Blue Jays Minor League Notes and Thoughts

Rain and lots of it was the order of the end of the week at three levels of the system.

Over the past seven days, the OPS leaders in the system:

Top Hitters

Top Pitching Performances

April 12th Maximo Castillo.

April 17th Maximo Castillo

Those two performances, the first in New Hampshire’s home opener, secured Eastern League Pitcher of the Week Honours for Castillo. Left off the 40-man last fall and sent back to AA because of a logjam of starters ahead of him, Castillo and rotation mate Nick Fraze are part of the reason for the Fisher Cats 6-3 start, good enough for a share of the Northeast Division lead.

Speaking of Fraze…..from the second game of New Hampshire’s doubleheader sweep on Friday:

In other news, Ricky Tiedemann was forcing the opposition into some non-competitive ABs on Friday night:

Tiedemann’s analytics were off the charts:

Yes, a 2968 rpm sinker was an outlier, but imagine trying to track that pitch. And a slider that averaged 2700? Ok, it’s early, and let’s see with all of the prospects I’ve written about how they do second time through the league, but…wow. Tiedemann has been eye-popping.

Not to be outdone that same evening, 2021 8th rounder Hunter Gregory, who was hit around a bit in a brief run with Dunedin last year, had a solid 2022 debut for Vancouver:

Then, of course, there was this combined 1-hit, 17K combined shutout gem by a trio of Vancouver pitchers on Wednesday. Chad (Cheese) Dallas earned Northwest League pitcher of the week for his sterling performance.

David Laurilia of Fangraphs posted an excellent interview with New Hampshire reliever Hagen Danner this past week. Danner, the club’s 2nd round choice in 2017, was a storied two-way amateur player. Danner was seen as something of a high risk/high reward prospect (he was the only high schooler the Blue Jays took with their first 14 picks).

Danner struggled to make consistent contact as a catcher, and had his agent approach the Blue Jays about a move back to the mound after the 2019 season. The Blue Jays agreed, and Danner was lights out in relief at Vancouver last year, persuading the club to put him on the 40 in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

It’s curious now, in hindsight, that the Blue Jays opted to go the position player route with Danner. Danner himself admits that he only started hitting his senior year in high school. Baseball America’s draft report seem to favour him as a pitcher:

He’s a legitimate two-way prospect, though most scouts prefer him on the mound. Behind the plate, Danner is a capable receiver and has handled top arms well throughout his amateur career. He has a plus arm behind the plate. He shows plus raw power from the right side, though scouts see him as being more of a slugger than a pure hitter; he lacks elite bat speed and shows a pull-heavy approach. On the mound, Danner shows above-average control of his fastball and curveball. He pitches routinely at 90-93 mph and can touch as high as 95. His curveball has plus potential, showing late 12-to-6 break and consistently tight spin. Danner flashes feel for his changeup. Scouts question the deception of his fastball because he lacks explosive arm speed and high school hitters seem to square up his fastball more than scouts would expect.

Steve Sanders, then the Blue Jays amateur scouting director, saw potential for Danner as a two-way player:

(He’s a) very athletic player who we scouted as both a catcher and a pitcher. Strong with projectable power, has a chance to be a run producer with the bat to go along with good hands and plus arm behind the plate. Was up to 95 with quality 3 pitch mix off the mound. Great competitor & teammate who bring a lot of winning attributes.

It was the development of a slider that put Danner over the top, an excellent complement to his 97-98 fastball. Even though he’s on the 40 now, the Blue Jays appear content not to rush him as they continue to build up his innings.

Orelvis, it seems, has caught the eye of one high-profile writer:

It’s incredibly early (have I mentioned that?), and Martinez won’t be 21 until November, but he’s established himself as a big league prospect in waiting, a top ten BA prospects kind of guy. Whether or not he’s big league ready right now is another question. Orelvis has shown an ability to barrel up pitches on the inner half, but he’s also been prone to off speed stuff on the outer regions. He’s struck out in a third of his ABs, and has walked only once. He has started going up the middle more, as his first three HRs were straightaway bombs. But he’s been a bit pull happy, and no one in the organization (early in the season alert here) has gone oppo less than his 19%. But when Orelvis connects, like he did with his first shot to LF, there is no doubt about it:

Then there is the matter of his ultimate position. When it comes to up-the-middle guys, the Blue Jays do like to let a player stay there until he plays himself off of the position. Orelvis has started 6 games at SS, 2 at 3B, and 1 as DH. He will likely see more time at the hot corner as the season progresses. No matter where he ends up, that bat will play. But is he ready? Obviously not, but as Mark Shapiro told me prior to 2019 when I asked if there was a chance we would see Vladdy Jr that summer, he said it wasn’t very likely, “but if there was a need……” and he let that sentence drift. The Blue Jays are well covered on the left side of the infield for now, but Orelvis’ day is coming.

BA published their review of the Blue Jays 2022 IFA signings (paywalled). Most fans know about C Luis Meza, one of the best backstop prospects in the class. BA has some other names to watch for, and that’s always fun. Included in that group:

Jean Carlos Joseph OF, Dominican Republic: At 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, Joseph is a wiry, bouncy athlete whose diligence and attention to detail on defense are evident in the way he shines in center field. He breaks well off the bat with good defensive instincts, running well with good range and efficient routes. Joseph has a strong arm too, giving him the building blocks to develop into a plus defender. During the amateur scouting process, Joseph was a skinny, line-drive hitter, and while he still has a lean frame, the spike in his power has added a new dynamic to his game. He has a fairly sound swing and the raw power to drive balls out from center field over to his pull side, with a chance for more coming as he continues getting stronger.

Also, one of those undersized pitchers Blue Jays VP Andrew Tinnish loves:

Raudy Gomez, RHP, Dominican Republic: Gomez is an athletic, 5-foot-10 strike-thrower with feel for three pitches. He’s not that big but it’s a potential starter profile between his delivery, athleticism, control and pitch mix, starting with a lively fastball that has trended up and now touches 93 mph. Gomez has a knack for manipulating both of his offspeed pitches, including a breaking ball with tight spin and a changeup with fading action that he sells with good arm speed.

Finally, a few thoughts about broadcaster Buck Martinez, who announced he is stepping away from the mic for a bit while he battles cancer. Buck has very much been the soundtrack of my summers for decades.

He can prattle on as a play-by-play guy, and maybe he should have just stayed in the broadcast booth instead of taking over as the Blue Jays manager for an ill-fated run 20 years ago, but when it comes to analysis, he’s still one of the best in the game. Broadcast partner Dan Shulman brings out the best in Buck – Buck even appears to have embraced analytics this year, and I can’t help but think Dan was one who gave him a gentle nudge in that direction.

At any rate, I am at the point in my life where I spend a few days a week in a local retirement home, caring for my elderly mother-in-law. What always gets me is how many of the residents have the Jays game on in their rooms when I visit. Buck’s baritone can be heard up and down the halls of the home. With those seniors having been confined to their rooms many times over the course of the pandemic, Buck has been a bulwark against loneliness for these folks. His voice has been a constant, giving them something to look forward to every day. Yes, many have been perhaps lulled to sleep over the course of a game, but when they wake up, Buck’s stentorian tone is still there.

For Blue Jays fans of a certain vintage, Buck has been a bridge from their non-competitive days to their first division status. – more than once. For a couple of hours every day from spring to fall, seniors across the country have company, with Buck’s voice wafting into their rooms and keeping them comfortable like a favourite aged ball glove. If there is a light at the end of this tunnel, it’s that from what I’ve been told, his prognosis is good. Get well and Godspeed, Buck.

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