Like with the Vancouver Canadians, I’m going to go around the horn with a look at the seasons for the Lansing Lugnut position players.
Coming into this season, there was a lot of buzz around catcher Santiago Nessy. The Venezuelan struggled in a number of areas and made news for some of the wrong reasons. If you follow the link, you can see Nessy’s baserunning boner on July 1 that led to a Lugnuts loss against the Great Lakes Loons thanks to the Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler. Jesse’s great blog post features not only video of the now-infamous play but a great follow-up interview with Nessy. Unfortunately for Nessy, this with the biggest story of his season that was interrupted by a concussion. His first exposure to full-season ball was tough for the 20-year-old, with fairly mixed reports both behind the plate and at it. He hit .241/.293/.375 over only 242 plate appearances with five home runs. To compare, Nessy hit nine home runs in only 203 plate appearances last season, playing mostly in Bluefield. This season, his defense also took a step back, throwing out only 25% of potential base stealers and racking up 18 passed balls. His numbers did pick up in August (.301/.325/.425) when I saw him play in Lansing but I thought that his bat looked a little slow and he was hitting everything the other way.* Nessy was invited to the Fall Instructional League in Florida and will hopefully get some work in and get healthy before returning to Lansing in the spring.
After his demotion from Dunedin, 24-year-old Kevin Patterson got a big chunk of playing time at first base (which he shared with Jordan Leyland after Leyland arrived from Vancouver). The big (6’4″) DH/1B led the club in home runs by a long shot with 18 and showed off his prodigious power even in front of home crowds in the very spacious Cooley Law School Stadium. In 395 plate appearances, Patterson hit .212/.301/.424 with 44 walks but a whopping 107 strikeouts. At this point, Patterson is showing that he’s not able to make consistent enough contact to get it done at the higher levels of the minors but after his solid season, I think he’s going to get another chance in Dunedin.
Another young player who had scouts and prospecters talking coming into the season was second baseman Christian Lopes. Lopes, 20, was a seventh-round pick in 2011 who had a very strong season last year in Bluefield but probably found the long season difficult. While he came out of the gate very strongly, hitting .315 in April and .299 in May, Lopes’s numbers slowly fell throughout the rest of the season, culminating in a .245/.308/.336 triple slash line over 552 plate appearances. Lopes shows flashes of power (with 24 doubles, three triples and five home runs) and has the ability to make solid contact (14.1% strikeout rate). He’s a good defender who’s well suited to second base (i.e., his arm won’t play at short) and having seen him play in both early May and mid-August, I can say that, while he hasn’t done much to help his “prospect” standing, he’s still only 20 and there are definitely indications that he can do a lot more with the bat than he did this season. I can definitely see him coming back to Lansing next year, making some adjustments to what opposing pitchers were trying to do to him and getting a mid-season promotion to Dunedin.
I’ve had almost a week to think about it and I’m definitely not regretting making shortstop Emilio Guerrero my Player of the Year for the Lansing Lugnuts. In 391 plate appearances, the 21-year-old Dominican hit .277/.355/.402 but especially turned it on in August when he hit .366 with 13 extra-base hits. Looking into his splits a bit, I’ve noticed that Guerrero hit lefties and righties about equally well but showed a lot of power against the lefties. His defense was his biggest problem, making 33 errors in 89 games at shortstop for the Lugnuts. Marc Hulet (see the link at the bottom of this article) thinks that Guerrero will fill out and become a third baseman in time. If that happens, he’ll have to compete with another fielding-challenged third baseman, Gustavo Pierre. Guerrero earned a promotion to Dunedin at the end of the year and I fully expect him to return there in 2014.
Speaking of Pierre, I’ll write about him here since he played in more games with the Lansing Lugnuts. Pierre is another 21-year-old Dominican but he’s been in the Jays system since 2009 and this season was his third in Lansing. Pierre came up originally as a shortstop but his atrocious defense there caused a move to third base. Pierre is tall, lanky and athletic with strong wrists and a cannon of an arm but seems to have concentration lapses in the field, making errors on routine plays but still coming up some spectacular ones. At the plate, Pierre hit .292/.300/.438 for the Lugnuts in 237 plate appearances but .210/.219/.318 in 202 plate appearances in Dunedin. Overall, he hit for some solid power, with 25 doubles, three triples and eight home runs however, the biggest hole in his offensive game is the fact that he only walked four times the entire season (for a BB% UNDER 1.0%) and he had strikeout percentages of 26.2% and 32.7% in Lansing and Dunedin (respectively). Pierre has a lot of raw tools but unless he learns to control the strike zone MUCH better, his career will stall out in A-ball. I see him returning to Dunedin for 2014.
Getting a lot of reps at third base (especially after Pierre’s promotion) was Kellen Sweeney who also played first base and second base. The slick fielder just turned 22 and struggled with the bat in his second go-round with the Lansing Lugnuts. Drafted in the second round in 2010, Sweeney has not shown anything with the bat in the past three seasons but the organization was sticking with him in 2013 getting him into 109 games with 398 plate appearances. Sweeney hit .189/.269/.284 with only 20 extra-base hits which shows that he has a little bit of power but just can’t make enough contact to convert it into production. Sweeney had a very solid 10.1% walk ratio but still struck out 94 times (23.6%) this season. Sweeney has not been good and I can’t see the Blue Jays moving him up to Dunedin to compete with Pierre, Guerrero for playing time at third and with Patterson (and maybe K.C. Hobson) for playing time at first. I also see Sweeney competing for playing time next season with Matt Dean and Mitch Nay for playing time in Lansing and, as such, he may end up in Extended Spring Training unless injuries make a place for him somewhere.
I call shortstop Jorge Flores “Mighty Mouse” for a reason. The 21-year-old from Arizona is listed at only 5’5″ tall but packs a punch in his small frame. I was initially impressed with Flores when I saw him take batting practice in Spring Training and he impressed me with the pop in his bat when I saw him in Lansing too, hitting a 400-foot double to straight-away center field (the fence is about 408 feet from home plate in Lansing). While he doesn’t project to be more than a back-up infielder at any level, Flores has a solid glove and great attitude to go with solid skills with the bat. In 226 plate appearances in Lansing, Flores hit .247/.348/.361 with 17 doubles, a triple and a home run. He doesn’t strike out much and probably gives pitchers fits with his small strike zone; he took 23 walks and struck out 30 times for Lansing. He put up worse numbers in limited at bats in Dunedin but still managed to hit for extra bases. I see Flores returning to Dunedin as a backup infielder in 2014.
The outfield for the Lansing Lugnuts was where a lot of the production came from. Mr. Consistency (and Player of the Game Champion) Dwight Smith, Jr., 20, was one of the keys to the Lansing offense with his very solid .284/.365/.388 slash line. Smith didn’t hit a lot of home runs (seven) but hit consistently throughout the entire season after he was activated from Extended Spring Training at the end of April. Smith has very good speed and was definitely a stolen base threat, stealing 25 bases and getting caught just five times. He also controlled the strike zone well for someone so young with 52 walks and 82 strikeouts on the season over 479 plate appearances. While Smith doesn’t have the loud tools of D.J. Davis or Dalton Pompey, his improvement since last year has been tremendous and he should be able to move up to Dunedin in 2014. The one concern with Smith is that he doesn’t have the speed or range necessary to play center field and he doesn’t necessarily have a prototypical corner outfield bat.
20 year old Mississauga-born Dalton Pompey had a difficult, injury-shortened 2012 season that saw him only get 70 at bats all season long. While the 16th-round 2010 draft pick got a few games in Lansing to close the season, the Blue Jays sent him back to get a full-season’s worth of games under his belt. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .261/.358/.394 over 511 plate appearances, all with Lansing. While Pompey was fairly streaky, he flashed outstanding foot speed (38 SBs, 10 CS despite a broken toe for some of the season), excellent patience at the plate (63 walks) and some solid power (22 doubles, nine triples, six home runs) to go with it. If Pompey improves his contact ability (106 strikeouts although his K% isn’t outlandishly high at 20.7%), he could be a home-grown player as exciting as Anthony Gose in a couple of years. He’ll attend the Fall Instructional League (along with Dwight Smith) and I can see him moving up to Dunedin in 2014 ready to explode onto the Blue Jays’ prospects scene.
When I arrived in Lansing for the first time, I was told that right fielder Carlos Ramirez had probably the best raw tools on the team. The 22-year-old Dominican made his first appearance in full-season ball this year with the Lugnuts and put up solid, if uninspiring, numbers, hitting .228/.297/.375 over 435 plate appearances and leading the club in doubles (27) and hitting five triples and seven home runs. Ramirez is also known for having a cannon of an arm in right field, racking up 11 assists this season but making eight errors, a pretty high number for an outfielder. Like many Latin players, Ramirez is an aggressive hitter, walking only 7.6% of the time and striking out 23.4% of the time although both figures are improvements over his time in Vancouver last year. I can see Ramirez moving up and being challenged next year in Dunedin.
Chris Hawkins, 22, repeated the level in Lansing with poorer results than he had last year raising some question marks. This season, in 421 plate appearances, the 2010 third rounder hit .226/.287/.313 although he did show proportionally more power this season with 12 doubles, six triples and three home runs. Hawkins has very good straight-line speed and will be able to steal some bases but he’s not in nearly the same class as Pompey or Smith. It’s hard to tell where Hawkins might end up next year. He’s in the same class as Sweeney, having regressed a little bit in 2013.
Jason Leblebijian, 22, racked up a lot of miles this year, getting some playing time for Dunedin, Vancouver and Lansing. In 50 games with the Lugnuts, Leblebijian accrued 184 plate appearances, hitting .231/.321/.281 showing an ability to get on base but not much power. He did play all four infield positions, making him a useful member of the team. Catcher Aaron Munoz, 24, missed most of the season with an injury, hitting .224/.313/.276 in 136 plate appearances. The classic “defense-first” catcher, Munoz’s value is behind the plate where he stabilized the Lugnuts’ defense and threw out 31% of runners trying to steal. Finally, 1B Balbino Fuenmayor, 23, was released by the club after hitting just .208/.287/.396 in 108 plate appearances. Despite hitting four home runs, Fuenmayor was on pace to lead the club in strikeouts and had a 29.6% strikeout rate at the time of his release.
*Marc Hulet of Fangraphs saw Nessy in August and wrote something similar.
Note: All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission.