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.

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Romano Continues to Impress as a Starter

Jordan Romano has come a long way for a guy who started out as a reliever, and whom some feel would be best suited to that role.

The Markham, ON native was drafted in the 10th round of the 2014 draft after serving as Oral Roberts’ closer.  He began his career in the Blue Jays system in the bullpen, but after missing 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, he came back to the organization in a starting role.

The Blue Jays have long coveted Romano’s size, downward plane on his pitches, and his fastball-slider combo that just needed another pitch to complement it.  After striking out exactly a batter per inning over the last two seasons, the Blue Jays are content to let him continue to refine that third pitch at AA.

Last year with Dunedin, Romano was second in the Florida State League in Ks, as well as FIP.   In addition to working on his change-up, Romano has had to learn to pace himself.  Manager John Schneider, who had moved up the ladder with him the last two years, told Sportsnet:

“There’s no question he’s got a great arm,” Schneider says. “But I think he’s learning he can back off a little bit, not try to overthrow everything, and really hit his spots and have success. I think he’s learning he can pitch a little bit and not have to be as max effort as he has been in the past.”

But it’s been the need for a pitch to get left-handed hitters out that has been the biggest need for Romano.  Lefties have always hit him well, and last year was no exception, as FSL batters hit him at a .351 clip.

Last night in Trenton against he Yankees Eastern League affiliate, Romano had the change-up working for him (“I’ve been working really hard on it,” he said after the game), as he tossed 7 innings of shutout ball.  On the evening, he allowed only 3 hits, fanned 7, and didn’t walk a batter.  The Blue Jays usually don’t allow their minor league starters to work this deep into a game so early in the season, but Romano was so efficient (only 64 pitches through 6 innings), that he was allowed to continue into the 7th.

One interesting note – Romano allowed only two Homers last year in Florida.  He gave up that many in his first start this year.  Last night, he did not allow a runner past 2nd.  Given his flyball rate in the past, he may give up more longballs this year.  If he can continue to keep the walks down, that might not be a big issue.

It’s easy to see Romano as a dominant back-of-the-bullpen guy if he was limited to that fastball/slider mix.  Against right-handed hitters, his fastball has some arm side run when he gets the right arm angle, and his slider is a definite swing-and-miss pitch.  But as President/CEO Mark Shapiro said in an interview last fall, developing starting pitching is probably a GM’s hardest job.  And the change is a feel pitch, one that can take time – several seasons, even – to develop.  Besides, when a guy has missed as many bats as Romano has in his minor league career, it’s worth seeing if he can keep getting hitters out at AA.

Romano was exposed to the Rule 5 draft last fall, and went unclaimed.  That likely won’t be the case this fall, meaning the team will have to make a decision on his future this year.

 

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I know I tend to go on about how much I’m enjoying the Fisher Cats play this year, but they have a chance to truly be special.  Romano said this is the best team he’s ever played for.

And I’m talking about this team beyond Bo and Vlad.  Jonathan Davis, for example, is a fantastic prototypical lead off hitter.  With Bichette sitting in the on deck circle and Guerrero grabbing a bat in the dugout, opposition pitchers would rather keep Davis off base.  But he works the count, fouling off borderline pitches, and giving his teammates a chance to see what the Pitcher has on that night.  On base, his speed is a distraction for Pitchers already trying to pitch the bash twins carefully.  He’s a perfect table setter for this lineup.

The baseball IQ this team displays is also a joy to watch.  In last night’s game, they took advantage of Trenton starter Domingo Acevedo’s slow delivery to home.  They take the extra base when an outfielder misses the cutoff man, they see a lot of pitches, and generally just play an unselfish game.  In only their second game of the season, with Davis placed on 2nd to start the 11th inning under MiLB’s new extra inning rule, Guerrero laid down a perfect bunt (on his own, apparently), advancing Davis to 3rd.  Guerrero knew that because Gurriel had been hitting the ball hard, and could probably score Davis with a sac fly.

Despite a high-powered offence, the Fisher Cats lineup is not full of swing-from-the-heels, ond-dimensional players.  Guerrero’s AB in the 4th was perfectly representative of their collective approach.  Up 2-0, Guerrero was rightly expecting a fastball.  But it was a pitch on the outer half.  Rather than try to pull the pitch, Vladdy went with what the Pitcher gave him, and slapped a Double to Right Centre.  Trying to pull the ball may have resulted in a ground ball, so Guerrero shortened his swing and made contact.

There are a lot of baseball bloodlines on this team with Bichette, Guerrero, Cavan Biggio (who has been off to a strong start, and could be a valuable multi-positon player one day), as well as Gurriel, whose father likely would have been an MLBer.  They have a solid lineup (one of the most dangerous hitters over the second half of the season in the FSL last year, Conor Panas, hits 7th), and a shutdown bullpen.

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One last thought:  it will take a much larger sample size to determine Guerrero’s ultimate position, but after a week of watching him, it’s obvious that balls that he gets to are usually going to be outs.  He displays good hands, and a strong, accurate arm.  The question will be how many he’ll get to.   That’s still to be determined.