Blue Jays Minor League All-Star Team

Catcher – Danny Jansen  .275/.390/.473 (MiLB numbers)

Jansen solidified his label as the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future with a good season on both sides of the plate, and earned a late season call up as a result.

Jansen has long been lauded for his leadership skills, and his ability to handle a Pitching staff.  Over the last two years, he’s added a potent bat, and vastly improved blocking skills to go along with the tools he already has behind the plate, which include being able to set a good low target, and excellent framing skills.

With Reese McGuire joining him in more than a day game after a night game role, the Blue Jays will be able to keep Jansen’s bat in the lineup on occasion while giving him a day off from Catching duties in 2019.  Barring injury, the team appears set at this position well into the next decade.

1B Ryan Noda  .256/.421/.484

After a disappointing draft year showing, Noda slipped to the Jays in the 15th round last June.  He led the Appalachian League in OPS, and continued his on-base ways in Lansing this year.

Noda led the minors in walks with 109, and his ABs continued to be a sight to see.  Eschewing batting gloves, Noda grinds out plate appearances, plain and simple.  His 20 HRs were 2nd best in the Midwest League, as were his 80 RBI.

With Kacy Clemens in the lineup for the first six weeks of the season, Noda had to split time with him at 1B, heading to LF when Clemens had a turn at First.  His defensive skills in the Outfield were a work in progress –  his numbers improved once Clemens was promoted to Dunedin, and Noda became a fulltime First Baseman.  He finished the season in a flurry, posting a 1.130 OPS in August.

Noda will no doubt continue to work the count at High A next year, but he may have to become more aggressive.  When he works the counts, he sometimes becomes vulnerable to off speed pitches on the outside edge of the plate.  Pitchers with better command at higher levels may be able to exploit that.

2B  Cavan Biggio  .252/.388/.499

Biggio increased his SwStr% and Flyball rate last year in an obvious attempt to add some loft to the ball, but the humidity and Pitcher-friendly Florida State League ballparks conspired to keep many of his long balls short of the fences.

This year, he’s broken out in a big way.  Biggio led the Eastern League in Homers, Slugging OPS.  He also led the league in walks, and just missed leading in strikeouts, almost winning the three true outcome title.

Biggio played three infield positions, finding himself most often at 2nd this year (68 games).  The Blue Jays also experimented with him in the Outfield late in the season, and will continue his trial there in the Arizona Fall League.

SS Kevin Smith  .302/.358/.528

Smith was regarded as a glove-first SS when the Blue Jays took him in the 4th round last year, and that label seemed apt after a .271/.312/.466 season with Bluefield.

Except that if there’s one thing that drives Smith, it’s proving the doubters wrong.

An ardent student of the game and diligent worker, Smith set about last off-season to eliminate a loop in his swing in an attempt to catch up to high fastballs, and to improve his two strike approach.  The changes paid off, as Smith dominated at Lansing, and earned a late May promotion to Dunedin.

Smith is probably the best defensive SS in the Blue Jays system – a clear evaluation on that is admittedly difficult.  He split time at 3B and SS at Lansing, then played in the online streaming black hole that is the FSL for the rest of the year.

One thing is certain – Smith has worked his way onto the Blue Jays top prospect list.  He is very likely to stick at SS,

3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr  .381/.437/.636

The easiest choice by far.  Not only did Guerrero have an offensive minor league season for the ages (possibly the best in Blue Jays prospect history), he made tremendous strides with his defence.  While he may not supplant Brooks Robinson one day in terms of reputation, he has built on the skills he already displayed in abundance at the hot corner:   footwork, sure hands, and a strong accurate arm.  Guerrero has been working on his first step reactions, and this play demonstrates the progress he’s made:

 

OF – Harold Ramirez  .320/.365/.471

Ramirez may have been in the shadow of more illustrious teammates this year like Gurriel, Guerrero, Bichette, and Biggio, but he was one of the most consistent hitters in New Hampshire’s lineup, winning an Eastern League batting title.  In his third go round at AA after injuries interrupted his 2017 season, Ramirez was among the league leaders in Total Bases and Slugging.

Where does Ramirez fit in a now crowded Blue Jays Outfield situation?  That’s hard to say, but his versatility and bat could help him force his way into the picture sometime next year.

OF Chavez Young .285/.363/.445

From 39th round pick to near Top 10 prospect in three seasons is a remarkable journey. Young was the only player in the minors this year with 50+ extra base hits and 40+ steals, demonstrating his power-speed potential.

At the plate, Young has a solid approach, and demonstrated that this year with a career-high walk rate.  A plus defender who can play all three OF positions, Young was a solid presence at the plate and in the field for Lansing this summer.  There are still some aspects of rawness to his game, but he smoothed off a lot of the rough edges in his first year of full season ball.

OF  Cal Stevenson

Firmly entrenched at the top of Bluefield’s lineup, the 10th round pick led the Appy League in runs, walks, and OBP, and was second in Average and Stolen Bases.  He was the catalyst in a lineup that nearly reached the Appy finals.

Ut – Otto Lopez  .308/.399/.406

Easily Vancouver’s most valuable player, Lopez can play the OF, as well as 2B/SS/3B.  He runs the bases well, and is a smart, high baseball-IQ player.

RH Starter – Patrick Murphy

Finally healthy for a full season for the first time in several years, Murphy was dominant in the Florida State League, leading the loop in Ks, and a nearly 60% GB rate indicates that when FSL hitters weren’t swinging and missing at this pitches, they had trouble squaring him up.

LH Starter – Zach Logue  12-4 3.15 ERA .259 OBA

Logue started the year at Lansing, and was promoted in May to Dunedin.  Not an overpowering Pitcher, he relies on command and a four-pitch mix to keep hitters off-balance, which he did for much of the year.  He uses his fastball to get ahead, and then relies on his improving secondaries to finish batters off.

RP – Travis Bergen  4-2 0.95 ERA .200 OBA

Another Pitcher who was finally healthy for a full season, Bergen was lights out at two levels in relief.  Moved up to New Hampshire after starting the year in Dunedin, the left-hander fanned 74 hitters in 59 innings at the two levels.  Bergen does not approach triple digits, but has command of all of his pitches – he surrendered only 15 walks this season.

DH – Alejandro Kirk .354/.443/.558 

Kirk came within 3 feet of tying up what proved to be the deciding game of Bluefield’s semifinal playoff matchup with the Rays Princeton affiliate, but his game travelled a long way this season.

Coming into the season, Kirk was a C/DH (with emphasis on the latter) was a fairly unknown commodity.  A late September signing in 2016, the Mexican had all of 2 ABs in the GCL in 2017 before being assigned to Bluefield this season.  Kirk busted out in a big way, and was named the Appy All Star DH.  With starting Catcher Hagen Danner in an out of the lineup with injuries, Kirk stepped in and from all accounts handled himself well.

Kirk swings hard and seldom gets cheated at the plate.  He put up gaudy numbers at a Low Level, so he comes with the usually cautions as he moves up.  That bat holds considerable promise, however.

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Blue Jays Instructional League Roster Announced

The Blue Jays have released their 2018 Instructional League roster.2018 Toronto Blue Jays Rookie Camp and Game Rep Roster-page-001

What’s often interesting about these rosters are some of the names who appear on it:

-Jol Concepcion and Naswell Paulino were both considered up-and-coming arms in the system before both were suspended for PED use last fall;

-Pitcher Luke Gillingham, who was taken in the 37th round in 2016 out of the US Naval Academy.  Gillingham pitched at Bluefield that year, but has been serving us commitment to the Navy since then;

-Reliever Kelyn Jose has a triple digit fastball, but little command.  Injuries limited him to 2 GCL innings this year;

-Nate Pearson, whose 2018 consisted of 1.1 innings.  Some thought he would be recovered from an arm fracture in time to take part in the Arizona Fall League, but the team has opted for caution with their top Pitching prospect.

Annnnnd……no sooner had we hit the publish button then this Tweet appeared:

 

-two-way player Andy McGuire, who filled roles on the mound and as a position player at Blufield has been invited as a Pitcher;

-Franciso Rios was once a promising starter at the lower levels, but was converted to relief and missed time due to injury this year;

-SS Hugo Cardona, who also missed 2018 due to a PED ban after a promising rookie season;

-top July 2nd IFA signing SS Orelvis Martinez, who adds to the up-the-middle depth the organization is building;

-2018 2nd rounder Griffin Conine, who had something of an up-and-down first pro season with Vancouver.

The schedule below shows a shorter camp for Toronto players than those from other teams who train in the area:

2018 Game Schedule-page-001

Blue Jays Minor League Awards

After a season in which five Blue Jays prospects found themselves on Baseball America‘s Top 100,  and the system itself reached #3 in BA’s rankings, the Toronto farm system is on an upward trend.  Prospects like Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Ryan Borucki, and Danny Jansen have established themselves as regulars, and Reese McGuire, Jonathan Davis, Sean Reid-Foley, and Rowdy Tellez  have all had a taste of MLB life this month.

Time to dish out some awards to recognize the strong season the organization has had at the minor league level.

Top Hitter – Vladimir Guerrero Jr

A no-brainer if there ever was one.  Guerrero was beating up on Eastern League Pitching  and hitting above .400 before being sidelined for a month with a knee injury.  Promoted to AAA Buffalo upon his return off the DL, he continued to mash before tailing off (if you could call a .333 August that) to a final line of .381/.437/.636.  That line is easily the best in Blue Jays prospect history.

Guerrero’s teammates Cavan Biggio, who led the Eastern League in HRs, and Harold Ramirez, who won a batting title in a nice turnaround season, also merit mention.  Dunedin SS Kevin Smith hit .302/.258/.528 with 25 HRs at two levels, and gets a nod for that season as well.  His teammates Rodrigo Orozco and Ivan Castillo finished one-two in the FSL batting race as well.

Other honourable mentions go to a pair of Bluefield bats:  OF Cal Stevenson led the Appalachian League in runs and walks, and  was second in average (.359), and  OPS (1.012).  Close behind him was teammate C/DH Alejandro Kirk, who bashed his way onto the prospect radar with a .354/.443/.558 line.

 

Pitcher of the Year

This is a tougher decision.  Nate Pearson would’ve been a contender for this honour, but an oblique issue and a line drive off of his pitching arm limited his season to just over an inning.  He did return to action in an exhibition game with Lansing last week, and the news was encouraging:

A couple of Pitchers did stand out.

-Ryan Borucki, who overcame a rough April (caused by some snow-outs) to reach the majors;

-Sean Reid-Foley, whose 2017 fell short of expectations, but reached MLB as well, and fanned 150 batters in 129 innings this year;

-Eric Pardinho, who skipped the GCL in his first year and more than held his own as a 17 year old adjusting to pro ball and a new country in the Appy League – Pardinho’s 31.5% K rate would have led the league if he had enough innings to qualify.

-Vancouver’s Josh Winckowski, the Northwest League’s Pitcher of the Year.

-Lefty Reliever Travis Bergen, who fanned 74 hitters in 58 IP at two levels;

-Dunedin RHP Patrick Murphy, who topped 100 with his fastball late in the season.

And the award goes to……………………

Murphy.  In his first full season as a pro, he led the Florida State League in Games Started, IP, and K’s, and was second in ERA.  Murphy posted a GB rate of almost 60%, and a 10% SwStr rate.   When he wasn’t missing bats, he was inducing a lot of weak contact.  As he progresses up the ladder and has more skilled defenders behind him, expect Murphy’s numbers to get even better.  With Murphy eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall if he’s not placed on the 40-man, he’s a safe bet to be added.

The Meteoric Rise of Dave Stieb Award

During the Alex Anthopoulos regime, this was a reasonably easy award to dole out.  The new management team is not as quick to promote prospects rapidly over a series of levels.

Vancouver’s Otto Lopez provides a template for the Blue Jays preference for up-the-middle prospects, who offer a team versatility and flexibility.  This past season, this is how many games he started at several positions:

3B – 14

2B – 13

SS – 9

LF – 5

RF – 5

CF – 3

Lopez shows great baseball IQ, a solid approach at the plate, and smart base running skills.  He’s an exciting player to watch in the field, and on the base paths.

Bluefield’s Kirk certainly came out of nowhere this year to become one of the top hitting prospects in the lower levels of the organization, and we eagerly await his ascension to full season ball next year.  He attracted plenty of late season attention, not the least of which was from Baseball America:

While Kirk acquitted himself reasonably well behind the plate for Bluefield when starting C Hagen Danner had injury issues,  there is a question as to where his long-term future lies on the diamond.  One thing is for sure:  the bat will play.

Kirk takes this award in a close vote.

Manager of the Year

This site has long been a fan of New Hampshire John Schneider, who has steadily moved up the ranks, and has come to be regarded as a player’s Manager.  An MLB job may not be far off for him.

But the job Cesar Martin did with Lansing makes him a deserving recipient of the award.  Lansing seemed to lose its top player to promotion every ten days or so, but Martin captured a playoff spot, and took a team that had a constantly changing cast of characters to an 80-60 record.  Along the way, he helped turn promising but raw players like Chavez Young and Samad Taylor into more polished prospects.

Top Draft Pick

The team’s first choice in the draft does not always turn out to be its most successful player that year, but such was the case for 12th overall pick Jordan Groshans.

Groshans may not have been ranked as highly on other teams’ draft boards, but the Blue Jays were thrilled to take him where they did, and his presence was a heavy factor in the successful signing of his teammate Adam Kloffenstein, taken in the 3rd round.

Groshans mastered the GCL, slashing .331/.390/.500 before moving up to Bluefield in August, and after a slow start, finished the regular season with a trio of three-hit games in his final ten, hitting .333 over that span.

Groshans showed his versatility over the season, appearing in 42 games both at SS and 3B.  He will be part of what promises to be a talented Opening Day roster at Lansing next year.

TOP IFA

The Blue Jays signed the top-ranked arm and bat in the 2017 International Free Agent class, and they have to be thrilled with the results.

Pardinho had a sizzling start and finish to his season – in his  next-to-last season start, he threw 7 near-perfect innings, retiring the first 19 hitters he faced in order.

SS/3B Miguel Hiraldo’s bat boomed in the DSL, earning him a late-season promotion stateside to the complex league.  It will be interesting to see where he starts and finishes next season.

 

Bluefield Broadcaster Helton Reflects on a Successful Season

newsphoto
Carolina School of Broadcasting Photo

Note:  I spoke with Bluefield Blue Jays broadcaster Zach Helton several weeks ago.  Technical problems and the limitations of the 24 hour day prevented me from fully transcribing this great hour-long interview until now.   Many thanks to Zach for his time and insights.

 

Bluefield Blue Jays broadcaster Zach Helton is a local boy who’s returned home, but is hopeful of moving on to bigger things.

Helton grew up in Richlands, VA, about 30 minutes south of Bluefield, but for all intents and purposes, he grew up in the former home of the Orioles Appalachian League, and the current home of the Blue Jays entry in the short season (70 games) loop.  Helton was a sports-mad kid:

Here in rural Appalachia, you either play sports or you get in trouble. High School football is huge, and I started playing football and t-ball at an early age. I played sports almost year round, and football always seemed to be my love. Loved playing baseball, too. Sports have always been my life.

After graduation (he played baseball for Bluefield State College) , Helton attended the Carolina Broadcasting School, and embarked on a lengthy apprenticeship that included a stint in the Audio/Visual department of the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox AAA affiliate.  Helton’s travels in the broadcast business took him far before he finally returned to Virginia just over a year ago.  When the Bluefield Jays’ broadcaster had a scheduling conflict late in the season last year, Helton took over play-by-play chores.  He returned this year, and by his own admission has loved every minute of the experience:

This is the first full season I’ve been with the Jays. I finished with them last year, I did the last couple of homestands and the playoffs. This season has been tremendous. They’re just a great group of guys, and its been a fun season. They came out really hot, and you know it can be a long season with college kids and some kids straight out of high school, but they’ve worked their way through it, and they’re in a playoff race. It’s been a fun summer, and it’s been a blast – they’ve made my job easy. There have been great ball games, nail-biters, late-inning rallies, but they’ve kept me on my toes all season long.

While they’ve kept him on his toes, the Bluefield Jays were one of the best teams in the short-season Appy League, and you could hear the excitement in his broadcasts:

It’s been tremendous. At this level, sometimes you never know what you’re going to get. Did we have a good draft? The guys that showed well in the Dominican or the Gulf Coast, was that a fluke, or are they coming to play here as well? Guys like Cal Stevenson, Dom Abbadessa, Alejandro Kirk, P.K. Morris, Hagen Danner, just to name a few – those guys show up to play hard every night, and they play the game the right way – it makes my job easy. I just flip on a switch, and it flows straight from the field to my mouth for the broadcast.

 

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Helton has a resume that is as long as it is varied.  After serving in the military, Helton majored in English at Bluefield State.  Goth Lit – Edgar Allen Poe, in particular, was his favourite form of Literature.  After graduation, Helton embarked upon a peripatetic radio career that took him as far as Nebraska and upstate New York (“I lasted a winter there”). His path eventually took him back to where he started when he accepted a position with WRIC-FM in Richlands.

I’ve been doing sports here locally for the past year, and then at the end of last year I got picked up by the Jays to finish their season, then returned this year. So it’s come full circle, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. It’s been fun, and every experience everywhere I’ve been has been a growth. Everything in my broadcast every night is just a piece of everywhere I’ve been.

Helton’s Twitter bio says he’s a “Trailer Park Marv Albert,” a nickname a friend labelled him with.  Albert was an influence on Helton, as were several local broadcasters:

Marv was a voice I listened to…..NBA in the 90s, you think Marv, and all the Finals he did. The guy I grew up with. For baseball – Bob Costas was (an influence). Locally here – that was the thing that turned me on to radio – high school sports are huge here, and a guy who I listened to as a kid was Jim Nelson – he was a tremendous high school football voice, and did minor league baseball here as well. I’ve always tried to poke his brain when I’m around him, and he’s so underrated. If Jim Nelson applied to call games for a Division 1 school, he would be so hard to turn down. His vocabulary is so magnificent, football or basketball, it’s like poetry coming out of his mouth. He doesn’t get excited except when there’s a need, and I’ve tried to take that and apply it to my broadcasting.

Definitely Jim Nelson and Rocky Smith, Ron Brown, Lloyd Combs were influences on me. Just a few local guys I wanted to shout out with the big names like Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, the Careys etc.

 

 

When Helton talks about the Bluefield roster he watched this season, his excitement is obvious, starting with legendary MiLB Manager Dennis Holmberg, who recorded his 1500th W this season:

Dennis is just tremendous to talk to. He’s one of those guys that I just want to sit in his office and soak him and his stories up like a sponge. And he’s a player’s manager – in the Bluefield clubhouse, it’s colourful and fun. Last year, he had the flags of all the countries the kids on the team were from. He treats them like they’re his kids, and they play all out for him.

-On Stevenson, who led the League in Runs, Walks, and OBP, and stole 20 bases (with only one CS):

…..it’s almost as if he finds a way to get on, and anytime Cal Stevenson gets on something crazy is about to happen. He works counts full, leads the league in walks, is among the leaders in runs scored and On Base Percentage. The other night he had a solo shot, his 2nd of the year. He gets on, and he’ll either steal a base, or a passed ball or error, someone will move him over, and a sac fly or passed ball brings him home. It seems like every time he gets on base, he’s coming around to score.

-C/DH Alejandro Kirk, who bashed his way onto the prospect radar this summer:

Kirk is a DH on our roster, but he’s stepped into a Catcher’s role, and he’s been lights out. He’s handled a pitching staff with interchanging roles. His blocking ability and arm are great, you don’t see that in the stat line, but you do see his hitting. Leads the Appy League in RBIs, and never gets cheated on a swing. He is swinging full force every pitch, whether it’s 2-0 or 0-2. About a month ago, we were in Bluefield, where I’ve been going to games since I was a child. I’ve seen a lot of games in that ballpark, but Alejandro Kirk hit a ball over the CF fence – it’s 391 to straightaway center, and there’s a 32 foot batter’s eye behind that, and he cleared it, and it kept going. It was about 430 ft to dead center.

And no discussion of the Bluefield Jays would be complete without talking about Brazilian teenage sensation Eric Pardinho:

He came out firing his first couple of outings. I think he’s had 7 or 8 up to his point, and only one bad outing. He didn’t get run support the first couple of starts, now he’s among the league leaders in strikeouts. He spots his fastball well and throws hard – one of the things that stood out to me about Pardinho was is the fact that he’s so young, but he’s not intimidated by anyone. Even last weekend at Princeton, when he didn’t have his best stuff and got hit hard, but the next time out five days later, he got a big W for us to keep in a series.

 

Helton has a smooth, easy delivery in his broadcasts.  For someone who grew up listening to Expos broadcasts on a static-filled car radio during long rides to Eastern Ontario, his cadence is reminiscent of Hall of Famer Duke Snider.  He lets the game draw the outlines of his broadcast, colouring in the details with his play-by-play.  His knowledge of the game is obvious – an overlooked essential for a baseball broadcaster – as is his love for it.  As someone who played the game, he can appreciate the skill level of the athletes who play it, and as a baseball broadcaster with a growing resume, he can see a much bigger picture as the players perform on the field below his broadcast booth every night.

Late in the season, Helton added PxP duties with UVA-Wise Football duties.  With the Blue Jays headed for a playoff berth, Helton was keeping one eye on the calendar as the Cavs’ August 30th home opener approached.  Fortunately, the last Appy off day was scheduled for that day, and Helton didn’t have to miss a Bluefield post-season game.  The Blue Jays, of course, were eliminated from further play after the first round of the playoffs ended on September 2nd, meaning that while Helton’s dream summer came to an end, he was able to fully focus on college football.

 

Players are not the only prospects to watch when you tune into a minor league game.  Many broadcasters are trying to work their way up in a highly competitive business as well – one where the turnover rate is not nearly as high.  On a warm summer night, a welcome distraction from the big league team’s struggles is to listen to a faraway voice like Helton’s.

 

You can follow Zach Helton on Twitter:  @z_helton.  Wherever he is next summer, you’ll be sure to get some solid prospect updates.

 

 

Fisher Cats Win, Lugs Lose in Extras in Play Off Openers

It was win one, lose one for Blue Jays affiliates in minor league post season play last night.

The AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats and Lansing Lunguts opened their division series at home.  The Cats blanked Trenton, 8-0, while the Lugnuts fell to Bowling Green 4-3 in 10 innings.

TJ Zeuch gave New Hampshire 6 innings of shutout ball before breaking through for three runs in the bottom half of the frame.  Bo Bichette doubled in Jon Berti with what proved to be the game-winning run.  Zeuch turned things over to New Hampshire’s shutdown bullpen, who tossed three scoreless innings to preserve the shutout.

New Hampshire added 5 runs in the home half of the 8th.  Manager John Schneider, whose team led the Eastern League in steals, was at it again, ordering a double steal.  EL batting champ Harold Ramirez led off with a walk.  Cavan Biggio, the league leader in walks followed with a free pass of his own.  Schneider ordered the successful double, which helped to open the floodgates. Against a drawn in infield, Max Pentecost hit a grounder to 2nd which forced the Trenton 2nd Baseman to his left, and he had only one play at first as Ramirez scampered home.  Biggio scored when next batter Josh Palacios recorded his first AA RBI on a single up the middle.  New Hampshire scored three more runs that inning.

In Lansing, RHP Maximo Castillo matched Bowling Green P Tobias Myers almost pitch for pitch, his only blemish a leadoff HR in the 2nd.  The game had a rain delay in the 4th, but it wasn’t prolonged.  Lansing C Andres Sotillo tied the game with a solo opposite Homer in the 5th.

Bowling Green, winner of 90 games in the regular season, took the lead again in the 7th when 1B Jim Haley scored all the way on a Sac Fly to Lansing CF Reggie Pruitt.  They added an insurance run in the 8th when Lansing 3B Jesus Navarro stumbled in fielding a Groundball to his left, allowing the runner on 3rd to score.  Lansing knotted things up again in the bottom half of the inning.  With two runners on, LF Norberto Obeso worked the count full, fouled off a couple of pitches on the outer half of the plate, then lined a triple off the RF wall.

Neither team could score in the 9th, so the game headed to extras – thankfully, without the benefit of the runner on 2nd that the regular season extra innings rule had dictated.

The skies opened up once again, and the wet conditions may have been a factor when Lansing closer Matt Shannon threw the ball down the RF line after taking a one hopper off of his ankle, allowing batter Taylor Wells to reach 2nd.   After giving up a walk, Shannon allowed a single that looked to be headed up the middle.  Lansing SS Vinny Capra moved over to field the ball, but 2B Samad Taylor cut in front of him, but rushed a weak throw off his back foot to 1st, failing to get the batter, and allowing another run – which proved to be the game winner – to score from 2nd.

Both teams piled onto busses for the 8 hour drive to Bowling Green, where the Lugs face elimination in the best-of-three series tonight.  New Hampshire is home for game two of their best-of-five affair, before the series switches to Trenton.

 

A Look at Demi Orimoloye

orimoloye
milb.com photo

The Blue Jays got younger, more athletic, and considerably more Canadian when they acquired OF Demi Orimoloye from the Brewers last night for veteran Curtis Granderson.

Oluwademilade Oluwadamilola Orimoloye was born in Nigeria, but moved to Canada as a toddler.  He attended St Matthew Catholic College in Ottawa, and joined the Canadian National Junior team at 15.

Baseball America‘s pre-draft report on Orimoloye:

 Orimoloye has shown explosive tools for several years, having been exposed to high levels of competition as a member of the Canadian Junior National Team and the Ontario Blue Jays. While scouts already knew who he was entering the summer showcase circuit, Orimoloye really took off at East Coast Pro and the Area Code Games, where he showed advanced feel for the barrel and power in game situations. With a chiseled, 6-foot-4 frame, Orimoloye has long levers and room to add even more strength, allowing scouts to dream on his upside. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm and plus raw power, with some questions about how much he will hit. Orimoloye’s swing has taken significant steps in the right direction, and he’s shown the ability to recognize pitches and drive the ball from gap to gap. Defensively, Orimoloye’s routes and reads will be an early focus for him at the next level. He has the speed for center field right now, but could be moved to right field as he fills out. If his bat comes along as many scouts expect it to, Orimoloye could develop into a legitimate five-tool player.

Other than a high K/BB ratio, Orimoloye fared well in the AZL after the Brewers took him in the 4th round in the 2015 draft.  Brought along slowly, he didn’t reach full season ball in the Midwest League until last year, and struggled to make consistent contact, fanning 139 times in 500 PAs, but showed glimpses of his potential with 38 stolen bases.  Pitch recognition and learning to harness his speed effectively on both sides of the ball were still works in progress at that point, and he dropped from being ranked Milwaukee’s 13th prospect by BA after his pro debut to falling outside of the Top 30 only two years later.

Sent back to the MWL to start 2018, Orimoloye showed enough to be named to the league’s mid-season All Star game, and earned a promotion to High A Carolina.  As one might expect, he’s been challenged more at that level, and sported a line of .237/.304/.372 over 65 games.

As they are with most Canadian players, the Blue Jays are quite familiar with Orimoloye.  Canadian Jay Lapp, who joined the Blue Jays scouting department last fall, signed Orimoloye while working for the Brewers.

In Orimoloye, the Blue Jays are getting a premium athlete who can play all three OF positions.  They’re also getting a player who’s incredibly raw, and may have trouble reaching his projections.  At 21, there is still time and a learning curve ahead of him.  He would slot in below established top OF Prospects like Anthony Alford, and mid-range prospects like Chavez Young.  Perhaps a new organization and a modified approach will help Orimoloye tap into his power.

Bluefield’s Kirk Bashes His Way to Appy All Star Nod

Kirk
BTD Online photo

Bluefield’s Alejandro Kirk has had a smashing pro debut this season.

Signed in the fall of 2016, he was limited to two ABs in the GCL last season, but the C/DH has made up for lost time this season.  The Tijuana native has been the most consistent threat in Bluefield’s lineup, and was named to the league’s end-of-season All Star team as a DH, joining teammates OF Cal Stevenson and Reliever Sean Racoski.

At 5’9″/220,  Kirk has the build of a Catcher, but doesn’t profile as one long term.  He’s been adequate as a receiver for Bluefield, even catching Eric Pardinho’s near-perfect 7 inning outing.  He’s split time between Catcher and DH, and probably will move to 1B in the future.

Using a wide base, closed stance, and a toe tap, the righthanded-hitting Kirk gets an excellent view of the strike zone, and seldom chases.  He gets good plate coverage, and has strong pitch judgement, as evidenced by a 13% walk rate (vs an 8% K rate).  You’ll find him near the top of most Appy League offensive categories with his .354/.443/.558 line, and is tied for the lead in RBI.  John Eshelman (@2080_John on Twitter) of 2080baseball.com has had looks at Kirk this summer:

 

The challenge as he moves up the system will be finding a place for Kirk on the field.  But that will play, most likely next year in Lansing.

Who Will the Blue Jays Call Up on September 1st?

MLB Rosters expand on September 1st from 25 to 40 players, a tradition that goes back at least a century – Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig was a September call up in both 1923 and 1924, before sticking for good the following season.

Minor League regular schedules end on Labour Day, and with AAA Buffalo out of the running for a post season spot, it’s reasonable to expect at least a half-dozen Bisons players will cross the Rainbow Bridge and head to Toronto shortly.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley had a decent MLB debut earlier this month, but was hit hard in his second start before being sent back to the minors.  SRF has fanned 150 batters over 129 innings this season between two levels, but he may be running out of gas after being roughed up in his return to AAA.

1B Rowdy Tellez seemed to be on the verge of earning a big league job after mashing 23 Homers in AA as a 21 year-old in 2016.  Justin Smoak’s resurgence, and issues with his mother’s health dropped him off the prospect radar, but a post All Star break line of .320/.371/.536 has probably earned him a look-see in September.

OF Anthony Alford’s last two seasons show that the jump from the minors to the majors is huge, and takes some players several trips back and forth to AAA before they establish themselves.  Alford, quite frankly, has had a disappointing season.  A strained hamstring coming out of spring training landed him on the DL, and while he appeared to be breaking through in June, Alford’s season has fallen short of expectations.  Just the same, he has to be part of the Blue Jays plans going forward, and even though the Toronto outfield is crowded at the moment, it’s reasonable to expect another shot for Alford in September.

OF Dwight Smith Jr has acquitted himself well in his brief MLB tours, and even though his playing time might be limited and his AAA numbers were not overwhelming, he’s earned another shot as well.

OF Dalton Pompey is out of options next year, and after a difficult season, perhaps out of chances as a Blue Jay as well.  2014 was a coming out year for the Mississauga native, when he started at High A and finished in Toronto.  Since then, he’s averaged 65 games per season, as injuries have taken their toll.  Before they let him go, however, the Blue Jays need to see what they have in Pompey, and this September may offer him one last chance.

C Reese McGuire was more than Danny Jansen’s back up in Buffalo.  With Jansen DHing on occasion to keep his bat in the lineup, and his promotion to Toronto, McGuire has appeared in almost 100 games.  Added to the 40-man last fall, McGuire might be ready for an MLB audition this month.

SS Richie Ureña has been lost in the prospect shuffle this year.  Injuries and time on the QEW Shuttle have limited him to 67 games and some disappointing numbers this year.  He gives the team some added flexibility when he is on the roster, however, so we may see Ureña in Toronto once more next month.

None of these players are apt to see significant playing time in September, but in one way or another, they’ve all merited a chance to spend a month on an MLB roster as the team looks toward 2019.   Fans will be clamoring for the promotion of top prospects Vlad Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, but the latter pair will be headed to the minor league post season, and all three area lock to go to the finishing school that is the Arizona Fall League in October.  Since none of the trio is on the 40-man roster at the moment, they won’t be eligible for promotion next month, anyway.

 

Blue Jays System Readies for Post-Season

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Post-season baseball for major league organizations is something of a blessing and a curse.  Prospects get to play some pressure-packed baseball down the stretch and into the playoffs, hopefully learning to win together on their way up.  On the other hand, particularly at the lower levels, players are tired after a long season (for many, their first as a pro), and the risk of injury increases.

The Blue Jays sent a number of their front office personnel to Vancouver last year to watch the C’s bring home their fourth Northwest League title as a Blue Jays affiliate.  This year, they have some decisions to make as far as travel plans are concerned.

Low A Lansing clinched a post-season berth by virtue of finishing with the second-best record in the Midwest League’s Eastern Division in the season’s first half.  They open a best of three series with Tampa affiliate Bowling Green on September 5th.

AA New Hampshire clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last Saturday night, with Max Pentecost hitting a three run bomb to seal the deal.   The Trenton Yankees trail the Fisher Cats by a game in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division, so home field for the best of five affair has yet to be decided.

Rookie Bluefield earned a spot in the Appy League playoffs last week, and will play Tampa’s Princeton farm club.  The Blue Jays will host game one of the best of three division series with the Rays on Friday.

Vancouver has yet to lock up a spot in the NWL post season, but leads Spokane by a game heading into the season’s final weekend.   Vancouver plays the next three at home, then finish the regular season in Spokane.

The DSL Jays, despite a decent 41-31 record, and the GCL Blue Jays were eliminated from short season play, as has AAA Buffalo.  High A Dunedin is just a game away from elimination from the Florida State League playoffs.

 

Who Will the Blue Jays Send to the Arizona Fall League?o

As the minor league season approaches its conclusion, we turn our thoughts to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for an organization’s top prospects.

In the past, the Blue Jays have used the AFL experience to give their top prospects a taste of competition against elite talent, or to give them added reps missed due to injury.

Toronto will send six prospects to play for the Surprise Saguaros, who will be managed by former Blue Jays minor league Manager Stubby Clapp, who’s now in the Cardinals organization.  New Hampshire Position Coach Andy Fermin will join Clapp’s staff.

The Blue Jays will be sending six players – they’re allowed to send any AAA or AA player, as well as one from High A.  Projecting the first three players is fairly easy:

1.  Vlad Jr

While fans are clamoring for Guerrero’s promotion to the big club when MLB rosters expand on September 1st, the Blue Jays are still building him up to play a full season (and holding off on his service time), so a shutdown for September followed by a trip to the desert is the most likely scenario.

2.  Bo Bichette

Bichette has had his ups and downs this year as his pitch recognition skills have been put to the test, but his .839 post All Star OPS suggests he’s come through his first taste of adversity as a pro.  Word travelled quickly around the Eastern League that he’d chase, and he struggled until he stopped expanding his strike zone.

Bichette would likely get an opportunity to split time between SS and 2B, adding to his versatility.

3.  Cavan Biggio

Biggio’s prodigious power (26 HRs, .532 SLG) has been one of the bigger surprises in the organization.  Toss in 90 BBs and 128 Ks, and you have a three true outcomes triple crown threat.

Some Toronto media members have been suggesting Biggio could be in the Blue Jays lineup as early as next year, but the team still likely would to see if that power surge is for real, and what his ultimate position might be.  Biggio has played mostly 2B, but has also seen time at 1B and 3B, and the club experimented with him in RF this week.

Facing tough competition in the AFL will give us a good barometer of the legitimacy of his power.

It starts to get a bit unpredictable at this point.  Some possible candidates for the other three spots include:

Nate Pearson

After spending April in shut down mode with an oblique issue, Pearson’s 2018 came to a screeching halt when he took a line drive off of his pitching arm in his first start of the season.  Reports suggested an August return, but he’s yet to pitch in a game since the injury.

It’s possible we see him in short stints in the AFL, but the likelihood of that depends on how his arm has healed.  And getting that kind of information out of the Blue Jays is a herculean task.

Travis Bergen

Injuries limited the 2015 7th rounder to 28 innings over his first three pro seasons.  He was a mainstay in Vancouver’s bullpen last year, helping to lead the C’s to a league title, and has taken over the Closer’s role in New Hampshire.  With Bergen eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he’s not placed on the 40-man roster by November, the team likely would like to see how he fares against top prospects.

Zach Jackson

The righty reliever with the funky delivery has fanned 66 in 56 innings for New Hampshire, but has walked 43.  Some added reps might be in order.

Patrick Murphy 

Like Bergen, Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but he’s bumped up his velo, hitting 100 this year, and sitting 96-98 deep into games.  Murphy has also blown past his previous high in Innings Pitched, so there’s every chance he’s shut down come September, given the Blue Jays usual caution with their young arms.  With the Rule 5 a possibility for Murphy, there’s a good chance he’s added to the 40 this fall.

Jon Harris

The 2015 1st rounder had a disappointing season in his first AA campaign last year, but has added velo and some deception to his delivery in his second crack at the level in 2018.  With the Rule 5 looming for Harris, the Blue Jays might give him time in Arizona after a decent second half with New Hampshire.

Jordan Romano

Romano came out like a house on fire at AA, winning his first 8 decisions and getting the starting nod at the Eastern League All Star game.  He hasn’t missed as many bats in the second half as he did in the first, and with scouts wondering if he wasn’t better suited to a bullpen role, the Blue Jays might want to begin that transition this fall if that’s what they have in mind.

Angel Perdomo

The tall lefty with the electric fastball has been a starter since joining the organization in 2012, but the team moved him into the bullpen this year in Dunedin.

Rosters are usually released in late August.  Play in the AFL begins in early October, and wraps up in late November.