Blue Jays Minor League Notebook

This week’s edition will be even slimmer than has been the norm of late. My apologies.

Adrian Hernandez

There has been much talk of late about adding Hernandez to the Blue Jays bullpen. And for good reason.

A year ago, Hernandez was struggling with his command at Dunedin. He started to harness his best pitch – his change up – and that, paired with improved fastball command, has rocketed him through the system and put Hernandez on the cusp of a big league job. I talked to Blue Jays pitching development coordinator Cory Popham about Hernandez’ ascent last fall:

His change has always been good. I think the big thing here is that he was ok with throwing it as his primary pitch instead of his fastball. He also came back (after the shutdown) throwing the fastball harder, which helped. His change, and how it plays with his fastball and curve is something I haven’t seen before. Using his change more often and throwing his fastball harder has made both pitches play up a lot.

Here’s a look at that change up:

You’ll note that the Rochester play by play guy refers to the pitch as a screwball. Prospect guru Keith Law, on Blake Murphy’s new show on the Fan 590 this week, referred to it as such as well. There is no doubt that minor league hitters have found it to be a confounding pitch, but judging from Hernandez’ arm action, it doesn’t look like a screwball release. I asked Dunedin pitching coach Drew Hayes, who worked with Hernandez last year, about the pitch:

It’s a CH. It probably movement wise could be considered a screwball but he grips it like a CH and calls it a CH.

That’s good enough for me; a change up it is. What makes the pitch so effective is its movement. As Popham said, Hernandez has made it his primary pitch, and he’ll throw it in any count. Hernandez also has good command of his fastball, and can use it to get ahead in the count. With two strikes, he will sometimes elevate it, and hitters who are expecting that change don’t have enough time to react. Even when they know it’s coming, it’s a pitch that’s very hard to track. And if they sit on the change too much, Hernandez comes at them with that fastball, or sometime his curve. Sequencing is what it’s all about.

The look on hitters’ faces as they head back to the dugout after striking out on the pitch says it all. There’s a grin on many of them, a look of “how the hell do I hit that?”

Gabriel Moreno

We’ll leave talk of Moreno’s MLB readiness alone for now. He’ll be in Toronto sooner rather than later. What I wanted to address was a comment Law made in the above interview. Law suggested that because MLB and AAA use a different ball than the other levels, perhaps we should view AAA hitters’ stats with at least a slight degree of skepticism, as pitchers new to the level might have difficulty in adjusting to the difference. The implication of that remark was that maybe we should just wait and see if Moreno’s line (.318/.373/.776) is for real.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about different balls at different levels, something that makes little sense. I asked Popham about it, and if Jays minor league pitchers have had trouble making the transition:

The seams are different from AA down. Balls in AAA are closer to big league balls. Not sure why that’s the case, doesn’t make a ton of sense. We have had a few guys who have had some pitches worse with the different ball, some get better and others who have not been impacted.

So, perhaps it’s an issue, but I’m leaning toward it not being a big one. There’s little doubt about Moreno’s numbers, to my mind. Sure, we’d like to see a bit more pop, but that will come.

Orelvis’ Slow Start

Is it time to be concerned about Orelvis?

The promotion of Leo Jimenez to the 40 man last fall to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 pushed a few timetables up. In a perfect world, despite his system-leading 28 HRs last year, it may have been wise to have Martinez begin 2022 at Vancouver (where he finished last season) for at least six weeks or so. But Jimenez needs to play every day to make up for lost development time, as does Orelvis. So, the latter started at AA, where he was tied at the start of the season with the Mets’ Francisco Alvarez as the youngest player in the Eastern League. And while Orelvis’ 14 round trippers are second-best in that circuit, his .825 OPS is a little underachieving.

While his chase rate and pull percentage is down, Orelvis just hasn’t had a lot of success over the past month. Certainly, Eastern League pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of fastballs up and in, combined with breaking stuff away, it’s been quite a learning curve for him. What I’ve noticed in his ABs over the past few weeks is a very inconsistent approach, with some impatience tossed in. Orelvis is getting fooled on breaking stuff fairly frequently, and he seems to be popping up a lot of the inside pitches.

But should we be concerned? Not now.

Maximo Castillo

Forget Thomas Hatch for the moment. If there’s a guy who could step into the back end of the rotation right now, it’s Castillo.

The 2015 IFA from Venezuela has made a steady if not spectacular rise up the Blue Jays system. While Wins is not a highly meaningful stat in MiLB, he’s led the league in Ws in each of his last three seasons.

At 6’2”/280, Castillo has the build of an innings eater, and that’s exactly what he’s been in his time in the system. More of a ground ball pitcher, he’s upped his velo (touching mid 90s) this season, and is missing bats at a greater rate (29% vs 20%) than at any other time in his career.

Cory Popham says that Castillo has turned his between-starts regimen around this year, and that’s made a huge difference:

His routines have improved a lot since last year, which is a huge testament to Max’s hard work and also the staff in NH. Our pitching coach there, Jim Czajkowski and Evan Short (Pitching Analyst) worked hard with Casey Callison, Luke Greene and Kara Terry (strength coach, athletic trainer and dietician) and helped him with his work off the field. His velocity ticked up towards the end of last year (averaged 95 his last start, first two starts were 90-92) and has ticked up just about every start he’s made this year.

Castillo is not exactly a top of the rotation guy, but he hasn’t missed a beat since being promoted to AAA several weeks ago. International League hitters are managing only a .160 average. Space will have to made for him on the 40 man, but Castillo has to be considered a dark horse to be the next man up if the call for a starter is made.

FSL MVPs…..

For the second month in a row, a Dunedin hurler has captured Florida State League pitcher of the month. Dahian Santos was lights out, while Gabriel Martinez was named player of the month.

Finally……

Thank you all very much to everyone who offered their support during a difficult time for my family. One of the hardest things to do during tough times is to keep a positive outlook, and your words of encouragement helped a great deal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.