Blue Jays 2017 International Review

Pardinho
ESPN photo

The Blue Jays landed 5 of the top 40-ranked International Free Agents (according to Baseball America) during the IFA signing period this summer.

This was a far cry from 2016, when in the wake of sanctions as a result of going over their bonus pool in order to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Blue Jays could not sign a player for a bonus of more than $300 000.   Still, they were able to cull some quality out of that group – their accomplishments have been overshadowed, however, by PED suspensions handed out to 7 Blue Jays prospects at their Dominican complex.

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees the international market and signings, was understandably not willing to discuss that development in a conversation this week (an investigation is ongoing), but he did provide updates about many of the players they did sign this year.  After signing, prospects converge on the Blue Jays complex at Boca Chica, near Santo Domingo.  Players learn about nutrition, training and take English classes, and play in the “Tricky” League against other complex prospects who recently signed.

At the top of the list is Brazilian RHP Eric Pardinho.  Ranked the top pitching prospect in the 2017 IFA class (and signed for a $1.4 million bonus), he did not disappoint.   Tinnish noted that Pardinho touched 97 in short outings with his fastball.  “A combination of athleticism, great delivery, advanced stuff and feel for pitching,” is how he described the young hurler. “I’ve never seen a 16 year old kid with that combination of skills.”  What’s impressive beyond that, says Tinnish, is how he “slows the game down – how much poise and compete he has on the mound.”  Pardinho is not the biggest guy in the world (5’9 1/2″, according to reports), but he is very polished – Tinnish says he has an extremely efficient delivery which he repeats well and uses his lower half effectively, and he can command multiple pitches.  That 97 came in Instructs, and it was, in his words, “an easy 97.”  He sat 90-94, but there’s room for added velocity as he matures.  Pardinho has always had a power curve, sitting 78-82, and has developed a slider with good depth and some added velo to it.  Tinnish had not seen Pardinho throw a change up prior to his signing, but was impressed with what he saw this fall.  “To me, he’s a starter,” he said, pointing to that four-pitch mix.  The team is not concerned about his size – there’s room for added strength.  The Jays have had success with smaller Pitchers, with Marcus Stroman the prime example.  Tinnish does not suggest that Pardinho is in Stroman’s class as an athlete, but he is in terms of stuff, delivery, and feel.  It’s all but likely that Pardinho begins his pro career stateside in the Gulf Coast League next year.  The Blue Jays will not rush him, but they certainly like what they’ve seen from the youngster, and he may move through the system quickly.

Dominican SS Miguel Hiraldo was rated the best overall bat in the class, and signed for $750K.  Tinnish says that Hiraldo has “a compact build, sneaky athletic ability, and quick hands.”  He’ll play SS as long as possible, but he may move over to 3rd.  The most impressive thing about Hiraldo, according to Tinnish, is his bat.  “It’s a compact swing, he hits a lot of line drives, he uses the whole field, is a smart hitter, and there’s power projection there.”  Hiraldo has a chance to be an everyday player if the bat develops, and he may join Pardinho in the Gulf Coast League next year.

A player Tinnish is very high on is Panamanian SS Leonardo Jimenez, who signed for $825K.  “A really, really great kid,” enthused Tinnish.  “(He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – he really has lead-off or #2 hole potential….if you asked me right now who has a chance to play SS in your system, Leo would be at the top of that list.  The way the body moves, the way the arm works, the instincts, he’s a really good, future upside defender.”  Jimenez, who led off for the Panamanian national team, has a good approach at the plate.    He grinds out ABs, and hits a lot of line drives, and even shows glimpses of future power.  He hit a HR his last game at Instructs, and Tinnish admits of all the players the Blue Jays signed outside of Pardinho, Jimenez is the one he’s most excited about.

Venezuelan RHP Ronald Govea is what Tinnish calls a “sneaky upside player.”  Not one of the top 40 ranked players the Blue Jays signed, Govea is not a hard thrower, but has a good delivery, and can spin a breaking ball, and throws “a ton of strikes,” said Tinnish.  He tops out at 88 right now, but Tinnish feels he has “a lot more left in the tank,” given his arm movement.

RHP Alejandro Melean is also a player Tinnish says is one to watch.  The 32nd ranked IFA, the Venezuelan ramped things up toward the end of Instructs, sitting 90-94 with his fastball, with an ability to spin the breaking ball.  Command is not where Tinnish would like it to be, but he’s another undersized, athletic “quick twitch guy.”

Venezuelan SS Jose Rivas is a player Tinnish calls a “sparkplug,” and while he doesn’t like to label players, he compares him favourably with an Astros 2B named Jose.  “He’s got the Altuve frame and mentality,” and suggests that Rivas ultimately moves across the bag to 2nd.

BA’s Ben Badler offers his take on Pardinho:

 

 

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Tinnish Reunites with Anthopoulos in Atlanta

Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish has left the Blue Jays to accept a promotion with Atlanta, according to a Braves’ press release.

The Nepean, ON native, and Brock University Grad joined the Jays in 2001.  He worked his way up the scouting ranks from Assistant Scouting Director in 2006 to Director of Amateur Scouting in 2009.  In 2012, Tinnish was named Assistant General Manager, with responsibility for the club’s international scouting and development programs.

During his time with the team, he oversaw the drafting of players such as Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Kevin Pillar, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, and Anthony DeSclafani.  He also was involved in the recruitment and signing of Franklin Barreto, Richard Urena,  and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.   Tinnish was a major part of the Blue Jays’ efforts to sign Japanese star Shohei Otani, and travelled to Japan several times to scout him.

The Blue Jays Dominican complex has been under a cloud of controversy, as three more players based there tested positive for PEDs, bringing the total to an MLB-leading 7 since September.

Tinnish reunites with Anthopoulos, who served as the Blue Jays GM from 2009-15, and was most recently with the Dodgers.  Montreal native Anthopoulos has hired last week to be the Braves’ new GM and Executive VP.  Anthopoulos worked for the Expos prior to joining the Blue Jays in 2003 as their Scouting Director.  Tinnish takes on the title of VP of Amateur and International Scouting with the Braves, meaning that his role will likely be similar to what it was with the Jays.  Atlanta, of course, is under a cloud of its own in the wake of sanctions by MLB for improprieties in the signing of international players, which cost the Braves 12 of their top IFAs from last year.

There is no word yet from the Blue Jays as to Tinnish’s replacement.

3 Blue Jays Prospects Suspended for PED Use

hugocardona

The look says it all.  16 year-old Hugo Cardona of La Sabana, Venezuela, signs his first pro contract on July 2nd of last year.  It’s for a modest sum in the land of international bonuses, but it’s an opportunity for him and his family to escape the cycle of poverty in his turmoil-filled homeland.

Cardona was one of 3 Toronto Blue Jays prospects were among 5 players handed lengthy suspensions for positive PED tests yesterday.

SS Hugo Cardona, C Leonicio Ventura, and UT Yhon Perez were all handed 72 game bans for testing positive for Boldenone.  The website steroidly.com says that Boldenone, “is one of the most popular and commonly used anabolic androgenic steroids by competitive and non-competing bodybuilders and athletes today.”  Available only in veterenarian’s offices in the USA, it was developed to treat horses.  The list of minor side effects include acne, oily skin, excess hair growth, and deepening of the voice.  Major side effects are many, such as increased risk of cancer, heart and liver disease, high blood pressure, and obstructive sleep apnea.

All 3 players made their pro debuts with the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays this year.  18 year old Cardona was one of the organization’s top international free agents last summer, signing for a $300K bonus (the maximum the Blue Jays could offer as a result of penalties imposed for exceeding their total bonus pool limit after signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr the previous year).  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish was very high on Cardona prior to the season, calling his arm “plus,” and his speed, “plus-plus,”  and that he profiled as a top of the order hitter if his bat came around.  After a slow start, Cardona finished with a line of .249/.342/.285.  20 year old Dominican Ventura split Catching duties, and led the team with a .790 OPS.  17 year old Venezuelan Perez played several positions, slashing .249/.335/.332.   Of the trio, only Cardona likely would be moving stateside to play in the Gulf Coast League next year.

It seems like the majority of players who test positive for PEDs are from Latin America.  There are a variety of reasons for that, most of them cultural, according to Cleveland blogger Justin Lada of Burning River Baseball:

Lack of education can play a factor and I am sure a language barrier can make that an even bigger issue. I think they see it as a way that will help them earn life changing money since many are sending money back to their families in poor parts of their home countries. I think there are cases where some players and even trainers will allow them to take certain things and just tell them its OK to take.

In many cases, it’s a lack of awareness of either what they’re taking, or the dangers of taking it.  And money, of course, is a motivating factor in places like the Dominican Republic, where the annual per capita income is about $2500 US.  Unscrupulous Buscones, the greedier versions of the famed Latin traininers, can also be a factor.  Their influence over their charges can’t be discounted, and if they say a substance is fine and will help a player’s game, the majority of 16 year olds that come to their academices to train and hopefully land a pro contract will go along willingly.

Their suspensions take effect at the beginning of DSL play in mid-June, and likely wipe out any hope of playing in 2018, a huge blow to the trio’s collective development.  If past history is any indication, the Blue Jays will likely stick with Cardona, even given their comparatively modest investment in him.  The other two probably will be released before spring training is over.

 

Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #10 Eric Pardinho

This is the first in a series of ten articles about the Blue Jays top minor league prospects.  I try to take a fairly deep dive with these posts, so I thought I would try posting them individually.

Projection is the name of the game when you are talking about minor leaguers.  These are always written with that in mind.  Since minor league stats can be very misleading (at least without some context), my goal is to provide insights that are difficult to find anywhere else.

I called up the Brazil-Pakistan World Baseball Classic online last fall in order to get a first-hand look at Bo Bichette, who hit over .400 for the Gulf Coast Blue Jays after being drafted in the 2nd round in June, and was playing for Brazil.  Bichette was as advertised – a kid with a funky load that translated into lethal bat speed.  His breakout 2017 was no surprise.

Pakistan, in its first taste of big-stage international play, was predictably overmatched against Brazil.  With no MLB-affilated players in their lineup, they were likely just happy to be there.  What really caught my eye, however, was a 15 year old RHP Brazil brought into the game in relief named Eric Pardinho, who the Blue Jays signed for a $1.5 million bonus on July 2nd.  He hit 95 that inning, and was dominant (he did give up a hit on a 1-2 cement mixer breaking ball) against the hitters he faced, most of whom were about twice his age.

Pardinho hails from the Sao Paolo region of Brazil, which has a fairly rich baseball heritage thanks to an influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s (Pardinho’s grandparents on his mother’s side.  When he was 12, Pardinho trained at Brazil’s famous CT Yakult Academy, which specializes in “traditional Japanese training methods.”  Whatever those methods might be, they’ve worked.  Pardinho has a smooth, low-effort delivery with a clean arm action, and while that’s no guarantee for a young arm that already dials it up to 94, it bodes well for the future.   The ball seems to explode from his hand from those polished mechanics.  Baseball America compiled video of his delivery:

Pardinho was the 14th-ranked international prospect by BA, and the top-ranked pitcher.  His best secondary offering is said to be his curve.  His overall command already grades at 50, and will likely improve under the Blue Jays’ tutelage.

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees international scouting, told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi in August that Pardinho is a rare find:

“I’d never seen a kid at this stage with this kind of fastball command and overall fastball effectiveness……Not only does he have velocity, but he does it easy, he repeats his delivery and he throws strikes.”

Why rank a player who has yet to play in a pro game a Top 10 prospect?  The velocity and location helps, as does the delivery.  It suggests there’s room for further velo, and the athleticism he displays holds hope for further development of his secondaries.  Even though he’s not the biggest of kids (listed at first at 5’10”, the reports now mostly seem to say 5’8″, so let’s call him 5’9″).  He may not turn out to be a Pedro Martinez, Tim Lincecum, or Marcus Stroman, but that’s enough of a sample size to make you think his size will not be an issue.  That downward, eye-changing plane that tall pitchers get on their pitches makes them the preferred recruit among most MLB teams, but there’s a lot to be said for movement, location, and general pitchability, which Pardinho has in abundance.  He will only improve in his first few pro seasons.

Pardinho should make his debut in the Gulf Coast League next summer.