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.


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