Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Monday Notebook


 Here it is, folks, our last Monday Notebook of the minor league season.

This was truly a great year to be following Blue Jays prospects.  Only two affiliates made the post season, but a number of prospects, starting with Marcus Stroman, who was soon followed by Aaron Sanhcez, who in turn was followed by a bevy of prospects (featuring Daniel Norris) when major league rosters expanded on September 1st were promoted to the majors.  And the promotions were not limited to the upper level prospects, as players like Miguel Castro were aggressively elevated, which was a sharp contrast to previous seasons.
  The highlight of the past week, of course, had to be Norris' mlb debut.  All Manager John Gibbons asked of the lefthander, now pitching out of the bullpen as he has surpassed his innings limit for the year, was to get David Ortiz out in the 7th inning of a crucial game.  Here's how he fared:

 
  • Pitcher
    D. Norris
  • Batter
    D. Ortiz
SpeedPitchResult
174CurveballCalled Strike
277ChangeupBall
393Fastball (Four-seam)Ball
490Fastball (Four-seam)Ball
591Fastball (Four-seam)Foul
671CurveballCalled Strike

    After starting Papi off with his nasty hook, Norris missed with three pitches out of the strike zone, low and away.  Ortiz just managed to foul off the 5th pitch, likely with that breaking ball in the back of his mind, and then Norris put him away with another curve - not one that bent as much as the first, but it caught enough of the inside corner to catch the feared slugger looking to end the 7th.
   Norris' fellow prospect Kendall Graveman had his own challenge the next inning, pitching to Yoenis Cespedes to start the inning.  Graveman gave up a line drive base hit to Cespedes, and then was lited in favour of Aaron Loup, who allowed Cespedes to come around and score, giving Graveman an ERA of infinity until at least his next outing.

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  The gave it a great try, but in the end a four-peat just wasn't in the works for the Vancouver Canadians, but they did make it to the Northwest League Finals for the fourth successive year.
  The C's clinched a playoff spot on the next to last day of the season, and then dispatched division Spokane rival to reach the finals, where they were in tough against Arizona's affiliate, the Hillsboro Hops. Hillsboro, the oldest team in the league, led the NWL in wins during the regular season, and proved to be a formidable opponent for Vancouver.
  The first game of the best of three final was played in Vancouver, and the Canadians got off to a roaring start, scoring five runs over the first two innings.  The usually reliable C's pitching staff couldn't hang onto the lead, however, and the Hops took Game 1 by a score of 7-5.
  The series switched to Hillsboro for Game 2, with Matt Smoral taking the mound for Vancouver as they sought to even up the series.  Smoral, who has been tabbed by some as a possible breakout performer next season, had what might have been some jitters in his first post-season start.  He walked the first Hops batter, then threw the ball away on a pick off attempt.  A rattled Smoral gave up three runs to Hillsboro, and then gave up another in the second without giving up a hit, via a hit by pitch, stolen base, advancement on a groundout, and a wild pitch.
  The C's battled back, scoring single runs in the 4th, 6th, and 7th.  With two out and a pair of men on in that inning, Rowdy Tellez smashed a drive to the deepest part of the ball park for the final out.  Like Tellez's fly ball, the C's came up just a few inches short from their fourth title in a row, as the Hops' bullpen shut them down over the final two innings to preserve the win, and give Hillsboro the title.
   Still, you would have to consider the season a wildly successful one for the franchise.  For the 7th year in a row, they finished 2nd to Spokane in attendance, drawing over 180 000 fans to Nat Bailey, for an average of 4 870 a game.  

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   The Dunedin Blue Jays were the only other affiliate to reach the post-season, and unlike Vancouver, were unable to get past the first round, as they were swept in a pair of games by the Cubs powerful Daytona affiliate.
   The first half winning D-Jays were 7 games under for the second half.  Wracked by promotions, Dunedin stumbled down the stretch, losing 8 of their final 10 regular season games.  And starters Matt Boyd and Taylor Cole, who were unhittable for stretches of the first half, were clearly running on fumes as the season wound down.  Boyd gave up 8 hits and 4 earned runs against Daytona in his last regular season start, and was pounded by the Cubs again in the playoffs, touched for 8 hits and 7 earned runs after exiting the game with one out in the fourth.  Cole lasted only 1.1 innings in his start, allowing 6 hits and as many earned runs.
  Young guns Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro may have helped in the playoffs, but the latter was at his innings limit for the season, while the former likely would have started if the series had gone to a third game.  Boyd and Cole were better bets to start, at least on paper, because of their age and experience.

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 In our post about the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth's one and only minor league home run in Toronto last week, we neglected to mention the inspiration for the post.
   Gift of the Bambino, by Toronto author Jerry Amernic, is a heart-warming tale about a young boy's relationship with the game and his grandfather, with Babe Ruth skillfully woven into the plot several times over the course of twenty years.  Amernic devoted a chapter to Ruth's home run game at Hanlan's Point, and did a masterful job of painting a picture of the young city in the early years of the last century, and baseball's place in it.  We thoroughly recommend the book, which we found on Amazon. Amernic also painted a detailed portrait of Ruth's last game, which was a performance for the ages that we seldom hear about.  Well worth a read.
   We tried to paint a smaller portrait of Toronto that Labour Day weekend 100 years ago, in a young nation about to take its place on the international stage for the first time, as the world went to war. There were scant newspaper mentions of the game, so thanks to the box score and Amernic's narrative, we tried to connect the dots and give you an outline of the landmark day.
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  We will dial things back a bit in the off-season, but we will endeavour to keep the posts coming.  We'll watch with interest and post about any Blue Jays prospects that capture end of season awards, and we will also scour Baseball America's top prospects by league lists, due later this month.
  We will come up with our own end of season awards for players in the system this month, and post our top prospect lists in October, or maybe November.  We'll report on the performances of the Jays prospects playing the Arizona Fall League, post an essay or two, and before you know it, it will be time for spring training.
  Thanks to many people who have put up with this obsession of ours, including my wife Sherry, my dogs, Olive and Daphne, and Twitter friends Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Trey Wilson, Charlie Caskey, Kevin Fitzgerald, and Chris King.  Thanks for answering my many questions, guys.
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