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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 17, 2011

July 18, 2011

*Note that the Jays’ DSL and GCL affiliates rarely play on Sundays.

Bluefield Blue Jays – In the most recent edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook, LHP Mitchell Taylor (4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K) had his curveball rated as one of the best secondary pitches among all of the pitchers selected by the Blue Jays in last year’s draft, along with Aaron Sanchez’s and Deck McGuire’s slider. And they selected a ton of pitchers, so that is not faint praise. BA also noted that many scouts preferred his curve to his fastball, which ran between 88-93mph before being drafted. He signed too late to pitch last year, so it’s way too early to know what is here. But if we conveniently remove his professional debut from his stat line, the remaining numbers are fairly impressive: 19.2 IP, 18 H, 7 R (6 ER), 8 BB, 16 K, 0 HR.

After Taylor left the game, prospect hounds were treated to a follow-up by a pitcher even more highly touted in RHP Noah Syndergaard (3.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 4 K). His control wasn’t there in this game, but that is by no means a regular occurrence, as it doubled his season total for walks allowed. Syndergaard has 28 K’s to go along with those 10 walks in only 22 innings pitched. He’s allowed only 1 home run in 35.1 professional innings. Whereas Taylor was lauded for his curve, Syndergaard was noted by BA for having one of the best heaters in the Jays’ draft class, working at 92 and topping 95 in fall instructional league.

Vancouver Canadians – In a “they also played” event, a trio of undrafted free agent signees, RHP’s Blake McFarland (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K), Bryan Longpre (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K) and Philip Brua (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB< 0 K), combined to shut down the Boise Cubs on 3 total hits. Brua, acting as the closer for the Canadians has shown commendable command, in that he has only issued walks in 1 of his first 10 appearances as a professional out of tiny Oberlin College in rural Ohio, about 60 km from Cleveland.

I am still not convinced that LF Stephen McQuail (1-3, HR (9), RBI, R, K) is a promising prospect, but at 22, he is not particularly old for the level, and 4 home runs in his last 6 games shows that the power may be legit. He now has 9 home runs in 26 games, after hitting 6 in all of 50 games last season at Auburn. If (if!) the Jays move any one of Crouse, Marisnick or Knecht up from Lansing, McQuail might be a good bet to take one of those places. One big red flag in his production though, is his line against LHPs. Although this game’s home run (providing Vancouver with the only run of the game) came off LHP Willengton Cruz, his line still stands at a meagre 3-26, with 2 2B’s and this HR, 1 BB and 11 Ks. As a right-handed batter, I have to think this extreme reverse-platoon split will correct itself with more time.

Lansing Lugnuts – Speaking of Crouse and Marisnick, both young outfielders showed off their power potential yet again for Lansing. Often hitting out of the Leadoff spot for Lansing, LF Michael Crouse (1-4, HR (10), RBI, R, BB), is the type of player who does a great job of filling out a uniform. I wrote him up at greater length after visiting Lansing earlier this year. As he was only 17 when drafted in 2008, now 20, he is still very much age appropriate for Low A. His OPS is 120 points higher (850-730) against RHPs than against LHPs. He is also strikeout prone, having failed to make contact in 28.2% of at bats in the GCL in 2009, 36.4% between the GCL and Lansing last year and 30.7% in Lansing this year. This year’s stats are propped up by a run of 14 K’s in the 7 games prior to this one. Now with 290 Ab’s on the year for Lansing, Crouse has far exceeded his previous career high of 188. He may be tiring. The tools (power, speed, arm strength and some contact ability) are there. Crouse is slowly turning that into genuine baseball-playing ability. The road is still long in front of him, but he’s moving in the right direction. And for those into all-things Canadiana, Crouse is a Canadian, born in Port Moody, B.C., son of a former CFL player.

Yes, CF Jake Marisnick (1-5, HR (10), 2 RBI, R) is hot right now. Really, really hot. Recently stated by Kevin Goldstein (subscription required – see comment section), of Baseball Prospectus as a new member of his top 100 prospect list and being closer to 50 than 100, Marisnick has gone 9-24 with 3 home runs in his last 5 games. Marisnick could stand to improve his patience. His Isolated patience (OBP-BA) has dropped as he’s advanced, from .086 last year in the GCL, to .078 in a short stint with Lansing last year to .065 this year. That’s not bad, but much less could be taken advantage of at higher levels. When I watched him earlier this year, he showed some susceptibility to breaking out of the zone, shifting his weight to his front foot earlier (see pictures from the report linked for Crouse above). All that said, a CF with his mix of power, speed and defensive ability (read:athletic) is a rarity.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Some guys have none of the luck. Yesterday, in his 3rd rehab appearance in Dunedin 3B Brett Lawrie was hit by two pitches, once on the left arm and the other time in the same left hand that was broken in May. According to reports, his oversized batting glove protected him and he was ready to start again today. This time, Lawrie was plunked in his first plate appearance and was subsequently removed from the game. Again, the pitch hit him in the left hand/forearm area. This was meant to be his last game at Dunedin before returning to Vegas. There are currently no reports on the effect of the plunking. I am not a scout, but have watched some video of Lawrie swinging. He bats with a very open stance, with his front leg on the outer edge of the batter’s box and his back leg (and hands) on the inner edge. Could his hands be leaning in over the plate too far? Hard to tell, but three pitches in on his hands in his last four plate appearances is a little but much for coincidence, no? Then again, it might be. Over his entire professional career, he’s only been plunked 18 times in 1347 plate appearances. Most likely just bad, bad luck.

In more pleasant news, 2B Ryan Schimpf (3-4, 2 HR (5), 3 RBI, 2 R, K) was selected more as a scrappy middle infielder than for any power potential. Accordingly he hit only 9 home runs in his first 538 at bats across 2 years and 4 levels. Despite playing in only 22 of Dunedin’s first 93 games due to an injury, Schimpf, once compared to Dustin Pedroia (more for his stature and contact ability than his total game) is slugging like never before. Regression will surely come, but no one yet knows what Schimpf will look like once it does.

It is always an event worth watching when Jays’ 2010 first rounder RHP Deck McGuire (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) gets a start, even one as atypical in terms of damage as this one. Outside of the runs allowed, this start was actually fairly typical for McGuire, helping maintain his average of approximately 1 strike out per inning pitched, while improving his walk rate (around 3/9 IP on the season). 6 innings per start is close to (slightly over) his norm, as well. McGuire has a workhorse frame (6-6″, 220) and a 4-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, slurve and changeup). Most prognosticators have his ceiling as a #3 starter, they generally agree that he is a very safe bet to reach that level, safer than most pitchers of similar experience and pedigree.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – 3B Mark Sobolewski (3-3, 2B, RBI, BB) could have been a prospect once. The Jays drafted him in the 4th round back in 2008 as a draft-eligible sophomore from powerhouse University of Miami (Fla). His first 2 years, making his way through the NYP and the Midwest Leagues were unexciting, at best, with a combined average just above .250 and an OPS in the neighbourhood of .640 while fighting off a number of undisclosed injuries. Last year, beginning with a repeat performance at Lansing and moving up to Dunedin around the season’s half-way point, Sobolewski hit a combined .283/.327/.442 (.769 OPS). Now at AA, his production has fallen back to 2009 levels, as he is currently hitting .265 with a .674 OPS. Those numbers would be passable as a SS, or maybe even at 2B, but as a 4th-year pro drafted out of college to play 3B, Sobolewski will probably see himself exposed to the Rule V draft next off-season.

RHP Zach Stewart (7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, HR) has had an odd season. In fact, since coming over as the key return in the trade that sent 3B Scott Rolen to the Reds, Stewart has had an odd career. Having reached AAA in his first full season with the Reds (mostly out of the bullpen), Stewart finished 2009 in AAA Las Vegas with a few more bullpen appearances before being sent back to AA for 2010 and converted into a full-time starting pitcher. He was effective, if not wildly impressive, averaging a little over 5 inning per start, with just a hair under 7 K/9. Baseball America rated him 6th among Jays’ farmhands, noting both his low-90’s fastball as well as his mid-80’s slider as plus pitches. Kevin Goldstein ranked him 8th on the Jays, noting that he had never really dominated, despite seemingly impressive stuff on a scouting level. Debates rages over whether his future lay as a starter or reliever. ESPN’s Keith Law believed in his ability to start, going so far as to rank him among the top 50 prospects in baseball before the season started (although it is to be noted that Stewart did not make the mid-season top-50 cut). A few weeks ago, with the Jays reeling due to a pitching injury and ineffectiveness stack (Cecil, Litsch, Drabek), Stewart received his first MLB audition. Spanning 3 starts, Stewart was able to limit the damage, but 26 hits allowed in 16.2 innings pointed to a pitcher afraid to paint the corners. This points to one of the disadvantages of using an extremely hitter-friendly Las Vegas as a AAA affiliate – it is a very tough place for pitchers to gauge their own success, leading to many of them skipping the level altogether, which can lead to poor understanding of their own abilities if and when they are called up to The Show. That said, Stewart has been inconsistent just looking at his AA numbers, as prior to this quality start, he had a disaster, allowing 7 runs (6 earned) in only 4 innings on the 8th. The Jays will keep him in the rotation for now, but I would not be surprised if he is converted back to the bullpen for once and all if, and when, the Jays unload relievers at the upcoming trade deadline.

Las Vegas 51s – As news filtered in today that RHP Jesse Litsch will not be returning to Toronto, notwithstanding the end of his rehab assignment, LHP Brad Mills (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K) continues to put up deceptively impressive numbers in Vegas. By deceptive, I mean that while these numbers (3.71 ERA, .259 BA against, 7.64K/9, 2.33 BB/9, 3.8 K/BB) may not scream for a promotion, the PCL league is a known paradise for power hitters. Las Vegas in particular is a marvelous place for hitters, yet Mills has not shown any discernible split between pitching at home in Cashman Field or on the road. The ERA ranks Mills 3rd in the PCL. He actually leads the circuit in strikeouts and is 2nd in WHIP (walks plus hits per nine innings pitched). Mills has had brief cameos in the bigs in 2009 (very bad) and 2010 (Zach Stewart-esque, with less hits allowed and more walks). The Jays may fear being twice bitten, thrice shy when it comes to giving Mills a third-go-round, and he has already been surpassed by on the prospect depth chart by the aforementioned Stewart, but come September, the Jays may want to limit the innings given to Brandon Morrow (around 180), Carlos Villanueva, Kyle Drabek (assuming he returns) and Jo-Jo Reyes (if he makes it that far). With an fastball that tops out at 90 mph (actually decent for a southpaw) and an average curve, he could still carve out a career for himself as a long reliever.

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