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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August, 20, 2011

August 21, 2011

DSL Jays – The end is here. I’d like to close the DSL Jays season with a brief look on an unheralded relief pitcher, RHP Steven Romero (2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K). In spite of his 2.22 ERA, Romero has been unheralded for good reason. The 21 year old Venezuelan is unimposing at 6-0″, 190 and has the nerve not to throw with his left hand. He’s been pitching in the DSL for four full seasons, steadily improving each season. His WHIP has slowly declined from 2.28 in 2008, to 1.25 in 2009, to 1.22 in 2010 to 1.11 this year in a career high 56.2 innings and, for the first time, without surrendering a home run. He has also performed notably better against same sided hitters, giving him platoon pitching possibilities.

With the DSL Jays’ season now complete (they did not make the DSL playoffs), it is time to reveal the Section 203 player and pitcher of the year, as well as team disappointment, and name a few who I think could make the move up to the GCL next season.

DSL Player of the Year – Although he finished slow, with only 4 hits in his last 27 at bats (.503 OPS), C Kervin Santiago had an impressive age 18 season. He finished up with a triple slash line of .259/.343/.336, 3rd on the team. Of the two above him, one (Nelson Aguida) only had 48 plate appearances. The other (Tonguar Perez) was much more slugging dependent in his line. Santiago had almost as many walks as Ks, the only member of his team with significant playing time who could make that claim. Santiago was also one of only 7 DSL Jays’ members who succeeded in going deep. He also caught a solid 33% of would be base thieves. As the Jays’ who relied on one drafted college seniors and several senior free agent signs (such as Aaron Munoz, Chris Schaeffer and Garrett Maines) they would seem to have use of a new catcher for the GCL or Bluefield. I think Santiago should get one of the jobs.

DSL Pitcher of the Year – 17 year old LHP Jairo Labourt was given $350,000 to sign with the Jays earlier this year. He was throwing in the low 90’s and could spin a pitch. The second youngest active pitcher on the roster (behind the also modestly impressive RHP Yeyfry Del Rosario), Labourt’s FIP was nearly double his ERA. That said, he did not surrender a home run in 36.1 innings, his 29/14 strikeout/walk ratio gave him per 9 rates of 7.18 and 3.47, respectively. His lefty-on-lefty potential was not really tested as he only saw 11 all season. He was limited to no more than 4 innings pitched per appearance. It’s hard to say if he is ready for the GCL, but may be the most likely pitcher on this level to succeed there.

Disappointment of the YearCF Luis Martin. He is only 17 year old and has a good frame (6-4″, 210) and received $350,000 to sign, has been horrible. He’s struggled to a .526 OPS and struck out 12 times more than the next most profligate in the entire league, in an incredible 51.1% of his at bats. He may have good power and speed potential, as was hinted at upon his signing, but he has to make some contact to be able to take advantage of it.

Other Potential Callups – Tonguar Perez – an 18 year-old catcher with some pop. Maybe RF Cesar Barazarte – showed good on-base skills and speed. Played some CF. LHP Ericdavis Marquez – he has an 80-name, and had great K/BB numbers this year out of the pen. RHP Eyerys Guerrero – 18 year old learning to strike batters out. RHP Cesar Sanchez led the team in innings pitched and had the best season of is 3 year career. It may be now or never for the 19 year old.

GCL Jays – The big story of the day was LF Eric Arce (1-4, HR (13), 2 RBI, R, 2 K) with his league leading 13th home run. According to multiple sources, that 13th blast created a new GCL record. His two runners-up are both two years older than Arce. On the other hand, this year the GCL has seen a bit of a power spike. 2006 was the last year wherein anyone hit even 10 home runs in the GCL, as a 22-year-old Chris Carlson hit 10 for the GCL Tigers. Carlson made it up to High A in 2009 and has not played in affiliated baseball since. In addition to Arce and his baker’s dozen, Wander Ramos of the GCL Nationals has 11 and Juaner Aguasvivas of the GCL Dodgers has 10. This incidences, on their own, should not degrade Arce’s power show. His age helps. His strong BB/K rate of 36/45 helps even more. The other two GCL sluggers have 26 walks, between them. His 18% walk rate is at least as impressive as his power. He has 7 more walks than his closest competitor. Maybe it’s the coaching. Arce is one of 4 GCL Jays in the league’s OBP top-20, along with Seth Conner, Nico Taylor and Kevin Patterson. Reports from the GCL (h/t to @billsportsnews) are that Arce swings from his heels every time. Every time he swings, perhaps, but only if he likes the pitch.

Although he received the highest bonus among 2010 high school pitcher draftees, LHP Griffin Murphy (5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) has slipped a little under the radar this season. While Syndergaard, Sanchez and Nicolino are all putting up stellar numbers at more advanced levels, Murphy has only had a so-so debut in the GCL. According to minor league central, Murphy’s FIP was not much better than his bloated ERA (4.39 after today, down from 5.14 yesterday – it’s amazing what 5 shutout innings can do in short season ball), thanks to a high WHIP of 1.56. He is getting batters to swing and miss, as attested by his K/9 of 8.56. His walk rate of 3.51/9 IP is solid, so it seems that Murphy’s troubles stem largely from being prone to giving up base hits, 10.54/9 IP. If only it were so simple as to attribute Murphy’s poor numbers to grounders finding holes. From the looks of things, Murphy has simply been too hittable. Of the 48 hits he has allowed, 18 have been for extra bases (37.5%), including 6 home runs (1.3 HR/9). To compare, Aaron Sanchez, who has also struggled at time in Bluefield, has surrendered extra bases on 34.9% of the hits he has allowed. Noah Syndergaard surrendered extra bases on only 26.3% of hits allowed.

Bluefield Blue Jays – As readers of this blog, I rarely mention guys playing at levels too young for them unless I am pissing on a parade. Before I unzip today, I will remind everyone that this does not mean that a given player cannot make it to the Show, but rather, that the odds are stacked against him due to pedigree and current level vis-a-vis the player’s age. And so, without further ado, I invite CF Kevin Pillar (4-5, 3B, 2 RBI, R, PO) into my abattoir of love. Drafted two months ago in the 32nd round out of small NCAA Division-II Cal State Dominguez Hills, the Senior was the leading hitter for the Toros, with an OPS above 1.000. His most telling stat was that he struck out only 11 times in 49 games (5.5% of his at bats). Pillar signed with the Jays immediately after being drafted and went straight to Bluefield. As a professional he has struck out in 16.2% of his at bats, still a respectable level. The right-handed hitter has been a southpaw killer, with an OPS split of 1.128/.786. Digging a little deeper, we see that Pillar has been incredibly lucky on balls in play against lefties, as he has a BABIP of a wildly unsustainable .513 against them. His BABIP against righties is a more normal .301. In this game, Pillar had two hits against each. Pillar has definitely earned the right to fight for a spot with Vancouver next year, if not Lansing, but he will have to prove himself again at each new step.

Vancouver Canadians – Without much piss left, I wan to give a few quick notes on a trio of Canadians who had notable games.

1) CF Jonathan Jones (4-4, 2 RBI, BB, SB, 3 R) is in Vancouver because the Jays organization was not sufficiently impressed by his early walk-heav play with Lansing. He has no power to speak of, but has commanded the strike zone well and can play CF well enough to at least profile as a 4th OF further up the chain.

2) RF Nicholas Baligod (1-4, HR (2), 4 RBI, R), like Pillar in Bluefield, was drafted this summer with a late selection (40th round) as a senior. Although playing at the higher level, Baligod is also 18 months older than Pillar and cannot play in CF. Baligod has a good approach and little power, with his OBP 16 points higher than his SLG. Baligod is here because the home run he hit was a walk-off grand slam. That’s just a fun time.

3) C Garrett Maines (3-4, 2B, HR (4), 3 RBI, 2 R, BB, K) was acquired as an undrafted free agent out of NCAA Division II powerhouse, the University of Tampa. As discussed earlier in the blurb on Kervin Santiago, the Jays have leaned on players of Maines’ ilk in the lower levels this year. After a difficult cameo in the GCL last year, Maines has shown significant offensive improvement this year in Vancouver with power against both lefties and righties. Like lefties, catchers can overcome poor pedigree, simply due to positional need and scarcity. Maines should continue to rise up the ladder, at least one more level.

Lansing Lugnuts – As neat as it is that, after 119 games without a grand slam, LF Marcus Knecht (1-5, HR (15), 4 RBI, R, 2 K) has now done the deed in back-to-back games, this bit is not about him. The man on my mind is RF Markus Brisker (1-1, HR (5), 3 RBI, 4 BB, 2 R). Drafted as a raw athlete with more of a history on the parquet than on the diamond, Brisker struggled mightily in his first 3 seasons as a pro. He actually had a strong debut in the GCL as a 17 year old in 2008, but slumped to a .442 OPS between Auburn and Lansing in 2009 and could only manage a .523 OPS last year spent mostly in Auburn. Given a 3rd chance at Lansing, Brisker seems to be turning a corner, culminating in a great game on the day before his 21st birthday. The biggest part of his turnaround seems to be pitch recognition. Before this year, his isolated patience (OBP-BA) has hovered around 75-80. This year, with the 4 walks here, his isolated patience now stands at .117. At 6-3″, 210, Brisker seems to have the build for power, yet had only two home runs in his career prior to 2011. While 5 this year is not beyond the pale, it qualifies as a huge improvement for Brisker. He’s still not there, as his 32.5% K-rate attests, but Brisker should finally get up to Dunedin in 2012.

Dunedin Blue Jays – In all honesty, there was not much that stood out from this game. So, while his line was moderate, SS Ryan Goins (2-5, 2 R) is deserving a word. A power hitting SS in college at Dallas Baptist, Goings still mans the shortstop position, but the power has completely disappeared with a career ISO of .095. Of course, Goins played with aluminum bats in college, which tend to vastly inflate power numbers. One would like to see a lower K-rate than 20.9% career, 19.2% this year from a hitter with Goins’ profile, but Goins is a gritty type that some might refer to as “dirt-bag”. Let’s just say that Mike McCoy had a very similar profile coming up, but Goings has much better draft pedigree. Mike McCoy was originally drafted in the 34th round. Goins was a 4th rounder. He does not profile as a starter in the pros, but with a strong arm and his style of play, his ceiling of utility infielder could be reached. Goins should play in New Hampshire next year and will hope for improved health.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Rare are the games that give me nothing to say. This game was one. However, there is some very interesting news out of New Hampshire to discuss. RHP Drew Hutchison, the fastest riser in the Jays’ organization in 2011, has reached a new level, with his promotion to AA yesterday, mere days before his 21st birthday. Hutchison signed as a sort of consolation prize for the Jays, after they failed to ink the ptiching trio of Paxton, Barrett and Eliopoulos in 2009. Hutchison preferred $400,000 to 3 years at Stetson. He has struck out just over 10 batters per 9 innings this year combined between Lansing and Dunedin, with a tiny walk rate of 2.2/9 IP. His dominant numbers have been supported by superlative scouting reports with talk of him reaching the mid 90s with his fastball to go along with his slider and changeup, which has been described as plus. Prior to this year, he had been the antithesis of Henderson Alvarez, whose great stuff was not matched by the numbers. Now the stuff is there and the numbers are improving game after game. Each of his 10 starts for Dunedin meet the defition of quality (6+ IP, 3 or less runs allowed). Hutchison could see Toronto by this time next year.

Las Veags 51s – Once again, SS Adeiny Hechevarria (2-5, RBI) has a multi-hit game. That makes 8 in 9 games for Las Vegas. Once again, I will remind readers that, while Las Vegas is an absolute hitter’s paradise, this game was Hechevarria’s first at home in Cashman Field. Each of his first 8 games were on the road. His current batting average is more than double what it was in AA (.513-.235) while his OPS is just a shade under double (1.214-.622). Any day now, we will say “it was fun while it lasted.” But for now, it’s still lasting and it’s still fun.

In spite of a slightly down last stretch (10-36 over his previous 9 games), 1B David Cooper (2-4, 2B, RBI, SF) still maintains a commanding lead over the batting title chase in the PCL, ending this game at .371, 17 points ahead of runner up Collin Cowgill who is now playing in the Show with Arizona.  Cooper should get another cup of coffee in September, hoping to improve upon his miserable 13-game cameo in May. Like with Hechevarria, to those who point out that Cooper’s .997 OPS is wholly a product of Cashman, I will remind them that his road OPS .962. There is something there. As a left-handed bat, Cooper also has a better chance of securing a future role as a bench bat if he cannot hold down a starting role as an MLB 1B or DH.

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