There’s Another Team to Watch in the Blue Jays System

The AA Eastern League’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats have been receiving most of the attention from Blue Jays prospects watchers so far this season, and rightly so, but there’s another team in the system that has been just as successful.

The Lansing Lugnuts took 3 of 5 games from cross-state rival West Michigan Whitecaps this past weekend, moving a game and a half ahead of the Tigers’ affiliate atop the Midwest League’s Eastern Division.  The beneficiary of an influx of players from all three of Toronto’s strong short season entries last year, the Lugs’ sit atop most team batting categories in the MWL, and their pitching staff is vastly upgraded from front to back compared to a year ago.

Some notes and thoughts from a weekend (and an early Monday morning) of watching some of the Lansing-West Michigan action this weekend:

OF Chavez Young

A native of Freeport, Bahamas, Young was an under-the-radar prospect two years ago, even though he had moved stateside to play high school ball.  The Blue Jays selected him in the 39th round, and have moved him up in the ranks as he makes up for some missed development time.

The toolsy Young has played primarily RF this year, because of the presence of Reggie Pruitt.  With Pruitt on the DL this past week, Young has taken over in CF, and has not missed a beat.  He gets good reads on balls (the wind and high, sunny sky in West Michigan this weekend was a challenge), and has a strong, accurate arm.

At the plate, Young has a slightly open stance.  Now ensconced at the top of the Lansing batting order, he sees plenty of pitches each at bat, helping his teammates behind him see most of the opposing Pitcher’s repertoire.  He does not expand the strike zone, even when behind in the count.  There was some dismay in Blue Jays fandom after Edward Olivares was dealt to the Padres in the offseason, but Young may be his equal, although he may be a bit behind in terms of power.  Young seems to fit the profile of the get-on-base, speedy, top of the lineup guy.  He may eventually develop the power tool as well.

Kevin Vicuna, SS

The slender (6’/160) Vicuna may have to run around in the shower in order to get wet, but he’s developing into a solid two-way player.  Vicuna seems to have been around forever (he was a top 2014 IFA), but he’s only 20.

Vicuna had developed a reputation in short season as a glove-first player, but he began to make consistent contact at Vancouver last year, and earned a late-season promotion to Lansing.

Hitting behind Young, Vicuna gets on base at an impressive clip (.330/.351/.385 so far).  Utlizing a leg kick, Vicuna still makes a lot of groundball contact, but with his improved bat speed and his ability to get down the first base line quickly, he’s contributing his share to Lansing’s offence.

Kacy Clemens 1B

The son of the Hall of Famer saw his bat slow considerably as he tired toward the end of his first pro campaign last year, but he has returned to the form that led the Blue Jays to select him in the 8th round last June – Clemens is among the league leaders in a number of offensive categories.  He donned a pair of sport glasses this spring, and it seems to have helped with pitch recognition – after posting a 14% BB rate at Vancouver last year, he’s currently at 23%.

Clemens has a slightly open, crouched stance.  After mashing 3 Homers in the first two games of the series, Clemens saw a steady diet of breaking balls over the rest of the weekend, and struggled as a result.  Breaking pitches on the inner half in particular gave him some trouble, and he was tied up as he brought his lead leg across to initiate his swing.

Defensively, Clemens has already gained a strong reputation – he may already be the best defensive 1B in the system.

Kevin Smith 3B

Drafted as a SS in the 4th round last year, Smith was sent to Bluefield as top pick Logan Warmoth, who plays the same spot, was sent to Vancouver.  With Vicuna in Lansing’s lineup, Smith has seen more time at 3rd.  He made the most recent edition of Baseball America‘s prospect hot sheet after slashing .433/.471/.933 this past week.

Smith’s bat is absolutely on fire.  He leads the MWL in Doubles, Total Bases, and RBI, and like Clemens, is among the leaders in several other hitting stats.  Smith has a closed stance, and uses a slight leg kick.  His head is still as the pitch approaches the plate, giving him good pitch recognition.  He gets good extension and plate coverage on his swing as a result.  If you were to ask which hitter on the Lansing roster looks the most like an MLB prospect, it would be Smith.  He’s cut his K rate from almost 25% in Bluefield to just over 15% so far.

Smith is also an efficient base runner (he’s a perfect 6-6 this year, and has stolen 21 bases without being caught as a pro), and he’s making the adjustment to playing 3rd.  He’s had some troubles on pop ups down the LF line, as the different angle he has to take is probably taking some time to get used to.

Cullen Large, 2B/3B

After a slow start, the 2017 5th round pick came out firing last week, which included a 5-5 game against the Reds’ Dayton affiliate.

Large had his first pro season cut short by a broken hand last year.  He’s splitting time at 2nd with Samad Taylor, and at 3rd with Smith.  Large uses a slight leg kick, and will go with other way with a pitch.  He leads the MLW in runs scored.

Ryan Noda LF

This guy is quickly becoming one of the most interesting prospects in the organization.

The 2017 Appalachian League MVP saw his stock draft to the 15th round after a college season that fell short of initial expectations.  Scooping up players like this is a Blue Jays specialty, and with Clemens ahead of him on the depth chart, Noda went off to Bluefield and tore up the league’s pitching, winning an advanced triple crown, flirting with .400 as late as August 10th.

Noda is a throwback, plain and simple.  Even in the colder than usual Midwest spring, he eschews long sleeves and batting gloves, and wears his pants just below the knees, revealing 70s era length stirrups.  His uniform always seems to be dirty.

At the plate, he has a closed stance, with a bat waggle.  He holds his elbow up, reminding a long-time observer of Joe Morgan (without the elbow pump).  Noda absolutely grinds out at bats and tires Pitchers out – no one in the Appy League saw more pitches than Noda did last yer.  He will not expand his strike zone, and it’s no surprise that he’s easily in the league lead for walks (with Clemens behind him).  He uses only a toe tap, but like Clemens he saw a steady diet of offspeed pitches over the weekend, and did have some trouble with being out front.  Noda has yet to Homer, but he hit four doubles over the weekend, showing that maybe he’s starting to tap into that power.

But Noda is not a one-dimensional, on-base-machine player.  He’s a smart baserunner with sneaky speed, and is perfect in 7 steal attemps so far.  An OF in college, Noda shows good instincts and surprising range on flyballs, although he took some circuitous routes on a couple of wind-blown balls over the course of the series.  He may not have the power for a corner infield position, so LF is looking more and more like a good fit for him.

Brock Ludquist RF

Owners of one of the best mustaches in the game, Lundquist’s ABs are a thing to watch.

The 2017 6th rounder out of Long Beach state has a crouched, slightly open stance, which produces considerable torque, and a long, violent swing.  That makes for some swing-and-miss, but it also can mean some hard contact when he connects.

Samad Taylor 2B

More than a few fans have asked about Taylor, who was acquired from Cleveland last year.

Truth be told, unless he makes some major adjustments, it’s hard to see him as the 13th-best Blue Jays prospect, where MLB Pipeline has him ranked.  There is no doubt about his fast-twitch reflexes, defensive skills,  and athleticism, but there is some about his approach at the plate.

Taylor uses a big leg kick, and has a long swing.  Pitch recognition is the issue, and he often finds himself in unfavourable counts.  As a result, he’s dropped from the top of Lansing’s order to near the bottom.  At 19, he’s still young for this level, and there is time for his performance to catch up to his abundant tools.

Maximo Castillo, SP

At 18, the Venezuelan has more than held his own through 5 outings (including 3 starts) even though he’s one of the youngest players in the MWL.

Castillo has a tall-and-fall delivery with a short arm stroke.  He pounds the bottom of the strike zone with a fastball that can touch 94, and has good sinking action to it.

Castillo’s secondaries are still developing.  He threw primarily fastballs, and showed inconsistent command of his breaking ball.  He should add velo as the summer progresses, and may turn into an arm to watch.

Yennsy Diaz, SP

Diaz doesn’t have a whole lot left to prove in the league, and should be in Dunedin by month’s end.

Diaz’ fastball can hit 97, with good movement.  Midwest League hitters have been overmatched against Diaz, managing only 6 hits in 29 innings against him.  He gave up only two hard-hit balls in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, one of which was a loud foul down the LF line.

Diaz’ only enemy so far seems to be himself.  He’s walked 13 (vs 29 Ks) so far, sometimes losing the strike zone when he rushes his delivery and falls off toward 1st.  He has a hammer curve that comes from a similar arm angle.  With left-handed hitters, he starts that pitch on the middle of the plate, and brings it in under their hands, creating a pitch that is as tough to barrel as it is to lay off.

Diaz has a fast arm action, and hitters have a very tough time picking up the ball from his hand.  He gets ahead of hitters, and is just generally hard to square up.

Ty Tice

An undersized (5’9″) reliever, Tice has a live arm, and has been lights out as a closer since being drafted in the 16th round last year (17 Saves in as many chances).

Tice brings 95-96 heat, and an 89 slider that has late break and much bite to it.  He slots in below some of the more prominent bullpen arms ahead of him in the system, but Tice could rise quickly.

Lansing’s bullpen was the club’s weak point last year, but with Tice, and Orlando Pascual, Brody Rodning, and Matt Shannon from last year’s Northwest League champs Vancouver now in tow, the Lugs should be holding on to a lot more of the leads their offence and starters hand over to the pen.

This is a fun team to watch – they grind out ABs, and Manager Cesar Martin has them very aggressive on the basepaths.  The Fisher Cats may be getting all the attention, but the Lugnuts may make some post-season noise themselves.

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A Look at Zach Logue

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Niall O’Donohoe/Cs+ photo

Sometimes, a less-than-heralded Pitcher just needs a chance.   Blue Jays LHP Zach Logue may be one of them.

A 9th-round pick from Kentucky last June, Logue has pitched very effectively over his brief pro career.

Logue’s draft report from Baseball America suggested a future bullpen role:

After an apprenticeship in Kentucky’s bullpen, Logue became a reliable starter as a junior, posting a 7-5, 4.84 year, showing the ability to generate strikeouts with his slider, but also showing a propensity to give up hard contact when he caught too much of the plate. Scouts see him moving back to the bullpen as a pro, a role they saw him excel in last summer in the Cape Cod League. Logue’s 87-90 mph fastball and fringe-average slider both might play up more in short stints as a matchup lefty.

After being selected in the 9th round last June, Logue went to Vancouver (via a short stint at Bluefield), and working in piggyback tandem with fellow draftee Justin Dillon, he quickly became a mainstay in the C’s rotation.

In 25.2 innings spread over 9 innings-limited outings, Logue fanned 28 and walked only 8, posting a sparkling 1.75 ERA.  Taking over from Dillon in the 4th in what proved to be the Northwest League title clincher, Logue gave up a Home Run to the first batter he faced, then settled down to give the Canadians three solid innings, and picked up the Win.

Logue’s stock in the draft likely slipped due to concerns about his size and lack of a true dominant pitch.  He makes up for those issues with pinpoint command to both sides of the plate.  Sitting 89-91 with his fastball, Logue throws ad two-seamer and a four-seamer, as well as a four seamer, decent change, and sweeping, slurvy slider.  He can throw all of his pitches for strikes, and pounds the strike zone, averaging about a 62% strike rate over three starts so far this year.   Logue also has a good pickoff move to 1B, and helps himself by fielding his position very well.  In short, he demonstrates a good command of his repertoire, throws strikes, and shows a very good feel for Pitching.

This year,  everything comes off his fastball, according to Logue:

Right now, my fastball has been my best pitch. Especially in my last two starts, I’ve been able to locate it well and throw it inside which opens up the rest of the plate. I’ve also used my two seam more which had helped me against righties

He had the South Bend play-by-play team believe he throws a cutter, but it’s not part of his arsenal at this point:

I actually don’t throw a cutter but it may have looked like that since I was throwing inside to righties a pretty good amount.

To continue to move up the Blue Jays ladder, Logue believes that he needs to upgrade his secondary pitches:

I think for me to move to the next level I really need to get more consistent with my off speed pitches. I feel pretty comfortable with throwing my slider for strikes but I need to work on throwing it in the dirt with two strikes to put guys away. And my change up needs to be more consistent. When its down, its good. But I need to be able to throw it down all the time. Sometimes I get on the side of it and it just floats a little bit. And of course better fastball command can’t hurt!

I’ve had a chance to see Logue pitch three times now – once late last summer in a relief appearance in Vancouver, and twice online this spring.  In his most recent start at South Bend against the Cubs’ affiliate, after the leadoff hitter reached on an error, Logue picked him off at 1st, then retired the next 10.  The only blemish was a two-out Homer in the 4th on a mistake in the middle of the plate.  Logue tossed 6 strong innings, allowing 2 hits, walking one and fanning 5.  Update:  it was Logue’s turn in the rotation again last night, and he turned in six strong innings, giving up only a run.  His strike rate was just shy of 70%.

You will not find Logue on many Top Blue Jays prospects lists, but it’s getting to the point where you have to start taking a closer look at him.  Since turning pro, he’s refined his pitches, and has been an economical, weak contact-inducing machine.  Following fireballer Yennsy Diaz in Lansing’s rotation, his finesse-based approach nicely messes up the opposition’s timing.  Unless he can add some more velo, or improve the quality of his secondaries, he may have trouble getting hitters out at the higher levels.  Given what he’s accomplished already in his short career, though, that chance will be coming one day.  Left-handed starters seem to take longer to develop, and the Blue Jays will give Logue plenty of time to establish himself in that ro

Perdomo Returns to Action

LHP Angel Perdomo returned to action with Dunedin for the first time since last July, and looked like he hadn’t missed a start.

The tall lefty struck out 7 Lakeland hitters over 5 innings in a Florida State League game yesterday.  Perdomo had been shut down with back issues last July.

Perdomo has long teased with the late life on his fastball, which has touched 97.  Command of that fastball and the effectiveness of his secondaries has limited his development since signing with Toronto prior to the 2012 season.

Yesterday, he appeared to have a two-pitch mix going for him:

Understandably, he began to fatigue as the game progressed:

Perdomo left after the 5th having not given up a run, and walking only one.  He threw 78 pitches, 48 for strikes, which was probably due to the rust of having not started a game in almost 10 months.  Still, for a first time on the mound in a long time, there were a lot of positive takeaways from yesterday’s outing.

 

The Incredibly Patient Ryan Noda

Blue Jays 1B/LF/DH Ryan Noda is one selective guy at the plate.

Not only did the 2017 Appy League MVP lead the league in Average, OBP, and Slugging, he saw more pitches than any other hitter in the loop – interestingly, teammates Chavez Young and Kevin Smith were second and third, respectively.

There is some concern that his approach can be passive, and that sometimes he passes up some better pitches earlier in the count, but you have to love a guy that grinds out ABs like he did in Lansing’s game last night:

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On the night, Noda was 0-1 officially, but reached base in all 5 of his plate appearances.  Noda currently is tied for first in the minors in walks.  He’s reached base in over 50% of his trips to the plate.

 

Gurriel Expected to Get the Call to Blue Jays

Lourdes Gurriel Jr, the Cuban SS/2B who the Blue Jays signed to a 7-year/$22 million contract prior to the 2017 season, is rumoured to be next in line for a promotion to the Blue Jays.

With Richard Urena injured and Gift Ngoepe having struck out in 7 of this last 8 ABs, the Blue Jays were clearly looking for some better backup offensive production in the midst of six games with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Gurriel showed considerable signs of rust last year after not having played in almost two years, and struggled through some injury issues as well.  With Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr getting most of the media attention ahead of him in New Hampshire this month, Gurriel has quietly put together a .347/.382/.510 line, and has been every bit as dangerous as the dynamic duo just ahead of him in the batting order. He’s in the midst of a 7-game hitting streak, and has reached safely in all 12 games he’s appeared in so far this season.  It’s a small sample size to be sure, but Gurriel has a drastically reduced (30%) ground ball rate, and a corresponding huge jump (49%) flyball rate.  The concern about Gurriel’s swing prior to this year has been its length, and the resulting ground ball contact tendency.  Like all Blue Jays prospects, he’s been taught the gospel of launch angle, and is putting the ball in the air more so far.

 

Gurriel has played 7 games at 2B, 3 at SS, and 2 at DH for New Hampshire so far this season.  Defensively, he is solid, with good reactions to ground balls, excellent footwork, and a strong arm.  In fact, the Blue Jays have probably been waiting for his bat to catch up to his glove.  His presence on the Toronto bench is a definite upgrade over Ngoepe, who goes down to Buffalo in an attempt to get his confidence and swing back.

Notes on Blue Jays’ IFAs from Extended

The lousy weather that hit much of the northeastern part of the continent meant that there wasn’t a lot of minor league ball to watch this weekend.  However, Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame on Twitter), who scouts prospects in Florida and contributes to several sites as well as his own, took in some Blue Jays Extended Spring Training action, and posted a number of videos.

First, some video and notes about SS Miguel Hiraldo, the top-ranked hitter in last July’s International Free Agent class:

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees International ops for the club, said in an interview in December that Hiraldo has, “A compact build, sneaky athletic ability, and quick hands.”  The most impressive part of his game, according to Tinnish, is his bat:  “it’s a compact swing, he hits a lot of line drives (and) uses the whole field, is a smart hitter, and there’s a lot of projection there.”

Tinnish said that Hiraldo may eventually outgrow SS and shift over to 3rd.  Woodell’s observations suggest that maybe there’s more there defensively than was originally thought.  The Blue Jays will likely keep him at short until he plays himself off of it.  Hiraldo will begin the season in the Gulf Coast League.

RHP Alejandro Melean was the 32-ranked IFA last year, and was a player Tinnish mentioned as one to watch.  A bit undersized, Melean was impressive at Instructs last fall, sitting 90-94 with his fastball, and an ability to spin a breaking ball.

Melean likely starts in the GCL as well.

C Hagen Danner was not an IFA, of course, but he was a highly regarded two-way prep player who the Blue Jays decided to have focus on Catching last year.  Danner struggled in his first pro season, hitting .160/.207/.248, with a 26.5% K rate.  The news from Florida is encouraging:

Vancouver will probably be Danner’s destination when short season play begins in June.

And finally, while he’s not a Blue Jays prospect, there’s a pretty strong connection here:

Halladay is draft eligible this June, but has committed to Penn State.

Sean Reid-Foley Making the Transition from Thrower to Pitcher

2017 was going to be Sean Reid-Foley’s year.

Challenged with a promotion to AA after striking out almost 11 batters per 9 innings at two levels the previous year, the 2014 2nd rounder seemed to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues.

2017 proved to be a learning year for the righthander, who had reached full season ball in 2015 in only his second year as a pro.  Control problems skyrocketed his pitch counts as he admittedly tried to be too perfect, and he amassed only 15 innings over the course of his first 6 starts as a result.

Reid-Foley settled down and pitched reasonably well after that, but his 2017 did not meet up with expectations, and with youth on his side and a full rotation at Buffalo ahead of him, the Blue Jays opted to have him return to New Hampshire.

After two starts this season, he appears to be a changed Pitcher.  Reid-Foley retired the first 16 hitters he faced against the Rockies’ Hartford affiliate last night.  Going back to his last start, if not for a 6th inning error by 1B Juan Kelly, Reid-Foley had set down 28 consecutive hitters.

What’s been the difference so far for Reid-Foley?   Obviously, command has been a huge reason.  After walking three over the first three innings his first start, Reid-Foley didn’t issue another one until after allowing his first base runner last night, a one out single in the 6th.  Running out of gas, and maybe losing his focus a bit, Reid-Foley walked the next batter after that hit.  On the night, though he filled up the strike zone, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes.

Reid-Foley’s hammer curve has been an effective pitch for him in both starts.  Sitting 93-95 with his fastball, the curve offers another look that disrupts hitters’ timing.  He also appears willing to sacrifice strikeouts for weak contact – Reid-Foley recorded 9 ground ball outs on the night.

The knock against Reid-Foley in the past that he was unable to make in-game mechanical adjustments when he fell out of his delivery and lost the strike zone.  Last year, when he fell behind in the count, he would catch too much of the plate, and gave up a lot of contact.  Through two starts, he appears to have refined his command, and those occasions when he’s fallen behind, Reid-Foley has worked on the margins on the strike zone to get hitters out.  As a result, he’s largely avoided barrels to this point.

Two starts does not a season make, but Reid-Foley is moving in the right direction.  He’s commanding his fastball, and mixing in his secondaries well.  It really appears that he’s started to make the change from a thrower to a Pitcher, relying on his smarts more than his physical talents to be successful.

 

Still No Big Nate; Return “Undetermined”

Pearson
Clutchlings Photo

Blue Jays RHP Nate Pearson, the team’s 4th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, has missed his second straight start of the young season for the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Keegan Matheson of Baseball Toronto had this update after Pearson was scratched prior to his first start:

A Blue Jays official said today that Pearson’s return is “undetermined.”   Pearson has not been put on Dunedin’s Disabled List as of this evening, suggesting that he’s day-to-day.  Still, fans are anxious to see the player who became the club’s top Pitching prospect after only 20 innings make his season debut.

Pearson fell slightly in the draft due to a concern about a screw inserted into his elbow in high school, but the Blue Jays were convinced that his medical history was clear.  Still, his pitch count was strictly monitored – he would have easily been a BA Top 20 Northwest League prospect, but didn’t have enough innings to qualify.  His performance with Vancouver, however limited, was more than enough to convince Blue Jays brass to skip him over Lansing.  With his history, it does cause one to wonder if they wanted to keep him in the warm weather, close to the team’s medical staff in Florida.

Unless he’s placed on the DL, it’s not all doom and gloom.

 

Romano Continues to Impress as a Starter

Jordan Romano has come a long way for a guy who started out as a reliever, and whom some feel would be best suited to that role.

The Markham, ON native was drafted in the 10th round of the 2014 draft after serving as Oral Roberts’ closer.  He began his career in the Blue Jays system in the bullpen, but after missing 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, he came back to the organization in a starting role.

The Blue Jays have long coveted Romano’s size, downward plane on his pitches, and his fastball-slider combo that just needed another pitch to complement it.  After striking out exactly a batter per inning over the last two seasons, the Blue Jays are content to let him continue to refine that third pitch at AA.

Last year with Dunedin, Romano was second in the Florida State League in Ks, as well as FIP.   In addition to working on his change-up, Romano has had to learn to pace himself.  Manager John Schneider, who had moved up the ladder with him the last two years, told Sportsnet:

“There’s no question he’s got a great arm,” Schneider says. “But I think he’s learning he can back off a little bit, not try to overthrow everything, and really hit his spots and have success. I think he’s learning he can pitch a little bit and not have to be as max effort as he has been in the past.”

But it’s been the need for a pitch to get left-handed hitters out that has been the biggest need for Romano.  Lefties have always hit him well, and last year was no exception, as FSL batters hit him at a .351 clip.

Last night in Trenton against he Yankees Eastern League affiliate, Romano had the change-up working for him (“I’ve been working really hard on it,” he said after the game), as he tossed 7 innings of shutout ball.  On the evening, he allowed only 3 hits, fanned 7, and didn’t walk a batter.  The Blue Jays usually don’t allow their minor league starters to work this deep into a game so early in the season, but Romano was so efficient (only 64 pitches through 6 innings), that he was allowed to continue into the 7th.

One interesting note – Romano allowed only two Homers last year in Florida.  He gave up that many in his first start this year.  Last night, he did not allow a runner past 2nd.  Given his flyball rate in the past, he may give up more longballs this year.  If he can continue to keep the walks down, that might not be a big issue.

It’s easy to see Romano as a dominant back-of-the-bullpen guy if he was limited to that fastball/slider mix.  Against right-handed hitters, his fastball has some arm side run when he gets the right arm angle, and his slider is a definite swing-and-miss pitch.  But as President/CEO Mark Shapiro said in an interview last fall, developing starting pitching is probably a GM’s hardest job.  And the change is a feel pitch, one that can take time – several seasons, even – to develop.  Besides, when a guy has missed as many bats as Romano has in his minor league career, it’s worth seeing if he can keep getting hitters out at AA.

Romano was exposed to the Rule 5 draft last fall, and went unclaimed.  That likely won’t be the case this fall, meaning the team will have to make a decision on his future this year.

 

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I know I tend to go on about how much I’m enjoying the Fisher Cats play this year, but they have a chance to truly be special.  Romano said this is the best team he’s ever played for.

And I’m talking about this team beyond Bo and Vlad.  Jonathan Davis, for example, is a fantastic prototypical lead off hitter.  With Bichette sitting in the on deck circle and Guerrero grabbing a bat in the dugout, opposition pitchers would rather keep Davis off base.  But he works the count, fouling off borderline pitches, and giving his teammates a chance to see what the Pitcher has on that night.  On base, his speed is a distraction for Pitchers already trying to pitch the bash twins carefully.  He’s a perfect table setter for this lineup.

The baseball IQ this team displays is also a joy to watch.  In last night’s game, they took advantage of Trenton starter Domingo Acevedo’s slow delivery to home.  They take the extra base when an outfielder misses the cutoff man, they see a lot of pitches, and generally just play an unselfish game.  In only their second game of the season, with Davis placed on 2nd to start the 11th inning under MiLB’s new extra inning rule, Guerrero laid down a perfect bunt (on his own, apparently), advancing Davis to 3rd.  Guerrero knew that because Gurriel had been hitting the ball hard, and could probably score Davis with a sac fly.

Despite a high-powered offence, the Fisher Cats lineup is not full of swing-from-the-heels, ond-dimensional players.  Guerrero’s AB in the 4th was perfectly representative of their collective approach.  Up 2-0, Guerrero was rightly expecting a fastball.  But it was a pitch on the outer half.  Rather than try to pull the pitch, Vladdy went with what the Pitcher gave him, and slapped a Double to Right Centre.  Trying to pull the ball may have resulted in a ground ball, so Guerrero shortened his swing and made contact.

There are a lot of baseball bloodlines on this team with Bichette, Guerrero, Cavan Biggio (who has been off to a strong start, and could be a valuable multi-positon player one day), as well as Gurriel, whose father likely would have been an MLBer.  They have a solid lineup (one of the most dangerous hitters over the second half of the season in the FSL last year, Conor Panas, hits 7th), and a shutdown bullpen.

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One last thought:  it will take a much larger sample size to determine Guerrero’s ultimate position, but after a week of watching him, it’s obvious that balls that he gets to are usually going to be outs.  He displays good hands, and a strong, accurate arm.  The question will be how many he’ll get to.   That’s still to be determined.

 

 

Beware of Minor League Stats, and Some Thoughts About Jon Harris

First, a disclaimer:  I love Vladimir Guerrero Jr like he’s one of my own sons.  In fact, if it were up to me, my wife and I would have another son and call him Vladito (it’s not).

Before I had seen him play a game, the reports I’d read about him led me to label him the Blue Jays top prospect, well before most anointed him with that title.

And while I think he’ll be a generational bat, and will one day join his dad in the first Father-Son Hall of Fame pairing, his line from last night shows why you shouldn’t necessarily rely on minor league stats when evaluating a player.  They are usually a good predictor of success, but they need context.

Last night, Guerrero was 3-3, with 6 RBIs, and Twitter was full of his stat line this morning, suggesting a perfect night at the plate.  Truth be told, I didn’t think it was one of his best games.

Guerrero’s first AB was a ball hit to the warning track for an out, but it was more than deep enough to score speedy Jonathan Davis from 3rd.  Kudos to Guerrero for lofting the ball to score a run, but he hardly scorched it – earlier in that plate appearance, he sent a 114 mph rocket foul down the left field line, leaving me to worry about Fisher Cats Manager John Schneider in the 3rd Base coaching box.  Because it was a sacrifice fly, Guerrero was not charged with an AB.

In his second trip to the plate, Vladdy popped a Texas Leaguer just behind 2B.  Because the Trenton OF was playing him deep, the SS had to make a twisting catch with his back to home.  Davis, on 3rd yet again, alertly tagged and scored on a ball hit maybe 150 ft.  No AB charged to Guerrero.

Guerrero’s third At Bat was a groundball to Trenton 3rd Baseman Gosuke Katoh, who was having a bit of a rough night.  It was a fairly hard hit ball, but Katoh should’ve had it – an MLB 3rd Baseman certainly would have.  Because he didn’t make contact with it, Katoh wasn’t charged with an error, giving Guerrero a hit.

Guerrero’s fourth plate appearance was an intentional walk – no problem there,

Vladdy’s next two ABs were legit – a HR off the batter’s eye against Jose Mesa Jr, who does have a good track record, but has been hit hard so far this season.  In the 9th, he doubled down the LF line.

So, for the night, he was 3-3, and drove in 6 runs.  Impressive totals, and his first multi-hit game in AA, but in 6 plate appearances, the hardest ball he hit on the night may have been that foul down the 3rd base line.  He was fortunate to have Davis on 3rd twice, and a 3rd Baseman who did a matador routine on a ground ball.  But in the boxscore, it’s 3-3.

Of course, maybe these things even out over the course of a season.  And this is in no way a criticism of Guerrero, and you can just as easily hit the ball hard all four times up in a game and go 0-4.  It does show that minor league stats taken out of context can be misleading.  You have to be good to be lucky, and sometimes it’s the other way around, like it was to some extent for Guerrero last night.  He still did have two no-doubt hits, but change the circumstances of the game, and he’s 2-5, or even 2-6.

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One observation about both Guerrero and Bo Bichette:  both hunt the fastball early in the count, and they showed a little bit of vulnerability on offspeed pitches in fastball counts.

Of course, this is kind of like saying the Mona Lisa is great, but it’s too bad she didn’t smile a bit more.

Guerrero and Bichette have such excellent pitch recognition and strike zone judgement that they tend to get the benefit of the doubt from minor league umpires when they take a borderline pitch.  And unlike average hitters, they rarely expand their strike zones, even when behind in the count.  It’s early in the AA season, but both look to be in complete control at the plate.

 

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Jon Harris has come in for more than his fair share of criticism for his performance last year.  After a decent 2016, the 2015 first rounder gave up a lot of contact last year, with Eastern League hitters batting .287 against him.

Harris does not have one overwhelming pitch.  He relies on a combination of sequencing and command in order to get hitters out.  If one of those two components is off, he tends to get hit.  If they’re working together, his secondary pitches become much more effective.

Harris got into trouble in last night’s start by falling behind the first three hitters he faced, and ended up in a bases loaded/no out jam in the bottom of the 1st.  Harris regrouped, and limited the damage by giving up a sac fly, then got a swinging K and a groundout to escape the inning.

Harris’ command sharpened in the 2nd inning, when he retired the side in order.  He got into trouble again the 3rd, giving up back-to-back singles to start the inning, but he kept the ball down, and used ground balls to get out of the inning unscathed.

Harris then set down Trenton in order in the 4th and 5th before reaching his pitch limit.

Harris does not overpower hitters.  He pitches to contact, and needs to stay ahead of hitters in order to get them out.  When he’s locating and pitching in favourable counts, he’s a much better Pitcher.

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Two seasons ago, the Blue Jays employed a veteran minor league Catcher in Ryan Lavarnway in order to work with their young Pitchers, Conner Greene in particular. Lavarnway had known Greene since he was a youngster, and played with his older brother.

This year, Toronto is using journeyman minor league backstop Patrick Cantwell in tandem with Max Pentecost.  Cantwell, a 2012 3rd round pick of Texas, has bounced around the minors, reaching AAA in 2015.  With Pentecost unable to catch every day, and with young Pitchers like Sean Reid-Foley on the roster (Pentecost caught his first start), Cantwell fills an important role for the Fisher Cats, serving in a Crash Davis-like role.  When Harris got into that first inning jam, a visit from Cantwell seem to help re-focus him and helped him turn the frame around.