A Look At Ronny Brito

cut (2)
milb.com/FreekBouw

I hate to give things away in the first paragraph, but Ronny Brito’s performance so far as a pro could be called Trouble With the Curve.  Still, with plus defensive skills and elite bat speed, there’s enough projection remaining with him that he’s still an interesting, if fringe prospect.

Brito was signed for $2 million as part of the 2015 J2 class.  The same class, of course, that included Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Christian Pache, and Juan Soto.  The J2 report on Brito from Baseball America indicated he was considered a player whose bat was not as advanced as his glove:

He projects as a pure shortstop with good body control, smooth actions, soft hands, good range and a plus arm. He’s an athletic player with plus speed as well. Scouts are comfortable with Brito at shortstop, but his glove is certainly ahead of his bat…..Brito has quick hands and strength projection to his frame, so there should be more power coming, but it’s a crude hitting approach and an uphill stroke that can get him caught out front, so the bat development may require some patience. His biggest believers felt his hitting mechanics were workable and thought he has some rhythm and looseness to the stroke with good bat speed.

Unlike the marquee names in his signing class, Brito has been brought along slowly.  He repated the DSL, and a broken leg limited him to 28 games in 2017.  Sent to Ogden of the hitter-friendly Pioneer League for 2018, Brito had a huge offensive season that still holds some promise for the future.

Defensively,  Brito still projects to stick at SS.  Some sampling of his games on milb.tv this year did not reveal a great deal, but MLB Pipeline, who has injected Brito at #26 on their Blue Jays Top 30, suggests that he has Gold Glove upside:

He covers plenty of ground at shortstop thanks to his smooth actions, quick first step and keen instincts, and his soft hands and strong arm add to his playmaking ability. His tools will play anywhere in the infield and he saw time at second and third base last year.

Brito put together a line of .288/.352/.489 for Pioneer League Ogden, and tied for the team lead in Homers with 11, just 3 off the league lead.  Hitting from a slightly closed stance, Brito uses a toe gather as a timing mechanism, and shows decent strike zone judgement. He can barrel up fastballs to all fields, and has legitimate power in his bat. He even shows some oppo power:

chart (2)
MLB

Breaking pitches seem to be another issue – his reactions indicate that he’s having trouble picking up the spin, and he seemed to often get fooled on curves that dropped into the strike zone, or chased sliders off the plate.  The Dodgers have tinkered with his swing path to take away some of its uphill element.  But ultimately what will determine his future will be his ability to contact – his 30.3% K and 19.5% whiff rates led the Pioneer League.  He’s a prototypical boom-or-bust prospect, but you don’t generally see his kind of pop in a teenaged middle infielder.

Brito was placed on Bluefield’s roster, but it’s likely that he suits up for Lansing to make his full-season debut sometime this spring.

Advertisements

A Look at Andrew Sopko

andrew-sopko-640x426 (1)
Matthew Christenson – Tulsa Drillers

Think of the thinnest things you know.  Like the average supermodel, your bank account the day before payday,  Doug Ford’s knowledge of government, or your average safety razor.  That appears to be the margin between success and failure for RHP Andrew Sopko, acquired along with 2B Ronnie Brito from the Dodgers this weekend for Russell Martin.

A 2015 7th round pick from Gonzaga, Sopko appeared to be on the fast track.  By his second season, the Dodgers had aggressively promoted him as far as AA.  In 2017, he repeated the Texas League with mixed results, but the Dodgers thought enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League.  2018 saw him start the season in High A, and while he reached AA once more by mid-season, Sopko appeared to be an odd man out in the Dodgers’ deep farm system.

From Baseball America‘s draft report on Sopko:

Sopko has reached 94 mph in the past and, at times, sports an above-average slider as well out of a three-quarters arm slot. Most of the time, though, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder pitches with a fringe-average heater from 88-92 mph with just so-so life and has to be fine with it.

After the 2016 season, BA named him the Dodger’s 26th-best prospect:

 Sopko stands out more for his pitchability than his pure stuff. Sopko lacks a plus pitch, but he’s able to command his arsenal, hit his spots, moves the ball around the zone and change speeds. He works off a fastball that sits at 89-92 mph and can hit 94. It’s not overpowering, but he pounds the zone and attacks hitters on the inner third.

 

But after reaching the dizzying heights of AA in 2016, his career has stalled.  The mistakes that he made in Low and High A were getting fairly regularly barreled by AA hitters in the following two seasons.  Still, after his June promotion back to AA this year, Sopko appeared to have mastered his command, and was getting hitters out on a more regular basis.  A look at his first three starts for the Dodgers Texas League Tulsa affiliate would suggest that:

snip 1

 

snippet2

Sopko relies on getting ahead of hitters, but Texas Leaguers began to lay off his first pitch offerings, which were usually fastballs just off the outside edge.  Later in the count, he had to catch more of the plate, and paid the price, giving up 18 earned runs over his next 18.1 innings after those first three solid outings,  covering 4 starts.  As a result, Sopko found himself in the Tulsa bullpen for much of August before returning to the rotation at the end of the season.

Sopko does not have premium velocity, sitting 88-92, and at 23, there’s little room to add to that.  His mechanics are clean, and he has a bit of deception with a slight back turn.  He throws an 11-5 curve and a slurvy slider to right-handed hitters along with his fastball, saving the slider mostly for righties, and the curve/change as his secondaries to left-handed hitters.  He can throw all of his pitches for strikes, but they grade as fringe average, and he lacks a true out pitch.  His fastball is said to have little movement, but he does work well down in the zone with it.

When Sopko was ahead in the count this year, AA hitters managed only a .241 average against him.  When he was behind, they tuned him at a .468 clip.  Sopko pitches more to contact, and a sampling of three starts for Tulsa this year showed some hard contact.  He did have a little trouble with the long ball this year, but generally when he’s working effectively down in the zone he can be tough to elevate.  It probably didn’t help that the defence behind him led the league in errors.

Sopko is the kind of guy you find at the back of a rotation, and he profiles more as minor league depth than MLB guy at this point of his career.  At the same time, a guy who can pound the bottom part of the strike zone like he can at times has some room for growth, but it will be a matter of consistency with his fastball.  Some more movement on that pitch would help as well – Sopko gets a good downward plane on it, but it seems to be fairly straight for the most part.

He has a starter’s mix of pitches, but would have trouble getting hitters out third time through the order.  If he reaches MLB, it would be more in a long relief or emergency starter role.  Assigned to Buffalo, it’s likely he begins the season there.

Blue Jays Announce Minor League Staffs

The Toronto Blue Jays released news of additions and moves among their minor league personnel yesterday:

 

Among the bigger moves was the promotion of Hunter Mense to Hitting Co-ordinator after serving as New Hampshire’s Hitting Coach last year, and long-time Jays staffer John Tamargo to Latin America Field Co-ordinator from the DSL Jays Managing job.

 

Dennis Holmberg, the longest-tenured member of the Blue Jays organization, told us last fall that after 40 years of minor league instruction, he was hopeful of a post closer to his Dunedin home.  The Blue Jays granted Brick that wish, putting him in charge of the GCL Jays, which will include Extended Spring Training duties.

Former Expo Casey Candaele, who joined the organization last year, moves from Dunedin to Vancouver, while C’s Manager Dallas McPherson moves to Lansing.  Cesar Martin, who ran the ship at Lansing last year, moves up to Dunedin.  The promotion of New Hampshire Manager John Schneider to the big league coaching staff created an opening that will be filled by Mike Mordecai, who served as Quality Control Coach for the Blue Jays last year.

New additions to the instructional staff included Pitching Coach Demetre Kokoris, who held the same role at Point Loma University in San Diego, and Cory Popham, late of Post University and Driveline Baseball.  Both have extensive teaching experience, and one would assume are quite familiar with the integration of sport science and analytics, given past hires.  Antoan Richardson joins the organization in a more formal role as Outfield Coach.

An interesting addition to the minor league staffs is that of dietitian to more teams, after rolling out that role with some of the full season clubs last year.

 

Lundquist’s 2018 Moving Him onto the Prospect Radar

lundquist
Joshua Tijong/milb.com

I have to admit it:  after seeing Brock Lundquist, the Blue Jays’ 6th round pick from Long Beach State last summer in person and online with Vancouver, I did not come away impressed.

I found his swing to be long, and his pitch recognition lacking, making for some lengthy swings-and-misses.  In the Northwest League playoffs, he did seem to show a better ability to barrel up pitches, hitting .385 and helping lead the C’s to their fourth NWL crown as a Jays affiliate.

Sent to Lansing to begin 2018, he began to tap into that power, posting an .817 OPS which included 13 HRs for the Lugnuts.  Lundquist earned a promotion to Dunedin mid way through the season, and continued to hit, posting an impressive .337/.401/.483 line in 49 games for the D-Jays.

The Florida State League is a black hole for those who watch their minor league ball via an internet connection.  Luckily, there are a bevy of sources in Florida who sent glowing review’s of Lundquist’s performance with Dunedin, including Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame), who named him the Blue Jays 30th prospect at prospectslive.com:

He flashed plus power in the Midwest League and after a promotion to the Florida State League, he was different hitter. Against more advanced pitching, Lundquist’s swing was short and quick, spraying line drives all over the field.

The only opportunity to watch Lundquist with Dunedin was a late August series in Bradenton against the Pirates affiliate.  He was in the midst of a late-season tear in which he was seeing the ball exceptionally well, hitting .400 over his final ten games.  His swing appeared no less lengthy than it had with Vancouver and Lansing, although Lundquist did appear to have shortened his stride.  He made a lot of contact in the series, much of it of the line drive type. Improved pitch recognition was largely responsible for that improvement.

After a four-hit game in early August, Lundquist admitted to milb.com that he probably benefitted from the presence of Josh Palacios (.357 OBP), Rodrigo Orozco (.375), and Kevin Smith (.468 SLG) ahead of him in the lineup:

“I’ve just been swinging it pretty good lately,” said Lundquist. “I’ve been doing what I can to get on base. We just came off an eight-game winning streak. A lot of it is, guys get on base and set up some momentum for the team getting a rally going and we get more runs. I’m going up to the plate and finding ways to get on. I got a couple of good pitches to hit today and was able to hit it where they weren’t and find a gap to get on base.”

 

The Blue Jays have to be encouraged that Lundquist began to tap into his power this year.  After hitting groundballs at a 50% clip last year, he began to put the ball in the air more in 2018 (41% FB rate vs 35 in 2017).  His BABIP of .390 with Dunedin is not sustainable, but does suggest some hard contact.  His whiff rate was still around 12% as it had been in Vancouver, but he was barreling up more pitches and finding the gaps as a result.

At 5’11″/190, the stocky Lundquist has enough athleticism  to man a corner Outfield spot.  He lacks one outstanding tool, and profiles as a 4th OF.  He doesn’t have much left to prove in High A, and should begin 2019 with New Hampshire.

Joey Murray Hopes to Continue His Disappearing Act

joey_murray_bullpen_ball_grip
cs+plusbaseball.ca//Nial O’Donohoe photo

RHP Joey Murray, the Blue Jays 8th round pick in last June’s draft, was very hard to see last year.

Pitching for Vancouver in tandem with 4th rounder Sean Wymer, Murray’s pitches were very closely monitored last summer, and his stints were limited to two innings after throwing 95 for Kent State.  And with only a pair of teams (Hillsboro and Eugene) streaming their games on milb.tv, Murray’s appearances did not sync with the C’s visits to the two cities.  Most importantly, as far as the Blue Jays are concerned, his high spin rate four seamer, which some call an invisiball, made him very hard for Northwest League hitters to see.  NCAA hitters certainly had a difficult time picking it up -Murray’s 141 Ks were 9th in the nation, his 13.26 K/9 5th.

Blue Jays Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders said early last July that the team was surprised Murray was still available in the 8th round:

Joey doesn’t have the big velocity like some of the Pitchers that can strike out 140 guys (in a college season) I think he’s effective – his velocity can play up a little bit because of his ability to change speed and throw strikes with multiple pitches. He’s got deception you know that’s hard. That part that’s carried over to an extent -you know with his start in Vancouver. He’s got a feel to stay off of barrels, and any time you talk about a college pitcher who pitches in the upper 80s/low90s,  I’m not sure if surprised is the word for where we got him but he was a guy that we certainly were interested in, and probably considered him a little bit higher than that, but we’re certainly happy with the opportunity to get him where did.

The beauty of a four-seamer with a high spin rate is that its high turnover makes the laces on the ball very difficult for a hitter to see in that fraction of a second they need once the pitcher releases it to determine the type and potential location of a pitch.  A high spin rate pitch also tends to drop less as a result of gravity than an average spin rate pitch does.  Even a four-seam fastball with average velo can play up with high spin.  That’s how Marco Estrada had a successful run in Toronto, and why Murray fanned 39 in only 25.2 innings this season.

At 6’2″/200, Murray has a thick middle third and incorporates his legs well into his delivery.  He releases his pitches from between a three-quarters and over-the-top delivery – working on the consistency of that slot is no doubt what the Blue Jays wanted him to work on at Instructs.  He has good command of the strike zone (10 walks in those 25.2 IP), and tends to work up in the zone with his four-seamer, which results in swings and misses (14.5% whiff rate), or hitters hitting under the ball.

Murray throws a four-pitch mix, with his slider being his preferred secondary, according to an interview he had with C’s+ Baseball:

  “I just throw a traditional four-seam fastball and then my go-to breaking ball is usually my slider but every now and again, my curveball could be a little bit better depending on the day. I’ve been working really hard on trying to get a feel for a changeup. I’ve been working on that for about two years now. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. What I’ve really been working on is my changeup and really being able to command my fastball in and out of the zone.”

Clearly, working on that curve and change will determine whether Murray progresses as a starter or relegates him to relief work.  Because his fastball lacks velocity, it’s hard for scouts to give him more than average grades for it.  But it will be his calling card just the same.  Murray should begin next season in Lansing (if the team wants him to work on feel pitches like his curve and change, they may opt for the warm weather of Dunedin), and may move quickly through the system if his four-seamer continues to look like a cueball.

 

Toronto’s Own Babe

   One of the most accomplished athletes to ever put on a uniform representing a Toronto team not only did so for one team in the 1920s, but did so for three.  But Babe Dye is one of the city’s least-known sporting figures among today’s fans.

Born in Hamilton in 1898, Cecil Henry Dye moved with his mother to Toronto after the death of his father when he was an infant.  He grew up playing on the playground of Jesse Ketchum Public School, which produced the famous Conacher brothers Charlie and Lionel (voted Canada’s top athlete of the first half of the 20th century).  Actor Keanu Reeves also went to Ketchum, although he may not have spent as much time on the playing fields.

BabeDye

Hockey was a much different sport in the first two decades of the last century.  The sport had just eliminated the rover position, removing a player from the ice as the skating and puck handing skills of players was rapidly evolving.  The rules had recently been changed to allow a goaltender to drop to the ice to make a save. Forward passing was only allowed in the defensive and neutral zones, so players tended to carry and stick handle the puck as long and as far as they could.  The game resembled shinny much more than it did today’s game, with its emphasis on passing and teamwork. Teams rarely carried substitutes, so players were expected to play the whole game – some would deliberately take a penalty, which had to be served in its entirety before the player returned to play, in order to get a breather.  Defencemen tended to loiter in their own end as the puck moved up the ice, going only as far as their own blue line.  This footage from 1929 gives you some feel for how the game was played at that time:

   Dye was a 5’8″, 150 lb right winger.  He played junior hockey in Toronto for Aura Lee and De La Salle, and graduated to the Senior Toronto St Patricks in 1919.  Dye turned pro with the NHL version of the St Pats the following year.  On the ice, he was not known as a great skater, but had a wicked shot in those pre-slapshot and curved stick days.  On the ballfield, he was known as a speedy outfielder and good hitter who used that speed on the basepaths well.
   Dye was also a well-known amateur football player in his pre-NHL days.  At that time, a player could conceivably compete in more than one sport without seasons overlapping. Hockey season really didn’t get started until Christmas, and was usually finished by March.  Baseball ran from April to September, as the Canadian football season was starting, finishing up by mid-November.
   Dye was able to compete successfully in all three sports.  He played halfback for the Toronto Argonauts, as well as suiting up for the St Pats, and he made his pro baseball debut in 1920 with the Brantford Red Sox of the low-level Michigan-Ontario league.
   Dye’s hockey teammates kidded him about his baseball commitment, and he quickly became known as “Toronto’s Babe,” in homage to a guy who was gaining acclaim south of the border.  Dye was good enough to have caught the eye of Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, who offered him $25 000 to sign with the A’s.  While he was a good ball player, Dye knew his future likely lay with hockey, which was about to grow in leaps and bounds across the northeast.
   Dye scored 33 goals in 23 games in 1920-21, his second NHL season, and his reputation soared. He led the league in goal scoring three times in the next five seasons.  A few sources we read in researching this article claimed that his low assist totals were a reflection of his poor skating skills, and that’s just plain hogwash.  The legendary Lester Patrick introduced the compilation of assists a decade earlier, but the concept had yet to fully catch on during Dye’s era.  Excellent research compiled by Ellen Etchingham of The Score, which you can read here, notes that assists were awarded at a very low rate of between .4 and .6 per goal during the decade.  That, combined with the style of play likely accounts for Dye’s low assist totals – Joe Malone and Cy Denneny, who were in a constant battle with Dye for the league scoring league from 1920-25 had a similarly low number of assists.
   1922 was Dye’s peak.  Brantford sold his contract to Buffalo of the International League, putting him a step away from the majors.  Dye was 2nd on the team in hitting with a .322 average, and slugged .444. On the ice, Dye again led the NHL in goals with 30, and led the St Pats to the Stanley Cup, scoring 9 goals in the 5-game final. It would be the only time his name would be etched on Lord Stanley’s mug.
   Dye announced that he was giving up hockey for good after the 1923 season to focus on baseball, but he had changed his mind once winter had rolled around.  In 1924-25, he scored an astounding 38 goals, a Toronto record which stood for 35 years.   We couldn’t find a reason for his brief retirement from hockey, but we can’t help but wonder if it was a contract ploy.  With the game expanding into the United States, and attendance growing rapidly, Dye may have been trying to extract a higher salary from the St Pats.
   Dye’s production began to tail off after 1925, and his sale to Chicago in 1926 may have ironically brought the Toronto Maple Leafs into existence.  Torontonian Conn Smythe, a noted businessman, horse owner, and hockey coach, had been hired by Col. John Hammond to run the new NHL franchise in New York.  Smythe knew about Dye’s availability, but passed on him.  Smythe preferred a team player, and he felt that Dye was anything but.  Dye was more a product of his time, when carrying the puck was the most effective way of advancing it, particularly in the attacking zone. The only way for him to take advantage of his shot was to create his own scoring opportunities. Hammond was furious at missing out on a marquee player who likely could have filled New York’s new Madison Square Garden, and fired Smythe before the team he assembled had even hit the ice. Smythe, for his part, probably preferred a younger (and cheaper) player that he could control over a celebrity like Dye. The irony, of course, is that Smythe returned to Toronto after the Rangers let him go, and was asked to coach the Leafs.  Not wanting to be a victim of management interference again, Smythe insisted on a portion of the ownership of the franchise, and put up some of  his own money to buy in.  He became part of a new ownership group that took over the moribund St Pats on Valentine’s Day, 1927, and changed their name to the Maple Leafs. He would change the team colours from green/white to the more traditional Toronto blue and white the following season. Completing the circle, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1927-28, with the core of the team being the group Smythe had put together.
   Dye’s goals total dipped to 18 in 1925-26, and his last productive baseball season was also in 1925, when he hit .293 and slugged .406 for Buffalo.
    Dye regained his scoring touch in the Windy City, playing on a line with fellow Hamiltonian Dick Irvin.  Dye broke his leg in training camp prior to the 27-28 season, however, and he was never the same again.  He missed the entire baseball season that year, and his career on the diamond was all but over, too.
   Dye was sold to the New York Americans, but scored only 1 goal in 42 games in the 1928-29 season. Buffalo had sold his contract to International League rival Baltimore, who sold him to his hometown baseball Maple Leafs part way through the 1926 season.  He finished his diamond career with a .215 season.
   The hockey Leafs signed Dye as a free agent before the 1930-31 season, but released him after he went scoreless in 6 games.  He scored but one goal in his final 58 NHL games.  Starting in 1926, the NHL had embarked on a number of rule changes that gradually opened up the game by allowing passing in all three zones.  Hockey was moving to a passing and skating game – two skills that Dye had never possessed in abundance. The injury didn’t help, but the game had literally passed him by. He retired with 202 lifetime NHL goals, and a .311 career minor league batting average.
   Dye coached in the Ontario Hockey Association’s senior ranks and for the minor league Chicago Shamrocks after his playing career ended, and after his coaching days stayed in the Chicago area, where he worked for an oil and gas distributor.  He died in 1961, several months after suffering a heart attack.  Dye was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970, and was ranked 83rd on a list of the 100 greatest players of all time published in 1998 by The Hockey News.  
   Ask most Toronto hockey or baseball fans today who Babe Dye was, and you’re likely to get a blank stare, but he was a local icon for half a decade, and was probably the city’s most popular athlete during that time.  Pound for pound, he may have been one of the best all-around athletes Hogtown ever produced.  He is also the only man to suit up for both the hockey and baseball versions of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
**************************************************************************
   We’re wandering a bit off topic here, but we can’t hit the publish button here without sharing a couple of Conn Smythe stories.
   Of building a hockey team, Smythe once said, “If you can’t beat ’em in the alley, you can’t beat ’em on the ice.”  A divisive figure who was equally loathed and loved by the people of Toronto, he had the audacity to find the cash and make labour deals to build Maple Leaf Gardens in the early years of the Depression, and turned the Maple Leaf brand into a national institution before relinquishing control of the team to his son and his friends in the early 1960s.  The club, of course, has experienced nothing close to the success it had under Smythe in the ensuing half century.
   After being fired by the Rangers, he was invited to attend their opening game in the fall of 1926 by owner Tex Rickard.  Smythe initially refused to attend, claiming that the team still owed him $2500 by the terms of his contract.  Smythe’s wife was able to get him to change his mind, and the pair attended the game, where the Rangers upset the defending Cup champs Montreal Maroons.  Rickard was elated with the result, and made sure that Smythe left New York with the money the club owed him.  On the way home to Toronto, the Smythes made a stop in Montreal, where Conn bet the settlement from the Rangers on a football game between Toronto and McGill University.  With the $5K winnings from that bet, Smythe then put the whole amount on the Rangers to beat the St Pats upon his return to Toronto.  Smythe won that bet, too, turning $2500 into $10 grand in three days.
   How much was Smythe’s stake as part of the group that took over the St Pats?  You guessed it – $10 000.
   One last Smythe story.  We can’t help ourselves.
   Michael Francis “King” Clancy was as big in Ottawa during the 20s as Dye was in Toronto.  The son of a famous football player by the same nickname, the younger Clancy was a star for the Ottawa Senators, and led them to Cups in 1923 and 1927.  The Senators fell upon hard times as the Depression hit, and were very cash strapped by the fall of 1930.
   Toronto was not much better off as a franchise.  Maple Leaf Gardens was still a wild dream in Smythe’s mind, and while the club’s on-ice fortunes had improved, their home rink, Mutual Street Gardens, was a marvel during its day, but could hold only 7500 fans for hockey.  Smythe faced limited resources in his attempts to build a champion.
  He was at the race track one day (where he could be found most days), making his picks for that day’s card.  Without a PA system to make announcements, a track official wandered through the stands informing the crowd that a horse named The Monkey, owned by a prominent woman named Mrs Livingstone, would be unable to take part in the next race.  “Scratch…..Mrs Livingstone’s……Monkey” the official boomed as he moved through the race patrons, who soon picked up the chant.  Before long, the whole grandstand was yelling, “Scratch Mrs Livingstone’s Monkey!” with raucous abandon.  Humiliated, the matronly Mrs Livingstone gave up horse racing on the spot, and sold her entire stable.  From the fire sale, Smythe picked up a filly named Rare Jewel for the bargain price of $250.
   Rare Jewel had an undistinguished record, but she slowly improved for Smythe, who had never won a race in his brief career as an owner, and he entered her in the Coronation Stakes, an event for two year olds at Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack.
   Smythe made a token bet before the race, but as the race approached and the odds lengthened, Smythe upped his bet.  To hedge his bets, however, he decided to put $30 on the race favourite. While he was in standing in line waiting to place his wager, a doctor Smythe had recently fired for misdiagnosing a player’s broken leg happened by.  The doctor chided Smythe for betting against his own horse.  Smythe’s hair trigger temper kicked in, and he put his money on Rare Jewel.
   Smythe headed off to watch the race, expecting to lose his bets for the day.  What he didn’t know is that unknown to each other, Rare Jewel’s trainer and a betting crony of Smythe’s had each poured her half a flask of brandy prior to the race.  Fortified, Rare Jewel clipped the favourite at the finish line, earning Smythe almost $10 000, plus the purse of over $4000.  Smythe used his winnings to finance obtaining the services of Clancy, who was coming off the best season of his career.  Unlike Dye, who was nearing the end of his career when Toronto let him go, Clancy was at his prime.
   Clancy joined the Leafs for the 30-31 season, and helped to fill Smythe’s new ice palace when it opened a year later, capping off the 31-32 campaign with the Leafs’ first Stanley Cup.

Five Prospects to Keep an Eye on in 2019

As 2018 slowly winds its way down, it’s a good time to look at players who put up solid numbers last year, but have been overlooked somewhat in the overall Blue Jays prospect picture.

Ryan Noda

What he did:   Noda led the minor leagues in walks with 109 last year, as did his .421 OBP.  Only 3 players posted a higher OPS than Noda’s .905,  who was aided by his ability to get on base and the 20 HRs he hit for Lansing.

Why he was overlooked:  A 15th rounder in 2017, Noda put up video game-like numbers in the Appy League, a loop he was clearly too advanced for.  His numbers dropped off once he reached full season ball, but no one could continue production like that.

As a bat-first player, evaluators feel that Noda’s hit tool (45 grade) and power (55) aren’t quite enough to compensate for his deficiencies in other areas of his game.  Noda played some OF in college, but was primarily a 1B in his first pro season.  The presence of Kacy Clemens in Lansing to start last season meant Noda had to spend some time in the corner outfield spots again, and while he showed some definite signs of rust early in the season, he improved as the season progressed, and does have the athleticism to play there.  1B is where he’s most comfortable.

Noda showed power to all fields, but he had a tendency to pull line drives and ground balls:

 

newplot
mlb.com

What he has to do:   

  1.  Become more aggressive early in the count.  To his credit, Noda saw a lot of pitches – only a handful in all of minor league baseball saw more than the 4.3 pitchers/PA Noda saw last year.  While that patience allowed him to get on base, it also cost him some fastball counts, which would allow him to put his above average bat speed to use.
  2.  Continue to develop his versatility – with Chad Spanberger and/or Clemens likely to start 2019 in Dunedin with him, Noda will see more time in the OF.  And in the long run, being able to play multiple positions will only add to his value.
  3. Hit Lefties better.  Noda drew the majority (88) of his walks against RHP, and had a huge differential in OPS (.968 vs .764).
  4. Put the ball in the air more.  As his heat map shows, Noda can use the whole field when he elevates the ball.  As a supposed slugging First Baseman, a 40% FB rate isn’t putting that skill to use.   This probably goes back to #1 on this list.

 

Chavez Young

What he did:  Young showed a power/speed combination that led him to become the only player in MiLB to steal 40 bases and have 50 extra base hits.  His 33 Doubles were just one off the lead for all of Low A, and he drew raves for his defence at all three OF spots, and earned the nod for the best OF arm in the system.  Pretty heady stuff for a guy who left his native Bahamas to play high school ball stateside, and was a 39th round pick (albeit one who the Blue Jays had to offer a $200K bonus to get him to sign).

Why he’s overlooked:  Young is viewed as a prospect who lacks one outstanding tool beyond his speed.  He wasn’t a Baseball America Top Prospect this year despite his numbers.  This evaluation from 2080baseball.com sums up how scouts view him:

The rosiest projection for Young’s ceiling is that of a lesser everyday regular in centerfield, though the lack of a true carrying tool on either side of the ball makes that outcome unlikely. More realistically, he’s an extra outfielder who can play all three spots and provide late-inning substitution value while spot-starting against left-handed pitching.

Of course, power is the last tool to develop, and Doubles are a good indicator of future power.

What he has to do: 

  1.  Develop a better launch angle.  Young does have the ability to be a threat to get on anytime he makes contact, but a 49% GB rate suggests a lot of weak contact.
chart (1)
mlb.com

2. Become better from the left side.  This is an area where Young improved a great deal this year, but continuing to develop his pitch recognition against RHP will allow him to utilize his speed more.

 

Josh Winckowski

What he did:  The 2018 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year dodged a lot of barrels this year, leading the short season loop in FIP (2.77), GB% (54.4%), K-BB (19.4%), and the second highest (12.4%) whiff rate.

Why he’s overlooked:   As a lightly recruited 15th round pick who hasn’t pitched in full season ball after three years as a pro, and didn’t pitch well in his first shot at under the lights play in Bluefield last year, Winckowski is not considered a top prospect just yet. He’s touched 97, but generally is around 93-94 with his fastball, which is respectable, but that sits in the lower echelon of elite FBs.

What he has to do:  

  1.  Continue to pound the edges of the strike zone with his bowling ball sinker.
  2.  Develop a more effective change-up to help get LHH out more frequently (they hit .322 against him last year).
  3. Continue to add velo.

 

Cal Stevenson  

What he did:  In the case of the 10th round pick from Arizona, it’s more of a case what he didn’t do, because he did pretty much everything for Bluefield:  walked almost two and a half times more than he struck out, got on base almost 50% of the time, and was a threat on the basepaths.  A hand injury this spring may have dropped his stock, but he was one of the most exciting players in short season ball, and is already one of the fastest players in the organization.

Why he was overlooked:  Because it was in the Appalachian League.  The Blue Jays’ OF depth meant that Stevenson didn’t get a plane ticket to Vancouver after the mandatory test flight in the GCL. Credit the Blue Jays scouting department for selecting a guy who was too good for the Appy.

What he has to do:

  1.  Continue to get on base.  Like Noda, his numbers will dip in full season ball, but Stevenson has that get-on-base, top-of-the-order potential.
  2. Put the ball in the air more.  Stevenson’s current power projection falls short of what you would expect from a corner OF.  The Blue Jays have had some success in this area, it should be noted.

 

Alejandro Kirk

What he did:  Kirk mashed his way to #12 ranking of the Appy League prospect list, literally coming out of nowhere to post a line of .354/.443/.553.  Bluefield broadcaster Zach Helton, who grew up in the area watching games at beautiful Bowen Field, said Kirk hit a ball out to straightaway CF this year that was the longest he’s ever seen at that park.

Why he was overlooked:  Unlike the above names, Kirk did at least receive some prospect recognition.  His size (5’9″/220) and lack of a position held him back from higher acclaim.  Kirk did acquit himself well when he filled in for regular Bluefield Catcher Hagen Danner, but when a guy is listed as a C/DH at his age, his future likely isn’t behind the plate.

What he has to do:  

  1.  Improve his defensive skills (wherever his ultimate position may be).
  2. Like others on this list, make adjustments to put the ball in the air more.  When you have a 50% GB rate but post a 1.001 OPS, that means you hit the ball hard, but as Kirk moves up and defences improve, that’s not a formula for success.
  3. Use more of the field:
    newplot (1)
    mlb.com

Blue Jays Prospects Christmas List

thumbAll the best to you, yours, and your favourite prospects this festive season.

Here are some gift ideas for several Blue Jays minor leaguers. Some may be hard to fit under the tree.

For Vladimir Guerrero Jr, what do you get the top prospect who has everything?

Maybe broad and strong enough shoulders to carry the expectations of a city whose team hasn’t won a World Series since Marcus Stroman was going through the terrible twos?

We’ve seen video of Vlad’s off season workouts.  One involved a bag of chips, while another saw him flipping a monster tire down a grassy stretch. Let’s hope he’s doing more of the latter than the former.

What would we like to see under the tree for Sean Reid-Foley? How about command of the strike zone? This guy’s stuff is good enough, and the differential between his fastball and off-speed stuff keeps hitters off balance, so the only thing that will keep him from being a back-and-forth-to-Buffalo guy and a solid mid-rotation starter will be his ability to consistently hit his spots.

For Nate Pearson, a full season of good health, which will put him on the cusp of a big league job.  The same with Anthony Alford, who just needs a prolonged stretch of uninterrupted play.  On a similar note, continued good health for Florida State League PiOY Patrick Murphy, who is poised to become a breakout pitching prospect.

For Dalton Pompey, one last chance.

When Bo Bichette dives in under the tree, we hope he has some patience gift-wrapped for him. His numbers, while respectable this year, were a far cry from 2017, when he led the minors in hitting, were not the same level in 2018. His expanded strike zone was partly to blame for that. In the Eastern League playoffs, when he laid off pitches he couldn’t barrel, he made a lot of loud contact.

Max Pentecost, unfortunately, is a guy we don’t talk about anymore. If Kris Kringle could find Pentecost’s swing from August, when he posted a 1.031 OPS and earned Eastern League Player of the Month honours,  he could work his way back into the conversation.

For Chavez Young, some acclaim. He was the only player in all of minor league ball with 50 extra-base hits and 40 stolen bases, yet was nowhere to be found on top prospect lists.

If Santa could wrap up 3-4 mph of added velo to Zach Logue‘s FB, that would be great. The guy knows how to pitch as well as anyone in the organization. The former high school hockey player would be a fan favourite in Toronto.

For Eric Pardinho, some added maturity. Admittedly, he came a long way in that department, but with added physical and emotional development, he could be dominant in Low A when he gets there.

Alejandro Kirk bashed Appy League pitching last year.  We hope Santa puts a mitt under his tree for whatever position he’s eventually going to assume, because that bat will play.

For the fans of the Dunedin Blue Jays, a transit pass. With the team about to be forced out of their home park while it undergoes a makeover at the conclusion of spring training, one of the worst-drawing teams in the Florida State League will become even more anonymous.

The fans of the Vancouver Canadians deserve another championship team, or one that is in contention for a playoff spot.  Their support of the C’s has been nothing short of outstanding.

For Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, an invitation to spring training like Ben Wagner and Rob Fai received last year.  Wagner, of course, used that audition as a springboard to landing Jerry Howarth’s job after Mr There-She-Goes retired.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers and followers.  If any of you have a prospect gift recommendation of your own, please tweet them to me (@FutureBlueJays), and I’ll update this post with the best of them.

2019 Mock Draft – Far Too Early Edition

draftlogo

Mock Drafts are like Christmas music in stores and on the radio:  every year, they seem to appear even earlier than the year before.

With that it mind, it’s always good to unwrap the stocking stuffer that is Baseball America‘s first look at the 2019 draft.

Scouting Directors right now are looking over the reports their regional scouts have filed over the past year (or more), adding to their own notes, and making travel plans for next spring.  Scouts themselves are getting to know draft prospects and their parents, as well as making their own plans for getting around their assigned areas once the baseball season starts in the south and slowly makes its way north.  Blue Jays Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders said a lot of the work that is being done now is preparation for the New Year:

This time of year is a lot of preparation leading up to the spring. Rounding out staffing, lots of reading and talking about players with all members of our staff, various meetings (some small group meetings in the fall followed by full staff meetings in Toronto in January), and generally looking forward to February on planning. Starting to plan out schedules etc. starting to ask ourselves what type of questions we have on players going into the spring, what we’re hoping to see/answer leading up to the draft, things like that. Our scouts while not watching games everyday are out meeting with players, getting to know them better off the field and doing similar preparation for the busy spring. In many ways the work we do now will best position us to be successful when things really get busy soon.

Much can change in draft rankings between now and the beginning of June, and one look no farther than the Blue Jays own Griffin Conine for proof of that.  Coming off winning the Cape Cod League top prospect honours heading into his draft season less than a year ago, a so-so (for him) season dropped Conine from just outside of the Top 10 to the 2nd round, 52nd overall.

To date, the consensus on the top two picks includes Oregon State C Adley Rutschman, and Texas HS SS Bobby Witt, Jr.  While the Blue Jays love both middle infielders and sons of former MLBers, it’s hard to see Witt dropping to them when they make their first pick at #11.

If past history is any indication, though, the Blue Jays will be strongly considering an up-the-middle player.  Their last two first rounders have been Short Stops, as well as their top positional IFAs over that time span.  And BA suggests that the team will continue that trend, and has Auburn SS Will Holland tabbed as the best fit for the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays have selected shortstops with their first picks in each of the last two drafts, and that should be a position of strength for the 2019 class. Holland has solid power for his size and plus running ability, and he’s coming off of a strong sophomore season in which he hit .313/.406/.530 with 12 home runs at Auburn. He also had a loud summer in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .341/.431/.432 in 13 games before leaving with a wrist injury.

Holland has highlight-reel defensive ability, and the tools to stick at SS.  At the plate, he has an aggressive approach, but shows a good feel for the barrel.  His tools are still in the process of refinement, according to reports.

Alternatively, with the team aware that the quality of their starting pitching prospects drops off after Sean Reid-Foley, Nate Pearson, and Eric Pardinho, they may focus on starters in the upper rounds.  High School arms are not likely to be selected high with this risk-averse management group, so Kentucky LHP Zach Thompson, who BA ranks one slot below Holland, might make sense:

Thompson profiles as a mid-rotation starter, if healthy, and looked good for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team this summer. With a strong junior campaign and improved strike-throwing, Thompson could take advantage of a subpar college pitching crop.

Over at baseball-farm.com, they have ranked West Virginia RHP Alex Manoah at #11.  The 6’6″/270 Manoah is described as a, “mammoth human with monster stuff.”  His FB touches 98, and he shows two secondaries that show some promise.  Think Nate Pearson maybe with a little less velo.  Manoah worked mostly out of West Virgina’s pen his first two seasons, but was one of the best starters in the Cape League this summer, where he was named the 4th best prospect (right behind Holland).

 

It’s far too early to start pegging players to teams, but it’s an interesting exercise to see which players might fit with the Blue Jays’ recent tendencies.  Of course, they confounded most prognosticators’ forecasts by picking Texas HS SS Jordan Groshans last June, a selection that seems to have been a good one.

Blue Jays Minor League Notes

story1_480x270_vvtk1ldq_qys5p8hr

A couple of things came this way over the past few days.

A Blue Jays official said that the team should have their minor league staffs finalized early in the New Year.  Interviews have been taking place since November.  Last year, the Blue Jays had a signficant turnover in staff, bringing in many instructors who had extensive coaching and/or education backgrounds, with a healthy dose of sports psych thrown in.  There may not be as many new faces this year, but the team is trending toward minor league staff with teaching backgrounds.  Openings will have to be filled at New Hampshire, as Manager John Schneider has been promoted to MLB coach with the Blue Jays, as Guillermo Martinez, who moves from MiLB hitting coordinator to hitting coach with the big team.  Martinez was part of that new wave of instructors the team hired last year.  Last fall, we spoke with long time Blue Jays staffer Dennis Holmberg, who was hoping to move to a role closer to his home in Dunedin after managing in Bluefield for the past seven seasons.  We hope his wish is granted.

 

In an email, Vancouver Canadians GM Allan Bailey discussed the future of the C’s broadcasts.  The C’s announced a new partnership with Sportsnet this fall:  games will air on Sportsnet’s Vancouver radio outlet this season, and six of their home games will be televised on Sportsnet Pacific, opening the team up to a nationwide audience.

In the past, Shaw televised a half-dozen C’s games per season, but they shut the channel that aired that programming down last year.  Bailey agrees that it was disappointing that this decision was made.

At this point, the team has no plans to stream their home games on milb.com, but Bailey says that may change in the future.  From talking to Lansing GM Tyler Parsons last year, that’s a bigger logistical and technological challenge than we might expect.

At this point, no dates for the Sportsnet Pacific games have been set.