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.
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