Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busy Times in Prospect Land...

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 With the minor league seasons winding down and finishing regular season play next weekend, you would think that things would start to slow down a bit for someone who tracks the progress of milb prospects, but if the last 48 hours are any indication, things are finishing in a flurry of activity.
   This is not unusual, of course.  Teams that are gearing up for the playoffs often receive players from other levels of the organization that are out of a playoff hunt.

   Things got started on Tuesday night when OF Dalton Pompey returned to New Hampshire's lineup after missing three weeks with a quad injury.  We were under the impression that he had been shut down for the year, but not only was he batting leadoff for the Fisher Cats that night, we received word after the game (where Pompey was 1-4 with a 2-run HR that lead New Hampshire to victory) that Pompey was promoted to AAA Buffalo, just a step below the major leagues.

   It's been quite a year for Pompey, who has blossomed in his fifth year with the organization.  After missing much of the 2012 season with a hand injury, the native of Mississauga struggled at the beginning of 2013 with Lansing, but caught fire down the stretch, and was moved up the ladder to High A Dunedin for the 2014 season.  Pompey hit .319/397/.491 in 70 games with the D-Jays, with 29 bases in 31 attempts.  At the start of June, he was rewarded with a promotion to AA, and after going hitless in his first 13 Eastern League at bats, went on a tear, and was named to the World lineup for the Futures Game.  Hitting .432 over his last 10 games, Pompey brought his line up to .295/.378/.473.
   Pompey must be placed on the Blue Jays 40-man roster by November, or the Jays would risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft.  His inclusion on that roster is a no-brainer.  The Blue Jays have been rewarded for their patience with Pompey, and we see parallels between him and Lansing OF DJ Davis, the Jays' first round pick in 2012.  Davis has struggled in his first year of full season ball, and is in his third year with the club.  Like Pompey, Davis was drafted out of high school in a non-traditional baseball hotbed. The term used most often to describe both was raw.  It wasn't until late in his fourth year that Pompey started to turn things around.

   Yesterday, we learned that Lansing 3rd Baseman Mitch Nay was promoted from Lansing to Dunedin.  Regarded as the club's best position playing prospect prior to the season, Nay was playing his first year of full season ball with the Lugnuts.  The MVP of last year's Northwest League playoffs got off to a good start in April, slowed down a bit in May, and has been on fire at the plate almost ever since.  His power has not been there (3 HR), but that is to be expected.  What's more promising is the 34 doubles he hit with Lansing. At only 20 years of age, there's every reason to expect that some of those doubles will turn into home runs as he matures.

  Last night, we got our first glimpse of pitcher Miguel Castro of Lansing, and we were not disappointed.  Hitting 97 with his fastball, and showing nice bite on his slider and good downward movement with his change, Castro gave up a leadoff single, then retired 17 straight hitters.  He pitched into the 7th, and got into a bit of a jam with runners at first and second and none out, but got out of it, and pitched his longest professional game.
   We didn't get to see him, but lefthander Matt Smoral was just as dominant for Vancouver.  Smoral threw four scoreless innings for the Canadians, to run his streak to nine, allowing just one hit, walking a pair, and striking out 5.  Beset by control problems in his first pro season last year, Smoral has allowed only 17 walks in 38 innings this year, against 48 strikeouts.  He may not be Top 10 Prospect material yet, but he may be in the conversation by this time next year.

   We also see that Bluefield, who now appear to be a longshot to make the Appy League playoffs, promoted two of their best players today.  Richard Urena, who hit over .300 hitting leadoff while playing stellar defense at short, was promoted to Vancouver, while power hitting first baseman Rowdy Tellez was skipped to Lansing.  With Matt Dean moved from first to third to make up for the absence of Nay, Tellez likely will take Dean's spot at first.  It's interesting to see what will happen in Vancouver.  Urena is projected to stay at short as he rises through the system, while the C's incumbent, Frankie Barreto, is not.  We can't see Urena moving Barreto off of short at this point in the season, however.

   Speaking of the playoffs, Buffalo is within 3 games of a wildcard spot in the International League, Dunedin is already in the Florida State League by virtue of winning the first half of the season, and Vancouver is a half game out of a playoff spot.  Minor league playoffs may not mean all that much to the casual baseball fan, but it's a good environment for prospects to be in, and while the emphasis for much of the season is on development, playoff experience can bolster that.

   Fun times as the season winds down.

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