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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011

DSL Jays – Held to 3 hits as a team, I will not debase myself again to write about the DSL Jays hitters. So a quick word about LHP Jairo Labourt (3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K) instead. The 17 year old has had a great debut season and has yet to surrender a hit to a lefty batter, although he had only faced 7 before this game. In general he has prevented hits, even though the fielders behind him are quite raw. His strikeout rates have not been stellar (7.2K/9) although he has whiffed 8 in his last 9.1 innings. I’d like to see what he could do if brought stateside next year.

GCL Jays – Part of the reasoning behind yesterday’s slew of left handers is that the bar is set much lower for that of prospect. However, they still need to throw strikes. With the influx of recently signed draft picks to the GCL Jays’ roster, a couple of lefties were also cut loose in Leandro Mella and Kenllie Santana. What bonds these two together is that, over four seasons in the Jays’ system, neither could consistently throw strikes. The lesson here is that while southpaws may  not need to throw as fast as righties, they still need to throw strikes.

The first Jays draft pick to make an impression on this day was the game’s starting pitcher, RHP Joseph Musgrove (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K). Musgrove has maxed out at 3 innings so far this year, and in his last three appearances, he has pitched 9 innings. Combined, they give him the following line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K). Whatever happens from now until the end of the season, he will not pitch enough innings for his final line to overcome the rough start he had in his first 9.2 innings. Musgrove is a big man-child and he has so far been a ground ball machine, getting 1.6 outs on the ground for each one in the air.

It was recently pointed out that Musgrove had signed for a bonus that was far lower than slot. Slot for his 46th overall draft position is around $750,000. Musgrove began his baseball career with a bonus of $500,000. He was reported to have commented that he just wanted to get started and that he’ll earn his money down the road. I do not agree with slotting, but think that Musgrove had a better idea of his true worth and earning power than Tyler Beede. Not that I would not have gone for slot were I in Musgrove’s shoes, but $500K is alot closer to $750 K than $2.5 M is to $0. Like most top 10 round choices, Musgrove also likely has a provision for his future education if baseball doesn’t pan out. But I love the confidence.

The Jays also had a couple of high draft picks make their professional debuts today, both with aplomb. Taken in the supplemental 1st round with the 35th overall draft choice and batting 2nd in the order was RF Jacob Anderson (2-7, HR (1), 3 RBI, 2 R). In his first at bat, he grounded into a double play. The second time, he grounded out to 3B. The third time is the charm. He came up again in the 5th inning with 2 runners on. And he pulled a fastball on the inner half to deep left field and out for his first professional home run. Much later in the game (14th inning), Anderson got on base again, this time through a single, and ended up scoring the game winning run. As Tyler Beede chose Vanderbilt over signing, Anderson is the top draft pick signed by the Blue Jays in their 2011 draft class. His biggest asset is his power, as an amateur he won the Under Armour All-America Game home run derby. He’s very tall at 6-4″, but still a thin 195 as can be seen in this profile over at Jays Journal. He will eventually fill out and the hope is that his hit tool matures enough to allow his power to actualize at higher levels.

Owner of a powerful arm (reaching the mid-90s), RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) also debuted today with an impressive inning, striking out the first two hitters he faced (the 4-5 hitters in the GCL Pirates’ lineup and then eliciting a flyball to CF for the 3rd out. While his top speeds are impressive, Perfect Game noted that his velocity can be inconsistent, ranging from plus to fringe. The ability to harness his velocity over time will determine whether he can remain a starter, or if he will be developed as a reliever. It should go without saying that the Jays will give him every opportunity possible to prove that he can maintain his stuff deeper into games. In the mean time, his feet are getting wet.

Bluefield Blue Jays – Although his power has been down lately, LF Christopher Hawkins (3-4, 2 RBI, K, SB) has continued to produce at a high level in second year, putting up solid numbers across the board. He has even begun to take more pitches since I last wrote about him. At the time, he had earned only 5 walks in 35 or so games. He has since walked 9 more times in his last 20 games, to improve his K/BB ratio to 2.9. In a recent article, Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks named Hawkins as one of the top few “High Ceiling” Left Field prospects in the game, beginning his blurb with notes about his plus athleticism and speed.

Another young pitcher who has mixed utter ineffectiveness with unmitigated dominance is RHP Aaron Sanchez (5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR). Two starts ago, Sanchez allowed 4 runs in 4 innings. Since then, he has pitched 9 innings, allowing 7 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks and striking out 8. He has also been a groundball heavy pitcher, which came to the fore in this game, as he only got 1 flyout, compared to 7 groundouts. As is common with groundball pitchers in the low minors, Sanchez has allowed more hits than he would at a higher level, as the infielders turn fewer grounders into outs and the fields are often not kept in the same condition to make them easy to begin with. Forget the bloated ERA, Sanchez is someone to remain excited about.

Vancouver Canadians – I usually have to wait until morning to discuss the Canadians, so an afternoon game is certainly going to help me get ready for work more easily. As DH/LF Stephen McQuail continues to struggle (Golden Somrero – 0-4, 4 K), the best hitting prospect on the team has to be SS Shane Optiz (1-3, BB, RBI, 2 R) who has maintained his steady development pace throughout the season in Vancouver. 18 months younger than the next youngest hitter on the team, Opitz has yet to show any in-game power and his patience is only slightly below average (.048 Isolated Patience). His splits are also quite large and reversed, with Opitz raking against lefties and struggling more against opposite handed pitchers. I expect that to right itself more next season, as Opitz has seemingly earned the right to play in full season ball with Lansing. I have not heard any recent reports on his defense, but he is still playing on the left side of the infield and combined with his youth, he is well ahead of the curve.

Lansing Lugnuts – It was a slow game for the prospect hound. Michael Crouse is still hurt. Marisnick and Knecht were quiet and no one has quite replace Drew Hutchison as a must-see staff ace. So it’s time for a word on a backup C Jack Murphy (2-3, HR (1), 2 RBI, BB, R). For reason, Jack Murphy is not listed among the high end catching prospects in the Jays’ system. Like Joseph Bowen, Murphy plays where he is needed. While he has spent the majority of the season in Lansing, he did have a short cameo up in AA. Although this was only his 1st home run on the season, Murphy does have pop with a career isolated slugging of .123. Murphy can take a pitch, but he’s also struck out in over 23% of his career at bats. He’s only caught 28.6% of wanna-be base thieves, and at 6-4″, 235, he is big for a catcher. As a Princeton man, though, he is smart for a man wearing the tools of ignorance.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Coming off a 7-game stretch where has has gone 4-26 with 3 walks, C A.J. Jimenez (3-4, 2 2B, 4 RBI, SF, R) broke out in a big way in this game, bringing his season average back up to .300, to go along with a .351 OBP and a .405 SLG. He’s also continued to show off his plus arm this year, throwing out 41% of opposing thieves, while holding passed balls to a minimum. It is also worth pointing out that Jimenez is in new territory as far as playing time goes. Prior to this year, his career high in games played in a season was 80. This was his 92nd game this season and a game like this shows that, if he had hit the wall, he has bounced back.  The Jays’ is a system loaded with catching talent at every single level – including a very young starter at the MLB level. The downside of that is that some of these prospects may find their best opportunities elsewhere. For now, as crude as it is to say, they are assets. Jimenez is a very valuable asset.

It’s been an odd season for RHP Asher Wojciechowski (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K), with awesome performances like this one interspersed by disaster starts, like the 6-run affair on July 19th, or the two starts in mid-June when he allowed 16 runs in 8.1 innings. Like a number of other highly touted Jays pitching prospects (not all, just some, like Chad Jenkins), Wojciechowski has not missed many bats this year, striking out only 82 in 122 innings (6.6K/9). That number is partially compensated for by his impressive walk rate of only 2.3BB/9, but I wouldn’t think this season has quietened any of the speculation that Wojciechowski’s future will be in the bullpen.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Yesterday was LHP day. Today might be Catcher’s day. New Hampshire gives played two and offers us two catchers to comment on. We must, of course, start with C Travis d’Arnaud (2-4, HR (18), 2 RBI, R/1-4, 2 RBI), who DH’ed in the second game. If I haven’t mentioned it before, there are many who believe that d’Arnaud’s ceiling is so high that he may push current MLB starter J.P. Arencibia out of the glamour role by 2013. Alex Anthopoulos, in a recent interview, had to emphatically point out that d’Arnaud would not get a September callup, such was the clamor to see him in The Show. d’Arnaud has proven to be much more effective against right handed pitching, with 17 of his 18 home runs coming against the same sided. But he is in no need of platooning, as he has put up a .839 OPS against lefties as well. His numbers on the road are also stronger than those at home, meaning he is not gaining any odd home field advantage in New Hampshire as some suggested was happening to Eric Thames two years ago. In his first exposure to AA, d’Arnaud has seen his OPS rise more than 200 points above his next best season. I’ll call it – Travis d’Arnaud is the best prospect in the system.

Primarily employed as d’Arnaud’s backup, although also seeing time at 1B and DH, C Yan Gomes (0-3, 3 K/3-3, HR (10), RBI, R) earned the promotion to AA on teh basis of a fine season in a part-time role at Dunedin last year. His numbers are not phenomenal, but the Brazilian-born Gomes is only two years removed from being drafted out of small Barry University in Florida. His Isolated Slugging is around .200 and like Jack Murphy, his 32% caught stealing rate does not strike fear into opposing base runners. He strikes out a bit too much, but absent large platoon splits, he has proven himself to be a useful player with a ceiling likely above AA.

Las Vegas 51s – In his first demotion of the season, nay-sayers dismissed LF Travis Snider (1-4, HR (4), 3 RBI, 2 R, BB) and his performance, as the home runs were lacking, a shocking development in the hitter’s paradise of Las Vegas. He smashed 2 of them in 48 games. This time around, in his first 8 games back, he has doubled that total, both of which have come in the past three games. No one really doubts Snider’s ability to hit (alot) in AAA against the lower level pitching and jacked up offensive environments of the Pacific Coast League. Many are now unsure if Snider is one of the rare species of AAAA player. A world beater in AAA, but beaten repeatedly in MLB. Beyond that, with Colby Rasmus now entrenched in CF, Lawrie up and daily establishing himself in The Show and Eric Thames proving himself day in and day out that he was not a fluke, the only role left long-term seems to be as DH (either Snider or Thames expected to take the role if Encarnacion is not brought back). As a long-time Snider believer, this situation would be depressing if the organization did not have viable options ahead of him. But it does. Snider has used up his last minor league option and must be kept up with the big club all of next year, whether the big club is Toronto, or somewhere else.

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