Gurriel Expected to Get the Call to Blue Jays

Lourdes Gurriel Jr, the Cuban SS/2B who the Blue Jays signed to a 7-year/$22 million contract prior to the 2017 season, is rumoured to be next in line for a promotion to the Blue Jays.

With Richard Urena injured and Gift Ngoepe having struck out in 7 of this last 8 ABs, the Blue Jays were clearly looking for some better backup offensive production in the midst of six games with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Gurriel showed considerable signs of rust last year after not having played in almost two years, and struggled through some injury issues as well.  With Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr getting most of the media attention ahead of him in New Hampshire this month, Gurriel has quietly put together a .347/.382/.510 line, and has been every bit as dangerous as the dynamic duo just ahead of him in the batting order. He’s in the midst of a 7-game hitting streak, and has reached safely in all 12 games he’s appeared in so far this season.  It’s a small sample size to be sure, but Gurriel has a drastically reduced (30%) ground ball rate, and a corresponding huge jump (49%) flyball rate.  The concern about Gurriel’s swing prior to this year has been its length, and the resulting ground ball contact tendency.  Like all Blue Jays prospects, he’s been taught the gospel of launch angle, and is putting the ball in the air more so far.

 

Gurriel has played 7 games at 2B, 3 at SS, and 2 at DH for New Hampshire so far this season.  Defensively, he is solid, with good reactions to ground balls, excellent footwork, and a strong arm.  In fact, the Blue Jays have probably been waiting for his bat to catch up to his glove.  His presence on the Toronto bench is a definite upgrade over Ngoepe, who goes down to Buffalo in an attempt to get his confidence and swing back.

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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.

 

 

4 Jays Prospects Help Propel Peoria to AFL Title Game

Three Blue Jays prospects have played prominent roles in taking their talent-laden Peoria Javelinas to the Arizona Fall League championship game.

OF Jonathan Davis was a 15th round pick in 2013 out of Central Arkansas.  Injuries limited his development early on in his minor league career, but he’s been a steady, get-on-base (.376 at A+ last year, .361 at AA in 2017) guy at the top of the order.  His speed may not be in the Anthony Alford/D.J.Davis/Reggie Pruitt category, but he’s stolen 54 bases over the past two years.  Davis can play all three outfield positions.  Initially sent to the AFL for some exposure to advanced competition, he’s boosted his stock with a .295/.389/.410 fall.  Davis has to be considered at least a fringe 4th oufielder with his showing this year.  He hit an absolute rocket in Peoria’s come-from-behind win last Saturday:

 

 

IF Lourdes Gurriel has split time between 2B and SS for Peoria, and has been a fixture in the botton third of their lineup.  The much-heralded Cuban off season signing had his pro debut season marred by injuries and the rust of almost two years of baseball inactivity.  His stint in the AFL was designed to give him more reps.  He did not set the league on fire, but was solid on both sides of the ball.  Gurriel showed some pop, as suggested by his .802 OPS.  He has a chance at least a utility role in spring training – it feels like the real Lourdes has not quite shown up yet.

Reliever Andrew Case, a New Brunswick native, must be placed on the 40-man roster by Monday, or risk being claimed in the Rule 5 draft.  He may be a long shot, but Case built on a solid 2017 in which he pitched at three levels.  Not a strikeout an inning hurler, Case did not give up an earned run in 10 appearances for Peoria pitching primarily in a set-up role.

T.J Zeuch, who we had written about earlier, has also had a fine fall in the desert, and gets the start for Peoria.

The championship game between Peoria and Mesa will be broadcast on MLB network at 1:08 MST on Saturday.