Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Clutchlings Notebook Vol 4 Ed 5

Connie Goebel-Murphy photo

 Promotions, returns from injury, and a drug of abuse suspension mark this week's notebook.

Max Pentecost
   It seems like a long time since Max Pentecost has been in a lineup, and that's only because it has.
   The second of the Blue Jays two first round picks in 2014, his development has been curtailed by injury.
   Pentecost came back loudly this week.

   To refresh.....
   Pentecost was labelled the most athletic Catcher in the 2014 draft, and if there's one thing we've come to learn about the Blue Jays scouting department under Brian Parker, they value projection and upside above all else.
   The Cape Cod Summer League MVP in 2013, and the winner of the Johnny Bench award as the nation's top collegiate Catcher in 2014 , Pentecost spent his first pro summer with Vancouver, but we were told fatigue (and a possible knee injury) were what limited him to mostly DH duties over his final weeks with the C's, and he was shut down for the season in early August.
   A pair of shoulder surgeries ensued, costing Pentecost all of 2015.  He showed up at training camp this year ready to make up for lost time.  The organization has continued to take things slowly with Pentecost, keeping him back in extended spring training, where he appeared in his first game action two weeks ago.
   Pentecost was activated late this past week, and headed north to central Michigan to join the Lansing Lugnuts, and wasted little time, ripping the first pitch he saw into right field for an RBI single.  In his next AB, he crushed a two-run homer to right centre, his first professional round tripper.
   For the weekend, Pentecost went 8-16.  Before we get too excited, it's wise to remember that he DHd all three games, and there has been no timetable released for his return behind the plate.  The organization had indicated this spring that his bat would be ready for a return to action before his glove, but the team wanted him in a lineup so that he could get some much-needed reps.  Even though Russell Martin currently sports a .417 OPS, we should pump the brakes on Pentecost as a Catcher of the Immediate Future-type a bit.  He needs reps behind the plate.

Clinton Hollon
   I feel like I've been waiting for this electric-armed righthander for a long time, and now I'm going to have to wait some more.
   A potential first round pick in 2013, concerns about his arm and make up caused him to slip to the 2nd round, where the Blue Jays snapped him up.
   His arm woes continued as a pro, and he missed all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
   Hollon came back with a bang last year, literally, and despite being in a car crash before short season play began last June, had a successful Northwest League debut with Vancouver, and a lights-out first start with Lansing last August, retiring 19 in a row after a shaky first inning.
   Late last August, however, his world came crashing down as a result of a 50-game suspension for testing positive for amphetamines.  Hollon claimed that he was taking both anti-inflammatories and pain killers (both prescribed by a doctor) in the aftermath of the car accident, but a mix up in the doctor's office led to amphetamines somehow inadvertently being in one of his two prescribed meds.
   Hollon did not have to report to Dunedin until April this year, and was at extended getting work in before his suspension was set to expire early this month, when word came last week that he had failed a second test for a drug of abuse, and was given another 50 game ban.
   I admit to mixed feelings about this whole situation.  There are clearly two sides to Clinton Hollon - the team guy who led his team to a high school championship (despite his arm troubles), and a young man who has a problem.  I was in touch with him and his mother regularly on Twitter before this latest suspension, but he (understandably) has not returned my messages since.
   Frankly, as much as I want to believe him, the whole prescription mix up sounds a bit like the kid caught with a bong in his knapsack who was just hanging onto if for a friend.  Given his subsequent drug of abuse suspension, it just all seems hard to believe, despite his claims.  I want to believe, but the truth has been stretched awfully thin.
   The Blue Jays, as an organization, have been less than tolerant with the latter kind of suspension.  Former supplemental first rounder Tyler Gonzales was let go in July of 2014, before being hit with a suspension in September.  His ineffective pitching may have been mostly responsible, but the club was likely not enamoured with his off-field activities.  RHP Kramer Champlin was similarly released after the 2014 season, and received a 50-game ban for a 2nd positive test a few months later.
   It mystifies me why a young athlete with so much to use would find themselves anywhere near anyone who uses recreational drugs.  But I also know that young people tend to make mistakes, and the life of an athlete doesn't necessarily give one a balanced perspective on the world, and the relationship between their actions and the resulting consequences.  Some young people need multiple second chances before they see the light, but you can't help but wonder how much patience the organization has left for Hollon.

Francisco Rios
   I felt a bit like long time New Yorker baseball essayist Roger Angell this week.
I received a tip from a fellow Tweep earlier this week that the lights-out Lansing righthander was about to receive a promotion, and took a gamble that later proved corrected and tweeted it.  Nothing official was forthcoming from the Lugnuts for a few days, but my news took off (modestly, of course) on Twitter, and I felt like Angell, who said writing a blog was like, "a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window."
   Rios made his first start for Dunedin on Thursday, and after a rough start, settled in.  On Tuesday of this week, he was firmly locked in, tossing a career-high seven shutout innings for the D-Jays, giving up only a pair of hits.  Rios is the fastest-rising prospect in the system, thanks to improved command of his fastball, and improved depth and bite on his slider.  I watched his start from earlier this month and wrote about it, and I encourage you to scroll down and find it.  In return, here is a link to the wonderful article Angell wrote about aging.  It has little to do with baseball, but for anyone who has parents who are getting on in years (or fit that description themselves), the essay provides excellent insight into aging and the elderly, and helped me to see older people with greater understanding and empathy.

Anthony Alford
   We Toronto sports fan are a tortured lot, and it has come as no surprise that more than a few Tweeps have asked my what's wrong with the organization's top prospect.  It's in our nature.
   My answer?  Nothing.
   Perhaps one element of spring training the organization may review before next spring training is the length of time the top prospects like Alford spend in major league camp.  The experience is a valuable and motivating one for the youngsters (when you assemble the pieces that enabled Alford to become one of the game's rising prospects, watching how Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson went about their business last spring was one of them), but their game action tends to be limited, and comes at the end of games, when the other teams are playing their prospects.  As a result, while other minor league players and pitchers are getting more reps at minor league camp, the top prospects in the Jays organization (Rowdy Tellez and Dwight Smith Jr to name two) were behind their peers when the minor league season opened.
  Compounding things for Alford, of course, was the knee injury he suffered in Dunedin's first game of the season, which caused him to miss a month.  He's still getting his timing back, and striking out more often than we would like to see, but looking on the positive side, he's seeing plenty of pitches per at bat, and making his usual line drive, all around the field contact.  It's just a matter of time before balls start falling in for him.
   You need look no further than Tellez for evidence of this.  He hit .164 for April, but showed incredible patience, working the count and drawing 22 walks.  Over his past 10 games, Tellez is hitting .357/.419/.786 over his past 10 games.
 Patrick Murphy
   Blue Jays area scout Blake Crosby made numerous trips to Arizona to scout Mitch Nay, who the club would take with their sandwich round pick in 2012.  While in the southwest, Crosby couldn't help but notice a high school junior RHP named Patrick Murphy, who the Jays took in the 3rd round the following year, even though he blew out his elbow and missed his senior year.
  At 6'4, 210, Murphy has that long, lean, athletic frame that the organization covets.  The team was prepared to wait on him, but even they likely never would have imagined that entering 2016, he would have pitched all of 4 innings in three seasons.
  Following his 2013 TJ absence, he missed most of 2014 when numbness in his throwing arm and hand continued for several months after he had hit the one-year mark after his surgery.  Removal of a rib was supposed to alleviate the symptoms, but the numbness continued, so he underwent yet another procedure last year to remove a nerve from his elbow.
   Finally healthy, Murphy was able to pitch in last fall's instructional league, and was kept behind in Florida after spring training ended until the midwest weather warmed up.  He was supposed to pitch in the Cross Town Showdown, an annual exhibition game between the Lugnuts and Michigan State, but April's lousy weather scrubbed that.
   Elevated to Lansing last week, Murphy acquitted himself well in his MWL debut, throwing a pair of  relief innings against South Bend, giving up  a pair of hits, surrendering an understandable 4 walks, and striking out a pair.

    The road ahead for Murphy is probably as long as the one behind him.  A guy who hasn't pitched for most of the last three seasons faces huge hurdles.  Early in spring training, he told Sportsnet's Gare Joyce that the grind of rehabbing in Dunedin was beginning to wear on him a bit:
“It’s been a long, frustrating time in Dunedin, just going between the hotel and the training complex. There’s just nothing to do here but hang out with the guys or go to the mall and maybe see a movie or something. Guys I came here with in 2013 have moved up in the organization and I’ve been left behind each spring. I’m just hoping that they assign me somewhere other than here, even [low-A] Bluefield.

   The Murphy family traveled from their Arizona home to Michigan to catch his outing.  His mom told him that when he finally made his MWL debut, they wouldn't miss it - she had actually traveled to Lansing for the Michigan State game, only to have it cancelled.  All of which serves to remind that it's not only the athlete making this journey - his family, who are often hundreds (or more) miles away that are making it along with him.

   RHP Conor Fisk and LHP Colton Turner were promoted to Dunedin. Turner led the MWL in
Saves before his elevation to the Florida State League.
   LHP Ryan Borucki, who has had his trouble getting hitters out, was sent from Dunedin to Lansing. He gave up only one run on 3 hits over 5 innings in his first start for the Lugs.  I had thought that being an Illinois guy, he might open the season with Lansing, because the cold midwestern April wouldn't be new to him, but given his injury history, the club opted to keep him close to the club's medical complex in Dunedin.
   C Danny Jansen headed to the 7-day DL once again.  His defensive skills are beyond question, but Jansen has had a hard time staying on the field in his time in the organization.

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