Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring Training Prospect Update #2

    One of the great ironies of spring training is that while fans who can't make the journey to Florida or Arizona can still keep close tabs on their teams thanks to the plethora of reporters and media outlets, it's hard to find out what's going on in Minor League camp unless you have some sources on the "inside," - or at least something close to it.

   Nonetheless, there still is some news coming out of Minor League camp.
Today, we learned that Anthony Alford and Jack Murphy had been reassigned from the big club's camp, joining Dwight Smith, Jr, and Mitch Nay, who had been sent down earlier.

Through the magic of live streaming, I was able to watch Alford's debut against the Orioles:


  Speaking of Alford, there was a good article about him on ESPN.com.  While it didn't provide much that we didn't already know, there were some good insights into Alford's reaction to having to go to Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Frazee to tell him he was giving up football for baseball.  And we hadn't thought about the Bo Jackson comparison the article made, but it kind of makes sense.  He was overmatched at times against the higher level pitching he faced this spring, but he wasn't sent to big league camp to earn a job, but to soak up the atmosphere, and learn from major leaguers like Jose Bautista.  Those of us diehard fans who stayed tuned to the Blue Jays games earlier this month after the regulars had been removed from the lineup got a glimpse of his athleticism and speed.  When asked about who impressed him the most at major league camp, he replied without hesitation, "Bautista and Donaldson."

Some other news and tidbits:

-Matt Boyd tested out his surgically cleaned-out elbow earlier this week, and pronounced it fully healed.
-Clinton Hollon, who had Tommy John surgery a month ago, was throwing well in bullpen sessions, and is scheduled to return to competition in late April or early May.  The 2013 2nd rounder hit 95 with his fastball prior to the surgery. If you're looking for a sleeper breakout candidate this year, he may be the one.
-Canadian Justin Atkinson is being converted to catcher.  The 2011 26th rounder hit well in Lansing last year, and it will be interesting to see where he's assigned to start the year.
-Lane Thomas, a steal of a 5th round pick last year who opened a lot of eyes, has been taking reps at second base so far in minor league camp.
-the Buffalo Bisons began minor league spring training today, and have a slate of games against Dunedin/Clearwater teams.
-via Chis King of Baseball Prospectus (@StatsKing on Twitter), who watched the Blue Jays minor leaguers play against Puerto Rico yesterday, we had good reports on Catcher Matt Morgan's footwork, and Sean Reid-Foley's nasty slider.  Angel Perdomo started the game for the Blue Jays, and was squared up a bit in the first, but straightened things out in the second.
-there are some nice prospect profiles (mostly Blue Jays) coming out of Dunedin, via the Toronto Observer, by students at Toronto's Centennial College J-School that make for good reading.  The trip to spring training is part of the course of study for their fast-track journalism program - many Ontario colleges now offer similar courses. The program is open to college or university grads.


   By now, you all are familiar with the lights-out springs Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have had.  Neither has been scored upon yet, and both were featured in the Blue Jays win over the Yankees on Tuesday night. Castro was all but unhittable, retiring 8 straight Yankees in his outing, while Osuna was hit hard on a couple of occasions, but escaped a pair of threats unscathed.  Castro has shown a vastly improved change up, which would be a devastating weapon paired with his electric fastball - in relief.
  I've made my feelings known about both.  Castro is only 20, pitched 80 innings last year, and has thrown all of 8 innings above Low A.  Osuna is the same age, is 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and has thrown 23 innings at High A.  Both would benefit from more time in the minors, in order to build up arm strength and develop their secondary pitches.  Castro, in particular, has pitched even better than he did last year, but the second half of spring training is where it counts, as teams pare down their rosters, and hitters begin to get their timing down.
  I would prefer both return to the minors, starting at Dunedin until the weather warms up, and then on to New Hampshire, and who knows?  Castro would be pitching in almost exclusively high leverage situations if he pitched out of the Blue Jays bullpen, and Osuna still needs to be treated with care - he's almost out of the woods, but not quite.  Just look at Kyle Drabek, who is in a life and death struggle to make this team, almost three years after this second Tommy John.  And for those who have forgotten, Drabek was the Blue Jays top prospect two years running prior to 2012.  They paid a heavy price in acquiring him, and they paid a similarly high one in the form of the $1.5 million signing bonus they gave Osuna.
  But I'm not facing an expiring contract, and the spectre of a new boss, and the longest playoff drought in baseball like Alex Anthopoulos is.  Castro is looking more and more like the one who will stick - most of the hitters Osuna faced won't likely be playing in the majors next month.  If they do take Castro north with them, the Blue Jays will have to treat his young arm very carefully.  And is that worth the risk?  We all know the importance of the bullpen, but the top-ranked bullpen in the game last year was beaten by the 28th-ranked team.  And the teams with the 24th, 26th, and 27th ranked bullpens made it to the playoffs as well.  The top 10 bullpens produced the same number of playoff teams.  The reason for this, of course, is simple: there are other aspects, like a strong starting rotation, or a run-producing offence, that are just as important - if not moreso - than a bullpen.  Will Castro make that much of a difference?  Would we rather not have him pitch about 140 innings as a starter next year, as opposed to maybe 80-90 as a reliever this year?  The top-ranked reliever, in terms of WAR (Baseball-Reference's model) ranked 28th overall among MLB pitchers last year, and there was a grand total of 5 relief pitchers in the top 50.
   Only the Blue Jays brain trust knows for sure.
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