Lugnuts’ Goldberg-Strassler the Man for Blue Jays Radio Job

mi_baseball_hof_jesse_goldberg-strassler  In 1981, a seasoned 35 year-old minor league play by play announcer joined the Toronto Blue Jays to become part of their radio team with veteran Tom Cheek, and outgoing Hall of Famer Early Wynn.

Howarth became the voice of the franchise after the untimely passing of Cheek in 2005, and became a vital part of the Toronto media landscape.  Health issues forced him to hang up his microphone last week, and while there’s been no news of a search for his replacement, one is likely taking place with the start of the regular season six weeks away.

The Blue Jays are likely considering several candidates, including Mike Wilner, who has gradually taken over some of Howarth’s duties, as well as hosted the contentious Jays Talk call-in show after Jays games.  Elliott Price, who filled in on Expos broadcasts and is a long-time Canadian radio voice, has also been mentioned.

This corner would like to add a name who would make an excellent addition to the Blue Jays radio team:  Lansing Lugnuts’ broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.  There are many parallels between Goldberg-Strassler and Howarth.  Jesse is the same age that Jerry was when he came to Toronto.  Both have impressive minor league resumes – Howarth had seven years of experience as a Pacific Coast League announcer, while Goldberg-Strassler has been Lansing’s play by play voice since 2009, with stops in AA and Indy ball before that.   Both are thorough and professional in their preparation and delivery – having been to a number of minor league parks, no one puts together a pre-game media package like Jesse.  Both are knowledgeable about the game on and off the field, and transmit that understanding of it in a clear, succinct way.  And both have calm, even personalities, which comes across during the game, with voices rising with the excitement of the game, but coming back down and serving as moderating influences after the action has reached its peak.  

Having listened to Jesse for half a dozen seasons, I’ve found that he brings other strengths to his broadcasts.  He’s a great interviewer, easily building a rapport with the prospects he speaks to, and giving those of us who follow them from hundreds of miles away an understanding of where they came from, and what their make-up is like.  One of my favourites is this interview Jesse did with Southpaw Angel Perdomo in 2016.  Perdomo had a beginner’s grasp of English, and he probably had to summon a great deal of courage for him to agree to an interview.  Jesse handled him with aplomb, helping Perdomo with some of his answers, and handling the interview generally with great sensitivity.  Poised and articulate, Jesse fills the air with just the right amount of conversation, whether he’s doing the game by himself or with a broadcast partner. An accomplished author, Jesse has written a Baseball Thesaurus, a tome of baseball terms and their origins that makes for enjoyable reading for anyone who follows the game.

Goldberg-Strassler brings the same affability to his weekly look around the Blue Jays system, Around the Nest, where he talks to the radio voices of the other Toronto minor league affiliates on a weekly basis during the season.  Again, for someone covering the system from afar, he delivers a number of valuable nuggets of information in the half hour podcast.

Jesse is an avid student of the history of the game.  He’s served as Curator of the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame since 2014, and is widely known throughout baseball for his annual re-creation of a Lugnuts game.  Goldberg-Strassler takes listeners back to the early days of baseball radio (where announcers often “called” games in a studio hundreds of miles away from the game by following a ticker-tape summary of it)  by using a baseball, ball glove, broken bats, and canned crowd noises to simulate an actual game that’s taking place (Jesse broadcasts from the team front office, while play by play details are relayed to him by computer).

Having been the Lugnuts’ voice since 2009, Goldberg-Strassler knows the workings of the Toronto minor league system very well.  That would put him in good stead as a major league broadcaster, as he would already have a very good knowledge of most players called up to the major leagues by the Blue Jays.  He would easily be able to share that knowledge with his listeners.

Jerry Howarth is a legend in this country, and deservedly so.  His voice became part of the fabric of most Canadians’ summertime, be it at the beach, on a campsite, on the deck with a cold beverage, mowing the lawn with a set of headphones on, or behind the wheel on a long drive through a Canadian summer night.  His shoes will indeed be large ones to fill.  Just five hours down the 401, across the border, is a worthy successor in Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.

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Blue Jays 2017 MLB Reviews: Brock Lundquist

Lundquist
One of the best mustaches in all of Organized Baseball -milb.com photo

 

A few eyebrows among Blue Jays prospect watchers were raised this off-season when the team dealt two of their more highly regarded lower level farm hands in separate deals designed to bolster the 25-man roster.

Edward Olivares had a breakout year at Lansing and Dunedin.   J.B Woodman, who struggled in Lansing, was still seen as having plenty of upside as a 2016 2nd round pick.  But with good outfield depth at the upper levels of the system, the front office obviously felt there was a wealth of talent below that pair to make dealing them a reasonable gamble.  Young, athletic players like D.J. Neal, Chavez Young, Reggie Pruitt, and Tanner Kirwer gave the team optimism to deal those players.  Add to that group the team’s 6th round choice last year, Brock Lundquist.

Lundquist was a Top 10 Northwoods League prospect after his Freshman year at Long Beach State.  A report from Baseball America at the time observed:

While he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and doesn’t have the massive lift and leverage of a Joey Gallo type, he’s strong all over and has the quick hands to access that strength and give him pop all over the ballpark.

Lundquist has plenty of power potential, but he had trouble accessing that power in his sophomore and junior seasons, as well as in his first year as a pro with Vancouver.  He takes a good path to the ball with his swing, and his bat is quick, but his swing can be long, and he tends to leak on his front side.

 

 

What has kept Lundquist from reaching his power?  Probably the length of his swing, coupled with some issues with pitch recognition.  He makes contact, but last season it was often (50.4%) of the groundball variety.  Improving his ability to pick up off speed pitches would allow him to make more contact, and adding some loft to his swing would help make more of that contact be of a line drive nature.  The Blue Jays do not like to tinker with a player’s mechanics, but you can’t help but wonder if they might suggest he cut down on the leg lift – it seems like it creates some head movement, which can impair his ability to see and track pitches.

Lundquist sees a lot of pitches per at bat, which bodes well for the future.  He has a compact, athletic build, and projects as at least an average corner outfield defender, with enough of an arm to handle Right Field, where he played most of last summer.  The Blue Jays are likely hoping that athleticism coupled with an improved approach at the plate will help him tap into more of that power.

 

Blue Jays 2017 MiLB Reviews: Jon Harris

Jon-Harris-2016
Baseball America photo

2017 was a learning year for RHP Jon Harris.

The 2015 1st round pick had put himself firmly on the prospect radar after a solid 2016 split between Lansing and Dunedin.  The Blue Jays rewarded him with a challenging assignment to AA New Hampshire to begin 2017, and his season stats reflected the struggles he had.

Eastern League hitters batted .292 against Harris, and he was among the league leaders in hits and runs allowed.  By his own admission, Harris was in the middle of the strike zone too much, and hitters made him pay the price.  He also apparently had some mechanical issues – as he raised his hands over his head during his windup, hitters were able to get a good glimpse of his change up grip, and pounded that pitch accordingly.  Harris made an adjustment to hide the pitch better, and his 2nd half results were better.

Harris doesn’t blow hitters away, and relies on pounding the bottom half of the strike zone with his two seamer, complementing it with his change, curve, and slider.  For much of the season, he was getting the two seamer up in the zone.  But there were some good take-aways from his 2017 season:  a 9.9% whiff rate, and only an 18.4% line drive rate.  He didn’t generate the amount of ground ball contact that one would expect, but he still garnered it at about a 45% clip.

Where does Harris go from here?  Does he repeat AA, or do the Blue Jays move him to Buffalo, putting him a rung away from the big leagues?  You certainly could make a case for sending him back to New Hampshire for at least a half season, but his second half results probably are sufficiently encouraging for the club to send him to AAA, where he’ll be a back of the rotation starter.  He will never be a frontline starter, but there’s plenty to like about Harris:  a solid four pitch mix that can turn a lineup over, a good downward plane on his fastball, and a frame that looks like it with a bit more on it could eat up innings.

Atkins Bullish on Top Prospects Not Named Vladdy or Bo

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Homestand Sports photo

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has been pumping up his team’s prospects beyond the obvious top two in recent appearances.

On the west coast last month for the annual Hot Stove Luncheon in Vancouver, Atkins told our friend Charlie Caskey (@CharlieCaskey on Twitter) about 1st rounder Nate Pearson:

“It’s unusual for someone to be, I don’t like the word ‘gifted’, but as talented as he is, so strong and powerful and has the tactical and technical attributes to be elite,” said Atkins. “It’s rare.”

And then last week at Pitch Talks, a Toronto-based gathering of local baseball cognoscenti, Atkins told the audience:

What are we to make of this?  Is the Blue Jays farm system even deeper than we thought?   Pearson “gifted”?  Alford “up there” with Guerrero and Bichette?  Is Atkins giving Blue Jays fans the straight goods, or is he inflating the value of his top prospects, just in case a deal comes along?

The truth is somewhere between those two extremes.

Let’s get one fact straight first:  it’s been a long time (ok, never) since the Blue Jays have had two top prospects of the calibre of Vladdy Jr and Bo.  Both profile as potential impact, first-division, all-star players.  We may not know where they’ll ultimately play, but they are legitimate elite offensive prospects.

Pearson has come a long way in just a little over a year.  Not viewed as a prospect out of high school or even after a mostly nondescript first year of college, a vastly upgraded training program helped him hit 100 in bullpen sessions in the fall of 2016, and the scouting world took notice.  Northwest League hitters were pretty much at his mercy after the Blue Jays selected him – it was a nice change to see a college draftee dominate at that level, because such has not been the case in recent years.   Hitters must be very intimidated just digging in against the mountainous Pearson – I felt uncomfortable just sitting over home plate in Vancouver’s press box watching him.

And while it’s very exciting to dream of Pearson’s high 90s heat at the front of the Blue Jays rotation one day, he has yet to play a year of full season ball, and we should be tempering out expectations just a bit.  There are secondary pitches to develop, as well as adjustments Pearson will have to make as he experiences the ups and downs of taking a regular turn in the rotation for five months.  Is Pearson “gifted”?  Is he “elite”?  Potentially, yes.  Atkins suggested that he would have gone much higher in the draft had teams known they were going to get that kind of performer, and while that’s true, much of his success this year can be attributed at least in part of the careful monitoring of his workload that the Blue Jays – 74 pitches was his highest game total for the season.  There’s every reason to believe that Pearson can fulfill Atkins’ prophecy, but there’s also likely a long way to go before he does.

How about Alford?  Does he compare to Vladdy and Bo?  At first glance, no, but that’s not a slight.  Alford’s game is different from the Slugging Twins’.  He works the count and manages the strike zone, but there is a bit more of a swing-and-miss element to Alford’s approach.  Alford gets on base less often, but his speed can be game-changing, which certainly separates him from Guerrero and Bichette (who are both smart base runners in their own right, but not in Alford’s lane when it comes to foot speed).   In terms of power, there is no comparison, either.  Home Run and/or Extra Base power is often the last tool in a player’s kit to develop, but some reports suggest a lack of loft in Alford’s swing will keep him from consistently reaching double-digit Homer totals.  Alford does use the whole field, but his heat map from 2017 doesn’t suggest a prodigious slugger in the making:

Anthony Alford_HeatMap
mlbfarm.com

 

Defensively, there is little to compare Guerrero/Bichette to Alford either.  Alford has the makings of a premier defender.  Scouts have downgraded his arm, but he gets excellent jumps and reads on balls, and his speed allows him to close quickly.  It’s easy to see him cutting off Doubles to the gap in the Rogers Centre on a regular basis.

Is Alford the potential impact player the other two could possibly one day be?  Yes, but perhaps it’s a question of magnitude.  Guerrero receives grades for his power that you just don’t see on an 18-year-old, and Bichette has the smarts and skills to be a perennial batting title contender.  Alford also has an injury history that could limit his future – his past two seasons have been interrupted for extended periods by injury.  Still, you do get the sense that Alford, who really has only been playing the game full-time for a short period of time, is still on an upward curve in terms of his development, and that maybe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg just yet.

One thing is likely:   Bichette and Guerrero may anchor the middle of the Blue Jays order for the 2020s.  Alford may be a fixture at the top of it.

So, Atkins, who is probably justifiably proud of the strides the team’s farm system has made over the past two seasons, was maybe over-inflating things, but not by a lot.  Pearson does ooze with ace potential, and Alford may in fact be an impact player one day.  Neither is a lock in the mold that Guerrero and Bichette appear to be, but there is plenty to look forward to one day.

Who’s the Next Blue Jays Top 100 Prospect?

Warmoth2017
Logan Warmoth – Clutchlings Photo

After some lean years in terms of elite prospects, these are heady times for Blue Jays fans.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr (4th), Bo Bichette (19th), and Anthony Alford (58th) cracked Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 list earlier today , and just a few hours ago, Fangraphs released their Top 100,  with Guerrero 3rd, Bichette 9th, Alford 36th, Danny Jansen 71st, and Nate Pearson 76th.

To be honest, this space has long been a booster of Jansen’s, and while we anointed him the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future 8 months ago, his inclusion was a bit of a surprise.  Fangraphs is all in, especially with his hit tool:

We’re buying that Jansen’s 2017, which included more walks than strikeouts across three levels of the minors, is a sign of real improvement, perhaps due to the new prescription frames he got before the season.

Earlier this month, Baseball America released what is regarded by many as the standard-bearer of prospect lists.  Guerrero was ranked 3rd, Bichette 8th, Alford 60th, and Pearson came in at 91.   MLB Pipeline had Guerrero 3rd as well, with Bichette 14th,  and Alford 47th.

By this time next year, it’s a safe bet that Bichette and Guerrero will occupy even loftier positions.  Alford will most likely graduate from the list, and Pearson will no doubt continue his ascent.  Who are the Blue Jays prospects most likely to break through can crack the Top 100, representing the next wave of talent in the system?

For your consideration, here are a pair of players – kind of a high/low scenario:

Eric Pardinho

It seems folly to get so excited about a 17-year-old (Pardinho’s birthday was shortly after New Year’s Day), and it may take a year or so before he cracks any Top 100 lists, but there is no doubt that the young Brazilian is headed there.

“A combination of athleticism, great delivery, advanced stuff and feel for pitching,” is how Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish described Pardinho in November.   “I’ve never seen a 16 year old kid with that combination of skills.”

Pardinho hit 94 as a 15 year old in a WBC Qualifier a year and a half ago, and according to Tinnish hit 97 in short outings in the Dominican prospects league this summer.  But it’s just not that fastball – it’s his mechanics, the ability to command that fastball, and complement it with secondaries and pitchability.

There is every reason to believe that Pardinho will begin his career stateside this summer, most likely starting in the GCL.  And while one should always be cautious with young International Free Agents, the Blue Jays have had a good track record with them – namely Franklin Barreto, Richie Urena, Roberto Osuna, and some guy named Vladdy Jr.

 

Logan Warmoth

While Pardinho may not make any Top 100 lists until 2020, there’s a good chance Warmoth may work his way into the back end of some a year from now.

You might walk away from watching one game’s worth of the 2017 1st rounder’s work and wonder what the fuss is.  Taking in a larger sample might change your mind.  According to Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays clearly got their man:

He’s a player we’ve scouted for a long time….he wasn’t a prospect out of High School, but he steadily improved at North Carolina, and that really showed this year.  He’s very steady and a well-rounded player, with a chance to stay at SS and hit for power.  His make up is off the charts, and he has the intangibles to be a top of the lineup hitter.

Warmoth does not have one overwhelming tool  – BA called him a “bucket full of 50-grade tools,” in naming him the Blue Jays 8th overall prospect this fall, but he makes consistently hard contact and has a good approach at the plate.  In the field, scouts are split as to whether he sticks at SS or moves across to 2B, but there was plenty of promise in his footwork, arm, and reactions to ground balls to suggest he can stay there.

While none of this may scream Top 100 material, there’s plenty to make one believer that Warmoth will be a productive MLBer one day.  He had to fight a tendency to be a little pull happy last year, but otherwise there are no holes in his game.  His power will likely continue to develop, and he should make huge strides this year, most likely with Dunedin.

 

Notes From Around the System

It may be hard to believe that we’re less than Russ Martin’s Number away from Opening Day, but it’s coming like a freight train through the dead of winter, which is what those of us in Southern Ontario are in the midst of right now.  However, having spent a week in the frozen historical and gastronomical wonderland that is Quebec City, I’m not one to complain.

The Blue Jays have yet to confirm when their minor league players are to report to camp at the Bobby Mattick Complex, but it’s safe to say the dates will be somewhat similar to Oakland’s.  The Athletics’ Pitchers and Catchers report on March 3rd, Position Players on the 9th, and their first games will be on the 13th.  If you are heading to Florida to watch the Blue Jays in action in March, a little research on your part could land you at the Mattick (or any of the other complexes in the area) for some minor league action.  There are usually a pair of games going on at once, and you can sometimes catch a rehabbing MLBer in action.  Admission is free.

The Blue Jays have invited 13 non-roster players to Spring Training with the big club.  These players will not necessarily be auditioning for a major league job – the purpose of inviting them is to give them a taste of big league life, and to shorten the workdays for the regulars.  When asked who made the biggest impression on him two years ago during his first tour of a big league camp, Anthony Alford without hesitation answered Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.  Alford was impressed with their work ethic, and how they went about their daily routine in preparing for the season.

Among the invitees this year are:

P Andrew Case – there was thought that the New Brunswick native would be added to the 40 man roster last fall after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he was left off, and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft.  Case is not a big strikeout guy, but the reliever finished the season at AAA, and it would not be a surprise to see him make his MLB debut this year.  He just seems to get guys out wherever he plays.

P Jose Fernandez – the lefty reliever has always had command issues, and struggled at AA last year, but has LOOGY potential.

P Chad Girodo – sidewinding southpaw battled injuries in 2017, and spent the bulk of the year at AAA.  Girodo appeared in 14 games for Toronto in 2016.

P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder found too much of the strike zone at AA last year, and Eastern League hitters hit .292 against him.  This is a huge year for Harris, as he will be Rule 5 eligible next fall.

P Sean Reid-Foley – Last season was a learning year for the 2014 2nd rounder, who was one of the youngest players in AA.  His numbers for 2017 don’t look great at first glance, but he was a very effective Pitcher from mid-May to the end of the season.  There are some who suggest his control issues might mean an eventual move to the bullpen, but indications are the Blue Jays have every intention of continuing to use SRF in a starter’s role in Buffalo this year.

P Jordan Romano – the Markham native has long been one of our favourite Blue Jays prospects.  He was a regular correspondent during his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015, giving insight into the process.  He’s been a K/inning guy over the last two seasons as a starter, and while some suggest that with his over-the-top delivery and still-in-development secondaries, he too might profile as a bullpen arm,  he’ll continue as a starter in AA this year.  You don’t give up on a guy that’s missed that many bats.

P Chris Rowley – was one of the most effective Pitchers in the system last year, and completed his remarkable rise from non-drafted/missed two years due to military service guy to the big leagues last year.  Rowley was DFA’d in the fall to make room for the new arrivals on the 40, but he’ll be very much in competition for a big league job this year, with AAA his likely destination.  Rowley can start or relieve, and his versatility may come in handy.

P Justin Shafer – the 2014 8th rounder has risen slowly through the system, steadily getting ground ball outs along the way.  Converted to relief at AA last year, Shafer has long relief potential.

C Max Pentecost – eyebrows were raised when the 2014 1st rounder was left off the 40-man last fall.  The Blue Jays were crossing their fingers that Pentecost’s injury history would allow him to slip through the Rule 5, and their gamble paid off.  Many have recommended that the Blue Jays turn Pentecost into an Evan Gattis-like hybrid player, but when you read between the lines of the email responses from Jays execs, the plan is continue to have him Catch on a regular (perhaps not daily) basis.

IF Jason Lebelebijian – the versatile Leb can play all four IF positions, and has spent time in the OF, although he played mostly 2nd and 3rd in Buffalo last year.

IF Tim Lopes – the 5 year MiLB vet came over from the Mariners’ organization last year, and filled a valuable utility role for New Hampshire, appearing in 128 games.

OF J.D. Davis – I have to admit:  there was a moment of excitement when a publication confused Davis with underachieving 2012 1st rounder D.J. Davis, who repeated Dunedin last year.  This was not the first time someone had made this error, however.  DJ had a remarkable 2nd half, putting balls in play in the second half at the best rate of his career, posting a .333/381/.449 August.  JD Davis, on the other hand, has risen steadily through the system, and is a get-on-base speedster who can play all three OF positions.

OF Roemon Fields – the speed merchant posted career-best numbers at Buffalo last year (.291/.351/.352), and added 43 steals.  Fields’ profile is more of a bottom-of-the-order, 2nd leadoff hitter, but he has clearly established himself as a fringe MLBer.

Add in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, and Thomas Pannone, who were added to the 40-man in November, and there will be a lot of first-timers at Spring Training this year.

RHP Nate Pearson may have been in the shadows this year due to his short season after being selected in the 1st round of June’s draft, and with the seasons Vladdy Jr and Bo had, but his rise from high school non-prospect to Baseball America‘s Top 100 is a phenomenal story.  The Blue Jays did not roll the dice on Pearson so much as they had done their homework on him, and knew what they were getting. Sam Dykstra of milb.com wrote about it here:  https://www.milb.com/milb/news/toolshed-blue-jays-nate-pearson-prepped-for-takeoff/c-265720346

 

The Blue Jays Australian Baseball League affiliate, the Canberra Cavalry, are off to the ABL final after a come-from-behind victory over Perth in their best of three semi-final.

To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot to watch from a Blue Jays perspective down under.  1B Connor Panas, fresh off a monster second half in the Florida State League, was shut down for the year at Christmas.  Relievers Tayler Saucedo and Dan Lietz have been used in a limited role on a veteran-laden Cavalry staff.  Saucedo did get a huge 8th inning double play as the Cavs battled for a playoff spot in their final series of the season.

Canberra hosts Game 1 of the best of three affair against Brisbane on Friday night, with the series switching to Brisbane for the remainder.