Now that the minor league baseball season has wrapped itself up for the Blue Jays’ affiliates, it’s time to start looking back at the season that was for the Blue Jays’ minor leaguers. The first step in that process is going to be where I try to look into my crystal ball and try to predict who wins the R. Howard Webster awards, the Jays’ in-house awards for the minor league MVPs for each team.
I find the Webster Awards to be a really fascinating look at the organization. In my predictions, I’ll consider the Blue Jays’ tendencies to select players’ that they’ve drafted rather than later acquisitions. They also tend to select players who are at a level for the entire season while also preferring hitters over pitchers.
Dominican Summer League Blue Jays
In 2013, the runaway winner of this award was Miguel Castro who rocketed through the Jays’ organization to finish the year in the Florida State League this year.
In 2014, my prediction goes to 19-year-old first baseman Enmanuel Moreta. Not only did Moreta lead the team in slugging percentage (.437) and total bases (111) but he also had very solid batting average (.287) and on-base percentage (.367) numbers. A couple of other candidates, Edward Olivares and Rodrigo Orozco come up shorter for a couple of reasons. Olivares was signed midway through the season, playing 25 fewer games than Moreta, despite putting up an incredible .436 OBP while Orozco’s power numbers were far lower. I would expect more in the future from Orozco, however, based on his very low strikeout totals and his solid prowess on the bases.
2014 Prediction: Enmanuel Moreta
Gulf Coast League Blue Jays
Whoever wins this award this year will follow in some big shoes (figuratively) because the 2013 winner is one of the Jays’ top young prospects, SS Franklin Barreto.
This decision this year is actually a fairly tough one, mainly because the GCL Blue Jays were not a very good team with only a few standouts. None of the pitchers who might be qualified spent the whole season in the GCL so I’m going to have to go with a hitter and I’ll take 3B/OF Lane Thomas by a small margin over 1B/C Juan Kelly. Thomas played in fewer games so his counting stats are a little lower but by the rate stats, he put up very solid numbers for his first year of professional baseball after being drafted in the fifth round by the Blue Jays in 2014. He hit .260/.362/.382 before being promoted to Bluefield and put up even better numbers there.
If Thomas doesn’t get the award, I’m throwing my support behind Kelly. The 19-year-old Dominican hit for a .287 batting average but had almost identical OBP and SLG to Thomas. He doesn’t have much power though and only stole one base.
2014 Prediction: Lane Thomas
Bluefield Blue Jays
2013 had Matt Dean come up with the award for the Blue Jays as a part of a very talented team. In 2014, the Bluefield Blue Jays have several worthy candidates for the award and I’m not sure how the Blue Jays will go. I’m going to make my case a dark horse: C Dan Jansen.
What? How can I select Jansen with the higher-ceiling prospects like Richard Urena and Rowdy Tellez lighting things up? Well, Jansen was the team leader in OPS at .874, which was almost 80 points higher than Urena and almost 90 points higher than Tellez. Jansen shared the team lead in home runs with five, despite being a catcher and having his season cut short at 38 games due to an injury. Jansen’s .282/.390/.484 line is extremely impressive. Jansen also had very solid defensive numbers with a 34% caught stealing percentage.
If Jansen doesn’t win, I think it could be either Tellez or Urena and would fundamentally be a toss up. Urena might have a slight edge because he’s a year younger than Tellez and he plays a premium position (shortstop) very well. Both had strong years with the bat and both earned promotions at the end of the year. Urena went up to Vancouver while Tellez played very well in Lansing. In all honesty, if Tellez had put up numbers over the course of the whole season the way he did after July 8, he might have run away with this award but the early season slump dragged his overall numbers down too much for me.
Having written all that, I think Urena WILL win but Jansen SHOULD win.
2014 Prediction: Richard Urena
The 2013 award winner was first baseman (and Northwest League MVP) L.B. Dantzler and my belief is that with the Vancouver Canadians, we’ll have a repeat Webster award winner with Franklin Barreto. In my opinion, he runs away with this award for several reasons. While 2014 Ryan McBroom led the club with 11 home runs, he flagged down the stretch of the season. Barreto plays a more intense position (although his defense is still suspect at shortstop) but was also one of the youngest players in the Northwest League (if not the youngest) to start the season and still put up a better OPS than McBroom at .865. With a mature eye (with a .384 OBP), Barreto’s youth, power (23 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR) and speed (29 SB) is very impressive.
I can think of two pitchers who would be in contention if Barreto hadn’t been mashing all season. The first would be Miguel Castro but with only 50 1/3 innings in Vancouver (before being moved up to Lansing and then to Dunedin), the award will probably go to Barreto. Still, Castro was extremely impressive, flashing an upper-90s fastball and two surprisingly good offspeed pitches. Castro put up a 2.15 ERA and 1.11 WHIP before moving up.
Jairo Labourt also deserves mention and could merit consideration especially because of the improvement that he showed after his horrible start in Lansing. With a 1.77 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, Labourt was the heart of the pitching staff with 82 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings with the Canadians.
2014 Prediction: Franklin Barreto
The Lansing Lugnuts had a pretty disappointing season, finishing 15 games under .500 this year despite an impressive array of young prospects. Despite having CF Dalton Pompey on the club last year, the 2013 winner was LF Dwight Smith, Jr. and this year, there are a few solid candidates.
It’s actually quite a tough call between Mitch Nay and Matt Dean among players who spent most of the year with the club. None of the pitchers had really stellar years and the only one among them that I might consider would be Jeremy Gabryszwski, mainly for his ability to eat innings and pitch effectively despite not having dominant stuff.
I’m going to say that Mitch Nay will be the winner, mostly for leading the club in doubles through 120 games and hitting .285 with a higher OBP and fewer strikeouts than Dean. Dean’s resume is strong too, leading the club with nine home runs and hitting .281 and posting a .332 OBP.
There’s also a dark horse candidate this year and I’ll say that outfielder Derrick Loveless has an element to his game (speed) that the others don’t. Loveless hit .264 but his .363 OBP and solid power numbers (including 18 doubles and nine triples) to go with 17 stolen bases gives him a much more well-rounded season than the other two.
2014 Prediction: Mitch Nay
Dunedin Blue Jays
In 2013, Jon Berti won this award as a speedy second baseman who was with the club all year but in 2014, it’s going to go to another repeat winner: Dwight Smith, Jr.
Several pitchers distinguished themselves for Dunedin this year, especially in the first half of the season. Matt Boyd was dominant until he was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire, Taylor Cole won the strikeout title in 2014 and Daniel Norris began his meteoric rise to the majors with the D-Jays. Kendall Graveman also spend significant time in Dunedin before eventually making it to Toronto.
On the hitting side, Dalton Pompey sort of pulled an Andy Burns circa 2013 by dominating in the first half at the plate and securing several promotions, also leading to a September call up to Toronto.
That said, these awards favour those who spend most of the season with a team and Smith was the heart and soul of the offense that was often a one-man show down the stretch of the season. Playing in 121 games, the 21-year-old outfielder may have started to silence some of his critics who were insisting that he probably won’t have enough power to make it to the majors. While he only hit seven home runs in 2013 with Lansing, Smith hit 12 this year in what is a much tougher league for hitters. Smith also continued his solid and consistent hitting, putting up virtually identical batting average and OBP numbers as last year (.284 BA, .363 OBP) but increased his slugging percentage by 65 points and cutting down on strikeouts despite more plate appearances.
If a pitcher wins this award for Dunedin, my thought is that it will be Taylor Cole.
2014 Prediction: Dwight Smith, Jr.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Outfielder Brad Glenn won this award last year for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but there’s going to be a new winner in town in 2014 with Andy Burns taking the award.
Andy Burns rallied in the second half of the season to post a .745 OPS with 15 home runs, 18 stolen bases and team high 63 RBI and 71 runs. That said, his occaisonally lackadaisical play on defense might take away some of the sheen, as well as his .255 batting average and .315 OBP.
An argument could be made for Dunedin’s 2013 winner Jon Berti who didn’t have the best offensive season on the team, his grit, defense, speed and timely hitting made him invaluable to his team. The second baseman had the best batting average out of anyone who had more than 300 at bats (.270) and his 40 stolen bases placed him second in the Eastern League. Despite not being a power hitter, Berti showed his situational hitting abilities by finishing with 50 RBI.
2014 Prediction: Andy Burns
With two-time award winner Ryan Goins putting up solid numbers for the Bisons yet again, my gut feeling is that he’s not going to take home his third award this year. With little competition among home grown pitchers (Sean Nolin is probably the best positioned to make his case), Kevin Pillar will win this year’s award after crushing Triple-A pitching whenever he’s been with the Bisons.
Once again, looking over the Jays’ selections over the past couple of years, there is a tendency to select players with substantial time with that team as well as favouring hitters over pitchers and homegrown players over players acquired from other teams. Pillar fits all of these categories and played in 100 games with Buffalo, hitting .323/.359/.509 with 39 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs in just 434 plate appearances. Pillar also showcased his well-rounded game, stealing 27 bases and was caught only six times.
2014 Prediction: Kevin Pillar
Who do you think will be among the winners? Let us know in the comments!
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