Conner Greene: Some Final Thoughts

The Blue Jays did have a gaping hole in their Outfield which was nicely patched by the acquisition of Randal Grichuk from St Louis on Friday.

In order to obtain Grichuk, who was likely deemed surplus by the Cards after they had acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, the Jays gave up journeyman reliever Dominic Leone, who put together a fine 2017, and promising yet enigmatic prospect Conner Greene.

Greene had a junior college commitment lined up in his senior year of high school, which the Blue Jays talked him out of after selecting him in the 7th round in 2013.  Greene fit the draft preferences of Alex Anthopoulos and Blake Parker to a “T”:  long, lean, and athletic, with plenty of room for projection, which in Greene’s case meant added velo.

Greene had to repeat the GCL in his second pro season, but he quickly made up for lost time in 2015, advancing three levels, and reaching AA in August.  Sent back to High A work on his command issues in 2016, Greene appeared set for take off in 2017.

But despite lighting up radar guns across the Eastern League, it was a failure to launch season for the Right Hander.  Still, he showed enough promise for the Blue Jays to protect him from the Rule 5 draft by placing him on the 40-man roster in November.

When you evaluate prospects, you are limited sometimes by what you can’t see.  In person or online, you can get a feel for a Pitcher’s command, which pitches are working, and which ones aren’t (note to MiLB play-by-play guys, who are the unsung heroes of the minors – could you please toss in some radar readings once in a while?  Even if the stadium gun isn’t accurate, it gives those of us watching online an idea of the separation between pitches, and if a Pitcher loses velo as he turns a lineup over).  What you can’t see is how he makes adjustments, how he responds to mechanics changes suggested by coaches, and how hard he works – in other words, his make up.

The quantitative measures of Greene’s performance are well-known – a fastball that sits 94-97 and topped 100 multiple times this year.  It’s a pitch with some good sink when Greene kept it down in the zone, but it’s also a pitch without a lot of movement when he left it up, and EL hitters hit him fairly hard for a guy with his velocity.

Greene walked 13% of the hitters he faced.  Concentration may have been an issue, as he surrendered a 2.72 WHIP to lead off hitters – Greene often found himself pitching out of the stretch.  Few Pitchers are effective when they fall behind in the count, and Greene was no exception – hitters averaged .357 against him when they were ahead.

His curve was probably his best secondary last year, but scouts were apparently enthused for the potential for his change because of his arm speed.

Both Greene and Sean Reid-Foley had seasons that fell short of expectations, but SRF appeared to straighten out his command issues as the season wore on.  The question for St Louis now is do they continue to let Greene continue try to develop his secondaries as a starter, or after five minor league seasons, is it time to shorten his repertoire and put him in a relief role, where his velo may play up a tick higher.

With Reid-Foley, Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, and T.J. Zeuch and Nate Pearson behind them, the Blue Jays have quite a bit of starting depth in the minors.  Apparently, they felt that they were deep enough to part with Greene.

 

 

 

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Blue Jays GM Atkins on the 40-man Roster Additions

The Blue Jays added 5 prospects among some additions and subtractions on Monday to get their 40-man roster to 39 players in advance of the deadline to freeze rosters in advance of next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins admitted that setting a 40-man in advance of the Rule 5 is what he calls a “challenging process.”:

 We want to protect and retain all of our talented players, but we need to balance that desire with the need to manage 40-man roster space in the context of other offseason acquisitions and additions

The team elected to promote Catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, 1B Rowdy Tellez, and Pitchers Conner Greene and Thomas Pannone.  “We think very highly of all these players,” he added, “both with respect to their long-term upside, as well as possible near-term ability to impact our major league team.”

On Jansen, who had a breakout offensive season at three levels:

 Dan Jansen really impressed us and many around the industry this year, opening the season in A ball and advancing all the way to AAA. Danny had struggled with injuries in past years, but took the initiative to make two key changes following the 2016 season- he addressed some vision issues with an optometrist, and adapted his offensive approach. In a full season this year, he had a .323 average and .884 OPS across 3 levels, and performed particularly well in his late-season promotion to Buffalo. Our field staff and his pitchers have always thought highly of his defensive abilities, and Dan deserves all the credit for accepting the challenge of improving his offensive game and making the strides that he did.

On Greene and Tellez, both of whom had sideways 2017 seasons, but still are held in high regard:

We are highly confident in their abilities on the field, and I know both players well; there is no doubt in my mind that they will use the adversity they faced in 2017 to move forward and improve themselves in 2018.

Pannone was something of a sleeper, acquired in the Joe Smith deadline deal.  Even though he had only pitched for the organzation for a month, he made quite an impression:

The reports and information we had on him prior to his acquisition was very exciting, and since he’s joined our club we’ve only been more impressed with him, both on and off the field. We felt that a player with his skills and track record (sub-3.00 ERA in AA) as a left-handed starter would rightly draw a lot of attention in the Rule 5 draft, and we look forward to having him in camp this spring.

McGuire missed much of the season with a knee injury, but his premium receiving skills might have made him an inviting Rule 5 target, even in a back up role:

  He had a great offensive year with some strong improvement over his 2016 season, and we feel that his ability to defend behind the plate and interact with our staff gives him a high ceiling. We’re excited to see him build off his 2017 season as he moves into 2018.

The team does risk losing C/1B/DH Max Pentecost, who might be attractive to a team that could use him in a utility role.  Just the same, his injury history, in addition to his weak Arizona Fall League showing and the fact that he can’t Catch on back-to-back days led the Blue Jays to roll the dice and leave him off the 40, hoping to sneak him through.  Atkins did not refer specifically to Pentecost, but did acknowledge that the club faced some tough decisions when it came time to decide who to protect:

 While we may have been able to add another player or two to our roster, doing so would have impacted our ability to make other decisions and moves later in the offseason. Hopefully we don’t lose any of our un-protected players in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but if we do, it is a testament to the talent level and depth of our organization.

The Rule 5 draft has undergone a signficant metamorphosis over the years.  Once an afterthought at the end of the December Winter Meetings, some teams (like the Blue Jays with Joe Biagini) have been able to find value in baseball’s bargain bin.  The draft was originally meant to keep teams from stockpiling young players in the minors.  Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton, and Johan Santana  are three of the most successful picks ever, but the trend until recently has been for only a small amount of players to be selected, with most returned to their original clubs.  The Blue Jays, for their part, were regular players in the Rule 5 during the Pat Gillick era, mining the Rule 5 for 1987 MVP George Bell. 

Atkins did not indicate if the Blue Jays will be active participants this year.  Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again last year, they selected Pitcher Glenn Sparkman from the Royals.  Sparkman broke his thumb in spring training, and was shipped back to the Royals after getting hammered in his only Blue Jays appearance.

This year’s Rule 5 draft takes place on December 10th.  JJ Cooper of Baseball America wrote an excellent piece about the actual draft day process last year.  

Blue Jays Add Prospects at 40-Man Deadline

The Blue Jays added 5 prospects to their 40 man roster today to prevent the possibility of losing them at next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Catchers Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen, 1B Rowdy Tellez, and Pitchers Thomas Pannone and Conner Greene were added.  Left unprotect included C/1B/DH Max Pentecost, OF Jonathan Davis, and Ps Andrew Case, Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios, and Angel Perdomo.

The team began clearing space earlier this month by outrighting Bo Schultz, Cesar Valdez, and Darren Ceciliani from the 40.  Last week, Leonel Campos, Taylor Cole, Luis Santos, and Raffy Lopez met the same fate.  Letting Rob Refsnyder go on waivers today and designating Harold Ramirez and Chris Rowley cleared additional space.  In between, Deck McGuire was signed as an MiLB free agent, and Taylor Guerreri was claimed on waivers from the Rays.  Acquiring SS Gift Ngoepe from the Pirates for futures brought the roster to 34 as the day progressed.

The 5 who were protected were not much of a surprise.  Jansen had a breakout year at three levels, and while McGuire missed a good chunk of the season due to knee surgery, could likely fit into any MLB roster as at least a back up, and showed promise with the bat upon his return.  Neither may be quite ready for an MLB job, but both would have likely been claimed.

Greene had his struggles at AA this year, but topped 100 with his fastball on multiple occasions.  It will be interesting if the team continues to let him develop as a starter, or if he moves to the bullpen.  Pannone, acquired in the Joe Smith deadline deal, was among the league leaders in many Eastern League pitching categories.

Tellez struggled mightily at the plate in AAA this year, and given his bat-first profile, he may have gone through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed.  The Blue Jays, obviously, did not want to take that risk, and the promotion of the 40-man has to be seen as a reward to Tellez, as well as a vote of confidence.

If there was a player who may have been protected, it might have been New Brunswick native Case.  After capping off as strong season by providing excellent set-up relief for Peoria en route to their Arizona Fall League title, there was talk that he might be protected.  Case does not profile as a big strikeout guy, which probably is why he was left off the 40.  Similarly, Davis had a strong fall for Peoria, and boosted his stock as a speedy, versatile fourth outfielder.  He might be a good fit for a team in need of that commodity.  Pentecost did not do much to show that he would be worth stashing on a 25-man for a year.  At this point, he has yet to prove he can Catch every day, and he struggled against AFL pitching.  It would be a surprise to see him selected.

With the roster now at 39, the Blue Jays have a chance to add a player at the Rule 5.

 

 

 

 

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #8 Conner Greene

I don’t tend to write critically about Blue Jays prospects – I will be the first to admit that.  I prefer to state my opinion about their tools, the strengths, and their weaknesses, and let you the reader form yours.

It was during a conversation with Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim that I came to understand that there was a sixth tool that we as fans often overlook, but baseball insiders are keenly aware of:  the intangible quality called make up.  Kim even called it the sixth tool.  Subsequent conversations with Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders and High Performance Director Angus Mugford confirmed the importance of what the dictionary calls, “the combination of qualities that form a person’s temperament.”  As Mugford pointed out, skills-wise, there is not to distinguish a lot of minor league players from one another.  Make up, more often than not, seems to be the determining factor.  Those who have it tend to reach the top far more often than those who don’t.

Which brings us to Conner Greene.

Greene was a gem uncovered by the previous administration, one of those high risk/high reward prospects former Scouting Director Blake Parker, under the direction of noted dice-roller Alex Anthopoulos,  the Blue Jays coveted.  Baseball America‘s draft report:

Long and lean at 6-foot-3, 160 pounds, Greene is all about projection. He has a high waist, long legs and a quick arm, and he has cleaned up his delivery, helping him touch 91-92 mph on occasion. He usually pitches at 87-88, and his secondary stuff is underdeveloped. He throws a splitter rather than a changeup, and the pitch has sink but is inconsistent. His curve has 11-to-5 break, and his best ones rate as 40s on the 20-80 scouting scale. He needs to sharpen it up and improve his command of his entire repertoire.

Greene committed to the legendary JC of Southern Nevada, but a $100K bonus offered by the Blue Jays, who had taken him in the 7th round, helped him change his mind.  Greene had a rocky pro debut in 2013, and repeated the Gulf Coast League the following year, but his career took off when he was promoted to full season Lansing in 2015, after which he was ranked the Blue Jays 2nd prospect by BA.  Discovered by the Toronto media last spring, Greene stumbled in his second go at AA this year, despite the fact that he dialed up his fastball to triple digits on occasion.

Much of Greene’s difficulties stemmed from his not being able to command that fastball this year.  An 8% swinging strike rate indicates that he did not miss a lot of bats for someone with his heat, and a 43% pull rate reflects that he lived up in the zone (and was squared up) frequently.  The silver lining has to be his 52% ground ball rate, which likely came off of weak contact against his curve or change up.  His 13.6% BB rate, which was far and away the highest in the Eastern League,  demonstrates that finding the strike zone was a challenge.  Greene was pitching from behind for much of the summer, a high-wire act that few Pitchers can successfully walk.

Greene’s fastball, obviously, is the primary weapon in his arsenal.  It does not have much movement, but when he commands it gives him a great margin for error. His change is still inconsistent at this point, but multiple evaluators have called it a potential above average pitch once he can throw it close to the strike zone consistently.  His curve and slider have made tremendous strides, but both need to progress more if he is to turn a lineup over. They function more as an option to keep hitters honest at this point. Greene’s is an intriguing arm, but at this point he seems to be more of a thrower than a Pitcher.

To get back to the concerns about make up,  reports about Greene suggest that his levels of grit and resilience may not be the highest, and his troubles this season may have come from an inability to make necessary adjustments. Whether that was mechanical or attidutinal is up for speculation, but it was a frustrating season for Greene (who sometimes seemed to let his emotions get the better of him during games), and many who were watching him.  This was Greene’s first extended taste of difficulty in pro ball.  The question is will this experience help him grow, or will it keep him from doing so?

It’s hard to say where the Blue Jays go from here with Greene.  Do they continue to let him develop as a starter next year in Buffalo, or do they convert him to relief, where his high velo coupled with his change could be a devastating late inning combination?  Or, since he was a signing from a previous regime, do they view him as a long-term player, or do they include him in a package to help fill a need on the major league roster?  One thing is for sure:  Greene needs to be added to the 40-man by November 18th, or he will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft, where he won’t last long.   The betting here is that he will be added;  Pitchers who top 100 don’t come along every day.  That Greene will eventually learn to harness his stuff and forge a big league career is not as sure.

 

Blue Jays Make Moves in Advance of the 40-man Deadline

The Blue Jays made some roster moves ahead of next Saturday’s deadline to set 40-man rosters before December’s Rule 5 draft.

Pitchers Leonel Campos, Luis Santos, and Taylor Cole, along with C Raffy Lopez, were outrighted, taking the roster down to 35.  RHP Taylor Guerrieri was claimed after being left off of Tampa’s roster, bringing the number up to 36 for the moment.

The acquisition of Guerreri was an interesting one.  The former 1st round pick had been a perennial top prospect, but Tommy John surgery and a 50 game suspension for a drug of abuse derailed his career.  His 2016 report from Baseball America:

Screenshot 2017-11-06 at 4.38.37 PM

Guerrieri was limited to only two AAA starts in April before being shut down with elbow soreness, but indications are that he’s healthy and will be ready for spring training.  With his velo drop, he doesn’t seem to fit the profile for a conversion to the bullpen, so he likely will serve as AAA starting depth if he’s unable to crack the back of the Blue Jays rotation.

Cole has always been one of our favourite MiLBers.  Cole led the minors in strikeouts while pitching for AA New Hampshire in 2014, and was labelled one of baseball’s top fringe prospects by Fangraphs.  Injuries and inconsistency have slowed his progress since then, and the 28 year old BYU grad (who did his mission work in Toronto) became an odd man out after making his MLB debut in September.

A Blue Jays source today indicated that pending further roster moves, the team will be adding between 3 to 6 minor league players to the 40 in order to protect them from the rule 5 draft.  The cutting of three pitchers would seem to bode well for Conner Greene, Thomas Pannone, Jordan Romano, Andrew Case, and Angel Perdomo.  Likewise,  outrighting Lopez would appear to be opening up a spot for one (or more) of Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Max Pentecost.

Expect more deals to be announced by the Blue Jays over the next week and a half before the roster is finalized.

Blue Jays Face Decisions Ahead of Rule 5 Draft

The Blue Jays have some heavy thinking to do as they prepare to finalize their 40-man roster later this month in advance of next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Senior executives and scouts from the organization converged on Toronto last week for meetings to plot the club’s future, with the deadline for finalizing their 40 man coming on November 18th.  Players with qualifying years of minor league service who are not placed on the 40 by that date can be claimed by any other MLB team in the Rule 5 on December 14th.

This coming Monday is the deadline for players on the 60-day DL to be reinstated to the 40 man if the team plans to keep them.  Bo Schultz, Cesar Valdez, and Darren Ceciliani had been on the 60-day, but were outrighted on Wednesday.  Aaron Sanchez, Dalton Pompey, Troy Tulowitzki, and Devon Travis will likely be added before that deadline, which means that the club will be up to 39 players.

There is a large group of minor leaguers who have hit the magic number in terms of years of minor league service that the club will have to decide on:

C – Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire

C/1B – Max Pentecost

1B – Rowdy Tellez

RHP – Conner Greene, Jordan Romano, Francisco Rios, Andrew Case

LHP – Angel Perdomo, Thomas Pannone

And with almost every name on this list, there are question marks.  Jansen had a breakout year offensively, and played at three levels, although some of his defensive deficiencies were exposed the higher he moved.  McGuire missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury, and while he’s a quality receiver, there are concerns about his bat.

Pentecost’s health has always been an issue, and while he made a solid return to Catching on a limited basis this season, there is significant doubt as to his ability to play every day at that position.  Easily the best athlete in this group, the Blue Jays may have to consider turning him into a hybrid player in order to keep his bat in the lineup.

Of the above three, Pentecost would be the most coveted Rule 5 pick, but he would come with a high degree of uncertaintly.  Both Jansen and McGuire could probably step into MLB back up roles right away, but the Rule 5 market for players of their type has not been brisk over the past several seasons.

Tellez had success at every level of his career prior to this one, but he was overhwhelmed by AAA pitching this season.  His bat is his primary tool, and when he struggles at the plate with pitch selection like he did this year, it tends to emphasize the relative inadequacies of his other tools.  And the Blue Jays, as a result, have a major decision to make about Tellez.  At this time last year, this would have been a no-brainer, but coming off a down season and with spaces on the 40 at a premium, will they consider leaving Tellez, who was being talked about as a potential middle-of-the-order bat before this season unprotected?

Greene topped 100 with his fastball multiple times this season, but had an incredibly hard time finding the plate.  His BB rate (13.9%) was far and away the highest in the Eastern League, and while there’s room for optimism with the amount of weak contact he generated, he did not miss a lot of bats (8% swinging strike rate) for someone with his heat.  The talk about moving Greene to the bullpen is growing, but as Mark Shapiro said in conversation recently, “Most people don’t realize how hard it is to develop Starting Pitchers.”  That likely means that Greene will still be given a chance to start.  Despite a bit of a sideways 2017, he would be snapped up quickly as a conversion project if he was exposed to the Rule 5.

Greene’s rotation mate at New Hampshire, Thomas Pannone, turned a lot of heads this year prior to and after his acquisition from Cleveland in the Joe Smith deal.  Certainly, his stats look better than Greene’s, but the southpaw’s ceiling is not as high.

New Brunswick native Case pitched at three levels this year, ending the season at AAA.  He is not a high strikeout guy, but he was very effective in AA, limited Eastern League hitters to a .209 average.  He’s pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, too.  The Blue Jays surely would not want to part with him, but there are other priorities ahead of him.

Markham, ON native Jordan Romano had a successful season at High A.  He began to wear down as the season progressed, but that wasn’t a surprise given that it was the 2015 Tommy John surgery survivor’s first full season.  Reports from Florida suggest that Romano had trouble turning a lineup over as the year went on, and might be better suited to a bullpen role.  His fastball, which sits 91-95, would no doubt tick up higher, and he could focus on his curve, and drop his fringy change.  Romano would be a reach, but he too could be a bullpen conversion project, and might give a team some decent innings in long relief.

6’8″ lefty Angel Perdomo has long teased with the extension and late life he gets on his fastball, complemented by developing secondaries.  Perdomo struggled with his command before having his season end in early July.  He has long been called a bullpen arm in waiting, and while he could one day be an effective situational reliever, he would be an enormous risk for a team right now.

RHP Francisco Rios had a breakout half season in Lansing last year, but couldn’t duplicate his success a High A or, this year, at AA.  Patrick Murphy showed promise and earned a promotion from Lansing to Dunedin this year, but he has a lengthy injury history that has slowed his development.

Unless there are some dramatic moves, the Blue Jays aren’t going be able to protect all of these players from being exposed to the Rule 5 draft.  It becomes a question of how much risk they want to take, and how much risk other teams are willing to take.  Each draftee costs $100 000, and it the player fails to stay on the drafting team’s 25-man roster for the entire season, he must be offered back to his original team for half that price.  That’s not a huge risk for teams – the trend of late has been to draft a player, then give him a spring training to see if he can fill a role.  San Diego manouvered their way into acquiring the top three picks in last year’s draft, and while the trio of players selected stayed on the 25-man, they had minimal impact.  The rebuilding Padres could afford to live with those players for a year, and can now send them back to the minors for further seasoning.

The Blue Jays struck pay dirt with Joe Biagini two years ago.  The former Giants’ farmhand was a revelation in 2016, but had difficulty when pressed into a Starting role this year.  Toronto had high hopes for last year’s pick, Glenn Sparkman, but he broke his thumb early in spring training.  He was hit hard in his one and only MLB appearance this year before being returned to the Royals.

Gazing into the Blue Jays 40-man crystal ball, it’s hard to say exactly who they will protect.  Much will depend on how much space the Blue Jays want to create over the next two weeks.  Pentecost and Greene appear to be safe bets this year, but the rest is open to speculation.

 

 

 

Alford Sole Fisher Cat to Crack EL Top 20

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cbc.ca photo

New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ OF Anthony Alford had a season to write home about.

After a sideways 2016 which was interrupted by injury, the 2012 3rd rounder did not break out this year like he did in 2015, when he burst onto the prospect scene after three seasons to abbreviated action while he pursued his college football dreams, but he had a fantastic  2017 campaign just the same.  After making his MLB debut in May, he returned to AA in August after breaking his wrist, and was named the Eastern League’s 9th Top Prospect by Baseball America.

Alford blitzed Eastern League pitching, and was hitting .325/.411/.455 when he was called up to the Blue Jays.  He broke his wrist after only 8 ABs, and was out of action for six weeks.  When Alford returned, the Blue Jays wisely decided to sent him back to AA after a rehab stint at Dunedin.

That Alford was ranked only the 9th-best Eastern League prospect is not an issue; the loop was full of premium prospects this year.  But he did show a combination of speed, reactions to fly balls, and power potential that led several EL Managers to compare him to former MLBer Rondell White.  One Manager went as far as to say:

His breaks on balls were so good…….that it looked like he got going before the ball was hit.

Alford had a great deal of development time to make up for after committing to baseball in 2015.  His baseball education is almost complete, and it’s time for him to compete for a major league job at spring training.

Conspicuous by their absence on the list were Pitchers Sean Reid-Foley and Conner Greene.  Both had their struggles this season, to put it mildly.  Reid-Foley’s command issues early in the season had him running into pitch limit troubles early in starts.  He did improve as 2017 progressed, but his numbers were inflated by those April and May difficulties.  Greene hit 100+ on his fastball numerous times, and wowed the hometown crowd at the Eastern League All Star game,  but command issues plagued him for much of the season.  No other starter in the Blue Jays organization had a higher  pitches per inning average than Greene.  BA stated:

He had the best fastball in the league and his curveball was in the conversation for best breaking ball, but he was more of a thrower than a pitcher, in managers/scouts eyes. He lived up in the zone a lot, for example, and could get hit. If he irons out the finer points of pitching and keeps the same stuff, the ceiling is very high. He wasn’t far off the list.

This season may just have been a speed bump for both, but it did bring about mumblings that we’ve heard before that one or both of them profile in the long run as power bullpen arms.

C Danny Jansen played at 3 levels this year, and had a breakthrough year at the plate.  Jansen hit career highs in most offensive categories, putting up a combined line of .323/.400/.484, with 10 Home Runs.  The EL list was the only one he qualified for, but BA’s Josh Norris felt he profiles more of a bat-first Catcher:

 Scouts who I talked to saw him more as an offensive-minded backup type of catcher with work still to be done defensively. Particularly, needed work on his lateral agility as a blocker.

Prior to this season, Jansen had a reputation as a solid defensive Catcher.  I have to admit that this was not the first time his skills had been questioned this summer.  Jansen is a big guy, and he did seem challenged on some pitches in the dirt off the plate this year.  Still, he is an excellent pitch framer, and presents a nice low target for his size.  It will be interesting to see where his development goes from here.  You have to think that he has an excellent shot at landing a position as Russ Martin’s understudy next spring.