Monday, May 9, 2016

Clutchlings Notebook Vol 4 Ed 5

Sean Reid-Foley

More news from around the Blue Jays minor league system.....

   First, I just received word that Lansing RHP Francisco Rios has been promoted to Dunedin.  I wrote about the 2012 IFA from Mexico just yesterday, after I charted and watched his May 1st start.  I'm very anxious to see how he fares against tougher competition.  Rios is the fastest rising pitching prospect in the system at the moment.  The Lugs and D-Jays have not confirmed the promotion, but a source close to the situation confirmed it early this evening.

Transactions for the past week, from Baseball America

Traded: C Martin Medina to Nationals for cash
Recalled: LHP Chad Girodo
Optioned to Triple-A: 3B Matt Dominguez
Placed on 7-day DL: RHP Bobby Korecky, RHP Sean Reid-Foley, RHP Tom Robson, LHP Pat McCoy, 3B Emilio Guerrero, OF Melky Mesa
Reinstated from DL: RHP Bobby Korecky, 1B L.B. Dantzler, OF Anthony Alford

  The Blue Jays had a surplus of Catchers heading into the season, and have shed some of that depth by trading Medina and releasing Humerto Quintero in April.
  Top prospect Alford showed some rust after almost a month-long layoff due to injury, striking out in 8 of his first 9 ABs as a DH.  He's back playing the outfield, but was moved to LF on Sunday, possibly to ease the strain on his right knee.
  Reid-Foley has been his usual bat-missing self with Lansing, with 20Ks in 18 IP, but still is working on his command, as his 10 walks would suggest.  He was activated today, and will start in Bowling Green tonight.
  Several sources had suggested that Robson would be a candidate to move quickly this year, and he was hitting 96 with his FB when I saw him in March.  Command problems have plagued him (22 BBs in 16 innings) so far, and when he's been around the plate, he's been hit hard.  No word on what the injury is, but the slow starts he and LHP Ryan Borucki have had are a big reason why the D-Jays, who had the best collection of talent in the system at the start of the year, are three games under .500.  Both missed most (Robson) or all (Borucki) with arm-related issues last year.  Borucki has been hit particularly hard, and has been up in the zone most of the past month - an issue the team has tried to address between starts, but with little success.

Andy Burns
   Reading Jeff Passan's excellent new release, The Arm, got me thinking, in a roundabout way, about Andy Burns.
   Passan discussed legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, who was something of a medical marvel, hitting mid 90s with his fastball well into his 40s.  That he did this with a torn UCL, which Ryan was advised (but refused) to have Tommy John surgery on when he was 39, is nothing short of amazing.
One of the things Ryan talked to Passan about was how the Angels usually only had a 9-man pitching staff when he pitched for them in the 70s.  And that meant longer benches for position players. Today's teams typically carry 12 or 13 arms, which means 3-4 less spots for position players.  That translates to more action for regulars (the median player in the 74 Angels usual lineup had 484 PAs; for the 2015 Jays, it was 507), and an increased importance in versatility among the non-starters.
  The Super Utility player is a response to that roster change.  Ben Zobrist, of course, is the gold standard for the role, contributing with his bat while filling a multitude of positions capably.  The Blue Jays have been grooming Burns for such a role for several seasons, and he may get a chance to display some of that versatility after getting called up on Friday, as the Jays started a week of interleague play.
   Burns was a bit of an under the radar player, having to sit out during his draft year after transferring from Kentucky to Arizona.  Primarily a SS in college, Burns has played all four infield positions, as well as the corner outfield spots in the past few seasons.  After a breakout 2013, he seemed poised to move up the ladder to AAA, but he struggled a bit at the plate in 2014.
   A BA scouting report from 2013:
Burns is an above-average defender with first-step quickness, soft hands and agility. He should be an average hitter and excels at driving middle-away fastballs and stays on breaking balls well. He has bat-to-ball skills and a good idea of the strike zone. With present gap power, he has the strength for at least average power
  Burns's stay with the Blue Jays may be brief, but he will be back.  The only thing he had left to prove last year was his ability to hit AAA pitching, which he did at a .293/.351/.372 clip.  With his ability to hit, play a number of positions, and run the bases well, Burns should find himself in a larger role with the team later this year, or early next.

Jon Harris
  The struggles of the Jays' first round pick in 2015 have been well-documented.  Last year, fatigue was likely the culprit, and a few things beyond his control resulted in him lasting less than an inning in his first start this year.
  Harris missed a couple of weeks when he had to return home to Missouri to attend a family funeral, but he has shown in two starts since his return why the Blue Jays chose him last year.
  He hasn't given up a run in either start, and finished the fifth inning for only the second time in his short pro career, and picked up his first career Win to boot, in Lansing's 1-0 victory over the Astros' Quad City affiliate last week.
  Command has been one of his biggest issues since turning pro, but Harris walked only one batter in each of those last two starts.  His absence means that he's still on a pitch count of between 60 and 70 per game, but the shackles should come off soon, giving Lansing yet another electric arm in the starting rotation.

Andrew Guillotte
   I wrote about the scrappy Lansing outfielder/leadoff hitter last week.
   I admit that I didn't pay much attention to Guillotte, a 32nd round pick out of McNeese State last year.
   Guillotte's numbers were solid, but not spectacular for a Vancouver team that did not have much to watch beyond Harris (and later, Angel Perdomo) last summer.
   A fixture atop Lansing's batting order this year, Guillotte has posted a .319/.413/.436 line to start the season, and has been a sparkplug in the Lugnuts lineup.  Suffice to say, he's on my radar now.
   Guillotte works the count, gets on base, steals bases, and can play all three outfield positions.  He was not heavily scouted in college - his father Bill told me that the Jays were the only team that had talked to him seriously prior to the draft.  He had a storied college career, earning 2nd team All Southland Conference honours after his senior year, and 1st team recognition in his junior season. Guillotte was the fourth-toughest hitter to strike out in the NCAA last year, fanning only 11 times in 249 ABs.  He led the Cowboys in hits, runs, doubles, and stolen bases last year, and became their all-time leader in hits.
   At 5'8", Guillotte is long-used to hearing his name and the word "undersized" in the same sentence.
According to his dad, that's never stopped him:
.when Andrew was 8 or 9 he told me he couldn't wait to be the biggest kid in the team. Knowing that I am only 5'7", he was never going to be the biggest kid on the team. So I told him, Andrew, you will never be the biggest kid on the team, that is why you have to play with the biggest HEART!! I know I am biased, but I don't know another kid who loves the game of baseball more than Andrew Guillotte.
  The Louisiana-based Guillottes were able to see Andrew play with the C's in Everett, WA last year, and were in the stands a few weeks earlier when he hit his first pro Home Run for Bluefield,  Bill was able to capture it on his phone:

Matt Smoral
   Few prospects have had as rocky a road as the 2012 Comp round pick has had.
Tall southpaws tend to develop slowly, but Smoral has been plagued by myriad injuries dating back to his senior year of high school.  He hasn't topped 54 innings in his career, and that high water mark was achieved in 2014.  To his credit, Smoral left a strong impression that year, making BA's Top 20 Appy League prospects list, and just missing the Northwest League version.
  2015 was pretty much a write off for the Ohioan.  Back issues limited him to 13 innings, and his season ended in late August when he took a line drive off of his temple, just above his eye.
   Smoral faced live hitters for the first time in almost 8 months in an extended game on Saturday, and threw 30 pitches, according to Eddie Michels of Rocketsports.  Baby steps to be sure, but maybe Smoral is finally on the road to recover.

Eddie Michels/ photo

Jackson Lowery
   Another Blue Jays minor leaguer I admit to overlooking is this righthander, signed as a free agent from Arkansas last year.  He played for a Bluefield team that similarly was bereft of high level talent for much of the summer.
  Lowery started his collegiate career as an infielder with Central Arkansas, then converting to pitching and transferring to Meridian CC, before moving to Arkansas.  He pitched most of last season in the Razorbacks' bullpen, becoming their go-to long reliever.
  I asked Lowery how he is faring with the grind of extended, where players train every morning, then play an afternoon game five to six days per week.  He's handling it well, judging from his response:
Spring has been going well, just trying to get better everyday. I am working on developing my change up and fine tuning my slider mostly and I never stop working on fastball command.  Being a member of the Blue Jays and having the opportunity to play for such an awesome organization is all the motivation I need. I love playing the game and for it to be my job is a dream come true, not a day goes by that I am not grateful to be playing the game as my job. I have the best job on the planet. Also being undrafted and proving people wrong is always motivating to me.
  Ordinarily, a free agent college bullpen arm doesn't attract much attention, but Lowery's numbers at Bluefield last year (21Ks in 16 innings between the GCL and Appy League) merit at least a second look.
  He's at extended spring training at the moment, but should head northwest to join Vancouver when their season opens in June.


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