With minor league baseball approaching its mid-season all-star break for full season leagues in a few weeks, we thought that we would take a look at some players in the Jays system who might be in line for a promotion to the next level.
We don't know the plans the organization has for these players, of course. We're looking at things mostly from a numbers perspective, with the odd bit of info gleaned from a handful of sources.. The farm department has a much better idea if a player is mature enough both physically and emotionally to handle the jump that comes from playing at a higher level. And that's something that we, as fans, tend to forget: at the next level, the fastballs are faster, curveballs sharper, and the pitchers generally pitch with better control. The hitters are more apt to get around on a fastball, or sit on a pitch if the pitcher is having command issues. The defences are better, and the catchers are able to throw out base runners more frequently. Promoting a player before he's ready, of course, can do more harm than good. At the same time, with 40 man roster decisions looming in the off season, promoting a prospect now gives them time to adjust to the new level, and gives the organization a better barometer by which to measure them.
1. Daniel Norris
There's not much more to say about the lefthander. He has dominated the Florida State League, and only the need to economize his pitch count and throw his fastball down in the zone a little more keeping him there.
For his first 10 starts of the season, Norris has gone 4-0, with a miniscule 0.72 ERA, striking out 60 in 50 innings. Norris has mixed his fastball with a devastating change, but will need to develop his slider more to get Eastern League hitters out. Norris has been the best pitching prospect in the organization not named Marcus Stroman.
The Blue Jays may opt to keep Norris in Florida a little past the break in order to protect his arm, but his ascension to AA is only a matter of time.
2. John Stilson
Stilson got off to a slow start in his second stint in Buffalo this season, but he has been lights out over the last month out of the Bisons' pen, striking out 20 in 15 innings, and surrendering but a pair of earned runs.
Stilson, a converted starter, is a power arm whose road to the majors has likely been blocked by Todd Redmond, who is out of options, and a pitcher the club wanted to keep around after a decent performance last year. With the starting rotation having mostly righted itself after a rocky April, Redmond has been shuttled to mop up duty, and he has been ill-suited to the role. It would be a shame to lose Redmond, but at 29, we can't see keeping him over Stilson, who is 5 years younger.
3. Santiago Nessy
His bat has cooled off a bit, but Nessy has been lauded as a team leader and a deft handler of a young pitching staff in his return to Lansing after an injury-riddled 2013 season. With AJ Jimenez promoted to AAA, we can see a scenario in which Derrick Chung (see below) is moved from Dunedin to New Hampshire, creating a spot in Florida for Nessy.
4. Dalton Pompey
Pompey first began to gain notice with a hot August last season with Lansing. He capped his 2013 season off with a MILB Gold Glove Award.
This season, Pompey has more than responded to hitting in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. In his fifth year in the system, the Mississauga native has closed the gap between himself and American and Latin-born players in the organization. Pompey has slashed .330/.410/.489 in 47 games, adding 19 stolen bases. At 21, Pompey would be one of the younger players in the Eastern League if he was promoted, but with New Hampshire having promoted outfielder Kenny Wilson to Buffalo, it seems as if a spot may have been opened up for Pompey.
5. Taylor Cole
At 24, Cole is something of a late bloomer. In Norris' (and before his promotion, Matt Boyd) shadow this season at Dunedin, Cole has developed excellent fastball command, and has struck out 75 hitters in 60 innings. Improved fastball command and the development of his secondary pitches have allowed him to miss a lot of bats in High A. Cole is a little old for this level, and might benefit from a bump up to AA.
6. Griffin Murphy
Murphy is the only Lansing Lugnut we feel is ready for a promotion.
The Lugs are one of the youngest teams in the Midwest League, and we were excited to get a glimpse of their roster in April.
The club has perhaps their greatest depth and wealth of prospects at this level, but it's been an up and down season for several of their prospects, many of whom just experienced their first Midwestern spring, which was a typically chilly and wet one.
The lefthanded Murphy has been one of the stabilizing influences in the Lansing bullpen. Repeating Lansing this season, the 2nd round pick in 2010 has emerged as something of a power arm, striking out 32 in 24 innings. At 23, he doesn't have anything left to prove at this level.
7. Derrick Chung
After a torrid May at the plate, Chung is hitting .331/.411/.463. Having fully committed to catching duties for over a year now, Chung has received high marks for his handling of Dunedin's pitching staff. At 26, he is old for this level, and with Jimenez promoted to Buffalo, there maybe is room for a catcher at New Hampshire. Chung's promotion would also allow playing time for both Nessy and Canadian Mike Reeves, who has backed Chung up so far this season.
8. One of More of Efrain Nieves, Arik Sikula, or Chad Girodo
And as we type this, we see that Sikula has been promoted to New Hampshire, joining fellow former D-Jay infielder Jose Flores.
As much as the Dunedin starters have gained much of the attention for Dunedin's dominant April and May, this bullpen trio has been absolutely lights out.
With Sikula handling the closer duties, the three relievers have cumulatively struck out 83 FSL hitters in 71 innings, giving up only 39 hits and a dozen walks. Sikula has already recorded 15 saves.
At 26, it was time for Sikula to move on, and the same might be said for the 25 year-old Nieves. Girodo the youngest of the group at 23, was a 9th round pick out of Mississippi State last year, and may have been drafted more as an org guy, but the sidearming lefthander is profiling as another one of those power arms the organization seems to be stockpiling.
And as if to underscore what we said above, a quick check of Twitter reveals that Boyd has been sent back down to Dunedin, just as we were about to hit the "publish" button.
Boyd was roughed up in his last start for New Hampshire, giving up 6 earned runs in an inning and a third. We thought he was beginning to figures things out in his previous start, but the organization obviously feels that Boyd could use some more time in High A. For 6 starts in AA, Boyd was 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA, and an unsightly WHIP of almost 2. Whether or not this opens up a spot in the New Hampshire rotation for Norris, it does reinforce the notion that a leap from one level to the next is often a huge one for many prospects. Boyd was as dominant as Norris has been in Florida, and while he struck out a batter an inning in AA, he clearly was missing bats, but not enough of them to stay.