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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 22, 2011

July 23, 2011

DSL Jays – The DSL being the pitching heavy league that it is, an offensive outburst like has occurred in this game allows me to render unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s. I am, of course, referring to RF Cesar Barazarte (4-5, 2B, RBI, 4 R, BB), about whom, like most players at the DSL very little information other than his biographical details is available. At 18 years of age, he has shown remarkably little power thus far in his career (13 XBH in 319 at bats for a combined .273 slugging percentage). Barazarte played mostly in CF in his debut last year, but the 6-figure signing of Luis Martin has bumped him to RF this year, and realistically, further away from his goal of advancing through the professional ranks, as, let’s be honest, a RF must have a SLG way higher than .273. Barazarte also has a huge L/R split, at .431/.799, as measured by OPS. So he’s basically half the batter against southpaws. What is Cesar’s is credit for a good game. Until, or unless, he muscles up, very little else will be his in this game.

An even more impressive game than Barazarte’s was had by 1B/DH/C Tonguar Perez (3-4, 2 HR (2), 5 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, K, SB). A 2nd year pro, these represent his first 2 career home runs, coming in back-to-back innings. In 40 games last year, Perez had an ISO of .049 playing solely behind the plate. This year, featuring mostly at 1B or as the DH, his ISO has rocketed up to .184 in his first 29 games. Perez has also improved his walk rate this year and his power has shown against pitchers of both persuasions. In fact,  his 1st home run was off a southpaw, while his second one was smashed against a righty. With a Sean Ochinko-lite profile, if this burst of power can be maintained and his contact rate could improve, the stocky 18-year-old could find himself playing in the U.S.

If, yesterday, I gave shout outs to 2 Jays’ prospects who pitched 5 no-hit innings, I feel it would be petty of me not to at least mention the accomplishments of RHP Luis Zerpa (4.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K). Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, but in long stints (averaging over 2.2 innings per appearance), Zerpa 34/8 K/BB rate, very similar to his rate of 41/10 last year, in his professional debut. The K-rate isn’t too high, but he complements it by inducing ground balls at a healthy clip. While no slouch against lefties, he has been more effective against lefties.

GCL Jays – Today’s game was cut short after 1 measly half-inning. No need to hold LHP Griffin Murphy’s 6 baserunners against him, then.

Bluefield Blue Jays – Without back-checking, I believe that the 3 players featured from the DSL in this post is a record. Top honour the occasion, this special Bluefield section will include one DSL graduate, as well as one Dominican who who was thought highly enough of that he skipped the DSL altogether. Signed out of Venezuela at age 16, 2B Daniel Arcila (2-5, 2B, 3 R, BB, K) spent three years learning the pro game in the Dominican. He never did learn to hit, putting up a combined .589 OPS across 631 plate appearances. He’s been marginally better since coming state-side at .648. On the downside, wile he was almost exclusively a SS in the DSL, he has played only 2 games at short in the past two years, and even though his milb player page shows him as a SS, he is now really a 2B. He has made it this far some how, but does not seem to possess the tools to go any further.

I have to imagine that any thought of DH/SS Gustavo Pierre (4-5, 2B, RBI, 3 R, BB) remaining at SS must be diminishing. As noted previously, even though he’s spent nearly 1/4 of his games this year as a DH, he leads all of the minor leagues in errors (41) by no small margin. A high-end signing, Pierre has always been young for his leagues and his offensive results suffered accordingly. Finally playing with peers in the Appalachian League, his offensive potential is being displayed, with an improved slash line of .267/.338/.450. If he can improve upon his LHP/RHP split (currently at .681/.821, according to OPS) he could  be worth a position switch.

Lauded for his arm strength that Keith Law referred to “top-of-the-rotation” to go along with an impressive build in a recent ESPN chat, RHP Noah Syndergaard (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) has yet to have a bad start with Bluefield. Half of his 10 walks came in his last appearance, pitching out of the bullpen. The rest of the time, he’s put up a 28/5 K/BB ratio. He has a GB/FB rate over 1.5 and had held both left-handed and right-handed batters in check. Of the 6 pitchers drafted in the top 3 rounds last year, a good argument could be made that Syndergaard has been the most impressive.

Vancouver Canadians – Although he was right at the centre of a recent brawl between the Canadians and the Spokane Indians, SS Shane Opitz (3-5, R) has shown precious little power in his time as a professional. At 19, he is young for the Northwest League, more typically featuring college-aged draftees, but an ISO of .035 is too low, with or without extenuating circumstances. Maybe it runs in the family? Older brother Jake, a 12th round pick of the Cubs in 2008 has a .662 OPS in 4 seasons. Shane is at .670 in parts of 2 seasons. Shane has had a wide split between LHP (.893) and RHP (.563) this year, but with only 23 at bats against southpaws, those numbers should not be taken as gospel. His defense at short has been solid enough to afford Opitz time for his bat to develop.

Lansing Lugnuts – I have already gone on at great length about RF Michael Crouse‘s (1-4, HR (13), RBI, R, 3 K) deceiving home run numbers, as 10 of his first 12 of the season have come against non-prospect arms, already relegated to the bullpen. So credit where it’s due, as lucky number 13 comes off a starting pitcher, and a legitimate prospect, no less. Before the Brewers traded away 2 of their top 3 prospects for Zack Greinke, RHP Jimmy Nelson, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, was seen as one of their top 10 prospects. So after being called out on strikes against Nelson leading off the game, and before going down swinging against him in the 5th, Crouse took him deep to CF in the 3rd. The tools are there, but the approach still needs work. In spite of all the seeming negativity of what I’ve written about Crouse, he has shown enough to earn more chances and at progressively higher levels. He has 13 home runs in 352 plate appearances this year. In three previous partial seasons, Crouse went yard 6 times total, in 446 plate appearances.

Dunedin Blue Jays – If the most impressive pitcher from the 2010 draft class is not Noah Syndergaard, it might be Justin Nicolino. It might also be RHP Deck McGuire (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K). McGuire is definitely the most advanced. Of course, as the 11th overall pick, he was expected to be advanced. Skipping the lower reaches of the minors, McGuire has shown that the High-A Florida State League is not challenging him enough either. With 8.8 K/9 and 2.7 K/BB, with roughly equal success against righties as against lefties, he may be ready for his next challenge. In fact, as he is a fly-ball pitcher (0.76 GO/AO), AA New Hampshire may be a better gauge of his skill set as the power in the upper levels is more refined and game-present, while the younger, weaker bats in High-A may see more drives die at the warning track. If I had to guess, I would think that McGuire will get at least a few starts in New Hampshire before this season is out.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – After a long stretch of seemingly alternating bad starts with dominant ones, RHP Zach Stewart  (7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K) has now had 2 dominant ones in a row. In fact, he’s been excellent in 3 of his 4 starts since returning for a cameo in The Show. Over 24.2 innings in those starts, Stewart has a K/BB rate of 25/6. He will get more chances and consistency will be important for that. While many still debate whether Stewart’s future is in the rotation or the bullpen, with all of the trade rumours surrounding most of the Blue Jay bullpen, we will most likely see him get more MLB experience later this summer out of the ‘pen. That’s not to say that his career as a starter is over, but that in only his second year as a starter, the Jays will likely limit his innings. He’s already at a combined 110 between MLB and AA, and I’m guessing at a cap around 150-160.

Las Vegas 51s – Hitting one of 6 home runs out of steamy (game temperature of 37 C) Cashman Field in Las Vegas, 3B Brett Lawrie (3-5, HR (16), 2 RBI, R), has officially been put on the ‘must-watch’ list for Section 203. Lawrie is on fire, with 8 hits in his last 15 at bats with 3 extra base hits. I’m placing the over-under on his MLB-debut as August 1. Any takers?

Section 203 would like to extend extreme congratulatory sentiments to all of this week’s new Hall of Famers, including those deemed by Cooperstown not to deserve the main stage tomorrow. Dave Van Horn, winner of the Ford C. Frick award for baseball broadcasting. Bill Conlin, winner of the J. G. Taylor Spink award for baseball writing. Longtime executive Roland Hemond, winner of the 2nd Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. Architect of the Jays’ back-to-back World Series triumphs, as well as playoff teams in Baltimore, Seattle, and most recently, Philadelphia, Pat Gillick, elected by the Veteran’s Committee as one of the best baseball executives of all time. Bert Blyleven, one of the greatest strikeout pitchers of the game’s modern era, thrower of the grizzliest curve of recent memory, finally elected in his 14 (2nd to last) attempt on the general ballot. And of course, one of the most exciting 2B of all-time, a key cog in those two World Series champions put together by Gillick and the first Blue Jay to have his number retired by the team, the amazing Roberto Alomar.

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