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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 21, 2011

July 22, 2011

DSL Jays – Of the 19 batters to have played on the DSL Jays team in 2010, a team with only three batters to finish the season batting .250 or higher, only 4 graduated to the North American affiliates. Three of the four don the tools of ignorance. For now, only 2 players with more than 20 at bats are hitting above .250. One of them is C Kervin Santiago (3-4, RBI, SB, R, K), now batting .300. Not much power yet, but he is trying to prove that one can indeed walk hims way off the island, as he currently has a very respectable BB/K rate of 9/11. Small sample, of course, but if it’s got to be small, it might as well be good.

GCL Jays – A trio of quicker notes for a highly charged offensive game. Through his first 18 games, CF Dalton Pompey (3-4, 2B, HR (3), 3 RBI, BB, SB, 2 R) was struggling along to a line of  .194/.328/.290. With his 2nd home run in as many games, Pompey is on a 10 game run going .310/.431/.476, bringing his season line to .240/.347/.365. Not earth-shattering, but his approach is great for his 18 years 16/21 BB/K rate and he`s a terror on the basepaths – 11/0 in stolen base attempts.

For DH/1B Eric Arce (1-4, HR (5), 2 RBI, BB, 2 K, 2 R), the singles watch continues. 10 of his 14 hits so far have been for extra bases. 23 strikeouts in 70 at bats hints at the reason why.

2B Christian Frias (3-4, RBI, 2 R, K), before this game, had 2 hits in his first 31 professional at bats. So he more than doubled that. He`s actually a bit of a mystery.

Bluefield Blue Jays – He started the year with a couple of good games and then went into a cold spell for a few more. And now in his last ten games LF Christopher Hawkins (2-4, 2B, HR (4), 3 RBI, R) has caught up again, hitting for an aggregate line of .395/.425/.789, suggesting that he is making the adjustments so far. He hits well against both righties and lefties, with a higher BABIP against southpaws. Still not showing patience though – which may yet catch up with him. His talent is good enough for this level, but he will need to make more adjustments as he moves up the ladder.

Vancouver Canadians – In a game completely dominated by pitching with only 7 combined hits for both teams (more on that later), the only Canadian to make any kind of noise with the stick was the previously powerless 2B Jonathon Berti (2-4, HR (1), RBI, R, CS). His first career home run was only his 5th extra base hit (3 of which have been triples). And that is why it is important not to be taken in by his shiny .322 batting average. Fielding in the lower reaches of the minor leagues (and the Northwest League, in which Vancouver plays, is very much part of those lower reaches_ is notoriously poor. Let’s call it “in development”. In the majors, the median balls-in-play average is around .290-.310. Without any real extra base pop, Berti’s .322 is held up by an inflated .386 average on balls-in-play. That’s really hard to sustain without hitting a tonne of line drives. And it’s hard to hit a tonne of line drives and only have 5 extra base hits among 87 at bats to show for it.

Of the 7 combined hits for both teams, the man most responsible was likely LHP Justin Nicolino (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Perhaps inspired by (sneak peak!) Nestor Molina, who did the same for Dunedin earlier in the day, Nicolino had an absolutely dominating performance in this game. Of the 16 batters he faced, only 6 actually put the ball in play. Nicolino has now struck out 47 in 34 professional innings. According to Baseball America, Nicolino features a low 90’s fastball, a great change-up and an overhand curve. His phenomenal numbers against right-handed batters bodes well for his continued development as a starter. Righties have only 12 hits against Nicolino, against 38 strikeouts. For those worried about where the Jays stand in terms of signing their draft picks from this year, Nicolino was also a late signing last season. This is why the wait is worth it.

Lansing Lugnuts – Rehabbing RHP Andrew Liebel (5.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R (2 ER), 3 BB, 4 K) made a second start with Lansing, allowing little hard contact, although not as dominant as in his last start. With no real “out pitch”, Liebel needs to command very well to succeed. According to Baseball America, his 4-seamer can be average, but is often a little below, while his changeup is a stronger pitch than his fringier curveball and slider. Before the Jays’ system grew much stronger over the last two years, Liebel’s prospect stock has dropped precipitously. Whereas he had been ranked in the mid-20s in 2009 and 2010, last year he was buried on the depth chart among right-handed relievers. I do wonder whether the Jays have tried to get Liebel to choose one from among his two breaking balls. Maybe simplifying the repertoire could help him maximize his potential.

Dunedin Blue Jays – It took 4 years in the system for 6-1″ RHP Nestor Molina (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K) to even work his way into Baseball America’s depth chart, but he was always a reliever and the bar for guys who already relieve in the minors is much higher than for starters who have to cut back on their innings. Having a long ways to make up, Molina has pitched incredibly well thus far, with a shocking K/BB rate of 101/11 – 9.2 K/BB. But this is really nothing new. In his first 4 seasons, his aggregate K/BB was 123/31, or 3.2 K/BB. So it becomes harder to say what is more interesting about his pitching line in this game. That he did not surrender a single base hit in 5 innings, or that he actually walked two guy?

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – The most interesting thing about C Yan Gomes (1-4, HR (6), 2 RBI, R, PB) is not that he was born in Brazil. Lots of people were born in other places. He wasn’t spotted on a South America beach, but playing for small school Barry University, in Florida. Gomes has played wherever the Jays have needed a part-time catcher. But while Joe Bowen gets those chores in the lower levels, Gomes has been given the role in the upper levels and he’s only a 3rd year pro. He turned 24 this past Tuesday, but catcher often develop later. This is not to say that he is a future MLB player, but his .201 ISO last year playing mostly at Dunedin, and .185 this year mostly for New Hampshire speaks to his power. He also has a lot of whiff in his bat, having struck out in over 25% of his at bats in each of the past two seasons. Combined with a very low walk rate, questions must be asked about Gomes’ hit tool and pitch recognition.

Las Vegas 51s – A slightly upgraded version of Gomes, C Brian Jeroloman (2-4, 2B, R, K) has more defensive ability while conceding power to his younger counterpart. For example his lifetime ISO is around half that of Gomez at .104, and only .053 this year. Catcher defense is difficult to gauge, but the 6th round choice of the 2006 draft has received glowing accolades for his work behind the dish for his entire career. What Jeroloman also has in spades is patience at the plate. Although, as he has advanced through the system, his walk rate has trended downward: 0.68, 1.49, 0.91, 0.52, 0.76 and now, 0.47. Part of the fluctuation could be at least a little bit due to an adjustment period at new levels. Part may also be a testament to more pitchers challenging Jeroloman’s weak bat. He is on the 40-man roster, so it wouldn’t take much for Toronto fans to get some 1st-hand experience with Jeroloman.

I wrote yesterday, “Anthopoulos’ main hope for Lawrie as expressed in that conversation was that the rehab would go smoothly and Lawrie would be back on the precipice of a promotion to The Show in no time.” In this game, 3B Brett Lawrie (3-5, 2B, RBI, K, SB) made a statement with the 2nd in back-to-back 3 hit games. I stand by that earlier statement. He still hasn’t gone yard since his return (8 games), but that’s not really the barometer for success, is it. With the trade deadline approaching shortly, I think Lawrie’s callup will coincide with the Jays’ last move of the day (assuming any moves at all). Hard to say who will remain by then and what other needs the Jays have. Whether or not room on the 25-man roster is available, the Jays should find space for Lawrie within about 2 weeks.

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