducci noted that a number of pitchers under the age of 25 experienced arm problems when their innings pitched increased more than 30 from the previous season.   Verducci freely admits that this is not a scientific study, but he does use the rule of thumb approach to identify young pitchers who are at an increased risk of injury to a jump in IP of more than 30 from the year before.  Other researchers have debunked Verducci's lists, and even though it doesn't factor in pitch counts like Jazayerli's PAP does, the Year After Effect is still a good guideline, and most clubs (like the Jays), follow that principle.

   To that end, here's a quick look at the increase in IP for a number of Jays pitching prospects (under the age of 25) over the last several years:

pitcher                                  2009 IP       2010 IP   2011 IP    2012 IP
Kyle Drabek                              158*       162         154          71        (*limited to 32 IP in '08)
Drew Hutchison                             -          68         149          74
Chad Jenkins                                  -        141*       167         114       (*92 IP in college '09)
Deck McGuire                              -            -           104*       144       (*112 IP in college '10)
John Stilson                                   -           -              -          104*    (*91 IP in college '11)
Sean Nolin                                    -           21*        108         101      (*84 IP in college in '10)
Aaron Sanchez                              -           25           54           90
Roberto Osuna                             -            -             19           43
Daniel Norris                                -             -             -            42
Chase DeJong                              -             -             -             12
Tyler Gonzales                             -             -            -              15

   While the list above is not meant to be comprehensive, a few things do jump out.  First of all, given Hutchison's huge jump in IP between 2010 and 2011, it shouldn't come as a surprise that his UCL gave out in 2012.  Even though he has an advanced feel for pitching which prompted his rapid rise to the major league rotation (as did a lack of depth in the system), Hutch must have thrown a lot of pitches when he was past the point of fatigue.  Sean Nolin also had a huge increase in innings from his first pro season to his second, although he did throw 84 innings in his final college campaign. Of note are the IP for Roberto Osuna (more on him later) and Daniel Norris - Osuna is currently out with a torn UCL, while Norris is about to surpass his IP from last year after only  the 2nd month of the season. It will be interesting to see what happens with both.  Osuna is currently rehabbing in Florida, and has thrown off a mound, and word was received just today that he was on his way back to Lansing.  And we wonder if and when Norris will be shut down for the season. De Jong and Gonzales will likely come in right around the mid 40s in IP.
   So, the above data really doesn't emphatically prove the Year After Effect beyond Hutchison's injury, but it's still a very good guideline to follow.  A major weakness, of course, is the fact that it doesn't really factor in pitch counts; 30 extra innings can be quite different for a groundball pitcher than they could be for a power pitcher.

Why do These Injuries Happen?
  Shoulder and elbow injuries, as we have noted, tend to be brought on be a combination of fatigue and bad mechanics.  The injuries tend to be more prevalent in younger, growing pitchers - Silver and Carroll identifed 23 as the age in which the risk for the average pitcher tends to decrease, while Verducci puts it at 25.  To be sure, :

   As an athlete matures, his bones calcify and harden, his growth plates close, and his ligaments reach full strength. Since no athlete matures on the same schedule as another, it is important to note that chronological age does not always directly correlate to physical age.
-Silver and Carroll

    And with the rise of travel teams and continent-wide showcases and young players playing a lot of ball at a young , Robert Dvorchak, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes a scene at the office of Dr James Andrews - the famous Tommy John doc:

When the parents of a young pitcher with a damaged arm visit his clinic, Andrews has them write on a chalkboard when the child started pitching, how many teams he's played for, what baseball camps he attended, how much extra throwing he does in the back yard and other items pertinent to his pitching background. In extreme cases, he found that youngsters are taking off only two weeks a year -- Thanksgiving and Christmas – while concentrating exclusively on baseball.

"I point to that blackboard and tell them why their child is seeing me for surgery. That's when the light goes on for them," Andrews said. "No 13-year-old should have that kind of wear and tear on his arm."

   So, for some young pitchers, the damage may have already started before they even enter pro ball.  Even with proper mechanics, if they have faced excessive workloads, and haven't had adequate recovery time, the risk becomes higher.  Many clubs, like the Jays, will limit their draftees' first pro season in order to overhaul their mechanics.  Osuna was criticized by some scouts for having a high elbow during the early cocking phase of his delivery, then throwing across his body in order to complete it:

    Osuna was pitching in the Mexican League at 16 (when he threw 19 innings), so he may have developed wear and tear issues this season as a result of throwing a lot of pitches year round from an early age.  The UCL tends to occur as a series of small progressive tears over time, and then it finally lets go, as it did in Osuna's case.  So, he was under the 30 innings increase limit, but much of the damage may have already been done. The good news is that he's not even of draft age until next year, so there is lots of time for rehab and recovery, if surgery is ultimately necessary.

Are These Injuries Preventable ?
   As far as the research we've done is concerned, the answer is yes.  And no.
You can teach proper mechanics and monitor pitch counts and innings closely, but there are no guarantees, especially for American pitchers, many of whom have had a heavy workload since they were about 11 or 12.
   The website offers the following guidelines for youth pitchers:

       1. No youth pitcher should be throwing the curveball before 14 years old. 
       2. No sliders before 18 years old. 
       3. The change-up is not considered any more stressful than the fastball and should be utilized in 
           place of the curve or slider.                
       4. Monitor pitch counts.

   The Cubs organization, apparently, takes a further step of limiting their minor league pitchers' activity between appearances.  Their general rule of thumb is:
     If a pitcher throws 25 pitches in an outing, he has to wait 24 hours before throwing again.
     For 35 pitches, 48 hours, 72 hours for 60 pitches, and four days for pitch counts above 75.
     Starters are on a 5-day rotation, and no pitcher throws more than 100-125 pitches in a game.

   The Jays employed a "piggybacking" system to protect three of their top pitchers (Sanchez, and the departed Syndergaard and Nicolino) at Low A Lansing for part of a season last year.  One of the three would start, and would be relieved by one of the other two after he reached his pitch/inning count, and the reliever would, in turn, be relieved by the third.  The trio took turns with their roles, so they learned to come into games in higher leverage situations with runners on base.  The system worked well to build up arm strength for all three, until the piggybacking was ended in July that year, and each worked as starters.
   Syndergaard and Nicolino are enjoying success in High A this year, as was Sanchez, until he was sidelined in early May by shoulder issues.  Reports are that he is ready to return to action soon.  

  No franchise better understands how to identify, develop and maintain quality pitchers than the Rays.  They are to pitching what Google is to algorithms, and—under owner Stuart Sternberg, president Matt Silverman and general manager Andrew Friedman, all of whom came to baseball from the investment banking world—nearly as protective of their proprietary knowledge.
 Tom Verducci, "The Rays Way," Sports Illustrated, April 1, 2013

   Verducci penned an excellent article about the Rays' methodology and philosophy of developing pitchers.  The Rays prefer their pitchers to be tall, lean, and athletic.  The drills they use promote balance and a repeatable delivery.  They preach the value of the changeup, and focusing not on the first pitch to a hitter in trying to get ahead in the count, but the the first three.  As far as maintenance goes, they have a 30-minute daily regimen using dumbbells, resistance bands, and weigthed balls, somewhat similar to the Jays' Steve Delabar's heavy ball program that pitchers like Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan have credited with their turnarounds.  The Rays put their first year pitchers on strict pitch/inning restrictions: no throwing a cutter (they are allowed once they have reached Double A), pitching in a six-man rotation, and limited to three inings per outing in the first month, four innings in his second, and five innings (but no more than 75 pitches) in the third month.  As a result, the Rays have a league-leading five man homegrown rotation, and haven't used a starter over 30 from another organization over the past five years.
   Granted, David Price was shut down last month with a strained triceps muscle, and just received permission to throw off of a mound this week, but it's very hard to argue with the Rays' results.  They are one of the best organizations in baseball as far as selecting, developing, and keeping young pitchers healthy.  There are no guarantees, but their model should serve as a template for other teams.

   We've covered a fair amount of ground, but admittedly, this is a complex topic.
If we were in running a major league organization, we would recommend a multi-faceted approach:

1.  Scouting
   We would instruct scouts to look for the body types that the Rays seem to have mastered the talent for identifying;  pitchers that are long, lean, and athletic.  The first two are important for developing a downward plane on their pitches, the third is crucial for coming up with the ability to repeat an effective delivery that minimizes stress on their arms.  
  We would also be wary of young pitchers who have been, for lack of a better word,  misused since a young age (not difficult during this day and age of showcase tournaments across America): pitchers who have accumulated a lot of innings since their youth, and/or have been allowed to throw a curve and slider.  

2.  Development
   We would put in place the strictest of pitch and innings limits for first year pitchers (with some flexibility built in for college pitchers) .  Some would argue that pitch counts don't allow for a young pitcher to learn how to get out of trouble.  We would counter that if you take the long term view of development, there is plenty of time for that as the pitcher progresses through the system.

3.  Maintenance
   We would instruct all clubs in the organization to teach their pitchers to pay as much attention to their in-between outings routines as they do to the days they pitch. Enforce mandatory rest times after each outing, depending on the number of pitches.  Convince the pitchers it is in their best interests to pay attention to strength, cardio, and flexibility training on a year-round basis.  

  The above, of course, is no guarantee against injury.  Most clubs, we're sure, are using this approach.  Obviously, there is a huge variance in the extent to which they're employing it.  Selecting the right pitchers in the first place would be the biggest challenge.  


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Prospects Heading to Short Season

   In April, Clutchlings came out with the Top 10 Blue Jays Prospects.  We've focused exclusively on that group, and a few players who have merited consideration for inclusion in that group (we're talking about you, Kevin Pillar.  Maybe Andy Burns, too) since the start of the season.
   We didn't do a Top 20 list, because most of the players on it, given the relative lack of depth in the minor league system, won't be starting their seasons until sometime in the next week or so, when short season and rookie ball campaigns open in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian, and Northwest Leagues.
   In no particular order, here are 9 players we're looking forward to reading about, and hoping to see at least a few of when we make a visit to Vancouver in early July:  Ranking them based on the small sample sizes they accrued at the rookie level isn't realistic or fair to us, so let's not worry about their minor league numbers from last year.

Chase DeJong rhp
   DeJong was the Jays 2nd pick out of California high school in the 2012 draft.  DeJong is a tall (6'4"), athletic pitcher, with the type of build Tampa Bay seems to prefer. Drafted in the 2nd round, but received a bonus comparable to a first rounder.  Lots of projection here. Touches 92 on the gun, curve and change are works in progress.  Keith Law is high on DeJong.  Limited to 12 innings in the GCL last year. Will start the season again in the GCL, should easily reach Bluefield by mid-season.

Tyler Gonzales, rhp
  A sandwich round pick (60th overall) out of Texas High School in 2012.  Fastball sits low to mid 90s, with a good slider.  Changeup still developing.  Another power arm on a projectable frame.  Some scouts see a future for him in the bullpen. Saw brief action in the GCL as well last year. Should follow a developmental path similar to DeJong's.

Alberto Tirado, rhp
   Pitched in the Appy League as a 17 year old last year.  A relatively cheap and unheralded International signing out of the Dominican in 2011, Tirado had a jump in velocity last year. The club lowered his arm slot last year, and it added bite to his slider, which is his second-best pitch after his fastball. Lack of size is a concern.  Will likely start with Bluefield, but if he repeats his success of last year, could advance to Vancouver.

Franklin Barreto, ss
   A huge bonus signing out of Venezuela, widely regarded as one of the best International signings of 2012.  His speed and bat are plus tools - numerous scouts have projected him as a .300 hitter. His arm is strong, but his footwork doesn't project well as short, and a move to second or centrefield is possibly in his future. Only 17, he played only in instructional league games last year, and will open the season with the GCL Blue Jays. One of the best U18 prospects in the game.

Jacob Anderson of
   A sandwich round pick in 2011, Anderson tore up the GCL in a brief stint in 2012, but struggled at Bluefield. Given the high opinions many had about him in his draft year, there still is plenty of hope.  Will start the season at Bluefield, and should benefit from repeating that level.

Mitch Nay 3b
    Nay was Arizona's HS Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012.  Another 2012 sandwich round pick (58th overall), Nay didn't play last summer because of wrist and back ailments.  Nay has a compact, powerful stroke.  He likely will start in the GCL, but could move quickly to better competition at Bluefield.

   Adonys Cardona and DJ Davis already are members of our Top 10 list, but like the above prospects have yet to make their 2013 debuts.  The same goes for two-sport athlete Anthony Alford, who is not in our Top 10 list, but has perhaps the best tools in the system.


Monday, June 3, 2013

MLB Player Draft: Who Will the Jays Take?

  The Major League first year player draft is mere days away.  Mock drafts around the 'web have been conducted and posted.  So, who will the Jays take with their first round pick, 10th overall ?
   Sorry, we should come up with a more definitive answer than that, but we feel that there are a couple of factors that make a prediction all but impossible.  If the Jays were picking, say, in the top 5, a selection would be fairly easy, but there may or may not be players on the board at pick number 10 that we would consider.
   Last year, the Jays pursued a strategy of drafting potentially high-ceiling players, who were not without a high amount of risk.  With 6 of the first 81 picks, that strategy was more reasonable - if a Matthew Smoral decided to not sign, a Mitch Nay behind him probably would, or at least the club would have more of a bonus to offer Nay. Two years ago, they had more money to dissuade Daniel Norris from his college plans after top pick Tyler Beede turned the Jays' final offer down in favour of attending Vanderbilt. This year, the Jays have no compensation "sandwich" round picks, and the "back up" plan may not be such a good idea.
   Just the same, even though this year's draft probably should be dedicated to rebuilding some of the depth the organization traded away in last off season's deals, the Jays are not a club to shy away from a player who has been deemed a tough sign, or whose skills are abundant but still raw.
   So - who does it makes sense for them to take ?  That might be an easier answer.
To us, Washington HS catcher Reese McGuire fills both the need for a premium talent, and would help plug a  gaping hole in the organization.  Even though the club likes to take its time with high school players, McGuire could rise in the system very quickly, maybe making it to the majors at some point in the 2016 season.
  Trey Ball is another high-end player and power arm the club covets.  While his rise in the system might not be as rapid as McGuire's, he would add to the stable of arms the club is assembling in the lower levels of the farm system.
   Another high schooler who a number of mock drafts have had going to the Jays is Georgia outfielder Austin Meadows.  His defensive skills may necessitate a shift from center to left as he matures, but he has advanced batting skills.
   California prep shortstop J.P. Crawford has been labelled the best prep shortstop in the draft, and has been linked to the Jays in the past week or so. His cousin is Dodger's leftfielder Carl Crawford.  Nice blood lines.
   Arkansas right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek has also been slotted for the Jays by some mock drafts.
Earlier this spring, he was in top 5 territory, but inconsistency, which Keith Law links to the school's insistence on Stanek using his slider, has led to mediocre results.  Law projects Stanek as a #2 starter once he reaches the pros, and sticks with his curve.
   A few mock drafts have had the Jays selecting Meadows' fellow Georgian high school outfielder Clint Frazier.  This is mildly surprising, as Frazier has been in or around the top 5 for most of the spring.  He has a similar toolset to Meadows, with more projected power.
   So, it depends on what approach the Jays take, at least with their top pick.  It also depends, of course, on who is still on the board.  With their middle round picks, it's easy to suggest that they will follow last year's strategy of drafting low-ceiling college grads with little or no leverage, using the savings to go after more tough signs (ie., high-rated high schoolers with strong college commitments) in the later rounds.
   Any of the above players would be a good fit for the organization - if they're still on the board.
   Clutchlings' preferred player, Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart fits the club's bill on two counts - a power arm, with a college (Texas A & M) commitment.  Some clubs may be scared off by the fact that Stewart dreams of playing quarterback - good luck unseating Johnny Football.  At the same time, Stewart is very likely to have been chosen before the 10th pick.
   Whoever they pick, even though this has not been rated the deepest draft the handicappers have ever seen, at #10 they should nab a premium player.  It will be the work in the second and third days of the draft that will be important in restocking the system.

D.J. Davis - Speed to Burn, but What About the Bat?

      The Blue Jays selected Mississippi HS outfielder DJ Davis with the 17th pick of the 2012 draft.  Davis was not originally ranked that high by Baseball America or Keith Law, but he developed a heavy dose of helium in the weeks prior to the draft, and shot up the rankings.
   Davis signed for a $1.75 million bonus, and reported to the Jays' GCL team.  Davis wound up progressing through three levels last summer, finishing his season off with short season Vancouver. For the season, he hit a combined .233/.339/.374.
    Davis grades out at an 80 for his speed, which is easily the best tool in his arsenal.  He has top of the order, game-changing speed.  JJ Cooper of BA mused on Twitter the other night that no one had been asking him to compare a prospect's speed to another Mississippi high school grad - Reds' prospect Billy Hamilton, who set a minor league record with 155 stolen bases last season:

   So, Davis has speed to burn.  He has much to learn about base stealing, and while his speed covers up mistakes in the outfield, he still has to develop the ability to get better reads on flyballs. His arm, while not powerful, is described as accurate.  Davis' bat is the one tool that is still a huge question mark.
   Last season, he seemed to put things together in a short stint at Bluefield after his promotion from the GCL, but he struggled against higher level prospects at Vancouver.   This spring, there was hope from some that he could open the season in Low A with Lansing, but the club decided that Mississauga native Dalton Pompey was ahead of Davis on the depth chart, and decided to keep Davis in Florida for extended spring training. And realistically, since Davis doesn't turn 19 until July, there really is no need to rush him.
   Sportsnet's Shi Davidi reports that Davis is targeted for a return to Vancouver, which is again likely the best destination for him.  The Northwest League is populated mostly by college grads, so the Jays will be able to fairly quickly and easily get a read on his progress. With Pompey struggling at Lansing after a relatively good start, Davis could jump ahead of him if his play at Vancouver warrants a promotion. Or if he's joined at Vancouver by a number of other top level prospects in the Lower Mainland, and the two-time defending NWL champs  field another strong entry, Davis could spend the whole season there (Anthony Alford claims he's going to start in Vancouver, but that seems unlikely). 
   Davis has been compared to Hamilton in a number of ways, and it's probably a fair comparison.  Both were somewhat unknown in terms of their bats because of the lower level of competition in Mississippi, and both were graded at 80 speed.  Hamilton has progressed to AAA, but the Reds haven't rushed him, and it looks as if his bat has taken a step backward this year.
   The most likely approach is for the Jays to continue to take their time with Davis.