Thursday, August 17, 2017

Maverik Aims to be Blue Jays Top Gun

Provo Daily Herald photo
“Time to get to work and prove some people wrong,” Buffo said. “The biggest thing I’ve been looking for more than the money is to be with a team that makes an investment in me and will give me the chance to prove myself.”    

   One of the first things we should get out of the way in regards to Toronto Blue Jays prospect Maverik Buffo is that yes, he was named after Tom Cruise's character from the movie Top Gun.  The 34th round pick from Brigham Young, who is currently dominating the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, says he has been heckled many times over the course of his baseball life with plenty of lines from the movie. "People ask me all the time, 'Hey Maverik, where's Goose?'"
  Buffo adds that he will be getting a dog this offseason, and (you guessed it) will name it after Cruise's sidekick.
  Utah native Buffo had become BYU's 2nd starter in his sophomore year, and seemed primed to go in the top 10 rounds of the draft following his junior year until he suffered a torn UCL.  Rest and rehab is the usual route for UCL tears, often followed by Tommy John surgery if the regimen was not successful.  Buffo opted to try a relatively new therapy:
 For my rehab, I got a stem cell injection as well as a PRP injection and then I began rehabbing with my trainer at BYU throughout the rest of that season and then all through off season and then I was cleared 100% before fall had started. That's when I started throwing in scrimmages and in fall games and then I have felt great ever since. 
  The PRP (Platelet-Rich Therapy) treatment was the course of action the Blue Jays went with Roberto Osuna when he tore his UCL in 2014, but it was ultimately unsuccessful, and its results across baseball have been mixed at best.  Stem cell treatment is used in more severe tears.
   Buffo returned to BYU's rotation this year, but his numbers were less than spectacular.  Still, his velocity had returned to the 92-93 range, hitting 95 on occasion.  But those stats, along with some concerns about his elbow, caused his draft stock to tumble.  According to the Provo (UT) Daily Herald, Buffo thought at one point during the draft that he might be going to the Yankees in the 18th or 19th round, or to the Diamondbacks later, but by Day Three he was still waiting for his name to be called, until the Blue Jays finally selected him:
“It’s hard to sit there and watch and get calls from different teams who tell you that they want to draft you and when your name doesn’t get called ... it’s pretty stressful. But then when I heard my name called, I felt a pit in my stomach and thought, ‘You just got drafted.’”
  Buffo could have gone back to Brigham Young for his senior year in order to improve his draft stock, but he was ready to turn pro:
 Playing professional baseball has been my dream for as long as I can remember. And it is something that I have worked so hard for. To me I felt that I was ready for the next chapter in my life and that I was ready to pursue my dream. I loved everything about BYU they played a major role in getting me where I am today but I just felt the time was right for me to continue to chase that dream. I felt I got everything i could possibly learn and wanted to continue to get better at the next level. 
   After the post-draft orientation in Florida, Buffo remained at the minor league complex to pitch for the GCL Jays, likely because the team wanted to keep an eye on him for medical reasons, and possibly because the team has a good stockpile of Pitchers at Bluefield and Vancouver, the other two short season clubs in the system.  He has dominated GCL hitters through 24 innings, including 4 starts.  He's a few innings short of qualifying for the league's lead with his microscopic 0.37  ERA, but his 43.1% swinging strike rate is second only to teammate Justin Watts'.
  Buffo's arsenal has been described as a five-pitch mix, but like so many successful Pitchers, everything is dictated by the Fastball:
I go after hitters very aggressively. I want to attack them with my fastball. I want to challenge them, my best vs their best. That's what is so fun about this game. I look at the way these hitters react to the previous pitch whether it may be how their body reacted or how their swing was to determine what I am gonna throw next. But for the most part I love to challenge them with my fastball and make them get themselves out. With my breaking ball, it depends on the count but I try to think fastball with it. I try to think fastball with all my off speed pitches because I want everything to look the same. 
  Florida-based Pro and Amateur Scout (and good friend of this blog) Chris King has seen Buffo in action several times in the GCL and has come away impressed:
He's been 92-95 with good movement. Throws strikes and likes to work down in the zone. Has a sharp breaking ball that has tight shape and horizontal break. Very durable frame as well. Mechanics are simple and repeatable.
  A 34th round pick could largely be seen as a roster filler.  Many MLB teams, however, are taking chances on Pitchers on Day 3.  Sometimes there is something in their profile that stands out (like spin rates) that makes a team take a gamble on them - get them in the system, and put them on a weighted ball or some other program to increase velocity, and see what happens. At $50 000, Buffo's signing bonus was higher than that of most players in his draft neighbourhood, but in the larger scheme of things is pretty minimal to an MLB team.  In Buffo's case, Blue Jays Area Scout Pete Holmes went on his past performance and his make up to convince the club to take him.

   With Vancouver and Bluefield both gearing up for playoff runs (the former has already clinched a post-season berth; the latter is tied for their division lead), there might be a promotion in the offing for Buffo.  Or they might opt to limit his innings (he threw 88 in college, in addition to the two dozen he's thrown as a pro) as the season winds down.  Either way, there's an excellent chance he skips a couple of levels and lands in Lansing next year.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blue Jays Scouting Director Weighs in on MLB Draft

Riley Adams/ photo

    Blue Jays Director of Amateur Scouting Steve Sanders moved to Toronto last fall after being named to the job following six years with the Red Sox, but with the duties that come with running the department charged with selecting players in the annual June draft, he admits that he hasn't seen a lot of the city just yet.

    We caught up with Sanders in Chicago, where he was waiting on a flight to Tampa.  The Under Armour Showcase, an annual gathering of the top draft-eligible high school players that takes place at Wrigley Field, had just wrapped up.  The East Coast Pro Showcase was on tap next for Florida, followed by the Area Code Games in California the week after.

   The Blue Jays' drafting philosophy had undergone a change under the leadership of President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins from the days of Alex Anthopolous, which was evident last year.  Up to 2015, the Blue Jays had been willing to roll the dice on draft day, selecting players with high upside, but often with accompanying high risk.  The high school pitcher, perhaps the riskiest commodity in the market, was the Blue Jays preference, as well as athletes in non-traditional baseball places.  In 2016, the club went with a more conservative approach, selecting college players with five of their first six picks, which may have been an effort to re-stock the system in response to the prospect dealing Anthopoulos did in his final year at the Blue Jays helm.

  Approaching the draft, the goal for Blue Jays scouts, says Sanders, is "a complete understanding of the player on and off the field....his strengths, weaknesses, and make-up."  Players are evaluated not just for their tools, but for their aptitutde, and coachability, and as Sanders says, "how their values align with our organization's."

   Working with the Blue Jays High Performance Department on evaluating players, Sanders says the club is always, "working to find new ways to gather and evaluate information more efficiently." For obvious reasons, he wouldn't divulge what some of the team's methods were, but it was well known that the Red Sox, his former employer, used neuroscience to help evaluate potential draftees.   Angus Mugford, who heads up the High Performance group, said just before the draft that his role was to create "a good physical and mental fundamental makeup of as many players as possible," with the mental component being a huge factor.  Make up has become a huge focus of the Blue Jays' evaluaton of prospects - Director of Player Development Gil Kim calls it "the sixth tool."  With talent levels being so even across a wide spectrum of players, it's often traits like grit and resilience that separate the prospects from the suspects. Sanders added that the Blue Jays' Area Scouts take pride in getting to know players - "the more we know (about a player), the better draft day decisions we can make."

  After taking over from former Scouting Director Blake Parker last fall, Sanders made few changes to the scouting staff.  In the early years of the Anthopoulos era, the Blue Jays had one of the largest amateur scouting staffs in baseball, but the numbers have been cut back over the past few years. Sanders felt that wholesale change wasn't necessary when he took over:  "this is a group that had a lot of success before I got here."  As for his philosophy on draft day, he says because each draft is unique in terms of the composition of its top players, and the important thing is to "attack the draft, adding as much impact talent as we can."  More often that not, this translates to the "best player available," when the Blue Jays' turn to select comes up each round.  Sanders says it's best to be "open-minded" when it comes to the draft - some years college players dominate, and sometimes there are more arms than bats, as well as the reverse.  In preparing for next year's draft, Sanders already suggests that it will be different in terms of its composition of top propsects than this year's was.

 Sanders was asked for some capsule comments on the team's top draft picks:

On North Carolina SS Logan Warmoth, taken 22nd overall:
He's a player we've scouted for a long time....he wasn't a propsect out of High School, but he steadily improved at North Carolina, and that really showed this year.  He's very steady and a well-rounded player, with a chance to stay at SS and hit for power.  His make up is off the charts, and he has the intangibles to be a top of the lineup hitter.
The second Blue Jays 1st rounder was Florida Juco RHP Nate Pearson:
His stuff in undeniable.  He's shown steady improvement, and (Area Scout) Matt Bishoff has known him for a long time.  It's not just his velocity, his secondaries are good pitches as well.  He's a good athlete, repeats his delivery well, and has the ingredients to be a top of the rotation arm.
  2nd round pick C Hagen Danner:
 Very athletic player who we scouted as both a catcher and a pitcher. Strong with projectable power, has a chance to be a run producer with the bat to go along with good hands and plus arm behind the plate. Was up to 95 with quality 3 pitch mix off the mound. Great competitor & teammate who bring a lot of winning attributes.
3rd rounder C Riley Adams:
Strong performer in his 3 years at USD and in the Cape league, has power to all fields and shown ability to hit for average and get on base. Easy arm strength and another very good athlete which we feel will help him stay behind the plate despite his larger frame. Works hard on both sides of the ball and continued to get better defensively throughout our looks this season.
4th round pick SS Kevin Smith:
 Quality defender with hands and instincts to stick at SS. Has some pullside power at the plate and showed off what he can do with the bat in the Cape league last summer. Student of the game that's remade parts of his swing over the last few years, did a nice job of making some adjustments this spring to bounce back from a slow start. As he continues to develop, we feel he has the tools to bring value on both sides of the ball as an everyday SS.
5th round pick 2B Cullen Large:
Offensive switch hitting infielder with feel for the bat from both sides. Quality performer for three years at William & Mary. Has played mostly 2B but may be able to move around some for added versatility.
6th rounder OF Brock Lundquist:
LHH college OF with feel to hit & track record of performance at Long Beach State. Can play both corners.
7th round pick RHP Colton Laws:
 Big 6'7 RHP with three pitch mix, gets downhill and throws a lot of strikes. Has impressive feel to pitch, size and angle add deception and can make him a tough look for hitters. Good athlete who was a basketball player in HS, feel he's going to continue to get better as he continues to log innings.
Canadian OF Tanner Kirwer, taken in the 20th round:
CF with plus speed to impact the game in the outfield and on the bases. Was starting to hit his stride offensively before being hit by pitch at the end of July (he was recently placed on the 60-day DL). Great makeup and energy, originally from Alberta, Canada before heading to Niagara U.

   As the draft heads into Day 2, the knowledge of the Area Scouts is "the locomotive that drives the process," according to Sanders, and is a good example of why these individuals are among the most important in the organization.  They know the players better than anyone, having seen them play over the course of several years.  The intuition of Area Scouts becomes even more important on Day 3, when there is little information available about players who have yet to be drafted.  Many selected at this point become what is known in the trade as "organization guys" - players drafted in order to fill rosters at the lower levels of the farm system.  But, as Sanders says, "for every guy we drafted, there was someone on the staff who believed in them."

   At 29, Sanders is one of the youngest Scouting Directors in baseball.  He is, in baseball terms, "a gamer."  Sanders attended Northwestern, but tore his labrum before attending the school, and redshirted his first three years.  After graduation, he interned with Dodgers in his hometown before moving across the country to become the Red Sox Amateur Scouting Coordinator in 2012, moving up to Assistant Director in 2015.  He has as reputation as having strong people and analytical skills.  When asked what allowed Sanders to stand out among the candidates the Blue Jays were considering for the job, Shapiro responded:
 It was helpful that Steve had worked with people that we knew well and aligned with like Ben Cherington, Mike Hazen and Mike Murov.  Throughout our time with him, he was thoughtful, intelligent, passionate and humble.  Steve impressed upon us that he was driven to learn and improve – and more importantly help others do the same.  He also exuded many of the leadership traits that I think separate great leaders.  Even better, he has over delivered on those interview attributes in his everyday leadership.  He works to build strong, respectful relationships throughout our organization and to utilize every person and source of information to help us make better scouting decisions.  We are fortunate to have Steve leading our Amateur Scouting staff.

  Once things settle down at the end of the summer, Sanders admits that he's looking forward to getting to know Toronto better before planning and scouting for next year's draft begins.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Look at Samad Taylor

   IF Samad Taylor was acquired by the Blue Jays in the Joe Smith deadline deal, along with LHP Thomas Pannone.  Taylor was a 10th round pick of Cleveland in 2016.  In the aftermath of the deal, the term that seemed to be applied to the athletic Californian is intriguing.
   Viewed as undersized, he put on quite a performance in front of an armada of scouts at the 2015 Area Code Games tryouts that changed a number of teams' minds.  A draft report from Baseball America suggests he was a Best Player Available pick:
He's athletic and has some quick hands that give him surprising power at his size. He's a plus runner who could wind up as a utility player and has a good chance to stay in the infield. He's undersized at 5-foot-9, 159 pounds and may not have the arm strength to stick at shortstop.
  As is the case with most high school picks, Taylor spent his first year in pro ball in a complex league, putting up a respectable .293/.359/.397 line for Cleveland's Arizona League entry.  Sent to short season Mahoning Valley of the New York-Penn League, he's put up decent numbers again, showing a little more pop, but getting on base less often.
   Taylor is one of those fast-twitch, athletic guys that teams covet.  He was a switch-hitter in high school, but the Indians had him hitting only from the right side when he turned pro.  Hitting from a tall stance with a very simple set of mechanics, Taylor uses his lower half and quick hands to produce a line-drive swing.  He makes consistent hard contact, although his BB-K ratio this year suggests that his pitch recognition skills are being put to the test by the more advanced NY-Penn pitchers.
   In the field, Taylor has quick reactions to the ball, including a swift first step.  His actions are smooth, fundamentals are sound,  moves well laterally, and he covers a lot of ground and gets to a lot of balls as a result.  He does not have the strongest or most graceful arm action, however, which is why he's projected to be a 2B as he advances.  He doesn't appear to have the arm for SS.
   On the bases, Taylor's speed gets a 70 (out of 80) grade, and most reports make reference to this tool. That raw speed has not translated into stolen bases just yet, but if he continues to develop as a hitter with power to the gaps, it could result in higher double and triples totals.

  Video of Taylor from his draft year.....

  Taylor is listed at 5'10"/160, and both figures are probably on the generous side.  He's no doubt added some weight to his medium frame, which should add some power.  He turned 19 in July, so there is still some room for projection.

    Taylor was not listed among Cleveland's Top 30 pre-season prospects, which is not a surprise given his inexperience and the depth of their system.  He been a fixture at the top of Mahoning Valley's order this season, and he profiles as a top of the order hitter if he can continue to get on base.  His likely destination in Vancouver, but he probably has to get a passport before that can happen.   The Northwest League is on their all-star break, and the C's resume play at Hillsboro on Friday - which is good news, because if Taylor is somehow in the lineup, the Hops' home games are broadcast on

   Does the athletic Taylor have an MLB future?  That is incredibly difficult to say at this point.  Given his tools and skills, he could profile as an MLB utility player if he doesn't pan out as a full-time Second Baseman.  His acquisition does add to the growing stable of athletes in the Blue Jays system.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Scouting Thomas Pannone photo

   The Blue Jays acquired LHP Thomas Pannone, along with IF Samad Taylor, from Cleveland in the trade for Joe Smith at the trade deadline.  Here's a look at his minor league career so far, with a focus on his most recent start on July 29th.

   First, some background:    A Rhode Island native, Pannone was taken in the 33rd round by the Cubs. He opted to attend the Community College of Southern Nevada, a junior college which has sent several players to MLB, most noticeably Bryce Harper.   He was a high makeup, athletic prospect, according to Baseball America's draft report:

Pannone was a 33rd-round pick of the Cubs out Bishop Hendricken High (Warwick, R.I.) last year, but he didn't sign and made the cross-country trek to JC of Southern Nevada after initially committing to Miami. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he's a tightly wound athlete who was a two-way player in high school. He played more in the outfield for the Coyotes early in the year, and scouts said watching his pregame throws was a treat. He started getting more time on the mound midway through the season, and scouts see him in that role as a pro. Pannone was on the mound for Bishop Hendricken's state championship game last year, but as a two-way player from the Northeast he is still raw as a pitcher. His fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range, and he can spot it, but his secondary stuff is below-average. His curveball is ahead of his changeup. Scouts like his athleticism and bulldog mentality. 
    As a converted pitcher with average velocity, Pannone has had to prove himself at every level.  He's made a steady rise through Cleveland's system, although he repeated Low A in 2016.  This year, he began the season at High A, was was unhittable in 5 starts, allowing only 10 hits in 27 innings, while fanning 39 and not allowing an earned run before a promotion to AA. According to my good internet friend Justin L, (@JL_Baseball on Twitter), who follows the Cleveland system extensively from top to bottom, some mechanical changes this year have resulted in a breakthrough for the southpaw:
(He has a) 89-92 fastball that he can spot pretty well. Fixed his mechanics this year a bit to stop from being so closed off. Helped him maintain some consistency in his velocity (was down to low 80s for a period last year). Breaking ball has come a long way this year and so has changeup. I think the curve is better than the change but some think the opposite. Change is 79-81. Good arm speed on change command just needs to improve. Over all he's a strike thrower who sits 89-92. If command keeps coming I think he could be a #4/5 guy consistently, at worst he's a depth starter/swingman with that potential.

  Jim Callis of, when asked about why Pannone, who wasn't listed among Cleveland's Top 30 prospects on MLB Pipeline before the season, was at a bit of a loss to explain his ascension this year:
 He took off after making some delivery adjustments last year, though his dominance is hard to explain. Pannone works with a 90-92 mph and can throw strikes with a decent curveball and changeup, and while his stuff isn't overwhelming, hitters just don't seem to see his fastball.

   Pannone started the second half of a doubleheader against the Orioles' AA affiliate on July 29th.  He was a model of efficiency in a 13-pitch first inning, retiring the side in order with a swinging strike on an outside curve.  In the 2nd, he was squared up twice with two outs, but retired the side.  Throwing first pitch strikes, then using his change and curve to put hitters away or induce weak contact (Pannone also threw a four-seamer that was a tick or two higher than his usual low 90s velo to try to get swings and misses), he retired the side in order in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th.  Into the 7th, Pannone had set down 14 hitters in a row before surrendering a one out single.  The next hitter launched one over the centrefield wall to break the shutout, and bring an end to Pannone's night.

   How does Pannone get hitters out?  By a solid combination of command of all three of his pitches (fastball, curve, change), and by sequencing.  A tall-and-fall pitcher, Pannone has a bit of deception to his delivery, throws all three of his pitches from the same three-quarters arm slot, and consistently gets ahead of hitters,  where his secondaries become more of a weapon.  He can back door his curve to right-handed hitters, and throws his change in any count.  He threw first pitch strikes to 16 of the 23 hitters he faced, opening each inning from the 3rd through to the 7th with a strike. grades his fastball and curve as average, and his change as a slight bit above average:
Pannone can run his fastball up to 92-93 mph but usually sits more in the 88-91 mph range. Though not overpowering, Pannone's heater plays above its velocity on account of his deception, allowing him to induce whiffs inside the zone. He has good feel for his curveball, showing the ability to throw it for a strike and also bury it in the dirt when vying for whiffs, and he's adept at adding and subtracting with the pitch as needed. His changeup gives him a third average-or-better offering, albeit one he uses sparingly, and he has good command of all three pitches.

  Here is the thing about Pannone: despite the fact that he lacks a plus pitch in his arsenal, he gets hitters out.  Will that translate to success in the major leagues?   It's very hard to say - the relative lack of velo gives him less margin for error with his command and secondaries.  But the guy appears to be pitching above his grades.  Pannone is a competitor, who seems to have made the necessary adjustments to miss barrels and climb the minor league ladder.  That may not translate to a top-of-the-rotation arm, but given his pitch economy, he could profile as a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater pitcher at the major league level.

  A mid-season Eastern League All Star, Pannone is among the league leaders in several pitching categories.  He lacks the innings to qualify, but his 2.62 ERA is the second lowest in the league.  His K% (24.5) is the highest, and his 11.8% swinging strike rate is the second highest.  To this point, this is a guy who has pitched above his scouting grades.
   Pannone should report to New Hampshire and join their rotation, where he will join prospects Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and Jon Harris.

    Some Pannone video for your viewing pleasure....

Monday, July 31, 2017

Do Trades for Prospects Really Work?

Franklin Barreto - photo

  On November 28th, 2014, then-Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos dealt 3rd Baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects for Oakland 3B Josh Donaldson.  It was not the first time Anthopoulos had dealt prospects in an attempt to bolster the major league roster, of course, and the November deal did not bring about an end to his prospect dealing.  In 4 separate deadline deals in 2015, Anthopoulos dealt a total of 10 prospects at the July trade deadline.

   At that time, many hard core Blue Jays fans had mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the club was able to pick up key pieces like Troy Tulowitzki and David Price without sacrificing a player from the 25-man roster.  On the other, the club parted with some top prospects like Jeff Hoffman and Daniel Norris, and dealt some of its prospect depth.

   By September, of 2015, however, most of that concern had long since faded away.  The Blue Jays turned their season around, playing scorching baseball down the stretch to break a two decades long playoff drought.   As the 2017 season progresses, the team's aging core is showing signs of wear and tear, and while the farm system is producing talent in abundance,  in the words of President Mark Shaprio, "Most of it is at the lower levels."  The club looks to be at the fringes of a post-season berth, at best.

   Will Shapiro and his front office colleagues be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?  Will they look to shed some contractual obligations, or will they try to once again upgrade the major league roster by dealing some of that far-off prospect depth?

   History suggests that dealing for prospects doesn't always work.  Here's a look at the deals Anthopoulos made to give us much of the current big league roster, and an analysis of the benefits they brought to the club:

November 28, 2014
   Josh Donaldson for Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and Brett Lawrie.

    Donaldson has provided 17.7 WAR (BR's version) of value, an MVP award, and led the team to a pair of post-season appearances since his acquisiton.  Barreto won the Northwest League's MVP award that year at the tender age of 18, and was the centrepiece of that deal.  He made his MLB debut in June, and was returned to AAA after hitting .190/.262/.381.  Graveman did a decent job in the back of the Athletics' rotation last year, but injuries have limited him to 8 starts this year, and he's currently on a rehab assignment.  The oft-injured Noin made 6 starts for Oakland in 2015, spent all of last year on the DL, and was picked up by Milwaukee on waivers last fall.  He's been on the DL again since Opening Day.  Lawrie was dealt to the White Sox after one season, and was released early in spring training this year, and has yet to catch on with an MLB organization.
    It was sad to see Barreto go, but he was so far away (and there was considerable doubt about his eventual position), so the victors in this deal were clearly the Blue Jays.

July 28, 2015
   Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco.
    Tulo plugged the gaping hole at SS that was Reyes, and Hawkins stablilized the 7th inning for the club, and both were integral parts of the run to the pennant that year.  Hoffman was a 1st round pick in 2014, but was coming off Tommy John surgery.  He made 4 starts for Colorado in 2016, and now has become a mainstay of their rotation, but like many pitchers who ply their trade in Coors Field, his numbers are a bit unsightly.  Castro was an electric-armed reliever who rocketed through the Blue Jays farm system in 2014, and broke camp with the club the following year, even though he had never pitched about High A.  MLB hitters teed off on his fastball, which consistently caught too much of the plate, and he was back in the minors after a month.  Traded to Baltimore at the start of this season, Castro has been on the MLB/AAA shuffle, but appears to be sticking with the O's this time around, and has posted a 2.70 ERA in 26 innings.  Tinoco made great progress in Low A in 2015, but has struggled since then, and has yet to pitch above High A.
   Hawkins retired after 2015, and while Tulo has had his struggles with the bat this year, and is possibly out for the season after injuring his ankle this weekend,  the Blue Jays are once again clearly the hands-down winners of this deal.  His contributions on and off the field have been numerous.

July 30, 2015
   David Price for Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd
    On paper, this deal had the greatest potential to be win-win for both sides.  Price gave the Blue Jays a legitimate ace, and Norris and Boyd promised to give the Tigers some long-term rotation depth.
     Price, of course, moved on to the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season.  Norris had some health issues, but over the last month of 2016 appeared to be on the verge of becoming a front-of-the-rotation arm.  Boyd was never a highly-heralded prospect, but all he did as a minor leaguer was get hitters out.  He made 18 starts for the Tigers in 2016, and it was easy to pencil him in as a back-of-the-rotation guy for 2017.  Both have had their struggles this year:  Norris posted a 5.29 ERA in 16 starts before going on the DL in early July, and is rehabbing in AAA; Boyd has been on the Detroit-Toledo shuffle after making the club out of spring training, and is currently with the Tigers.
    Price led the Blue Jays to the post-season.  Norris and Boyd have not put the Tigers over the top.  If there was a winner in this deal, a slight edge would go to the Blue Jays, although they have proved they could have used some starting pitching depth this year.

July 31st, 2015
   Mark Lowe for Jake Brentz and Nick Wells.
    Lowe, along with Hawkins, helped bolster the Blue Jays pennant run in 2015.  He left for the Tigers as a free agent after the season, and has bounced to the Mariners and the White Sox, for whom he's pitching in AAA at the moment.
    Brentz was a project - a guy who hadn't pitched a whole lot before being drafted, and was still learning the craft in 2015.  Dealt to the Pirates last year, he was moved to the bullpen full time this year, and was recently promoted to AA.  In four pro seasons, Wells has not pitched above Low A.
    This is a  deal that is almost a wash, except for the fact that Lowe played some post-season ball in 2015.

July 31, 2015
   Ben Revere for Jimmy Cordero and Alberto Tirado.
   Revere played very well for the Blue Jays for two months in 2015, and was a fixture at the top of the order, getting on base at a rate well above his career average.  Things have been pretty much downhill for him since then.
   Cordero had a fastball that could reach triple digits, but he didn't always know where it was going, and he's walked as many (32) as he has struck out in 42 innings at AA this year.  Tirado seems to have been around forever, but is only 22.  He had been moved to the bullpen that year after having difficulties as a starter, but the Phillies sent him from High to Low A last year in an attempt to move him back into the rotation.  It seems to have succeeded, as Tirado was promoted to AA recently.
    Slight edge to the Blue Jays.  Revere is long gone, but he gave the club two months of value and contributed to a pennant winner.

   There was some wringing of hands among Blue Jays fans about the number of prospects that were given up, but the truth of the matter is that the only quality players the team gave up were Barreto, Norris, and Hoffman, and all three have yet to make a big impact at the major league level.  The Blue Jays in 2015 were still able to hang onto the prospects they were least willing to part with (Anthony Alford, Rowdy Tellez, Richard Ureña, Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley), and yet they acquired key pieces to their pennant drive.
   Recent research by Baseball America suggests that prospect deals made at the trade deadline don't work out for the team acquiring prospects more often than they do.  Most teams now are very reluctant to give up young, controllable players whom they've already invested a great deal of time and money in. And the Blue Jays' experience in 2015 seems to point in that direction.  The short-term gain the team experienced more than cancelled out any long term consequences of the deal, and they still were able to hold on to the prospects the prized the most.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

What To Expect From Chris Rowley

Eddie Michels/ photo

   One early sweltering early August Florida afternoon in 2013, RHP Chris Rowley took the mound for the Blue Jays Gulf Coast League entry.  After limiting the Pirates' GCL team to one run on four hits over six innings, Rowley jumped into the team traniner's car the following morning (his 23rd birthday) for the airport.  His destination:  New York, from where he would travel to West Point to begin fulfilling his service commitment after graduating from the US Military Academy that spring.
   Four years later, after serving his two-year hitch, which included a deployment to Eastern Europe (where he threw to the company medic to keep up his arm strength), Rowley is on the cusp of a big league job, having faced down incredibly long odds just to make it to pro ball.

  Rowley was lightly scouted even though he was the ace of the Black Knights' staff in his senior year at West Point; his military commitment no doubt dissuaded most teams.  He quickly signed with the Jays, who needed pitching for their GCL club after the 2013 draft. He was one of the team's most effective starters (1.09 ERA, 10.6 K/9) for the GCL Jays, but while other pitchers on the club received promotions to Bluefield or Vancouver as the summer progressed, Rowley remained in Dunedin, with the 60 days he had to report after graduating quickly counting down.

  After two years of service, Rowley was released from further commitment by the Army under a new program that allowed elite athletes in the military to pursue their sports.  Rowley reported to Florida for Instructs in the fall of 2015, and has quickly made up for lost time.  He was a mainstay in High A Dunedin's bullpen in 2016, and moved up the ladder to New Hampshire this year, where he continued his strong relief work until injuries in the Fisher Cats' rotation forced Manager Gary Allenson to press Rowley into starting duties.  Rowley did not miss a beat, and after taking a shutout into the 6th inning in his first start, he didn't allow more than one run in his next three.  That helped earn Rowley a promotion to Buffalo, where he returned to the bullpen.  Injuries and call ups forced him back into the starting rotation, and Rowley has not allowed a run over his last two starts.

   Chris Rowley does not blow hitters away.  He relies on his command, and a sinker that he says, "I couldn't throw straight even if I tried."  He mixes in a rapdily improving change up and a late-breaking slider with good depth.  He throws all 3 pitches from the same arm slot, making it very hard for hitters to pick up spin/rotation.  Rowley works quickly, standing on the rubber and peering in for the sign from his Catcher as soon as he gets the ball back.  His delivery has a slight pause, which can disrupt hitters' ability to time him.  Rowley is a good athlete who lands in a good fielding position, and is quick off the mound.  Most important of all, he pounds the lower part of the strike zone, walking only 20 over close to 90 innings. Hitters at two levels have found him extremely tought to square up.

   Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim calls Rowley, "A solid make up guy, (and) a true professional."  He is respectful to all throughout the game, and faithfully answers questions from a writer who's followed him for several years.  The Toronto media will no doubt quickly latch onto his Cinderella story - in a little under two years, he's gone from the US Army to the brink of the major leagues.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Look at What's In the System

Tim Mayza - Clutchlings Photo

   With the Toronto Blue Jays struggling to score runs,  and a recent Statscast release demonstrating that in terms of baserunning speed, they have one of the slowest lineups in baseball,  thoughts of many fans are turning into what volume of selling the club will be doing at the trade deadline.
    It's hard to predict either way what the team will do at the end of this month.  A decent winning streak could put them right back into the thick of things.  But with Troy Tulowitzki struggling, Kevin Pillar reverting to career norms, and minus the spark that Devon Travis provided, it's hard to see this team playing meaningful September baseball.  The question for Blue Jays management is whether or not a quick fix, in the form of trades to shore up weak spots in the lineup is the answer, or if a complete tear-down is more in order.
   Before a team decides to blow it up and start from scratch, they have to take stock of their minor league systems.  Are there players who are close enough that their development as every day major leaguers won't be impaired by rushing them?  Are there enough players at key positions?  Will rebuilding be a long, painful, and attendance-costing process, or is there enough talent at the upper levels of the system to keep the team competitive?

   Here's a look, position-by-position, at what's in the system, and how close those players might be.

   This is possibly the deepest position in the system - quite a turnaround from even a year ago.
Danny Jansen has gone fron oft-injured to AA All Star in the course of a year.  Reese McGuire underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in May and is out until at least August, and was replaced by Jansen.  Max Pentecost returned to Catching duties this year after two  Going deeper into the system, recent draftees Riley Adams and Hagen Danner show tremendous promise.
   Jansen and McGuire (that's the order I see them in - Jansen should become the everyday receiver, with McGuire a more than competent back up who can allow the Blue Jays to keep Jansen's bat in the lineup once in a while as a DH) are both at least a year away, while the newbies in the system are several.
   With Russ Martin under contract for two more years, and Miguel Montero just picked up from the Cubs, this position does not seem to be a priority for the Jays to re-tool.  With 3 decent prospects in full season ball, and a pair in short season, this is a position of strength for the organzation, and if the club was looking to upgrade the major league roster, this might be an area to deal from.

Corner Infielders
   This was the year that Rowdy Tellez was going to challenge Justin Smoak for a job by mid-season.
   So much for that.
    Tellez faced on and off-field struggles this half   His bat has started to show signs of life, but he's hovered around the Mendoza Line for much of the season to date.  Tellez was one of the youngest players in AA last year, and at 22, he's one of the youngest again at AAA.  There's not much to be gained by rushing him at this point.
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr may be on his way to best-prospect-in-baseball status, but he's still only 18, and several years away.
   There isn't much else at these positions.

Middle Infielders
    There is truly a glut of players in the system who can play 2nd and SS.   The most promising, of course, is Guerrero's bashing Lansing brother Bo Bichette, who is still a few years away as well.
  Richard Ureña was one of the youngest players in AA at the start of the season.  After settling many questions about his bat the past two years, he's struggled at the plate this year.  There is no doubt about his defensive skills.  He is the eventual successor to Troy Tulowitzki, but he likely is destined to be a bottom third of the order hitter.
    Jason Leblebijian has had the most successful season of any Blue Jays middle infielder.  Once viewed as an org guy, he went to Australia a couple of seasons ago, mashed his way to an MVP award, and seemingly hasn't stopped hitting.  At 26, his prospect status is starting to wane, however, and he can't really be viewed as a long-term answer.
    Top draft pick Logan Warmoth made his pro debut in the GCL, and now is a fixture in Vancouver's lineup.  He may even make it to Lansing by the end of the summer. He's not likely to make his MLB debut this decade, though.
   Lourdes Gurriel is something of a wild card here.  He could profile as a SS, 2B, or a LF.  After not playing for almost two years following his defection from Cuba, the Blue Jays expected some rust, but injuries have slowed his development this year.  A recent series against Bradenton showed some issues with bat speed and timing, but that apepars to be coming around now that he's healthy and in the lineup of AA New Hampshire every day.

   Blue Jays fans got a glimpse of the future when toolsy Anthony Alford made his MLB debut this year.  It was a brief one, of course, but if his recovery from wrist surgery goes well, (he's been back for about a week), there's every chance we see him in a Blue Jays uniform this summer.
   And the stock of good players at this position who are close begins and ends with Alford.  Roemon Fields has put together a surprising .298/.348/.385 line at Buffalo, but has struggled throughout much of his full-season minor league career to get on base enough to take advantage of his speed.  Dwight Smith Jr likewise has put up decent numbers at AAA, and even hit well in a brief audition with the big club, but he and Fields really should be considered to be no more than fourth outfielders at best.
   Edward Olivares has opened at lot of eyes at Lansing this year, but has to prove that he can maintain that kind of contact at the higher levels.  An aside: watching Olivares take BP earlier this year, it was kind of mystifying to watch him drive so many pitches into the top of the cage in an obvious attempt to put some loft on the ball.  Given his build and speed, an observer might have been tempted to think that a line drive, on-base approach might be better.  During the game that followed, Olivares lofted a HR over the wall in Left-Centre, a noteworthy blast in April at Cooley Law School Stadium.  He is a five-tool player (leads all Midwest League OFs in Assists) and a premium athlete who is still several years away.
2016 2nd rounder J.B. Woodman has swung and missed at a lot of pitches so far this year in the Midwest League.
  Dalton Pompey continues to try to stay healthy and see his name on the lineup card every day.
  This is not a positon of depth in the system, however.

Starting Pitchers
   Sean Reid-Foley would have been considered the top starting prospect in the system this year.  In his first try at AA, he's been too fine with his pitches, and has had his ups and downs, athough his most recent outing was a gem.  He's also only 21, and obviously needs more time.
    The same could be said of Conner Greene, who's walking hitters at a career-high rate (5.5/9) as SRF's rotation-mate.  Greene has shown flashes of brilliance, but has yet to put a solid stretch together - he walked 8 and fanned only 2 over only 4 innings in his last start.
   TJ Zeuch, the club's 1st round pick last year, showed promise in High A, but struggled to stay healthy as many pitchers do in his first full season, and is on the DL.  He's resumed baseball activities since being shut down a month ago, but there is not date for his return.
   Ryan Borucki was added to the 40-man last August, but his lengthy injury history prompted the team to shut him down briefly early in the season, and he was on a pitch-count limit until June.  Teammate and GTA product Jordan Romano has probably been the best starter in the Blue Jays system this year, although he may profile more as an MLB reliever. Both have to be considered two-three years away.
   Justin Maese reached Lansing in only his second pro season (quite a feat for a high school P) last August, but he too has been shut down with shoulder issues.  He returned to action in a GCL rehab stint this week, but the club is likely understandably reluctant to rush things.  Both Maese and Zeuch are several years away.
   Southpaw Angel Perdomo has been brought slowly through the system, and has pitched well at High A this year.  Most scouts are of the belief that his lights-out fastball will play better in a bullpen one day, but the Blue Jays are content for now to allow him to continue to develop as a starter.
   2015 1st rounder Jon Harris has had his struggles at AA this year, but seems to be turning things around.
   Yennsy Diaz has dazzled Midwest League hitters with his electric fastball since making his full season debut last month.  If his secondaries continue to develop, he will be an arm worth watching.

Relief Pitchers
   If there is one area that has consistently been one of the deepest pools of talent in the system.
Which is a good thing, considering the short shelf life of the modern day MLB reliever.
   Chris Rowley has rocketed through the system after being released from his military commitment last February.  He does not blow hitters away, but uses a combination of location and movement to keep hitters off balance.  He pitched in relief last year and for the first two months of this year, but injuries in New Hampshire's rotation forced him into a starting role.  He has been lights out in either capacity, earning a promotion to Buffalo.  The Blue Jays would have preferred to keep him in relief, according to a team official, but he's proven valuable in the swing man role.  He's knocking on the door of a major league job.
   Southpaw Matt Dermody has made tremendous strides since being switched to full-time bullpen duties two years ago, and even made a few appearances with the big club last fall.  He was hit hard in his only MLB outing this year, and has given up some contact with Buffalo, but is still striking out a batter per inning.  Fellow lefty Tim Mayza turned some heads in spring training, and after dazzling with an electric fastball that hits 97.  RHP John Stilson and his 96 mph fastball have been knocking on the major league door for some time, but injuries seem to keep getting in the way.
  At AA, Dusty Isaacs and New Brunswick's Andrew Case (recetnly promoted to Buffalo) haven't had a lot of opportunities to close the door on opponents for the last-place Fisher Cats, but have been very effective in late inning situations.  And while we usually don't go below that level to look for potential bullpen arms, Kirby Snead, Zach Jackson and Jackson McClelland have put together impressive seasons first at Lansing and now Dunedin.
   This is another position of strength for the organization in terms of depth.

Zach Jackson - Clutchlings photo

    In short, this is a system with a growing stockpile of talent, but there is little of it that's ready to step into an everyday role with the big league club.  Alford is the most obvious candidate, but the struggles of Tellez, Reid-Foley, and Greene indicate that they're still at least a year away.  Bichette and Guerrero are clearly the jewels of the system, but 2019 would have to be the earliest we would see them, and that date is probably a bit on the optimistic side.
    There is some trade depth if the Blue Jays were looking to upgrade the major league roster.  If Pentecost does not pan out behind the plate, his athleticism would be a fit for many teams.  Olivares offers a toolkit that might be very tempting.  And despite not being able to offer more than a $300K bonus to any of their international signings last year in the hangover that was the 2015 Vladdy Jr signing, there are some intriguing arms in that group.
    It's hard to say which way the Blue Jays management group is leaning, but if past performance is any indication, this is an administration which prefers to build from within, using young controllable players.  We're not apt to see the likes of Alex Anthopoulos' dealing two years ago (he traded 18 prospects in the span of eight months).   Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro is well aware of the risks of doing a full-on tear down, and is not likely to make a wholesale overhaul of the major league roster. The deals that he and GM Ross Atkins would make, if any, would probably involve the return of upper-level prospects for players on the 25-man with soon to be expiring contracts.  With a stable of prospects reaching the middle levels of the system this year, and a likely Top 10 draft pick next year barring a remarkable second half turnaround, it seems more likely that the Blue Jays will not be holding a fire sale later this month, but may look to move one or two contracts, with an eye to the club becoming more competitive in the next two years.



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 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 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

Logan Warmoth/Niall O'Donohoe/ photo

  With the signing deadline having passed for the 2017 MLB draft, here is a list of the players the Blue Jays drafted and signed.  The Area Scouts for each player involved are listed too.  Thanks to Mal Romanin, the Blue Jays Manager of Baseball Information for the update.  Bonuses, to the best of my knowledge, are up-to-date....some were easier to find than others.  Fellow interpid Blue Jays bloggers, please let me know about any corrections.

PlayerRoundSlotBonusSchool Area Scout
Logan Warmoth127952820UNC Chapel HillChris Kline
Nate Pearson123022453College of Central FloridaMatt Bishoff
Hagen Danner210431500Huntington Beach HSJoey Aversa
Riley Adams3542542U San DiegoJim Lentine
Kevin Smith4405505U Maryland College ParkDoug Witt
Cullen Large5302302College of William and MaryDoug Witt
Brock Lundquist6234175Cal St Long BeachJoey Aversa
Colton Laws7183183UNC CharlotteChris Kline
Kacy Clemens815250University of TexasBrian Johnston
Zach Logue9139125University of KentuckyNate Murrie
Justin Dillon101325Cal State SacramentoDarold Brown
Donnie Sellers11125Wake Forest UniversityChris Kline
Matt Shannon1280Angelo State UGerald Turner
Brody Rodning13100Minnesota St MankatoWes Penick
P.K. Morris14206.5Steinbrenner HSMatt Bishoff
Ryan Noda15125University of CincinnatiCoulson Barbiche
Ty Tice1690U Central ArkansasDallas Black
Jordan Barrett181Elon UniversityChris Kline
Tanner Kiwaner2040Niagara UJamie Lehman
Turner Larkins21125Texas A&M UBrian Johnston
D.J. Neal26100University of South CarolinaChris Kline
Davis Schneider2850Eastern HSMike Alberts
Joe DiBenedetto291Nova Southeastern UniversityMatt O'Brien
Reilly Johnson30100State College of Florida Manatee-SarasotaMatt Bishoff
Graham Spraker311Quincy UniversityJeff Johnson
Matthew Gunter331Hawaii Pacific UJim Lentine
Maverik Buffo3450Brigham Young UniversityPete Holmes
Brandon Polizzi3520Cal State Dominguez HillsBud Smith
Jonathan Cheshire361Davenport UCoulson Barbiche
Justin Watts371U Southern IndianaJeff Johnson
Marcus Reyes381San Diego State UJim Lentine