Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Clutchlings Notebook: Updates About Boyd/Stroman/Norris & the Draft

   We didn't call it, but Blue Jays lefthander prospect Matt Boyd was promoted to AA New Hampshire on the weekend, and we can't say we're surprised.
   The Jays 6th round choice out of Oregon State in last year's draft has dominated High A hitters in the Florida State League this season, posting a 4-0 record, with a tiny 0.29 ERA.  Boyd has given up but one run in 31 innings, striking out 37. With nothing left to prove at that level, it makes sense for the Jays to promote Boyd to the next level to help get a truer read on exactly what they have.
   Daniel Norris has been just as dominant as Boyd with Dunedin.  The 2nd round 2011 draft pick pitched 5 scoreless innings last night in picking up the win against the Yankees High A club, lowering his ERA to a microscopic 0.75.
  So, should Norris be promoted at some point soon, and join Boyd in the Fisher Cats rotation?  Probably not.
   Norris just turned 21 on the weekend, and is obviously on a lower pitch count than the 23 year old Boyd is.  Norris has also thrown a total of 157 innings since turning pro, vs the 280 innings Boyd has logged between 4 years of college ball and not quite a year of pro ball.  While the organization is trying to be more aggressive with the promotion of their young pitchers (see the Lansing Lugnuts staff), there's a fine line to be walked between challenging them and developing them. Norris may see New Hampshire if he continues his torrid start, but it will likely be later in the season - the club would prefer to up his pitch count gradually and have him work deeper into games first.
  Speaking of the Lugnuts, we see that they have placed righthander Adonys Cardona on the 7-day Milb disabled list after lasting only 3 hitters and not recording an out in his most recent start against Dayton.  The physically talented Cardona has yet to live up to the heights his skills would seem to prophesize, and he was simply all over the place with his command in that start. Cardona is 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA so far, giving up 13 hits and 8 walks in 10.2 innings.  He's obviously overmatched at full season ball, and he may be hurt to boot.
  In his stead, the Jays promoted pitcher Yeyfry Del Rosario from extended spring training.  Del Rosario has an interesting power arm.
   Del Rosario's stats, courtesy of minor league central, can be found here.
  And, of course, we would be remiss without discussing Marcus Stroman's lights-out, electric stuff outing against Louisville last night.
  Stroman was simply dominant over 6 innings against a team that is among the lightest-hitting outfits in the International League.  He gave up no hits, walked 1, and struck out 10 in a tidy, 80-pitch effort.  He now leads the IL in strikeouts. We've mentioned that we would like to see Stroman stop nibbling, and keep his pitch counts down so that he can go deeper into games.  That he was limited to 6 innings may be more due to the fact that he is being readied for a promotion to the majors, but Stroman had excellent command last night, and had many Louisville hitters reaching for his wipeout slider in the dirt and missing. Dustin McGowan may have redeemed himself with a solid start for the parent club last night, but Stroman is only a Brandon Morrow stint on the DL or a makeover of the bullpen away from making his MLB debut.
   We also just received word that Kendall Graveman, who took a no-hitter into the 9th for Lansing last week, has been promoted to Dunedin.

  As we mentioned in an eariler post, there's a group at the top of this year's draft that has separated themselves from the pack, and will in likely be off the board by the time the Blue Jays have their two (9th and 11th) first round picks.
   Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, and Tyler Kolek will go 1-2-3 in the draft, possibly not in that order.  Blue Jays 2011 1st rounder Tyler Beede will likely be taken in the next few picks after #3, with Jeff Hoffman and Alex Jackson joining the top group.
   A couple of sites have updated their top 100 picks this week, and we thought it was worth a quick look.
   MLB Pipeline has Evansville LHP Kyle Freeland at #9, and TCU Lefty Brandon Finnegan at 11.    Freeland is the type of tall, lean (6'4", 185) pitcher the Jays like.  Finnegan, at 5'11", is undersized, but the Jays have shown that doesn't scare them off (see Stroman, Marcus).  Both have deliveries that have been termed high effort, which concerns us a bit. South Carolina prep righty Grant Holmes, who also fits the undersized bill, comes in at #12 on their list.
  Over at Christopher Crawford's, they have LSU righty Aaron Nola at 9, and Boyd's former OSU teammate Michael Conforto at 11.  Nola's stock has slipped a bit, but we see him closer to the top group of the draft.  Conforto has a good approach from the plate and above average lefthanded power, but his defensive value is limited, and is a bit of a basepath clogger. MLB pipeline isn't as high on Conforto, ranking him 19th. Conforto doesn't really fit the profile the Jays prefer in a position player.
  We, of course, have no clue as to who the Blue Jays are following at the moment, but odds are it's a tall/lean pitcher, or an athletic/toolsy position player with one or both picks.  Given their recent history, they could also go outside of the box with one of those picks and take a high risk/high upside player.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is Marcus Stroman Ready?

  With the struggles of many members of the Blue Jays rotation over the past few weeks, the bullpen has been taxed to the point where one of the team's strengths has become something of a liability.
   Starters have not been pitching deep enough into games, meaning that the power arms in the pen, best suited to not much more than an inning of work, have been overworked and exposed, and have led to meltdowns such as the one in Minnesota last weekend.
   Dustin McGowan, in particular, seems to be on the shortest of leashes in the rotation, so much so that the Jays have rigged Buffalo's rotation (with a little bit of help from Mother Nature) so that Marcus Stroman will now start on the same days as McGowan (beginning with Tuesday's start), presumably so that Stroman can be called up to take his place in the rotation if McGowan continues to have trouble lasting beyond the fifth inning.
   There are plenty of media types who suggest that the Jays view Stroman as major league ready, and that he didn't make the club out of spring training was because the club wanted to delay his arbitration clock, and because the arms ahead of him that were out of options.  Certainly, when the Jays selected the Duke righthander in the first round of the 2012 draft, many observers predicted that he would be the first of his draft class to reach the majors (although most thought it would be as a reliever).  A 50 game PED suspension at the end of that season that carried over into 2013 likely took care of that.  And the data compiled from his time in AAA at Buffalo so far this season would suggest that he doesn't have a whole lot left to prove in the minors:

              Stroman's Heat Map: graphs


Stroman's propensity to the long ball and concerns about his lack of a downhill plane on his fastball from last year at AA don't seem to be an issue.  He's showing good command, and is inducing a lot of groundball outs, which is always good for a Rogers Centre pitcher.  With 26 strikeouts in 20 innings, and a 1.39 WHIP, Stroman has shown a dominance of AAA pitchers.
  So, he's ready, right?

  Not so fast.

   When a club brings a prospect up to the minors, especially one that they've invested a $1.8 million signing bonus in, caution should be the order of the day.  No matter where the club is in the standings, no matter how desperate they are for innings from their starters, a prospect should be brought up and put in a situation where they have a chance of succeeding.  Granted, all successful athletes must learn to overcome adversity, but there's little point in bringing up a prospect if he's going to be in a dismal situation.
   Other considerations should include:
-is he ready physically?
-is he ready mentally and emotionally?
-will the expectations for him be overwhelming and/or unrealistic?

   The answers to the first two would have to be "yes", and "yes" for the last - which is unfortunate.
   Stroman's innings have been closely monitored since he turned pro, and one has to think that while there are no guarantees, he's physically mature, and has the arm strength necessary to pitch about 130 or so total innings this year.  And that's one of the potential problems.  With innings by the starters perhaps the club's biggest need right now, Stroman has pitched as much as 6 innings this year exactly once.  Last year, in AA, he pitched into the 7th inning 4 times, and into the 6th inning 10 times in 20 starts.  This year's cold weather likely hasn't helped Stroman last longer. nor has his habit of nibbling sometimes, driving up his pitch counts.
   With the Blue Jays in need of starters who can consistently pitch into the sixth and seventh innings, Stroman barely fits the bill.  McGowan's comeback has been a great feel-good story, but the long odds he is facing may finally be catching up with him.  We're still hoping that he can overcome them, but it's looking like Stroman's MLB debut is only a matter of time.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Matt Boyd Reconsidered

  When it came time for us to evaluate the Blue Jays farm system in terms of its Top 20 prospects this spring, a name that we missed out on was lefthander Matt Boyd.
   Boyd was the Jays' 6th round choice out of Oregon State last year, and was signed for either $70 000 or $75 000, depending on the source.  A reliever for most of his college career until last year (he was drafted by the Reds in 2012, but opted to return to school), Boyd was assigned to Lansing after signing, and was promoted after only 5 appearances with the Lugnuts to Dunedin.
   The reports on Boyd from Florida were glowing, but his numbers weren't.  Small sample size was the culprit, because Boyd has been absolutely lights out with the D-Jays so far this year, and has caught a heavy dose of helium, rocketing up the list of prospects.
   Boyd spun his latest gem on Friday night, pitching 8 scoreless innings against Clearwater, throwing 85 pitches, and surrendered only two hits, walking none and striking out 12.  At one point, Boyd retired 16 Threshers in a row.  In picking up his fourth win of the season, Boyd lowered his ERA to 0.29 he's given up but one run in 5 starts, covering 30 innings.  He's struck out 37, and allowed only 5 walks.  FSL hitters are managing just a .167 batting average against him.  MLB farm reports has pictorial evidence to demonstrate his domination so far this season:

      Boyd recorded a 90 game score for the night (114 is the maximum).  You can read more about how game score, an invention of the legendary Bill James, is calculated,  here. Boyd told's Kelsie Heneghan that he had all four of his pitches working last night, and gave credit to catcher Derrick Chung and his Dunedin teammates: "Guys behind me are making some great plays, been some key double plays, and great stops.  Defence has been flawless.  They're fun to play in front of."
  Boyd's pitches have been labelled as average as better, and with his 6'3", 215 build, profiles as a mid-rotation innings eater - something the parent club is in desperate need of.
   At 23, Boyd may not be too old for High A ball, but he definitely has been dominant.  Given the struggles of the major league rotation and bullpen, some shuffling with the higher affiliates is likely in the offing in the next few weeks, and if Boyd continues his Florida dominance, a promotion of New Hampshire is almost a foregone conclusion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MLB Draft Update #4


With just a little over six weeks to go before Major League Baseball's annual round up of talent in the June draft, things are getting a little bit clearer when it comes to players who might still be on the board when the Blue Jays turns come up in the first round.
  The Jays have the 9th and 11th picks, the latter due to the inability to sign California HS pitcher Phil Bickford.
   We don't profess to have any inside information about who the Jays have been following as the draft approaches.  We do think one of those picks will be a pitcher, subject to who is available.  We've also heard that there's a chance that they may go off the boards with the second first rounder, and take one of those high risk-high upside players they love.
  As far as the top picks go, it's clear at this point that NC State RHP Carlos Rodon, California HS LHP Brady Aiken, and Texas HS RHP Tyler Kolek have separated themselves from the pack, although there's no consensus as to the order.  Aiken may have the highest ceiling of the three, but we've read that Houston may look long and hard at Rodon, despite his disappointing spring, hoping to sign him for below slot, and use the savings on subsequent picks.
   The next group appears to consist of California HS C Alex Jackson, East Carolina RHP Jeff Hoffman, Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede, and LSU RHP Aaron Nola.  Both Beede and Nola have been selected by the Jays before, Beede in the 1st round in 2011, Nola in the 22nd round that year.  Beede has had an inconsistent spring, and after having shown earlier in the season that he had settled some of his command issues, has fallen back a bit, and it might not be surprising to see him slip in the draft.  The projections for Beede earlier in the year were top of the rotation, but the evaluation seems to have dropped to middle of the rotation.
   That leaves several players available. The name most consistently linked with the 9th through 15th slots in the draft is Florida HS SS Nick Gordon, son of former MLBer Tom.  In a draft with few high school impact bats, Gordon stands out.  Plus, he is projected to stay at short.  Another name that seems to have fallen into this section of the draft is South Carolina HS RHP Grant Holmes. There are some who feel that there isn't a lot of projection left with Holmes, but he has regularly reached the mid 90s with his fastball, and has a plus curve.  University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer also appears to be in this group, and has been linked to the Jays.  Evansville lefty Kyle Freeland has also been mentioned in some reports to be ranked in or around the 9th to 15th spot. NC State SS Trea Turner has also been reportedly scouted by the Jays, but most reports we've read have concerns about his plate mechanics, and don't consider him to be an impact bat.
   If recent trends hold true, the Blue Jays like to spend their first pick on a premium athlete (D.J. Davis), the high-risk and upside type (Marcus Stroman), or a long, lean, athletic pitcher (Beede, Aaron Sanchez).  If that's the case, we see Gordon and Holmes as players they might be most interested in.  The gamble pick could be Florida HS RHP Touki Toussaint, who has the kind of build the Jays covet, but is still seen as not having put all of his physical gifts together just yet.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Friday Mound Gems

   As Christians around the world observed Good Friday this past weekend, Blue Jays faithful were given renewed hope and reason for optimism with the performance of three of their minor league pitchers.
   It was a combined performance that may not be seen for some time.
Starting in AA, top prospect Aaron Sanchez of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats pitched 6 shutout innings against Binghamton, allowing just 4 hits and two walks while striking out 6, lowering his ERA to 2.29.  Eastern League hitters are managing a paltry .215 against the tall righthander. Sanchez has been able to induce much of the contact against him to be of the weak variety this season, as his seven ground ball outs would suggest.
   In High A, Dunedin Blue Jays Daniel Norris continued his hot start, throwing four no-hit innings against Brevard County, walking two and striking out six.  With his pitch count up a bit, D-Jays manager Omar Malave lifted Norris in favour of Kramer Champlin, who through 5 scoreless and hitless innings in relief.  Along the way, however, the hometown official scorer's decision changed a D-Jays error while Norris was on the mound into a hit. Norris lowered his ERA to a tiny 0.60 with this outing.
   And to top it all off, Kendall Graveman of the Lansing Lugnuts took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, ending the Lugnuts' losing streak at six in spectacular style.  The 8th round pick from last year's draft out of Mississippi State is repeating at Lansing this year, and is taking his leadership role with the club seriously.  Over 8 innings, Graveman walked one and struck out seven before his no-hit bid was broken up with one out in the ninth.  Graveman's ERA dropped to 0.44 after his dominant performance.
   Between Sanchez, Norris, and Graveman, in 18 1/3  shutout innings, they gave up but six hits, walked 5, and struck out 19.  Not to be undone, Buffalo's Bobby Korecky pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to give the Bisons the victory, giving the organization a perfect 5-0 record for the evening.
  On that same evening, as we got a glimpse of the rosy future of the Jays rotation, Drew Hutchison was giving us a great view of the present, pitching five scoreless innings against the Twins.  The same night the bullpen suffered a huge meltdown.  Which we won't recount here.


   We had the opportunity to take our first look at the Lansing Lugnuts on Thursday night in the second game of a double header on a cold spring night in Wisconsin.
   The Lugnuts were swept in the twin bill to run their losing streak to six games, but we came away from the evening with the impression that good things are yet to come for the Low A club.
   The Lugs are one of the youngest clubs in the Midwest League.  Their youthfulness has shown up in their high unearned run totals, as well as that six game loss stretch.
   Taking the mound on the evening we watched was Chase De Jong (Or, DeZhong, as the Wisconsin announcer called him).  De Jong was knocked around in his first two starts of full season ball earlier this month, but was commanding his fastball and slider in this start, pitching 4 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and no walks, to go along with 4 strikeouts.  He did give up a number of fly balls, which was a concern, but few were hit hard.  De Jong also made a very athletic play to reach the length of his 6'4" frame to grab a popped-up bunt attempt that made some highlight reels.
De Jong has a nice, smooth delivery, which he consistently repeated.
   On the offensive side, we were impressed by the approaches of both Mitch Nay and Matt Dean at the plate.  Both were very selective, and have balanced stances, providing for good plate coverage.
  We weren't as high on DJ Davis' approach, although he went 1-3 with a pair of strikeouts.  It looks very much like Davis still needs to work on pitch recognition and knowledge of the strike zone, but his speed was obvious on the base paths and in the outfield.  Davis, simply put, looks like an athlete.  And in fairness to the Lugnuts, Wisconsin's Barrett Astin was very much on his game, commanding the lower part of the strike zone.
   We should also add that Adonys Cardona looked comfortable on the mound in piggybacking with DeJong in the 7 inning game.  We saw a projectable delivery and young pitcher in Cardona in our first look at him.
   Even though the Lugnuts are off to a rough start, there is plenty of reason to consider that they will be a formidable MWL opponent as the season progresses.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two Teams - Two Unexpected Results

It's still very early in the minor league season, and the wintry weather in the north and the rainy weather in the south has wreaked havoc on pitching rotations, but at this point, the Blue Jays High A and Low A teams appear to be headed in opposite directions, which is surprising to say the least.
   The Dunedin Blue Jays roster is comprised mostly of players from last year's Lansing squad that scuffled along for most of the Midwestern League season, and finished 17 games below .500, and were at the bottom of most team pitching and hitting categories.
   The Lansing Lugnuts are stocked with many players from the organization's successful short season teams at Vancouver and Blufield, the latter of which made it to the Appy League playoffs, while the former is a three time defending Northwest League champ.
   With some of the system's most promising prospects at Lansing, the Lugnuts were considered to be one of minor league baseball's must-watch teams this year, while the D-Jays would be in a fight to reach .500.  After two weeks of the young season, however, the records of the two teams are almost complete opposites of what many thought they would be.
   Winners of 11 of their first 13 games, Dunedin sits atop the Florida State League's Northern Division standings, while the Lugnuts, who were swept in a doubleheader at Wisconsin yesterday, have lost six in a row, and 9 of their first 12 games, and sit among the bottom of most team stats.
   Dunedin's fast start can largely be attributed to their starting pitching, which has led the club to a league-low 1.83 ERA, and microscopic 0.97 WHIP.  The rotation has had multiple starts from Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, Taylor Cole, and Ben White.  Cole and White may be a bit old for this level, but they both seem to have found themselves against more advanced hitters than they faced last year, while Norris and Boyd have picked up where they left off last season.  Boyd has yet to be scored upon in 3 starts totalling 17 innings, while Cole leads the loop in strikeouts, and Norris has a tiny 0.82 ERA.  In the bullpen, Arik Sikula has already notched 4 saves, while relievers Chad Girodo, Blake McFarland, and Efrain Nieves have made strong contributions.
  On offense, among the leaders have been Dwight Smith, Dalton Pompey, and Emilio Guerrero, all three of whom played in Lansing last year.  Pompey is among the league leaders in stolen bases, while holdover K.C. Hobson leads the FSL in RBI with 18.
   The Lugnuts have fared well offensively so far, with D.J. Davis, Matt Dean, and Mitch Nay more than holding their own at the plate in their first year of full season ball. With an OPS of .891, Davis is beginning to show some of the vast potential that led the Jays to take the Mississippi HS product with the 17th pick of the first round of the 2012 draft.  The pitching, on the other hand has been a bit of a disappointment to date.  Top prospects like Tom Robson, Jeremy Gabryszwski, Adonys Cardona, Jairo Labourt, Albert Tirado, and Chase DeJong have had issues with command and location so far, with Tirado being removed after a 33 pitch first inning in his second start of the season.
   In fairness to the this sextet of young arms, not only is this also their debut in full season play, it's also the first exposure to the chilly conditions of the Midwest League in April for several of them.  DeJong threw four scoreless innings in the first game of the Wisconsin twin bill, striking out four, and allowing only two hits and no walks, while Tirado threw 3 scoreless frams in the nightcap, giving up two hits and three walks, while striking out six.  Gabryszwkski also seemed to put things together in his last start, giving up no earned runs over 5 innings. Robson, however, has struggled in both of his starts, and Labourt had command issues in his stint  in the doubleheader, surrendering 5 earned runs in 3 innings, striking out only 1 and walking 5.  Cardona appears to be on a short leash, throwing only 2 innings in 3 of his appearances.
   This all comes under the heading of small sample size, of course, and things could look vastly different in another two weeks.  Rookie jitters might also be responsible for Lansing's slow start, with many of its players having been assigned there in order to challenge them more.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dr James Andrews and the Epidemic of Torn UCL's

   Dr James Andrews was a guest on Sirius XM radio's "Power Alley" yesterday, discussing the supposed glut of torn UCL elbow ligaments that major and minor league baseball has seen over the past several seasons.
   It was an interesting interview from one of the pioneers of the procedure, to say the least. You can read our summary of the conversation, or listen to the link at the end of the article.

   Tampa's Matt Moore is the latest pitcher facing the prospect of Tommy John surgery to repair the damaged ligament.  In the last month, the Braves lost starters Kris Medlin and Brandon Beachy and reliever Cory Gearrin to the procedure.  Oakland ace Jarrod Parker, Arizona's Patrick Corbin, and Detroit's Bruce Rondon have also undergone the surgery in the past year.
   19 pitchers had the surgery last season, including All Star game starter Matt Harvey of the Mets, who also just lost closer Bobby Parnell to it as well. Top prospect Dylan Bundy of the Orioles is in rehab after having surgery last year, and the Pirates just lost their top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon to a torn UCL last week.
   On the Blue Jays front, top prospect Roberto Osuna is currently rehabbing from the operation, and is expected back late in August at the earliest. In 2012, Kyle Drabek (for the second time), Drew Hutchison, and Luis Perez all blew out their elbows and had the surgery, as did minor league catcher A.J. Jimenez.  Other minor league pitchers in the organization who have had a TJ performed recently include Johnny Anderson, Scott Copeland (twice), and Danny Barnes.
   So, what does Andrews attribute this rash of injuries to?
  He doesn't consider this rash of injuries an anomaly, but as part of a larger trend.
In the interview, he claimed that the most frequent visitors to his office of late are high school players, especially those who top 85 on the radar gun.  The developing ligaments and tendons of a young pitcher just can't stand up to that kind of stress.  On top of that, with more and more American high schoolers playing ball year round and in multiple leagues, there isn't sufficient time for rest and recovery from pitching, which, as we detailed in an eariler post, is an unnatural act.  He also cites poor mechanics among young pitchers (the risk of UCL injury drops starting at about age 23, depending on the individual) as another factor.
   Andrews also says that he doesn't believe that there is a miracle cure for the injury,  but he feels that it can be limited by having high school pitchers throw less, and by developing more effective treatments for the injury.  Andrews has started adding stem cell therapy during the procedure, which helps enhance the pitcher's healing.  Trouble is, it's hard to study its effectiveness, because most pitchers who undergo TJ want it, and no one wants to be in the control group.
   Andrews did acknowledge that there is some hope for Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy, which we also researched and wrote about here,  as a means of rehabbing the injury and avoiding surgery, but not enough study has been done to determine its efficacy.
   Interestingly the Sirius XM hosts didn't ask Andrews his opinion about the weighted ball program, which many teams, including the Blue Jays, have implemented throughout their organizations.  Thus far, the program, which was originally developed to strengthen the shoulder, lessening stress on the UCL, has had good reviews, but it tends to be lauded more for its velocity increasing than for its injury prevention.  Clearly, more research and study are needed - if researchers can find a sizeable enough control group.
   Our belief is similar to Andrews: given the stakes involved for highly touted high school pitchers, UCL injuries almost seem inevitable. The young arm can't take the abuse that pitching year round with a radar gun in mind involves.  It's a matter of human physiology.  Thus, major league teams are often drafting damaged goods without knowing it.  About all a club can do with a high school draftee is to minor his pitch counts religiously, and refine a prospect's mechanics to minimize the risk to the elbow.  Pitchers need to have strong core and lower body musculature in order to further reduce the exposure of that elbow joint, as well as good flexibility, and the athleticism to consistently repeat a proper delivery.  It's not just the arm that throws the ball - it's the lower body and core that create the buildup of potential energy that allows the body to propel the arm forward.  Some think that a certain body type creates the ideal pitcher - the long, lean, athletic type.  The Rays and the Jays have focussed on drafting and developing those type of pitchers, although the Rays top pitching prospect,  Taylor Guerrieri had TJ surgery last July.  And when you think of successful pitchers from the past, Roger Clemens doesn't fit the lean part, and Pedro Martinez wasn't exactly long.
   As we have discussed before, if we ran a minor league system, we would make core and lower body work part of a daily regimen for all pitchers at all levels, as well as work to strengthen the shoulders. Come draft day, we would try to factor in the workload pitchers we were considering have undergone. We would also adhere to guidelines like the Cubs', who won't allow a pitcher who has thrown at least 25 pitches in an outing to throw again for the following 24 hours, with longer enforced rest periods for higher pitch counts.  The Blue Jays, wisely, removed Alberto Tirado from his last start after throwing 33 pitches in the first inning, likely to protect his arm.
   This doesn't address the fact that UCL damage is cumulative, and much of it seems to be done before a young pitcher even graduates from high school.  MLB needs to research this issue further, and educate kids, parents, and youth baseball organizations that more has to be done to protect these developing athletes.  Maybe radar guns only get used for high school seniors, and leagues need to co-ordinate and share information about their athletes, as more and more are doing in the case of concussions in other sports. Parents should be warned about the risks of high pitch counts, the radar gun, and the need for adequate rest for their kids. Granted, as long as pro contracts and college scholarships are at stake, this will be hard to do, but in the case of MLB, it should be viewed as protecting a long term investment.

Dr Andrews interview can be heard here
Our earlier post about minor league pitcher abuse points can be found here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Daniel Norris Picking Up Where He Left Off

   Dunedin Blue Jays' lefthander Daniel Norris has shown no rust early this season in Florida State League action.  The 2nd round pick from the 2011 draft, who is ranked the club's 3rd best prospect by both ourselves and, spent most of last year with Lansing in the Low A Midwestern League, and was promoted to High A Dunedin in late August.
   After a disastrous pro debut in rookie ball in 2012, Norris got off to a slow start in full season ball last season, causing some publications like Baseball America to wonder how a prospect with such electric stuff could be hit so often and so hard.
   Norris turned things around in early May, and after sporting a 9.56 ERA through April, he posted a 3.97 ERA the rest of the way, striking out 100 batters in 85 innings.  He made one late regular season start for the D-Jays, giving up just one hit and two walks in 5 innings.
   And Norris has picked up where he left off last August, winning both of his starts so far, even though he admittedly didn't have his best stuff in his last start.  "My fastball really wasn't where I wanted it to be," he told's Kelsie Heneghan after throwing six scoreless innings against Brevard County on Saturday.  "It was not where it needed to be, command-wise, so it was nice to have three other pitches to rely on."
   Norris allowed the leadoff batter to reach in four of his six innings, but battled and made the necessary adjustments to get out of jams.  Norris has already matched his win total (two) from his 23 starts last year. striking out six and walking only one yesterday.  He has allowed only one earned run in 11 FSL innings pitched so far, striking out 11 and walking the one batter.
   We have written about Norris before - he's an interesting follow on Twitter.  Definitely not the stereoptypical myopic athlete,  he has a laid-back outlook on life, backed by a strong faith.  In the off season, Norris likes to find big waves to surf, and John Lott wrote a great article about Norris living his dream in a Westfalia van this spring.
   It's still early in the minor league season, and this is still the smallest of sample sizes, but if Norris continues to dominate FSL hitters, a promotion to AA could be in the offing for the pitcher some called the best prep lefthander in the 2011 draft.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Another Great Night on the Mound for Several Jays Prospects

    Dustin McGowan may have been tipping his pitches and his teammates were having trouble laying off Masahiro Tanaka's splitter as the big club had their home opener, but for the second straight night, several Blue Jays pitching prospects shone for their minor league clubs.
   AAA Buffalo was rained out, and will make up their game with Rochester as part of a doubleheader on June 21st.
   At AA, Deck McGuire, who is three-peating for New Hampshire, led the Fisher Cats to their second win in a row at Trenton.  McGuire, who now holds the Fisher Cats record for most starts, has been viewed mostly as a disappointment since being selected in the 1st round of the 2010 draft, showed signs of putting things together last summer, and was added to the club's 40 man roster last fall.  He was likely sent back to AA because of the depth of starters at Buffalo, but that, of course, can change quickly and drastically over the course of a season.
   McGuire allowed three hits and an unearned run before leaving the game with one out in the sixth inning.  He walked one and struck out three.  A.J. Jimenez paced New Hampshire's attack with a 3-4 night, doubling twice and driving in a pair.  The well-traveled Yusuf Carter, nephew of of Blue Jays World Series hero Joe, who the Jays signed in the off season, went 2 for 5.
   At High A, Taylor Cole gave up one run over 6 innings, allowing only one hit and two walks, striking out 7, as the D-Jays dropped an extra innings decision to Clearwater.
   And in Low A, the much-anticipated full season debut of Jairo Labourt and Alberto Tirado took place, as Labout and Tirado joined Brady Dragmire in a piggyback start on a windy and rainy Ohio night as the Lansing Lugnuts topped Lake County.  Labourt started the game, and overcame a bit of wildness to pitch into the fourth inning, surrendering one run on two hits, walking and striking out four.  Dragmire relieved Labourt and picked up the victory with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.  Tirado, who has been called "a beast in the making," by Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks, finished the game with four innings of five-hit ball, giving up one run while walking one and striking out seven. It must have been a fun introduction to a midwestern spring for the pair of young Dominicans.
   While things weren't looking all that great with the parent club last night, there's lots of promise on the farm.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Great Night For Blue Jays Prospect Starters

    The parent club may have lost their chance for their first series win at the Trop in what seems like decades last night, but there was good news aplenty for high profile Blue Jays prospect pitchers as Minor League Baseball opened its season yesterday.
   In the afternoon, Marcus Stroman pitched 4 reasonably good innings in chilly conditions in Buffalo's home opener. Stroman struck out the first two batters he faced, and then struck out the side after giving up a hit and an error.  A leadoff walk in the second came around to score against him as part of a two-run inning.  Overall, Stroman pitched 4 innings, giving up four hits to go along with those two runs, striking out four and walking the lone batter.
  Stroman was on an 80 pitch count limit, and came out of the game having thrown 73 pitches, 47 for strikes. Bisons manager Gary Allenson told the Buffalo News' Amy Moritz that while he loves Stroman's stuff,  "He has a tendency to fiddle around with hitters a little bit too much. … I would like to see Marcus get more outs where he does it in three pitches or less. A nice little ground ball early in the count. He has a tendency to go deep in the count with hitters too much."  
   In AA, top prospect Aaron Sanchez was dealing against the Yankees Eastern League affiliate Trenton.
Love this tweet from Chris King, who was following Sanchez' performance while watching High A Dunedin's Matt Boyd himself:

 Sanchez, who some were clamoring for to fill the fifth spot in the parent club's rotation (despite not having pitched above High A prior to this year), came on strong as the spring progressed, and had a lights out inning against the Mets in the Montreal exhibition series.  The righthander allowed only one hit over 5 innings, and struck out 5.  His control wavered a bit in the third, but overall he was dominating, missing a lot of bats, and inducing plenty of weak ground ball outs. We missed his final two innings thanks to a techical glitch with Milb tv, but batters appeared to be having a difficult time squaring him up.
   The above-metioned CJ Wittman gained plenty of new followers on Twitter last night.  He kept up a steady narrative about Sanchez' outing:

   Sanchez threw 67 pitches, 38 for strikes.  The bump in the command road came when rain hit. The folks in New Hampshire should enjoy Sanchez while they can if he keeps up this kind of level of performance.

   The good news continued with the performance of lefthander Matt Boyd of High A Dunedin.
King  Boyd threw 7 scoreless innings, surrendering 5 hits, no walks, and striking out 5.  King reported that Boyd sat at 89-91 with his fastball, with his command of that pitch and his curve ball sharpening as the game progressed.  He also threw in some changeups which kept the opposition off stride.  King figures only 2 balls were hit hard against him, and lefthanded hitters in general were having a tough time with him.
  Boyd has progressed rapidly since being selected in the 6th round out of Oregon State last year, starting with Lansing after signing, then was quickly promoted to Dunedin.  Of a small amount of concern is that Daniel Norris, who one would think would be the ace of the D-Jays staff, was not scheduled to start, although it seems that he will start on Sunday.  No reason was given.

   And the Low A Lansing Lugnuts played their annual cross-town match against Michigan State, and while the organization has brought in pitchers from extended spring training in the past to take the mound, Canadian Tom Robson, who figures to be a mainstay of the Lugnuts' rotation, got the start, and the righthander gave up only 1 run in three innings, allowing 2 hits, walking none (he hit a batter), and striking out 5.  Among the crew of young pitchers who finished up for Robson was 18 year old Jesus Tinoco, who surrendered a run in 2 2/3 innings, allowing 3 hits, walking none and striking out 3. 

   It's going to be a long minor league season with its share of ups and downs, but it's hard to imagine a better opening day of the season.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MLB Draft Update #3


As the major league season starts, and the college season closes in on the half way point, there have been a few interesting developments in the June draft.
   ESPN's Keith Law no longer considers NC State lefthander Carlos Rodon to be a lock as the first overall pick.  His first six starts haven't lived up to the lofty expectations many had for Rodon, and Law observed that there were a number of area scouts and cross-checkers at his last home start for teams drafting outside of the top five, indicating perhaps that his stock has fallen slightly.
   Law attributes some minor delivery flaws as a reason for Rodon's decrease in velocity, although he still acknowledges Rodon's wipe out slider.  Law has also never been impressed with the command he has of his fastball.
   Leaping ahead of Rodon in Law's rankings are California prep lefty Brady Aiken, and Texas HS right-hander Tyler Kolek.  In our last update, we had grouped Kolek with a package of players who had separated themselves from the rest of the class, and Aiken appears to have joined them.  Initial reports placed Aiken more in the 10-15 range of the first round, putting the Blue Jays in prime position to select the long and lean hurler.  Sounds like he may be off the board when it comes time for the Blue Jays, who hold the 9th and the 11th (compensation for failing to sign their first pick last year) picks of the first round.
   A name that has been linked to the Blue Jays is East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman. Hoffman was originally part of the elite group at the top of the draft, but his stock has dipped slightly since the beginning of the collegiate season.  Christopher Crawford of ESPN claims that Hoffman hasn't been missing many bats this spring, and while he has logged a high number of groundouts, his mediocre breaking ball has been the culprit behind the low strikeout totals.
   Crawford has also suggested that U of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer may be a player the Jays are taking a long look at. The younger brother of Kansas City 2012 first round pick Kyle,  Bradley has been described by one scout as one of the few five-tool players in this year's draft class.  While his tools may not be overwhelming, some think that he will put up above-average offensive numbers.  At 6'5", Zimmer may not last at his current position of centrefield, and may move to a corner outfield spot.
  Florida HS shortstop Nick Gordon was linked to the Jays in our last update, but the emphasis on the moment seems to be on the scouting of collegiate players.  While things can change greatly in the upcoming weeks, we'll keep tabs on Hoffman, Zimmer, and Gordon, and whoever else gets linked to the Blue Jays.