Is it Time for Vladdy Jr?

Last fall, in the aftermath of a disappointing 2017 season, Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro was asked if he could envision a scenario in 2018 similar to what the Red Sox found themselves in when they promoted top prospect Rafael Devers to the major league club a few months earlier.

Shapiro felt at the time that it was unlikely, pointing out that there was an opening for Devers on the Boston roster, but he wouldn’t close the door entirely:

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.

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Clutchlings Photo

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports feels that the time is right for the Blue Jays to move up the younger Guerrero’s timeline.  And he makes some compelling points in doing so:

-his numbers posted at AA New Hampshire would indicate that he’s ready to hit big league Pitching:

After another two-hit game Monday, Guerrero was hitting .380/.442/.582. He had just 10 strikeouts in 79 at-bats, matched by 10 walks

-baseball observers feel that he’s ready:

 (A) pair of longtime scouts who have seen him in recent weeks agreed when asked about Guerrero in a Blue Jays uniform.

“He’s ready,” one said.

“He’d hit in the big leagues today,” the other said.

-with Guerrero probably to be used primarily in a DH role if he was called up, he would fill what has become a black hole in the Blue Jays lineup:

Morales is 34 these days, and as much as the Blue Jays love him in the clubhouse, a DH with a sub-.700 OPS, let alone the sub-.500 that Morales currently carries, is a nonstarter. Even if Morales is owed the rest of his $11 million salary this year and $12 million next year, that is sunk cost, and keeping him in the lineup simply because he’s making good money is anathema to winning.

With the Blue Jays off to a very good start, Passan’s logic is hard to argue with.  After watching Guerrero a great deal over the past month, his pitch recognition, strike zone management, bat speed, and ability to use the whole field are elite.  While his high profile teammate Bo Bichette has struggled a bit (comparatively speaking) at AA this year, Vlad Jr gives every indication that he will be a dangerous MLB hitter before long.

So, why not take the bold move and promote him right now, so as to take advantage of having his bat in the lineup for the rest of the year?  A couple of reasons come to mind:

-playing 3rd Base is still relatively new to Guerrero.  He’s had the equivalent of less than two full seasons playing the position.  And while he displays good hands, footwork, and a strong arm on balls that he gets to, his range is still developing.  This is probably a combination of repetition, which gives him better reactions to balls hit his way, as well as the stength/flexibility/conditioning program the team has him on, which is designed to improve his range.  So far in his young career, Guerrero has proved to be an adequate defender, but not an elite one.  This comment from Baseball America sums up his defensive skills:

A gifted offensive player, Guerrero did not inherit his father’s speed or athleticism. He trained as an outfielder when he was an amateur and figured to be a left fielder at best, but after the Blue Jays signed him they put him at third base. He has surprised scouts with his play there, improving his arm strength to above-average and showing the hands to be a playable defender. However, Guerrero is already so big and stocky as a teenager that it’s going to be a challenge for him to maintain his weight.

  Of course, his bat will be his path to stardom.  Passan suggests a scenario where Guerrero DHs 4-5 times per week, then plays 3rd Base to give Josh Donaldson a chance to keep his bat in the lineup by taking a turn at the DH spot.  While that will no doubt boost the Blue Jays offence, it won’t do a lot to further Guerrero’s defensive development, and if Donaldson leaves as a free agent at the end of the year, the team will be weaker defensively as a result.  And for a team with groundball-inducing Starting Pitchers (with several others coming up in the system), that could spell danger.

Then there is the looming aspect of Guerrero’s free agency.  It may be six years away, but given how most free agents have shunned Toronto, it will take a great deal to keep him beyond that timeline.  Passan says that timelines shouldn’t matter: “Teams that aspire to win baseball games should field their best nine players every day. ”   Still, the Blue Jays would not be the first team to hold a player back in order to slow his countdown clock.  And it certainly wouldn’t be Shapiro’s style – in that same conversation, he stated that when it came to building a winner, “There are no shortcuts.”

Even though everything about Guerrero suggests that he’ll be a generational hitter, possibly even following his famous Dad into the Hall of Fame one day, there are no guarantees.  If he does get promoted, and struggles at the plate, Passan says that they can always just send him back down.  Which of course they can, but at the cost of service time.  You could also make the argument that the greater need for this team right now despite their good start is the stabilization of their rotation.  If Guerrero comes up and hits like his past production says he will, it may be for naught if the starters continue to falter, and their bullpen turns to dust.

Vlad Jr is easily the best position prospect the Blue Jays have ever developed.  He will likely become a first division, all-star caliber player, and after seeing him play in person in Lansing last year, I can’t wait to see him again.  If he is promoted, it will be worth celebrating, and would no doubt be a boon to Blue Jays attendance.  If the Blue Jays opt to stay the course and stick to his development timeline, that won’t be a problem either.  If he was called up, Guerrero would be younger than Adrian Beltre, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr, or Mike Trout were when they made their big league debuts.  We will see him in the Majors soon either way.  Keeping him back a bit as Bichette, Anthony Alford, Nate Pearson, Borucki, Logan Warmoth, and several other prospects in the system approach MLB-readiness will only help the team in the long run.

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Pearson To Make his FSL Debut Sunday?

All MLB organizations are tight-lipped about the injury status of their minor league prospects, and the Blue Jays are no exception.  But we have learned that after starting in an Extended game on Tuesday, RHP Nate Pearson, the second of the team’s two first round picks last June, will make his High A debut with Dunedin on Sunday.

Pearson dominated the Northwest League in a pitch count limited manner last summer.  After a strong spring training, he appeared set to go with Dunedin (skipping Low A Lansing in the process), until he suffered an oblique injury before the season began.

Pearson rocketed up the draft boards of many teams in the fall of 2016 after topping 100 with his fastball at a Florida showcase.  Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has said that his ascent was so sudden that Pearson may have been a top five pick had the draft been held a month later.  Sitting 96-98 with his fastball, Northwest League hitters had little chance against Pearson, and much of the contact he gave up was on his changeup.  Pearson didn’t allow a runner past 2nd Base until his 6th start, and fanned 10 in 4 innings in a playoff game in his final start for Vancouver.

Pearson is listed on most rankings as the Blue Jays 4th best prospect.  He cracked the prestigious Baseball America Top 100 this spring, checking in at 91.  Pretty heady stuff for a guy who pitched 20 innings last year.

Two weeks ago, Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim had indicated to us two weeks ago that Pearson’s return was “undetermined.”  With an oblique injury, they were understandably taking things slowly with their prized prospect.

 

It’s Time to Look at Cavan Biggio

After hitting his 6th Homer of the year (good for 2nd in the Eastern League) this afternoon, it’s high time we had a closer look at New Hampshire UT Cavan Biggio.

The Blue Jays selected Biggio in the 5th round in 2016.  Clearly, they were higher on him than Baseball America was:

As you would expect for the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Cavan Biggio has a very intelligent approach to the game. His understanding of the game is arguably his best attribute, as his tools are modest. Biggio is an average runner and stole 14 bases in 14 tries during the regular season. Biggio, who has a plenty of pre-swing movement that he may need to tone down as a pro, has below-average power with an all-field approach that gives him a fringe-average hit tool. His advanced batting eye helped him walk in 21 percent of his plate appearances this season, helping him to post a .473 on-base percentage. Defensively, he’s struggled with his reliability as a junior. His range is limited but he turns a good double play.

Biggio had a decent (.282/.382/.366) pro debut season with Vancouver in his draft year, but a cursory glance at his line last year with Dunedin (.233/.342/.363) suggested that he had taken a step back at the higher level.  A closer look reveals an improved rate of line drive contact, as the natural loft in his swing produced some decent contact, which may have been concealed by the Pitcher’s paradise that is the Florida State League:

The left-handed hitting Biggio has an upright, closed stance.  There still is some pronounced bat waggle, but it’s obviously used as a timing mechanism.  He uses a slight leg lift, and gets that front leg down straight and quickly, producing leverage in his swing.  New Hampshire Manager John Schneider lauds Biggio’s mechanics, and has suggested that his swing is one of the most efficient ones in the league.  That’s high praise, considering the two bats ahead of him in the order.

A 2-3, BB performance today lifted his season’s line to .319/.427/.708.  You will find Biggio among the leaders in several Eastern League offensive stats, including Slugging and OPS.   The Blue Jays have added to Biggio’s versatility, giving him time at 3rd (when Vlad Jr needs a day off), 2B and 1B. Not a fleet runner, Biggio uses his base running smarts to take an extra base when needed.  As BA suggests, Biggio’s high baseball IQ is one of his biggest assets.

There are some that would argue that Biggio’s stats so far are inflated by the short right field porch at New Hampshire.  That certainly was the case for Tellez in 2016, as his home numbers (1.001 OPS vs .835 on the road) would indicate.  But such has not been the case so far for Biggio, based on this set of splits:

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What does the future hold for Biggio?  Can he continue to produce at this level and beyond, or will he fall victim to what someone on Twitter labelled the “Tellez Effect”?  That is truly hard to say, because he has not had production at this level for a sustained period so far in his relatively brief pro career.  If he does advance, it will be that pop in his bat, along with his ability to play several positions that will help him to succeed at AAA.

MLB Draft Update from a Blue Jays Perspective

As the MLB draft approaches next month, there is consensus among scouts that this is a strong draft class, but no one player has emerged as a true #1 candidate.

Blue Jays Amateur Scouting Director was understandably tight-lipped about who and where the Blue Jays are concentrating their scouting efforts on, and wouldn’t say how this class compares to last year’s:

(It’s) hard to comment on the overall strength of this class relative to others but there does seems to be some quality depth in a number of areas.

As far as the Blue Jays are concerned, a number of names, including Mississippl LHP Ryan Rolison, Stetson RHP Logan Gilbert, Duke OF Griffin Conine, and South Alabama OF Travis Swaggerty have been rumoured to be on Toronto’s radar.  In addition, some internet sources have suggested that Florida HS OF Connor Scott, Arizona HS 3B Nolan Gorman, and Tennessee LHP Ryan Weathers have been scouted heavily by the Blue Jays.

It’s hard to know exactly who the Blue Jays are considering with their first pick, 12th overall, but if past history is any indication, it will likely be a college player.  They have also shown a preference for MLB bloodlines, which would seem to point to Conine, but his stock has fallen considerably this spring – he’s fallen out of the first round at MLB Pipeline.  He’s looking more and more like a 2nd or 3rd round pick, which also could have him being selected by Toronto, given their past selections of players whose stock has fallen.

Jeff Ellis, who does a thorough job of evaluating draft prospects at 247sports.com, suggests that South Florida LHP Shane McClanahan, who was looking like a possible #1 pick six weeks ago, could wind up available at #12.  Ellis points out both the pros and cons of selecting McClanahan:

His size will be a concern, but his fastball looks like a potential plus-plus offering. His changeup is another weapon and his slider has improved as well. McClanahan is an undersized arm, from a small school, with two years of eligibility, a history of arm troubles, and past issues with command. I state all of this just to show that, in spite of all those concerns, he is in the running for a high selection. This speaks to his ceiling and the general rarity of finding left-handed pitchers with his ceiling and profile.

Baseball America suggests Florida 3B Jonathan India, who has quietly been climbing the rankings, would be a good fit for Toronto:

When the season began, it would have seemed silly to project Florida third baseman Jonathan India among the top 15 picks in the draft. However, with just over a month until the draft, India has been among the best hitters in the SEC and has also given scouts a few games at shortstop—though he’s unlikely to play the position as a pro.

The SEC is the most competitive conference in college baseball, and success there is often a good predictor of the same in pro ball.

Given his bloodlines, Weathers is an interesting candidate, although as a high schooler, he’s likely out of the Blue Jays comfort zone with a first overall pick.  There have been rumours that Toronto has also heavily been scouting Gorman and California HS SS Brice Turang.

Jonathan Mayo at MLB Pipeline has Toronto selecting Rolison, a choice that makes more and more sense.  He’s had an up-and-down spring, and Ellis outlines why:

He does get hit a lot and combined with his walk rate means that a lot of runners have reached base. This is part of the reason he has not lasted long into his starts this year his average is under six innings per start, which is not ideal for a player who is looking at upper first round draft positioning. In the end, he is still a lefty who hits 96 and has two well-developed secondary offerings. The ceiling is that of a number two with a relatively high floor.