Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Notebook: Pompey Rising & an Osuna Sighting!

    Mississauga's own Dalton Pompey has certainly caught a major helium updraft this year.
   The 16th round pick from the 2010 draft had toiled mostly in anonymity through his first four seasons, which were all spent in A ball.
   Widely regarded as toolsy but thanks to his Canadian upbringing painfully raw, Pompey began to figure things out in Lansing last year, and put together a torrid last half of August last season, hitting .339/..473/.554 over that stretch, including a streak where he scored an incredible 9 times in a row after reaching base.
   Pompey has picked up this season exactly where he left off.  Starting the year in Dunedin, Pompey capped off a .319/.397/.471 half season with the D-Jays with a selection to the Florida State League All-Star Game, followed by being named to the World squad in Milb's upcoming Future Stars game, which was then followed by a promotion to AA.
   With trade rumours heating up as the July 31 deadline approaches, Pompey's name has started to be prominently and frequently mentioned as part of a package the Jays might offer to acquire a frontline starter to bolster their rotation.

   After a few months of silence, we have news of a Roberto Osuna sighting.
   Osuna was shut down in May of last year with elbow soreness, which eventually resulted in Tommy John surgery at the end of July.
   When last we heard, Osuna was starting to throw on flat ground at the end of spring training.  Now comes reports that he threw a live batting practice session in Florida, which was confirmed by the young righthander himself on Twitter:

Threw first live bp since last year , feel blessed to be at the mound again thnks to everyone!

   Playing stateside for the first time, Tejada has already acquired quite a following.  King says he took note of Tejada after just one batting practice session.  He's several years away, but his name is one worth filing away for future reference.

    He isn't getting a lot of publicity for doing so, but Jeremy Gabryszwski is turning in yet another solid season for Lansing.  The Jays 2nd round pick in 2011 has worked his way up the ladder one step at a time, but has gained a reputation for pitching to contact, and not missing a lot of bats.
   This year, he's fashioned five games where he's averaged at least a strikeout per inning, striking out 7 in 6 innings in his last start on Saturday.  In 92 innings, he's given up 104 hits, and Midwest League hitters are batting .287 against him.  That's still a lot of contact, but he's managed a tidy 3.33 ERA this season.  What helps Gaby is that he's usually around the plate, walking only 13 so far this season.
   He's still a longshot to earn a spot in a major league rotation, but we like the way he eats up innings.  He has made 16 starts this season, and has pitched into the 5th inning in every one of them, and into the 6th inning ten times.

   Chaz Frank, like Gabryszwski, has flown under the radar for much of the season.  The 2013 20th founder has risen quickly.  We liked what we saw of him in a brief glimpse of him at Vancouver last season.  He was maybe a touch too aggressive on the base paths, but he has shown a penchant for getting on base (.382 OBP), and has taken over from D.J. Davis at the top of the Lansing batting order, which likely will mean Davis gets to see a few more fastballs with the speedy Frank on base, which might be a huge confidence builder for the struggling Davis.

   To make room for Pompey on the New Hampshire roster, outfielder Kenny Wilson was promoted to Buffalo.  After being named to the 40-man roster in the off season, it's been quite a roller coaster ride of a season for the 6 year minor league vet.  He was DFA'd in May, and was claimed by the Twins, only to be claimed back by Toronto a few weeks later when Minnesota made the same roster move.  After a very slow start, Wilson has started to show the ability to get on base and speed that caused the Jays to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last fall.  Over his past 10 games, Wilson is .324/.425/.896, with three straight two-hit games at the top of the Bisons lineup.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tracking Blue Jays Prospect Pitchers' IP totals

   As the minor league season is now well into the second half of its season, we thought it was time to have a look at the workload some of the top pitching prospects in the system have undergone.

Previous High
Total IP as of 6/24
Cap for 2014?
Marcus Stroman
Daniel Norris
Aaron Sanchez
Matt Boyd
Alberto Tirado
Chase De Jong
Jairo Labourt
Miguel Castro
Taylor Cole
Matt Smoral

 * = incl. AFL totals  + = incl. collegiate totals  ! = incl. DSL totals

   We are ever mindful of the Year After Effect, a term that has been use in major league organizations for some time, but has only recently been in the public eye, thanks to the efforts of Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated.
   The Year After Effect suggests that a developing pitcher should not exceed his previous season's innings pitched by 25 innings, or the risk of shoulder/elbow injury increases.  This phenomenon has not been the subject of a scientific study as of yet, and number of pitches thrown per game is a more effective guideline to follow, but it's a good idea to monitor a young developing pitcher's cumulative body of work through innings pitched just the same.  
   As the chart above shows, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and lower level pitchers Jairo Labourt, and Alberto Tirado are pretty much on target (the latter two, of course, would have higher totals after starting the season in Lansing, but the organization wisely shut them down for a while before assigning them to Vancouver).  
    Daniel Norris has deservedly received a great deal of hype for his outstanding season to date, but he's on pace to eclipse the suggested 115 IP cap.  The club likely won't send him to Arizona in the fall if he goes much beyond that total.  Matt  Boyd's peak IP totals, of course, are skewed by Oregon State's run in last year's College World Series.  One would think that his pitch and inning counts will be closely watched in July and August, though.  He's pitched a considreable amount in the past 13 months.  Chase De Jong has already exceeded his previous IP high, but the club has stuck to a strict pitch count with him, and he shouldn't need to be shut down early.  
   Miguel Castro and Matt Smoral appear to have a lot of room for innings this summer, although Castro threw only 17 innings stateside last summer.  
   Taylor Cole appears to be the one pitcher who has lots of room left.  He did have a huge jump (almost double) in IP from 2012 to 2013, however, and we wonder if the club will let him go much beyond his previous high of 137.  After being dominant for much of April and May, Cole has been hit hard in his last two starts. It may be a bump in the road, or it may be the toll of a lot of innings.
    Only the organization, of course, knows how much these young pitchers have left in the tank.  We were surprised that Stroman was allowed to go back out for the 8th inning in his recent start against the Yankees, throwing a career-high 114 pitches in a great outing. Admittedly, Manager John Gibbons needed to protect a tired bullpen, but it will be interested to see how effective Stroman is in his next start.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Smoral Almost Unhittable in Appy Debut

Four Seam Images photo

For those of us who follow the progress of prospects in the Blue Jays minor league system, last night was one we've been waiting two years for.
   Lefthander Matt Smoral  was taken with the 50th pick in the 2012 draft.  A broken foot suffered before the draft and subsequent surgery cost him all of that season.  The 6'9" Ohio native made his professional debut last year with the GCL Jays and had decidedly mixed results, posting a 7.01 ERA in 25.2 innings, walking 26 and striking out 27.
   This year, Smoral stayed behind in Florida at extended spring training, and the few reports we received indicated that the lanky southpaw was starting to put things together.  Last night, making his Appalachian League debut with Bluefield as the Jays visited Kingsport, Smoral was all but unhittable.
   Smoral got off to a rocky start in the 1st inning.  A leadoff walk, followed by a Bluefield error and a Smoral wild pitch put runners at 2nd and 3rd with no outs.  Smoral regrouped, and struck out the next two batters, before walking the bases full.  A third strikeout got him out of the inning.
  Smoral settled down after that, exiting the game after the third inning, having reached his pitch limit.  Eight of the nine outs Smoral recorded were by strikeout, and he gave up one hit.  It certainly was the kind of performance the Jays had in mind when they gambled and took Smoral in the draft, when most other MLB teams were scared off by both his injury and a commitment to North Carolina.
  Smoral told Mark Emery of that he didn't have great command of his fastball last night, but he was locked in with his off-speed pitches, saying that all eight of his strikeouts came on his slider.
  Last night was likely the kind of night the Blue Jays had envisioned.  With shortstop Richard Urena and centrefielder Anthony Alford setting the table at the top of the order, the pair went a combined 6-8, and scored 5 runs, with Alford knocking in a pair of runs with a homerun in the sixth.  Clean-up hitter Rowdy Tellez, with runners on base for a change, drove in 3 runs.
   With his height, the comparison between Smoral and Randy Johnson are inevitable.  Smoral comes more from the top with his delivery than the 300-game winner, although the early control issues are comparable. With his height, the ball appears to come at hitters in a hurry.
  There are likely still to be some bumps in the road for the youngster, but the Blue Jays have to pleased with the report Bluefield Manager Dennis Holmberg would have filed last night.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Clutchlings' Monday Notebook


   Lots of things going on in the Blue Jays system right now.
On the heels of several promotions/demotions last week, both short season Vancouver, and rookie level Bluefield and the GCL Blue Jays have opened their schedules.

   It may be a small sample size, but there's a lot to like about Vancouver's Franklin Barreto. The 18 year old has been exactly as advertised for the C's, going 4-4 with a walk in the season opener, and is hitting .415/.467/.537 through their first 10 games.  We've all heard that his eventual position will be somewhere other than short, but intrepid NWL blogger Charlie Caskey reports first hand that Barreto has shown plenty of range and arm strength.  With Dawel Lugo ahead of him at Lansing, and Emilio Guerrero ahead of Lugo at Dunedin, there's a possibility that Barreto spends the whole summer in the Pacific Northwest (unless a position change was in the works, which we don't see happening).  Having just turned 18 at the end of February, there's no need to rush him, but he may turn into a special one.  He promises to be an impact bat wherever he winds up.
  19 year-old Dominican Miguel Castro has also lived up to the hype in the early going of the Canadians' season.  According to Caskey, who charted his recent home start, Castro hit 98 on the stadium gun, and sat mostly at 95.  He threw 69 pitches in the start, 48 of them for strikes.  Castro generated some buzz last year, but because he hasn't pitched a great deal stateside, scouts were a little hesitant to rave about him.  If he keeps that up, that will change. Quickly.

   Frankie Viola takes to the mound again tonight for Lansing. The knuckleballer was scored upon for the first time in his last start.  In his previous start, he picked up his first milb win since 2005.  There's a great background story from that you can read here.  If he's successful in his next start or two, we can't see the organization keeping him in Low A.  Judging from his stats, he doesn't appear to be missing a huge amount of bats, but that's being judged by his strikeout totals alone.  The hitter spray chart below suggests some  weak contact:

  Viola's rotation-mate Chase DeJong, like much of the young Lansing staff, has had his struggles.  DeJong appears on the verge of turning things around.  The 2012 2nd rounder went a season-high six innings, striking out eight, allowing no walks, and only one run on 4 hits in a Saturday start.  Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler tweeted that a scout told him that DeJong is poised for a second-half breakout.  

   Last Wednesday marked the AA debut of lefthander Daniel Norris, who gave up a pair of home runs (at least one of which was possibly wind-aided), and struck out 9 before leaving with two out in the sixth.  Norris' performance was overshadowed by a bench-clearing brawl in the 7th.  Norris had thrown at Altoona's Stetson Allie, who had homered off of Norris eariler in the game.  Altoona responded by hitting the Fisher Cats' Andy Burns, and then Jarek Cunningham of the Curve charged the mound after New Hampshire's Arik Sikula threw at him in the 7th.  Fisher Cats Manager Bobby Meacham and 8 of his players were ejected after the altercation.
   It wasn't the greatest opening weekend for the Bluefield Blue Jays, who dropped 3 of their first 4 games, and are hitting .163/.218/.171.  Anthony Alford and Rowdy Tellez have been about the only bright lights on the offensive side of the ledger.  Matt Smoral makes his Appy League debut tonight.  The tall lefthander has impressed in extended spring training, and we're interested to see what this season brings.  

   The GCL Blue Jays also began play on the back fields of the Jays Dunedin complex.  There are some interesting names on the roster, including 17 year old short stop Yeltsin Gudino, fourth round pick catcher Matt Morgan, and 2nd round pick Sean Reid-Foley.  

    It's all quiet on the top draft pick signing front, with both first rounders Jeff Hoffman and Max Pentecost still not having come to terms with the club.  Hoffman and White Sox pick Carlos Rodon are  now the only unsigned members of the top 10.  Before we get into panic mode, there are still almost three weeks left before the signing deadline.  Jim Callis of tweeted that he thinks both will sign, but it will take some time.  The slot value for Hoffman is $3.08 million, and $2.89 million for Pentecost.

    With the three short-season clubs now joining the four full-season clubs in action, things are going to get busy.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trade Daniel Norris?

    Rumours have abounded that the Jays are one of many teams in pursuit of Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.   And with good reason.  The righthander, despite his losing record with the rebuilding Cubs this season, has posted good secondary numbers.  For the Blue Jays, he would represent (along with maybe a reliable second baseman who could hit a little bit) one of the last pieces of the puzzle that would keep them near the top of the AL East.
   In the off-season, the most persistent package of prospects the Cubs were beleived to be asking for from Toronto included RHP Aaron Sanchez, and OF D.J Davis.  As spring approached, the rumoured price tag changed to one (or both, depending on the source) of Sanchez and RHP Marcus Stroman.  With the Orioles, Yankees, Angels, Giants, and several other teams supposedly pursuing Samardzija, we read last week that both the Cubs and Blue Jays had senior executives at a recent Dunedin Blue Jays game, taking in what turned out to be the last Florida State League start of LHP Daniel Norris.
   So, do we agree with the inclusion of Norris in the rumoured package deal ?  Quite simply, no.

   It's not hard to understand why the Cubs would be kicking the tires on Norris.  He's been one of the top pitchers in the lower minors this year, and will likely leap up the rankings of many mid-season top prospect lists.  And as far as Blue Jays minor league starting pitchers, he's probably been the top starting pitcher with the possible exeception of Marcus Stroman, outperforming the likes of Sean Nolin and Sanchez.
   Samardzija recently turned down a contract extension from the Cubs, and will be a free agent after the 2015 season.  While he might not post numbers in the AL East like he did in the NL Central, he no doubt would give the Blue Jays a leg up on the competition.  The Cubs reportedly have asked for a package of 4 players in return for him.  Why not make Norris part of that group?
   For starters, once you get past Norris, there are not a lot of pitchers in the Blue Jays system who are anywhere close to being ready, save for one or two pitchers like Matt Boyd (and when we say close to ready, we're talking two years).  The great Lansing rotation has not been a bust, but with two of their opening day roster pitchers out for the season, and two sent back to extended spring training, it has fallen short of what the club's expectations likely were.  Beyond Nolin, Sanchez, and Norris, there are really no MLB-ready options for several seasons, meaning that the club would have to go the trade or free agent route if they needed to upgrade or replace parts of their starting rotation.  And we all know how those two options went for the club last off-season.
   In addition, we're beginning to think that Norris' ceiling is higher than mid-rotation starter, as was originally believed.  Thought to be one of the top prep southpaws in the 2012 draft, Norris' struggles in his first year and a bit of pro ball took away a lot of lustre to his reputation.  He was hit around a bit in his AA debut, but it also sounds like there was a favourable wind blowing out that night, and it's hard to overlook that 9K:1BB part of his line.  MiLB's pitcher of the month for May looks like he won't be overmatched by AA hitters.  Granted, you have to give up something to get something back, but we wonder if the price tag is too high if Norris is part of the deal.
   Then there was the Blue Jays recent sweep in New York by the Yankees.  With a club that takes adavantage of its ridiculous right field dimensions, a lefthanded pitcher can help to neutralize that faux power is a must . If I'm Alex Anthopolous, and my team plays 3 series in that bandbox, I want all the lefthanded power pitching help I can get.  It was particularly revealing in the opener that Marcus Stroman, after giving up what would have been a routine fly ball but went off the left field foul pole to Brett Gardner, turned from power pitcher to nibbler against left handed hitters, and saw his pitch count elevate to the point where he was out of the game with two out in the fourth.  I would also want that left handed pitching to battle against the other top left handed hitters in the division, like Big Papi Ortiz and Chris Davis.  He is still likely at least a year away (and doesn't even have to be put on the 40-man roster until the end of the 2015 season), but Norris could become a key member of the Toronto rotation.
   Who do you give up, then ?  We've heard the possibilites of Sanchez or Stroman, and this week on Twitter, Jon Morosi of Fox SN suggested Mississauga's own Dalton Pompey, currently patrolling CF for Dunedin, would be "very hard for the Jays to give up on," as part of the Samardzija deal.  And while there's a wealth of talent in the lower levels of the Jays system, and we've been saying for some time, that type of talent tends to be of little interest to even a team in the Cubs' competititive life cycle.  Davis has shown glimpses of his immense potential, but he has also shown that he's still several years away.  We still hold out high hopes for Sanchez, but we think his progress has not been as great as we had hoped it would be.
   Given Samardzija's potential price tag, it may makes sense for the Blue Jays to look at his teammate Jason Hammels, who has been an effective starter for the Cubs in his own right, and would command a lesser trade package.
   Yes, we follow our Blue Jays prospects pretty closely, Norris especially,  He's a great follow on Twitter, with philosophical insights that you don't get from your average pro athlete.  He seems like a young man with a strong faith, a great family background, and a good head on his shoulders, someone who seems well prepared to deal with the ups and downs of  life in baseball.  Having said that, we don't really think anyone in the system should be untouchable if the right deal comes along.
   In our Monday notebook, we listed some of the questions an MLB club should be asking itself when trading prospects for established major leaguers, such as:

1.  How does the ceiling of the prospect(s) compare to the established player?
   We would suggest that they are at least equal, with Samardzija right at the peak of his abilities, and Norris a few seasons away. If Norris continues at his current rate, it's not unreasonable to expect that he could surpass Samardzija in most metrics.  You can't really compare their minor league numbers, with Norris having turned pro out of high school and Samardzija having gone the collegiate route, but we would have to say that at this point in his career, Norris is far more advanced than Samardzija was.

2.  Are there players close to the talent level of the prospect(s) remaining in the system?
   Depending on which other prospect(s) are included in the deal, there's quite a gap between Norris and the rest of the system. A deal of this magnitude would empty the upper levels of the system for the second time in 18 months.

3.  Will the player(s) being traded for the prospect likely  have a profound and instant impact on the major league team?
    That's debatable, of course.  Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, and Joey Votto call the division home, but only the Brewers are in the top 10 of any MLB team offensive category. It's kind of comparing oranges to apples, but it's hard to argue that the NL Central is as difficult as the AL East.  Thus, there's bound to be an adjustment period for any pitcher who crosses leagues and would pitch for the Blue Jays.

   We've overlooked a lot of other considerations, of course. Based on the above,  we're hard pressed, though, to agree to include Norris as part of a trade for Samardzija.  We would prefer to deal second-tier prospects for Hamels.
    It's a basic tenet of most pro sports that if you can improve your roster without giving up a player on your roster, you should make that deal.  It's also true that prospects are just that - they're not proven MLB players.  When we add up the pros and cons of this deal, we think that while we would like to see Samardzija in the Blue Jays rotation far more than we would like to see him in the Yankees' or the Orioles', we think the rumoured price tag is more than the Jays can afford.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Notebook


Promotions, a comeback, and another affiliate starts its season.
There are a lot of things going on in Blue Jays Land (Minor League Edition)......

   Aaron Sanchez was the first of several promotions, from AA to AAA.
We had the opportunity, thanks to a long drive on the 401, to listen to his debut on the Bisons broadcast network.  In a pregame interview, Sanchez told Bisons's play-by-play man Ben Wagner that the reason for those two disastrous May outings had to do with mechanical tweaks the club had made to his delivery.  They had done something similar to his windup last July in Dunedin, but judging by the numbers from his last two starts at New Hampshire, Sanchez had the bugs worked out.
   Showing a case of nerves in his International League debut against Toledo, walking the first batter on 4 pitches.  He regained his composure, and promptly picked the runner off first, and mostly sailed through the first three innings, and was an out away from getting out of trouble in the fourth, when a rehabbing Cody Rasmus inexplicably lost track of a long fly ball at the warning track.  Sanchez pitched to 3 batters in the 5th without recording an out, before being removed for hitting his pitch limit.  In 4 innings, he was charged with 5 runs, 4 of them earned, and gave up six hits, walking four and striking out 2.  Despite the rocky end to his start, Sanchez induced a lot of weak contact in his first three innings.  He threw 86 pitches, 47 for strikes.  We expect a better result next time.

   Daniel Norris and Dunedin teammate Derrick Chung also were promoted, from Dunedin to New Hampshire.  The pair were our pitcher and player of the month, respectively, for May, and Norris was minor league ball's player of the month as well.   Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun reported that senior executives from both the Jays and the Cubs were on hand last week, as rumours of a deal between the two clubs for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija have heated up.  There's little doubt that if those rumours are true, Norris would likely be near the top of the list of prospects the Cubs would be asking for in return for Samardzija.  That got us to thinking - we've never been in a MLB club's front office, and we likely never will be, but here are the questions we think a club would be asking itself when it is on the verge of dealing one (or more) of their top prospects:

1.  What is the ceiling of the prospect(s) involved ?  How does it compare to the player(s) they will get in return?
2.  Are there players close to the talent level of the prospect(s) remaining in the system?
3.  Will the player(s) being traded for the prospect likely  have a profound and instant impact on the major league team? Is he worth the prospect(s) being asked for?

  We have no idea if this deal will ever be consummated, of course, but the Orioles are said to be kicking the tires on Samardzija as well.  As deadline day approaches and Samardzija continues to pitch well, it will be a question of which team has the most to offer.  Norris' Eastern League debut should come this Wednesday, and it's an game.

   He's a long, long way away, but it's hard not to be cheering for knuckleballer Frank Viola III, who
is attempting something of a comeback with Lansing.  We say something of a comeback for the son of the former Cy Young winner because while he hasn't pitched in affiliated ball since 2007, he's never pitched above short season.  A 29th round pick of the White Sox in 2004, Viola underwent Tommy John surgery in 2006, and was released after the 2007 season.  Viola then pitched in independent ball, and was out of the game entirely when he approached then-Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey in the spring of 2012  for  lessons on how to throw the knuckleball.
   Viola impressed enough this spring for the Jays to offer him a minor league contract, and after opening the season in Extended Spring Training, he was promoted to the Lugnuts last week.  In his first Midwest League start, Viola gave up no runs in 4 innings, allowing 3 hits,  walking four and striking out the same number.  In his next start, Viola again wasn't scored upon, but was the beneficiary of six double plays, as he gave up 8 hits before leaving the game with two out in the 7th.
   Viola throws a fastball and a seldom-used change, and three different knuckleballs.  Clearly, he still has a long road ahead of him, but the results so far are encouraging.

      It's shaping up to be another great summer for fans of the Vancouver Canadians.  One of the most successful and best-run franchises in all of minor league baseball, the three-time defending Northwest League champs opened their season winning three of four from Salem-Kaizer, and only a bullpen meltdown stopped them from a four game sweep of the Volcanoes.
   Usually stocked with college grads and advanced (for that level) but low-ceilinged prospects, the C's have some of the top prospects in all of baseball on their roster this season.
   Alberto Tirado, Jairo Labourt, and Miguel Castro were the starting pitchers for Vancouver over the weekend, and they didn't disappoint.  The offence has been led by shortstop Frankie Barreto, who went 4-4 with a walk in his NWL debut, and hit .583 for the weekend - a 2-5 game on Sunday actually dropped his batting average.  Small sample size for Barreto and the club aside, this promises to be a strong outfit.  If first round pick Max Pentecost reaches a contractual agreement with the Blue Jays, the Lower Mainland is his likely first destination.
   We had a chance to take in a few C's games last year, and they run a first-class operation, with great in-game ops, a quaint neighbourhood stadium, and Granville Island craft beer at the concessions.  If you find yourself in Vancouver this summer, a C's game is a must.
   While the Canadians were having a successful opening weekend, another Blue Jays affiliate was gearing up for play later this week.  The Bluefield Blue Jays made it to the first round of the Appalachian League playoffs, and while their recently released roster for this season may not be as prospect-laden as Vancouver's, there are a number of names worth following.  The pitching staff will be led by 2012 sandwich-round pick Matt Smoral, whose pro debut was delayed until last summer due to foot surgery.  Joining Smoral in Bluefield will be 2013 5th round pick Daniel Lietz, and Jesus Tinoco.  An interesting story will be the progress of pitcher Carlos Ramirez, who until a month ago patrolled the outfield for Lansing, but after six largely nondescript milb seasons has been converted to a pitcher.
   On the other side of the ball, the Bluefield Jays will feature Lydell Moseby (nephew of the former Jays centrefielder), Richard Urena (who, unlike Barreto and Dawel Lugo, who are ahead of him in the system, is actually forecasted to stay at shortstop), Rowdy Tellez (who may not last long at this level - we had thought he would open with the C's, but with only 124 milb at bats, the Jays are taking things slowly with him),  2011 first round pick Jacob Anderson (who missed much of 2013 and all of 2014 with a rib injury), and two-sport star Anthony Alford.

   One last promotion that we should mention is that of catcher Santiago Nessy, from Lansing to Dunedin.  After something of a lost 2013, Nessy has regained much of his prospect lustre.  A superb defensive catcher and handler of pitchers, Nessy was a leader with the Lugnuts, and had made a strong contribution with his bat.  Peterborough native Mike Reeves didn't see a lot of playing time behind Chung in Florida, and will likely split the catching duties with Nessy.
    Update:  As might be expected, promotions create a domino effect of other promotions.  Promoted to fill Nessy's spot in Lansing was Daniel Klein, who will share playing time with the amazing Jorge Saez.  First Baseman K.C. Hobson was promoted from Dunedin to New Hampshire, and L.B. Dantzler was elevated from Lansing to Dunedin.  

    The Blue Jays have now signed 24 of their 41 draft picks.  Sean  Reid-Foley, Nick Wells, Matt Morgan, and Lane Thomas, the 2nd through 5th picks, have signed.  At this point, the club has spent $2.9 of their allotted $9.45 million bonus money.  First picks Jeff Hoffman and Pentecost, of course, remain unsigned.  The deadline for signing is July 18, and if Pentecost fails to sign the Jays lose the pick in next year's draft, as it was a compensation pick for failing to come to terms with California HS pitcher Phil Bickford last year.  Both have a year of college eligibility left, but even though the negotiations between both picks and the club have been kept private, the likelihood of either turning down the Jays' bonus offers and returning to college would have to be considered slim.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Jumps Between Minor Leagues

   We've been on this topic of player development being an ongoing, and sometimes lengthy process for a while now. Most often when we think of that process, we think of the jump between AAA and the Major Leagues as being the biggest.  In the opinion of most sources we've consulted, that leap is just one of many major players have to make, and the gap between A ball and AA may in fact be the biggest.

   A ball is actually divided up into four different levels.  At the bottom rung is complex ball, for players drafted right out of high school,  college players drafted in the low rounds, and international players (many of whom played in complex leagues in their own countries, essentially making a fifth level).  Complex teams train and play at the spring training site of their parent club, on the back fields, with only a smattering of team officials, parents, and girlfriends watching.  Players at this level are learning about what being a pro player and playing every day is all about.
   Above the complex leagues is short season ball, with compacted seasons that begin in mid-June, and wrap up playoffs by the first weekend in September. This is the next step for complex league grads, as well as the first step for top college draft picks.  Life here essentially is the same as in the lower level in that the players are constantly learning and refining their skills, but with the added element of travel, and playing in front of bigger crowds.
  Finally, we get to A ball, which actually is divided into two levels.  Low A ball is for players who are getting their first shot at playing almost every day from April to September, after which (if they're successful), they move on to High A ball.
   So, by the time a player makes it to High A, he already has had several jumps and corresponding adjustments to make.  But the jump from there to AA  is considered by many to be the biggest one of all.
  Jeff Moore penned an article in the Hardball Times about the transition between the two levels, in which he termed AA ball "the entrance to the 'upper minors'."  AA is where, according to Moore, "hitters and pitchers begin to have a plan."  At this level, players can no longer get by on the strength of their raw skills and talents alone.  A pitcher who doesn't have an effective off-speed pitch, for example, will not succeed, because the hitters on this level will sit and wait on his fastball, which AA hitters can get around on more consistently than the lower level hitters can.  Similarly, a hitter who can't hit a good off-speed pitch will be exposed, too.
   The competition at AA is much closer to that of the major leagues than the low minors are, Moore suggests, and he points to the number of players who have jumped from AA to the majors as a result.  When the Blue Jays had their farm team in Las Vegas and the aerodynamic environment of the Pacific Coast League, they preferred to have their top pitching prospects performing in the more pitcher-friendly confines of New Hampshire (when Brett Cecil was demoted to get himself together a few years ago, the club sent him to the Fisher Cats, in order to protect his confidence). Some teams even prefer to keep their top prospects at AA if they're part of a winning group, rather than promote them to a mediocre AAA club.
   Moore even went as far as to say that:
          " could argue that the pure talent level (in AA) is higher because players are
           heading in an upward direction as opposed to the stagnation that tends to take
           place with some AAA players."

    To further demonstrate the difference between the upper and lower minors, Moore related the story of a college coach he had worked with who had played a few years of pro ball before turning to coaching.  The coach told Moore that he had more success in the upper levels than he did in the lower ones.  The reason was that the pitchers he faced in the low minors had electric arms, but no control.  As he moved up the ladder, he found that pitchers had better secondary pitches and control, but didn't throw overwhelming heat without a clue where it was going.
   We spoke with the Blue Jays Matt Boyd, who was promoted to AA in early May, after being lights out in High A ball with Dunedin.  Predictably, he struggled, and after a month, he found himself back in Florida.
We asked him about the differences between A and AA:

     "The biggest difference is the experience of the hitters, I faced a lot of older hitters, and they had better approaches. But I know my failures were due to my own doing, (to) sort of speak. I wasn't throwing the same as I did in Dunedin. I hurt my foot in my first start and after it healed I couldn't repeat my mechanics. That was my downfall, I couldn't repeat what got me success in high A."

   Boyd has continued his domination of FSL hitters since his return to the Sunshine State, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his most recent start.  While teammate Daniel Norris might be next in line to fill the rotation spot in New Hampshire left by the promotion of Aaron Sanchez to Buffalo, it's only a matter of time before Boyd is back in AA, and he will no doubt be better prepared for his next trip to the "Upper Minors."