There haven’t been a lot of moves within the Jays minor league system in the past couple of weeks, but there have been a few, partcularly in the past couple that merit discussion.
The first that I was pleased to report was Gabe Jacobo’s promotion to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats and he’s taken to his return to Manchester like a duck to water. Jacobo was promoted on July 11 after Buffalo’s Luis Jimenez went on the DL and Fisher Cat Clint Robinson was promoted to AAA (more on that below). To be honest, I was surprised to see Jacobo in Dunedin to start the year. He’s a minor league veteran and, at age 26, was a little old for Dunedin and had played a little bit in New Hampshire the year before where he hit quite well. While the home run power hasn’t emerged as much in Dunedin this year (.278/.346/.438 with 4 home runs in 169 ABs), he has hit 13 doubles and a triple as well and the Florida State League is notoriously tough on hitters. He’s responded incredibly well to the promotion, going 6 for 12 in his first three games with two doubles and two home runs. If he can get regular at bats for the rest of the season in Double-A, he can try to show off the power that he showed (in the hitter-friendly) California League in 2010 when he hit 22 home runs.
28-year-old 1B Clint Robinson’s promotion to Buffalo hasn’t been as kind as Jacobo’s has in New Hampshire. Robinson has started ice-cold with the Bisons, going 0 for his first 14 at bats. Robinson was hitting .270/.364/.446 with 14 doubles, 2 triples and 11 home runs in 332 plate appearances in New Hampshire. Robinson has had some very good numbers in the PCL at the Triple-A level but experienced a sharp drop-off of power between 2011 and 2012 in Omaha, going from 23 HRs in 2011 to 13 in 2012 in about the same number of plate appearances. I have heard rumblings that he could have trouble with plus-fastballs, so we’ll see how well he does in Buffalo going forward.
Further down in the system, there were several moves made. First, in Lansing, LHP Alonzo Gonzalez was demoted to Vancouver. Gonzalez is a 21-year-old lefty who stands 6’5″ but doesn’t throw like it. His assignment to Lansing kind of surprised me early in the season because he hasn’t pitched in Vancouver and isn’t too old for that level. Gonzalez pitched well last season, mostly in the Gulf Coast League and had decent control (about 1 walk per 3 innings) and gave up about a hit per inning. One small red flag was the fact that he didn’t strike out many batters (21 in 36 2/3 innings). He made two excellent starts in Bluefield at the end of the season, not allowing any runs and giving up only six baserunners (three hits and three walks) while striking out 9 batters in 12 innings.
This year has been a different story for Gonzalez as he has struggled mightily. In 16 starts in Lansing (pitching 79 1/3 innings, not quite 5 innings per start), Gonzalez has an ERA of 5.56 and a WHIP of 1.903, which means that he’s giving up almost 2 runners per inning. He’s also walked 42 batters and struck out 48, both numbers are not what you want to see in a prospect. These numbers echo what I’ve seen out of him myself. Gonzalez doesn’t even touch 90 mph, sitting around 87 and 88 with his fastball and struggling with control. While I never spoke to him, all reports are that Gonzalez is a very high character young man and going to Vancouver will probably not be bad for him. He’s still young and will be among the younger pitchers on that staff and there’s still plenty of time for him to turn his season around.
Gonzalez’s demotion makes room for Kendall Graveman, the Blue Jays 2013 8th round draft pick out of Mississippi State University. My spies (ok, it’s Chad Hillman – @HillmanChad on Twitter) informed me that Graveman was throwing as hard as 93 (on a scout’s radar gun, not the unreliable Cooley Law School Stadium radar in Lansing) and his changeup was sitting around 85. He threw a curveball that was a little flat but located his fastball well to both sides of the plate and got 5 of his 6 outs in his pro debut on ground balls. The 22 year old righty had a solid season in Mississippi and could be a solid organizational arm, but the lack of strikeouts in his college career could become a problem if he doesn’t develop an out pitch.
With Alonzo Gonzalez coming down to Vancouver, 25-year-old righty Jonathan Kountis was released. The 6’3″ right-handed reliever was in his first season in the Jays organization and had a 5.79 ERA and 2.25 WHIP in 9 1/3 innings with the Canadians. Signed out of the independent Frontier League where he had a very strong season last year, Kountis was showing strikeout stuff with 10 Ks in 9 1/3 innings, but also walked 5 and was old for the level and was not considered a prospect.
The Vancouver Canadians also lost outfielder Nico Taylor. Taylor is a big (6’4″), 23-year-old outfielder from McKinney, Texas who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 38th round of the 2011 draft. One writer I talked to in spring training told me that he was looking for a big season from Taylor, but things have not gone very well for him. After a strong 2011 in the Gulf Coast League (.314/.421/.505), he had a solid 2012 in Bluefield where he hit .268/.324/.354 but has regressed against better calibre opposition in Vancouver, hitting .235/.345/.340. He has actually improved his on-base percentage (despite a falling batting average) and his walks are up and strikeouts down significantly albeit in a small sample size.
Coming up to Vancouver from Bluefield is outfielder Melvin Garcia. Drafted in the 33rd round by the Blue Jays out of high school in the Bronx, Garcia has been very under the radar in the Blue Jays system for the first few years particularly because he was suspended for 50 games following the 2011 season for testing positive for an amphetamine and did not play at all in 2012. Now 21, Garcia has been a part-time player in Bluefield (only 19 plate appearances in 7 games) and the Blue Jays are likely moving him and Taylor around to get Taylor more playing time and for Garcia to serve as a backup outfielder in Vancouver.
Finally, the Bluefield Blue Jays released outfielder/DH Eric Arce. Arce was drafted twice by the Blue Jays and hails from the Gulf Coast of Florida. The 21 year old has a troubled past including an arrest in 2010 for allegedly making out with an underage girl when he was 18. It is unclear if he was ever convicted of any charges. Arce broke the Gulf Coast League home run record with 14 HRs in 2011 and had a solid season last year in Bluefield. He has shown prodigious power and a very good eye at the plate but also strikes out a lot. While he was not off a great start this season, I believe that some off-field issues may have caught up to him leading to his release.