Blue Jays Place Six on Rookie Ball Top Prospects Lists

Blue Jays CEO/President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins spoke several times this summer about the need to develop waves of prospects.  With Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and Ryan Borucki having established themselves after making their MLB debuts this summer, the next wave, featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Nate Pearson are not far behind them.  Deeper into the system, another wave appears to be gathering momentum, as three Blue Jays prospects made Baseball America‘s Top 20 Appalachian and Gulf Coast League lists.

Toronto was all but shut out on BA’s Top Prospects by league after placing 3 (Guerrero, Bichette, and Cavan Biggio) on the Eastern League Top 20, only Kevin Smith appeared on the A ball rankings, placing 15th on BA’s Top 20 Midwest League prospects list, and 11th on their Florida State League rankings.  For Smith, it was truly deserved, as possibly no Toronto farm hand did more to improve their stock than the 2017 4th rounder.  BA sees Smith as a potential solid, if not outstanding MLBer.

-from the MWL Top 20 report:

Although not seen as a flashy player, Smith’s profile features a lot to like. He has demonstrated a much-improved hit tool, and he has average power as well. Smith has a blue collar feel to the way he plays and features the intangibles that scouts love to see.

-the FSL Top 20:

Evaluators who like Smith see a player who can stick at shortstop with a bat-first profile in the mold of Paul DeJong. He’s never going to be the flashiest player on the field, but his work ethic and all-around skills will help him produce impressive seasons. His bat can handle a slide to second base as well.

 

After being shut out in the Northwest League Top 20, three Bluefield Blue Jays could be found in BA’s Appalachian League Top 20, starting with P Eric Pardinho.  The cream of last July’s IFA Pitching class, Pardinho skipped the complex league, and despite adjusting to a new culture and language on top of the travel and daily grind that comes with under the lights play, he was the top-ranked prospect Pitcher in the league, checking in at #4 overall:

Pardinho ranked third in the Appy League with 64 strikeouts and showed precocious control for his age, walking 16 batters in 11 starts. But what’s most impressive is his command and feel for changing speeds and locations for such a young pitcher.

Pardinho was joined on the list by his battery mate for the last half of the season, Alejandro Kirk.  Kirk burst onto the scene this year after being a late 2016 sign.  He injured his hand in an off-season car accident after signing, then reinjured the hand in his first pro AB in the GCL in 2017.  A bat-first player, Kirk was forced into regular Catching duties at Bluefield this year after injuries limited Hagen Danner to DHing.  Kirk managed to continue to mash despite the rigours of Catching, but there is some question as to his ultimate position:

Kirk has a solid approach at the plate and a smooth stroke, but he faces skepticism about his future defensive home because of his frame. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Kirk has well below-average athleticism and speed and will need to clean up his body to stick behind the plate.

And despite some inconsistency and injury issues through his first two seasons of pro ball, 2017 2nd round choice Danner showed enough to crack BA’s list at #16:

After walking just five times in 136 plate appearances (3.7 BB%) in 2017, Danner walked 20 times in 137 plate appearances (14.6 BB%) this summer, while improving his average and slugging significantly as well. He’s got strength and bat speed that should allow him to become an average hitter with average power.

 

2018 first round pick Jordan Groshans did not disappoint in his first season, and he made the transition from high school to pro ball seamlessly, finishing the season with Bluefield after starting in the GCL.  With an impressive crop of Short Stops ahead of him, Groshans still showed enough on both sides of the ball to rank 5th on BA’s list:

 Groshans has a polished hitting approach and a knack for finding the barrel. He squares up good pitching with quick bat speed and plus raw power. While Groshans has the sock in his bat to go deep from right-center over to his pull side, he mostly showed a line-drive, all-fields approach in the GCL, hammering fastballs and driving pitches on the outer half with authority to the opposite field.

The question is where Groshan’s ultimate position will be.  He has an above average arm and has good hands, but some scouts suggest he lacks the quick-twitch reactions to allow him to stay at the position.  New Hampshire hitting coach Hunter Mense, who worked with hitters at Instructs this fall, said Groshans was among the most impressive players he saw during his time there.

C Gabriel Moreno burst onto the radar this year.  After a solid but not dominant performance in the Dominican Summer League last year, the 2016 IFA from Venezuela raked in the GCL this year, earning a late season promotion with Groshans to the Appy League.  All indications are that Moreno has the tools behind the plate to stay there, although he has work to do on his blocking and receiving.  At the plate, he’ll have to refine his approach as he works his way up the ladder:

Moreno has an aggressive approach and seldom walks, but he also rarely strikes out because his hand-eye coordination and barrel control is outstanding. He has a knack for finding the sweet spot, making consistent hard contact with enough power potential to hit 15-20 home runs.

Finally, 2B/SS Leo Jimenez made in onto the back end of the list at #19.  Jimenez received the top bonus for a Panamanian player in July of 2017, and Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish singled him out as an IFA who could move in a hurry:

(He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – he really has lead-off or #2 hole potential….if you asked me right now who has a chance to play SS in your system, Leo would be at the top of that list.  The way the body moves, the way the arm works, the instincts, he’s a really good, future upside defender.”

BA may not agree that his long-term future lies at SS, but they like Jimenez’ all-around game:

Jimenez is a smart, instinctive player in all phases of the game, helping make up for the lack of typical quick-twitch athleticism scouts like to see from a shortstop. A fringe-average runner, Jimenez’s defensive range is a question mark but he reads the ball well off the bat, has soft hands, good body control and a knack for slowing the game down. At the plate he consistently puts together quality at-bats, staying within the strike zone and spraying line drives around the field.

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Blue Jays Fans: Is Your Love Big Enough?

We all know someone like this……

IMG_1266.jpg

 

In 2015, as Alex Anthopoulos emptied the larder in a riverboat gambler series of moves to strengthen the 25-man roster as he read the tea leaves in the form of the imminent hiring of Mark Shapiro, long-dormant Blue Jays fans woke from their baseball slumber and took notice.  You know the type:  the people you’d run into at the grocery store, or at a dinner party, who said, “Wow, the Jays are good again.  It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a game.”

A few days or weeks later, said fan would post pictures of themselves on Facebook in field level seats at the Dome, their newly revived fandom captured for posterity.

Rogers loved the sound of the turnstiles spinning as the team brought post-season baseball back to the city for the first time in a generation.  TV ratings were through the roof, and the less than 1.5 million fans who had watched the team just a half decade before  – the lowest total since the bad old days at early 80s Exhibition Stadium – was seemingly a thing of the past.

In 2016, hopes were high, although the Blue Jays management and long-time fans watched nervously as the core of the roster became one year older.  Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins were ready to begin the process of deconstructing the team in the initial phases of a rebuild for 2017, but Rogers had visions of a half-empty stadium (between 2000 and 2015, the highest the team finished in AL attendance was 6th), and nixed the plan at least for one more season.

Expectations were high for 2018, but in reality, they shouldn’t have been.  With Tulowitzki out for the season, Donaldson showing the effects of averaging 157 games for four straight seasons after an age when most players peak, and Russell Martin demonstrating that he’s in the twilight of a fine career, the Blue Jays never were seriously in contention.

All signs point to that rebuild finally coming next year.  Prospects Danny Jansen and Ryan Borucki are here (likely to stay), Vlad Jr will be on board by next mid-April, and Bo Bichette, Sean Reid-Foley, and perhaps Cavan Biggio will be on their way to becoming MLB regulars at some point next year or in early 2021.  Behind them, there are promising prospects such as Nate Pearson, Kevin Smith, Eric Pardinho, Jordan Groshans, Miguel Hiraldo, and even Orelvis Martinez, who has turned heads at Instructs this fall. The club has stockpiled middle infielders, which Atkins admitted earlier this week could one day be used as a means of improving the 25-man roster via trades.

So, Blue Jays fans should jump back on the bandwagon, and get ready for the kids to compete with Red Sox and Yankees, right?

Not so fast.

Until they’ve proven themselves at the major league level, prospects are just that.  MiLB stats are a good predictor of success, but the jump between AAA and MLB is the biggest one of all.  For every Mike Trout or Ronald Acuna who comes up and stars right away, there are literally dozens of players who appear ready for the challenge, but are unable to make the traditional “once through the league” adjustments that all need to make.  Which is one of the reasons why players have options – some need more seasoning in the minors, or they need to make the necessary corrections to their game in a less pressure-filled environment.  And even though the Blue Jays have the 3rd ranked farm system in the game (according to Baseball America), that type of accolade does not usually translate into immediate success at the big league level.  The smarter and more dedicated players understand that their development never really stops, and those that are determined to continue to improve their game and fight through adversity usually fulfill the success that their tools prophesize.

The question is – will the marginal Blue Jays fan, the Facebook fan, be able to hang in for the three to four years (two seems wildly optimistic) it will take for what is becoming known as a state-of-the-art farm system to bear fruit?  Will they come out to see a team likely headed for 90 losses next year, or will they sell their 200 level tickets for $8 on StubHub next September?  If you have the answer to that, Rogers would like to know…..

Maybe the fan quoted above is an outlier, or perhaps he represents a sizeable chunk of Blue Jays nation – it’s well known around baseball that Toronto fans are Blue Jays fans first, and baseball fans second.  And maybe those of us who watch a lot of minor league games, read scouting reports, and write about prospects feel much more strongly about their presence on an major league roster because we’ve been following them for several years. But it would appear on the surface at least, that the casual fan really won’t be buying in to the rebuild until it’s near completion.

Buffalo Bisons Season Re-cap

For long-suffering Buffalo Bisons fans, 2018 was full of promise and potential.

With an Opening Day roster that featured more prospects than previous editions of the Bisons, it looked like the team’s playoff drought, which stretched back a dozen years, would be coming to an end.

Such was not to be the case, however.

Buffalo opened the season with Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, and the returning Rowdy Tellez.  But SS Richie Urena and OF Anthony Alford opened the season on the Disabled List, and despite the addition of Sean Reid-Foley in June and Vladimir Guerrero Jr in late July, the Bisons never really hit their stride, and finished a disappointing 61-77 on an 11 game losing streak.

The snowy northeastern April weather didn’t help.  The Bisons had their opening series in Rochester snowed out, then rainouts in the middle of the month forced the cancellation of games for five straight days, and the doubleheaders began to pile up as a result.

Buffalo pitchers didn’t miss a lot of bats, finishing last in the league in strikeouts, and an offence that ranked toward the bottom in most team categories couldn’t bail them out.

Making out a lineup was a daily problem for Manager Bobby Meacham.  The Bisons used 73 different players, and made a total of 257 roster moves, the most since the club became a Blue Jays affiliate in 2013.   

In terms of prospects, Jansen was easily the team MVP, and earned an August promotion to Toronto.  It’s unlikely he’ll be back, and the same case could be made for Borucki. Reid-Foley continued his strong start at New Hampshire over to Buffalo, and while he’ll make a strong bid for a starting job next spring, he could return to AAA for more seasoning before he sticks for good.  After starting the season on the DL, Urena rode the QEW shuttle most of the season, never really settling in at the plate with Buffalo. For Alford, it was a similar story.  After a rehab stint in Dunedin, he did not produce at a level similar to last year. Jonathan Davis rode a strong Arizona Fall League showing into a hot start with New Hampshire, and earned a promotion to the 40-man after a strong performance at Buffalo. Guerrero was all but on his way to Buffalo when he was sidelined for a month by a knee injury in July, but showed why he was the Minor League Player of the Year when he returned.

Although they’ve seen this story before, Buffalo fans should take heart in the fact that the core of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a group that has won two titles over as many seasons, should arrive in Buffalo early next April.  Guerrero should be part of that group, but his presence on the Niagara Frontier will likely be brief. Rumours suggest that Manager John Schneider will move up with this group, and Meacham will likely be assigned somewhere else in the organization.

Buffalo Stats

Advanced Hitting

Name Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
Alberto Mineo 23 15 13.3 % 0.0 % 0.462 0.533 0.692 1.226 0.231 0.417 0.536 250
Steve Pearce 35 15 20.0 % 6.7 % 0.364 0.533 0.636 1.170 0.273 0.333 0.512 233
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 19 128 11.7 % 7.8 % 0.336 0.414 0.564 0.978 0.227 0.323 0.428 175
Teoscar Hernandez 25 18 0.0 % 38.9 % 0.278 0.278 0.667 0.944 0.389 0.333 0.408 161
Danny Jansen 23 360 12.2 % 13.6 % 0.275 0.390 0.473 0.863 0.198 0.292 0.386 146
Randal Grichuk 26 9 11.1 % 33.3 % 0.250 0.333 0.625 0.958 0.375 0.250 0.378 141
Gunnar Heidt 25 70 10.0 % 38.6 % 0.286 0.357 0.460 0.817 0.175 0.471 0.365 132
Dwight Smith Jr. 25 361 12.2 % 14.7 % 0.268 0.358 0.413 0.771 0.145 0.302 0.348 120
Rowdy Tellez 23 444 9.0 % 16.7 % 0.270 0.340 0.425 0.765 0.155 0.298 0.341 115
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 24 156 2.6 % 21.8 % 0.293 0.321 0.449 0.769 0.156 0.345 0.340 115
Billy McKinney 23 72 11.1 % 22.2 % 0.203 0.292 0.453 0.745 0.250 0.222 0.329 107
Dalton Pompey 25 168 8.3 % 24.4 % 0.255 0.325 0.393 0.718 0.138 0.317 0.322 102
Darnell Sweeney 27 332 9.3 % 34.0 % 0.236 0.311 0.411 0.722 0.175 0.339 0.322 102
Jonathan Davis 26 202 5.9 % 20.3 % 0.249 0.308 0.389 0.698 0.141 0.295 0.315 97
Tim Lopes 24 385 6.8 % 15.1 % 0.277 0.325 0.364 0.689 0.088 0.322 0.311 94
Jason Leblebijian 27 324 11.1 % 30.2 % 0.220 0.315 0.362 0.677 0.142 0.295 0.310 94
Anthony Alford 23 417 7.2 % 26.9 % 0.240 0.312 0.344 0.656 0.104 0.327 0.300 87
Reese McGuire 23 369 8.9 % 20.9 % 0.233 0.312 0.339 0.651 0.106 0.281 0.298 86
Michael De La Cruz 25 50 12.0 % 34.0 % 0.186 0.286 0.349 0.635 0.163 0.308 0.288 79
Roemon Fields 27 367 7.9 % 21.8 % 0.238 0.307 0.305 0.612 0.067 0.305 0.281 74
Ian Parmley 28 124 3.2 % 24.2 % 0.263 0.293 0.339 0.632 0.076 0.352 0.281 74
Gift Ngoepe 28 159 15.7 % 39.6 % 0.168 0.304 0.252 0.556 0.084 0.299 0.269 66
Richard Urena 22 268 4.5 % 17.9 % 0.216 0.250 0.344 0.594 0.128 0.246 0.263 61
Gio Urshela 26 91 4.4 % 9.9 % 0.244 0.275 0.279 0.554 0.035 0.269 0.252 54
Danny Espinosa 31 60 5.0 % 25.0 % 0.232 0.271 0.286 0.557 0.054 0.317 0.247 50
Devon Travis 27 64 3.1 % 10.9 % 0.210 0.234 0.274 0.509 0.065 0.222 0.231 39
Jon Berti 28 8 0.0 % 37.5 % 0.250 0.250 0.250 0.500 0.000 0.400 0.226 36
Andrew Guillotte 25 11 0.0 % 36.4 % 0.091 0.091 0.091 0.182 0.000 0.143 0.082 -63

Batted Ball

Name GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% SwStr%
Teoscar Hernandez 1.00 20.0 % 40.0 % 40.0 % 50.0 % 63.6 % 27.3 % 9.1 % 17.7 %
Randal Grichuk 0.25 0.0 % 20.0 % 80.0 % 25.0 % 60.0 % 20.0 % 20.0 % 15.2 %
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1.96 29.0 % 47.0 % 24.0 % 25.0 % 44.1 % 23.5 % 32.4 % 7.2 %
Steve Pearce 0.20 40.0 % 10.0 % 50.0 % 20.0 % 50.0 % 20.0 % 30.0 % 6.2 %
Alberto Mineo 1.00 23.1 % 38.5 % 38.5 % 20.0 % 53.9 % 15.4 % 30.8 % 5.9 %
Gunnar Heidt 1.17 27.8 % 38.9 % 33.3 % 16.7 % 52.8 % 19.4 % 27.8 % 18.1 %
Jason Leblebijian 1.04 23.5 % 39.1 % 37.4 % 14.9 % 48.4 % 24.2 % 27.4 % 15.7 %
Darnell Sweeney 0.77 29.5 % 30.6 % 39.9 % 13.7 % 38.5 % 25.1 % 36.4 % 15.4 %
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 1.32 23.9 % 43.4 % 32.7 % 13.5 % 50.4 % 25.2 % 24.4 % 12.3 %
Dalton Pompey 1.65 15.1 % 52.8 % 32.1 % 11.8 % 26.6 % 34.9 % 38.5 % 9.5 %
Danny Jansen 0.81 24.2 % 33.9 % 41.9 % 11.5 % 53.8 % 23.3 % 22.9 % 4.4 %
Billy McKinney 0.46 12.8 % 27.7 % 59.6 % 10.7 % 37.5 % 31.3 % 31.3 % 12.0 %
Rowdy Tellez 1.03 19.9 % 40.7 % 39.4 % 10.2 % 36.5 % 29.1 % 34.4 % 9.2 %
Jonathan Davis 1.35 19.6 % 46.2 % 34.3 % 10.2 % 45.5 % 24.1 % 30.3 % 8.5 %
Reese McGuire 1.39 21.7 % 45.5 % 32.8 % 8.8 % 38.7 % 21.3 % 39.9 % 9.0 %
Gift Ngoepe 1.08 23.5 % 39.7 % 36.8 % 8.0 % 40.9 % 23.9 % 35.2 % 14.9 %
Dwight Smith Jr. 1.81 18.5 % 52.5 % 29.0 % 8.0 % 41.8 % 21.8 % 36.4 % 8.9 %
Richard Urena 1.09 19.3 % 42.1 % 38.6 % 6.4 % 42.8 % 23.6 % 33.7 % 12.0 %
Anthony Alford 1.38 21.4 % 45.5 % 33.1 % 5.9 % 43.6 % 23.3 % 33.1 % 12.4 %
Devon Travis 1.05 25.5 % 38.2 % 36.4 % 5.0 % 43.6 % 18.2 % 38.2 % 3.6 %
Roemon Fields 2.03 19.5 % 53.9 % 26.6 % 3.1 % 35.2 % 28.9 % 36.0 % 9.8 %
Tim Lopes 1.37 19.1 % 46.8 % 34.1 % 2.0 % 39.7 % 25.7 % 34.7 % 8.0 %
Gio Urshela 1.50 27.6 % 43.4 % 28.9 % 0.0 % 39.7 % 23.1 % 37.2 % 10.9 %
Jon Berti 2.00 60.0 % 40.0 % 0.0 % 0.0 % 60.0 % 20.0 % 20.0 % 16.2 %
Ian Parmley 1.73 18.4 % 51.7 % 29.9 % 0.0 % 34.1 % 19.3 % 46.6 % 15.6 %
Tyler Ladendorf 1.00 20.0 % 40.0 % 40.0 % 0.0 % 20.0 % 40.0 % 40.0 % 0.0 %
Danny Espinosa 1.67 20.0 % 50.0 % 30.0 % 0.0 % 40.5 % 28.6 % 31.0 % 20.2 %
Michael De La Cruz 1.00 15.4 % 42.3 % 42.3 % 0.0 % 48.2 % 25.9 % 25.9 % 14.7 %
Andrew Guillotte 0.20 14.3 % 14.3 % 71.4 % 0.0 % 57.1 % 0.0 % 42.9 % 12.8 %

Buffalo Pitching

Advanced

Name Age IP HR/9 K% BB% AVG WHIP BABIP ERA FIP
Ian Parmley 28 1 0 33.3 % 0.0 % 0.000 0.00 0.000 0.00 1.33
Jake Fishman 23 1.1 0 25.0 % 0.0 % 0.000 0.00 0.000 0.00 1.83
Roberto Osuna 23 3 0 33.3 % 13.3 % 0.385 2.33 0.625 0.00 2.00
Danny Barnes 28 8.2 1.04 30.6 % 2.8 % 0.257 1.15 0.348 5.19 2.64
Andrew Case 25 3 0 9.1 % 0.0 % 0.182 0.67 0.200 3.00 2.67
Claudio Custodio 27 10 0 18.6 % 9.3 % 0.231 1.30 0.290 4.50 2.93
Tim Mayza 26 25.2 0.7 32.7 % 10.0 % 0.265 1.44 0.400 4.56 2.94
Jose Fernandez 25 29.1 0.61 26.7 % 6.7 % 0.207 1.06 0.273 2.45 2.96
Sam Moll 26 18.2 0.48 21.6 % 5.7 % 0.293 1.55 0.371 5.30 2.96
Sean Reid-Foley 22 85.1 0.53 27.1 % 8.3 % 0.233 1.24 0.318 3.90 3.06
Justin Shafer 25 38.1 0 20.4 % 10.2 % 0.194 1.12 0.252 1.41 3.07
Luis Santos 27 42.2 0.42 21.4 % 7.0 % 0.238 1.27 0.300 2.74 3.12
Jon Harris 24 12 0.75 18.8 % 2.1 % 0.298 1.25 0.351 3.00 3.17
Justin Dillon 24 22.2 0.79 23.8 % 2.5 % 0.130 0.53 0.143 0.79 3.20
Matt Dermody 27 5 0 24.0 % 16.0 % 0.333 2.20 0.467 7.20 3.33
Matt Tracy 29 48.2 0 15.8 % 9.9 % 0.233 1.27 0.284 2.40 3.37
Jake Petricka 30 23 0.39 15.9 % 5.7 % 0.244 1.09 0.284 0.78 3.46
Jacob Waguespack 24 39.1 0.69 19.0 % 5.8 % 0.288 1.45 0.347 5.03 3.49
Sam Gaviglio 28 29 1.24 26.9 % 3.7 % 0.204 0.86 0.243 1.86 3.64
Al Alburquerque 32 28.2 0.94 22.0 % 6.5 % 0.296 1.47 0.365 3.77 3.65
Conor Fisk 26 57.2 0.62 18.9 % 7.4 % 0.251 1.28 0.301 2.81 3.68
Deck McGuire 29 44.2 0.6 22.2 % 10.6 % 0.208 1.16 0.259 3.22 3.83
Joe Biagini 28 21.2 0.42 14.0 % 8.6 % 0.226 1.25 0.257 4.57 3.98
Ryan Borucki 24 77 0.7 18.4 % 8.9 % 0.218 1.17 0.253 3.27 4.05
Carlos Ramirez 27 8.1 0 26.3 % 21.1 % 0.069 1.20 0.105 5.40 4.17
Darnell Sweeney 27 1 0 25.0 % 0.0 % 0.000 0.00 0.000 0.00 4.33
Rhiner Cruz 31 8.2 1.04 25.0 % 13.9 % 0.194 1.27 0.238 1.04 4.49
Zach Stewart 31 34.1 0.79 12.0 % 7.6 % 0.315 1.69 0.347 4.98 4.50
Jordan Romano 25 5 0 13.6 % 18.2 % 0.222 1.60 0.267 3.60 4.53
Thomas Pannone 24 36.2 1.96 26.0 % 4.6 % 0.274 1.28 0.327 4.91 4.64
Murphy Smith 30 62.2 1.01 15.5 % 9.2 % 0.250 1.37 0.277 3.59 4.74
Dusty Isaacs 26 10 0.9 16.0 % 10.0 % 0.341 2.00 0.400 6.30 4.83
Chris Rowley 27 101 0.98 14.5 % 9.6 % 0.252 1.39 0.276 3.30 4.90
Juliandry Higuera 23 2.1 0 10.0 % 20.0 % 0.125 1.29 0.143 7.71 5.05
Taylor Guerrieri 25 57.1 1.26 15.8 % 8.5 % 0.292 1.57 0.326 5.18 5.08
Brandon Cumpton 29 52.2 1.54 13.6 % 6.6 % 0.293 1.46 0.308 6.15 5.29
Mike Hauschild 28 21.2 1.25 10.8 % 8.6 % 0.271 1.43 0.278 4.98 5.32
Connor Eller 24 1.1 0 0.0 % 10.0 % 0.556 4.50 0.556 33.75 5.58
Craig Breslow 37 19.1 1.4 20.2 % 14.4 % 0.330 2.28 0.406 5.59 5.66
Shawn Morimando 25 20 2.25 13.3 % 2.4 % 0.259 1.15 0.246 4.50 5.78
Nick Tepesch 29 41 2.63 10.2 % 6.6 % 0.322 1.73 0.311 7.90 7.33
Josh DeGraaf 25 3.2 2.45 11.8 % 11.8 % 0.267 1.64 0.250 7.36 7.42
Preston Guilmet 30 4.2 3.86 9.5 % 4.8 % 0.350 1.71 0.313 5.79 8.69
Dalton Rodriguez 21 1.2 5.4 33.3 % 22.2 % 0.286 2.40 0.333 16.20 11.13
Marco Estrada 34 3.1 5.4 21.4 % 14.3 % 0.250 1.50 0.143 8.10 11.13
Chad Girodo 27 3.2 7.36 16.7 % 0.0 % 0.389 1.91 0.333 12.27 12.33

Batted Ball

Name LD% GB% FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo% SwStr%
Chad Girodo 26.7 % 33.3 % 40.0 % 33.3 % 40.0 % 26.7 % 10.5 %
Dalton Rodriguez 0.0 % 50.0 % 50.0 % 50.0 % 0.0 % 50.0 % 13.2 %
Marco Estrada 11.1 % 33.3 % 55.6 % 33.3 % 33.3 % 33.3 % 11.6 %
Nick Tepesch 21.4 % 47.4 % 31.2 % 57.9 % 20.8 % 21.4 % 6.6 %
Preston Guilmet 11.1 % 44.4 % 44.4 % 50.0 % 16.7 % 33.3 % 8.6 %
Jake Petricka 13.4 % 79.1 % 7.5 % 42.7 % 10.3 % 47.1 % 9.7 %
Jon Harris 28.9 % 57.9 % 13.2 % 55.3 % 21.1 % 23.7 % 10.6 %
Brandon Cumpton 23.8 % 47.5 % 28.7 % 42.0 % 24.3 % 33.7 % 6.4 %
Josh DeGraaf 15.4 % 38.5 % 46.2 % 38.5 % 15.4 % 46.2 % 0.0 %
Taylor Guerrieri 19.0 % 55.0 % 25.9 % 45.1 % 23.3 % 31.6 % 7.6 %
Mike Hauschild 16.2 % 56.8 % 27.0 % 44.0 % 25.3 % 30.7 % 8.1 %
Sam Gaviglio 16.2 % 45.9 % 37.8 % 46.0 % 24.3 % 29.7 % 10.6 %
Thomas Pannone 22.3 % 22.3 % 55.3 % 42.5 % 33.0 % 24.5 % 12.5 %
Shawn Morimando 11.6 % 36.2 % 52.2 % 48.6 % 21.4 % 30.0 % 6.4 %
Al Alburquerque 24.1 % 50.6 % 25.3 % 47.7 % 19.3 % 33.0 % 9.6 %
Craig Breslow 15.6 % 46.9 % 37.5 % 43.3 % 28.4 % 28.4 % 9.7 %
Rhiner Cruz 28.6 % 33.3 % 38.1 % 23.8 % 33.3 % 42.9 % 10.1 %
Murphy Smith 25.1 % 37.4 % 37.4 % 45.3 % 23.4 % 31.3 % 8.6 %
Tim Mayza 22.6 % 41.9 % 35.5 % 41.3 % 23.8 % 34.9 % 12.1 %
Dusty Isaacs 38.9 % 30.6 % 30.6 % 52.8 % 16.7 % 30.6 % 14.4 %
Jacob Waguespack 18.3 % 52.4 % 29.4 % 42.6 % 22.5 % 34.9 % 9.4 %
Chris Rowley 21.6 % 35.0 % 43.4 % 54.3 % 23.0 % 22.7 % 8.5 %
Ryan Borucki 14.3 % 51.6 % 34.1 % 44.9 % 25.6 % 29.5 % 8.0 %
Danny Barnes 21.7 % 21.7 % 56.5 % 41.7 % 33.3 % 25.0 % 11.5 %
Deck McGuire 24.1 % 39.7 % 36.2 % 51.3 % 21.0 % 27.7 % 10.8 %
Jose Fernandez 15.4 % 47.4 % 37.2 % 45.6 % 25.3 % 29.1 % 13.2 %
Justin Dillon 16.1 % 32.1 % 51.8 % 48.3 % 19.0 % 32.8 % 8.2 %
Sean Reid-Foley 22.7 % 42.7 % 34.7 % 38.4 % 26.2 % 35.4 % 13.1 %
Zach Stewart 20.2 % 38.7 % 41.1 % 48.4 % 27.0 % 24.6 % 6.6 %
Conor Fisk 24.7 % 34.5 % 40.8 % 41.2 % 23.2 % 35.6 % 11.0 %
Joe Biagini 27.9 % 42.6 % 29.4 % 47.9 % 23.9 % 28.2 % 6.9 %
Sam Moll 21.3 % 44.3 % 34.4 % 46.0 % 20.6 % 33.3 % 10.4 %
Luis Santos 29.9 % 30.7 % 39.4 % 39.4 % 30.3 % 30.3 % 10.8 %
Carlos Ramirez 11.8 % 35.3 % 52.9 % 47.4 % 31.6 % 21.1 % 8.5 %
Matt Tracy 20.8 % 50.7 % 28.5 % 41.8 % 17.1 % 41.1 % 6.9 %
Darnell Sweeney 0.0 % 50.0 % 50.0 % 50.0 % 0.0 % 50.0 % 15.0 %
Roberto Osuna 37.5 % 37.5 % 25.0 % 25.0 % 50.0 % 25.0 % 15.1 %
Ian Parmley 50.0 % 50.0 % 0.0 % 100.0 % 0.0 % 0.0 % 25.0 %
Matt Dermody 20.0 % 66.7 % 13.3 % 60.0 % 6.7 % 33.3 % 17.3 %
Justin Shafer 16.5 % 42.7 % 40.8 % 45.3 % 18.9 % 35.9 % 9.4 %
Claudio Custodio 19.4 % 41.9 % 38.7 % 41.9 % 38.7 % 19.4 % 9.3 %
Juliandry Higuera 14.3 % 71.4 % 14.3 % 42.9 % 14.3 % 42.9 % 7.7 %
Jordan Romano 33.3 % 40.0 % 26.7 % 33.3 % 20.0 % 46.7 % 5.2 %
Andrew Case 33.3 % 44.4 % 22.2 % 20.0 % 40.0 % 40.0 % 6.9 %
Connor Eller 33.3 % 33.3 % 33.3 % 55.6 % 33.3 % 11.1 % 2.9 %
Jake Fishman 0.0 % 66.7 % 33.3 % 100.0 % 0.0 % 0.0 % 14.3 %

Blue Jays Face Many Decisions Ahead of Rule 5

The Blue Jays face more 40-man roster decisions than they have in some time ahead of the roster freeze that comes in late November prior to December’s Rule 5 draft.

The Rule 5 has been in the spotlight for the past several years, and truth be told, probably gets more attention than it deserves; few teams are adding crucial pieces to World Series-contending puzzles at the draft, but it does force teams to make some hard decisions about players they’ve been developing.

The Blue Jays’ potential dilemma this year comes from several angles.  At the moment, there are only two pending openings on the 40, depending on what happens with free-agents-to-be Marco Estrada and Tyler Clippard, but those two vacancies may be quickly swallowed up by the addition of P Julian Mayweather, slated to come to Toronto from Cleveland in the Josh Donaldson deal, and (if and when) SS Troy Tulowitzki comes off the 60-Day DL.  In addition, several players who have been added to the 40 this fall (Dwight Smith Jr, Jose Fernandez, Justin Shafer, and Jonathan Davis) were given auditions in September in an attempt to determine their long-term futures with the club.  On top of that, there is a wealth of talent bubbling up from the minors that the club will have to factor in when determining their final 40-man.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins admitted this week that the club may lose a player or two to the Rule 5.  He may have to be creative in opening up roster space – the club has only two options they could decline, one being Justin Smoak (not going to happen) and Yangervis Solarte (could very well happen).  Another route is non-tendering arbitration-eligible players – we’re looking at you, Kevin Pillar.  Atkins may have to consider packaging several players currently on the 40 to teams with roster space to help alleviate the crunch the Blue Jays are facing.

 A very quick primer for those new to the Rule 5

Baseball has had rules in place for over 70 years to keep teams from hoarding minor league talent.  The Rule 5 draft forces teams to make decisions about players who have been in their system for several seasons.  Player signed at 19 or older (typically college players) and who have played four or more seasons are eligible for the Rule 5 if not placed on the team’s 40 by the November deadline, and players signed at 18 or younger (high schoolers, international free agents) who have played five years are eligible as well.

Teams that draft a player must pay $100K for his rights; if they fail to keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire following season, they must offer him back to his original team for half that price.  Many teams use spring training as a tire-kicking exercise on these players.  The Blue Jays have a lengthy history in the Rule 5, drafting players like George Bell, Kelly Gruber, Jim Acker, and Manny Lee.  With the change in roster composition over the past several decades, teams rarely can afford to stash a young player at the end of their bench, and the Blue Jays have not often been Rule 5 players as a result.  One of the exceptions, of course, was Joe Biagini, who was a revelation in the Toronto bullpen two years ago.

Prospects On the Bubble

Again, for the newbies – don’t worry about Vlad and Bo.  Neither has to be placed on the 40 until a year from now, by which time both will have long since likely been added.  The tough decisions the Blue Jays face are on players who are not necessarily top prospects, but have potential value just the same.

 2017 Eligibles

These are players who actually were eligible a year ago, but were deemed too risky either due to injuries or the fact that they were too far away.  That may not be the case this year with:

RHP Patrick Murphy –  Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but has been healthy for the past two seasons.  He led the Florida State League in strikeouts, and hit 100 on the radar gun this year.  Scouts suggests he needs to refine his change-up to go with his fastball and hammer curve, but he’s unlikely to make it through the Rule 5 if he’s not added to the 40.

C Max Pentecost – the Blue Jays faced a huge decision with Pentecost last fall, but placed him on the DL after the Arizona Fall League ended, and that was enough to scare teams off.  Pentecost had a strong second half, but more importantly, he was healthy enough to be behind the plate for 90 games this year.  He hasn’t necessarily proved he can be an everyday MLB player, but he has shown enough to tantalize. His future may be one of the Blue Jays’ toughest decisions.

P Jordan Romano – the GTA native started the Eastern League All Star Game, and got the ball in the final game of New Hampshire’s title-winning game.  Romano’s change-up grew by leaps and bounds this year, but still has some room to grow.  If left off the 40 this year, some teams may be tempted to do a Biagini-like conversion with him.

2018 Eligibles

P Travis Bergen – the lefty reliever was lights out for Vancouver in their run to a league title in 2017, and filled the same role for New Hampshire this season.  Bergen has an injury history himself, but he will be quickly scooped up if he’s exposed to the Rule 5.

P Hector Perez – acquired in the Roberto Osuna deal, Perez has an electric arm, but inconsistent arm.  His stuff would likely play up in a bullpen role.

P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder had a remarkable second-half turnaround, adding some velo and deception to his delivery.  The jury is still out on his ability to turn an MLB lineup over one day, but scouts no doubt took notice of the velo uptick. He’s a longshot at this point.

P Yennsy Diaz – armed with a mid 90s fastball, Diaz has one of the most exciting arms in the system.  He’s also only pitched one full season, splitting this year between Lansing and Dunedin, so teams may give him a pass if he’s left off the 40.

P Corey Copping – Copping came over in the deal with the Dodgers for John Axford, and fanned 20 hitters in 14 innings for New Hampshire, then another 6 in the 3 playoff IP. Copping fills the strike zone, and probably won’t make it through the Rule 5.

OF Harold Ramirez – the Eastern League batting champ can play all three OF positions.  He could add some offence and versatility to a team, but he’s also played three years at AA.  He’s a low risk of being selected in the Rule 5, but he’s worked his way into the discussion this year.

P Danny Young – Young could become next year’s Aaron Loup.  A side-winding southpaw, Young doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he held Eastern League left-handed hitters to a .217 average.

P Jackson McClelland – after helping to lead Dunedin to a FSL co-championship last year, McClelland could well have expected to head north with the core of that club to New Hampshire.  He didn’t, and spent some time on the DL early in the season.  By June, McClelland was hitting his stride, and by the summer was routinely hitting 100.  His fastball can be a little straight, and his command off at times, but it looked more and more like the Blue Jays were stashing him in High A with the Rule 5 in mind until a late-season promotion to New Hampshire.  He may be a longshot to make the Blue Jays’ 40 at the moment, but a strong Arizona showing might change the team’s mind, or with teams always looking for bullpen help, make him a potential Rule 5 sleeper.  This tweet by scout.com’s Jeff Ellis, one of our favourite evaluators, sums up McClelland perfectly:

 

And no discussion about the Blue Jays 40 man roster can be complete without a few words about Dalton Pompey.  The Mississauga had another sideways season in 2018, and was not added to the active roster in September, which probably gives broad hints about his future.  Pompey will be out of options next spring, and given the roster crunch the team currently faces, he likely won’t be a Blue Jay for much longer.

Veteran Blue Jays Manager Holmberg Looks to the Future

5a5ad35fc39ae.imageThink of your favourite High School teacher –  the one whose steady, calm demeanor and knowledge of his subject made you realize years later the impression he made upon you.  Veteran Blue Jays minor league Manager Dennis Holmberg (who, interestingly enough, was a substitute teacher in the off-season for many years) fits that image to a ‘T’.

A Manager in the Blue Jays system since their second season of existence, Holmberg has managed a respectable roster of future big leaguers, including Mark Eichhorn, Tony Fernandez, Jimmy Key, Pat Borders, Jose Mesa, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay, Aaron Hill, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil, Aaron Sanchez, and Kevin Pillar to name just a few.  His 1500 wins (a plateau he reached the day after his 67th birthday in August) puts him just outside the top 25 winningest MiLB Managers of all time – none of whom spent the better part of two decades in short season ball.

Reached at his home in Dunedin after the Bluefield Jays were eliminated in the Appalachian League playoffs in early September, Holmberg offered plenty of insight and memories to an Ontario caller.   A theme that he came back to several times are the upcoming changes that will be happening in the Blue Jays organization as the result of letting Manager John Gibbons go. He also enthused the impressive crop of prospects who are making their way through the system:

Over the last 3 years, the organization has been going through an internal process if trying to collaborate with proper language, and having players work on specific goals – every player should have 1-3 goals…we try to encourage players to master their goals….it can be anything from making a backhand play or a better swing path, or it could be a nutritional goal or a weight room goal.  ….something that they need to lock into, something that they and the organization agree they need to work on in their 1st and even 2nd and 3rd years of pro ball.

Drafted by the Expos in 1969, Holmberg opted to go to college, and was drafted and signed by the Brewers the following year.  He joined the Blue Jays in 1978, and has been employed as a minor league Manager or Coach in the system since then, a span of 40 years.  The last three years of his career may have been among the most rewarding of that near half-century of instructing, as he had Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Eric Pardinho at Bluefield, his last two teams reached the post season, and in addition to his 1500th W this year, he was inducted into the Florida State League Hall of Game.

This year was a very special year in my career….every year is a highlight of sorts…..but the 1500 wins – Pardinho won that game, we won 5-0 in the first game of a DH.  That’s 1500 wins, but that’s not counting the losses.   I am above .500 as a Manager…..when you add it up, that’s over 3000 games, and that doesn’t count the number of lineups that were put together and torn up, and I said, “I don’t like that lineup, and I’m going to go this way with this lineup.”  That was a special day, it was like you reached a point of longevity and consistency – and all of it but one year was with the Toronto Blue Jays.

When asked the difference between players of his early Managerial career and today, Holmberg doesn’t hesitate to mention the impact of technology and social media:

  So many kids are coming out of high school and college so unfocussed….their heads are rattled with so many things going on in their lives: social media, cell phones,  etc…20/40/60 years ago, if you were a ballplayer, you had one goal – get signed, go out, and play baseball.  So many kids now are being bombarded by outside influences.  I think every org should take a look at the personal development of each player…..you can walk into a clubhouse – even any big league clubhouse – so much is going on….the first thing you see is 25 guys at their lockers with their heads down, looking at their cell phones.  Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, or texting back and forth. I remember when I played in the 70s, there was one pay phone in the clubhouse.  When you stopped on the road, there would be 5 to 7 guys lined up at the pay phone just to call back home.  The world itself is changing, and the game has to change along with the players, and I’ve tried to join the madding crowd this year…a quick text message to a player or a video clip to players.  

Holmberg may have managed for longer than some of his young charges’ parents have been alive, but he sees himself as far more than their skipper:

After managing at short season for the last 17-18 seasons, I find myself as more of a father figure than a manager, and more of a teacher than a coach.  The last three years at Bluefield, we’ve had some good prospects….now I turn on the TV and I see Jansen Catching, and Borucki Pitching, or watching Rowdy Tellez make his major league debut, or Richie Urena at SS, Dwight Smith…….it’s not just me, it’s the result of the collaboration of many people in the organization.  I’ve tried to make it fun, and I’ve encouraged the players to be more than just a baseball player, but a better person…

No conversation with Holmberg would be complete without asking him about Guerrero and Pardinho, and not surprisingly he had some insights to offer:

 Vlad Jr……. this kid coming out at 16 – he turned 17 coming to Bluefield.  You look at a 17-year-old kid like Vladdy, and you know his heritage and bloodlines…you still have to go out and do it yourself….when I had him three years ago, he would’ve been a junior in high school, and he’s out playing against advanced players a couple of years older than him, but he more than held his own in all areas of development, whether it was hitting – which will be his stamp of approval – his power, his defence…..for his size, he’s a very athletic guy……he has enough tools – his hands are good enough, although he might be a half step short on his range, when he gets to the ball, he’s going to make the plays.  He’s a very hungry kid, a competitive kid – there’s a lot of things you can’t teach – that desire and self-motivation that he has counts for a whole lot.  I can’t imagine the pressure that’s on him, and will be on him next year at spring training, but I’m sure that he’ll be able to avoid any and all obstacles.  He’s going to be a special player, there’s no doubt about that.  He has his own routine, he does his own thing, and he does what works for him.  He’s just a natural.

On Pardinho, the Winning Pitcher in Holmberg’s 1500th victory:

Eric is somewhat like Vlad in that he’s light years ahead of his age, and that’s just because of his stuff.  Eric is a very intense competitor, he’s a strike thrower, and he can manage 3 or 4 pitches, he throws anywhere between the low 90s and the mid 90s.  He had a little bit of a workload this year – obviously, as a 17-year-old, we had to keep an eye on him coming out and pitching every 5th day.  He had a throwing program every day, you’ve got sidelines and bullpens in between starts, and you’re always concerned about wear and tear at an early age.  The Blue Jays are very conscientious about innings pitched and number of pitches thrown….Eric is very mature for a 17 year old, but at the same time, you can see where he’s still a young kid.  He’s a very silent, quiet competitor, he’s intense on the mound – he does get a little frustrated sometimes, whether it’s because a pitch wasn’t called a strike that looked like one.  Sometimes a play might not be made here or there, but that’s him being a perfectionist, and I think if I had to sum him up in one word, that’s what he would be, and the one thing he needs to learn is that nobody is perfect in this game.  I think with age, growth, and maturity, he’ll grow into understanding the game itself.

Holmberg said that he can’t speak for the organization, but he thinks a logical path for Pardinho next season is to keep him at Extended until the midwest weather warms up, then send him to Lansing.  He’ll need to continue to have his workload monitored, but Holmberg feels he has the tools to be successful at that level.

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When Bluefield switched short season affiliation to the Blue Jays in 2011, Holmberg was tapped to take over the Manager’s job.  He was offered the position for their new Vancouver affiliate that year, but felt that Bluefield was a better fit.  After 51 years of partnership with the Orioles, Holmberg wasn’t sure at first about the long-term success of the new relationship – “there was orange and black everywhere.”

Over time, he came to appreciate the town and its environment more and more.  With a forested mountain rising up beyond the outfield, Bowen Field is said to have the best batter’s eye in all of Minor League Baseball.  As for the town itself, it’s the perfect enviroment for Minor Leaguers, according to Holmberg:

For us, Bluefield is the absolute greatest place to go and play – we don’t draw 3 or 4 thousand fans every night (no teams in the Appy League do), they’re playing in a bit of a closed environment. Players just have to think about one thing, and that’s playing baseball.  There’s no big downtown city or  college life in and around Bluefield, there’s no beaches to go to.  There are great people there, and great people running the club.

In late August, with their Player Development Contract up for renewal at the end of September,  Toronto and Bluefield renewed their partnership for another two seasons.

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Holmberg played in the Brewers system for seven years, and says that while he wasn’t a five-tool player, he played with plenty of heart and desire.  “I hustled and ran everything out, and that’s probably why they kept me around,” he admits.  He continued with his education, with the Brewers paying his tuition as part of his signing bonus.  Holmberg felt that continuing with his studies was a worthwhile endeavour, and it helped keep him out of the draft.  The supply teaching his college degree allowed was an added bonus.

But even though he knew it was coming, it was tough to see himself fall short of his big league dreams as his playing career stalled at AA:

It’s tough when someone in the organization says, “we don’t think you’re going to be a big league ballplayer,” but I think I saw the writing on the wall.  They had asked me to go into Managing….I was 25 years old, and not that far removed from the guys I was playing with.  I’m glad I accepted their request, because I’m not sure where I would be today otherwise……So, I went to Holyoke, MA as a player-coach, then I was off the next year to Newark of the NY-Penn League to Manage.

Holmberg bought a bottle of champagne to keep on ice prior to his first game with Holyoke, hoping to celebrate his first Win after that game.  But Newark lost that opener, and the next five games after that.  Holmberg’s first Win as a Manager came in the next game, the opener of a double-header after a rainout,  and he says that he never enjoyed a colder bottle of champagne more.  He also learned from the 1-8 record his club started out with – Newark finished with a 43-25 record, and missed the playoffs by percentage points – “I learned to be patient and stay the course that season, and not to be swayed.”

Holmberg made some eventual Toronto connections during his time with the Brewers that helped him land employment when Milwaukee underwent a front office shakeup after his first year as a Manager.  Al Widmar had coached and scouted for the Brewers before taking a job with the newly hatched Blue Jays.  Bobby Mattick had scouted Holmberg as a college player while Mattick served as a cross checker for the Brewers as well.  Mattick was the first call Holmberg made when he began his job search, figuring that there would be openings as Toronto had operated only one farm team of their own the season before.  That led to an interview with Pat Gillick in Atlanta, and soon Holmberg was on his way to Florida, where after some scouting he served on Dennis Menke’s staff as a Coach of the new Blue Jays Florida State League entry.  And so began a career of four decades of working at various levels (including two stops with the Pioneer League’s Medicine Hat Blue Jays).

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Holmberg may have fallen short of the Majors in his playing career, but after bullpen coach John Sullivan retired following the Blue Jays back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, Manager Cito Gaston had an opening on his staff, and Holmberg was summoned to fill it.

Holmberg loved the experience:

There’s nothing like being in the big leagues, the cities, the travel, the locker rooms, the ball parks – everything is magnified ten times a hundred. 

Of course, this was not the best time to be a Toronto baseball fan.  The 1994 Blue Jays couldn’t find the three-peat magic, and were 5 games under .500 when the season came to a crashing halt in early August.  The 95 Jays finished 32 games below that mark, and behind the scenes, original owner Labbat’s was about to be taken over by Belgian giant Interbrew, who really had no interest in owning a baseball team.  For Holmberg, it was still a magical time, and those two years were a highlight.

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Extended Spring Training is where MLB teams house the players who aren’t quite ready for full season ball.  Talk to anyone who’s been through it, and they’ll tell you it’s a grind:  on the field for 9 am workouts, lunch at 11, then a game either at the minor league complex or on a bus to one of the other complexes in the afternoon, all under the increasingly hot Florida sun.  The training and experience are important, but the games don’t count for a whole lot, and everyone involved is chomping at the bit for the start of rookie or short season ball, usually around June 20th.  And having endured this routine for almost 20 years, it’s understandable that Holmberg is starting to tire of it, and he’s hopeful for a change:

The sun and the travel and the wear and tear (of Extended) get to you…..I live here in Dunedin, and maybe if there is something closer by in the FSL or the GCL – I don’t want to say I’ve paid my dues, and I don’t want to use the ‘R” word – but I can still throw BP, still hit fungoes, and still have an impact on player devo…….the ball is in their court……….the toughest thing about getting to Bluefield is getting through Extended.  It’s a grind.

Changes are indeed coming at the Major League level with the Blue Jays, as the John Gibbons farewell tour wraps up this weekend.  A new Manager will likely bring with him a new coaching staff.  Meanwhile, the Blue Jays hired a number of minor league coaches and instructors last off-season, and will likely bring on more before 2019.  Rumours have begun to circulate about which current staff will not be back.  Despite all those transitions, long time Blue Jays fans have to hope that there’s room for a certain organization lifer somewhere in the system, maybe with the FSL or GCL teams the Blue Jays operate.

Holmberg is very excited about the direction the organization is heading:

The players that are coming to Toronto in the next year or two will be ones that will create a very good identity for the city, the fans, and the country, and they’re just going to have to stay the course for the next two or three yeas as these kids learn and develop on the job.

Having Managed many of them, Holmberg should know.

Jays Place Prospects on BA’s Top 20 Lists

You’ll have to go behind their pay wall to read all the details, but a combined four Blue Jays prospects have made it to Baseball America‘s Top 20 International and Eastern League Prospects lists.

To the surprise of no one, Vladimir Guerrero Jr was named the EL’s top prospect.  As BA pointed out, having top prospects on your roster doesn’t always translate to minor league success, but in the case of Guerrero’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it certainly did.  The bulk of the group that won a co-championship in the Florida State League swept both rounds of the playoffs to capture the Eastern League crown.  BA’s final paragraph on Vlad sums up what many evaluators have been thinking for several years:

Staying at the hot corner is not out of the question, but Guerrero will have to work hard to maintain his large frame if he wants to avoid a move to first base. No matter where he plays, there are multiple all-star games in his future.

It was a bit of a surprise in the prospect-laden EL that Bo Bichette came in at #2 on the list.  Bichette was taken to task for his over aggressiveness at the plate by Eastern League pitchers, but he worked on his pitch recognition skills to battle his way from a batting average that dipped into the .240s in June.  BA had praise for his approach:

Bichette finished as one of only 13 minor leaguers with more than 30 stolen bases and double-digit homers. Rival evaluators praised Bichette’s advanced approach and elite bat-to-ball skills, which allowed him to raise his walk rate from last season even as the second-youngest player in the league.

Cavan Biggio jumped onto the prospect radar with 26 Home Runs, checking in at #14 on BA’s list.  BA noted how he had made an adjustment with the position of his hands this season, lowering them to create more loft, something he had been working on last year, but fully committed to this season.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr started the year at New Hampshire, and finished it in Toronto with a number of trips to Buffalo in between, and wound up as the 12th ranked International League prospect:

Gurriel showed the skills that earned him a seven-year, $22 million contract in his time at Buffalo, hitting for average and power while effectively playing both spots in the middle infield. He moved to a different level eight times during the season, but impressively never seemed to lose his rhythm despite constantly moving around.

Gurriel was a different player from Opening Day on this year than he was last year.  His bat was one of the most impressive ones in the Fisher Cats lineup before he moved up.

Florida State League and Midwest League rankings are due out shortly.  Dunedin’s Kevin Smith would be a lock for the former, as well as FSL PioY Patrick Murphy, and while Lansing was one of the most successful teams in the system, they did not have a stockpile of top prospects by season’s end, so it will be interesting to see who from their roster might crack BA’s MWL list.

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.

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

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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.