Sean Reid-Foley Making the Transition from Thrower to Pitcher

2017 was going to be Sean Reid-Foley’s year.

Challenged with a promotion to AA after striking out almost 11 batters per 9 innings at two levels the previous year, the 2014 2nd rounder seemed to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues.

2017 proved to be a learning year for the righthander, who had reached full season ball in 2015 in only his second year as a pro.  Control problems skyrocketed his pitch counts as he admittedly tried to be too perfect, and he amassed only 15 innings over the course of his first 6 starts as a result.

Reid-Foley settled down and pitched reasonably well after that, but his 2017 did not meet up with expectations, and with youth on his side and a full rotation at Buffalo ahead of him, the Blue Jays opted to have him return to New Hampshire.

After two starts this season, he appears to be a changed Pitcher.  Reid-Foley retired the first 16 hitters he faced against the Rockies’ Hartford affiliate last night.  Going back to his last start, if not for a 6th inning error by 1B Juan Kelly, Reid-Foley had set down 28 consecutive hitters.

What’s been the difference so far for Reid-Foley?   Obviously, command has been a huge reason.  After walking three over the first three innings his first start, Reid-Foley didn’t issue another one until after allowing his first base runner last night, a one out single in the 6th.  Running out of gas, and maybe losing his focus a bit, Reid-Foley walked the next batter after that hit.  On the night, though he filled up the strike zone, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes.

Reid-Foley’s hammer curve has been an effective pitch for him in both starts.  Sitting 93-95 with his fastball, the curve offers another look that disrupts hitters’ timing.  He also appears willing to sacrifice strikeouts for weak contact – Reid-Foley recorded 9 ground ball outs on the night.

The knock against Reid-Foley in the past that he was unable to make in-game mechanical adjustments when he fell out of his delivery and lost the strike zone.  Last year, when he fell behind in the count, he would catch too much of the plate, and gave up a lot of contact.  Through two starts, he appears to have refined his command, and those occasions when he’s fallen behind, Reid-Foley has worked on the margins on the strike zone to get hitters out.  As a result, he’s largely avoided barrels to this point.

Two starts does not a season make, but Reid-Foley is moving in the right direction.  He’s commanding his fastball, and mixing in his secondaries well.  It really appears that he’s started to make the change from a thrower to a Pitcher, relying on his smarts more than his physical talents to be successful.

 

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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:

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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.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #5 Sean Reid-Foley/Richard Urena

pjimageFor the first time since I started ranking Blue Jays in 2013, I honestly can’t make my mind up about a pair of prospects.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley and SS Richard Urena had their struggles at AA this year, but there’s still tremendous updside to both.  Perhaps the biggest challenge this year was condensing what’s becoming a system with some decent depth into a Top 10 list, and I just could not fathom ranking either player any lower (or higher) for that matter.  Neither deserved to be at the top of the list, nor did they merit being left off altogether.  #5 is a suitable, mid prospect-range place to put them.

For someone pressed for time this spring, watching SRF’s first half-dozen starts was a Godsend.  Wildness drove up his pitch count early, and he failed to last beyond the 3rd inning in five of those.  By his own admission, Reid-Foley was trying to blow his fastball by hitters in his first go at AA (where he was one of the youngest starting pitchers in the league).  He tended to rush his delivery, and threw his four-seamer up and out of the strike zone.  Hitters at the lower levels often chased that pitch, but the more disciplined Eastern League hitters refuse to offer, putting him behind in the count often.  Hitters then sat on that fastball when he caught too much of the strike zone.

Early in the season, with his pitch count up quickly, he found himself pulled.  It wasn’t until he hit rock bottom on a May 2nd start, when he couldn’t get out of the first inning (lifted with two outs, having given up four runs, three walks, needing 37 pitches to do so), that SRF began to turn things around.  In his next 16 starts, Reid-Foley pitched into the 6th inning 9 times, and began to look more like the mid-rotation starter that he was projected to be.

The knock against him has long been that he lacked the experience to make mechanical adjustments on the fly, resulting in long innings and early hooks.  After a 2016 split between Lansing and Dunedin, in which he fanned 130 batters in 115 innings, Reid-Foley had appeared to learn how to make those in-game changes.  He had moved up to #4 in Baseball America‘s Top 10 Blue Jays rankings, and had even cracked their Top 100, coming in at #75.

When Reid-Foley rushes his delivery in attempt to bump his fastball (which already sits 93-95), he opens up early, and his command is very inconsistent.  As the season progressed, he repeated his delivery with greater frequency.  He could still dial it up to 97, with what was termed “effective wildness.”   SRF had one of the highest (10.6%) swinging strike rates in the Eastern League, and his line drive rate of 18.5% was reasonably low.  Only two pitchers had a higher K/9 rate than SRF’s 8.28.  There’s still plenty of reason for optimism with those numbers.

The bread and butter of Reid-Foley’s arsenal is that fastball.  His slider is probably his best secondary pitch, but both that pitch and his curve have plus potential.  His inability to command that fastball at times this year, of course, limited the effectiveness of his secondaries.  One scouting report from May suggested that his mechanics have been an issue:

Reid-Foley works from an abbreviated delivery that appears as being from the stretch, with a side-step delivery and compact arm action and above-average arm strength. His trouble repeating seems rooted in what’s appears be some limited athleticism in keeping the moving parts of his large frame working together through to an online finish. He had trouble working down in the strike zone and getting over his front side in this viewing.

Given his struggles this year, there was more talk that like rotation mate Conner Greene, who had his issues as well this year, Reid-Foley would be better suited to a back-of-the-bullpen role, where his fastball would play up.  The club will more than likely continue to give him every chance to succeed as a starter, however.  He has the build and three-pitch mix to turn a lineup over and give the team a lot of innings.  SRF was sent back to Lansing in 2016 after finishing in Dunedin in 2015.  One wonders if he may repeat AA to start 2018, before moving up to Buffalo’s rotation.

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Urena, of course, finished the season as Troy Tulowitzki’s injury replacement at SS.  He’s been almost a perennial Top 10 guy since his first pro season in 2013, but as Urena has moved up the ladder, his flaws have been exposed. He acquitted himself well in September, however.

All of Urena’s tools except for his speed show glimpses of above average potential, but consistency and a lack of polish at the plate and with the glove seem to relegate him to average status.

A swtich hitter, we observed earlier this year that he has different swings from each side:

Ureña hits from both sides, but he has shown markedly different mechanics and approach with each.  From the left side (his natural one), he utlizes a leg kick, and has a long, looping swing that can leave him susceptible to off-speed pitches, and can result in weak contact.  From the right side, Ureña uses only a toe tap and a much more compact swing, which allows him to drive the ball to the opposite field.

Urena got off to a very slow start this year, flirting with the Mendoza Line for much of the first two months.  His approach can best be described as aggressive; he can hammer mistakes, especially from the left side, but he gives away a lot of ABs going after pitcher’s pitches.  He has slowly demonstrated improving strike zone judgement over the course of his minor league career, but he struck out a whopping 37.5% of the time against MLB pitching.  Urena has quick wrists and good bat speed, but he does not make a lot of hard contact.

In the field, Urena has a plus arm, good reactions, and decent footwork, but he often makes careless throwing errors when he doesn’t plant his feet, and he has been known to boot the odd routine groundball.  His reactions help to make up for his relative lack of speed when it comes to his range.

Urena could profile as an above average offensive player, and a generally average defensive one.  The performance this year makes one question whether he’ll ever reach that ceiling.  At the same time, there are those tools, which just can’t be ignored, and the fact that he’s only 21.  Given his age and Tulowitzki’s contract, Urena should be headed to Buffalo for more seasoning come April.

Alford Sole Fisher Cat to Crack EL Top 20

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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.