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.

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..

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