For Bluefield, I’ll approach the hitters in terms of positions since there were fairly cut-and-dry starters throughout most of the year. There was some outstanding talent on the Bluefield Blue Jays and we here at Blue Jays from Away think that the core of the team will move up to Lansing next year.
One of the real leaders on and off the field for the Bluefield Blue Jays was catcher Jorge Saez. The bilingual native of Miami, Florida not only served as a liaison between the English and Spanish speaking players but got the job done on the field posting an improved .247/.311/.348 line with the bat. He also contributed on the defensive end, throwing out 40% of baserunners trying to steal. While not the best player on the field, Saez definitely will be a useful player in the Blue Jays organization. Having just turned 23, Saez is a bit old for the rookie league level and I see him either in Vancouver to start 2014 or backing up Santiago Nessy in Lansing to start next season.
I’ve already written a fair bit about first baseman Matthew Dean. After rebounding from a tough year in 2012 as well as a tough start to 2013, the 20-year-old flipped a switch and went on to win the Appalachian League batting championship, hitting .338/.390/.519 with 14 doubles, 3 triples, 6 home runs and 8 stolen bases. Dean, a 13th round pick in 2011 (although, like Jake Brentz and Rowdy Tellez this year, he got a very large signing bonus), also had the best fielding percentage in the league and Trey Wilson, play-by-play man for Bluefield, called him the best first baseman in the league in only his first season playing the position. I can see Dean starting in Lansing next season but the organization has a glut of good young first baseman with L.B. Dantzler (Northwest League MVP), Jordan Leyland, Kevin Patterson and Kellen Sweeney all potentially being in the way.
Second baseman Timothy Locastro had a very good first professional season after being drafted out of Ithaca College as a junior in the 13th round this year. Locastro is known for his speed (12 stolen bases with just 2 caught stealing), his defense and his great contact ability and, having just turned 21 this summer, wasn’t completely out of place on this young team. Locastro posted a .283/.367/.384 slash line and probably won’t have the pop to make the big club; however, organizations always need young players who can play good defense and if he can hit the way he did this year, there will be a job for Locastro. I saw a youngster who could make contact with just about anything and put the ball in play (13 walks and just 12 strikeouts) but had a very “armsy” swing — meaning that he didn’t really get his lower half into the swing and, therefore, didn’t generate a lot of power. Look for him in Vancouver next year.
At third base was Mitch Nay, another very young player (19) who took advantage of his first professional season (after being drafted in the second round last year) to show off what he’s got. Nay showed good defense (which still needs work) and a lot of pop with a .300/.364/.426 slash line, sharing the team lead in home runs with 6. Nay went on to help the Vancouver Canadians win their 3rd straight Northwest League championship after getting called up for the playoffs, adding extra-base pop to a lineup of mostly singles hitters. Nay hit .381 with a home run and two doubles in 5 playoff games with Vancouver. If he’s not in Lansing next season then I’m horrible at this.
The final major infield cog was 18-year-old Dominican shortstop Dawel Lugo. Lugo also went up to Vancouver (earlier than Nay) and posted solid numbers there but was excellent in Bluefield with a .297/.317/.469 slash line and shared the team lead with 6 home runs. Lugo needs to really work on his plate discipline – he walked only 5 times in 202 plate appearances and despite a very respectable 13.9% strikeout rate (which went up to 18.6% in Vancouver), the 2.5% walk rate is pretty bad. With the call-up to Vancouver, Lugo is already entrenched at the cusp of full-season ball. I’d be inclined to say that the Blue Jays give him a chance in Lansing and let him get a full year’s at bats under his belt.
In the outfield, there was really only one “every day” player and that was center fielder D.J. Davis. Davis was the Blue Jays’ first round pick in 2012 and was drafted as a very raw 17 year old out of Stone County High School in Mississippi. The quiet, serious youngster (who turned 19 in July) had a very productive season that gave glimpses both of what his sky-high potential is and how far he needs to go before he realizes that potential. Davis’s batting average and strikeouts betray the fact that he needs to really get a better handle on the strike zone and breaking pitches: he hit .240 and struck out a team-leading 76 times in 258 plate appearances (a 29.5% K rate). However, there was a lot of good this season for Davis. His OBP was .323* and he took a respectable 26 walks. He also showed a lot of power, hitting 8 doubles, 7 triples and tying for the team lead with 6 home runs. The power in his bat, combined with his outstanding speed give him more of an upside than just about any outfielder in the organization. The only issue is whether or not he will be able to develop better plate discipline as he rises through the organization. I think he’s going to have a very big test on his hands in Lansing next year.
Getting a lot of time in the outfield were Derrick Loveless and Jonathan Davis. Loveless, a 20-year-old 27th round pick from 2011, had a decent year in his 3rd season of pro ball. He hit .226/.329/.362 but showed some pop (6 doubles, 6 triples, 2 HR) and a decent eye. Davis is 21 and was playing his first season of pro ball after being drafted out of the University of Arkansas. He shows an advanced eye at the plate and has raw tools to be a solid organizational player. He faded a bit late in the year due to some nagging injuries but still hit .238/.346/.415 with 11 doubles, 3 triples and 2 HRs, showing some power as well as a good eye. His 14 walks and 26 strikeouts in 155 plate appearances are very solid numbers. I can see Loveless back in short season ball one more time (probably Vancouver) while Davis could move quicker than that. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Davis starting off in Dunedin (at the highest) but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he played in Vancouver either.
Another outfielder that got significant playing time was Nico Taylor (23) who came down to Bluefield from Vancouver after not getting many at bats up there. Taylor, a 38th round pick from 2011, has had scouts drooling over his athleticism and was able to translate that into results over the 78 plate appearances he got in Bluefield. He showed excellent plate discipline (13 walks and 13 strikeouts) and also hit with some pop (6 doubles and 2 home runs) with a .262/.385/.446 slash line. Jesus Gonzalez got people excited about his tools but he wasn’t really able to translate that into in-game results, hitting .183/.241/.258 in 133 plate appearances. Gonzalez is still just 18 and I can see him repeating the level while Taylor’s future is much more cloudy.
Of the backups, Alexis Maldonado (a 2013 free agent signee) played the most, showing solid defense but not much power (.260/.351/.280). John Silviano struggled at the plate despite showing great power at times (.141/.239/.282, 3 HRs, 2 2Bs in 78 AB). Angel Rojas was a light-hitting infielder (.125/.167/.194) while Lydell Moseby (Lloyd’s son) also didn’t hit much and played a little bit backing up at first base (.182/.270/.212, 33 AB). Garrett Custons backed up Jorge Saez until he had to report to the Air Force to begin his military career and definitely showed some promise, hitting .222/.295/.315 in 54 ABs and throwing out 35% of baserunners trying to steal.
Finally, D.J. Jones had another season with few at bats (just 30 at bats in 32 games) and was the go-to guy for pinch running. He hit .267/.405/.367 which wasn’t bad for a guy who rarely hit.
* Again, there are discrepancies between Fangraphs and Baseball Reference and MiLB.com in these stats. I generally go with Baseball Reference/MiLB.com. I actually know how MiLB.com gets its stats and this leads me to trust them more. For every minor league baseball game in the US, the official scorekeeper phones in the results of a half-inning after every half-inning (or stoppage in play, like a pitching change) and dictates the plays that occurred to the MiLB.com office. Mistakes sometimes happen but normally someone catches it during the game and it’s fixed before the game ends.
Note: All photographs are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and are not to be used without permission.