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.
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