Short Stop Becoming A Blue Jays Position of Strength

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Logan Warmoth – Clutchlings Photo

Last year, with the emergence of Danny Jansen, the acquisition at the previous year’s trade deadline of Reese McGuire, and the drafting of Hagen Danner and Riley Adams, Catching became the deepest position in the Blue Jays organization.

This year, the team has built on that depth at Short Stop.

Leading the way is Bo Bichette, who lead the minors in hitting last year, flirting with .400 in early June.  This year at AA, Bichette has been challenged by the higher level pitching for the first time in his pro career.  Still, he’s hit safely in 23 of the 27 games he’s appeared in, and while he’s yet to Homer this season, Bichette has started to tap into his power with 12 extra base hits.  In addition, Bichette has taken great strides to quell concerns about his defence, with most evaluators this year agreeing that he has the skills to play Major League SS.  Bichette was ranked the Midwest League’s #3 prospect, and the Florida State League’s #2 prospect after a whirlwind 2017, and shows all the tools of a future MLBer.

Behind Bichette is a growing wealth of talent.

Logan Warmoth was Toronto’s 1st round pick in last June’s draft, and he had a solid pro debut, leading Vancouver to the Northwest League title,  being named the loop’s 6th-best prospect in the process.  Skipped over Lansing to High A Dunedin this year, Warmoth had his struggles at first, but is hitting .275 over his last 10, and making a lot of hard contact according to reports.  Warmoth does not have one overwhelming tool, but does a lot of things well.  Like Bichette, there were initial concerns about his long-term prospects at SS, but he’s shown the range, footwork, and arm strength to handle the position.

Kevin Smith has been in Warmoth’s shadow since being taken in the 4th round last year.  Normally, a college draftee chosen that high would start at Vancouver, but with Warmoth there, Smith was sent to Bluefield to start his pro career.  A glove-first player for much of his college career, Smith showed glimpses of a bat that was still developing, with his power ranked ahead of his hitting ability.  Sent to Lansing this season, Smith has shown every indication that his bat has caught up to projections – Smith has posted a line of .370/.417/.639, and is hitting .459 over his last 10 games.  With the presence of Kevin Vicuna at Lansing, Smith has split time between SS and 3B, but there is little doubt about his skills on the defensive side of the ball.  Smith has plus hands and a strong arm.

Vicuna was labelled a glove-first player when the Blue Jays signed him as an IFA in 2014.  His bat had progressed enough to be sent to Dunedin to fill in for a month last spring before he was sent to Vancouver, where he was named the Northwest League’s 19th prospect.  There is no doubt about his defence, but Vicuna’s bat has shone at Lansing this year, hitting .308/.325/.375.  Vicuna goes up to the plate looking to swing, drawing only a pair of walks so far.  His glove is what will move him up in the organization, but he’s not proving to be an easy out.

Two international players also add to the team’s depth:

-Dominican Miguel Hiraldo was ranked the top bat in last year’s IFA class.  He profiles long-term at 3B, but the Blue Jays wil have him start his career at Short.

-Panamanian Leo Jimenez, who Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish is incredibly high on:

 (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.

In addition, the Blue Jays have been strongly linked to Orelvis Martinez of the D.R. Martinez is ranked the top IFA SS in this year’s class, and may command the highest bonus.

Not all of these players will one day patrol the infield at the Rogers Centre, but the depth gives the team plenty of options and flexibility in the future.  Some could be developed into utility players, while others could be used in trades to bolster the organization’s depth at other positions.  The organization has done a good job stockpiling a supply of athletic players at Short Stop.

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Vancouver Places 4 in BA’s Northwest League Top 20

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Logan Warmoth – MLB Pipelin

You can forgive Vancouver Canadians’ fans for being a bit spoiled.

The team won three consecutive Northwest League titles after they swtiched affiliation to the Blue Jays in 2011, and just missed a fourth in 2014.

2015 and 2016 were lean, sub .500 seasons for the short-season club, and there were some grumblings that the Blue Jays were not sending top prospects to the Lower Mainland despite setting Northwest League attendance records both seasons.

2017 saw the team smash their own gate record once again, drawing an incredible average of over 6300 fans per game as the team returned to the post season, and won their fifth NWL crown in front of a boisterous home crowd.  More importantly for fans of the big club, according to Baseball America, five top prospects played at The Nat this season.

SS Logan Warmoth led the group, placing 6th on BA’s list.  The first of two first round picks the Blue Jays had last June, the 22nd overall pick did not disappoint, looking very much like a future big leaguer, despite some initial concerns about his eventual position:

Most believe Warmoth has the range and athleticism to stick at shortstop, with more than enough arm strength to handle the position, while others view him as more of an offensive second baseman. At the plate, Warmoth often looks to pull the ball, as most of his power is to his pull-side. But Vancouver manager Rich Miller said Warmoth did a better job of covering the outside part of the plate and hitting the ball to all fields as the season progressed. He’s smart hitter with a quick bat and has shown the aptitude to make adjustments.

Warmoth does not have one outstanding tool; you need to watch a larger body of his work to truly appreciate his skills.  In viewing him over a half dozen games this year, he showed that he makes a lot of solid contact.  His reactions to batted balls are good, although he seemed to lack that explosive first step to allow him to get to balls faster.  He may not profile as a first division player, but it’s easy to envision Warmoth as a big leaguer one day, and he adds to the Blue Jays’ depth at Short Stop.

The next Canadian to appear on the list was C Riley Adams at #11.  The June 2017 3rd rounder is an intriguing prospect.  Compared to Matt Wieters because of his 6’4″ frame, Adams is an athletic prospect who can be termed raw behind the plate.  His blocking and receiving skills are still a work in progress, but he made progress this summer.  His work with 1st rounder Nate Pearson in the C’s final home game showed an observer that his pitch framing is a part of his skill set most in need of work, although in fairness to Adams, he did not work with many Pitchers with Pearson’s velo as a collegian.

At the plate, Adams has some holes in his swing that make for some swing-and-miss, but BA feels he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat.  Adams is rawer than Warmoth, and may not move through the system as quickly, but he too has the look of a future MLBer.

Two C’s checked in at the bottom of the list.  SS Kevin Vicuna, a 2014 IFA who was more noted for his glove, hit reasonably well at Vancouver (.280/.333/.307) and in a late-season promotion to Lansing , was ranked at 19.  At 20th was OF Reggie Pruitt, a 2015 24th rounder whose draft stock had fallen to his commitment to Vanderbilt.  Pruitt has struggled at the plate through his first three minor league seasons, but began to make more consistent contact in the second half.  A burner on the bases and a ballhawk in the Outfield, Pruitt led the NWL in steals.  His ability to make more contact (26% K rate this year) will determine his future.

One name was absent from the list, and that was RHP Pearson, who did not have enough innings to qualify.  Pearson and his triple digit fastball were no match for NWL hitters, and had he qualified,  he may have been one of the top three prospects.  Pearson is a legit top-of-the-rotation arm, depending on the development of his secondary pitches to complement his overwhelming heat.

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While we’re talking about the C’s, here are a couple of final thoughts…

much was made in the aftermath of the C’s final game about the Blue Jays letting Manager Rich Miller go.  Miller has been a loyal employee, stepping in to take over the reigns when Manager John Schneider had to take a leave of absence during the C’s first championship run in 2011.  Miller, a baseball lifer who has been in the game for 44 years, did not see the firing coming.  I made several attempts to reach Rich (I wanted to talk about his time managing a young Catcher by the name of John Gibbons in the Sally League in the early 80s as well as the title this year), and he was willing to speak, but after several missed emails/calls, it was obvious that he was done with the matter and ready to move on.  Turnover is a fact of life in minor league baseball, and the Blue Jays are no exception, frequently turning over some or all of their staffs at each affiliate from one year to the next.  Miller seems to have done a favour to the organization by stepping in during the 2011 season, and he really enjoyed his role as a senior adviser between Managing gigs.  It’s not so much a shame that he would not be returning after winning a title; it’s more unfortunate that he was let go by the organization after doing so.  Miller is a savvy baseball man, and he still wants to work – it’s highly likely another organization will pick him up.

-Blue Jays fans have gained quite a bit of notoriety for taking over Safeco Field when their team pays their annual visit to the Mariners.  While it’s quite a site to see, I would suggest that for any Jays’ fan’s bucket list, a trip to Nat Bailey to see the C’s should be on it.  The Nat is a quaint old ballpark, and while it pales to some other state-of-the-art facilities elsewhere in the Blue Jays system, there is no other atmosphere that compares to it.  And unlike Toronto, Vancouver is a relative urban oasis.  A short drive in just about any direction puts you in the wilderness.  Stanley Park, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain (the Grouse Grind climb is a must for Mrs C and I every time we visit, but is not for the faint of heat) all beckon.