Dunedin Blue Jays 2014 Report, Part 3: Relief Pitchers

Efrain Nieves
Efrain Nieves

Efrain Nieves

 

While the starting rotation for the Dunedin Blue Jays featured some tremendous performances, the bullpen was just as effective. With several pitchers having great years, the D-Jays pitching staff was probably the deepest in the Jays’ organization this year.

 

 

Chad Girodo

Chad Girodo

 

Getting into a team-high 47 games was lefty Chad Girodo who was incredibly impressive throughout the season. Throwing 76 2/3 innings, Girodo posted a 2.47 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with just 20 walks and 81 strikeouts, giving him almost exactly the same strikeout and walk percentages that he had last year in Lansing. The 2013 ninth-round draft pick is a side-arming lefty who gets a ton of ground balls (2.09 Ground Out to Air Out ratio) with his heavy fastball that features a ton of movement. I also saw an increase in velocity during spring training for Girodo over what he was doing at the end of last year which gets him into the low 90s and gives him a better chance of being effective and, significantly, righties didn’t hit much better against him than lefties did. I see Girodo moving up to New Hampshire in 2015.

 

With 44 appearances, Puerto Rican side-winding lefty Efrain Nieves, acquired by the Blue Jays in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, actually logged more innings for the D-Jays than Girodo did thanks to his four starts. Nieves had a 2.29 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with a solid 5.9% walk rate. The downside is that Nieves only struck out 16.1% of batters against, but he showed a huge increase in ground balls (3.15 GO/AO ratio) which leads me to believe that he’s been working on a sinker to help him get those outs. Nieves is another pitcher who could very well end up in Double-A next year.

 

25-year-old righty Arik Sikula was our reliever of the year thanks to an outstanding season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, spent as the team’s closer. The Marshall University product, taken in the 36th round of the 2011 draft, racked up 31 saves in 44 games for the D-Jays, posting a 1.66 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 43 1/3 innings while walking just eight batters and striking out 60. Moving up for a 12-game promotion to New Hampshire mid-season, Sikula threw another 15 innings, allowing five runs, walking four and striking out 20, showing that his stuff played at the higher level too. Look for Sikula to start the year with the Fisher Cats in New Hampshire.

 

Wil Browning

Wil Browning

 

Wil Browning had another dominant year in A-ball after being signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2012. Browning reached Double-A in his Age-25 season, but didn’t do nearly as well there, walking far too many batters over a six-game trial. In Dunedin, however, Browning had a 1.65 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 43 2/3 innings with 17 walks and 57 strikeouts. I think Browning gets another shot at Double-A next season to see if he can repeat his success when given a longer rope.

 

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson

 

Justin Jackson, the 25-year-old former infielder-turned-pitcher, got roughed up in his second year as a pitcher. Pitching in Dunedin and a little bit in New Hampshire, Jackson posted a 4.38 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP to go along with 22 walks and 40 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings with Dunedin before throwing up an ERA over 6.00 and a WHIP over 2.00 in 8 2/3 innings in New Hampshire. Jackson’s future in the organization is unclear. He’s already eligible to leave as a minor league free agent and I don’t know what the club’s scouts and minor league staff think of him as a pitcher. I’ll definitely be following what happens with Jackson very carefully.

 

After pitching just three innings in 2013 due to injury, Danny Barnes had a comeback year but couldn’t stay healthy the whole season, missing all of July this year. In 38 2/3 innings with the D-Jays, Barnes had a 4.19 ERA, 1.24 WHIP to go with a very good ratio of 4.08 strikeouts for every walk, striking out 49 batters. The peripheral numbers suggest that Barnes, who will be 25 this month, will get a shot to see what he can do in Double-A.

 

The Blue Jays allowed several of the Dunedin Blue Jays pitchers to test their mettle against better competition with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, including lefty Tony Davis. Davis posted similar numbers to last year as a 26 year old in the Florida State League with a 3.53 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 53 strikeouts and 16 walks in 43 1/3 innings. Davis actually started the season in Double-A but struggled, getting lit up for a 5.70 ERA, 1.90 WHIP and more walks than strikeouts (and almost as many walks as innings pitched) with 22 free passes in 23 2/3 innings.

 

Kramer Champlin

Kramer Champlin

 

6-foot-6 righty Kramer Champlin was one of the pleasant surprises after a solid season in Lansing last year. In his Age-24 season in Dunedin, Champlin put up some very good numbers despite injuries that kept his campaign to just 30 innings (not counting the five innings in the GCL on rehab). Champlin’s 2.70 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were very strong and his strikeout numbers fell from his Lansing percentage (22.7%) last year to 15.1%. Is the pitcher who relied on the strikeout less in 2014 the real Kramer Champlin or did the injury take its toll on the 2011 33rd-round draftee? We’ll see next year when I think he could start in either Dunedin or New Hampshire.

 

In his Age-25 season, Hunter Carnevale was picked up by the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent after he was released by the New York Mets. Carnevale threw only 4 1/3 innings for Dunedin before the end of the season.

 

Ajay Meyer was off to a great start to his season after three previous excellent years as a pro. Meyer, now 27, had 7 1/3 innings under his belt, allowing just two runs before he decided to call it quits, retiring before April had finished.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Minor Leaguers Elect Free Agency

Jonathan Diaz
Jonathan Diaz

Jonathan Diaz

 

Five minor leaguers who were with the Blue Jays’ system in 2014 have elected free agency and will try their luck on the free agent market this offseason.

 

 

Outfielder Cole Gillespie, shortstop Jonathan Diaz, and pitchers Bobby Korecky, Brad Mills and Raul Valdes have all elected free agency. All had major league service time this year (Korecky, Gillespie, Diaz and Mills with the Blue Jays and Valdes with the Astros) and were outrighted to the minor leagues. This gives them the choice of electing free agency at the end of the season and all five have done so.

 

Gillespie was claimed off wiavers from the Seattle Mariners in July when the Blue Jays were desperately seeking a right-handed bat (Nolan Reimold was also picked up at that time). Gillespie had a grand total of three at bats with the Blue Jays before being sent down to Buffalo where he played in 26 games and spent part of the season on the DL. Gillespie torched the competition in Buffalo though, hitting .354/.423/.500 in 104 plate appearances and also hit .362/.456/.741 in 16 games with Seattle’s top farm club in Tacoma. Gillespie should easily find a job somewhere in the high minors if not as a reserve outfielder in the majors.

 

Infielder Jonathan Diaz saw the most big league playing time of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays this year, the team that drafted him in the 12th round of the 2006 draft. Despite his offensive limitations (hitting .158/.256/.184 in 45 plate appearances), the defensive wizard provided some solid glove work for the Buffalo Bisons this year.

 

Reliever Bobby Korecky might be the biggest loss for the Buffalo Bisons as the 35-year-old righty was utterly dominant in the closer’s role in Triple-A, posting a 1.97 ERA with 60 strikeouts and just 18 walks over 64 innings, notching 22 saves.

 

Brad Mills was another Blue Jays draftee (fourth round of the 2007 draft) who came back to the organization, this time as a waiver claim from the Oakland A’s. The Jays, who lost Deck McGuire in that move, gave Mills a chance to pitch in Toronto where he was horrible but he provided some solid innings for both Buffalo and Nashville (Milwaukee’s Triple-A team) this season.

 

Raul Valdes , 36, was new to the Blue Jays’ organization after being traded for (for cash or a player to be named later) in May. Valdes pitched in eight games for the Houston Astros, posting a 12.27 ERA over just 3 2/3 innings. The Cuban lefty was an innings eater for the Buffalo Bisons, throwing 81 innings and going 5-5 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.33 ERA.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Dunedin Blue Jays 2014 Report, Part 2: Starting Pitchers

Taylor Cole
Taylor Cole

Taylor Cole

 

 

As you probably read yesterday, the Dunedin Blue Jays’ starting pitching staff was stocked with talented pitchers who excelled in the Florida State League. Some used the High-A level as a spring board for an eventual major league call up while others struggled when given the opportunity to pitch at a higher level. While 16 pitchers started for the Blue Jays, there were only seven were really integral parts of the starting rotation which is a testament to the team’s health and ability of the pitchers to get things done.

 

 

Taylor Cole made some waves this season by racking up prodigious strike out totals. The 25-year-old righty from Las Vegas was recapturing the form that saw him win multiple awards in 2012 as one of the best pitchers in the Northwest League with the Vancouver Canadians. This year, Cole finished the season with 181 strikeouts, leading all of the minor leagues. While his 12 1/3 audition in New Hampshire wasn’t pretty (more on that later), Cole had a 3.07 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 171 strikeouts and 39 walks in 132 innings with the Blue Jays.

I saw Cole’s first Double-A start and while he was hit for eight runs (seven earned), I could see significant improvement over what I saw last year when he was with the Lansing Lugnuts. Cole’s fastball was in the 90-91 mph range and touched 93 mph while his changeup was excellent and his slider was pretty good. Unfortunately, in the game I saw, Cole didn’t have much fastball command and needed to pitch backwards. His second start was better as he threw seven innings and allowed only three runs. My gut feeling is that Cole could have stayed in Double-A but the Blue Jays wanted him back in Dunedin for the playoff run. I can see Cole back in Double-A to start 2015 and, if he starts off well, he could see Triple-A, particularly if he manages to find his fastball command.

 

Jesse Hernandez

Jesse Hernandez

 

Soft-tossing righty Jesse Hernandez spent his Age-25 season with the Dunedin Blue Jays for the second year, regressing despite eating up 129 innings for the Blue Jays over 23 starts (and 27 appearances). Hernandez had a 4.67 ERA and 1.49 WHIP, showing improved control over last year (4.8% walk rate) but a reduced strikeout rate (down to 10.4% in 2014). While Hernandez had a very good ERA and FIP last year (3.49 ERA, 3.77 FIP), this year, his FIP was 5.26 which says that the he was probably still pretty lucky. When I’ve seen Hernandez, he’s been throwing in the 84-86 mph range with some sink on his fastball and decent offspeed stuff.

 

Ben White

Ben White

 

Another 25 year old was a stalwart of the Dunedin rotation with Ben White making 23 of his 25 starts with the club, posting a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP while striking out 79 and walking 32 over 125 1/3 innings. He made two starts with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and had excellent peripherals despite giving up two home runs over his 11 innings.

 

Matt Boyd

Matt Boyd

 

23-year-old lefty Matt Boyd made the fourth-most starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays, throwing 90 2/3 utterly dominant innings with a 1.39 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a strikeout to walk ratio of over five to one (103 Ks, 20 BBs). Boyd didn’t fare nearly as well in 10 starts in Double-A, with an ERA approaching 7.00 but a 1.59 WHIP (which isn’t horrible). His 44 strikeouts to 13 walks were excellent and the 6-foot-3 lefty had solid strikeout rates at both levels.

Having seen Boyd before (although not this year), I think that he’s going to be just fine in Double-A New Hampshire next year. His .379 BABIP was very high while his .270 BABIP in Dunedin wasn’t much lower than league average. That, combined with his solid peripherals lead me to believe that he’s going to be just fine with his three good pitches and excellent control.

 

Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman

 

Making his major league debut at the age of 23, Kendall Graveman completed a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays’ organization that started in Class-A Lansing. Graveman, the 2013 eighth-round draft pick spent the most time with the Lugnuts this season, starting 16 games, pitching 96 2/3 innings and posting a 2.23 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with 18 walks and 64 strikeouts. Overall those numbers were a 1.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over 167 1/3 innings up to Triple-A Buffalo. With a 3.86 ERA over 4 2/3 innings in the majors, Graveman’s 64.3% ground ball percentage is the most impressive of all and he reminds me of a Marcus Walden with a little better stuff. His development of a cutter has also helped him and I can see Graveman in the Buffalo rotation waiting for a chance to pitch in the majors again next year.

 

Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris

 

Daniel Norris was another Dunedin Blue Jays pitcher who made the major leagues this year although Norris wasn’t nearly as successful in the big leagues. That’s okay because the 21-year-old lefty from Tennessee was just showing us glimpses of what he can do. In the minors, Norris made 13 starts with Dunedin, throwing 66 1/3 innings (on a fairly strict pitch limit), taking huge strides by reining in his control, posting a 1.22 ERA and walking only 18 batters with 76 strikeouts (an outstanding 4.22 ratio). In Double-A New Hampshire, where I saw him pitch, Norris threw 35 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and five home runs against, ballooning his ERA to 4.54 despite striking out 49 batters in 35 2/3 innings. Those numbers settled down in Triple-A Buffalo where he struck out an incredible 44.7% of batters faced (38 Ks in 22 2/3 innings) and walked eight. Over his first three starts in Triple-A, Norris faced little resistance, striking out 32 over 16 1/3 innings but a strong Pawtucket club got to him in his last start for Buffalo, giving up six runs over four innings.

I saw Norris pitch in Double-A last season and I was impressed by him even though he was somewhat of a slow starter, struggling to find his release point and command in the first inning. The fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range (touching 95) while he relied mostly on his curve and changeup as his primary offspeed pitches. His high three-quarters delivery gives his curve a sharp downward bite but it was the slider that really impressed me when he threw it. Both the curve and change are solid, major-league calibre pitches but the slider could be plus. Norris will likely start the season in Buffalo and will be ready to become a full-time major leaguer when the opportunity arises.

 

Roberto Osuna

Roberto Osuna

 

Roberto Osuna is still only 19. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Osuna put up some ugly numbers in Dunedin but people who saw him said that he stuff was back and that he was just refining things and getting his feel back. Osuna had a 6.55 ERA with a 1.68 WHIP over 22 innings for Dunedin, walking nine but striking out a whopping 30 batters in his limited work. The mature young Mexican righty is headed to the Arizona Fall League to pick up some more innings before before he’ll be back on the radar next year. If his recovery goes well and he impresses in spring training, look out for him to be in New Hampshire before long in his Age-20 season.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Dunedin Blue Jays 2014 Report, Part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards

Djayslogo

Djayslogo

 

Despite an outstanding first half that had them as one of the best teams in the minor leagues, the Dunedin Blue Jays fell off precipitously in the second half, culminating with a two-and-done playoff series. With several of their best first-half players like Dalton Pompey, Kendall Graveman and Daniel Norris on their way to the major leagues, the Blue Jays just didn’t have enough quality to compete with the Daytona Cubs who were stacked to finish the season.

 

 

Still, the D-Jays had a great season and many minor league teams in A-ball are envious of having had three MLB call ups in the same year. The Blue Jays also had seven mid-season All-Stars and three full-season All-Stars to go along with their first-half divisional title and a nice Florida State League Manager of the Year award for skipper Omar Malave. Without further ado, here are the Blue Jays from Away Awards for the 2014 Dunedin Blue Jays.

 

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion

 

For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.

 

The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.3 points. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.

 

Here are the final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the Dunedin Blue Jays:

 

Marcus Knecht 11.3
Matt Boyd 10.5
Dalton Pompey 10.35
Dwight Smith 8.3
Taylor Cole 7
Emilio Guerrero 7
Kendall Graveman 6.8
Christian Lopes 6.6
Nick Baligod 5.3
Jorge Saez 5.3
Ben White 4.8
Daniel Norris 4.6
Kevin Patterson 4.4
Derrick Chung 4
L.B. Dantzler 3.1
K.C. Hobson 3.05
Gustavo Pierre 3
Jesse Hernandez 2.5
Peter Mooney 2.5
Pierce Rankin 2.5
Chad Girodo 2.3
Efrain Nieves 2.3
Andy Fermin 2
Jorge Flores 1.25
Matt Newman 1.05
Shane Opitz 1
Kramer Champlin 0.5
Blake McFarland 0.5
Mike Reeves 0.5
Kamakani Usui 0.5
Danny Barnes 0.5
Kellen Sweeney 0.5
Tony Davis 0.5
Santiago Nessy 0.5
Griffing Murphy 0.5
Ian Parmley 0.5
Mitch Nay 0.5
Justin Jackson 0.3
Cole Gillespie 0.3
Roberto Osuna 0.3

 

Marcus Knecht

Marcus Knecht

I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? It kind of surprised me when I sorted the spreadsheet to tell me who was the player with the most Player of the Game points but there it is in black and white (or light grey and dark grey): Marcus Knecht, the Toronto boy, is your Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game champion. Knecht didn’t have the most statistically eye-popping season but he did help the D-Jays win by providing a steady and solid presence in the outfield and at the plate.

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year

 

Dwight Smith, Jr.

Dwight Smith, Jr.

 

This won’t be a surprise at all: Dwight Smith, Jr. wins the award for the Player of the Year, which he can put alongside his R. Howard Webster awards on his mantle. Smith’s consistent season that saw him significantly increase his power output while still maintaining a high batting average and on-base percentage (.284/.363/.453 slash line) gives him the award. He also had the advantage of compiling his numbers over the course of the full season where some others were moved up midway through the year.

Honourable mentions: You can’t not mention Dalton Pompey’s outstanding first half here. The 21-year-old Mississauga native hit .319/.397/.471 over 70 games with the D-Jays before beginning his meteoric rise all the way to Toronto.

 

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year

 

Matt Boyd

Matt Boyd

 

This was an extremely tough award to decide on because we’re evaluating players based on how long they spent with the team as well as their effectiveness overall. With that in mind, I’m giving it to Matt Boyd who was utterly dominant in the first half and very good in the second before running out of gas down the stretch. While he couldn’t duplicate his High-A success in Double-A, Boyd was absolutely dominant in Dunedin, putting up a 1.39 ERA, 0.94 WHIP with 103 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 90 2/3 innings.

Honourable mentions: There are a lot! First of all, Taylor Cole, the team’s leading pitcher when it comes to innings pitched (132), had a very solid 3.07 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with a minor-league leading 171 strikeouts and 39 walks. Kendall Graveman and Daniel Norris also merited consideration. Graveman for his 2.23 ERA over 96 2/3 innings with a 1.11 WHIP and Norris for his 1.22 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 76 Ks. In Graveman’s case, I would argue that Boyd was much more dominant at the same level (despite Graveman’s greater success at higher levels) and in Norris’s case, I’d argue that Boyd’s greater workload in Dunedin and better command gives him the edge. On the bright side, it’s fantastic to see so many great pitchers on the club.

 

Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year

 

While the competition for Pitcher of the Year was fierce for the D-Jays, the competition was very clear for the honour of Reliever of the Year as Arik Sikula, the D-Jays’ closer, was probably the simplest choice. Sikula notched 31 saves with a 1.66 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 43 1/3 innings, walking only eight and striking out 60.

Honourable mention: Sidewinding lefties Chad Girodo and Efrain Nieves had a lot in common this year. They both ate up innings for the Blue Jays and both posted sub-2.50 ERAs with WHIPs around 1.17. Girodo shows much more swing-and-miss stuff, striking out 81 over 76 2/3 innings but the two of them made for a miserable life for left-handed batters in the late innings.

 

Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player

 

Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman

 

For me, there was no D-Jay who improved more than Kendall Graveman. Graveman, considered to be more of an organizational pitcher last year with the Lansing Lugnuts after having been drafted in the eighth round in 2013. His numbers were solid but fairly pedestrian and didn’t hint much at what he would be capable of this year. The discovery of a cutter and the refinement of his sinking fastball made Graveman the organization’s fastest riser, reaching the major leagues after starting in Class-A Lansing.

Honourable mention: Taylor Cole also had fairly pedestrian numbers last year, spent mostly in Lansing. He rebounded by jacking up his strikeout rate at a higher level than he played at last year and recaptured the form he had in 2012 when he was one of the most devastating pitchers in the Short-Season-A Northwest League with the Vancouver Canadians.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Lansing Lugnuts 2014 Report, Part 4: Hitters

Justin Atkinson
Justin Atkinson

Justin Atkinson

 

The Lansing Lugnuts opened the season with a core group of young, highly-touted, position-playing prospects who were the talk of the Midwest League back in April. This group included a first-round, 17th-overall draft pick, an R. Howard Webster Award winner in 2013, a Northwest League Playoff MVP and a 19-year-old shortstop. With a solid group of role players, the Lugnuts were thought to be one of the better offensive teams in the league but development in young players is rarely linear.

 

 

Santiago "Loch" Nessy

Santiago “Loch” Nessy

 

Santiago Nessy was the busiest catcher for the Lansing Lugnuts but was promoted after the first half of the year with 44 games under his belt. Hitting .243/.333/.351 with the Lugnuts in 168 plate appearances, Nessy actually showed a little bit of progress but his stats plummeted after his promotion to Dunedin, hitting .211/.280/.300 and was limited to 25 games because of injury. I think I mentioned last season that Nessy isn’t as old as we think he is because he’s been around for so long. Nessy still isn’t 22 and if he starts in Dunedin, I could see him finally having a breakout year if he stays healthy.

 

Matt Dean

Matt Dean

 

Matthew Dean, my player of the year for the Lugnuts, was the every day first baseman and had a pretty impressive season, posting a very good batting average, solid OBP and very good slugging percentage with a .281/.332/.429 slash line. Dean hit 29 doubles, five triples and nine home runs but he offered glimpses of light tower power, impressing the people around the Lugnuts with his pop. The one area that Dean could use some improvement is in his strikeout rate. Dean struck out 117 times for a 24.1% percentage, only coming down 0.4% from last year and his walk rate has dropped in two consecutive years (less than 1% each year but still, it’s a trend). Dean will almost certainly be in Dunedin in 2015 as the first baseman for the Blue Jays.

 

Dickie Thon

Dickie Thon

 

Second baseman Dickie Joe Thon led the club in games at that position and the 22 year old Puerto Rican had a hot-and-cold season that that had him hit .265/.314/.359 with 20 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Thon had pretty average numbers overall but his strikeout rate of 27.3% was pretty high and his walk rate, 5.4%, is on the low side. I can see him in Dunedin next year but I have a feeling that he’s going to have to take a big step forward in 2015 to get noticed with all the infield prospects coming through the system.

 

Mitch Nay

Mitch Nay

 

Third baseman Mitch Nay won the R. Howard Webster Award as the MVP of the Lansing Lugnuts. Looking at the overall numbers, there wasn’t much to separate Nay, Dean and Derrick Loveless but Nay led the team in RBI (59), hitting .285/.342/.389 in 120 games with the Lugnuts before moving up to the Dunedin Blue Jays and hitting .189/.250/.216 in only 40 at bats. Nay is impressive because he struck out at about half the rate of some of his teammates — 15.3% of the time in Lansing — but he’s really going to need to start converting some of his 35 doubles into home runs (he only hit three) but the raw power is certainly there and he should start to show more pop as he enters his third professional season as a 21 year old.

 

Dawel Lugo

 

The every day shortstop was 19-year-old Dominican Dawel Lugo. Lugo, described to me by batting coach Ken Huckaby as a puppy, has that wide-eyed enthusiasm and shows it in the way that he’s eager to swing the bat. With a .259/.286/.329 slash line, Lugo had a tough time staying consistent throughout his first full season of ball and he rarely took a walk, relying on his excellent hand/eye coordination to make contact. The drop in numbers from his solid work last year probably reflects the better quality of pitching in A-ball and demonstrates that Lugo is going to have to come to the plate with a plan, especially as he moves up in the system. I see him in Dunedin next year, primarily because there’s little room in Lansing for both him and Franklin Barreto who will be the next wunderkind shortstop to man the position for the Lugnuts.

 

D.J. Davis

D.J. Davis

 

Probably the most exciting and frustrating player on the Lansing Lugnuts was D.J. Davis, the electric center fielder. Davis, in his Age-19 season, had the type of mixed results that you’d expect from such a toolsy but raw player. There are contradictions all over the place in Davis’ stat line. He had 19 stolen bases but was caught 20 times. He had seven triples and eight home runs, second on the team in both categories but also set a new record for the Lansing Lugnuts, striking out 167 times in his 542 plate appearances for a whopping 30.8% K rate. His .213/.268/.316 line left a lot to be desired but I’ve seen first-hand his incredible power and speed that could turn into an elite-level big leaguer if he ever figures out how to hit the offspeed pitch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis returns to Lansing to polish some of his skills after time in the Fall Instructional League but I wouldn’t be surprised if he started in Dunedin either.

 

Derrick Loveless

Derrick Loveless

 

Derrick Loveless, a 21 year old from Solon Iowa, really had a strong season for the Lugnuts, hitting .264/.363/.390, outslugging Mitch Nay and having a better OBP than either Nay or Dean. He had 18 doubles, nine triples and six home runs for theLugnuts but could stand to cut down on his 120 strikeouts a little. Loveless also added 17 stolen bases in what was probably the best all-around season for any of the hitters. I could see Loveless getting a chance to continue his development in Dunedin next year.

 

Chaz Frank

Chaz Frank

 

Chaz Frank had the third-most games in the outfield and the 23-year-old left-handed batter only joined the Lugnuts out of extended spring training in mid-May. Frank is best known as a speedy outfielder who can get on base via the walk and he showed that off, taking 39 walks and striking out only 40 times in 307 plate appearances. Frank only hit seven extra-base hits (four doubles and three triples) but also stole 17 bases, hitting .245/.348/.284. I can see Frank as a guy who will go where he’s needed next year whether it’s in Dunedin or back to Lansing.

 

Jason Leblebijian

Jason Leblebijian

 

Veteran infielder Jason Leblebijian was probably one of the more valuable members of the Lugnuts, as a jack of all trades, getting time at all four infield positions and even pitching twice (giving up two unearned runs in 1 1/3 innings without walking anyone and striking out a batter). While Leblebijian isn’t going to set the world ablaze with his bat, he certainly isn’t a liability, hitting .248/.322/.378 with 23 doubles, two triples and five home runs. With a 7.7% walk rate and a 19.5% strikeout rate, Leblebijian is a very solid presence in the lineup, able to contribute on offense as well as on defense. I love watching Leblebijian play defense. His smooth, soft hands pair well with a very strong arm and his ability to play multiple positions will serve him well in what will be a long, pro career. He could be sent anywhere from Lansing to New Hampshire next year, depending on where he’s needed.

 

I find it a little tricky to decide what kind of year B.C.-born infielder Justin Atkinson had. On the one hand, Atkinson made some big strides in his Age-20 season with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting .291/.336/.355, improving a great deal in the batting average and slugging percentage categories over his season in Vancouver last year. The 2011 26th-round pick saw a big drop in his walk rate (from 11.3% in 2013 to 5.9% in 2014) although his strikeout rate dropped precipitously as well (from 27.0% in 2013 to 18.7% in 2014). That said, for a guy with a nice-sized frame like Atkinson (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), he hits for very little power, with just eight doubles, three triples and a home run in 289 plate appearances this year for an ISO (Isolated Power) figure of just .065. Atkinson started out as a middle infielder but has since been pushed to the corner infield positions but will likely need to hit with some more power in order to find a spot in the higher minor leagues. I think he might return to Lansing next year, considering that he won’t be 22 until late July. He could, however, be tapped to start 2015 in Dunedin.

 

David Harris

David Harris

 

David Harris, a 23-year-old Arkansas native, is starting to get some people talking around the Blue Jays. The infielder/outfielder’s versatility (he played second base, third base and left and right field this season with Lansing after playing three infield positions with Vancouver last year) is key to his ability to get playing time but he was also one of the Lugnuts’ better hitters down the stretch, only getting called up to Lansing (from Vancouver) in mid-June. Harris pumped up his numbers considerably after a fairly slow July but hit for a .717 OPS in August with eight of his 19 extra-base hits coming in that month. Harris ended up with a .254/.301/.406 slash line including six home runs (among the team leaders) with Lansing but a low walk rate (2.9%) and a high strikeout rate (25.7%) will need to be rectified going forward. That said, in his Age-23 season coming up in 2015, I’d expect to see Harris in Dunedin. Not bad for a 36th-round pick.

 

Ian Parmley

Ian Parmley

 

Outfielder Ian Parmley played mostly in Lansing but but was limited to 56 games overall due to injuries. While I saw some of Parmley’s power in BP, in games, he mostly went the other way and ended up with a .209/.328/.227 slash line in games although he actually had more extra-base hits (three) in 15 games in Dunedin than he had (two) in 41 games in Lansing. Parmley’s .261 batting average in Dunedin may be due to his more normalized BABIP (.308) there which was 63 points above his BABIP in Lansing (.245). Parmley’s value is in his ability to get on base as he takes a very high percentage of walks and rarely strikes out. He’ll likely be available to play for a number of teams as an extra outfielder in 2014.

 

Jorge Saez

Jorge Saez

 

Catcher Jorge Saez was another late-round draft pick who impressed in Lansing, hitting .291/.400/.425 before a promotion to Dunedin tapered some of those numbers off a bit. Still, known as an excellent defensive catcher and a team leader on the field, Saez’s abilities with the bat will make him more than just another organizational catcher for the Blue Jays. He’ll likely start the season in Dunedin or even New Hampshire in his Age-24 season in 2015.

 

Daniel Klein

Daniel Klein

 

Catcher Daniel Klein, 24, spent most of his playing time with the Lugnuts, hitting .252/.299/.383 with six doubles, a triple and two home runs in only 118 plate appearances. Klein definitely has some pop in his bat but his five walk/33 strikeout ratio leaves a lot to be desired. Like many of the catchers in the Blue Jays’ system, Klein could be in any one of a number of different places next year. With Nessy, Pentecost, Chung, Jimenez and Jansen all looking for regular playing time (although Jansen could very well be in Vancouver), the competition for playing time among the backups could be fierce in 2015.

 

Mike Reeves

Mike Reeves

 

Catcher Mike Reeves, a Peterborough native, didn’t have his second pro season go as well as his first, and hit a combined .213/.312/.257 in 232 plate appearances at three levels with Vancouver, Lansing and Dunedin. Reeves lacked power but still managed to put up almost identical strikeout and walk rates as he did last year with 27 walks and 38 strikeouts in 232 plate appearances (compared to 28 walks and 36 strikeouts in 227 plate appearances in 2013). Reeves had solid defensive numbers and will probably be fighting for a backup catching spot somewhere in the organization in 2015.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Lansing Lugnuts 2014 Report, Part 3: Relief Pitchers

Scott Silverstein
Scott Silverstein

Scott Silverstein

 

The Lansing Lugnuts had a big group of relievers over the course of the season and most were fairly effective. There were a few standouts including a true flame-thrower and a guy who took some major strides of what I saw last year.

 

 

Scott Silverstein

Scott Silverstein

 

Leading the bullpen in appearances was 24-year-old lefty Scott Silverstein, drafted in the 25th round in 2013. Silverstein overcame a lot of injuries throughout his college career to even get drafted and he had a fairly solid season overall for the Lansing Lugnuts in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-6 lefty had a 4.08 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 64 innings for the Lugnuts, walking 27 and striking out 67, giving him some very solid peripherals, striking out 22.8% of batters and walking 9.2%. He throws in the low 90s with a slider and should move up to Dunedin next year.

 

Brady Dragmire

Brady Dragmire

 

My reliever of the year for the Lugnuts, Brady Dragmire, was a workhorse, throwing 77 1/3 innings over 43 appearances with an excellent 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, walking just nine and striking out 45. The walk rate is very impressive and, as I mentioned in Part 1, the low strikeout total is deceiving, considering how many groundouts Dragmire induced. I’ve only seen him throw in the mid-to-high-80s (the highest I’ve seen him touch over the past two years is 88 mph) but if he’s getting a little more juice on his fastball and it has a heavy sinking action, he could be very effective at higher levels thanks to his pinpoint control. The 21-year-old should be heading to Dunedin for his Age-22 season.

 

Roberto Espinosa

Roberto Espinosa

 

Roberto Espinosa, a 22-year-old lefty from Mexico, was selected by the Blue Jays in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past year but had never really pitched above the Short-Season-A level despite having been with the Pirates’ organization since 2009. He had an up and down year with the Lugnuts, logging 70 innings and posting a 4.37 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, walking 36 and striking out 72. While the 11.3% walk rate is high, 22.6% as a strikeout rate isn’t bad at all. Espinosa was throwing in the high-80s when I saw him in May but he had a slider with some late, hard bite to it. I could see Espinosa moving up to Dunedin in 2015.

 

Phil Kish

Phil Kish

 

In his Age-24 season, the Blue Jays put Phil Kish to work in his first full season of professional baseball after signing as an undrafted free agent last year. Kish was dominant, pitching for Lansing and Vancouver, keeping his ERA to 2.26 (combined) and his WHIP to 1.08 (combined), striking out 60 and walking only 15 in 75 2/3 innings. Another ground ball pitcher (2.68 GO/AO this season) whose strikeout totals might be a bit deceiving, Kish throws in the high-80s/low-90s with great movement on his fastball while his secondary offerings are fairly solid. Look for Kish to be another guy moving up to Dunedin.

 

Alonzo Gonzalez

Alonzo Gonzalez

 

The Blue Jays’ 18th-round selection in 2012, Alonzo Gonzalez had a better season than his numbers indicated, earning my Most Improved Player award for the Lugnuts. Despite his 5.11 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, his secondary numbers all improved significantly since last year, particularly his strikeout percentage which doubled in 2014 to 25.5% as he racked up 90 Ks over 79 1/3 innings while walking 30, down 12 from his Lansing totals last year in the same number of innings. I can see the 6-foot-5 in Dunedin for his Age-23 season.

 

Griffin Murphy

Griffin Murphy

 

One pitcher who really impressed when I saw him in Lansing early in the season was Griffin Murphy. Murphy had had some injury problems over the years but he really seemed to find himself coming out of the bullpen in Lansing before struggling with his control in Dunedin after a promotion. In 36 Lansing innings, Murphy had a 2.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP, striking out 47 and walking just eight. When I saw him, he was throwing with a three-pitch mix (fastball, change, curveball) and was spotting his pitches exceptionally well (especially his offspeed pitches), hitting 93 mph from the left side. In Dunedin, things were a bit different as Murphy walked 15 in 21 innings, striking out 15 and allowing 14 earned runs for a 6.00 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. Murphy definitely has what it takes in terms of the velocity, pitch quality and control to be better at higher levels and I’m interested to see what he might be able to do at the Double-A level next year.

 

Matt Dermody

Matt Dermody

 

Starting several games at the beginning of the year, 24-year-old lefty Matt Dermody became a solid bulpen arm who could make spot starts on occasion and was a very useful pitcher for the Lugnuts. The Jays’ 28th-round pick in 2013, Dermody was outstanding in Vancouver last year but couldn’t quite match those numbers, putting up a 4.67 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP with 36 walks and 65 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings with Lansing (including 12 starts). When I saw Dermody as a starter, he was throwing in the high-80s (touching 90 mph) with a decent chngeup and a slider that he was leaving up. Dermody has a short-armed deliver that I think will play better out of the bullpen but for a guy with his size (6-foot-5), and his splits bear that out: Dermody had a 6.46 ERA and 1.84 WHIP as a starter and a 2.36 ERA and 1.17 WHIP out of the bullpen. He doesn’t sink the ball as much as you would think, though, allowing 1.06 ground outs for every air out. Dermody could move up to Dunedin but the bullpen there is already getting crowded so he could remain in Lansing to start the season.

 

Jimmy Cordero

Jimmy Cordero

 

It’s always fun to see a pitcher throwing heat and 22-year-old righty Jimmy Cordero was one of the only Blue Jays’ farmhands to light up the radar gun in triple digits. With only one season in the US before 2014 (last year, mainly in the GCL), Cordero started the season with the Lugnuts but was hurt before April was done, going on the DL. Returning in July, Cordero was throwing his 100 mph fastball, electrifying the crowds in Lansing. His ERA was very good (3.06) but his control was suspect as he walked 20 batters in 32 1/3 innings, striking out 34. When I saw Cordero pitch at the end of the season, I saw a guy with one pitch. His slider was rarely thrown in the strike zone and although it was thrown very hard (88-91 mph), it wasn’t very effective for him at all. For Cordero to reach the majors, that offspeed pitch will need to develop quickly. Still, the velocity will get him by in Dunedin if he’s there next year.

 

Adaric Kelly

Adaric Kelly

 

A guy that I really liked last year was Adaric Kelly who has one of the best changeups in the Jays’ organization. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough in his 32 innings in Lansing as he had a 6.19 ERA and 1.75 ERA with 17 walks and 19 strikeouts before being sent down to Vancouver where he was much better (1.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, five walks, 10 strikeouts in 11 innings).

 

Francisco Gracesqui

Francisco Gracesqui

 

Lefty Francisco Gracesqui split his Age-22 season between Vancouver and Lansing and was one of the pitchers who really left an impression on me this year. Having seen Gracesqui last year in Bluefield, I noticed two things about him that really took his pitching to another level. First, his fastball velocity was up a tick to the 89-91 mph range (he was throwing 87-91 mph last year) and second, he is now a three-pitch pitcher, adding a curveball to his fastball/changeup mix. I was impressed with the change last year but his curveball is now an extremely effective third pitch. In 14 1/3 innings in Vancouver, Gracesqui didn’t give up an earned run over 14 1/3 innings, allowing only six hits and seven walks with 16 strikeouts. That success translated to Lansing as he allowed only five runs in 21 1/3 innings (2.11 ERA) with better control — nine walks (including two intentional walks) — and very high strikeout numbers with 28 Ks. I could see Gracesqui becoming a starter, as he was generally used in multi-inning appearances in Lansing and the youngster from the Bronx could move up to Dunedin next year and be a swing man in 2015.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Lansing Lugnuts 2014 Report, Part 2: Starting Pitchers

Brent Powers
Jeremy Gabryszwski

Jeremy Gabryszwski

 

The Lansing Lugnuts’ starting pitching staff was easily the hardest hit by injury among the Blue Jays’ affiliates. With big names like Tom Robson, Shane Dawson, Chase De Jong and Adonys Cardona going down with injuries at some point, the Jays had to bring in a couple of minor league free agents to help stabilize things. As you can see, the season was characterized by some performances that were less than we expected from some of the exciting pitchers who logged innings with Bluefield and Vancouver last year.

 

 

Texan righty Jeremy Gabryszwski was the workhorse for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014, leading the club in innings pitched (141 1/3) and starts (26). Gaby had a solid season and saw progression on a number of fronts, even getting his feet wet with two starts in Dunedin. Despite Gaby being a dominant ace in Vancouver, his stuff didn’t translate as seamlessly to the Midwest League as might have been hoped. Gabryszwski, 21, had some ups and downs in the season, starting off slowly with concerns about his fastball velocity. He was sitting in the 85-87 mph range early in the season but by May, had gotten that velo up to the high 80s. He still doesn’t throw as hard as one might think given his 6-foot-4 frame.

Overall, the numbers were solid for Gabryszwski who posted a 4.27 ERA in his Lansing innings (5.40 in 10 innings in Dunedin) while striking out 91 batters and walking only 21. His 1.39 WHIP was solid as well. His rate stats remained largely the same as they were in Vancouver in 2013, and he saw a rise in his strikeout numbers, striking out 2% more batters in 2014 (14.9%) and just 0.3% more walks (3.5%). If Gaby can get a little more zip on his fastball while retaining control, there’s no reason to think that the former second-round draft pick can’t put himself back on the radar next year in Dunedin.

 

Chase De Jong

Chase De Jong

 

Making the second most starts for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014 was Chase De Jong, a 6-foot-4 righty who the Jays have a lot of faith in. The 20 year old was my pick for a big year in Lansing after he impressed me in Bluefield but he only showed glimpses of what he’s capable of. With a fairly straight 90-91 mph fastball, a devastating curve and a solid, improving changeup, De Jong has a lot of potential. When I saw him pitch this year, he was very successful when he kept his fastball down but when he left it up, it was very hittable, indicated by the 12 home runs he allowed in 97 innings this year. Those home runs led to a 4.82 ERA and 1.39 WHIP and De Jong saw a small jump in walk percentage (to a still-low 5.2%) and his strikeout rate dropped to 17.2%. I’d like to see him throw a two-seam fastball or a sinker in order to generate more ground balls (he only had 0.64 ground outs per fly out this year) and keep the ball in the ballpark better. Missing the end of the season with an arm injury, De Jong will need to rebound from this season next year, likely in Dunedin.

 

25-year-old righty Brad Allen became a real stabilizing force for the Lugnuts’ pitching staff in the second half of the season after the loss of Graveman to promotion, Robson, Dawson and Cardona to injury and Labourt and Tirado to ineffectiveness. Allen, my Pitcher of the Year, was signed as a minor league free agent after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks and picked up by an independent league team. Having his best statistical year in affiliated baseball, Allen posted a 3.11 ERA and 1.25 WHIP under the tutelage of pitching coach Vince Horsman, walking only 23 and striking out 82 in 75 1/3 innings, giving him solid walk and strikeout rates of 7.4% and 26.5%, respectively. Allen could very well be a part of a very solid rotation in Dunedin in 2015.

 

Brent Powers

Brent Powers

 

Another minor league free agent, lefty Brent Powers, joined the Lugnuts in midseason but wasn’t as effective overall, making 11 starts and posting a 4.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over 48 2/3 innings. He struggled with his control at times, walking 22 and only striking out 35. A 2011 18th-round draft pick by the Oakland A’s, Powers, 25, was hit hard in the outing that I saw, allowing five runs on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings on August 23. Throwing in the high-80s, Powers’ fastball has some sink on it and he has some decent offspeed stuff but he definitely needs to locate to be effective.

 

We continue to discuss the Lugnuts’ walking wounded, beginning with Shane Dawson, who only managed to pitch 56 innings for Lansing before succumbing to an injury. In his Age-20 season, Dawson, a native of Drayton Valley, Alberta, pitched decently for Lansing, posting a 3.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with 24 walks and 46 strikeouts in those 56 innings. That said, both his walk and strikeout rates were much worse than the outstanding numbers he put up in Bluefield and Vancouver last year with a 19.2% K rate (over 30% last year) and a 10% walk rate (under 6% last year). The big question is what a healthy Dawson can do. We’re hoping to see that in 2015 and it will probably be either in Lansing or Dunedin.

 

Tom Robson, a 21-year-old Delta, BC native, finally gave up his season and had Tommy John surgery this year after a very disappointing start with Lansing, notching a 6.25 ERA, 1.74 WHIP and 18 walks and 22 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. Talking to Lugnuts broadcaster Trey Wilson (who was the Bluefield broadcaster last year), I learned that Robson didn’t seem like the same pitcher he was last year, one who kept the ball on the ground at incredible rates thanks to his hard, sinking fastball (in the low 90s). Hopefully the struggles were caused by his injury and that he’ll return in late 2015 and 2016 as one of the top young arms in the system.

 

Starlyn Suriel

Starlyn Suriel

 

The 20-year-old Dominican Starlyn Suriel made big waves this year, starting his professional career in Vancouver and finishing it with very solid numbers in Lansing. I caught one of Suriel’s late-season starts in Lansing and was impressed by his maturity on the mound, his ability to shake off a poor start and his mix of pitches. You can read my full scouting report here and you’ll see what kind of pitcher I think he is. Suriel racked up 79 innings between Vancouver and Lansing and had fairly consistent numbers between the two levels, actually improving in many aspects at a higher level. Suriel increased his strikeout rate (from 16.6% to 18.6% and decreased his walk rate (from 8.3% to 5.8%) as a member of the Lansing Lugnuts. His 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP are quite excellent overall and he should be interesting to watch as he moves forward, probably in Dunedin next year.

 

Alberto Tirado

Alberto Tirado

 

I had a minor debate about where I’d discuss Alberto Tirado but I finally decided to group him with the Lansing starters. He started seven out of his 13 games with the Lugnuts, despite being used primarily in relief with Vancouver. In 40 innings in Lansing, Tirado experienced a lot of difficulty, walking 39 batters and striking out 40 while getting hit for a 6.30 ERA and 2.10 WHIP. In Vancouver, he fared a lot better, but still walked 28 batters in 35 2/3 innings, mostly out of the bullpen. His strikeout rate didn’t go up too much (although it did reach 22.2%, a hair above what he did in Bluefield last year). I saw Tirado early in the year (as well as in spring training) and he wasn’t impressive, throwing his fastball in the 91-93 mph range with a flat changeup that was sitting up in the strike zone and a mediocre slider. For a guy who was hitting 97 mph later in the year, I obviously wasn’t seeing him on his best day. That said, I’m sure he’ll be back in Lansing in 2015 although his role is still up in the air. Will the Blue Jays decide that his best bet is in the bullpen?

 

Frank Viola

Frank Viola

 

Knuckleballer Frank Viola III pitched 23 1/3 innings with the Lansing Lugnuts, putting up some very respectable numbers before the wheels fell off after a promotion to Dunedin. With a 3.86 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP, Viola was promoted after five starts and walked 15 batters in Dunedin over 15 2/3 innings while striking out only four before being released. One of my favourite players to talk to this season, Viola just wasn’t able to tame the knuckleball when facing some better hitters in Dunedin.

 

Adonys Cardona

Adonys Cardona

 

No one’s talking much about Adonys Cardona who had probably the most bizarre and potentially serious injury, breaking his elbow while throwing a pitch. The 20-year-old Venezuelan was having some control issues (much like Labourt and Tirado), walking eight in 10 2/3 innings with an 8.44 ERA and 1.97 WHIP before going down with the injury. The ultimate outcome is uncertain but we  definitely hope to see Cardona back in 2015.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Lansing Lugnuts 2014 Report, Part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards

Matt Dean
Matt Dean

Matt Dean

 

I had a great time with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014, having visited Lansing three times this season and getting to see the development of some of the players that I had seen last year in Bluefield. That said, I was very disappointed with the outcome of the season. My original prediction was that, with a very talented young pitching staff and offense that included the most top-20 prospects in the Midwest League, the club would start off slowly but would become a juggernaut as the very young players developed.

 

 

Well, my prediction didn’t come to fruition as the Lugnuts finished with a 62-77 record under John Tamago, Jr. Despite a second-half record of 30-40, the club was in playoff contention all the way down to the wire thanks to a mediocre second half by several other clubs in the Eastern Division.

 

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion

 

For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.

 

The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.3 points. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.

 

Here are the final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the Lansing Lugnuts:

 

Matt Dean 11.3
Mitch Nay 9.8
Derrick Loveless 9.7
Chaz Frank 7
D.J. Davis 6.65
Dawel Lugo 6.35
Jorge Saez 6
Jeremy Gabryszwski 5.5
Chase De Jong 5.5
Dickie Joe Thon 5.5
Jason Leblebijian 5.5
Santiago Nessy 4.25
Kendall Graveman 3.5
L.B. Dantzler 3.5
Brad Allen 3
Justin Atkinson 2.8
Alonzo Gonzalez 2.5
Shane Dawson 2.5
Brent Powers 2.5
Rowdy Tellez 2.5
Tom Robson 2
Phil Kish 1.8
Scott Silverstein 1.6
Alberto Tirado 1.5
Yeyfry Del Rosario 1.5
Michael Reeves 1.5
Starlyn Suriel 1.5
Miguel Castro 1.5
Daniel Klein 1.3
David Harris 1.1
Matt Dermody 1.05
Griffin Murphy 1
Carlos Ramirez 1
Francisco Gracesqui 1
Ian Parmley 1
Chris Schaeffer 1
Brady Dragmire 0.8
Anthony Alford 0.8
Adaric Kelly 0.5
Jimmy Cordero 0.5

As you can see, it’s a very close race at the top of the table for the every day players that I was considering for the Player of the Year award. Mitch Nay was promoted with a couple of weeks left in the season and might have been able to our Player of the Game Champion, Matt Dean who ended up leading the club in home runs.

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year

 

I’m going to be very uncreative here and award the Player of the Year to Matthew Dean. Dean had the highest OPS of anyone on the team with more than 200 plate appearances, and despite a slightly lower batting average and OBP while hitting five fewer doubles than Mitch Nay, Dean’s ability to tap into his extra-base power for a team-leading nine home runs and 192 total bases gives him the edge.

 

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year

 

The Lugnuts didn’t have any dominating pitchers this year and there are several quirks of fate that came into play that prevented any of the top prospects from grabbing this award. Therefore, I’m handing this award to Brad Allen, a 25-year-old righty from Elk Grove Village Illinois who the Jays picked up as a minor league free agent part way through the season. Allen was, by far, the most consistent pitcher for the Lugnuts throughout the second half of a year that was characterized by an inability of the younger pitchers in the rotation to either live up to the hype or stay healthy. Allen averaged almost exactly five innings per start, throwing 75 1/3 innings over 15 starts and had a 3.11 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 23 walks and 82 strikeouts (which translate to 7.4% BB rate and 26.5% K rate). If you want to hear our interview with Allen from this August, check out Podcast Episode 30.

 

Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year

 

Brady Dragmire

Brady Dragmire

 

Brady Dragmire threw a whopping 77 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Lugnuts over 43 appearances and was trusted to finish 19 games, earning five saves. What’s impressive about Dragmire is the quiet, unassuming way that he went about his business. Dragmire doesn’t have overpowering stuff (as can be seen by his low-ish 14.4% strikeout rate) but his exceptional control (2.9% walk rate) allowed him to post a 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. The 21-year-old was a ground ball machine, inducing 2.17 ground outs for every air out, enabling him to be effective with an improved slider and a little more velocity.

Honourable mention goes to Phil Kish who, in his first full season of baseball, ate up innings in the Lugnuts bullpen, posting a 2.77 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and dominated hitters in Vancouver (one unearned run allowed in 14 innings) when sent down at the end of the year to help out at the back of the bullpen with another NWL title run.

 

Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player

 

Alonzo Gonzalez

Alonzo Gonzalez

 

It took me a little while to come to this decision but I’m very comfortable that Alonzo Gonzalez was the Jays’ organization’s most improved player on the Lugnuts. But wait, you say, his numbers aren’t that much better than last year when he was a starter. Aha! Last year, as a 21-year-old starter for the Lugnuts, Gonzalez was getting rocked. He had an ERA of 5.56 and a WHIP of 1.90 over 79 1/3 innings over 18 appearances (including 16 starts) before heading down to Vancouver where he pitched another 37 innings out of the bullpen (much more effectively). Coming back to Lansing at the age of 22 in 2014, Gonzalez pitched in relief but logged the same number of innings (79 1/3). While his ERA was 5.11, his WHIP was far lower at 1.47 and his peripherals were far better, walking 8.5% (down from 10.9% in Lansing last year) and striking out 25.5% (up from 12.4%). The biggest kicker for me was the difference in FIP between the years. In 2013, Gonzalez rocked a 5.56 ERA and a 5.42 FIP while in 2014, he had a 5.11 ERA and 3.83 FIP. In addition, his fastball velocity was way up when I saw him this year. He was ranging from 87-89 mph last year but was sitting 90-92 mph this season.

Honourable mentions go to Canadian infielder Justin Atkinson who raised his batting average 61 points over his 2013 season in Vancouver. Unfortunately, his walk rate slipped by almost half and his ISO remained about the same. I’ll also give points to Jorge Saez who jumped from Bluefield to hit .291/.400/.425 with 10 doubles, a triple and two home runs before being promoted to Dunedin.

 

Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer

 

At this point, the “Best Newcomer” award goes from being something that is handed out to new draft picks to something that will be won by minor league free agents or players coming to the organization from another avenue (like the minor league Rule 5 draft). There were actually no qualifiers on the hitting side and on the pitching side the clear winner is Brad Allen.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Webster Predictions Confirmed (Mostly)

Jon Berti
Jon Berti

Jon Berti

 

Six out of eight ain’t bad. Of course, I’m referring to my predictions for the Toronto Blue Jays’ in-house R. Howard Webster Awards, annually handed out to the minor leagues’ MVPs at each level.

 

 

If you check out my prediction article, you’ll see that I correctly predicted six of the eight awards and gave consideration to the other two. And now, ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 R. Howard Webster Award winners.

 

Kevin Pillar

Kevin Pillar

 

Kevin Pillar earns his first award for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. This was a no brainer but because this was actually the first time that Pillar spent a full season at (mostly) one level, it’s his first award.

 

In Double-A New Hampshire, Jon Berti took the award for his second consecutive win (he won last year with the Dunedin Blue Jays). My thinking is that Berti’s contributions when the game is on the line and his overall reputation as a hard-nosed, team-first player gave him the edge over Andy Burns who I thought would win.

 

Dwight Smith, Jr.

Dwight Smith, Jr.

 

In Advanced-A Dunedin, Dwight Smith, Jr. took the award and there really wasn’t much competition. Showing improved power, Smith also had another very consistent season (like he did in Lansing last year) and he was one of the few Dunedin players to really excel throughout the full season without getting promoted midseason.

 

Mitch Nay

Mitch Nay

 

In Lansing, Mitch Nay won what was probably a close call between him, Matthew Dean and Derrick Loveless. All three posted statistically similar years but a far lower strikeout rate and better at bats in run-producing situations probably pushed Nay over the top.

 

Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto

 

In Vancouver, the winner was 18-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto whose excellent all-around offensive game made him a force in the Northwest League. While I’m sure Ryan McBroom was considered, Barreto’s overall ability and youth make this a well deserved award for a very impressive season.

 

Richard Urena

Richard Urena

 

For the Bluefield Blue Jays, Richard Urena, another international shortstop, was named the MVP. Urena, also 18, hit better than he could have been expected in the Appalachian League while providing very good defense. I thought that catcher Dan Jansen should have won the award but the Blue Jays do tend to give this award to a player who plays most of the season with the team and Jansen’s season-ending injury probably hurt his chances.

 

My second “miss” was with the GCL Blue Jays. I thought that 2014 fifth-round draft pick Lane Thomas would win the award but it went to Dominican 1B/C Juan Kelly who also had a very good season. Kelly was my “honourable mention” and I wrote, “If Thomas doesn’t get the award, I’m throwing my support behind Kelly.” ‘Nuff said.

 

Finally, I correctly predicted the R. Howard Webster Award winner for the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays in slugging first baseman Enmanuel Moreta.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

Vancouver Canadians 2014 Report, part 4: Hitters

Franklin Barreto
Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto

 

With one of the best offenses in the Northwest League, the Vancouver Canadians got some great seasons from some young players including players who are considered among the Blue Jays’ top prospects. As usual, we start behind the plate and go around the diamond.

 

 

Pop quiz: Who played the most games at catcher for the 2014 Vancouver Canadians? It was Michael De La Cruz, a 21-year-old Dominican catcher in his second year with the Blue Jays’ organization. De La Cruz followed up his very good 2013 season (spent mostly in the Dominican Summer League) with a solid 2014 although when all the key players are healthy, he’ll never take away a starting spot from Max Pentecost. De La Cruz hit .232/.323/.310, showing very good patience at the plate but his defense, which saw him only throw out 18% of batters is probably just good enough.

 

At first base, the Canadians had another breakout performance. A year after providing the Northwest League with their MVP and home run champ (first baseman L.B. Dantzler), the C’s had another offensive fireworks display from their first bagger in Ryan McBroom. Ryan “McBoom,” as I called him, shared the NWL home run title, hitting 11 after being drafted by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the draft. His 59 RBI trailed only teammate Franklin Barreto and his overall slash line of .297/.339/.502 was excellent by any stretch of the imagination. There are a lot of positive comparisons between McBroom and Dantzler but McBroom, who stands 6-foot-3, probably has more raw power than Dantzler and could project a little better. At 22, McBroom is likely ready for his first full season in 2015 and will probably join the Lansing Lugnuts. Playing time at the 1B/DH position could become an issue for the Jays in the A-ball level next year, considering that Rowdy Tellez, Matt Dean, L.B. Dantzler and McBroom will all need to get into the lineup (and three of the four are left-handed hitters).

 

Tim Locastro

Tim Locastro

 

Pop quiz #2: Which Vancouver Canadians player lead the affiliated minor leagues in hit-by-pitches? Second baseman Timothy Locastro continued to show that he can get on base unlike anyone else. In fact, by getting hit by a pitch 32 times this season, he probably did get on base unlike just about anyone else, despite hitting .313. With a .407 OBP, the fearless Locastro is a great player to have at the top of your lineup. Locastro also took advantage of some very aggressive baserunning with Vancouver which saw the club lead the league in stolen bases with Locastro swiping 32 himself while only getting caught four times. The one criticism of his play could be that his walk rate dropped by almost half in 2014 but the fact is that because he got hit so many times, he didn’t really have the chance to take many walks! Going into his Age-22 season in 2015, Locastro will likely man second base for the Lansing Lugnuts and be a key contributor.

 

Playing the most games at third base in 2014 was Alexis Maldonado. This unheralded non-drafted free agent hit .303/.365/.382 with the Blue Jays but didn’t really have a lot of extra-base pop. He’s already 23 and should be a solid utility man higher up in the organization.

 

You’ve already read plenty of raving about Franklin Barreto by now. The 18-year-old Venezuelan shortstop improved on just about every part of his game in 2014 and tore the Northwest League apart. Barreto hit .311/.384/.481 increasing his walk rate and lowering his strikeout rate from his 2013 totals at lower levels. Despite being the youngest player in the league and standing at only 5-foot-9, Barreto had a .170 ISO that included 23 doubles, four triples and six home runs while he also stole 29 bases (with five caught stealing), demonstrating a rare combination of power and speed. Barreto also made 26 errors in 68 games leaving a lot of doubt about his ability to play shortstop at higher levels of baseball but if he continues to hit as he did this year, the organization will find a position for him. The Blue Jays like to have their prospects play a full year (or close to it) in Lansing although I could see an exception if he continues to demolish opposing pitching.

 

After being signed as a non-drafted free agent in August after playing a tournament in Canada, Roemon Fields went on to lead the Northwest League in stolen bases with 48 in his first pro season. Fields, who went to Bethany college, also hit .269/.338/.350 with 13 doubles, four triples and a home run while posting very solid strikeout and walk rates of 18.6% and 8.2% respectively. Fields can be expected to play in Lansing next year in his Age-24 season although if the club has a need, I could see him jumping up to Dunedin where his speed game would play very well.

 

The Vancouver Canadians got yet another tremendous debut season out of 23-year-old outfielder Chris Carlson who was selected in the 28th round of the 2014 draft. Carlson displayed tremendous bat skills in 2014, hitting .312/.409/.381 with 13 doubles and a triple. Significantly, he walked 36 times while only striking out 25 times, showing that he was more than game for Northwest League competition. Carlson is another player who will likely play where needed in full-season A-ball next year although Lansing is the more likely stop.

 

Boomer Collins

 

The third most utilized player in the Canadians’ outfield was 25-year-old Boomer Collins who was playing in his second season after signing as an undrafted free agent last year. Playing at a somewhat more age-appropriate level this season with Vancouver (after playing in the GCL last year), Collins showed a good eye, walking 10.2% of the time, but struck out more often and only hit .222/.311/.302 with 11 doubles and a pair of home runs. Given that next year will be Collins’ Age-26 season, it’s tough to see what the crystal ball will foretell.

 

After a long college season with Kennesaw State University, catcher Max Pentecost spent most of his professional time at DH, injured or collecting hits in bunches, putting up a .324/.330/.419 line over 25 games (with 19 of them in Vancouver). While the 2014 11th-overall pick didn’t hit any home runs, Pentecost hit four doubles and three triples with eight multi-hit games including a 5/5 game in the GCL and a 4/6 game with Vancouver. Because of the small sample size, we should consider Pentecost’s small sample sizes as an appetizer for his professional career to come. I can see him holding down the fort behind the plate with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014 as a 22 year old.

 

Also performing backup catcher duties this season was Seth Conner. Conner, who has been in the Jays’ system since being a 41st-round selection in 2010, split his time between Vancouver and Lansing although he got much more playing time in Vancouver and hit .216/.296/.250 overall in 33 games.

 

Three additional players split time on the infield and two of them were 2014 draftees. Gunnar Heidt signed late but still got into 23 games with the Canadians (29 overall as he started off with the GCL Blue Jays). Heidt, a 13-round pick out of the College of Charleston, hit .262/.333/.429 in Vancouver (.264/.339/.425 overall). Metzler, drafted in the ninth round, struggled through his pro debut, hitting .239/.351/.265 in 35 games with Vancouver. The batting average and OBP were fairly decent but the slugging could use some additional thump as Metzler attempts to climb through the organization. With both Heidt and Locastro available as second basemen, the A-ball levels could get crowded in 2015 with all three gunning for playing time. Christian Vasquez, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican, played mostly at third base and had a poor year, hitting .160/.236/.185 in 29 games.

 

In the outfield, Brenden Kalfus made his return to Vancouver this year as a 22 year old and didn’t do nearly as well as he did last year in much more limited playing time. Getting only 63 plate appearances in 25 games, Kalfus must have been injured as he hit only .140/.222/.175. Jonathan Davis also had an injury-riddled season, hitting .216/.271/.386 in 27 games and 102 plate appearances. Davis, 22, was switch hitting for the first time in his professional career and it was clearly seen in his splits (although Baseball Reference isn’t listing him as a switch hitter yet). Davis hit .300/.364/.500 against left-handed pitching but only .164/.212/.311 against righties this year. Look for him to play a full season in Lansing next year.

 

Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.