In response to my colleague at Jays Journal, Michael van Bommel’s article about the Jays’ options at second base, I thought I would go into a little more detail on the minor league side of things.
MvB looks at Christian Lopes as being the only guy in the minor league system that grades out as a second baseman, but here’s the thing. Few players are drafted playing second. Basically, the guys who end up at second base are ones who have good range but don’t have the arm to play shortstop. While Lopes is the biggest “prospecty” name in the system at second base, he’s still a long way away, currently playing for Low-A Lansing.
I saw Lopes play (and I interviewed him) and I can tell you that he looks great at second base defensively. He has smooth hands, turns the double play well but he doesn’t have the arm for short, even though he has played a few games there lately. His bat has a lot of potential. He is really good at making contact and I saw him really hit tough pitches that were down and away from him (as a right-handed hitter). I’ve also seen him turn on balls and can tell you that there’s power in that bat that I think will come out in the next couple of years. With Lopes being so far away from the majors, I’d say the chances of him playing second base at the major league level are about 25%.
With that said about Lopes, let’s look at who else the Jays have at Lansing or above in their system, especially looking at some out-of-the-box names.
Kellen Sweeney (Lansing Lugnuts – Class A). Sweeney has played third and first but has also spelled Lopes at second for a few games this season. I haven’t seen him play that position (and haven’t really noticed him when he played defense) but if he doesn’t come around as a hitter, his position is irrelevant. While he started off the season in a horrible slump, he has come around a bit and the Lugnuts have started to see that he has quite a bit of pop in his bat. The 21 year old has had his average slip below the .200 mark and is hitting .198/.300/.339. His ISO of .141 is actually pretty decent while his 17 walks is second on the team, despite 40 fewer at bats than Dalton Pompey, the leader in that category. The key issue is contact. He already has 32 strikeouts, which is actually regressing from his total last season in Lansing in slightly more at bats.
Lansing radio-broadcaster Slavko Bekovic tweeted me this when I asked him about Sweeney’s defensive ability:
— Slavko Bekovic (@SBekovic) May 26, 2013
The key with Sweeney will be to continue to improve with the bat enough to stay in Lansing and progress higher in the Jays’ system. His versatility will keep him around but if he doesn’t start producing with the bat, the Jays aren’t going to worry about where he’ll play. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 5%
Jon Berti (Dunedin Blue Jays – Class A+) has been getting a lot of time at second base. Berti is not a power threat but has speed to burn. Berti, drafted in the 18th round by the Blue Jays in 2011 (his second time through the draft — Berti was drafted in the 36th round by Oakland in 2008 but didn’t sign), is in his second go-round with the Dunedin Blue Jays this year but is playing every day for the first time. At 23, he’s a little old for the level but has been hitting much better this year with a .255/.320/.314 line (trust me, his 2012 numbers are much worse in about the same number of at bats) and his 24 stolen bases lead the league by 5 over his closest competition. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 10%
Andy Burns (Dunedin Blue Jays – Class A+) is by far the best pure hitter on this list. Drafted in the 11th round of the 2011 draft, 22-year-old Burns has mostly played third base with Dunedin, Burns did play 12 games at second as late as last season in Lansing. Right now, Burns is excelling in all aspects of the game, hitting for average (.339 – third in the Florida State League) and power (.554 SLG – second in the FSL including 10 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 6 HRs) and has been getting on base with a .411 OBP (third in the FSL) and has walked 22 times and struck out 24. I’ve been told by Tyler Murray, the radio voice of the Dunedin Blue Jays that he has a cannon of an arm and is looking great playing third base.
And this brings me to the dilemma. Of the players discussed so far, Burns has the best looking bat and the best performance at the highest level. He’s also, by all accounts, a very good fielder. Because of this information, putting him at second base would be a waste of his arm, but if the team has truly ruled out shortstop for him and if Brett Lawrie remains at third base for the Blue Jays, second would be the best position for him. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 15% if Lawrie busts. 30% if Lawrie blossoms.
Kevin Nolan (New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Class AA) has been having a quietly solid season as the shortstop in Manchester, NH. At 25, he’s a minor league veteran, and has a track record of a very solid bat. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2009 draft, Nolan has put up very consistent numbers at every level of full-season ball he’s played. Nolan has hit at least .280 with at least a .360 OBP and a .400 SLG every year except his first with Lansing (he slugged .396). He has played some second base, but not a significant amount since he was with Lansing in 2011 (fielding metrics look solid for his 13 games there). This season, he has 12 errors in 31 games at SS while hitting .281/.366/.447. The errors could indicate that he might benefit from a shorter throw* from second base. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 25%
Nolan’s teammate Ryan Schimpf (New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Class AA) is an intriguing name. He was invited to Toronto Spring Training as a non-roster invitee but looked very out of place at the plate when I saw him down in Dunedin in March. He had 3 hits in 25 at bats (.120) but two of those hits were doubles. He also struck out 8 times and walked 3 times playing mostly outfield at the ends of games to spell the major leaguers. Schimpf leads the Eastern League in home runs with 11 and has actually brought his batting average up to .232 over the last little while. He walks and strikes out a ton (33 walks, 48 strikeouts) but actually projects to play more second base this season (he has played mostly at third) with John Tolisano going on the DL. And of any of the other non-second baseman I’ve mentioned, Schimpf has the most time there, with 245 games at the keystone corner.
The biggest issue with 25-year-old Schimpf is that scouts don’t think that he can hack it in the bigs and that major league pitchers will exploit his weakness for the strikeout and he won’t have a chance to use his outstanding power. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 10%
Jim Negrych (Buffalo Bisons – Class AAA) is the most logical choice to come up and try his hand in the majors. He still leads the International League in batting (.373) but he has definitely come back to earth after an unbelievable six weeks to start the season – he’s hitting only .262 in his last 10 games. By no means is he a power hitter, but the 28-year-old Buffalo native is a very experienced minor league player and can drive the ball to the gaps. He also has over 400 minor league games of under his belt at second. Analysts and writers like Dirk Hayhurst have expressed a desire to see him in Toronto if neither Maicer Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio are hitting and he is, by far, the best, closest and most ready option. Chances of Playing 2B in Toronto: 50%
What do you think?
* The only way to really know how many of his errors were from throwing and fielding would be to go through game reports game by game. If someone wants to do that for me, I’d be happy to update the post!