Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring Training Prospect Update #3

   The trickle of news coming out of spring training is turning into an April torrent.
With the Blue Jays making what's becoming their annual end-of-spring-training trip to Montreal for a pair of final exhibition games, the season opener is fast approaching.  We should know what the full season minor league rosters should look like by the end of the weekend.

Here's what's in the news:

2014 first round pick Jeff Hoffman has been making steady progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and threw in his first spring training game yesterday.  I think it went ok:

   Before we get too excited, Hoffman is still at least a month away from when-it-counts game action.  And if there's one thing we've learned about the recovery, it's that most players take closer to 18 months to fully recover their velocity and command, Roberto Osuna being a case in point.  Still, it was welcome news.

   If you don't follow our Left Coast friend Charlie Caskey (@CharlieCaskey) on Twitter, you should.  Caskey follows the Vancouver Canadians, and blogs about them for the Vancouver Sun.  Charlie also likes his barley and hops beverages, and is a dedicated dad, so he's all right in my books.
   Caskey has a source who let him in on some developments with several Blue Jays minor leaguers, and he shared some of that information in a pair of posts today.  The first involves news about the possible makeup of Lansing's pitching staff this year.  It's always interesting to see who the club sends to Lansing, the lowest of the full season teams in the organization.  Some pitchers move up the ladder from the GCL to the Appy League to the NWL one step at a time before hitting full season play in the Midwest League, while others skip one or more of those rungs and are fast-tracked to Lansing.
   And the news about Lansing isn't good.  Ryan Borucki, who made a comeback from TJ last year and pitched well at Bluefield and Vancouver, has been shut down with a sore elbow.  Maybe it's just the regular spring soreness, but it takes on added urgency when a player is throwing with a replacement ligament.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the success rate for a second Tommy John is considerably less than that of the first. This could be precautionary, of course, but he likely will be staying in Florida next week.
  Fellow southpaw Matt Smoral followed the same route as Borucki last year, and word from Caskey is that he's not had the best of springs, and he may be on the bubble.  It could just be a hiccup, or it could be he needs time in Extended Spring Training.  The Blue Jays 2nd round pick in 2012 has been brought along very slowly, but made excellent progress last year.
   Finally, yet another lefty, Jairo Labourt, seems to be having an electric spring, and may find himself in Dunedin next week.  Labourt was challenged with an assignment to Lansing last year, but had trouble with his command, and was sent back to Extended.  Sent to Vancouver to join the C's for short season play, he was one of the NWL's top prospects, and restored much luster to his reputation.
  As well, we had learned earlier in the month that Alberto Tirado will remain in the bullpen this year, and if I had to guess, he'll start with Dunedin.  Tirado struggled with the cool Midwest weather last year, and while all Blue Jays prospects raised in warm weather climates have to deal with it eventually, if he's been pitching as well as we hear he has, High A will be the better placement for him.
   Last year's 2nd rounder, Sean Reid-Foley, appears to be poised to skip both Bluefield and Vancouver for Lansing.  He's definitely on the fast track.
   On the position player side, Caskey reports that Lansing's outfield may resemble a track team, with speedsters Roemon Fields, Anthony Alford, and DJ Davis possibly getting assignments there.
   Davis, the club's first round pick in 2012, was a disappointment last year at Lansing, but was one of the youngest players in the league, and is still learning the game.  I've written extensively about Alford, the two-sport star who suddenly gave up on college football last September to focus on baseball, and while he proved during his time in Australia this winter and with the big club earlier this month that he still is raw, his ceiling is quite high.  Then there's Fields, who two springs ago was out of baseball, and working for the US Postal Service. Here he is, hitting a routine stand-up triple against the Orioles:

   According to Caskey, a Florida-based scout puts Alford ahead of Davis in terms of development.  At the same time, Davis played some of his best baseball last summer in the brief time fellow Mississippian Alford was in the lineup.  Pairing them up at least to start the season could be beneficial for both, although it's hard to see Alford spending the whole season in Lansing.  Blue Jays fans may be just as excited about Alford next spring as they have been about Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro this spring.  As for Fields, there is talk that he could start at Lansing or Dunedin.  Veteran superscout Mel Didier said that he is the best defensive outfielder in the organization, major and minor leagues.

    Caskey also reports that Catchers AJ Jimenez and Derrick Chung are out with injuries - no word on the extent with the oft-injured Jimenez, and Chung's sounds like an oblique, which isn't serious, but can be if it's not treated properly.

   Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus had a few observations about Blue Jays prospects at Spring Training today.
   About Dwight Smith, who has been playing some second base this spring, he offers: intriguing player last year in the FSL, but one likely to end up as a fourth outfielder thanks to his “tweener” profile (not enough power for a corner, not enough defense for center). Perhaps in an attempt to remedy that, he has added a rather extreme leg kick in his stance. It might cost him some contact, but if it moves his power up a tick on the scale it could be enough to make him an everyday player. Stay tuned.

    On Emilio Guerrero, who the Jays have been attempting to convert to an outfielder, Moore observed:

 The overall product doesn’t add up to the sum of the parts for Emilio Guerrero (Blue Jays), who continues to look the part but baffles scouts with below-average baseball IQ and poor execution at the plate. The frame, at 6-4 and thin, is ideal, and he handles it well enough to handle shortstop for the time being, but the lack of approach at the plate continues to hold him back.  

Speaking of Osuna and Castro, I won't be surprised to find one of them back in the minors before the end of April, and if I had to wager, it would be Osuna.  Both were almost unhittable earlier in the month, but now that rosters have been pared and hitters are getting their timing back, both have given up some contact and been touched for some runs in their last few outings.  Castro may be groomed to be a multiple innings guy, but Osuna needs to pitch, and if he has a few rocky outings, I could see him making his way back, probably to AA, where he should be stretched out as a starter again.

   Spring Training is a time of renewal, and for some players, it's a chance at redemption - another shot at the big time.  At the same time, we tend to forget that for every player who makes it to the majors, there are dozens who don't, and the end of March for some can be the-writing-on-the-wall time.  Such was the case for righthander Ben White, who announced his retirement on Twitter:

   White hails from Parksburg, PA, about an hour outside of Philadelphia, and played college ball at Temple.  White signed with the Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent following his senior year in 2011, and had advanced from Vancouver to New Hampshire, where he started a pair of games last year.  White has been a solid, if unspectacular performer for the team, pitching to contact.  If I had to speculate, there may not have been room for him in New Hampshire's rotation this year, with John Anderson converted to starting, and Taylor Cole, Matt Boyd, Casey Lawrence, and Jayson Aquino (acquired before spring training for reliever Tyler Ybarra) ahead of him, White may have felt at 26 that it was time to move on with this life.  He exited from the game in a classy manner.

One last note:
  Caskey and I compared notes about pitchers in minor league camp who have impressed, and we had one in common:  lefty Matt Boyd, who Caskey's source said has been "throwing fuel" this month.
  Boyd is another player I've written a fair amount about, and have gotten to know a little bit through our interactions on Twitter.  There's no cheering in the press box, but since I'm not a beat writer (or a journalist, really, although I try to produce quality content), I can pull a bit for this guy, who was matching Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman strike for strike last spring, until foot and elbow (bone chips) issues limited his effectiveness.

    I write a regular Monday notebook, the first issue of which should be out early next week (maybe even Monday) - I'm holding out for the announcement of those minor league rosters.

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