Blue Jays MiLB Schneider Developing Alongside his Players

Schneids
milb.com photo

Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Manager John Schneider has travelled a long road, and like many of the players on the championship teams he’s managed the past two seasons, he’s on the cusp of a Major League job.

A career Blue Jay, Schneider was originally drafted by the Tigers in the 24th round of the 2001 draft after making All Colonial Conference Association as a Catcher, Schneider opted to return to school at Delaware (where he says he, “Majored in Sociology, and minored in baseball”):

 I didn’t know if I was quite ready to leave school yet, and I was signed up to play in the Cape Cod League, which I really wanted to do.  I had two years of college eligibility left, and I felt like one more year of school would be good for me. It kind of worked out for me, and I decided to leave school the next year.

Schneider was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 13th round the following year, and soon after was off to Auburn of the New York Penn League (the Blue Jays’ short-season affiliate at the time), where he slashed .240/.381/.352 in 40 games.  Schneider moved up through the organization, until back surgery following the 2006 season and three concussions suffered the following year gave him cause to consider his post playing career:

I had back surgery in 2006, and then came back and played the next year, then – everyone reaches a point in their career where you start thinking, “maybe this isn’t going to work out for me,” and I had bounced around so much…..then it was the concussions (three in 2007) that gave me a pretty good scare, and started me thinking about my long-term future outside of baseball….you put everything together, between hitting your peak as a player, and throw in some injuries, and it was time for me to call it a career, and luckily I had a coaching gig with the Blue Jays lined up.  I went from being in the locker room at spring training to going into a coaches meeting the next day.

When asked what was the biggest adjustment he made from literally being inside the lines one day to the outside the next, Schneider said:

One of the hardest parts was seeing something that you loved and done your whole life, and your friends are still continuing to do it.  You know you could probably still do it, but it wouldn’t be realistic.

As his playing career reached its final stages, Schneider admits that staying in the dugout in a coaching or managing capacity had already entered his mind:

I had conversations with Managers and Co-ordinators – when you’re managing, you can tell which of your players might make a good Manager or Coach down the road, the way they talk, their demeanour, and how they interact with guys on the team.  Dick Scott, who was our Farm Director at the time, was very open with me, and gave me the opportunity to start coaching right then and there (spring training 2008). He even said if I wanted to keep playing, they would give me a release and we could re-visit things in a year.  I played about another week in spring training, and then realized it was time. I also wanted to get a head start on coaching while I was young, and I was told after 2007 that if I had another concussion I’d have to retire, so that made the decision a lot easier.

Schneider was assigned to the Gulf Coast League as a hitting coach for the 2008 season.  Having not played rookie ball, it was another period of adjustment for him:

I went from playing at a high level back down to rookie league, but you do forget about the mistakes that get made, and the repetitions players have to put in.  You learn patience – if you have to tell them something a thousand times, tell them a thousand and one. That took a little bit of time. I look back on it now, and when I started managing I was 29.  I thought I had made it, and I realize now when I look back on how I acted, and things like arguing calls with umpires, and then you remember the kids were so young. It’s funny to look back and realize how much you’ve changed like your demeanor and the way you go about things.

If you talk with anyone who has been around the minor leagues for a while, one thing players, coaches, and managers alike agree on is that the nature of the relationship between players and coaching staff has changed.  Minor League instructors who yelled at players to motivate them are on the way out, as patience and teaching are the keys to dealing with young players.  For his part, Schneider embraces that:

I’ve always believed in that, I believed it since I first started managing. You had managers that you love playing for and some managers not so much.  You try to take a little bit from each guy who managed you or coached you. On teams that I manage, I like the messages to come from teammates. If you have that kind of vibe and chemistry going on in your club house it just makes things so much easier. Problems tend to take care of themselves that way, although there are times when you have to step in and take charge. I tend to be one of those managers who doesn’t scream at kids, and I try to remember how hard the game is to play, And I try to relate to them the message that I probably made more errors and mistakes in my careers than they’re ever going to make. They could look at my stats and see I wasn’t very good, and say, who are you to yell at me? Unless it’s something that’s fundamentally incorrect, or something that’s in violation of what we stand for as an organization, I’m much more than kind of guy that’s going to pop them on the back and say way to go keep doing what you’re doing, rather than what are you doing? I don’t think you get a lot of results if you’re the kind of guy that just goes up there screaming.

 

When asked which players in New Hampshire helped deliver the message to their teammates this year, Schneider spreads the credit around, but points out two players in particular:

There were a lot of players like that, which is one of the reasons why I think we were so good. Whether it was (Cavan) Biggio who was there all year, or Pat Cantwell who is there all year – The thing we tried to do was build a positive, winning culture.  I knew we were going to have a good team, but I also knew we were going to have a lot of fluctuation in our roster. You want the guys were there and playing every day to be able to show the new guys coming in how we do things and how we roll. The core guys who were there just made it fun, and as much as we try to make these guys better on the field, what goes hand-in-hand with that is teaching them how to win, and teaching them how to be good teammates.  So if they can take care of things and their own backyard – which they did a really good job of this year – It makes my job really easy.

Schneider prefers an environment where players can be comfortable:

Baseball’s too hard not to have fun. I wanted guys to be themselves. I’m a little bit different than other managers in the organization. I don’t have a dress code. I tell players to dress the way they want to dress I just be  who you are, because I think you get the best results when people are comfortable. From the stuff we did in the clubhouse, to the stuff we did on the field, to the stuff we did on the bus, we just had a lot of fun this year. It’s not something you should take for granted. It’s tough to do in the minor leagues Dash you get the talent together you get the personalities together, where guys really liked being around one another, it makes for a really good year.  

But Schneider doesn’t run a loose ship; the expectation of hard work is still there.  Many clubhouses across baseball have ping-pong tables – it’s an excellent distraction.  But sometimes the line between distraction and obsession is easily crossed, and when it happened in Lansing in 2015, Schneider didn’t hesitate to have it removed (temporarily, at least):

You have to do stuff like that every once in awhile if guys are spending too much time at the ping-pong table and not enough time in the cage or on the field. I took it away for a couple of weeks, but I did give it back.

 

Like the players he manages, Schneider has made his way through the system, starting in the GCL, and advancing to Vancouver, a place that he still remembers fondly:

It’s a big League City in a minor league. The people in the front office do everything first class.  The stadium is awesome, and for our guys to get that kind of experience right out of the draft was unbelievable. I’ve been to a lot of minor league Parks, but there’s no atmosphere like there is at The Nat.  I have a lot of great memories from Vancouver.

 

I put Schneider on the spot somewhat.  There has been so much written and said about Vladimir Guerrero Jr that I asked him to tell us something people might not know about the slugging prodigy.  He didn’t hesitate with his answer:

How funny he is. I’ve told numerous people that. When you watch him playing on the field you know he’s having fun. When you see him in the clubhouse, when you see him in the cage, or when you see him on the bus, He’s a funny dude, man.  He speaks way better English than anyone thinks. He and I text back and forth in English. He’s a really keen observer of things around him and he’s a bit of a jokester in the clubhouse, then he goes out onto the field and works his butt off.  His teammates really respect him and look up to him, and not just because of the player he is. His numbers speak for themselves, but I’ve really got to know him well over the past two years, and we’re talking about someone who’s as good a person as he is a player.        

When Guerrero joins the Blue Jays (likely in mid-April), there will be an enormous amount of pressure and media attention on him.  Schneider thinks he’ll be more than up to the challenge of dealing with the high expectations:

He’s been doing it for the past couple of years in the minors.  I think he responds to challenges well, whether it’s the Futures Game, or the Fall Stars Game, or whether it’s the thousands of people who came to see him play every day, he handles it well, all at 19 years of age.  He’s surrounded himself with really good people away from the field who help him that – obviously, his Dad is a huge support.

When asked if Guerrero has the skills to stick as a Major League 3rd Baseman, Schneider feels that he does, but he also has thinks Vladdy will adjust to an eventual position change:

I do.  I think with baseball it’s tough sometimes to see the long-term, and things can change quickly, but for the next handful of years, I see him at 3rd Base.  He’s better there than people think. He makes the routine plays, he has good and quick hands, and an above average arm. It’s the little things, but I’ve seen him make diving plays to his left and plays down the line, which are above average Major League plays. I think that once his athleticism, agility, quickness, and first step reads, it’s going to be really fun to watch him over there.  I think whenever you look at a hitter like that, people say, “oh, his bat’s ahead of his glove,” but Vladdy could be Adrian Beltre defensively and I think his bat would still be ahead of his glove – that’s just how good of a hitter he is. I think he’s fine at 3rd and will continue to make improvements, although he does have the athleticism to move elsewhere one day. I definitely see him as a 3rd Baseman right now.

 

While Guerrero was flirting with .400 and getting top prospect acclaim across the continent this summer, his fellow top prospect Bo Bichette was scuffling for the first time in his pro career, his average dropping into the .230s in May.  Bichette was over-aggressive at the plate, and word quickly spread around the Eastern League that you didn’t have to throw a lot of pitches inside the zone to get him out.  Time, patience, and the help of Schneider and hitting coach Hunter Mense allowed Bichette to break out, but Schneider says the organization wanted to challenge Bichette this year:

That was part of the reason we wanted to put him in AA at 20 years old.  You have to struggle some times, right? His struggles were more like for a two or three week span, he was really grinding offensively a couple of times, but then you look up, and he’s hitting .286, with double-digit Homers, 75 RBI, 32 Stolen Bases, 43 Doubles, and made tremendous strides defensively and as a leader of the team, and he won his second championship in a row as a starting Short Stop.  I couldn’t be happier with the year that he had. I told him in April, “I’m going to purposely run you out there every day, and I want you to tell me when you’re tired,” because I knew last year he and Vlad had pretty strict schedules. I told them both this year that the training wheels were off, and to let me know when they needed a rest. Bo still played over 130 games. I think the most impressive thing this year was when he was going through a rough patch in early May, and I kept throwing him out there, but he didn’t complain, didn’t ask for a day off – I gave him a couple, because I could tell, and that’s my job as a Manager – but he expected to play every day and work his way through it.  To me, that’s invaluable.

Earlier in the season, Schneider had Lourdes Gurriel Jr in the lineup.  After a nearly two year hiatus after leaving Cuba, Gurriel looked very rusty in all aspects of his game.  He was a different player this year:

He was like that right from spring training……I saw him in Dunedin last year, and he just hadn’t played in a year and a half, he was kind of raw – you could see the talent, but you couldn’t see the results right away.  Coming into spring training this year, he was a completely different guy. Offensively, defensively, he just seemed more comfortable. It was awesome to see the start that he had, and then get called up later to Toronto.  He’s a good guy to have for his work ethic, and the other guys see that.

And no conversation about New Hampshire’s lineup this year would be complete without a discussion about Biggio, the EL MVP and HR leader.  After managing him in Dunedin last year, Schneider knew Biggio was destined for big things, but this year’s breakout was a bit of a pleasant surprise:

If you ask him, I don’t think he expected to hit 27 Homers and 99 RBIs – we tried so hard to get him to 100 – but I think this season showed what he’s capable of.  He’s so intelligent, and has such a good command of the strike zone. He made adjustments going into this year, and he’s going to have to do the same thing next year, but I think will be consistent is him playing every day and being productive, and being a solid defender.   I saw him after the got drafted, and he was a typical top-of-the-order guy: hitting everything up the middle, working the count. And then he started to become more aggressive early in the count. I think hitting behind Vladdy for part of the year helped him, because Pitchers would tend to take a deep breath after facing Vlad and maybe throw the next pitch over the plate…..then 450 feet later, you’ve got a couple of runs coming in.  

Like Guerrero, there is some question as to Biggio’s long-term position.  After starting his pro career at 2nd, he saw time at 1st and 3rd with New Hampshire, and played the corner OF spots in the Arizona Fall League.  Schneider thinks 2nd is his best position, but his versatility will be the key that drives him toward the bigs:

I think he’s going to be versatile.  He’s such a good athlete and student of the game that he can play several positions.  He looked good at 1st Base and 3rd Base and with what they did with having him play the OF in the Arizona Fall League.  He even got an inning at SS with us this year. I think 2B is where he might fall back on, though. I think he’s going to do a lot of things, with his best spot being 2nd.  

 

 

Winning or development?   The question is often asked of all farm directors and GMs.  Do organizations focus on building minor league teams that win, or let players take their lumps in an environment that sees them get reps, if not necessarily wins?  For Schneider, it’s best to try to focus on the best of both worlds:

I think you kind of want to a bit of both at every level.  I’ve always said that the minor leagues is a filtering out process, so for the guys who aren’t going to get to the major leagues, the games we play are practice games, and the post season games are higher leverage practice games.  It’s fun for me as a Manager to be in those situations, and it’s fun for the players to see how they react to those higher leverage games, but you really can’t replicate that during the regular season – when you have to get a guy from 2nd to 3rd, when you have to make a pitch with a runner on 3rd, when you have to make all the routine plays, when everyone knows you’re going to steal and you have to get a good jump.  All those things you put so much time and effort into over the course of spring training and a year, they really come into play in the playoffs, whether it’s the guy making decisions, or it’s me making decisions, everything is sped up. So I think that if you can do some of both, you’re doing a good thing. The biggest thing is you want the guys to expect to win, whether it’s the Dominican Summer League or AAA, you want them to expect to win every day.  If you can create that environment and that culture, I think you’re going to be better off than most other organizations. It’s been cool over the last 2 years to know as a manager or as a coach, your players are developing, and still be winning.

 

Watching New Hampshire play this summer was a lot of fun, and not just because of the prospect depth the team featured.  Schneider managed aggressively, and had the team always looking to run on the base paths.  The Fisher Cats led the Eastern League in stolen bases, with five players in double figures of steals.  The team went from 1st to 3rd probably more than any other team.  This was all part of Schneider’s plan:

I love it. You do have to adapt to your personnel, but I’ve always said if you can run, keep going and force the issue.  I told the guys everyone on the team has the green light to steal, and we came up with the term running in the outfielder’s face.  In spring training, I said, if it’s a ground ball to left field on you’re on first, I want you to keep going on to third, just run right in the left fielder’s face.  Now, you can’t go crazy, and you can’t run yourselves into outs, but the more aggressive you are, and the other team knows you’re going to be that way – you’re going to ,steal, hit and run, go first to third, go for extra bases – they’re going to play on their heels a bit.  I take pride as a Manager knowing when other teams talk about us, and they say these guys are going to be really aggressive on the bases.

 

After managing two teams at two levels to successive league titles,  he knows the core group that forms the next wave of Blue Jays better than anyone else in the organization.  And he can’t say enough about their collective work ethic:

This group that’s coming up, they’re really good, but they’re also really hard workers.  I can’t say enough about how hard they work and what kind of guys they are….it’s a special core, and I think to have them on the same team for a period of time will do wonders for them.  They’ve learned how to work, they’ve learned how to win.

 

 

Like his players, Schneider’s ultimate goal is to be in the majors one day, although he’s not one to rush the schedule.  He’s content to trust the process, and continuing to develop alongside his players:

It’s definitely a goal of mine. It’s nice to hear my name out there a little bit, and hopefully I can be one step closer (next year).  Much like players, coaches and managers want to get better every year, be around challenging situations and good people, and to be open to different ways that things are done.  To me that was very fulfilling last year to hear different views about hitting or pitching, and I just always want to continue to evolve with the game. I love the core group that I’ve been able to spend the last couple of seasons with, and hopefully I’ll be able to be around them in the big leagues in some capacity.  I’m thrilled with the addition of Charlie (Montoyo) in Toronto – I think it’s a good blend of what we’re trying to do up there.

 

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Blue Jays Minor League Awards

After a season in which five Blue Jays prospects found themselves on Baseball America‘s Top 100,  and the system itself reached #3 in BA’s rankings, the Toronto farm system is on an upward trend.  Prospects like Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Ryan Borucki, and Danny Jansen have established themselves as regulars, and Reese McGuire, Jonathan Davis, Sean Reid-Foley, and Rowdy Tellez  have all had a taste of MLB life this month.

Time to dish out some awards to recognize the strong season the organization has had at the minor league level.

Top Hitter – Vladimir Guerrero Jr

A no-brainer if there ever was one.  Guerrero was beating up on Eastern League Pitching  and hitting above .400 before being sidelined for a month with a knee injury.  Promoted to AAA Buffalo upon his return off the DL, he continued to mash before tailing off (if you could call a .333 August that) to a final line of .381/.437/.636.  That line is easily the best in Blue Jays prospect history.

Guerrero’s teammates Cavan Biggio, who led the Eastern League in HRs, and Harold Ramirez, who won a batting title in a nice turnaround season, also merit mention.  Dunedin SS Kevin Smith hit .302/.258/.528 with 25 HRs at two levels, and gets a nod for that season as well.  His teammates Rodrigo Orozco and Ivan Castillo finished one-two in the FSL batting race as well.

Other honourable mentions go to a pair of Bluefield bats:  OF Cal Stevenson led the Appalachian League in runs and walks, and  was second in average (.359), and  OPS (1.012).  Close behind him was teammate C/DH Alejandro Kirk, who bashed his way onto the prospect radar with a .354/.443/.558 line.

 

Pitcher of the Year

This is a tougher decision.  Nate Pearson would’ve been a contender for this honour, but an oblique issue and a line drive off of his pitching arm limited his season to just over an inning.  He did return to action in an exhibition game with Lansing last week, and the news was encouraging:

A couple of Pitchers did stand out.

-Ryan Borucki, who overcame a rough April (caused by some snow-outs) to reach the majors;

-Sean Reid-Foley, whose 2017 fell short of expectations, but reached MLB as well, and fanned 150 batters in 129 innings this year;

-Eric Pardinho, who skipped the GCL in his first year and more than held his own as a 17 year old adjusting to pro ball and a new country in the Appy League – Pardinho’s 31.5% K rate would have led the league if he had enough innings to qualify.

-Vancouver’s Josh Winckowski, the Northwest League’s Pitcher of the Year.

-Lefty Reliever Travis Bergen, who fanned 74 hitters in 58 IP at two levels;

-Dunedin RHP Patrick Murphy, who topped 100 with his fastball late in the season.

And the award goes to……………………

Murphy.  In his first full season as a pro, he led the Florida State League in Games Started, IP, and K’s, and was second in ERA.  Murphy posted a GB rate of almost 60%, and a 10% SwStr rate.   When he wasn’t missing bats, he was inducing a lot of weak contact.  As he progresses up the ladder and has more skilled defenders behind him, expect Murphy’s numbers to get even better.  With Murphy eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall if he’s not placed on the 40-man, he’s a safe bet to be added.

The Meteoric Rise of Dave Stieb Award

During the Alex Anthopoulos regime, this was a reasonably easy award to dole out.  The new management team is not as quick to promote prospects rapidly over a series of levels.

Vancouver’s Otto Lopez provides a template for the Blue Jays preference for up-the-middle prospects, who offer a team versatility and flexibility.  This past season, this is how many games he started at several positions:

3B – 14

2B – 13

SS – 9

LF – 5

RF – 5

CF – 3

Lopez shows great baseball IQ, a solid approach at the plate, and smart base running skills.  He’s an exciting player to watch in the field, and on the base paths.

Bluefield’s Kirk certainly came out of nowhere this year to become one of the top hitting prospects in the lower levels of the organization, and we eagerly await his ascension to full season ball next year.  He attracted plenty of late season attention, not the least of which was from Baseball America:

While Kirk acquitted himself reasonably well behind the plate for Bluefield when starting C Hagen Danner had injury issues,  there is a question as to where his long-term future lies on the diamond.  One thing is for sure:  the bat will play.

Kirk takes this award in a close vote.

Manager of the Year

This site has long been a fan of New Hampshire John Schneider, who has steadily moved up the ranks, and has come to be regarded as a player’s Manager.  An MLB job may not be far off for him.

But the job Cesar Martin did with Lansing makes him a deserving recipient of the award.  Lansing seemed to lose its top player to promotion every ten days or so, but Martin captured a playoff spot, and took a team that had a constantly changing cast of characters to an 80-60 record.  Along the way, he helped turn promising but raw players like Chavez Young and Samad Taylor into more polished prospects.

Top Draft Pick

The team’s first choice in the draft does not always turn out to be its most successful player that year, but such was the case for 12th overall pick Jordan Groshans.

Groshans may not have been ranked as highly on other teams’ draft boards, but the Blue Jays were thrilled to take him where they did, and his presence was a heavy factor in the successful signing of his teammate Adam Kloffenstein, taken in the 3rd round.

Groshans mastered the GCL, slashing .331/.390/.500 before moving up to Bluefield in August, and after a slow start, finished the regular season with a trio of three-hit games in his final ten, hitting .333 over that span.

Groshans showed his versatility over the season, appearing in 42 games both at SS and 3B.  He will be part of what promises to be a talented Opening Day roster at Lansing next year.

TOP IFA

The Blue Jays signed the top-ranked arm and bat in the 2017 International Free Agent class, and they have to be thrilled with the results.

Pardinho had a sizzling start and finish to his season – in his  next-to-last season start, he threw 7 near-perfect innings, retiring the first 19 hitters he faced in order.

SS/3B Miguel Hiraldo’s bat boomed in the DSL, earning him a late-season promotion stateside to the complex league.  It will be interesting to see where he starts and finishes next season.

 

Schneider the Right Man to Take the Blue Jays Forward

Schneid
Trentonian.com photo

The Blue Jays have a prospect who has steadily climbed through their minor league system, and is poised to head to the majors before long.

We’re not talking about Danny Jansen, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, or Bo Bichette (although all three have played for him).  We’re talking about AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ Manager John Schneider, who is one of the top Managerial prospects in the game.

Schneider was a Catcher in the Jays system from 2002-2007, until injuries forced him into retirement.  He stayed in the organization as a Catching Instructor.  In 2008, he was named the GCL Jays Hitting Coach, and took over as Manager a year later, and was the youngest at that position in all of Minor League Baseball at the time.

Schneider has continually progressed up the Blue Jays system, with stops at Vancouver, Lansing, and Dunedin, where he led the team to the first Florida State League title in the team’s 33 year history.

Along the way, he’s worked with Jansen, Guerrero, and Bichette, along with Ryan Borucki, Cavan Biggio, T.J. Zeuch, Jon Harris, Max Pentecost, and Jonathan Davis.  And he’s gained a solid reputation as a player’s Manager in the process.  From an observer close to the team, here are a couple of examples:

-A pitcher was really struggling and instead of (Pitching Coach Mark) Riggins going out to the mound, Schneider did and got the kid to laugh along with the infielders. Pitcher relaxed and continued on in the game.

-In Lansing a couple of years ago, he thought the team was too loose and unfocused, laying around on the couches and playing ping pong like everything was ok. So he had the ping pong table removed and all of the couches removed and the players had to earn them back.

– In the midst of a terrible 9 game losing streak last season, he told the entire team the next night’s game was at 6:30 and not to show up until 6:00. Result; broke the losing streak and that team went off on a tear that won the FSL championship.

 

With the Blue Jays likely finally to get the go-ahead from Rogers for a full-on rebuild, the composition of the 25-man roster looks to be significantly younger from the current one.  Manager John Gibbons has worked with young players throughout his post-playing career, but one wonders if he has the will to go through another rebuild at this point, or if he’s the right man for the job.  A veteran Manager might be the cure for an underperforming veteran-laden team, and the team probably owes it to Gibbons to let him pursue other opportunities if his heart isn’t into a tear down.

Many have thought former MLB Manager Eric Wedge, currently serving as a field co-ordinator/advisor in the Player Development department, has always been a Manager-in-waiting for the team.  Truth be told, Wedge has not been in charge in a dugout since 2013, and at 50, is more than a dozen years older than Schneider.  And is baseball terms, that’s a significant gap.  Players of this era don’t respond well to the old methods, which sometimes seems to mainly consist of yelling.  That’s not to say that Wedge comes from the school, but Schneider has proven that he’s much more in touch with the mix of millennials that will soon form the core of the Blue Jays roster.

The knock against Schneider is that he’s never been in the majors in any capacity.  Some might argue that his skills might be better developed if he spent some time as an MLB coach first.  That would mean an opening would have to be created on the Toronto staff (I know many of you could suggest a candidate).  Schneider does have over 800 games of experience as an MiLB Manager, and knowing the players he’ll likely get getting from the minors has to be a huge advantage – he knows their respective strengths and weaknesses, and already has their respect. A seasoned bench coach would likely be a huge benefit to him as het gets to know the league. If it’s time to make a clean sweep and get on with the rebuild, the most obvious change should be at the top.  Schneider has won throughout the system, and has contributed greatly to the development of many of the team’s Top 10 prospects.  He’s widely regarded throughout the organization, as well as minor league baseball.  As a rookie Manager, he’s bound to make mistakes, but like his young charges, he’ll have a chance to grow.  As one of the top Managerial prospects in the minors, he may not last long if the Blue Jays don’t soon promote him.

Fisher Cats Release Roster

Fans in Manchester, NH, home of the Blue Jays AA Eastern League affiliate, have reasons to be excited.

Not only did the club extend its Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays for another two seasons last month, their roster released today includes two of the top prospects in all of baseball in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette:

2018_Fisher_Cats_Tentative_Opening_Day_Roster-page-001

Much of the Florida State League co-champion Dunedin Blue Jays roster moves up to New Hampshire, giving fans potentially one of their most competitive clubs in several seasons.

The inclusion of Lourdes Gurriel Jr on the roster was something of a surprise, as he seemed ticketed for AAA after spending half a season with New Hampshire last year.  His play this spring had been described as lackluster, but whatever the case is, Gurriel still needs plenty of reps, after missing a good chunk of last year and all of the two season prior to that.

New Hampshire should have decent starting pitching, led by (in no particular order) Jordan Romano, Nick Tepesch, Sean Reid-Foley,  Francisco Rios, and Jon Harris.  The latter three are repeating AA, and there were hopes that SRF might reach AAA, but a disappointing spring has him headed back to New Hampshire.  There likely was no room for him in Buffalo’s rotation anyway, and after reaching AA at 21 last year, there’s still room for development.  Andrew Case, Dusty Isaacs, and Danny Young should form the core of an effective back-end of the bullpen, along with Zach Jackson, who was promoted from Dunedin.  Veteran reliever Craig Breslow signed a minor league deal with the Jays and had an opt out on March 22nd, but decided to stick with the organization.

Max Pentecost slipped through the Rule 5 draft last fall after being shut down late in the Arizona Fall League.  Veteran MiLB Patrick Cantwell joined the organization late last year, and appears to be splitting the Catching duties with Pentecost.  To be honest, it’s surprising there isn’t a 3rd Catcher on the roster, as Pentecost’s duties behind the plate have been limited.

The infield appears to be Guerrero at 3rd, Bichette at SS, Gurriel at 2nd (spelling Bichette on occasion), and Juan Kelly at 1st.  Cavan Biggio has played 2nd since being drafted two years ago, but was working out at 1st this spring.  Gunnar Heidt can play several infield positions.

The New Hampshire OF has returning CF Jonathan Davis, who had strong Arizona Fall League and Spring Training campaigns, anchoring it.  He’ll be joined by returnees Harold Ramirez, who did not hit as well has had been hoped last year, and the multi-talented Andrew Guillotte.  Connor Panas, along with Romano, represents the Canadian content on the roster.  Panas has mostly played 1st or DH’d since joining the Blue Jays in 2015, but he can play the corner OF spots.

Ladner, BC native Tom Robson starts the year on New Hampshire’s Disabled List.  Robson, who was converted to full-time relief last year after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2016, appears to be headed for surgery again.  Another Canadian, Lefty Shane Dawson, was a member of the Fisher Cats’ rotation the past two years, but was released this past week.

John Schneider moves up from Dunedin to helm the Fisher Cats.  Schneider played for 7 years in the system after being drafted by the Blue Jays in 2002, and is entering his 10th season as a Manager.  Huner Mense joins him as Hitting Coach. Mense played in the Padres system for five seasons before returning to school and receiving his Masters in Sports Psychology.  He served as the hitting coach for the Padres Northwest League affiliate before joining the Blue Jays this off-season.  Nova Scotian Vince Horsman returns as Pitching Coach.  Horsman originally signed with the Jays in 1984, and has been a coach in the organization since 2009.  Andy Fermin, who turned to coaching last year after 7 years as a player in the system, returns as Position Coach.

 

Blue Jays Bring in New Faces to Minor League Staffs

The Blue Jays announced their minor league instructional staffs this week, and there was a mix of old and new faces.

Tim Raines was welcomed back into the organization after having accepted an ambassadorship position with the White Sox.  Formerly a roving Base Running and Outfield coach with the Blue Jays, Raines will be serving as a Special Assistant.  Director of Player Development Gil Kim said that Raines will be on assignments during Spring Training, the regular season, and Instructs:

 While most of the focus will be on basestealing development, Rock brings a wealth of playing and teaching experience, and will be utilized in a variety of ways to help both our players and our staff.

The Blue Jays obviously don’t like to say good-bye to quality staff.  Just over a month ago, Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish appeared on his way to Atlanta, only to have a change of heart a few days later.

Bobby Meacham returns to Buffalo for a second year to Manage the Bisons:

Hart is a rising star in the system with his work as Dunedin’s Hitting Coach after joining the organization last year.  Only a couple of seasons removed from his playing days, Hart drew raves for his work in the Arizona Fall League, and seems destined for bigger things.  According to Kim, he quickly and easily builds a rapport with young hitters:

 Our hitters really connect with Corey – he loves talking hitting, knows how to teach the swing, knows how to teach approach, and stays simple and positive. 

Hart takes over from Blue Jays World Series hero White,  who will serve as Buffalo’s Outfield and Baserunning Coach.

New Hampshire will also feature a Blue Jays staffer whose stock is on the rise in Manager John Schneider.

   Schneider is a Blue Jays lifer, joining the organization after being drafted in 2002.  He began his dugout career in 2009, Managing the GCL Jays.  Schneider has worked in the lower levels of the system until last year, when he managed Dunedin to a share of the Florida State League title.  C Danny Jansen credited the former backstop for much of his success in handling Pitchers while with the D-Jays, and Ryan Borucki, who Pitched for Schneider in Dunedin as well, was pumped at the news of him moving up the ladder:

Nova Scotian Vince Horsman returns as the Fisher Cats’ Pitching Coach, and Andy Fermin will be back as Position Coach.  New to the organization is Hunter Mense, who was drafted by the Marlins, and served as the Hitting Coach with the Padres Northwest League affiliate last year.  Mense’s background is a good fit with the Blue Jays High Performance group, according to Kim:

Hunter has a background as a player and has coached at both the pro and collegiate levels.  He’s also a strong learner who has a Masters in Sports Psychology.  He has a strong work ethic, and a true passion for developing hitting.

Former MLBer Casey Candaele, who was the Mariner’s First Base Coach this year, takes over the Manager’s reigns at Dunedin:

Kim is thrilled with the depth of knowledge Candaele brings to Dunedin:

 Casey brings knowledge and experience in so many areas, having previous experience coordinating Infield and Baserunning development along with one year as a Field Coordinator.  He’s had experience as a Major League player, and as a Major League coach.  We’re excited to welcome Casey’s high energy and creativity as a leader in our department.

At Low A Lansing, Cesar Martin returns to helm the Lugnuts:

Antonio Carceres, who had served a stint as the Lugs’ Pitching Coach in 2009 and 2010, returns to Lansing after seven years with Bluefield.  Matt Young, who played with the Braves and Tigers, operated a baseball academy in Texas before joining the Jays this year, and will be Lansing’s Hitting Coach.

Short Season Vancouver will have a new man running the club this year.  Dallas McPherson, a two-time MiLB POY in the Angels system, takes over from the departed Rich Miller.  Longtime Blue Jays minor league Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski returns, and will be joined by former Jays minor leaguer Aaron Matthews.  Matthews replaces Dave Pano, who will be joining Lansing’s staff.  Kim is high on McPherson:

Dallas McPherson comes to us from King’s Ridge Christian School in Georgia, where he served as the head varsity coach and also founded the Hard Knox travel ball program.  Dallas has a good knowledge of the game, experience as a player and strong leadership skills.  He’s open-minded and is constantly trying to improve himself

Veteran Blue Jays staffer Dennis Holmberg, who has been in the organization since 1979, returns to Manage Bluefield.  Adam Bernero, who Pitched for five teams in a 7-year MLB career, joins the team as Pitching Coach.  Bernero, who has a Masters in Sport and Performance Psychology, served as a Pitching and Mental Performance Coach with Dunedin last year.

Luis Hurtado will return as the GCL Jays Manager, along with Hitting Coach Paul Elliott.  Rafael Lazo moves up from the DSL to act as Pitching Coach, while Mark Worrell joins the team as a part-time Pitching Coach.  Former Blue Jays farmhand George Carroll, who helped rehabbing players at the Minor League complex last year, will joing the staff as a Position Coach.

John Tamargo Jr will return for a second season as the DSL Jays Manager.

Jeff Ware will return as the Roving Pitching Instructor, as will Ken Huckaby as the Catching Co-Ordinator.  Guillermo Martinez, who served as the system’s Hitting Instructor from 2011-2013, returns after three seasons with the Cubs.

After two seasons of little change among the minor league staff,  it was time to head in a new, more Sport Science-oriented direction.  Kim concluded:

 We’ve made several changes and additions in the past two years, and we’ve also seen some of our staff members take advantage of different opportunities whether that’s within or outside the organization.  We realize that at the same time that players are continuously striving to get better, we are as individual staff members and we are as a department.