This post is the first part of an eight-part series that will be my attempt to predict the Opening Day rosters for the Blue Jays’ four full-season minor league teams which start their seasons on April 9.
Each post will have a complementary “Countdown to Baseball” profile of one of the players. You can see this post by becoming a registered member of Blue Jays from Away for free! Just click on the link and follow the simple instructions!
Today’s potential Lansing Lugnut profile belongs to lefty Evan Smith.
This exercise is actually pretty tricky when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it. Trying to predict which players get assigned to which team is a challenge because we’re doing this over a month before the season opens, right about the time that minor league spring training opens. A great performance or a poor performance can move a player up and down while we can’t see the refinement or improvement of skills to make the kinds of judgements as to whether the organization deems a player to be ready for a particular level.
This is all an educated guessing game and I’ll probably get a few right, a few wrong and there’s always one or two roster decisions that completely surprise me. The Lugnuts’ first official game is April 10 against the Lake County Captains but they play their Crosstown Showdown on April 9 against the Michigan State baseball team.
I highly recommend reading Lansing Lugnuts’ announcer and media director Jesse Goldberg-Strassler’s thoughts on where the 2014 Lugnuts will wind up. It made for interesting reading and Jesse has shared with me his thoughts about the 2015 roster which I certainly took into consideration when putting together my list.
I’m going to be a little wishy-washy and put the players into two categories: those who I’m pretty sure will be in Lansing this year and those who I think are on the bubble and could open the season elsewhere.
Yes, there are a lot of pitchers there and there is a possibility that there could be some piggy-backing going on. Of this group, I think the no-brainers are Borucki, Labourt, Smoral and Tirado. Borucki and Smoral spent time in both Bluefield and Vancouver and both have had two seasons of short season ball under their belt. Looking back, the Jays like to get their higher upside prospects into full-season ball in their third year in the pros.
Tirado and Labourt are also pretty much no-brainers. Both struggled in Lansing last year and found more success when sent down to Vancouver so it’s pretty easy to think that both of them will be able to take their lessons back to Lansing in 2015.
Evan Smith has also had two pro seasons under his belt and was very successful in the GCL before having a solid year in Bluefield. He doesn’t turn 20 until August and could conceivably be held back in extended spring training.
Mallard is kind of a bubble guy. He’s a four-year college pitcher who is 23 and having him around will give a young staff some stability. That said, if there’s any Lugnut who can pull a Kendall Graveman and get all the way to the big leagues in his second professional season, it’s Mallard. He could start in Dunedin but I doubt it.
Suriel had a roller coaster of a first professional year and would give the Lugnuts’ rotation another arm who has pitched at the level before (42 innings in 2014) and has had some success. He could also start the year in Dunedin if the roster is getting too crowded.
Tinoco was in his third season in North America last year (after joining the GCL Blue Jays from the Dominican Republic in 2012) and his 95 mph heater will look good in Lansing. That said, he won’t be 20 until after the season starts and could stay in extended spring training for one more year.
Both of these Canadian pitchers struggled with injuries in 2014 and both could be back in Lansing at some point in 2014. Robson is recovering from Tommy John surgery and probably won’t be back on the mound until June while Dawson has had his own issues, only pitching 56 innings in Lansing before being shut down in mid-July. Dawson is only 21 and could easily be back in Lansing if he’s not pitching for Dunedin. Another option, if the Blue Jays think he’s fragile, is that he’ll have a bullpen role somewhere, probably Dunedin.
I think Huffman and Shafer will be on the outside looking in this year. Both were drafted in 2014 (Huffman in the 6th round and Shafer in the 8th) and Shafer had some struggles in Vancouver. Shafer is older at 22 but he also has less mileage on his arm, only becoming a full-time pitcher since turning pro. Huffman was outstanding last year but it was mostly in the GCL and it’s rare to see the Blue Jays promote a pitcher to Lansing after only 11 innings in Bluefield. (Alonzo Gonzalez coming to Lansing in 2013 is the only recent example I can think of and he needed to go back to Vancouver halfway through that season before having a much better year in 2014 back in Lansing).
The first name on this list, Adonys Cardona, is a big question mark to see how he’s going to be able to come back after breaking his elbow and having a screw inserted surgically to keep the whole thing together. Cardona has shown signs of being able to pitch effectively after struggling with control but the injury derailed hopes of having a full season to figure things out. Does he come back this year to pitch well or does he need more time?
For me, several of these pitchers are no brainers. Del Rosario and Wellbrock both had stints with the Lugnuts while Kraft, a lefty, was almost unhittable in 30 1/3 innings between Bluefield and Vancouver (11 hits in 30 1/3 innings).
Andrew Case was excellent in Vancouver last year and will give the Lugnuts some Canadian content and Romano spent most of his draft year in Bluefield dominating. Romano, a Markham, Ontario native, will be 22 on April 21 and will make a nice complement to the Lansing bullpen.
Fernandez had a solid season in Vancouver and is already 22. He’d provide the Lugnuts with another lefty in the bullpen.
The Crosstown Showdown is another story. Usually the Blue Jays fly some of their exciting younger prospects up to Lansing for a game. These pitchers are generally the ones who will get to Lansing the following year. You might expect Sean Reid-Foley, Nick Wells and Grayson Huffman to make the trip this year. I’ll put Hansel Rodriguez (a 2013 highly-regarded international free agent) as a dark horse to come up for the April 9 game. I’m planning to be there and I’m excited to see my first CTSD!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: Lansing Lugnuts position players!
Who do you think will be on the Lansing Lugnuts’ pitching staff in 2015?
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