Monday, June 26, 2017

Mid-Season Prospect Update with Gil Kim

Clutchlings photo

   Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim is a busy, busy man.
Between overseeing players and staff among the Blue Jays 8 minor league affiliates, co-ordinating with the High Performance division, and meeting recently drafted players at the Bobby Mattick Minor League complex in Dunedin at a four-day mini-camp, he can be a hard man to pin down.

   Kim did agree to take some time out to discuss the progress of several prospects throughout the system.


Injury Update
   The Blue Jays opt to err on the side of caution with their younger prospects, particularly those who are relatively new to full season ball.  As a result, placing players on the DL and sending them to Dunedin for rest and rehab is a common precautionary practice.  That seems to be the case with Max Pentecost, who hasn't played since June 9th.  Slowed by a back strain in his return to full-time Catching duty after Danny Jansen was promoted to New Hampshire to replace the injured Reese McGuire, the Jays opted to shut the 2014 1st round draft choice down for a few weeks.  According to Kim, all indications are that he's doing well in rehab, and should be back in action shortly.
  Speaking of McGuire, who underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in late May, Kim reports that he is rehabbing well, but there is no timetable for his return, although it's expected to be before the end of the season.
   2016 1st rounder T.J. Zeuch has been on the DL since the beginning of June.  Kim wouldn't disclose what the injury was (it has to be shoulder related), but Zeuch is on a throwing program and is expected back soon.
   Lansing starting pitching stalwarts Justin Maese and Patrick Murphy have both been shut down. Maese has been rehabbing a sore shoulder, and hasn't started in a month.  A hamstring slowed Murphy down, and he hasn't pitched in three weeks.  Kim says both are on the mend, and should return to action shortly.
   Anthony Alford, as has been well documented, had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his wrist.  He too is doing well in Dunedin, and is expected back for the second half of the season, but there is no timetable yet.

Bo and Vladdy Jr
   As fans, we check out the MiLB box scores every morning to see how our favourite prospects fared. Each promotion up the ladder brings them one step closer to the Major Leagues, where we can see them live and in person.  If there's one question I've been asked most often lateley, it has to be, "when are Bo and/or Vladdy Jr getting promoted?"
   It's understandable that we want to catch a glimpse of players who for the most part have been only names on a webpage.  It's just as understandable that MLB teams want to stick to the plan for their top prospects.
  Kim was non-commital about when (or if) the two Lansing sluggers will get promoted.  All minor league prospects have a skill set that they're working on, and it's no big secret that the High Performance department has been working on agility and strength on the defensive side of the ball with both prospects.  Bichette, in particular, has been working on first-step quickness, working with Lansing Manager Cesar Martin and Hitting Coach Donnie Murphy on fielding countless groundballs.  Guerrero, for his part, is working on his defensive game, too, trying to become quicker at fielding slow rollers, and improving his overall range at 3rd. Both are learning how to play every day, to prepare for games, and how to recover from them afterwards.  As much as we want this to be a fast process, sometimes it isn't.  Both players are very age-appropriate for Low A ball, and Kim's philosophy could be summed up as, "why rush things?"
   Certainly, both have laid waste to Midwest League pitching.  After hitting the .400 mark a week ago, Bichette is hitting .394/.457/.627, and leads the league in several offensive categories.  He's hit in 51 of the 59 games he's played in, and has gone hitless in consecutive games only once.  Guerrero's numbers (.313/.406/.457) are not as gaudy, but no less impressive.  He's hit only .158 over his last 10, perhaps showing some signs of fatigue.
     The most likely path for Bichette is to spend at least the next few weeks with Lansing.  He has a decent chance of being named to July 9th's Futures Game roster, so a promotion after that may be in the offing.  Or, the team may decide to wait a few weeks and see what Lansing's post-season chances look like. Development does trump winning at the minor league level, but teams do like their top prospects to play together on teams that are making a playoff run.  Whatever the case, a promotion for either Bichette or Guerrero will not happen until there's a consensus among the Lansing and minor league staff that one or both are ready.
      A cautionary tale:  there's not a huge jump in terms of the quality of pitching between Low and High A, but the experience of Bradley Jones is one worth considering.  A more seasoned (22 years of age) college grad, Jones was promoted to Dunedin in early June after posting a line of .326/.394/.560 at Lansing.  Facing pitchers with better command of their fastball and secondaries, Jones has scuffled with the D-Jays, hitting only .156 and striking out in almost half of his 68 PAs.  Is the risk of Bichette having a similar experience (perhaps not to the same extent) worth the challenge of moving him to the next level?  Particularly as the season winds down, and his fatigue likely increases?  The Blue Jays will have those and other factors to consider very shortly.

The Importance of Make Up
   Kim stressed the importance of this aspect, which he called "the sixth tool," in evaluating and recruiting players for the organization.  It was a phrase which came up several times in discussions about prospects.  When I spoke to Angus Mugford a few weeks ago, it also was something we talked about at length.  The thinking is that there is so little difference among just about all players in terms of their physical abilities, but when push comes to shove, make up can be the difference.
 

Talking Prospects
   On Rowdy Tellez, who has scuffled mightily (.197/.273/.321 to this point):
  Rowdy we remember last year numbers-wise didn't get off to the start that we had wanted, then rebounded.  He kept working hard and finished the year off very well, and then he went to the Dominican Winter League and had a good season there.  I think right now with Rowdy - he's a young player in Triple A, and he's going through some experiences that are teaching him a lot about who he is, and we fully support him.  He's working hard in Buffalo with Devo (hitting coach Devon White), Meach (manager Bobby Meacham), and  (Field Co-ordinator) Eric Wedge.  We're confident that he's going to be fine, and this experience will be one that we're going to look back on when he's in the big league as one that helped him.

   On Max Pentecost, who returned to Catching duties for the first time since August, 2015:
We really can't say enough about his perserverance through the whole process, and his positivity....being able to channel that positive outlook into his daily routine.  He has done well on the offensive side, which was no surprise, but we were definitely surprised with the strides he's been able to make with his blocking, receiving, and game-calling - despite not having been back there a whole lot in the last couple of years.  It just helps so much when you have a former Catcher like John Schneider (Dunedin's Manager) back there who's passionate about teaching Catching, and has been a great help.

   On Anthony Alford:
Anthony probably along with Danny Jansen are the two most improved players we have, which in Anthony's case is no surprise, given his work ethic and positive attitude.  He became more consistent with his timing, and put in a lot of reps in the Outfield in Spring Training, and he's improved all around in terms of approach and consistent hard contact, and his OF/CF defence.  It's been a pleasure to see the type of player he's made himself into....this is all on him.

   On Danny Jansen, who was leading the Florida State League in hitting before being promoted to New Hampshire to replace McGuire:
Jano's a leader.....one of our strongest make up guys in the organization.  And what he's doing is not surprising, because he's one of those players who make adjustments and improve.  Coming into it, he was a late invite to big league camp, and his game has just taken off since the Arizona Fall League.  He's concentrating on using more of the field offensively, and has been improving his game-calling.  Schneider and (New Hampshire Manager and former MLB Catcher) Gary Allenson have been a big help there.

   Sean Reid-Foley, who has struggled this year (4.25 BB/9 rate, lowest - 40.7% GB rate of his career), but has started to turn things around in his last few starts:
Sean maybe didn't have the start that he had envisioned, but he has bounced back, and is getting back to his dominant self.  He maybe was pressing a bit early, but he's been doing very well working on maintaining that power delivery, while trying to incorporate his change up more.

   Conner Greene, who has not dominated in his second go-round of AA as some thought he might, although his 59% GB rate is second-best in the Eastern League:
Conner has improved....that's all we can ask.  He's taking all those steps every day to get better - consistency of delivery, fastball command.....hitters aren't necessarily as comfortable against his fastball as they were earlier in Spring Training or last year.  His curve has come a very long way - tighter spin on it, with harder action and depth.

  Chris Rowley, who has been something of a revelation this year, starting in New Hampshire's bullpen before being called upon to fill in for injured starter Francisco Rios.  Rowley is now pitching out of Buffalo's pen:
Chris just knows how to pitch.  He keeps hitters off balance, throws strikes, and competes.  He's another solid make up guy, a true professional, and we're not surprised by the strides that he's made.  We have no plans at the moment to move him out of the pen in Buffalo.
   2nd round draft pick Hagen Danner:
Hagen is going to Catch.  He'll start in the Gulf Coast League, like many of our high school players do.
 
Players Who Have Surprised
   When asked who has made some giant leaps forward in terms of their development so far this year, Kim offers two names:

Yennsy Diaz, RHP, who started the year in Extended, and has struck out 18 in 11 innings over 3 starts since being promoted to Lansing earlier this month:
Yennsy really has some of the best stuff in the organization.  He's worked hard at getting more consistent, and getting over top of the baseball on his pitches.  He's had a pretty solid start at Lansing.
OF Edward Olivares, who has quietly put together a .279/.315/.513 mark with 14 steals for Lansing:
Edward was injured last year, skipped a level this year.  He has some of the best tools in the organization, and is working hard at dialing it in and refining his game. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Look at Yennsy Diaz

rocketsports.com photo

  When spring training camp breaks each April, major league teams give prospects a laundry list of things to work on.  Some are assigned to full season affiliates, while others remain behind for an extended spring training season in Florida.  All have various facets of their games to work on:   pitchers have to sharpen their command, continue to develop their velocity, and work on their between-outings routines.  Hitters have to work on pitch recognition, get stronger, and hone their defensive skills.  All players have to work on how they prepare and recover from competition.  Every player in the Blue Jays system has a personal workout plan to improve upon some or all of strength, agility, and endurance.

  It's not until all the boxes on their lists are checked that teams will consider moving players up to the next level.  And as fans, we can all get a little impatient.  But teams stick to the script, and we have to bide our time to wait for a player we really want to see.

   Like Blue Jays RHP Yennsy (pronounced 'Jennsy') Diaz.  With Lansing's starting pitching staff mostly a shambles beyond stalwarts Justin Maese and Patrick Murphy, Diaz' name was one I was continually looking for in the minor league transactions page each day.  But even though the Lugnuts needed starting help, Toronto was not going to be deterred from following the process.  As June approached (and both Maese and Murphy landed on the DL), the 2014 IFA, who has averaged a strikeout per inning through three minor league short seasons, was finally promoted from Extended to Lansing.   And in three pitch-count limited starts, he has been nothing short of electric.

   In his first start, Diaz fanned four in two innings, following that up with 8Ks over 4.2 innings in his second one.  Diaz' third start was a thing of beauty:  facing a tough West Michigan lineup, Diaz set down the first 9 Whitecaps' hitters to come to the plate, striking out 5.  Returning after a half hour rain delay, Diaz was not quite as sharp over the next two innings, but the 20 year-old Dominican offered a glimpse of what is to come.

   Diaz' main weapon is a 97 mph fastball with excellent movement and some arm-side run.  Pitching from a drop-and-drive delivery, Diaz' mechanics are clean.  He can pound the bottom of the strike zone for weak contact, run the ball in on right-handed hitters, or elevate it when he has two strikes on a hitter. West Michigan batters were simply overmatched through the first three frames, where Diaz sat 96-97, and touched 98.  He showed that his secondaries are still a work in progress, however, and he generated few whiffs on off speed pitches.  That fastball gives him a wider margin for error with them, however, and will buy those secondary pitches some time as he develops.

   Diaz' to-do list for April and May included continuing to work on his mechanics.  Diaz can overthrow at times, and that has limited his ability to get behind the ball and impart sufficient movement-inducing spin on his fastball.  For the most part, he stayed with his delivery in his most recent start, but did show a tendency sometimes to come out of it as he tried to keep the ball down in the zone.  He finished out front on the majority of his pitches, however, and mastered hitters through the first three innings.  When he came back after the rain delay, Diaz caught too much of the strike zone, and gave up contact.

   Given that dominant fastball, the previous management regime might have been tempted to acclerate Diaz' development and turn him into a reliever in the hopes of uncovering a back of the bullpen power arm.  With the current administration, Diaz will likely get plenty of time to continue to develop as a starter.

 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Blue Jays Draft Tracker



  The Blue Jays selected 40 players in the MLB draft last week.  As of this writing (6/23/2017), the following players have signed.  Bonuses, for the most part, have not been confirmed by the club. High School players are indicated in bold.
    Please @ me on Twitter (@Clutchlings77) if you come across any announcements.

Update:
  The Blue Jays had $8.23 million to spend on picks for the first ten rounds.  The Danner signing leaves them with about $5.35 million to spend on top picks Warmoth and Pearson.  There's a bit of room (5%) to go beyond that before the club faces any penalties.

PlayerRoundSlotBonus
Logan Warmoth12795
Nate Pearson12302
Hagen Danner210431500
Riley Adams3542542
Kevin Smith4405405
Cullen Large5302302
Brock Lundquist6234175
Colton Laws7183183
Kacy Clemens815250
Zach Logue9139125
Justin Dillon101325
Donnie Sellers11125
Matt Shannon1280
Brody Rodning13
P.K. Morris14
Ryan Noda15125
Ty Tice1690
Kobie Russell17signed
Jordan Barrett181
Cordell Dunn19
Tanner Kiwaner2040
Turner Larkins21
Gunner Halter22
Daniel Ritcheson23
Colin Brockhouse24125
Cooper Davis25
D.J. Neal26100
Sam Weatherly27
Davis Schneider28
Joe DiBenedetto29
Reilly Johnson30
Graham Spraker31signed
Jacob Condra-Bogan32
Matthew Gunter33
Maverik Buffo34
Brandon Polizzi35signed
Jonathan Cheshire36
Justin Watts37
Marcus Reyes38
Ben Farris39
Sean Ross40

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bo Bichette Pursues .400


Clutchlings Photo

   It's a magical number - .400.   Ted Williams was the last to reach it 66 years ago.  Rod Carew flirted with it in the late 70s, as did George Brett in 1980.  Tony Gwynn was the last to approach that plateau when the labour disruption of 1994 ended his season in early August with a .394 average.  Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette reached that number with an incredibe 7-8 performance against the Cubs' Midwest League affiliate South Bend in a double header last night.

   Here's a breakdown of Bichette's incredible night:

At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs' RHP Duncan Robinson, who stood 3rd in the MWL in ERA entering the night, he took an 0-1 fastball on the outer edge of the plate to right field for his first hit of the night in Lansing's top of the 1st.

At Bat #2
   Robinson clearly wanted no part of Bichette, offering up a steady diet of breaking balls in the top of the 3rd.  With the count 2-1, Robinson tried to get a fastball in on Bichette, but missed badly.  Bichette hammered it into the gap in Left Centre, driving in a run.

At Bat #3
  Bichette led off the top of the sixth, and Robinson continued to avoid giving him fastballs anywhere near the plate.  He hung a 2-2 change, and Bichette hammered it into the LF bleachers for his 7th Home Run, touching off a 5-run frame for Lansing.

video

At Bat #4
  After sending 9 men to the plate the previous inning, Bichette led off the top of the 7th, the final frame of Game 1 against reliever Jared Cheek.
   This 9 pitch AB may have been his best of the night.
   Down 0-2, Bichette fouled off a number of borderline pitches, before Cheek caught too much of the plate with a breaking ball, which Bichette lined into CF for a base hit.  His average now stood at .394.

Game 2
At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs RHP Erling Moreno, Bichette hit a 2-1 pitch into the hole at short, and beat the off-line throw to first for an infield single.

At Bat #2
   Moreno continued the breaking ball regimen.  Bichette hammered a mistake fastball all the way to the wall in Right Centre field, raising his average to .399.

At Bat #3
   Facing soft-tossing reliever Tyson Miller, Bichette showed some rare impatience, chasing a breaking ball out of the zone, and fout-tipping a low fastball into the Catcher's mitt for a swinging strikeout.  .400 would have to wait.

At Bat #4
   In his final at bat of the night, Bichette looped a fastball on the outer half to right field for a base hit, and his average finally reached .400.

  Of his 7 hits on the night, at least 5 of them were of the hard-hit variety.

   Coming into the season, teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr received all the attention, but Bichette, who hit .427/.451/.732 in a rookie season shortened by appendicitis in the GCL, has taken over the spotlight.
And rightly so.  Bichette leads the MWL in batting average, hits, doubles, OBP, Slugging, wRC+, and Line Drive rate.  He has hit safely in 46 of his first 52 games.  And he's not just feasting on mediocre pitching - Bichette has hit .361 against Top 20 prospects in his brief career.

    Blue Jays director of minor league operations Gil Kim had indicated earlier this year that the plan for the teenaged Lansing sluggers (Guerrero is 18, Bichette 19) was to stay in Michigan for the whole season, their first year of full season ball - the Blue Jays stated preference is to have their prospects spend a whole year at one level.  Kim, of course, is not tipping his hand, but you have to wonder if there is intense debate within the organization to up that timetable as the calendar flips from June to July.

   When Bichette reaches Advanced A, he will have adjustments to make.  The Pitchers there can locate their fastballs better, so he will likely see fewer mistakes to jump on.  Their secondary pitches will be better in terms of deception and location, so his pitch recognition skills will be tested.  Still, he has literally torn the cover off the ball, hitting .407/.463/.669 in 331 PAs over 72 games in his first two pro seasons.  Bichette is patient, does not expand his strike zone when down in the count, and hits the ball to all fields.  Quite simply, he's the most promising bat in the system right now.  Guerrero may catch up to him, but Bichette has raked..

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blue Jays Draft Recap: The Top Guys

Charlotte Observer Photo


  The internet is full of evaluations from a variety of sources about the Blue Jays draft.
I don't pretend for a moment to know all that much about any of the prospects, and much of what follows is a summary of online reports and my own observations from watching video.  Just the same, here's a look at the Blue Jays top draft picks:

Logan Warmoth  SS North Carolina
    Described by many as a "safe pick", Warmoth has been comped with long-time MLB SS J.J. Hardy, and that's a reasonable projection.
   In the field, Warmoth has fluid movements, combining agility with good hands and footwork. When he has time, he sets and makes strong, accurate throws.  He can also make that crossfire, on-the-run throw to first.  His arm is currently ranked as the strongest tool in his kit.  He's projected to stay at SS, and the Blue Jays will likely give him every opportunity to do so, although some reports suggest he's better off as a 2B long term.
   He has what is described as a solid approach at the plate, but it appears that he makes a lot of groundball contact and may have to work at adding some loft to his swing.  He has a simple, quiet set up, using a toe tap to start his load.  There's not a lot of movement in his short, compact swing.  He should put a lot of balls in play, and because of his ability to work a count, he should see a fair number of balls to barrel.
  Warmoth has been lauded for his baseball IQ, and in a trend that the Blue Jays are for the moment at the leading edge of, makeup.
   Warmoth should start the season at Vancouver, but could easily finish up at Lansing, depending on the playoff hunts of both teams.  He may move quickly through the system, and in most cases might be among the first of his draft class to make it to MLB.

Nate Pearson RHP College of Central Florida (JC)
   With their second first round pick, the Blue Jays opted to go for upside and chose Pearson, who has topped 100 several times this season, and usually sits 96-98.
   Unlike a lot of fireballers, Pearson works mostly down in the zone, getting good eye plane-changing downward movement.
  Pitching from a 3/4, semi-stretch delivery, there are not a lot of moving parts to his motion.  Pearson uses his lower half very well, and throws with intent.  At 6'6"/240, he is an imposing presence on the mound, and with his size and a glove flip during his delivery, can be very hard on right hand hitters.
He does not land in a good fielding position, however, and that part of his mechanics will need some refining.
   Pearson relies on his fastball, and has a slider that shows some promise with some late break.  His curve is not a well developed pitch - he often gets on top of it, and does not disguise it well.  It's highly likely that he will shelve that pitch once he turns pro.  His change is described as a work in progress.  There's a lot to like with that fastball, however, which should buy his secondaries time to develop.
   Scouts were encouraged that Pearson was able to maintain his velocity late into games.  He has a commitment to LSU, so there is no guarantee that he will sign.  The pick is protected, so the Blue Jays are covered if Pearson decides to return to school.  Drafting Warmoth with the first pick was a safe bet in the event that Pearson does not sign.
     There has been speculation that he could be moved to the bullpen full time, in which case he projects to possibly breeze through the minors and find himself in the back end of a major league pen with that velo in short order.  The more likely scenario is that the Blue Jays audition him as a starter, in which case he likely starts his season in Bluefield.  There is a considerable high risk/high reward element to this pick:  Pearson could develop into a solid starter if he can harness his secondaries, or he could become a lights out bullpen arm.  There is also a chance that he returns to school if the Blue Jays are unwilling to go much over slot for him.

Hagen Danner P/C California HS
  Selected with the 61st pick overall, Danner was one of the most intriguing players in the draft due to his two-way abilities, but scouts appear divided on where his prospects are best in the long term.
  He throws a three-pitch mix which includes a fastball that can touch 95, and will almost certainly add a tick or two to that as a pro.  Behind the plate, he has been termed a solid defensive Catcher who lacks elite bat speed.
  It will be interesting to see which direction the Blue Jays go with Danner.  Will they move him to one position or the other, or given the need for versatility on a 25-man roster in this day and age of multi-arm bullpens, will they allow him to play both?
  On the showcase circuit, Danner spent more time pitching than he did behind the plate, and that may be a clue as to where his future lies.  The GCL appears to be a logical starting point for Danner, but he probably won't finish the season there.

Riley Adams C San Diego
   Adams is a bat-first Catcher who improved his stock considerably this spring.
At 6'4", he's a bit big for the position, and scouts have noted inconsistencies with this throwing and receiving skills.  More than one report indicated that his makeup is considered plus, which was no doubt a factor in the Blue Jays selecting him.
  Adams hit well in the wood bat Cape Cod League last summer, adding legitimacy to his hit tool, but his swing is long, and there is a swing-and-miss element to his game, although he does see a lot of pitches.
  Adams should start the season at Vancouver.

A few final thoughts:
-it's worth remembering that as much as we cram in the days leading up to the draft, we don't really know these players.  Scouts do.  They've been following most of the players in their areas since their sophomore years of high school.  They've talked to the players, their parents, and their coaches. Scouts have a much better of the make up of a player than the rest of us do.  And with the physical talents between many draftees being only slight in terms of their differences, it's make up that often separates the prospects from the suspects.

-not that they have no value, but I don't tend to obsess much over guys picked later than the third round. These are the players that statistically speaking have the highest chance of reaching the majors.  The upper minors, of course, are littered with guys selected in lower rounds than that, but rather than take a shot-gun approach, I try to focus on the top selections.  Historically, they have the better chance of advancing.  After Round Three, the scouting staff typically takes over selecting players, and while they're always looking for that "arm behind the barn," to borrow a phrase from another era, the main purpose of picking players beyond that point is to stock rosters of the lower level affiliates.

-while there are almost a limitless supply of scouting reports and video online, most of it is in isolation - there's very little game action video, so you don't get a true sense of how a player responds in game situations.  And this is why that even though I read through all that material to get a sense of a player's profile, they're pretty much a blank slate to me, and I look forward to seeing them live (yours truly has not one, but two trips to Vancouver planned for this summer - helps to have family out there) or online.  I promise to have plenty of photos, video, and reports.

-speaking of the latter, if you can't make it out to the Left Coast this summer to watch the C's, broadcaster Rob Fai has confirmed that the Saturday night televised Canadians games will continue this summer.  Shaw TV televised the games last year, and while the games were not shown live east of Sault Ste Marie, they were available on YouTube.  Shaw sold its media division in order to get into the wireless market, and there were concerns that the new owners of Shaw TV properties, Corus Entertainment, would not be interested in showing the games.  It's only a half dozen games, but viewers get an excellent chance to watch some of the Jays prospects sent to Vancouver in action.


Monday, June 5, 2017

DSL Blue Jays Season Underway

Naswell Paulino - Twitter photo

   Play in the Dominican Summer League opened this past weekend, with the DSL Red Sox paying tribute to native son David Ortiz at their home opener against the DSL Royals.  The DSL Blue Jays topped the Orioles' entry 2-0 in their opener.
    The 40-team league (several MLB teams have more than one entry) play a 72 game schedule, which translates to 6 games per week, wrapping up with a brief playoff among the division winners in late August.  Games start at 10:30 in the morning to avoid the worst of the afternoon Caribbean heat.
   The Blue Jays entry plays out of their Boca Chica complex, just outside of Santo Domingo.  The majority of the players in this league are between the ages of 16 and 18 - most were signed sometime on or after July 2nd of last year.   Of the 40 or so players the team will likely use this year, only about a quarter will go on to stateside play in the Gulf Coast League.  High profile international signings usually skip the DSL for the more advanced competition in the U.S. - Roberto Osuna, Franklin Barreto, and Vladimir Guerrero all started their pro careers stateside.  Still, it's an important step in the development of international prospects.  Learning about proper nutrition and training, as well as English classes, are part of each player's baseball education.

   Due to bonus pool limits imposed as a result of the over-slot signing of Guerrero in 2015, the Blue Jays do not have a lot of highly regarded IFAs making their debuts in the DSL this year.  Top 2016 signing Joseph Reyes will begin his career in the GCL, as will RHP Rothier Hernandez.  But there will be some talent on the Blue Jays' DSL entry:  players that had flown under the prospect radar due to age, poor workouts, etc., and there are the usual high-tools but (so far) under-performing prospects.  Among the players to watch if you're a daily box score puruser are:

1.  Venezuelan SS Hugo Cardona.  Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, whose portfolio includes overseeing international scouting and development, labels Cardona's speed "plus," and his arm "plus-plus."  His glove is well ahead of his bat at this point, but if his bat does develop, he could profile as a to of the order hitter.

2.  Venezuelan RHP Elixon Caballero, a Marcus Stroman-sized Pitcher who added 4-5 mph to his fastball after signing, and now sits in the mid-90s.  Tinnish is impressed by his athleticsm and smooth delivery.

3.  LHP Naswell Paulino, a converted OF, who has made great progress is a short period of time.

Two players not currently on the DSL Jays roster who Tinnish also mentioned last fall include Mexican RHP Felix Castaneda, who has an advanced feel for pitching and an effective change-up, and RHP Eliezer Medrano, who like Caballero experience a bump in velo after signing.


  Given the lengthy developmental timetable and the distance of the DSL from MLB, what are the chances we see any of these names on our TVs or devices anytime soon?  The range is from slim to none, with a heavy leaning toward the latter.  A study of the 2012 DSL Jays roster notes that only one player from that roster (Miguel Castro) has reached the majors, one is at AA (Jose Fernandez), with the rest who have moved on (such as Juan Kelly, Angel Perdomo, Osman Gutierrez, Jesus Tinoco) still in A ball.

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   As if on cue, Paulino was dazzling in his DSL debut today, striking out 5 in 2 and a third innings, as the DSL Jays shut out the Orioles for the second game in a row.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Who Gets a Promotion?

Clutchlings Photo

   Moving Week in minor league baseball is inching closer.
  Sometime in the first two weeks of June, as the minor league baseball season reaches its halfway point, teams begin the process of moving their deserving prospects up to the next level for a greater challenge.
 There must be a consensus among the minor league staff involved - from minor league managers and coaches, through to roving instructors, to front office personnel - that the player is ready for the physical and mental challenges that will come with moving up.
   Generally speaking, the Blue Jays have demonstrated under the Shapiro/Atkins regime a preference for moving a player up the ladder one step at a time, and having them spend at least a full season (whether that happen over the course of one calendar year or two) at each full season level.  There are exceptions, of course, but this is a leadership group that prefers the slow and steady path of development for their top prospects.
  And there are other factors that determine whether or not a player gets moved.  Having an open roster spot is an issue - sometimes, there just isn't room for a player at the next level.
    Having said all of that, it just doesn't look like there will be a lot of movement in the system this season.  The injury to Reese McGuire of New Hampshire created an opening for the most likely promotional candidate, Danny Jansen, just over a week ago.  Other than that, it's hard to see many other players making a move.  The strength of this system lies in its players at the lower levels, and while teams want to make sure their players are challenged, there's no need to rush many of them just yet.
   Still, that won't stop us from making a few educated guesses.....

Conner Greene
   When spring training breaks and players are assigned to minor league teams, they're given a list of things to work on during the season.  Greene's list no doubt included continuing to harness that electric fastball, which has topped 100 mph several times this spring.  And on that count, he's been inconsistent so far this season, walking 25 in 52 IP at New Hampshire.
   Still, the time may be coming for the 2013 draftee (and made 12 starts for the Fisher Cats last year), who must be placed on the 40-man roster this November, to move up.  When he's at his best, Greene commands the lower part of the strike zone with his moving two-seamer, and uses the four-seamer up in the zone to finish hitters off late in the count.  His 64.5% ground ball rate leads the Eastern League, demonstrating that while that latter gets the acclaim, it's the former that gets most of his outs.
   Greene's next-to-last start against Portland was a microcosm of his season so far.  His command was spotty, walking the lead off hitter, who scored two batters later.  In the third, he retired the side in quick fashion with a pair of gb outs and a swinging K.  After receiving the toss from 1B Ryan McBroom to retire the hitter at 1st in one inning, he slammed the ball to the ground in obvious frustration after recording the out - something that may have made it into Manager Gary Allenson's post-game report.
   With the shuffling in Buffalo's rotation, there may be room for Greene on the Niagara Frontier just the same, and the Blue Jays may decide to challenge him with a promotion there.

Bo Bichette
   The initial campaign of full season ball is a huge adjustment for most players.  Not only must they deal with the physical and emotional challenges of playing every day, they need to learn to take care of their bodies and personal affairs off the field.  Add in experiencing failure for perhaps the first time in their baseball lives, 8-hour bus rides, and doing it all far from home and family, and it can be a difficult time for some players, which is why many organizations are content to let their top prospects ride things out and spend a full season in Low A.
   But it's becoming harder to see the 2016 2nd rounder spending a whole season at Lansing.
   After an April in which he hit .371, Bichette has not cooled off in May, hitting .383.   He leads the Midwest League in Average, Runs, and Slugging and is 2nd in Doubles and OBP.  His 31.6% Line Drive rate leads the loop as well.  Heady stuff for a player in just his second year of pro ball.
   Among the list of things Bichette has had to work on, of course, is his defence.  He has split time between SS and 2B, with the organization no doubt wanting to improve his range (which is at least adequate) and his arm strength (which is accurate, but still fringy).  Bichette has good reactions to batted balls, but we're going to have to give him some time to see if he can consistently make that throw from the hole at SS.  Cavan Biggio is the incumbent 2B at Dunedin, so Bichette might not be able to split time between the two up-the-middle positions, and he may stay at Lansing as a result.
   At 19, while he's still one of the youngest players in the MWL, his mastery of Low A pitching may prompt the Blue Jays to send him to Dunedin for a greater challenge.

    An AB from Opening Weekend.....



Justin Maese
   Without as much fanfare as a couple of his higher profile teammates, Maese is putting together a solid season at Lansing.  A May 24th 7-inning complete game in which he fanned 12 and walked none, might be the most compelling demonstration of his growing domination of MWL hitters.
   Maese quite simply fills the strike zone, using his two-seamer to induce a great deal of weak contact.  In his late May start, 71 of his 97 pitches were thrown for strikes.  He does give up some contact, but as he refines his command, he is becoming tougher to barrel up.
   Last year, in only his second pro season, Maese skipped a level to play in Vancouver, and finished the season with Lansing.  He is approaching a full calendar year with the Lugnuts, and the organization may want to move him on to the next level.

Bradley Jones
   Like Maese, Jones has not received the acclaim his teenaged fellow infielders have received, but he has popped up on the prospect radar as a legitimate bat.
   Jones is among the MWL leaders in Slugging and Total Bases, slashing .324/.389/.568 so far this season, demonstrating an advanced approach at the plate.  If there was a concern about his production at the plate prior to this season, it would have to have been pitch recognition and working counts better.  He has done an outstanding job of that, and it wouldn't be going too far out on a limb to suggest that he has the best approach in the Lansing lineup.
   A 1st Baseman last year, Jones was told to pack a collection of gloves for the move to Michigan, and he's split time between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd this year.  His reactions on groundballs are better than had been anticpated, but his arm still is somehere in the fringy range.  But that almost doesn't matter - the bat will play.
   Turning 22 next month, it may be time to move Jones up to Dunedin.

   Jones at the plate in early April:



   Beyond that, it's hard to see much movement next month.  Fans have been clamoring to see top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr moved to the next level, but there is absolutely no need to rush him. Had he been born stateside, he would be preparing for next month's draft.  Rapid ascension is likely in his future, but not this year.  Anthony Alford would have been a good candidate to move to Buffalo next month, but his wrist injury has taken care of that.  Upon his return from a successful rehab, it's possible we see him with the Bisons in August if they're in a playoff hunt.


 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Chris Rowley Scouting Report

milb.com photo


        Blue Jays right handed pitching prospect Chris Rowley pitched 6 innings against the GCL Pirates on August 13th, 2013, allowing only 1 unearned run on 4 hits.  The following morning, his 23rd birthday, he was on a flight to New York, headed to West Point to fulfill his military commitment after graduating from the United States Military Academy six weeks before.  He would not pitch in a game for over two years while he served his country, which included a deployment to Eastern Europe. Despite huge odds, he's pitching himself in the picture at New Hampshire this season as a potential bullpem arm.

   Even though he was the ace of the Black Knights' staff in a very competitive Division One League, Rowley's looming five-year service deterred all 30 MLB teams from drafting him in 2013 (he likely would have been a mid-round pick otherwise).  The Blue Jays, who had been following him throughout his collegiate career, asked if he would be available to pitch in their minor league system that summer.  Rowley, who had six weeks' leave before his committment began, jumped at the chance, and reported to the team's minor league complex in Dunedin immediately after the draft.

  While the Blue Jays were well known for seeking out overlooked players at that time, Rowley was beyond a longshot, and the main reason for inviting him to pitch for their GCL team was to protect some of the higher-profile arms from having to pitch too many innings.  Were he any other prospect, Rowley's 1.10 ERA and 10.7K/9 would have earned him a mid-season promotion to Bluefield or even Vancouver.  Instead, he pitched every fifth day in Dunedin as his leave came to a end, waiting to fulfill his obligation.

  It's rare for a student-athlete from one of the USA's service acadamies to be granted a service deferrment, but in the fall of 2015, after serving two years, Rowley received one, and headed to Instructs to resume his pro career.  By the following spring, he had jumped two levels, and became a mainstay of the Dunedin Blue Jays' staff, appearing in 31 games, including 14 starts.  Promoted to New Hampshire this year, he's picked up where he left off, pitching out of the bullpen until an injury to Francisco Rios prompted Manager Gary Allenson to give him a start on Saturday against a very tough lineup in the Phillies' Reading affiliate.

  Rowley needed only 9 pitches to get through the first inning, and didn't give up a hit until the 3rd. Pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his downward-moving sinker, and using his slider and change effectively to keep hitters off balance, Rowley breezed through the 4th and 5th, surrendering only one hit, and needing only 19 pitches to retire six of seven.  After getting the first out on a grounder to 1st Baseman Ryan McBroom to lead off the 6th, SS Richie Ureña, who had made a dazzling leaping grab of a line drive to end the 1st inning, skipped a throw to McBroom to allow the batter to reach safely.  At 66 pitches, Rowley's night was over.

   For the outing, Rowley threw 5.1 innings, blanking Reading on 3 hits.  He walked one and fanned one.  Rowley threw 44 of his 66 pitches for strikes, and induced 12 ground ball outs.  He did not throw a great deal of first-pitch strikes, possibly because he wasn't afraid to use his secondaries early in the count.  Rowley attacks hitters, and with that movement on his sinker, he can be very difficult to square up - "The sink is natural, I couldn't throw it straight even if I tried," Rowley said after the game.  His change up is emerging as a solid secondary, with good movement, as is his slider, which has late break and good depth to it.  All three pitches come from a conistent arm slot, which makes picking them up difficult for hitters.  Rowley has a clean delivery with a slight pause in it, which can disrupt hitters' timing.  He is a good athlete who fields his positon well.

   Rowley will not blow the ball by hitters.  Topping out at 91-92, he relies on command and his secondaries to keep hitters off balance:
 My game is based on throwing three pitches, all at different speeds, all in the strike zone and all moving differently, and the idea is for them to look the same until they get to the plate.
  Still, he has managed to strike out almost a batter per inning at AA.  Rowley's 47% ground ball rate shows that he excels at keeping the ball down in the zone, and his 15.8% line drive rate is proof that while he pitches to contact, it's not often of the hard variey.  The knock against him may be that he doesn't miss a lot of bats, but the other side of that coin is that his sinker is very tough to square up, and his change and slider keep hitters off balance.

   Is there a spot for a finesse pitcher in a bullpen in these days of flame-throwing relievers?  One need look no further than Danny Barnes, who tops out at 92, for proof of that.  Granted, higher velocity gives a pitcher more margin for error, but there seems to be a growing place for relievers who can change speeds, create some deception, and throw strikes.  In an outing on May 10th at Hartford, Rowley allowed only one hit in three innings of relief work, walking none, and striking out 7, in a performance that surely put him on the radar. At 26, Rowley might be old to be considered a prospect, but he's reached AA in his second year of full-seaon ball, and while there may be a few arms ahead of him, he's clearly pitching himself into long or middle relief consideration.

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  For more:    I wrote about Rowley's return to baseball here last year.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What to Expect From Anthony Alford

Clutchlings Photo

  It woud be quite understandable if Toronto Blue Jays OF prospect Anthony Alford was, to put it midlly, a prickly sort.
   He had a difficult upbringing (Mom and Dad have had legal problems involving drug trafficking), and he it would have been easy for the Mississippi two time top high school football and baseball player of the year to have a massive ego.
   But he doesn't.  And he's not prickly.  Just the opposite, in fact.

   The Blue Jays made Alford their 3rd round choice in 2012.  His draft stock had fallen because he had committed to Southern Miss to play Quarterback.  Toronto was content to allow Alford to chase his gridiron dream, and play an abbreviated baseball schedule sandwiched in between college football seasons.
    After some off field problems his freshman year, Alford transferred to Ole Miss, and switched to defense.  Still, he continued to wow scouts in his month-long forays into the Gulf Coast League, and the Blue Jays promoted him to Lansing in 2014, most likely so that senior execs could make the drive to Michigan and wave a bundle of cash at Alford to change his sporting mind.
    Alford returned to Ole Miss that fall (after sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules), and newly married, picked up his football career.  For several reasons, it lasted less than two months, as Alford had a change of heart, and decided to focus on baseball.
    In a relatively short time, he's made tremendous progress.  Sent to the Australian Winter League that fall for a crash course in pitch recognition (Alford had just over 100 plate appearances in his first shortened three pro seasons), he had a breakout season in 2015, and made many Top 100 prospects lists after just one campaign of full season ball.
   2016 was a sideways year for Alford at Dunedin, as injuries kept him out of the lineup for a good chunk of the first half, but he regained his form in the second.  Sent to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for top prospects in October, he more than held his own against elite competition.
   Promoted to New Hampshire this year, Alford did not miss a beat with the promotion from High A to AA - the biggest leap, development wise, in the minors.  Before missing a few days with an injury, Alford was hitting as high as .469/.544/.653.

   What should we expect from Alford?    Game-changing speed on both sides of the ball, as well as an advanced approach at the plate.  Alford works deep into counts, and uses the whole field.  While he draws more than his fair share of walks, there is a swing-and-miss element to his game, although he has cut down on the K's over the past season.   Alford used to have quite a bit of movement in his set up, but has quieted that down over the last year.  His power has just started to develop, and it's easy to see him hitting double-digit home runs in the Rogers Centre.  He has stong arms and wrists (his time in the weight room as a football player have left him with quite the physique), and generates plenty of bat speed.
  On the bases, he may not challenge for stolen base titles due to past injury concerns, but he is definitely a distraction for oppostion pitchers.  In the field, there is still some question as the the quality of reads he gets on balls, but he has excellent reactions to the ball, has an explosive first step, and gets to the ball quickly.  It's surprising that the former QB has an arm that's been described as fringy, and while he's not Amos Otis, he unloads strong and accurate throws to the infield.  He will not supplant incumbent CF Kevin Pillar just yet, but that day is fast approaching.

  Off the field, Alford is friendly and engaging, and he always seems to have huge smile.  He runs a mentoring program for troubled kids back home, and he finds the time to correspond with a humble prospect blogger on a regular basis.  When you write about these kids, it's always a kick to see one of them make the big time, even if it's only for a cup of coffee.  Anthony Alford may only be up for a brief period this time around, but he's destined to have a long and successful major league career.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Richard Ureña Starting to Heat Up

Clutchlings Photo

       After splitting time between two levels last year, Richard Ureña seemed to be only a step away from the Major Leagues.  Sent back to New Hampshire (where he spent August of last year) to begin this season, Ureña has struggled with the bat (more strikeouts than hits as of this writing), but with four straight two-hit games under his belt, he may finally have started to turn things around at the plate.

   A Top 5 Blue Jays prospect, Ureña (say Oo-rain-ya) is widely seen as the heir apparent to Troy Tulowitzki, although at 21, he could use some more seasoning time in the minors before he's ready to replace Tulo.  A strong series against the Pirates' Altoona affiliate brought his average above the Mendoza line, after dipping as low as .173 just a week ago.

  Ureña has long been viewed as a glove-first player, but a breakout 15 Home Run season in 2015 turned some heads.  There have always been concerns about his ability to draw walks and hit from the right side of the plate, but he has fared well in both of those areas this season - his 8.7% walk rate is above his career average, and he actually is hitting southpaws better (relatively speaking - he has all of 25 ABs against them so far).  Ureña seems to be seeing more pitches per at bat this year, as his higher than usual 20.3% K rate, coupled with his increased walk rate seem to suggest.  The issue has been the type of contact he has been generating, with most of it being of the ground ball variey.  Ureña's 50% ground ball rate is above his career norms, and his 11.5% line drive contact is the lowest among qualifiers in the Eastern League.

   Ureña hits from both sides, but he has shown markedly different mechanics and approach with each.  From the left side (his natural one), he utlizes a leg kick, and has a long, looping swing that can leave him susceptible to off-speed pitches, and can result in weak contact.  From the right side, Ureña uses only a toe tap and a much more compact swing, which allows him to drive the ball to the opposite field.  His power is mostly from the left side, but his only long ball of the season has been from the right:

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      Ureña's patience appears to be paying off.  He was 8-18 in the series against Altoona, and while there were only a pair of extra base hits, much of the contact he made over the four games was of the hard variety. Ureña's main value lies in his defence. While he has the fast-twitch skills, footwork, release, and arm strength of an elite-level defender, the concern has always been the errors he makes on routine plays.  A rough televised spring training game notwithstanding, Ureña has cut down on the mental lapses, and has made only 3 errors to date after making 30 between High A and AA last year.  Ureña glides across the infield to gobble up groundballs, and unloads the ball quickly to first with a strong, accurate arm.

    This slow start should be viewed as more of a hiccup than a struggle against advanced pitching at a higher level.  Urena appears to have made some adjustments, and they have resulted in harder contact.  He profiles more as a bottom-third of the order bat, but he is working the count more (seeing 4.6 pitches per AB, about a half a pitch more than he saw last year), looking for his pitch.  That patient approach appears to be paying off.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Look at T.J. Zeuch

milb.com photo

   RHP TJ Zeuch, the Blue Jays 1st pick (21st overall) in last June's draft has risen to High A already in just his second pro season.  Zeuch had something of an abbreviated 2016 season - he missed the first month of the college baseball season with a groin injury, his Pitt Panthers were eliminated from NCAA play in May, and he didn't make his pro debut until July.  Despite that interrupted schedule and a pitch count around 70, he pitched well for Vancouver in his first season, and he's put together a good body of work so far this season:

  What's more impressive is the amount of weak contact he's generated so far.  His 63% ground ball rate is second lowest in the Florida State League, and his 13.6% line drive rate is among the lowest as well.  Hitters are having a difficult time squaring him up.

  Skipped over Lansing for High A Dunedin this year,  Zeuch  may not have been at his sharpest command-wise in his most recent start on May 6th vs the Pirates' Bradenton affiliate, but he showed glimpses of that mid-rotation projection, and a solid Baseball America scouting report:

Zeuch's best pitch is his fastball, which sits at 92-94 and sometimes touches higher. Zeuch's extra large, 6-foot-7 frame allows him to generate solid extension towards home plate, making his pitches even more difficult for hitters to pick up out of his hand. His fastball also shows both sink and arm-side run, making it an effective ground ball-inducing pitch. His offspeed pitches, a slider and changeup, receive fringe-average grades from scouts, but he has solid command of his arsenal and repeats his delivery well. The development of his offspeed pitches will dictate his ultimate ceiling.

   Working off the 3rd base side of the rubber, the 6"7" Zeuch relies on his 12-6 curve, a pitch with good depth and bite, as his out pitch.  With his inability to get ahead of hitters in this start, though, it was not as much of a swing-and-miss offering as it usually is.  Zeuch needed only 11 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 first inning, but needed 20 in the 2nd and 22 in the 3rd, as Bradenton put up single runs in both innings.  His command returned in middle frames, needing only 37 pitches to get through the next three frames.  He threw 90 pitches on the night, 54 for strikes.  Zeuch recorded 9 ground ball outs, but generated only three swings and misses on the night.  All in all, it was a decent outing (6 IP, 6H, 2R/ER, 1BB, 1HBP, 3K), but it did seem like Zeuch was pitching from behind in the count for much of the night (he may have been a little squeezed), and his work paled slightly compared to his other outings this year (he had an incredible 16 groundouts over 6 innings earlier this season).  If a true measure of a pitcher is how he battles on a night when he doesn't have his command, Zeuch passed that test with flying colours.  He made good pitches when he needed to, and kept his team in the game.

   Zeuch's mechanics are clean, despite the moving parts that result from his size - he learned them from his Dad, who pitched in the Royals organization, and made sure his son took care of his arm as a youth pitcher. His fastball sits in the 92-93 range, his curve 82-84. He works quickly on the mound, stepping off the rubber only to regroup the odd time when he falls behind a hitter.  His height allows him to get a good downward plane on his two-seamer, which in turn enables him to pound the bottom of the strike zone (he has yet to give up a Home Run this season).  A solid infield defence will always be a huge part of Zeuch's success with the groundball contact he generates. He may have a few nights where his curve is breaking sharply and he fans a batter per inning, but for the most part he relies on pitching to contact.   Zeuch should progress one level at a time, meaning that his arrival in the big leagues should come in 2019 or 2020.  Zeuch is still learning to pitch and how to hone his routine between starts, but it's easy to see him as a #3 starter one day.

 
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   Bradenton is a newcomer to Milb.com's video channel, but they put together a good broadcast.  The high overhead home plate shot did not offer as good a view of the movement of pitches, or the work behind the plate of the Catcher, but it did give a very good look at pitchers' mechanics.  A viewer in Southern Ontario during a wet and cold weekend was envious of the shirtsleeve crowds at the Pirates' spring training home.

 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Danny Jansen: Blue Jays Catcher of the Future

Dunedin Blue Jays photo

      Dunedin Blue Jays Catcher Danny Jansen hit a pair of Home Runs in the same inning on Sunday, and announced his arrival as the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future.

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  The two long balls were part of a 4-5, 11 total bases day at the plate for the Appleton, WI native, who leads the Florida State League in hitting with a .394 average, and is in the top five in most offensive categories.  More impressively, he puts the ball in play,  (8.8% K rate this year), and his 25% line drive rate shows evidence of hard contact.  It's a small sample size, but a viewer of Dunedin's three game series against the Pirates' Bradenton affiliate this weekend saw a lot of hard-hit balls off of Jansen's bat.  His power is mostly to left, but Jansen uses the whole field.

   This breakout season has been a long time coming for the 2013 16th rounder, who was viewed by many as a steal in the Alex Anthopoulos/Blake Parker look-for-prospects-in-non-traditional-places era.  Jansen had a decent season at the plate at short-season Bluefield in 2014 (.282/.390/.484 in 38 games), but his career thus far has been marked by an inability to stay healthy.  He has missed major chunks of time in every pro season (2014 - knee injury, 2015- broken Catching hand, 2016 hamate bone removal), but his performance last fall in the Arizona Fall League (where he held his own against advanced competition) and so far this year indicates that he's making up for lost development time in a hurry.

  And lest you think Jansen is a bat-first player, it's his skills behind the plate that have won him accolades at every stop in his career.  The 6'3"/225 Jansen presents a big target for pitchers, but he covers the lower half of the strike zone extremely well, which is important for hurlers who rely on the two-seamer that he has caught like Sean Reid-Foley, Conner Greene, and TJ Zeuch.  Jansen is a superior blocker of balls in the dirt, and he has long been an excellent framer of pitches.   His ability to work with pitchers and his leadership skills have also been lauded for some time now.  Jansen has a strong, accurate arm - his infielders have to be on their toes when a runner attempts to steal, because Jansen's throw will arrive in a hurry and on the spot.

   His breakout year with the bat can be partially explained by finally being healthy and getting consistent reps, and by new sport glasses that he donned last fall:
I started wearing them after the season last year into the fall. They are fantastic I was never good at putting eye drops in my eyes and I tried contacts but they weren't for me, so I stuck with the glasses.
  Jansen admits that the new eyewear has helped him on both sides of the ball this year.  "They have helped big time," he said.  "I can see spin much better, helping me behind the plate as well."

   Jansen has never found himself near most Blue Jays Top 10 prospects during his career, which is mostly attributable to his truncated service time.  And entering this season, he was only the third-ranked Blue Jays Catching prospect, behind the recently-acquired Reese McGuire, and 2014 1st rounder Max Pentecost, who has had injury problems of his own - Pentecost just resumed Catching duties last week, donning his mask for the first time in almost three years, sharing time behind the plate with Jansen (Jansen's big day at the plate came while he was DHing).  Jansen has shown a better bat this year than McGuire, and is far ahead of Pentecost in terms of his defensive development.  In a way, he combines the best of both - Pentecost's skills at the plate, and McGuire's behind it.

   The trick for Jansen, of course, is to stay healthy and in the lineup for a prolonged period of time.  He is repeating Dunedin this year after suiting up for only 54 games last year, and 46 (with Lansing) the year before.  With the glove-first McGuire encsonsed above him in New Hampshire despite a .216/.311/.373 line so far, and Pentecost putting up numbers almost comparable to Jansen's so far (.344/.368/.622) but unable to assume full-time Catching duties, the Blue Jays are likely going to be content with keeping Jansen healthy and have his bat in the Dunedin order on a daily basis.  Sharing time behind the plate with Pentecost should do a great deal to help keep him on the field.

   McGuire may never hit enough to be more than an MLB back up, and the possibility of Pentecost moving off the position still has to be considered high.  Jansen has the skills and the build to handle a major league pitching staff, and this year he has finally shown that while he still has yet to prove that he could be a middle-of-the-order bat, he has started to demonstrate that he can handle a bat just the same.  With Russell Martin's contract with two years to run beyond this campaign, there's every chance we see Jansen in a Blue Jays uniform at some point in 2019 or the following year.