A cursory glance at the Blue Jays Low A Midwest League affiliate reveals a top prospect name or two, and a pitching rotation that looks good in the top half, but has some pretty serious question marks after that.
Topping the list of high-profile prospects for Manager Dallas McPherson, who moves up from Vancouver after joining the Blue Jays organization last year, is Jordan Groshans, the club’s first pick overall last year, and the 6th prospect according to mlb.com. C Alejandro Kirk, whose bat will probably see plenty of DH time, skips Vancouver to join Groshans, and jack-of-all trades Otto Lopez moves up from the Northwest League to likely play a multiple of positions, giving Groshans the odd breather at SS. Scouts have projected Groshans to move to 3B eventually, but this lineup suggests the club is prepared to give him ample opportunity to develop at short.
Nick Podkul was very solid for Vancouver last year at 2B. Corners John Aiello and Jake Brodt, who played at Bluefield and Vancouver respectively, had disappointing pro debut seasons, but bring plenty of power potential to the Lugs’ lineup.
Lansing’s OF will resemble a track team, with the returning Reggie Pruitt, Albertan Tanner Kirwer, who tied for the NWL league in steals last year, DJ Neal, and Dom Abbadessa, to go along with the toolsy-but-raw McGregory Contreras.
C Hagen Danner has mostly underachieved in two pro seasons, but the 2017 2nd rounder improved his game last year, and figures to get the most reps behind the plate of the three backstops on Lansing’s roster. Danner was a two-way player in high school, and more than one report has suggested he’s still catching up on devo time behind the plate.
Josh Winckowski, the NWL Pitcher of the Year, and will be joined in the starting rotation with 2018 draftees Joey Murray and Sean Wymer, both of whom are viewed very highly by the organization. Beyond that, it’s a guess as to who McPherson will run out there – Eric Pardinho begins the season on the DL and didn’t figure to reach Lansing until May anyway, but with Jose Espada and Randy Pondler on the IL, it’s hard to say who will get the starts, because Lansing’s pitching staff looks to be reliever-heavy from there. And it’s a decent bullpen, with the lights-out-at-Vancouver Cobi Johnson, and the large-bodied Fritz Stadler and Sean Rackoski at the back of it with him. Joey Pulido is an undersized power arm who pitched at all three short season levels last year, and didn’t give up an earned run in 24 innings over 15 appearances for Vancouver.
Groshans, Kirk, Winckowski, Murray, and eventually Pardinho will make things worthwhile for fans who make the trip down the 401 (or 402 for some of us) to watch the Lugnuts play this year. Unless the pitching rotation situation is resolved, or some short season players step up in the second half, it’s hard to see this as a post-season team at the moment, but the beauty of minor league baseball is that things are always subject to change.