Monday, October 28, 2013

Morning Links

  Twitter is such a goldmine of virutally any kind of information one could imagine.  In our case, of course, it's baseball-related in general, and prospect-focused in particular.  We thought that we would share a couple of great links to articles we really enjoyed this weekend.

   The first is an article written by Rany Jazayerli of  Jazayerli is one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus, and is one of my favourite baseball writers.  He's also a dermatologist, presumably in his spare time.   Jazayerli took a look at the Cardinals' record of player development over the past dozen years, and to no one's suprise, discovers it's not a coincidence that the Cards are in the post-season again.  Jazayerli looks back at a decade of successful drafting and development, and observes that:
  ...the Cardinals are deep into their success cycle: This is their 13th winning record and 10th playoff team of the past 14 years. By all rights, the pressures of winning every year should have eroded the team's foundation of young talent, as the need to win right now, year after year, should have forced the Cardinals to trade prospects to keep the good times rolling. And it ought to have been difficult to develop prospects in the first place given that the Cardinals' success has forced them to draft late in the first round every year.
   That the Cards haven't folded Jazayerli credits to the hiring of Jeff Luhnow as scouting director in 2005.  Luhnow, now the Astros GM, was an unknown in 2005, but brought an analytical (sabermetrical?) approach that caused tension in the St Louis front office, but has brought unmatched success to the Gateway City.18 of the current players on the Cards' pre-playoff 25 man roster are homegrown, and they manage to stay between 8th and 11th in payroll almost every year.  As a result,
   Since 2000, the Cardinals have been to more League Championship Series than any other franchise and more World Series than any other franchise, and they're four games (make that two, now) away from winning more world championships than any other franchise in that time.

   In another article, Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski, concerned about the future of the game, has posed a series of major changes to baseball. 
    In this blog post, he suggests "freeing" the minor leagues.  Baseball, according to the ratings, has become much more of a regional sport.  And that, combined with the pace of play and late World Series game starts, Posnanski observes, means that more people watched the Thursday episode of The Big Bang Theory than Game #2 of the Series.  
  Posnanski is not the first to propose cutting the minor league's shackles:  it goes back at least as far as Bill James.  In the glory days of the minor leagues (pre World War II, pre Branch Rickey), the minors truly were "free".
   As James observed in his Historical Baseball Abstract:
  The minor leagues did not start out as what they are.  By a long series of actions and agreements, inducements, and rewards, the minor leagues were reduced in tiny degrees from entirely independent sovereignties into vassal states, existing only to serve the needs of major league baseball.

   Posanski posits that America is underserved if you consider that there are 30 major league teams, but many large cities (like his home of Charlotte, NC, the largest metro area in the U.S. that doesn't have a major league team) are home to minor league teams.  He estimates that half of the population of the U.S. is in a similar situation.  And the problem with minor league teams, of course, is that they exist solely to serve the major league parent.  Posanski writes:

 The White Sox make every single determination about the Charlotte Knights. They decide who plays in Charlotte and who doesn’t. They decide how many pitches each Charlotte pitcher throws and what positions each Charlotte player plays. If a player is hitting well, they will take that player away. If a pitcher is pitching well, they will take that player away. If a pitcher is throwing a two-hit shutout and he reaches his pitch-limit, they will take him out in the middle of an at-bat. If a player is having trouble bunting, they will have him bunt in bizarre situations. If a pitcher is working on developing a change-up, they will have throw it even if he can’t get hitters out. If the Knights have an excellent shortstop but the parent team already has one — they will move that shortstop to second or third base without thinking twice. If there’s a super exciting prospect in Class AA, there’s a good chance he will skip right over Charlotte.

  So, Posanski theorizes, free the minor leagues from this servitude, and baseball will turn back into more of a national game. Unfortunately, he doesn't pose any viable means for this to happen.  He does suggest letting colleges develop players as they do for the NFL and NBA, but acknowledges that it's unlikely a tradition of player development that is 70 years old will be replaced in such a manner.
  Food for thought, anyway.
  Lastly, we inlcude a link to a New York Times article about a bet on the 1946 Cards-Red Sox World Series that two American clergymen assigned to provide spiritual assistance to high-ranking former Nazi officers at the Nuremberg War Trials had placed as a diversion to the grim task they faced.  The article concludes with the oft-repeated allegation that Sox 2nd Baseman Johnny Pesky held onto the ball, while the Cards Enos Slaughter raced from first to home on the winning hit.  This has been refuted by many, most recently Posanski in another blog post.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Clutchlings' Blue Jays Minor League Awards

   With the 2013 minor league season now a fading memory, we thought that we would take a moment to present our own set of annual awards to the Blue Jays minor league system.

 Most Surprising Club Award  Vancouver Canadians
   This award shouldn't have been a surprise. But it was.
   The two-time defending Northwest League champs won 18 of their first 30 games, and appeared to be strong contenders for a three-peat.
  July rolled into August, and the C's limped home, with a pair of four-game losing streaks in the month, edging out Spokane by a game to clinch 2nd place in the combined Northern division standings, and qualified for the semi-finals.  Down the stretch, they lost starting shortstop Dickie Thon Jr, and Alberta-born and raised starting pitcher Shane Dawson.
   Buoyed by the call-ups of Dawel Lugo and Mitch Nay from Bluefield of  rookie-level Appalachian, Vancouver swept arch-rival Everett in two games in the semi-finals. They dropped the opening game of the final series to Boise, then took the next to games to capture their third consecutive NWL crown. Nay was named the championship series MVP.

Vancouver Sun photo

  Most Disappointing Club Lansing Lugnuts
Given the success the organization has had at Vancouver, the Lugnuts could be said to underachieved this year. Lansing lost 5 straight games at the end of April to finish the month 8-15, but were 15-15 for May, and appeared on the upswing, despite the loss of heralded phenon hurler Roberto Osuna, who was shut down and sent to Florida with a torn UCL that he ultimately would have surgery on later in the season.
   June and July were rough months for the Lugnuts, who went 23-32.  By July 17, they had been no-hit on three occasions, as the offence sputtered after a decent start.  Catcher Santiago Nessy received national attention in early July when teammate Chris Hawkins appeared to have hit a walk-off single against Great Lakes.  Nessy, who was on first, failed to touch 2nd base, and while Nessy raced to join his fellow Lugnuts as they mobbed Hawkins, the Loons alertly relayed the ball from the outfield to force him at 2nd.  It was a crowining moment in a month to forget.
  A decent August helped bump the Lugnuts' final record to 61-77, their first sub-.500 season since becoming a Toronto affiliate in 2005.
   There are many possibilities as to why the Lugnuts had a disappointing season. There's one school of thought that says that if you have a team 15 games under .500, the players on the roster are not ready for that level.  But since the Jays have had such success at the short-season level, one would think that eventually that would translate into more success at the next stop.  Some would suggest that the Jays tend to stock Vancouver with college players who succeed in short season ball, but reach  their ceiling once they reach A ball.
   Another possibility is that while Lansing was not one of the younger clubs in the Midwest League, they did have some young players at key positions, like Nessy.  And they did lose Osuna for over half of the season, and Daniel Norris for a month.
  It wasn't all a lost season for the Lugnuts, however.  After a rough start, Norris turned things around, outfielders Dwight Smith Jr and Dalton Pompey turned in solid seasons, shortstop Emilio Guerrero had a sizzling August, and 2013 draftee Kramer Champlin was a pleasant surprise in the starting rotation.
  With an influx of promotees from Vancouver and a number of players who likely will repeat Low A ball to start the season, Lansing should return to their winning ways next season.

Biggest Steps Forward   Daniel Norris
   After posting a bloated 8.44 ERA in his 2012 pro debut and having a rough April this season, there were concerns that the 2011 2nd round choice out of Science Hill HS in Johnson City, Tennessee might be a washout.  Baseball America wondered how someone with such electric stuff could be hit so hard and so often in its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet.
  After his first 7 outings ths year, Norris was 0-3, with an unslightly 10.07 ERA, giving up 34 hits over his first 22 innings.
  And then began the turnaround. Even after missing a month due to some elbow soreness, Norris went 2-5, with a 2.71 ERA.  While the won-loss record was misleading due to a strict (60-pitch) limit, Norris struck out 85 batters in 69 innings.  He was simply electric for the last half of the season, and earned a late season promotion to High A Dunedin, where by all accounts he continued to pitch well in one regular season and one playoff game for the D-Jays. He too made the national highlights when he snared a line drive in a game in August, narrowly avoiding decapitation.
   For the season, Norris was 1-7, with a 4.20 ERA.  He struck out 99 batters in 85 innings.  His poor start likely cost Norris a spot on Baseball America's Top 20 Midwest League prospects.
   There have been concerns about Norris' command and his ability to repeat his delivery.  Keith Law feels that his future lies in the bullpen.  We think that it's way too early to give up on Norris as a starter.  All indications are that with the help of Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman, Norris made the transition from thrower to pitcher this year.

Biggest Steps Backward  Adonys Cardona
   Cardona made many pre-season Top 10 Jays' Prospects lists, including ours.
Promoted to Bluefield to start the season, Cardona struggled, and was shut down in early August, after putting together an 0-2, 6.75 ERA record, with a WHIP of 1.92.  He did have a pair of starts where he could be said to have been dominant, but his ERA was fluffed up a bit by several other starts that weren't.
He still made BA's Top 20 Appy League prospects list this season.  Apparently the scouts have seen something that those of us who can't get a first hand glimpse of him haven't.  Just the same, while you can't put a lot of stock in stats from the low minors, Cardona didn't do much this season to justify such lofty opinions.
 Obviously, although no one connected with the Jays is saying it, Cardona needs some time to recover physically or emotionally (or both) from whatever has been ailing him this season.  He doesn't turn 20 until the New Year, so time is on Cardona's side.

Pitcher of the Year  Marcus Stroman
   With the injury to Osuna and the struggles of Aaron Sanchez, Stroman emerged as the organization's top starter, and one who is neck-and-neck with Sean Nolin in terms of major league readiness.
  Because of last year's PED suspension, Stroman didn't make his season debut until May 17.  Most projections have Stroman as a late-inning power arm, but the Jays had him in a starting role in AA, likely to build arm strength, and to harness his secondary offerings.
   In 20 starts with New Hampshire, Stroman went 9-5, with a 3.30 ERA.  He struck out 129 batters in 111 innings, with only 27 walks.  Of some concern were the 13 home runs he gave up.
   Because he's all of 5'9", there are those who question his long term value as a starter.  There likely would be few questions if he was four inches taller.  Stroman was lights out at times this season, with a pair of 13 K games, and a pair of 11 punchout games. Yes, because of his height, he lacks a downward plane on some of his pitches, particularly his fastball, but he generated a lot of swings and misses for a short guy. In his first full season (minus the suspension) of pro ball, at that.  His future may lie in the bullpen (his current role in the Arizona Fall League), but Stroman was everything the Jays had hoped for this year.
   New Hampshire teammate Nolin was a close second.  Nolin was 8-3, 3.01 with the Fisher Cats, and was summoned (and pummeled) to the bigs for a start in late May.  Nolin finished the year at Buffalo, and is on the cusp of a spot in the big league rotation. Nolin struck out 116 batters in 110 innings between the two minor league stops.  He projects as a middle of the rotation starter, who should eat up major league innings one day.

Player of the Year   LB Dantzler
   Dantzler, described as a "solid senior value sign," was a 14th round pick in this year's draft (presumably for the $5 000 bonus the Jays gave mid-round seniors) out of South Carolina.
  Dantlzer showed some suprising pop in his final college season, which likely bumped his draft status.
His floor has been described as a high minor league first baseman, and he has drawn Lyle Overbay comps for his ceiling.
  Whatever his future holds, Dantzler was a rock in the Vancouver batting order this season, hitting .302/.502/.889, along with 9 homeruns in a difficult home run park.  Dantzler showed an ability to get on base, and was named the Northwest League's MVP. Baseball America tabbed him as the NWL's 19th best prospect.
   Dantzler was among the system's leaders in batting average, OBP, and slugging.  While there are questions about his long term value, he led his team to their thrid straight title.  Manager Clayton McCullough, on the C's website, observed:
    "He was prepared to play every day and made the players around him that much better because of the way he handled himself both on and off the field. He is just a quality human being and I couldn't be happier for him."'s Chris Slade, who saw a lot of Dantzler in college as a Gamecocks' season ticket holder, had this to say about Dantzler:
    "Even if he does have some contact issues (Slade described him as having holes in his swing prior to the draft) as he moves up the ladder, I still think Dantzler can maintain an above average power output and reach base often via the walk. From what I've seen, I think he has everything else you look for in a hitter (a quick, compact stroke, above average barrel to the ball ability, major league pop, discerning batting eye, willingness to take walks). I believe his Senior season at S.C. was a legitimate breakthrough."   
   Slade describes Dantzler as one to watch for next season, which will likely see him at Lansing.

The Dave Stieb Meteoric Rise Award:   Kevin Pillar
   Pillar continued his rapid rise through the system in a year that saw him start at AA, and culminated in a late-August promotion to the majors. It took him less than 3 minor league seasons to get there.  The Midwest League was so impressed with Pillar last season that he was voted league MVP, even though he was promoted to Dunedin after 86 games with Lansing.
   Pillar hit .313/.341/.494 in a half season at New Hampshire, and .299/.341/.493 at AAA Buffalo.  Pillar got off to a slow start in the bigs, starting his career with 0-13.  Pillar was overmatched in his first few weeks with the Jays, and didn't see as much playing time as some thought he would get with the injuries to Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista.  Pillar's slow start, along with the strong showings of fellow Bison outfielders Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose limited his playing time, but Pillar did manage to climb above the Mendoza line with a strong finish, hitting .206/.250/.333, with 3 HR and 13 RBI.
   It has been well documented that the scouting consensus about Pillar has been overachieving fourth outfielder.  With the reasonably strong showings by Gose and Sierra during their September stints, as well as Pillar's outstanding minor league resume, the outfield situation with the big club has become a little more crowded than it was at the start of the year.  Pillar has hit at every minor league stop, and depsite his slow start in the bigs, it's hard to believe that he won't continue to do so if he's given a chance to adjust to major league pitching.

Toronto Star Photo

Manager of the Year  Clayton McCullough
   Some would say picking the manager of a team which wins its league title is an easy thing, but McCullough must have worked some serious magic in his second season at the helm of Vancouver to lead the Canadians to that third straight NWL crown.
   Vancouver got off to a strong start, but faded badly in August, due to injuries and inconsistency.  They rallied to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, having taken a four game losing streak into the season's next-to-last weekend. With callups Lugo, Dean, and Nay, McCullough nursed the team into the playoffs, and through the semis and finals.  Taking this team of 19 to 22 year olds must have taken infinite amounts of patience as they struggled down the stretch.
   McCullough has managed in the system for 7 years, even though he's only 33.  McCullough will be managing several Jays prospects in the Australian Winter League this offseason.

 Nastiest Stuff Award   Aaron Sanchez
   Some might say Sanchez took a slight step back in his development this year.  They would point to the progress former teammates Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard made. They might also mention the month Sanchez missed due to shoulder issues. Sanchez also apparently had some blister issues this summer (although Keith Law suggests that he was blown out in one July start not because of blisters, but because the Jays for unknown - to Law - reasons were trying to get him to throw a sinker, which apparently didn't sink in that particular start) that may have limited his effectiveness.
   Sanchez also struggled a bit with his command, as he has throughout his minor league career.  At the same time, his stuff can just be downright filthy sometimes.  Sanchez can  reach 98 with his fastball, and has a change-up that many scouts have deemed major league-ready.

Best Toolkit    DJ Davis
   Going by stats alone, Davis didn't have the greatest year.  He spent the whole season at Bluefield, and wasn't called up to Vancouver in late August to help the Canadians with their playoff drive as some of his teammates were, which was something of a surprise.
   At the same time, scouts and media covering the Appy League see plenty of room for projection for Davis.  Baseball America tabbed him as the 2nd best prospect in the rookie level loop.  They weren't concerned by his numbers, which did suffer from a late season slump.  Davis flashed signs of power and speed that prompted Carl Crawford comparisons.  That's good enough for us.

Power Arm     Tyler Ybarra
   The 43rd round pick in the 2008 draft has missed a lot of bats since being moved to the bullpen in his 2nd year of pro ball.
  In 154 innings in the last 3 seasons, the lefthander has struck out 176 batters.  At High A Dunedin this year,  in 55 innings Ybarra struck out 66 FSL batters, who hit .156 against him. The 33 walks are a bit of a concern, but it's an improvement over last year, and maybe partially comes with a 95 mph fastball with movement.
   Ybarra made a number of mechanical adjustments in 2012 with Lansing, and was able to translate that into increased velocity this year.
  Ybarra was originally named as one of the AFL Seven in late August, but the Jays opted later not to send him to the Southwest, likely to protect his arm after a relatively heavy workload with the D-Jays.
   He hasn't garnered the notice that the higher-profile prospects in the system have, but at 23, he seems poised to climb the ladder quickly.

Most Dangerous Bat   Rowdy Tellez
   Labelled as the top High School power bat in this year's draft, Tellez' bonus demands and his supposed committment ot USC saw his stock plummet to the 30th round, where the Jays scooped up perhaps the steal of the draft for an $850 000 bonus.
   Tellez didn't make his pro debut until late July, and predictably struggled through his first weeks in the Gulf Coast League.  He hit .107/.286/.143 for the month, and by mid-August, still had an unsightly .189/.284/.247 line.  And then he began to figure things out.  Tellez went on an end of the season tear, going 9-16 over his last 4 games, hitting his first two pro home runs.  Tellez drove in 5 runs in his last game of the season, and the raves started. Chris King of Baseball Prospectus was among the many to tweet Tellez' praises, stating the Tellez has "huge power," that was "starting to show up in game action."
   While information out of fall instructional league in Florida was limited, the glowing reports of Tellez' power continued. King, a trusted source of Jays in Florida info, was laid up for much of September by illness and recovery from a car accident, but he did see Tellez in action once more, and marvelled at how much better his swing looked, with a much more direct path to the ball.
   Tellez won't be 19 until March, and will likely start next season in Bluefield, which means we may have to wait on this potential impact bat for a while.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Aaron Sanchez Update ? Why Not!

   It's been a few weeks since we've looked at the progress of Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays top prospect, and although his stock was diminished somewhat this season,  and is still considered by most to be among the top 50 prospects in the game.
   Sanchez, who lost time to a shoulder injury, blister issues, and battled some control issues, was passed in the eyes of many scouts by former Lansing teammates Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino, who, of course, have moved on to other organizations. The latter two advanced to AA, and while there's no doubt that Sanchez' season didn't go as well as the club had hoped, given the Blue Jays preference for having their young pitchers advance one level at a time as they learn their craft and build arm strength, he may not have advanced to AA even if he had experienced better results (and let's not get too down on him - Sanchez was 4-5 with a 3.34 ERA, and FSL batters hit only .202 against him).  Sanchez was limited to 86 IP this season - time lost to the shoulder shutdown cost him between 30 and 40 innings.  As a result, he was named to the Jays contingent at Salt River of the Arizona Fall League to make up for some of that lost time.
   Kiley McDaniel of watched Sanchez pitch earlier in the season as well as in the AFL recently, and he came away a little bit less than impressed. Mc Daniel observes, "I don't love how his delivery is very upper-body heavy but it is controlled and low-effort, making elite velocity possible due to his size and crazy arm speed."  McDaniel admits that all the basic traits of a starter are there for Sanchez, but feels that advanced traits like advanced feel for a changeup and some life to his 94-97 mph fastball are missing. McDaniel, as a result, projects Sanchez as more of a middle of the rotation starter than a potential ace.
  And now we can add Keith Law to the list of those about to hop off the Sanchez bandwagon. Up until mid-season, Law still was big on Sanchez, and had him ranked ahead of Syndergaard.  Law had hinted this summer that the club was tinkering with both Sanchez' secondary pitches and his delivery. After seeing him in Arizona, Law's impression has dropped, and he expressed the opinion on his "Daily Dish" podcast that Sanchez has "clearly taken a step back," as a result.  Law noted that Sanchez' stuff is still there, but his command is not, and he worries that the adjustments the jays have made to delivery will increase his chance of elbow and shoulder injuries.  At the same time, Law admits that it was only one scouting look at Sanchez, coming in the first week of play in the AFL, and most players had been off more a month, and may have been scraping the rust off that week.
   According to Shi Davidi of Sportsent, the Jays aren't as concerned, and view some of Sanchez' struggles as normal roadblocks on a prospect's path to the majors. Up until this year, Sanchez could rely on his fastball to get hitters out, but as he has climbed the development ladder, the club has put added emphasis on his need to develop his secondary pitches. This would explain some of his control issues (although, as Davidi points out, Sanchez BB/9 decreased by a full walk this year), and a couple of starts where he was mildly roughed up.
   Interestingly, Davidi suggests that there is some debate in the Jays front office whether or not they should continue to slowly develop their young (especially high school draftee) pitchers, or challenge them and promote them more aggressively.  Everything we've researched leads us to believe that the conservative approach is sounder in the long run.  The data suggests that shoulder and elbow injuries among young pitchers tends to decrease between the ages of 23 and 25.  Even keeping an eye on pitch counts and innings doesn't necessarily protect against pitcher fatigue - the notion that as a pitcher reaches a certain number of pitches in an inning and reaches his fatigue point, each successive pitch puts an increased possibility of injury. As young pitchers are challenged at higher levels, they might be placed in such situations with more frequency, as they struggle with their secondary pitches and control.
   Sanchez struggled somewhat with his control in his first fall outing, and had greater command issues in his second. While it couldn't be classed as a disaster, he lasted only 2 innings,  walking a pair, giving up three hits and a hit batsmen, while striking out only 1. Sanchez threw only 21 of his 44 pitches for strikes.
   Reason to be worried? Maybe. Jays Assistant GM Tony LaCava mentioned to Davidi that maybe Sanchez is still growing into his body, and learning how to harness the extra velocity. This could also just be a rough patch that all young pitchers go through. Learning how to deal with setbacks and adversity is part of the development process.  Syndergaard was tonged in his last start of the season, and Nicolino was roughed up in his final two. It happens.
  Much has been made of the AFL being hitter friendly. Fellow prospect Marcus Stroman tweeted that he was having trouble gripping the ball in the dry desert air. Maybe if Nicolino and Syndergaard had gone to Arizona they might be struggling a bit, too.
  Sanchez' time in the AFL, brief as it may be, will help give a better indication of what's to come in
the future for him, as well as build up his innings total.  We're still looking at a small sample size to this point.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Murphstache is Back

 (SMP Images - Ben Southall)

Blue Jays farmhand Jack Murphy is a big man in Australia, apparently.
Murphy,  who caught 59 games for AA New Hampshire this summer, is a fan favourite in Canberra of the Australian Winter League.  Murphy made the AFL all-star team as he led the Cavalry to the league championship.
According to the team's website, Cavalry GM Thomas Carter says Murphy's value to the team goes beyond his numbers:

 "The core to a winning team is a great catcher. Jack worked very well with pitching staff last year and was a true field general. We were concerned about having to replace him. Staff worked really hard with Jack and the Blue Jays to bring him back. Today's announcement puts us in a great position to win this year."

Murphy, who hit .220/.268/.332 this season, hit .304, with 5 HR and 24 RBI down under last winter, and went 4-7 in the playoffs. He will be joined on the Cavalry by fellow Jays prospects Shane Opitz, Jon Berti, and Michael Crouse from the High A Dunedin Blue Jays.
The AFL plays a 40 game season (mostly on weekends), starting at the end of October, and finishing at the end of January.

Monday, October 7, 2013

System Watch: I Don't Know's On 3rd


Our analysis of the Blue Jays 3rd base prospects will be a bit slimmer than our previous profiles, mainly because there are fewer candidates to evaluate. Since players shift positions throughout the low minors, this isn't a huge surprise.

   Veteran Andy Laroche manned 3rd for Buffalo this year, and was called up for one game by the big club.
He hit .271/.339/.422, but his last meaningful big league stint was in 2009. At 30, his major league prospects are dim.  He was granted free agency status by the club at the end of the season.

   Andy Burns struggled through most of his first two years in pro ball, but found himself this year.  He hit an impressive .327/.383/.524 for Dunedin, before being called up to AA New Hampshire.  Predictably, Burns struggled at the higher level, but hit .300 in August to bring his line up to .253/.346/.419. Throw in 33-47 in stoeln bases between the two levels, and you're looking at a good blend of speed and agility which should translate into plus defence.  Some have made a comp with Brett Lawrie .Burns spent much of 2012 with Lansing at shortstop, but he played primarily at 3rd this year.  He has headed to Arizona, where he'll join a large Jays contigent in the AFL.  Burns has been making up for lost time since having to sit out his senior year of college ball after transferring from Kentucky to Arizona.

   The promotion of Burns to AA created an opening at Dunedin for Gustavo Pierre, who moved up from Lansing after a torrid May.  Originally signed as a shortstop at 16, Pierre has been moved slowly up the ladder, and was repeating Lansing for the second time, having been shifted to 3rd along the way.  He was named Topps' MWL player of the month for May, hitting .391 with 2 homeruns and 16 RBI.  Pierre too struggled after his promotion, finishing .210/.219/.318 for the D-Jays.  A huge concern is Pierre's strike zone judgement - he walked only 4 times in 428 minor league at bats this season, while striking out 128 times.  At 21, even though his ability to draw a walk has hovered at about 5% throughout his milb career, it's hard to see much of a turnaround on the horizon.

   Kellen Sweeney took the majority of reps at 3rd after Pierre's promotion.  The 2010 2nd round pick has hit .198/.305/.299 in almost 1000 PA's over 4 milb seasons.  That's probably enough said. Time is running out for Sweeney.

   Third for Vancouver was manned mostly by Justin Atkinson and Andy Fermin during the regular season.  Atkinson, a Surrey, BC, native hit .230/.322/.289 for the C's, while Fermin filled more of a utility role, playing 3rd, 2nd, and DH, and moving to the outfield for the playoffs.  Fermin hit .274/.350/.358.  The biggest plus in Atkinson's favour is likely the fact that he's only 20, and given that he played BC high school ball, is still a bit behind his peers in terms of development.  Fermin, at 24, has to be considered an org guy, although a useful one, given the number of positions he can play.

   Mitch Nay, who made the Appy League All-Star team at 3rd while playing for Bluefield, capped off a great pro debut season by being named the Northwest league's playoff MVP, after being promoted to Vancouver late in the season.  The 2012 sandwich rounder didn't make his pro debut until this year, but has quickly made up for lost time.  Nay hit .300/.364/.426 for Bluefield.  Inserted into the #3 slot in the Canadians batting order, he didn't skip a beat in the NWL playoffs.  The grandson of a former major leaguer, Nay is one to watch.

  Edwin Fuentes played the majority of the games at 3rd for the GCL Jays, and didn't distinguish himself much at the plate.  Having just turned 19, he has plenty of time to develop.

Clutchlings Top 5 Blue Jays 3rd Base Prospects
1.  Andy Burns
2. Mitch Nay
3. Gus Pierre
4. Kellen Sweeney
5. Justin Atkinson

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

No AA ball for Ottawa

     In a somewhat stunning development yesterday, the City of Ottawa's finance and economic development committee supported a staff recommendation in accepting a bid for stadium renovations from the independent Can-Am League over a more costly proposal from Manadalay Baseball Properties.
   Sources say that the city was prepared to finance up to $30 million in stadium improvements.  Mandalay submitted a bid for $40 million to bring the stadium up to state-of-the-art standards.  Mandalay operates 4 highly successful minor league teams (and a not-so-successful 5th).  They are well known in the industry for operating parks that offer the "full game" minor league experience - luxury suites, outfield picnic areas, family playgrounds, and the like.  The Can-Am league, by contrast, put up a bid of only $750 000.
   Obviously, the Mandalay bid was too rich for Ottawa's tastes, especially in light of the Landsdowne Park renovations.  Why Mandalay put in such a high bid is puzzling.  Did they think their bid was a shoo-in ?
Ottawa's choice, while understandable from a fiscal perspective, is equally bafffling.  The Can-Am league has failed in the city before, and the league is barely alive itself, down to 5 franchises, only 2 or 3 of which can be thought of as self-sustaining.  And the league would propose to operate the team while the search was made for a local owner.
   Josh Leventhal of Baseball America wrote:

   The announcement was truly a stunner, to both the victor and loser. The city seemed geared toward bringing in the Eastern League, evidenced by a group in support of Double-A baseball that had lined up over 3,000 good-faith commitments for season tickets. From Mandalay’s perspective, Ottawa appeared on board with its vision for a new ballpark—full of the amenities for fans and players found at modern ballparks around the minors—before the company responded to Ottawa’s request for offers (RFO) in August
   Mandalay CEO Art Matin was understandably perplexed at the decision.  He told BA:

 We’re a little confused as to what went wrong. Obviously we had a vision of what it would take for affiliated minor league baseball to be successful in Ottawa. We worked hard to lay out what the vision would be for city leadership and offered a very detailed response to the RFO.

   Matin admitted that Mandalay had gone above the City's preferred cost limit, but he was hopeful of working that out.  "There obviously was some room to move (the price) if we needed to. We never got that opportunity," he said.
    Did Manadalay overplay their hand ? Perhaps.  At the same time, it's no secret that Mandalay likes to build high-end parks with public money.  So why did Ottawa flush two years of negotiations and a chance to get an Eastern League team down the drain?

   The losers in all of this, of course, are baseball fans of Ontario and Quebec.  With the Blue Jays PDC with AA New Hampshire expiring after next season, it was logical to think that the club would place its Eastern League affiliate there.  Choosing the Can-Am league bid kills that.  So, instead of being able to watch the likes of maybe future big leaguers Daniel Norris, Frankie Barreto, Miguel Castro, and Rowdy Tellez in 2015, Ottawa fans can now take in games of A-ball caliber, featuring a bunch of org guys likely going nowhere.
   The Can-Am league is not the healthiest at the moment.  It does feature stable teams in Quebec City and Rockland (who averaged 3 000 fans per game each), but does not draw well in its three other cities.  The team has shrunk from 8 teams in 2008 to 5 last year.  The Ottawa park did host the Intercounty Fat Cats for several years, and apparently drew well, but were unable to secure a lease agreement with the city, and had to cease operations for the 2013 season.
   The Blue Jays, to a lesser extent, are losers in this vote as well.  Even though they are quite happy with their current agreement with the Fisher Cats, a AA team in Ottawa would be a chance to grow the brand some more.