Thursday, June 25, 2015

What to Expect from Matt Boyd

  Before we begin, a disclaimer:

   I've been a Blue Jays fan since Day One.  My parents, knowing that their youngest son was obsessed with baseball (a trait inherited from his father and brother), let me skip school the afternoon of that snowy 1977 Home Opener.
   I have also been a fan of minor league baseball for much of that time.  In the pre-internet days of the early 90s, I booked a conference in Woodstock, ON, not for the professional skills upgrading it would give me as much as because the Expos AA team, which featured Rondell White and Cliff Floyd, would be visiting nearby London, then home to the Tigers AA team, for a series.  I had been reading about the pair in Baseball America for some time.
   I have been writing for prospects for three seasons now.  Matt Boyd is the first prospect that I have followed from MLB draft to the major leagues.  I've corresponded with him on Twitter, and I have found him to be a genuine and likeable young man.  He is very devout, and plans to do some volunteer ministry work with his young bride Ashley.  His college coach Pat Casey had this tribute:

“When you coach young men—and it’s difficult enough, but he’s a no-maintenance guy,” Casey said of Boyd. “He takes care of everything. He goes to school, does well in school, trains. He’s the guy you never have to worry about. He’s just easy to coach; he’s just a great kid . . . And he’s just—he’s a really fun kid to coach and he’s a great man.”

   I say all of this because I know that a journalist should try to be impartial.  Having said that, just as I have said many times that I'm not a scout, I'm not really a journalist, either.  Boyd is my first prospect graduate, so while I'll try to be objective, I'm not making any promises.


   Matt Boyd grew up in the Seattle area, and played both baseball and hockey as a youngster.  He was good enough at the latter sport to have made a regional development team as a teenager before giving up hockey to focus on baseball.
   Boyd has an interesting family tree, claiming distant relations with both former First Lady Dolly Madison and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.
   Boyd attended Oregon State, and pitched out of the bullpen for his first three years.  The Reds took him in the 12th round after his junior season, but he opted to return to school for another season - a wise decision, as it turned out.  He was converted to a starter for his senior year, and pitched a complete game four-hit shutout in OSU's 2nd round game in the College World Series.
    The Blue Jays took Boyd in the 6th round that year (2013), and he pitched at Lansing and Dunedin, but was likely feeling the effects of a long college season.  Boyd broke out in 2014 - he had a better April/May than Kendall Graveman or even Daniel Norris, and earned a promotion to AA New Hampshire.  After being lights out in High A, Boyd had his struggles at the higher level.  A foot injury, plus pressing too hard caused Boyd to get hit early and often, and he found himself back at Dunedin, only to be promoted for another brief stint with New Hampshire when they needed starting help.  Boyd came back to help the D-Jays make a run at a Florida State League title, but he was lit up by a prospect-laden Daytona squad.
   Boyd's late-season struggles could be at least partially attributed to bone chips, which he successfully had removed after the season.   Boyd also adopted a new training regimen, working with rising pitching guru Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball, a Tacoma-based pitcher training company.  I had several reports this spring that he had a spike in velocity, and his new program had to be a part of it.
   Boyd has an effective four-pitch arsenal.  His fastball now touches 96, and sits 92-94.  His delivery can be deceptive, as he has a high leg kick and a slight pause in his delivery.  It used to be said that he lacked a true out pitch, but that no longer seems to be the case - his fastball now is his best pitch, and complements his secondary pitches.  Boyd pounds the strike zone down low, and is getting better at pitch sequencing with almost every outing.  When he gets into trouble, it's usually because of command issues - Boyd can lose the strike zone, but only for short periods of time.  Because he strikes out a lot of batters, his pitch count tends to go up in a hurry, but he has shown a better ability to economize his pitches and induce weak contact.  He does give up the odd long ball, and he tends to give up more flyball than groundball contact sometimes, but he doesn't hurt himself with walks.  Hitters have had a tough time barreling him up, for the most part.
   Boyd  has gone from being an organization (roster-filler) guy to one of the best pitching prospects in the system - one of the best in all of the minors, even - in a relatively short period of time.  He shows an advanced feel for pitching, and while prospects tend to struggle in their first few starts as they adjust to major league hitters, I think Boyd has a bright future.  What should you expect from him?  He will need some time, but a mid-rotation starter is his likely ceiling.

  What are other evaluators saying?  There is something of a discrepancy amongst them, possibly because some haven't factored in the velocity bump this year.

  Here's what Al Skorupa of Baseball Prospectus had to say about Boyd recently:
At his best, Boyd is filling the zone with a four-pitch mix of near-average pitches. On the downside, the FB isn’t big enough, the command is below average and there’s no out pitch. Boyd has a 50 FB (88-92,m t92) with sinking action. His command really eluded him in the first couple innings last start, but he picked it up and limited the damage in the meantime. In limiting the damage he showed me he has some feel for pitching and setting up hitters. Boyd seemed to have a lot of trouble repeating his hand break and I think that might have hurt him early....., I thought the SL (77-80) had the most potential, but I still rated it as an future average pitch. It’s a 1-7 slurve that he throws for strikes and as a chase, but the shape and command were inconsistent..... we’ve got a 69-71 good high school type, big, slow loopy CB. It flashed some downer action and I wouldn’t trashcan the pitch, but it’s best as a mix-up and used to give a different look against opposite handed hitters. The CH (76-83) was also a little too inconsistent for me to really get behind it despite some above-average flashes. Often too firm, the pitch was thrown with good arm speed and he put it in the perfect spot a couple times. Boyd looks like another role 40/no. 5 starter/middle reliever to me. I could see him helping the Blue Jays pen in 2015.
   Ezra Jones of had the following projection:
Many saw Boyd as a finesse back end starter at the beginning of the season, but as his fastball has progressed and his numbers continue to be stellar, I see him as, if all works out, a solid #3 starter. Boyd has good composure on the mound and has very good control and command, walking few and striking out many. He does give up fly balls easily, especially when he leaves his change-up up in the zone, as just over 40% of the batted balls he gave up were fly balls.
This could end up as a larger problem if he cannot keep down the number of homers he gives up. This is less of an issue now, as his better fastball is inducing more pop ups. An interesting fact is that Steamer, a projection system, saw him as a league average starter in the majors this year.

   By the numbers:   I'm not a big stats-based scouting guy (I'm not a scout, remember?), but here are Boyd's stats between two levels this year:



They're pretty convincing.

  I've written extensively about Boyd, probably as much as any Blue Jays prospect not named Anthony Alford..  You can read about his off-season regimen in more detail here, and I charted his April 20th start (while he still was with New Hampshire), and you can read about that here, if you so desire.   Finally, here's a look at his delivery:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blue Jays Short Season Rosters Coming into Focus

Michael Fabiaschi photo
 With play in short season ball opening later this week and the MLB draft over and done with, it's time to turn our attention to the likely rosters of the three affiliates the Blue Jays have at this level.

  The lowest rung of the ladder is the Gulf Coast League.  Teams are housed at the spring training complexes of their major league clubs (there's a league in Arizona, too).  Players practice early in the morning, and then play a late morning game in the hopes of avoiding the hot Florida sun.  Attendance figures are not kept (because the crowds are sparse), and up until a few years ago, there wasn't even a playoff at the end of the regular season.  Players from the Caribbean summer leagues, who are getting their first taste of playing stateside, recent high school draftees, and lower-level college picks populate this league.
  The next rung is Rookie ball, and there are several leagues across the US.  The Blue Jays have an affiliate in Bluefield, WV that plays in the Appalachian League.  Players here play "under the lights," usually in front of a couple of hundred fans, and get to experience travel.
  The top rung of short season ball is advanced rookie ball - the Blue Jays have an affiliated team in Vancouver, with the Northwest League.  High college draftees and players who have had a season or two of pro ball play in this league.  Vancouver has a hugely successful club on an off the field.  They are one of the best-run organizations in all of minor league ball, and after winning three straight NWL finals, lost in the final last year.
   I have a source in the Gulf Coast League who sweats it out and sends me photos and updates.  I've never been to Bluefield, but the park looks like it was carved out of the Appalachian forest, and I plan to head there in 2016 or 2017.  Vancouver is a great place to watch a game.  The crowds are huge, and the stadium has undergone extensive renovations.  If I went to a game again, I would probably check (either by calling or emailing) to make sure my seat wasn't an obstructed one.  There are 6 pillars supporting the grandstand, and our seats on the 1st base side of home had an effectively blocked view of the hitters.  Luckily, the seats beside ours were empty, so we were able to move down - that doesn't happen often.  The selection of craft beers at the park helped to make up for it somewhat, but that is a caution I would give when buying tickets.

Let's start at the top, and look at Vancouver's roster so far (players will be added in the next few days).
The Canadians have a nice mix of pitching on their roster.  The top prospect (at the moment) would have to be Clinton Hollon, a 2nd round pick in 2013 who the Jays took despite a partial UCL tear that needed surgery to fix a year ago.  Hollon has an electric arm, and hits 96 with his fastball. Reports I've had about him this spring say he's back to his old velocity.  Daniel Lietz was undrafted out of high school, but hit the weight room, and added velo, causing the Blue Jays to take him in the 5th round in 2013.  He's repeating Vancouver.  Evan Smith is a tall, lean lefty the Blue Jays took ahead of Lietz.
As for position players, Lane Thomas is the most promising at the moment.  A bit of a sleeper last year, the Blue Jays took him last year in the 5th round, and he played well at two levels.  It sounds like he may have been hurt this spring, and didn't get into a full slate of games in Extended Spring Training.   At 5'10", 155 lbs, Juan Kelly may not look like a corner infielder, but the 1st baseman has some pop projected in his bat. Juan Tejada drew some rave reviews for his power in the GCL last year.
 At the moment, this team doesn't look to have the same talent level that past Vancouver has had. That should change as news filters in about signed draft picks.  At this point Jon Harris, Carl Wise, JC Cardenas, Travis Bergen, Conor Panas, and Owen Spiwak have signed from amongst the top 10 picks from colleges, so several of them should at least start with Vancouver, giving them a major roster upgrade. There will likely be some lower college picks joining them, too.  Adonys Cardona, who is magnificently talented but has underachieved to this point, may show up in the northwest after recovering from surgery to repair a broken elbow last year.  The Blue Jays signed Cardona out of Venezuela for $2.8M in 2010 - still a record for a Venezuelan signee.  Bend Badler of Baseball America wrote an excellent article on the aftermath of Hugo Chavez's demise in the South American country, and its effects on scouting and player development there.

  Bluefield is a bit of a different story.  They receive players from the GCL and advanced high school picks.  Their roster has only a handful of names on it at the moment, but that will be subject to serious change in the next week as the club decides who's ready to play under the lights, and who needs more time at the complex.  Infielder Deiferson Barreto (no relation to Franklin), who hit well in Extended, should be a lock, and may be joined by Short Stop Yeltsin Gudino, who at 17 was overmatched in the GCL this year, but has added some muscle in the off season. Catcher Matt Morgan was highly regarded, but the fourth round pick from last year had a difficult year at the plate last year, and struggled in Extended.  Freddy Rodriguez, an 18 year old out of Venezuela, had middling numbers in the GCL, but hit over .300 in Extended. 2014 31st rounder Dave Pepe hit .304/.430/.362 in the GCL and in truth was a bit old for that level, and should find himself at Bluefield (or even Vancouver) this year.
  On the pitching side, 2014 6th rounder Grayson Huffman pitched well in the GCL and Appy Leagues this year, and may start in Bluefield.  Expect him to move quickly if he pitches well again.
Angel Perdomo, who averaged over 11K/9 in the GCL last year, will follow Huffman's path, as well as 2014 3rd rounder Nick Wells.  Jake Brentz, a lightning-armed lefty who can hit 97 with his fastball, is likely headed to Bluefield as well.  Depending on who winds up there, Bluefield has the makings of a good rotation.
   The GCL Jays roster is one of the hardest to predict.  They will likely feature high school picks Brady Singer (assuming he signs), Justin Maese, and Jose Espada to start the season, but they likely will accelerate fairly quickly to Bluefield unless their development dictates otherwise.  Juan Meza was the 10th-ranked International prospect last year, and signed with the Jays but did not play for the Dominican Summer League Jays.  He's not on the DSL Jays roster this year (they began play two weeks ago), so the thinking is that he will pitch stateside in the GCL this year. 3B Bryan Lizardo didn't hit well in Extended, but did the in the DSL last year, and appears to be headed to the GCL.  The roster will be filled out with high school and lower round college players.

   Patrick Murphy is one of those players the Blue Jays often seem to find - tall, lean, athletic, and forgotten.  Drafted in the 3rd round of 2013, Murphy missed his senior year of high school competition because of Tommy John surgery.  He didn't make his pro debut until last year, but was shut down in mid-July with shoulder issues.  He had more surgery (likely a clean up) in April.  His debut may be delayed, but he will be looking to get his career back on track in the GCL.
   Jake Anderson was a first round pick (35th overall) in 2010.  A lot of eyebrows were raised by the pick, but after a promising start to his career, he has been sidelined by injuries almost ever since.  Anderson missed all of 2013, and amassed all of 11 PAs with Bluefield last year before being shut down.  Reports from Florida indicate that he didn't play a lot in Extended, and didn't show a great deal, either.  He has a long way to go to resurrect his career, and the GCL may be where he starts.
  A couple more injury notes.........Ryan Borucki, like Murphy, was a high school pitcher with an injury history who the Blue Jays were willing to wait and gamble on.  He rewarded the organization with a solid 2014 at Bluefield and Vancouver, but submitted to surgery once again when he had a clean-out performed on his elbow.  His timetable is unknown, but he may see time at Vancouver once he's healthy.  Tom Robson underwent Tommy John just over a year ago, and is likely being held back until the start of short season play to at least get a few outings in before returning to full season play, Dunedin being the logical guess.

  ....And, just as I was getting ready to hit the old "publish" button, comes word via Charlie Caskey on Twitter that Cardona was throwing well at Extended, but was having some discomfort in his surgically-repaired elbow.  The surgeons had to insert another plate and do some extra work on the repair, and now Cardona is basically out for the year.
  Adding to the injury report update, thanks to Caskey, is that Max Pentecost, the 2nd of Toronto's first round picks who was banged up thanks to a long college season, was shut down in August, and then underwent shoulder surgery in October, is inching toward game action.  Pentecost is doing all regular hitting and catching activities, but is on a throwing program that has him tossing from 75 to 90 feet.  The hope is that he will be ready to return by the end of the month, and will likely start in Vancouver - much to Caskey's elation.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Look at Sean Reid-Foley photo 

   This is another in my ongoing series of looks at Blue Jays pitching prospects through my subscription to MiLB.TV.
   I am not a scout, and I would encourage you to consult a real scout before taking my word.

   The latest pitching prospect I watched was Lansing right hander Sean Reid-Foley, in his May 30th start at Dayton.  I suppose I could save you some time and tell you from the outset that this appearance could be described in one word:  dominant.   When the thermometer dips and the snow begins to pile up next winter, this might be a warming performance to watch again to help take the chill off.

   The Blue Jays 2nd round choice, 49th overall, Reid-Foley was thought by many to be a late first-round pick last year.  His commitment to Florida State scared some teams off, however, and he fell to the Blue Jays, who gladly scooped him up after acquiring first rounders Jeff Hoffman and Max Pentecost.

  Reid-Foley had a bit of an uneven pro debut in the GCL last year, and it was a little surprising that he was assigned to Lansing this year.  The Lugnuts have been very conservative with his pitch count through the first two months of the season, having gone past the 3rd inning only twice this season prior to this late May start.

   Reid-Foley had scuffled a little bit in his four starts before this one, giving up some hits, and struggling with his command.  This outing against Dayton was a completely different matter.
At 6'3", 220, Reid-Foley cuts an imposing figure on the mound.  Dayton has led the Midwest League in attendance for a decade, averaging almost 8 500 fans during that run - and a crowd of 9 000 gathered to watch. The huge crowd likely gave Reid-Foley a huge boost, as he looked very intense on the mound, and worked quickly.

   Reid-Foley needed 18 pitches to get out of the first, his highest pitch total for the night.  Touching 95 with his fastball, Reid-Foley struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a soft single to centre.  He got the final out of the inning on a called strike three.

   His pitch count remained very consistent throughout the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, needing only 13,11, and 12 pitches, respectively, despite a 28 minute rain delay.  Only a pair of balls were hit hard, and 3rd Baseman Gunnar Heidt helped him out on one with a strong throw from behind the bag at 3rd.

   Reid-Foley's control slipped a bit in the 5th - in his first four innings, when he missed, it was often just off of the edge of the plate, but he lost the strike zone just a bit in his next-to-last frame.  Pitching into the 6th for the first time as a pro, Reid-Foley put a cherry on top of his triple decker Sundae of a performance by striking out the first two hitters in the 6th on 8 pitches, before reaching his pitch limit.  I counted perhaps two or three balls squared up by Dayton's offence.  There wasn't even a lot of weak contact - there was not much contact in general, and the home team couldn't get a runner past first during his time on the mound.  Here's his final K:

   Reid-Foley threw 74 pitches, 49 of them for strikes.  He threw strikes to 10 of the 19 hitters he faced, and retired 10 of them by strikeout.  16 of his strikes were of the called variety, while 17 were swinging - he missed quite a few bats on the day.  Reid-Foley tended to elevate his fastball a bit when he had two strikes on a hitter. and the Dayton batters couldn't keep up with it.  What I liked about his performance the most is that he didn't just try to blow the ball past hitters - he worked the strike zone, and moved his pitches around the plate well.  Dayton's lineup was very overmatched against him on this occasion.  MWL hitters in general have found themselves flailing at Reid-Foley's pitches this year, shown by his 50Ks in 34 innings.

   What does the future hold for Reid-Foley?  The Blue Jays will likely take their time with him, even though they've shown that they will challenge prospects with aggressive promotions.  At the same time, Reid-Foley won't turn 20 until the end of August, is only a year removed from high school, and has thrown all of 56 innings as a pro.
  With Reid-Foley and Jeff Hoffman starting games tonight, it's easy to picture the pair at the top of the Blue Jays rotation one day.