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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 14, 2011

July 15, 2011

For those who follow me on twitter, they may have noticed that nearly every day for the past few weeks, I would tweet interesting tidbits about one or more players at every level of the Blue Jays minor league system. This would typically include their performance in the most recent game, as well as a comment on their development as a prospect. Some may have also noticed that I would make every effort to limit these tweets only to players who were deemed as genuine prospects with reasonable expectations of one day gracing a Major League field. My philosophy on picking who to highlight includes either high pedigree (meaning a nice signing bonus after being drafted, or being a highly-touted Latin American bonus baby), a player who may have been a late bloomer but has earned buzz among the scouty types out there, or a player who has risen in the ranks and, while they may never have received the praise of the other two categories, are excelling at the upper levels of the minor leagues (AA New Hampshire or AAA Las Vegas). Examples of these three categories might include Kevin Ahrens (yeah, him) in the first, Henderson Alvarez in the second (although I’m not actually sure how much he received when he first signed out of Venezuela in 2006 – although, with Ricciardi still at the helm, it could not have been for much), and Darin Mastroianni in the third. Once in a while, I will mention a non-prospect, but only if I have something interesting to write.

Another thing to bear in mind – the goal of the minor leagues is not to win, but to develop players. I really don’t care what the final score was, but care deeply about how the prospects fared. And now onwards to today’s game:

DSL Jays – On a team batting a collective .209 (league best is .269, with only 5 of 33 teams batting above .250), with an OPS of .580, a guy like C Kervin Santiago (2-4, HR (1), RBI, R) sticks out, as he is now batting .309/.380/.412 on the season. The 18-year-old backstop debuted last year to little fanfare and meager success still lacks power, s this is his first career home run and he only has 4 extra base hits in 109 career at bats. The 18 strikeouts, however, portends to good contact ability. I’d be surprised not to see him in boxscores for the Jays’ stateside affiliates by next season.

17-year-old LHP Jairo Labourt (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K) continues his stellar first professional season. In 23 innings, he has allowed only 13 hits, 0 earned runs (5 unearned), walked 10 and struck out 20. At 6-4″, projection remains.

GCL Jays – Last year’s second biggest Latin signee, 17-year-old RHP Adonys Cardona (2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K) didn’t put up a great line in his third career start (5th appearance), but the road is long and he hasn’t even put his keys in the ignition yet. Patience is mandatory.

In the 28th round this year, the Jays selected SS Jorge Vega-Rosado (3-5, 2B, SB, R) out of Miami Dade CC. Signing quickly, it is clear he didn’t break to bank to go pro. Nonetheless, you always want to keep an eye on a kid who can play shortstop, as, even if he doesn’t stick at the position, reports have him as athletic and his bat has been solid thus far. I doubt he’s on anyone’s top prospect list, but I have my eyes on him.

Bluefield Blue Jays – DH Gustavo Pierre (1-4, BB, R). I earlier observed that the only times Pierre did not have an error were when he lined up as the DH. So it was again tonight. Baseball America recently ran a blog about the minor league leaders in errors and it’s no surprise that Pierre is head and shoulders above the pack, with a whopping 40 in only 62 games in the field. When I watched him at Lansing two months ago, he simply seemed lackadaisical with a sloppy throwing error. The interesting thing about BA’s chart is that it shows that Pierre’s errors are not consistent, as he divides them pretty equally between throwing and fielding miscues, with a trio of missed catches thrown in for good measure. I have to wonder whether he is receiving extra attention in pre-game on his glove work.

LF Christopher Hawkins (2-4, 3B, R) continues his good run and is now batting .289/.318/.506 in 86 PA’s in Bluefield with a scorching 1.036 OPS in his last ten games. With only three walks so far, he needs to exhibit better patience. Still, he won’t turn 20 for another month, so he has some more time to figure that side of the game out.

Vancouver Canadians – When the Blue Jays added an 8th affiliate, it could have been expected that they’d struggle to populate all of the rosters with true prospects. While technically speaking, the Vancouver affiliate takes the place of the old Auburn side, most of the younger talent went to the new squad in Bluefield, or moved on to full season ball in Lansing. LHP Justin Nicolino is the exception for now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Drafted in the 24th round this year out San Jacinto JC in Texas, LHP David Rollins (5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K)represented an interesting flyer in that he had already been drafted thrice before, but was held back to injuries to his non-throwing shoulder. He got off to a great professional debut with Bluefield, spread across 4 starts, and this represented his debut in the somewhat more advanced Northwest League.

While it would be nice to get excited about a huge game from  1B Randy Schwartz (3-4, 3B, 2 HR (5), 3 RBI, 3 R, K), he’s 25 years old, was never drafted and is playing in the short season leagues. Hailing from just outside the GTA (King City, Ontario) can only get you so far. Somewhat more noteworthy is LF Stephen McQuail (1-3, HR (7), RBI, R), who lasted until the 30th round of last year’s draft after putting up big numbers as a 2B at Canisius College. He seems to have adjusted well to the pro game, now hitting .273/.360/.568, aothough 33 strikeouts in 88 at bats is a red flag, as is a small sample size line against left-handed pitching of 2-24 with 10 K’s.

Lansing Lugnuts – While not yet breaking into any published top-50 prospect lists, CF Jake Marisnick (3-4, HR (8), RBI, 2 R) is enjoying a genuine breakout season, a recent informal quote by the Jays Director of Player Personnel to Dave Gershman of the NY-Penn League Report called him a legit 5-tool player. His season splits suggest that his bat is real and that a promotion to Dunedin would be appropriate in the very near future.

Without making many waves at all, 2010 6th round pick, LHP Sean Nolin (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K – and a pickoff) is very quietly having a very solid season. Listed at a beefy 6-5″, 235, in his first taste of full season ball, Nolin is already striking out more than 1 batter per inning with good control (62 in 60 with only 16 walks). With a solid curveball (H/T Baseball America), Nolin fits the Jays mold and he is equally effective against both lefties and righties, although, oddly, he is much more prone to fly balls against righties.

Dunedin Blue Jays – 3B Brett Lawrie (1-3, RBI, K) is back playing baseball. The results in Dunedin are of much less significance than the fact that he is playing. Don’t forget that he was within days of breaking through to Toronto before breaking his hand.

Taken with the 41st selection of last year’s draft, the Jays had high hopes for RHP Asher Wojciechowski (5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K),  who has struggled mightily in his first full season (he only pitched 12 innings after being drafted). In 91.1 innings, all at Dunedin, he has allowed 109 while striking out 66, indicative of a pitcher not fooling opposing hitters. Touted for his wipeout slider, his draft stock rose after a dominating stint as a reliever for Team USA. I don’t think the Jays are ready to move him to the bullpen yet, but his performance, and his splits (in roughly equal time, he’s walked 22 LHB, but only 5 RHB) suggest such a switch will be in his future unless he can show clear improvement.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – C Travis d’Arnaud (2-4, RBI, R, K) continues to hit after the Eastern League All Star game. Ranked yesterday by ESPN’s Keith Law as the #20 prospect in all of baseball (#2 among catchers, behind only Cincinnati’s Devin Mesoraco), many believe that he will eventually push J.P. Arencibia to the bench or to another team. Alex Anthopoulos, speaking to Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler during yesterday’s Jays-Yankees game would only state that the Jays are elated at d’Arnaud’s progress, both offensively and defensively, but naturally would not comment on who the top brass see as the MLB team’s starting catcher of the future. They will take it slow with d’Arnaud, but he is worth being excited about.

While d’Arnaud represents a key ingredient of AA’s first big trade as a GM, RHP Chad Jenkins (6 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR),  likewise represents J.P. Ricciardi’s last 1st round draft pick,  singular success, who, along with Jake Marisnick, act as bookends between whom were the failed negotiations with James Paxton, Jake Barrett and Jake Eliopolous. Holding his own in his first exposure to the high minors, Jenkins has nonetheless underwhelmed, striking out only 6.73/9 IP between Lansing and Dunedin last year (141.2 IP) and 6K/9IP this year in 114.1 innings between Dunedin and New Hampshire. That doesn’t mean he can’t contribute at a higher level, but expectations should be tempered to Litschian levels at best.

Finally, RHP Casey Janssen (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K) takes another step closer to a return to the Blue Jays bullpen. Three appearances into his rehab assignment, the only question still remaining is who loses a job next week?

Las Vegas 51s – Something positive, something negative. RF Adam Loewen (3-6, HR (14), 4 RBI, 3 R, K) continues to make his case to be the next Rick Ankiel, as a formerly all-world pitching phenom who, for one reason or another, walked away from the mound and into the batter’s box. There has been speculation that the Jays are waiting until rosters’ expand to call him up, as he is not currently on the 40-man roster and, without remaining options, would have to pass through waivers were he not to stick with the big club. He has hit almost as well away from the firendly confines of the 51s’ home park and while hitting righties better than lefties, an .862 OPS against lefties is nothing to be ashamed about. His strong arm is still evident, what with 13 outfield assists last year and 7 already this year.

On the down side, RHP Kyle Drabek (3 IP, 6 H, 6 R (5 ER), 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HR) continues to struggle. His control seems to have been reined in, with only 2 walks allowed in his past 15 innings, but 20 hits in that same span suggests that the command has yet to follow. He’s not out of the woods yet and I don’t expect the Jays’ braintrust to rush him back up until they are absolutely certain that he has returned to the form he showed in AA last year.

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