Welcome to Minor League Baseball….

The Dunedin Blue Jays get no love.

And their fans (all 161 of them in attendance last night) get even less.  The club-owned team is a place for prospects to play in the Blue Jays system, and not much else.  When Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro was asked last fall where the D-Jays would play when renos to antiquated Dunedin Stadium take place as part of an $80 million-plus spring training retrofit, Shapiro acknowledged, “you know we’re not exactly displacing a huge fan base there.”

Minor league baseball, more than anything, is a business.  For the owners of the affiliates, it’s a way to sell a cost-friendly fan experience.  For their MLB partners, winning is nice, but it’s not a priority, especially at the lower levels.  In the case of the Blue Jays, when a prospect has met the objectives set for the player, Director of Player Personnel Gil Kim shows up with his notebook, and in the words of one affiliate official, “he’s not leaving empty handed,” usually taking the team’s best player with him.

With their team chasing a playoff spot, the baker’s dozen dozen of D-Jays fans who showed up to their game last night against Jupiter were treated to the site of recently promoted Chad Spanberger in Right Field.  In three years of college and over 160 games of pro playing time, Spanberger has never played the Outfield.  With Kacy Clemens on the roster, something had to give, and Spanberger traded in his first baseman’s mitt for an OF glove.

And the results were predictable.

Dunedin reliever Jackson McClelland came in to the game in the 9th, and tossed a 1-2-3 inning.  With the game tied at 3, the D-Jays failed to score in the home half of the 9th, so the game was headed to extras,

With the new extra innings rule in place, Jupiter began the top of the 10th with a runner on 2nd.  After McClelland had issued a walk, a soft fly ball was lofted to RF.  Whether Spanberger was unable to track it in the lights is unknown, but an easily catchable flyball landed a few feet in front of him, and what proved to be the winning run came home.

In the long run, the game meant little to the organization.  Putting Spanberger in RF was chance to keep Spanberger in the lineup, while SS Logan Warmoth, to whom the team paid a sizeable bonus after drafting him in the 1st round last year, was given a night off from defensive duties and was at DH.  Don’t question if it was fair to the fans, D-Jays players (including McClelland and the other Dunedin Pitchers on the night), or even Spanberger himself.

Again, it’s a business.

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What to Expect from Sean Reid-Foley

RHP Sean Reid-Foley is a study in prospect development.

Thought to be a late first round pick in 2014, the Florida High Schooler fell to the 2nd round due to a college committment.  The Blue Jays scooped him up with the 49th pick, and while he hit full season ball in just his second year as a pro, they have brought him along gradually, challenging him to improve his fastball command and secondaries at each level.  He changed his delivery at Instructs in the fall of 2015 in order to streamline his delivery – the knock from scouts is that he tended to lose his mechanics during games, and lacked the ability early in his career to make adjustments.  At every level, the Blue Jays have allowed Reid-Foley to find his own comfort level, and have not rushed him.

In naming him the Blue Jays 11th prospect after a disappointing 2017 season, Baseball America‘s evaluation is remarkably prophetic:

After Reid-Foley took a step forward in 2016, he struggled in 2017 in the Double-A Eastern League, where he struggled with fastball command, inconsistent stuff and gave up too much hard contact. Despite his struggles, Reid-Foley still flashes average to plus stuff across the board. Reid-Foley’s fastball parks at 91-94 mph with good movement and reaches 97. His best secondary pitch depends on the day. Usually either his curveball or slider are working for him. When they’re right, they’re average pitches, though they sometimes disappeared on him and contributed to his struggles. His changeup flashed average at times too. Reid-Foley must improve his fastball command, which is complicated because of his mechanics and arm action. That leads several scouts to think his future is in the bullpen, though the Blue Jays plan to keep Reid-Foley as a starter. Reid-Foley has the repertoire to project as a back-end starter, though his stuff could tick up in short stints if he’s moved to a relief role, with a chance to get to Toronto by the end of 2018.

With SRF, you will get a fastball that now sits in the mid 90s, a pitch that he often elevates with two strikes.  The trick for Reid-Foley is getting ahead of hitters, where his slider or that upstairs four seamer can become more effective.  But that’s been an issue throughout his minor league career – when he’s on, he misses bats and piles up the Ks.  When he’s not, his pitch count goes up in a hurry.  This year, the former has been the case far more often than the latter – Reid-Foley has fanned 146 batters in 126 innings at two levels, and has limited hitters to a .205 average.  His 13.3% Swinging Strike rate is good enough for 3rd in the International League for Pitchers who’ve thrown more than 80 innings.  He has the lowest pull rate (37.3%) for that same threshold.  The inconsistencies of last year have become a thing of the past.

Reid-Foley will likely be pitching tonight to his Buffalo battery mate Danny Jansen, which should be a tremendous bonus – Jansen knows Reid-Foley’s pitches, and could be a great comfort factor for him. Without a great deal of fanfare, the rebuild is on in Toronto, and SRF, Jansen, and Ryan Borucki should be regulars in the Blue Jays lineup for the remainder of the season, to be joined by several more of their Buffalo teammates when MLB rosters expand in September.

 

What to Expect From Danny Jansen

During the Alex Anthopolous regime, then-Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker was given free rein (and, for a while, one of the largest scouting departments in the game) to look for players in non-traditional baseball markets.  That approach landed them Anthony Alford in 2012, and a year later, an injured Wisconsin Catcher named Danny Jansen in the 16th round.

It’s been a long and winding road for Jansen (who lost significant parts of three minor league season due to injuries), but sources indicate that one of the top prospect systems will be promoted to the Blue Jays today, taking the place of Yangervis Solarte on the 25-man after Solarte was injured yesterday.

Here’s what to expect from Jansen:

1.  Grit and Resilience

This is a guy, after all, that the Blue Jays drafted even though he’d missed much of the short Wisconsin baseball season his senior year of high school due to a broken wrist (which he tried to play with in the state championship game).

The workload Catchers toil under is enormous, but Jansen has both the frame (6″2″/225) and the stamina to handle the rigours of a full season.  He’ll play through injury, and work hard on rehab if/when he’s out of the lineup.

2.  A nice, low target

Despite his size, Jansen is flexible enough to present a target at the bottom of the strike zone, a plus for handling sinker ball Pitchers.  His lateral movement to block wayward pitches has always been a work in progress, but he’s shown steady improvement each season.

3.  A good framer of pitches

This was a skill Jansen had as early as Low A.  Jansen is an expert at setting up at different parts of the strike zone to expand the corners.  Like Russell Martin, once one of the premier framers in the game, Jansen doesn’t move his whole arm to coax pitches back into the strike zone – he’s adept at turning his wrist slightly to frame.

4.  A leader

This was evident from his time in short season ball.  Jansen is skilled at working with pitchers and calling their games – you rarely see Pitchers shake him off.  He is a steady influence behind the plate.

5.  A decent bat

Jansen has been hard pressed to repeat his breakout (.323/.400/.484) at three levels performance from last year, but he’s not a guaranteed bottom of the order bat, either.

Jansen rarely chases, and sees a lot of pitches each AB.  He doesn’t strike out a lot, and isn’t afraid to draw a walk – he’s getting on base at a .390 clip this year.  A Catcher’s defensive contributions are far and away the most important aspect of his game, but Jansen should provide some upgraded production for the Blue Jays offence.

 

Raised well by solid Midwestern parents, Jansen is not flashy.  A veteran of six minor league seasons, his patience and work ethic are about to pay off.  Catcher of the Future for the Blue Jays has been a curse this century, but with Jansen and the crop of backstops behind him in the minors, the team appears set there for the next decade.

Time to Take Another Look at Tellez

Lost in the hype of the Blue Jays farm system being named one of the top ones in the game this summer has been the play of Buffalo 1B Rowdy Tellez over the past two months.

Seemingly headed for Toronto after bashing 23 HRs as a 21-year-old in AA two seasons ago, Tellez appeared headed for DFA status after a disappointing start to 2018, following and equally below expectations 2017 campaign.

Hot on the heels of a .309/.338/.574 July, Tellez had a pair of hits in Buffalo’s loss last night, raising his average to .455 over his past ten.  In the process, Tellez has raised his average to .278, to go along with a becoming-respectable .786 OPS.

Off-field problems, including his mother’s battle with cancer, had much to do with Tellez’ struggles last year.  After keeping things inside for much of last year, he’s been more open with his teammates and coaches.

On the baseball side, Tellez is not chasing as many pitches out of the strike zone as he did last year.  After showing remarkable patience in the Eastern League, Tellez saw fewer pitches in the heart of the strike zone in AAA last year, and expanded his strike zone as a result.  Frequently finding himself in pitcher’s counts, Tellez wasn’t cranking out the Quality ABs that he was in AA.  Last year, Tellez seemed to frequently take hacks at pitches that left a viewer wondering why he offered at that pitch; his strike zone judgement seems significantly improved of late.

Does this mean that Tellez is poised to be promoted to the big leagues when MLB rosters expand on September 1st?  He’s not a lock with Justin Smoak ensconced at 1B, but with the Blue Jays looking toward the future, perhaps he could take away ABs from DH Kendrys Morales.  Tellez is a bat-first player, and while his numbers of late are promising, his power numbers are still lacking for a player of his type.  Still, if a rebuild is coming, with Tellez running out of options next year and the team far from contention, it wouldn’t hurt to kick the tires on this former top prospect next month.

Blue Jays Last Ten Prospect Hot Sheet

This is another in a series of posts about the hottest prospects in the Blue Jays system over the past ten days (or so).  It’s not a re-ranking of the top Blue Jays prospects – that will come out after the minor league season.

1.  Cal Stevenson, OF Bluefield.

The 10th round pick from Arizona has dazzled in his first pro season.  Sent to the Appalachian League, he doesn’t have a lot left to prove after slashing .519/.619/.926 over the last ten days.

Stevenson leads the Appy in Runs, and is second in Average and OBP.  He has a patient approach with has led to 35 walks (leading the league) vs only 12 Ks.  He’s also stolen 9 bases, and hasn’t been caught.

2.  Max Pentecost, C New Hampshire

Pentecost’s last ten days have helped partially salvaged a disappointing season for the 2014 1st round pick.  He slashed .500/.455/.700, and 4 of his 10 hits were doubles, bringing Pentecost’s line for the season up to .228/.263/.345.  His Average had dipped below the Mendoza Line in late July.

The Blue Jays stashed Pentecost on the DL after the Arizona Fall League season in order to help protect him from the Rule 5.  There was thought of the team turning him into a multiple position player, but he’s been New Hampshire’s everyday Catcher for most the season.

3. Josh Winckowski, P Vancouver

At the end of an hour-long conversation with Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro last fall, I tossed out a line from an old Baseball Prospectus article I read about building a bullpen being a General Manager’s toughest job.  In response, Shapiro said that he thought that developing starting pitching is a more difficult task.

And he’s right.  Starting pitching drives a team’s defensive bus.

A 2016 Florida HS 15th rounder, Winckowski has been brought along slowly, pitching at all three short season levels.  That patience may be starting to pay off, as Winckowski delivered two superb starts for Vancouver over the past 10, as part of a remarkable turnaround for the defending Northwest League champs.

Winckowski pitched a career-hight 7 innings vs Euguene on July 29th, then delivered his best start as a pro, tossing six shutout frames in his following start, allowing 3 hits while fanning 7.

Other Pitching prospects in the Blue Jays system may have posted more dazzling stats over the past 10, but those two starts stood out.

4.  Ryan Noda, 1B Lansing

Last year’s Appy League MVP got off to a slow start with Lansing, but he seemed to find his stride at the plate at about the same time he was moved back to 1B with the promotion of Kacy Clemens to Dunedin.

Noda hit 4 HRs over the past 10, along with 8 walks, in posting a 1.172 OPS.  Noda leads the Midwest League in walks and OBP.  A Toronto media guy suggested Noda would be a LF in the Blue Jays rebuild next year, and while both of those predictions seem highly unlikely, there is no doubt about his ability to grind out ABs.

5.  Patrick Murphy, P Dunedin

Murphy ran into pitch count issues (and some inconsistent Florida State League umpiring) last night, but he became the 2nd pitcher in the system to hit 100 this season (teammate Jackson McClelland is the other).

Murphy’s velo has been ramping up all summer.  Enjoying a second straight season of good health, he’s sat in the mid-90s for much of the season, and has kept that velo deep into games.  Murphy has averaged better than a K per inning over his last ten starts.  No Blue Jays Pitching prospect has done more to improve his stock this year.

With the Rule 5 draft looming if he’s not put on the 40-man this fall, it would seem the team is content to keep him at High A for the duration of the season.  Blue Jays management would not confirm that, of course, but that does appear to be the strategy.

 

Blue Jays Amateur Scouting Director Talks About the June Draft

We had a chance to catch up with Blue Jays Director of Amateur Scouting Steve Sanders to talk about the crop of players the team selected in June’s draft.

The Blue Jays played things relatively safe in last year’s draft, selecting only one High Schooler (2nd round pick Hagen Danner) with their first 14 picks.

It was easy to forecast the Blue Jays dipping into the college ranks to take their first pick this year, 12th overall.  Several high profile collegiate arms appeared to be a fit with Toronto, and many boards seemed to agree.

Sanders and Texas Area Scout Brian Johnston confounded most observers when they took Magnolia High SS Jordan Groshans with that first pick, and then returned to the Lone Star State to take Groshans’ Magnolia teammate Adam Kloffenstein with their 3rd round pick.

Some speculated that the real catch was Kloffenstein, and drafting Groshans was a way to get him under contract.  Sanders says that really wasn’t the case:

Yeah I mean honestly it really wasn’t….those two players were were not really linked on our board, as good as the storyline is,and they’re certainly teammates and close friends….. getting both of them didn’t really come to fruition until the third round when we were able to take Adam and make him a Blue Jay.

It was really more a matter of both those guys were really scouted and discussed and drafted  independent from one another.

As for Groshans’ small-sample sized sizzling debut (.380/.439/.593) in the GCL, Sanders was very pleased, to say the least:

I mean (it’s) still a small sample size and it’s still a compact Complex League, but wow – look it’s early for sure and there’s only so much stock you can put in a hundred plate appearances, but we’re certainly very very happy with the start he has gotten off to .  We’re not surprised. I think we we certainly felt that with the type of investment we’re making  in him, and the amount of time we spent scouting him, we certainly were hopeful that he’d get off to a good start. He’s hit the ground running  – we’re obviously very pleased with the start he’s gotten off to for us.

As for Kloffenstein, who has yet to make his pro debut, that’s largely out of Sanders’ hands, but he did some have some insight to offer:

 I don’t really have any specifics on that (when he’ll make his debut). You know Adam had a pretty heavy workload. Earlier this year believe he threw something in the realm of 80 innings. So for us, it’s just it’s pretty much just the standard progression with every pitcher that comes into the system out of the draft. The first thing that’s pretty much done is assessing where they’re at. From a inning standpoint of where they’re at, from a season progression standpoint.  And putting together a development plan that’s specific to them. So you know that (Director of Player Development) Gil Kim (VP of Baseball Ops),  Ben Cherington, and the PD are certainly working with Adam. I would certainly expect to see him on the mound at some point soon.

Entering the 2018 college season, Duke OF Griffin Conine was viewed as a potential high first round pick.  Coming off a Cape Cod Top Prospect ranking the previous summer, the sky seemed the limit for the son of the former Major Leaguer.

But Conine’s season fell short of expectations.  Some put it down to selling out for power, while others suggested problems with his swing.  The Blue Jays quietly bided their time, and scooped Conine up in the 2nd round.  For the Blue Jays his past history, tools, and even the struggles he faced this year added up:

Griffin was an interesting one for us, and he was the guy that, like I said right after the draft, he’s a guy we’ve been watching for a long time, and that we’ve had interest in for quite some time and no doubt coming into the year certainly felt like he was somebody who was in the mix. He was a guy  certainly discussed in that first round area, again based on the year he had, and some of the struggles he faced we certainly felt opportunistic and being able to have the opportunity to take him in the second round. Sometimes those struggles are actually good to see. We don’t often have the opportunity to see guys with that type of talent level  – especially amateurs  – go through periods of struggle, and seeing him come out on the other side of it he finished the year the year on a  particularly strong note which was certainly a positive for us. But but you know it goes back to the value of scouting history and knowing the player for some time. We had scouted him quite closely in the Cape League last summer where you know he hit well over 300 with power with wood.

As for the bloodlines, Sanders says despite the fact that there are a number of players with MLB dads in the system, it’s not necessarily a draft strategy:

I don’t think it’s so much a concerted effort that we target players with Major League bloodlines . But I think we do target players with aptitude, strong baseball IQ, and  work ethic – an understanding of how to be a professional:  character,  makeup,  toughness, and ability to deal with adversity.

After a discussion about the top draft picks, we moved on to talk about several other players, including:

4th rounder Sean Wymer, TCU RHP:

He‘s had success in multiple roles both out of the pen and as a starter, and  throws a lot of strikes. . A little bit more velocity than Joey Murray but probably in a similar mold of pitcher first. Not necessarily going to overpower with pure stuff. He’ll run his fastball up in the mid 90s, but really really knows how to pitch, throws a ton of strikes, and  has a feel for a breaking ball and a change and has shown the ability in college to be successful in a multiple of roles which is which is exciting for us.

6th round pick Florida HS Infielder Addison Barger

 Addison is an interesting guy, and again someone that we’ve known for quite some time. He’s been a part of some of our scout teams down there in Florida. Our Area Scout Matt Bishoff did a tremendous job of getting to know Addison not just as a player but as a kid. And he’s he’s really interesting. You know it’s not often that you get the opportunity to add a high school left-handed hitting middle infielder at that point in the draft with with tools that Addison has – he’s got feel for his bat, and he’s got a plus arm and he has some pop from the left side. So you know right now it’s been fun to watch as he Jordan, Leo Jimenez (one of our international signings) for the infield there at the GCL – all have rotated through and gotten shortstop innings. All three have also shown the ability to move around and play multiple positions. Addison’s an impressive kid,  very very strong makeup, and we were certainly excited to get him where we got him.

7th round pick Notre Dame 2B Nic Podkul:

Nick is a guy who may not stand out amongst the crowd in terms of size, physicality, or tools, but really has a pretty good feel to hit. Had a nice year at Notre Dame, hit over 300 with 8 HRs and has performed well over the summer with wood, so he’s somebody to watch as well, someone who we certainly were excited to grab.

8th rounder Joey Murray, RHP from Kent State:

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/low 90s,  I’m not sure if surprise 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.

At that point, the conversion diverged into a discussion about scouting in general.  Given the scores of players a team evaluates, we asked Sanders at what point does he turn things over to his scouts, since he can’t possibly scout every player in person himself:

 I don’t know if there’s a specific round. I think the biggest thing is that area scouts are really the driver of the process in every round. Even in the first and second rounds where there’s an abundance of information, and there’s there’s a significant amount of scouting looks at those guys across our staff, really the area scouts are the guys who know the players best. And and as a staff you know oftentimes our comfort level in taking a player,  whether it’s in the first or 40th rounds is really derived off the comfort of the area scout. So, I don’t know that there’s a round, or that necessarily takes over or changes, but the biggest thing that changes as you go deeper and deeper into the draft is the amount of other information that you have to accompany on a first rounder, someone we may have seen a dozen or more times spring. Obviously that that’s no longer possible in the 28 rounds, but deeper in the draft again you’re really very reliant on the area scout tooIn some cases he may have been the only person to see the player. But I think the big thing thathammers it home is hat those those guys really do drive the process. It’s not just on day two and three but you know even at the very top of the draft that that area scout conviction not just in the player but in person is important,  because really those are the guys who know the players, and is really probably the single biggest driver of our scouting process.

On the process of selecting what Sanders terms “Post 10” players, guys taken after that round:

There’s a lot of scout conviction that carries a lot of the weight of the process. So you know like we talked the last year I think the neat thing is each and every single one of these guys that we took and ultimately signed you know somebody was was pounding the table, whether it was the area scout or one of the crosscheckers.

On who is in the Blue Jays “War Room” during the draft:

It’s a collection of people from across not just the department but baseball operations.  So there are people in there from:  obviously our scouts, our front office, members of the player development,  medical, and high performance group. Really it’s a collection of people that can offer up varying experiences and combining those collective experiences to make the best decision. It’s a very collaborative effort, and over the course of a week plus (the success of the draft) hinges on sort of the participation and effort of everybody in that room.

We asked Sanders what the busiest month of his post-draft seaon is:

I don’t know what the busiest month is in particular. I think really all parts of the office are surprisingly busy with different stuff. Right now, it’s largely about being on the road seeing players for next year’s draft, and then come the fall into winter time we’ll shift to staff meetings for administrative preparation for the draft. But right now we’re still pretty busy scouting. The Cape League is still going on, and  all of the summer leagues are still going so we’ve got guys out watching all those and the high school showcase circuit is at the half way point.. So these next few months are surprisingly busy as we really prepare for next June.

The Blue Jays drafted 40 players in total, 31 of them from the college ranks.  Sanders isn’t comfortable about talking about a player who got away, but 27th rounder Kyle Luckham, a California HS RHP may have been one.  Scouts had concerns about his mechanics and long-term value as a starter, but the Blue Jays saw enough to take a flyer on 2017 2nd rounder Hagen Danner’s high school teammate.

With the Blue Jays likely to be picking higher than 12th (their current record is worse than only 8 other teams) next June, Sanders and his scouts are no doubt already in the early stages of assembling next year’s board.

Jackson McClelland: The Best Blue Jays Relief Prospect You’ve Never Heard Of

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Tim McClelland photo

One of the the best potential power arms in the Blue Jays system lives in an RV.

No, we’re not talking about Daniel Norris, whose travels in his Westfalia van throughout the Toronto minor league organization a few seasons ago became well known.  Dunedin Closer Jackson McClelland has hit 100 with his fastball, which sits in the high 90s, and has a wipeout slider.  He leads the Florida State League with an 18.9% swinging strike rate.

Originally drafted by the Pirates in the 35th round of the 2012 draft, the Cherry Hill, CA native (where he threw for Redlands East Valley High, a Pitching factory that has churned our numerous MLB draftees, including Tyler Chatwood) opted to attend Pepperdine, where he started in his sophomore and junior seasons.  At Pepperdine, he pitched well, but at least one evaluator (MLB Draft Report) felt that McClelland had more to give:

 His stuff is more than enough to get college hitters out (90-95 FB, breaking ball with upside, usable change) and he’s a really good athlete throwing from a 6-5, 220 pound body, but he’s never consistently missed bats. Teams with a more forgivng view of underachieving college talent who might consider him a talented ball of clay to mold rather than a near-finished product seem more likely to give him a call this June than otherwise.

The Blue Jays obviously saw material that they could work with, and after a brief trial in the Northwest League in 2015 (3 appearances, 2 starts), the Blue Jays converted McClelland to relief, and sent him back to Vancouver the following year.  2017 was truly a breakout season for him, as he added velo to his fastball, and recorded 15 Saves between Lansing and Dunedin.  Although he missed a month due to injury, McClelland has picked up where he left off in his return to High A and the D-Jays this year, notching 7 Saves, and fanning 40 batters in 30 Innings Pitched.

For every high bonus draftee or international free agent, there are countless players who toil for wages less than a 7-11 employee – there are enough to stock a couple of leagues on their own.  In the Blue Jays system, players are housed by the team at the GCL and Appy League levels, and use host families (some of whom have trouble putting enough food on the table for 6’5″/230 players) at Vancouver – Lansing has a host family program as well, but hosting young men with varying schedules and big appetites for five months of the year has led to some difficulties.  For players above that level, day-to-day life during the season can be tough – having a comfortable place to sleep, and getting a decent meal away from the park are considerable challenges.

McClelland’s dad Tim had recently retired from his job as a California Fire Chief the year before he was drafted, and when his mom Michelle learned that players above Lansing had to sometimes resort to sleeping in the clubhouse and smuggling or stealing food in order to survive, they sold their house and bought a 31 ft RV “toy hauler,” complete with generator for cross country travel, and headed for Michigan.  After living in an RV Park in Leslie, MI, a small town about 20 minutes south of Lansing, Tim and Michelle packed up and made the drive south to Florida when Jackson was promoted to Dunedin early last season.  They found an RV Park in Clearwater, about 15-20 minutes from Dunedin.

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The McClelland Family Home (during the season) Tim McClelland photo

Tim agrees that having a home-away-from-home environment has been a part of Jackson’s success:

He’s very appreciative and has told us he knows his success the past 2 seasons is a direct result of having a familiar, stable living accommodation. He really struggled with his host home placement in Vancouver and even in the Cape Cod League in 2014. I retired that year so we flew out to Mass and rented a house and car on Cape Cod for the summer…..He enjoys living in an environment where he’s comfortable and doesn’t have to worry about offending people with how much he eats etc.

As for living in a trailer, it’s part of a retirement dream for Jackson’s parents.  Tim says that one of the couple’s goals was to travel and see the U.S.A.  Jackson’s situation, in Tim’s words, caused them to gladly alter their plans in order to support him.

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Clutchlings photo

Jackson’s 2017 season started with a bang – a two scoreless/hitless innings, three strikeout save in Lansing’s home opener, in which he sat 93-95 with his fastball.  He Saved 7 more games in 8 chances for the Lugnuts before being promoted to Dunedin in early June.  McClelland Saved another 7 (in as many chances) as the D-Jays, bolstered in the second half by the promotions of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, captured the Florida State League’s 2nd half North Division title.  Jackson’s velo soldily sat in the mid-90s as the season progressed,  and  he was consistenly the last man up in Dunedin’s bullpen. Working with Dunedin Pitching Coach Mark Riggins, McClelland was encouraged to use his two-seam fastball, which he had been discouraged from using previously.  With this pitch back in his arsenal, Jackson gave up only one Earned Run in the month of August as the D-Jays headed for a playoff match up with the Yankees Tampa affiliate.

Unfortunately for Jackson’s parents, they had to give the Florida State League playoffs a miss, which turned into a shortened affair due to the impending arrival of bad weather:

 As Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, we got everything packed and literally rolled north when Jackson returned from Tampa right after the (final regular season) game. We were well ahead of Irma and the fuel crunch and stayed up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for about 3 weeks which allowed Irma to pass and then hit the road west for the AFL (Arizona Fall League, where Jackson was assigned after the season).

When 2018 opened, you could understand if Jackson thought he was headed northeast, to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League. But one of the unheralded aspects of the Blue Jays now highly ranked farm system is that they have quietly been building an impressive depth of relief prospects, a necessity in this day and age of almost disposable bullpen arms.  And perhaps it was just as well, because Michelle, who scours the area around Blue Jays affiliates (as well as Toronto) for RV parks couldn’t find one in New Hampshire that opened before May 1st.

As it turned out, Jackson was on the DL for most of May with back issues, and it took him a few outings to get back into the swing of things.  By July, his velo and command were fully back, and he reeled off six scoreless outings in a row, fanning 12.  He had a hiccup five days ago when he entered a game and left after walking four straight, but McClelland has been one of the organization’s most consistent relief Pitchers since his return from the DL – last night, he threw a scoreless inning.  He typically sits 97-99 with his four seamer, 95-96 with the two-seamer (with movement), 89-91 with his slider, and 84-85 with a circle change.  A source who covers the Florida State League suggests that his four seamer is a little straight, and would be best used as an elevated eye-level changing pitch with two strikes.  Another report suggests that his change up is becoming one of the best in the Florida State League.

Most millenials would be less than thrilled with moving in with their parents, but for Jackson, living in Tim and Michelle’s home on wheels has provided him with an off field environment that allows him to focus full time on his career:

   It’s been a really good experience for me, and a chance every night to step away from baseball and reset mentally for the next day.  It’s a real simple, easy way to live.

For their part, Jackson’s parents are happy to be able to both provide support for their son, and follow his progress closely as he chases his dream.  Tim cites a night last year at St Lucie as a highlight.  They were able to park their RV just beyond the outfield for the series, and watched as Jackson struck out Tim Tebow on a 98 fastball.  Still, there are things they miss:

I’d say there’s a couple things we miss most – being away from our young (3 and 4) and only grand children being number one. Secondly a couple things like taking long, hot showers in our own home (5 gallon water heater in the trailer so it’s military style showering) and having to load up all the laundry weekly to go to a laundromat

Complicating matters was the health of their newest grandchild, Tristin, was born earlier this year in California with an enlarged heart.  He received a heart transplant on May 12th, but the strain of living with heart failure for the first four months of his life had taken an enormous toll on Tristin’s fragile body, and he died on July 2nd.  It was incredibly tough for Tim and Michelle to be so far away, doubly so for Michelle, who was “emotionally torn,” in Tim’s words, about where to be:  with her ailing grandson in California, or with her son and a husband with health issues (Tim is a retired firefighter, many of whom have had job-related health complications).

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Jackson and his Great Dane Grizzly enjoy some quality post-game time together. Tim McClelland photo

Where does Jackson McClelland go from here?  He doesn’t have a lot left to prove after over a full calendar year in High A.  To be sure, the Blue Jays would like to see him continue to develop his pitches, but why isn’t McCloser pitching at a higher level?  There are a couple of possible explanations.  For starters, there is a fair amount of depth ahead of him in the New Hampshire pen, including  Zach Jackson, Travis Bergen, and Danny Young, who have all performed solidly for the Fisher Cats.  There are a couple of right handed relievers above McClelland who have not pitched as well this season, but for now, it appears that he’s trapped in a bit of a numbers game.  A cynic might suggest that with McClelland eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall if he’s not placed on the 40-man roster, the Blue Jays might be content to keep him in High A, as teams may be less inclined to take a Pitcher who hasn’t played above his level.  That’s a strategy the team has used in the past with Starters, but they haven’t done so in recent memory with a Reliever.  Or perhaps the team just wants McClelland to continue to pitch in a place where he’ll get consistent reps.  Since they sent him to the Arizona Fall League last year, you would have to think that they consider him a prospect, and he fits into their future plans.

Not many minor league players get a chance to live in accommodations that allow them not to worry about adequate food or a comfortable place to sleep.  And even fewer parents get an opportunity to watch their sons work their way up an organization’s ladder.  Whether Jackson McClelland’s next stop is in New Hampshire or in some other organization, one thing is certain:  mom and dad will be packing up the RV and following him, all the way to the majors.

Jays Receive Prospect Value for Oh

The Blue Jays received OF Forrest Wall, and 1B Chad Spanberger, the Colorado Rockies’ 13th and 24th ranked prospects, respectively, for reliever Seunghwan Oh.

Originally drafted as a 2B (the 35th player chosen in 2014, the highest ever selection for a player at that position since the draft was reduced to one phase in 1987), Wall had a smashing pro debut in the Pioneer League, and was named to loop’s 2nd best prospect. Wall’s play at Second was underwhelming, so the Rockies moved him to CF last year.  He injured his shoulder making a diving catch early last season, and was done for the year.

Baseball America‘s assessment after ranking him the organization’s 18th prospect heading into 2018:

Wall has struggled to live up to his draft pedigree as a gifted hitter. He has a solid feel for contact but little power and does not drive the ball. He has plus speed to make it work as a singles hitter with a lot of stolen bases, although the Rockies are optimistic he can grow into extra-base power as he gets stronger. Defensively, Wall was nearly unplayable at second base and labrum surgery on his right shoulder in high school sapped his arm strength. Wall has hope to make it as a contact and speed-type, but now has major surgery on both shoulders to deal with and needs to find a defensive home. He is expected to be healthy for the start of 2018.

An early look at Wall as he repeated the Cal League for a third time by baseballcensus.com:

Bigger and stronger this year; body seems more underneath him than in years past, with better musculature and hopefully better durability in turn. Throwing arm looks considerably stronger in the outfield — a big development considering it’s been a major question mark the last few years. Speed is there as much as ever both in the outfield and on the bases; still leading off for Lancaster this year and picked up right where he left off with hard, aggressive base running in my early looks … Biggest development is significantly more aggression early in his approach at the plate; now a first and second pitch swinger on purpose this year; trying to be more aggressive to hit good pitches given to him early rather than work counts as he had in the past. Swing can still do damage; some loft power is there and plenty of gap-to-gap pop, especially to his pull side and especially considering his speed. Forrest Wall is behind schedule after a couple High-A hiccups, but if things go right in 2018 he won’t be in Lancaster for long, and there’s still time for him to get back on the prospect track for the Colorado Rockies — though the window is closing.

It would appear in Wall that the Blue Jays are getting a prospect who has lots of upside, but has had his development stall, and it’s becoming questionable as to whether he will ever meet it.  Promoted to AA Hartford after 47 games with Lancaster, Wall’s line has been a low .206/.289/.359.

Spanberger, a 15th round pick last year, is a bat-first player.  BA’s take:

Power is Spanberger’s lone plus tool. He is physically imposing at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and can turn around premium velocity and send it a long way. His below-average feel for hitting pushed him down draft boards despite his raw power, and that also showed up with 71 strikeouts in his pro debut. Spanberger is a work in progress defensively at first, but has embraced the challenge.

A report from baseballcensus.com late last year:

Slightly open stance at start with slow load and small leg kick; short to the ball, long through it with simple, efficient stroke that lets his hands do the work. Feel for barrel helps lift ball with authority, predominantly to pull side. Over-aggressive at times and will hack dead red early in count regardless of where pitch is, but feel for hitting the ball with authority and bat speed to back it up in most scenarios. Well balanced throughout swing mechanics with good, high finish to help lift ball.

Sent to the Low A South Atlantic League this year, Spanberger has put up a line of .315/.363/.579, and leads the league in Slugging, OPS, RBI and Total Bases.  The question is why those numbers haven’t led to a promotion to a higher level.  A 12.4% K rate is decent for a guy with his power, so perhaps the presence of 1B Tyler Nevin (son of former MLBer Phil) has something to do with Spanberger’s long stay in the Sally.  JJ Cooper of BA tweeted that Spanberger was being showcased:

Spanberger’s totals are exciting, but we’ll have to see how he fares against higher level Pitching.  His bat is really his only calling card.

 

A player to be named later, or cash considerations on the part of Colorado will eventually complete the deal.  For now, the Rocks get a stabilizing force in their inconsistent bullpen, and the Blue Jays get a pair of players who should at least strengthen some minor league lineups.

 

Blue Jays Last 10 Prospect Hot Sheet

Hey, folks – time to see who the hottest 5 players were in the Blue Jays farm system over the past week and a half.  This does not necessarily replace the usual Top 10 rankings.

1.  Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Buffalo

Once an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery, Reid-Foley has had a serious coming out party in 2018, and continued his helium ways with two gems over the past week, and was named International League Pitcher of the Week.

On July 17th, SRF allowed one run and as many hits over 6 innings, fanning 5, and followed that up with six scoreless frames on the 22nd, allowing only a pair of hits while striking out 7.  Just as impressive was his (for him) low walk total – 3 – over those two starts.

There are many that suggest that if/when JA Happ is dealt, Reid-Foley will step right into his place on the 40-man and in the rotation.

Not so fast, we say.  Pitch economy still is an issue for Reid-Foley, who has pitched into the 7th inning only 4 times over 20 starts this year.  Yes, you say that pitch counts probably are a factor, and they most assuredly are, and we think that since Thomas Pannone is already on the 40, he may be a suitable replacement for Happ at least in the short term, if the team deems him ready after his return from a PED suspension.  Reid-Foley doesn’t have to be put on the 40 until after the season to avoid the Rule 5, and with this team all but out of a playoff race, it wouldn’t hurt to keep SRF at AAA for the rest of the season.

2.  Jordan Groshans 3B/SS, GCL Jays

The 1st round pick has not disappointed in his pro debut, posting a line of .500/.542/.800 over his last ten, boosting him to an impressive .370/.442/.580 so far in the Gulf Coast League.

With Vancouver and Bluefield both looming as playoff contenders later this summer, it’s highly likely that Groshans will be joining one of those teams.  We look forward to speaking to Scouting Director Steve Sanders about him later this week.

3.  Jordan Romano, RHP, New Hampshire

Romano was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after tossing a pair of gems for the Fisher Cats.

The Markham, ON native was the Eastern Division Starter at the EL All Star game, after a 9-0, 2.04 first half.  He’s hit a bit of a wall since then, but after giving up only two Earned Runs over his last two starts over 14.2 IP, he may have found a higher gear.

His second start of the week, facing the Senators’ Harrisburg affiliate, was a thing of beauty.  Romano tossed a career-high 8 innings, giving up no runs, three hits, and fanning a season-high 8.  He retired the final 12 hitters he faced.

Left off the 40 man last fall, the Blue Jays will have a decision to make with Romano this November.  Some teams may be interested in taking a chance on him and converting him to relief if he is exposed to the Rule 5.

4.  Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Buffalo

Once the heir-apparent to the 1B job in Toronto, Tellez’ off and on field difficulties last year led to a disappointing season, and he fell off the prospect radar.

A .370/.400/.889 week and a half, with 4 HRs may not have restored all of Tellez’ former prospect lustre, but surely it’s a step in the right direction.  A current line of .260/.335/.432 still is short of expectations set at the lower levels of this system.

5.  Rodrigo Orozco, OF, Dunedin

He may have been overshadowed by more toolsier players in his six years in the Blue Jays system, but all the Panamanian (.281 career average, .371 OBP)  has done is hit and get on base.

With 10 hits over his past 5 games, including a 4-4 night on July 21st, Orozco slashed .500/.552/.654 over his last 10 games.  With that outburst, Orozco has pushed his average on the season to .303, and has added 14 stolen bases.

Schneider the Right Man to Take the Blue Jays Forward

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Trentonian.com photo

The Blue Jays have a prospect who has steadily climbed through their minor league system, and is poised to head to the majors before long.

We’re not talking about Danny Jansen, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, or Bo Bichette (although all three have played for him).  We’re talking about AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ Manager John Schneider, who is one of the top Managerial prospects in the game.

Schneider was a Catcher in the Jays system from 2002-2007, until injuries forced him into retirement.  He stayed in the organization as a Catching Instructor.  In 2008, he was named the GCL Jays Hitting Coach, and took over as Manager a year later, and was the youngest at that position in all of Minor League Baseball at the time.

Schneider has continually progressed up the Blue Jays system, with stops at Vancouver, Lansing, and Dunedin, where he led the team to the first Florida State League title in the team’s 33 year history.

Along the way, he’s worked with Jansen, Guerrero, and Bichette, along with Ryan Borucki, Cavan Biggio, T.J. Zeuch, Jon Harris, Max Pentecost, and Jonathan Davis.  And he’s gained a solid reputation as a player’s Manager in the process.  From an observer close to the team, here are a couple of examples:

-A pitcher was really struggling and instead of (Pitching Coach Mark) Riggins going out to the mound, Schneider did and got the kid to laugh along with the infielders. Pitcher relaxed and continued on in the game.

-In Lansing a couple of years ago, he thought the team was too loose and unfocused, laying around on the couches and playing ping pong like everything was ok. So he had the ping pong table removed and all of the couches removed and the players had to earn them back.

– In the midst of a terrible 9 game losing streak last season, he told the entire team the next night’s game was at 6:30 and not to show up until 6:00. Result; broke the losing streak and that team went off on a tear that won the FSL championship.

 

With the Blue Jays likely finally to get the go-ahead from Rogers for a full-on rebuild, the composition of the 25-man roster looks to be significantly younger from the current one.  Manager John Gibbons has worked with young players throughout his post-playing career, but one wonders if he has the will to go through another rebuild at this point, or if he’s the right man for the job.  A veteran Manager might be the cure for an underperforming veteran-laden team, and the team probably owes it to Gibbons to let him pursue other opportunities if his heart isn’t into a tear down.

Many have thought former MLB Manager Eric Wedge, currently serving as a field co-ordinator/advisor in the Player Development department, has always been a Manager-in-waiting for the team.  Truth be told, Wedge has not been in charge in a dugout since 2013, and at 50, is more than a dozen years older than Schneider.  And is baseball terms, that’s a significant gap.  Players of this era don’t respond well to the old methods, which sometimes seems to mainly consist of yelling.  That’s not to say that Wedge comes from the school, but Schneider has proven that he’s much more in touch with the mix of millennials that will soon form the core of the Blue Jays roster.

The knock against Schneider is that he’s never been in the majors in any capacity.  Some might argue that his skills might be better developed if he spent some time as an MLB coach first.  That would mean an opening would have to be created on the Toronto staff (I know many of you could suggest a candidate).  Schneider does have over 800 games of experience as an MiLB Manager, and knowing the players he’ll likely get getting from the minors has to be a huge advantage – he knows their respective strengths and weaknesses, and already has their respect. A seasoned bench coach would likely be a huge benefit to him as het gets to know the league. If it’s time to make a clean sweep and get on with the rebuild, the most obvious change should be at the top.  Schneider has won throughout the system, and has contributed greatly to the development of many of the team’s Top 10 prospects.  He’s widely regarded throughout the organization, as well as minor league baseball.  As a rookie Manager, he’s bound to make mistakes, but like his young charges, he’ll have a chance to grow.  As one of the top Managerial prospects in the minors, he may not last long if the Blue Jays don’t soon promote him.