Vancouver Places 4 in BA’s Northwest League Top 20

Logan Warmoth – MLB Pipelin

You can forgive Vancouver Canadians’ fans for being a bit spoiled.

The team won three consecutive Northwest League titles after they swtiched affiliation to the Blue Jays in 2011, and just missed a fourth in 2014.

2015 and 2016 were lean, sub .500 seasons for the short-season club, and there were some grumblings that the Blue Jays were not sending top prospects to the Lower Mainland despite setting Northwest League attendance records both seasons.

2017 saw the team smash their own gate record once again, drawing an incredible average of over 6300 fans per game as the team returned to the post season, and won their fifth NWL crown in front of a boisterous home crowd.  More importantly for fans of the big club, according to Baseball America, five top prospects played at The Nat this season.

SS Logan Warmoth led the group, placing 6th on BA’s list.  The first of two first round picks the Blue Jays had last June, the 22nd overall pick did not disappoint, looking very much like a future big leaguer, despite some initial concerns about his eventual position:

Most believe Warmoth has the range and athleticism to stick at shortstop, with more than enough arm strength to handle the position, while others view him as more of an offensive second baseman. At the plate, Warmoth often looks to pull the ball, as most of his power is to his pull-side. But Vancouver manager Rich Miller said Warmoth did a better job of covering the outside part of the plate and hitting the ball to all fields as the season progressed. He’s smart hitter with a quick bat and has shown the aptitude to make adjustments.

Warmoth does not have one outstanding tool; you need to watch a larger body of his work to truly appreciate his skills.  In viewing him over a half dozen games this year, he showed that he makes a lot of solid contact.  His reactions to batted balls are good, although he seemed to lack that explosive first step to allow him to get to balls faster.  He may not profile as a first division player, but it’s easy to envision Warmoth as a big leaguer one day, and he adds to the Blue Jays’ depth at Short Stop.

The next Canadian to appear on the list was C Riley Adams at #11.  The June 2017 3rd rounder is an intriguing prospect.  Compared to Matt Wieters because of his 6’4″ frame, Adams is an athletic prospect who can be termed raw behind the plate.  His blocking and receiving skills are still a work in progress, but he made progress this summer.  His work with 1st rounder Nate Pearson in the C’s final home game showed an observer that his pitch framing is a part of his skill set most in need of work, although in fairness to Adams, he did not work with many Pitchers with Pearson’s velo as a collegian.

At the plate, Adams has some holes in his swing that make for some swing-and-miss, but BA feels he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat.  Adams is rawer than Warmoth, and may not move through the system as quickly, but he too has the look of a future MLBer.

Two C’s checked in at the bottom of the list.  SS Kevin Vicuna, a 2014 IFA who was more noted for his glove, hit reasonably well at Vancouver (.280/.333/.307) and in a late-season promotion to Lansing , was ranked at 19.  At 20th was OF Reggie Pruitt, a 2015 24th rounder whose draft stock had fallen to his commitment to Vanderbilt.  Pruitt has struggled at the plate through his first three minor league seasons, but began to make more consistent contact in the second half.  A burner on the bases and a ballhawk in the Outfield, Pruitt led the NWL in steals.  His ability to make more contact (26% K rate this year) will determine his future.

One name was absent from the list, and that was RHP Pearson, who did not have enough innings to qualify.  Pearson and his triple digit fastball were no match for NWL hitters, and had he qualified,  he may have been one of the top three prospects.  Pearson is a legit top-of-the-rotation arm, depending on the development of his secondary pitches to complement his overwhelming heat.


While we’re talking about the C’s, here are a couple of final thoughts…

much was made in the aftermath of the C’s final game about the Blue Jays letting Manager Rich Miller go.  Miller has been a loyal employee, stepping in to take over the reigns when Manager John Schneider had to take a leave of absence during the C’s first championship run in 2011.  Miller, a baseball lifer who has been in the game for 44 years, did not see the firing coming.  I made several attempts to reach Rich (I wanted to talk about his time managing a young Catcher by the name of John Gibbons in the Sally League in the early 80s as well as the title this year), and he was willing to speak, but after several missed emails/calls, it was obvious that he was done with the matter and ready to move on.  Turnover is a fact of life in minor league baseball, and the Blue Jays are no exception, frequently turning over some or all of their staffs at each affiliate from one year to the next.  Miller seems to have done a favour to the organization by stepping in during the 2011 season, and he really enjoyed his role as a senior adviser between Managing gigs.  It’s not so much a shame that he would not be returning after winning a title; it’s more unfortunate that he was let go by the organization after doing so.  Miller is a savvy baseball man, and he still wants to work – it’s highly likely another organization will pick him up.

-Blue Jays fans have gained quite a bit of notoriety for taking over Safeco Field when their team pays their annual visit to the Mariners.  While it’s quite a site to see, I would suggest that for any Jays’ fan’s bucket list, a trip to Nat Bailey to see the C’s should be on it.  The Nat is a quaint old ballpark, and while it pales to some other state-of-the-art facilities elsewhere in the Blue Jays system, there is no other atmosphere that compares to it.  And unlike Toronto, Vancouver is a relative urban oasis.  A short drive in just about any direction puts you in the wilderness.  Stanley Park, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain (the Grouse Grind climb is a must for Mrs C and I every time we visit, but is not for the faint of heat) all beckon.


GTA Product Panas Heads Blue Jays Contingent to Australia


Connor Panas – Future Blue Jays photo

Toronto’s own Connor Panas, who had a breakout season in the Florida State League this season, will join fellow Blue Jays farmhands LHPs Tayler Saucedo and Dan Lietz shortly on the long flight to Australia, where the trio will suit up for the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League.

The Blue Jays have had a partnership with the ABL dating back to the second season of its revived existence in 2011-12.  Current Major Leaguers Didi Gregorius and Kevin Kiermaier have spent time with the Cavalry.  Panas, who attended Etobicoke High School and played his travel ball with the Toronto Mets before attending Canisius, was taken in the 9th round of the 2015 draft, will become the 4th Canadian to play for Canberra.

The ABL had a rocky 2016-17 season.  At the outset of the league’s re-birth in 2011-12, MLB had a 75% ownership stake in the league.  Their 5 year agreement with the ABL ran out prior to last season, and the league faced an uncertain future when their CEO was fired on the eve of the season opener.  With a reduced schedule and new leadership, the ABL appears to be on better footing this year, although baseball ranks behind a number of sports in the minds in the nation’s sporting public.  The ABL is a cornerstone of development in Australian baseball.

The Blue Jays have typically sent prospects who have missed development time, or need a challenge to help boost their development.  Anthony Alford was sent to Canberra after giving up his football dreams in the fall of 2014, while Jason Leblebijian went from non-prospect to fringe MLB super-utillity guy at least in part on the strength of this ABL MVP season in 2015-16.  Former Jays farmhand C Jack Murphy is a legend in Canberra, leading the team to a league title in his 2014-15 MVP season.

Panas was a post-season Florida State League All Star, leading the league in Home Runs and Flyball Rate, and was second in Slugging.  He credits a change in mechanics, which allowed him to track pitches better, to his success this year:

 When I have the least amount of head movement that’s when I’m at my best because I recognize pitches early and I’m able to square them up more often. Limiting my movement and simplifying everything has been what stands out the most.

With veteran slugging 1B Boss Moanaroa set to return to Canberra, Panas will likely split his time between the corner OF spots and First, with some DH duty in between.  ABL Pitchers tend to be veterans for the most part, so Panas should see a pretty steady diet of off speed stuff (“It’s like they pitch you backwards,” Alford said after his time in the league).  Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim is optimistic Panas’ strong second half will carry over into his time in Australia:

Connor had a positive season, and we’re hoping that he continues right where he left off.  He was able to repeat his swing and get to his power, and hopefully he continues to get at-bats and valuable game experience in Australia.

Panas, for his part, is looking forward to the experience.  While waiting to switch flights at the Los Angeles, he told Future Blue Jays:

Hoping to just develop all around as a player ! Always room for improvement so strong extra reps in the offseason is perfect to help my development.

Drafted in the 5th round by the Blue Jays in 2013, Lietz has pitched almost exclusively in relief.  He has the build, repertoire, and mentality of a potential back of the bullpen arm; Lietz has shown flashes of dominance, but has not quite lived up to his Baseball America draft report:

In a down draft year in Illinois, Lietz is the best bet for the Prairie State to produce a pick in the first 10 rounds, a reflection of both his talent and his signability. Undrafted last year out of an Illinois high school, he barely attracted any scouting attention in the fall, when he worked at 85-88 mph. But the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder’s velocity took a huge jump this spring, with his fastball ranging from 88-93 mph with run and sink. Said one scout of Lietz’s stuff: “Everything is crooked.” He gets hard bite on a slider he can throw to the back foot of righthanders, and his changeup has similar action to his other pitches. He also employs a curveball, though it lags behind his other pitches. Even with the life on his pitches, Lietz has no trouble filling the strike zone. He issued just six walks in his first 61 innings.

Canberra recently re-signed veteran closer Steven Kent, so Lietz will likely pitch primarily in long relief or a set-up role.

Saucedo, a 21st round 2015 pick, has the long, lean (6″5″/185) build that the Blue Jays covet in a starting Pitcher.  Not possessed of a blazing fastball, Saucedo has filled a swingman role over his past two minor league seasons, and will likely do so with Canberra.

The ABL season begins in mid-November.  Play takes place from Thursdays to Sundays, and the regular season winds up at the end of January.  The league has cut back on its streaming of games from a couple of seasons ago, but the Cavalry will be featured in at least a dozen games.  

It’s a long way to go, and import players face the prospect of an American Thanksgiving and Christmas away from family and friends, but the ABL experience has proven benficial to many players.


2 Bluefield Jays Named to BA’s Top 20 Appy League Prospects

Bluefield Daily Telegraph Photo

The Blue Jays fielded one of their strongest teams at their Appalachian League affiliate Bluefield since the West Virgina town joined the organization in 2011.  Bluefield won 46 games and took the Eastern Division title, but dropped their semi-final to the Yankees’ Pulaski affiliate.

With a good mix of 2017 draftees and international free agents from previous seasons, Bluefield finished 2nd in both team batting average and ERA.  Ryan Noda won the batting title,  and led the league in runs, hits, bases on balls (by a considerable margin),  and in OBP, Slugging, and OPS as well.

One might think that such a season might land Noda at or near the top of Baseball America‘s Top 20 prospects.  But on a list geared to projection (and hence, youth), Noda came in a respectable 12th.  The League MVP was termed a steal by BA, falling from a top three rounds projection to the 15th  after a mediocre college season.  Noda has plus bat speed, and a patient approach that allows him to be selective and wait for his pitch.  The downside of that is a K rate (21.7%) slightly higher than his BB rate.  Noda played 1B this year, but played both 1B and the corner outfield in college.  He will likely share time at First with Kacy Clemens at Lansing next year, and will see time in the Outfield in order to get his bat in the lineup.

A second Bluefield Jay to hit BA’s Top 20 was OF McGregory Contreras at 19.  Since the Blue Jays broke the bank to pay Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s bonus in 2015, only $10K was available to sign the toolsy-but-raw Contreras.  Contreras played all three OF positions for Bluefield, and would have mostly played CF if not for the presence of premium defender Chavez Young.  BA had this evaulation:

Contreras has what many coaches in baseball would call “sneaky power”. It doesn’t stand out in games just yet and you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at him, but he lets it fly during batting practice. His lean, athletic body and swift bat speed entail future average power. He has strong wrists that work well to catch up to inside fastballs. Contreras’ bat-to-ball ability is hindered right now by pitch recognition issues, but that should grow to be average as well.

Bluefield was Contreras’ first stateside experience, as the Blue Jays felt he had showed enough to skip the GCL. Not having seen him play, but considering his size, tools, and experience, I think Edward Oliveras, who had a breakthrough year with Lansing in 2017, is a good comp for Contreras.

Bluefield had several other players who merited consideration for BA’s Top 20 list.  C/1B Yorman Rodriguez hit a sizzling .346/.374/.429, and was probably the league’s best hitter not named Ryan Noda, but his defence was a concern.  Originally a Catcher, Rodriguez played more 1B this season, and he was termed raw behind the plate as a result.  BA named LHP Randy Pondler the league’s Most Valuable Pitcher, but his 6.6K/9 probably kept him off the list.  Pondler led the loop in ERA and GB rate (59.1%), indicating that he pitches to contact, but his command and secondaries likely overmatched hitters in the pitch recognition-challenged league.  Along with RHP Maximo Castillo, he should compete for a job at Lansing next year.



Mark Shapiro on the State of the Blue Jays

Mark Shapiro Photo

Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro recently welcomed Future Blue Jays to his surprisingly compact 3rd floor office for  what was going to be an overview of the team’s minor league system.  As the last warm rays of Indian Summer danced off of the Lake Ontario waves outside his south-facing window, the half-hour conversation turned into a general discussion about the 2017 Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre, and where the organization is heading.

Construction on Southbound Highway 400 and delays on the TTC tried to conspire to keep a guy from the north from arriving at the appointed time, but a good sprint from St Andrew Station allowed me to make it with seconds to spare.

With the regular season over, and the winter meetings still over a month away, this is something of a down time in the front offices of non-postseason teams.  Still, the Blue Jays suite was a hive of activity.  Assistant General Manager Andrew Tinnish was in this morning, fresh from trips to the Dominican and Japan earlier this month.  General Manager Ross Atkins said hello as he was stirring his coffee at a counter just outside of Shapiro’s office.

Shapiro has acknowledged that while the 2017 season was a disappointment, it was not unexpected, terming the club “fragile” because of the age of the 25-man roster, and a lack of upper level minor league talent.  Shapiro has an eye of the future,  stating that, “We’re trying to construct a development system that maximizes the potential of our players,” and he says that he’s encouraged by this year’s draft, the work of Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish (who heads up international scouting and player development), and by the development being done at the minor league level.  “That building effort is a long-term play,” he added for good measure.  Shapiro does not believe in taking short cuts when it comes to building a winner.

As far as progress toward building a new stadium in Dunedin and vastly upgrading the minor league complex, Shapiro feels that Dunedin is, “Making significant progress – we’re really close to pushing across the goal line.”  Negotiations have been lengthy, and Shapiro has received some intense grilling at some meetings, but he feels that’s part and parcel of dealing with three levels of government to obtain financing for the project.  Despite the lengthy time it has taken to secure funding to move the projects ahead, Shapiro is excited about the possibilities:

  We are close to getting a significant renovation that I think has a chance to be a game-changer on both resources and culture for our player development system…ultimately, it’s shifting Dunedin away from just being a spring training site, where we prepare our players for the season, to a 365 days of the year, state-of-the-art training and rehabilitation centre, and a base for our US operations.

While some optimistic estimates suggested that shovels at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium might have been in the ground this past September, Shapiro is hesitant to forecast a date, but he says he is, “confident it will happen in the next calendar year.”  When asked where the Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays will play during stadium reconstruction, he wouldn’t commit to a location, but did say that it will depend on how the demolition/construction is staged, and that the club has thoroughly discussed contigency plans, and has one firmly in place.

As far as the Rogers Centre renovations are concerned, Shapiro states that they are still in, “the design phase,” but the actual implementation of any upgrades is, “up to Rogers – where it fits in the hierarchy of their capital needs.”  He does promise that it will be a more fan-friendly remodelling:

   The general theme is – let’s change this from a multi-purpose stadium to a baseball ballpark as best you can within four walls and a roof… fairness to our owners, we’re the only team that’s asked to do it without any public subsidies.

He did add that the Rogers Centre is the last non-renovated stadium of its generation.  To those of us who grew up with the old makeshift facility that was Exhibition Stadium, that was a bit of a revelation, but it does speak to the need to bring the Dome up to modern standards.

As far as grass is concerned in any Rogers Centre renovations, it’s not a priority for Shapiro, mainly because of the cost (again, which would not be subsidized by the public) – the Rogers Centre has no drainage, and as one of the lowest-lying points on Toronto’s waterfront would mean huge costs just to install proper drainage systems.  Shapiro puts the price of that installation at around 30% of any potential Rogers Centre overhaul.  Factor into that a huge chunk of the annual operating budget, and the fact that the roof is closed for over 5 months of the year, and it makes grass a very costly upgrade.  Outgoing Blue Jays President Paul Beeston, of course, threw this out to an eager public after a number of disappointing seaons several years ago. As Andrew Stoeten said at Blue Jays Nation, “what was an olive branch became a landmine to his eventual successor.”

Shapiro pointed out that huge advances have been made in artificial turf design, and the dirt portion of the infield has led to a significant elimination of the former artificial turf bounce.  In an ideal world, he added, the Blue Jays would be playing on grass, but in the real world, it’s a very low priority.  Many have suggested that the turf might dissuade free agents from coming to Toronto, but that’s not how Shapiro and Atkins prefer to construct a roster, anyway.

Shapiro was also asked about the recent group of employees who were let go, which has garnered a fair amount of attention (much of it negative) in the media.  Included in the cuts were several long time employees who also happened to be Canadian.  It was obvious to see that he was understandably tiring of the subject, or at least the attention it was receiving.   He did point out that many of the job losses were on the business side of the operation, and he credited VP of Business Ops Andrew Miller with not making wholesale changes when he took over that portfolio two years ago.  Not to drag this issue out any further, but times change, and when a new regime takes over the management of any business, personnel changes are almost to be expected.  Shapiro has taken heat for bringing in three former Cleveland employees (Atkins, Miller, Eric Wedge) shortly after coming to Toronto, but he has hired a number of people on the baseball side from other organizations (Gil Kim, Steve Sanders, Mike Murov), and has kept quite a few on (Tony LaCava, Dana Brown,  Tinnish – a Canadian).  It’s unfortunate to see people out of work, and a cynic might suggest that some Toronto media outlets looking for clicks thought they would capitalize on that.  The business side decided to go in a new direction, and the skill sets of some of the now former employees didn’t align with that.   Shapiro is aware of the sensitivity of the topic, however, and says hiring and developing local talent at all levels of the organization is a priority.

Our talk shifted to the Blue Jays minor league system at this point, and it was clear that this was an area of extreme comfort for the former farm director.  When I told him how I preferred to watch minor league games on my laptop on nights where the big club wasn’t doing so well,  Shapiro admitted that he sometimes does the same thing.  The Blue Jays are very pleased with the Player Development Contracts they have with their minor league affiliates.  All of those agreements are up for renewal after next season, but Shapiro expects that they all will be renewed.  We discussed the possibility of Ottawa becoming an Eastern League affiliate – Shapiro was not aware of the details involving a possible move of an existing EL franchise to the nation’s capital a few years ago, which died for lack of desire on City Council’s part (in an election year) to fund upgrades to their ballpark to bring it up to MiLB standards.  It certainly is not a direction to move towards for the Blue Jays at the moment, but it was obvious that the idea of a team in the nation’s capital piqued his interest.

The crown jewel of the Blue Jays organization, and perhaps his greatest accomplishment to date, is the establishment of the High Performance department, and if not for another appointment coming up, I suspect he would have talked about it for some time.  Shapiro believes that the HP group gives the Blue Jays a huge competitive advantage, and the improvements at Dunedin will be a huge part of that.

We talked next about the futures of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette.  Vladdy Jr has said that he wants to be in the majors before he’s 20, and with the rapid ascent of Rafael Devers, who was promoted to the Red Sox this summer at that age, I asked if such a plan was possible for Guerrero.  Not one to be pinned down on the subject, Shapiro noted that there was an opening for Devers in Boston this year (implying that he already has a pretty decent 3rd Baseman), and said that it was unlikely that we would see Jr in Toronto next year, but:

If we find ourselves in the middle of a pennant race next summer, and Vladdy had been successful in the minors up to that point, there’s always a possibility that we could promote him.

Finally, with our time almost up, I asked what the chances were of the Blue Jays landing prized Japanese star Shohei Otani, who the team has been extensively courting and scouting for some time.  Shapiro acknowleged that the team has put in their work on the future star, but admitted that he wasn’t sure if Toronto was a good fit for a Japanese player, with the implication being that markets like L.A, Chicago, or New York would have the inside track.  This is not surprising, but is disappointing, because with the new CBA rules, it appeared at least that the Blue Jays had a fighting chance this time around, unlike with previous Japanese players.

Shaprio is upbeat about the future in Toronto, pointing out that the Blue Jays have the youngest and most diverse fan base in all of MLB.  How things pan out in the future for the Blue Jays may come down to the head office of Rogers:  how badly do they want to produce a winner?  Will they make the investments necessary to keep the team competitive?  The Blue Jays are only one of two MLB teams owned by corporations, and recent rumblings suggest that they are looking to shed themselves of at least part of their ownership of the team.    Inferring from his body language and comments about dealing with the folks at 333 Bloor St East, that might be a welcome development for Shapiro.  For further reading on the subject, take a look at the excellent article Jon Shell wrote for BP Toronto earlier this summer.  


A personal note:  Shapiro has taken more than his fair share of lumps from the local media (not that he cares at this point in his career, as he noted).  He has always been a stand-up guy to me.  He returns emails, and is more than willing to deal with those in the non-traditional media. Compared to the former face of the franchise, Alex Anthopoulos, he may not be as affable in public, but in conversation, he is warm, genuine, and sincere.  A strong believer in positivity, grit, and resilience, the conference table in his office has a pile of books on that topic in the middle of it.  The white board behind it is full of points on the subject, as well as a note from his 13 year old daughter, a reminder that no matter how he is portrayed in the media, he is a family man, going through the challenge of helping to raise two teenagers in a foreign country.


No Blue Jays Crack BA’s Top 20 GCL Prospects List


Baseball America recently released their Top 20 Gulf Coast League prospects, and after Bo Bichette made the list at number 4 last year (despite missing a month of the short season), no Blue Jays were to be found on the list this time around.

BA’s Ben Badler said that SS Luis De los Santos received consideration, but his pitch recognition needs some work.  He also listed P Emerson Jimenez as a sleeper.  Jimenez appeared in 9 games, fanning 23 in 15 innings.  Originally signed by the Rockies as an infielder, he failed to pass AA, and was released in May.  The Blue Jays signed him a month later, and converted him to Pitching.

OF Dom Abbadessa, who won the league batting title, probably received consideration, but repeating the GCL probably did not help his cause in the minds of the BA panel.  P Maverik Buffo, who dominated hitters likely was viewed as a bit advanced for that level – the list leans more toward projection than it does being an All-Start team.

Top draft pick C Hagen Danner struggled at the plate, and likely didn’t factor in the list.  The 2nd rounder was Toronto’s lone high school draft pick until 1B Patrick Morris was taken in the 14th.  The GCL is typically stocked with teenagers, either from the recent MLB draft, or international players getting their first taste of stateside play.

A Change is as Good as a Rest…..

Welcome to the new – the former

Blogger fit me like my favourite glove, but after five years, like any glove, the pocket was kind of worn, and it was time for a change.

Having written for some sites that have used WordPress in the past, I’m somewhat familiar with it, but web design is something very new to me.  Please bear with me on this learning curve.

I promise to keep my readers up-to-date on the latest developments in the Blue Jays farm system.  I talk to a wide variety of people throughout the system, including players, broadcasters, scouts, and front office executives.  I watch many games online, and make several treks a year to see games in person.

After close to 30 years as an elementary school teacher, I have retired, and will hopefully have even more time to devote to this venture.

Zeuch Continues Impressive Arizona Showing

Twitter photo

TJ Zeuch threw five more shutout innings for Peoria in Arizona Fall League play last night, running his streak to eight scoreless frames.

The Blue Jays first round choice in 2016 was limited to 12 starts for High A Dunedin this year.  Lower back problems sidelined him at the beginning of June, and then a hamstring problem suffered during rehab kept him out of action until August.

Facing elite competition in his first start last week, Zeuch was lights out. He threw three perfect innings, sitting 93-95 with his fastball, and mixing in his slider, change, and curve.  The downward plane on his pitches, coupled with that four-pitch mix, is what prompted MLB Pipeline to rank Zeuch as the Blue Jays’ 5th top prospect.

In his latest start, Zeuch retired 8 of the first 9 hitters he faced.  He gave up a pair of singles in the 4th, and another in the 5th before his night was over.  Zeuch struck out four, walked none, and caused 6 ground ball outs.

Fellow Blue Jays prospect Andrew Case picked up the Win with two innings of scoreless relief in the 7th and 8th, as four Peoria pitches combined on a six-hit shutout.