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.