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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 23, 2011

July 24, 2011

DSL Jays – A day off on the island as the DSL All Star game runs tomorrow

GCL Jays – Making up for Friday’s abbreviated half-inning, the GCL Jays played for 15 innings today, completing the first game and playing the and over 7 innings.  With so much baseball, comes so much to say about baseball (such twisted, circular logic). To begin, a Section 203 favourite, SS Dickie Thon (1-2, HR (3), RBI, 2 R, BB, K) left the 1st game in the 5th inning, with his team ahead 9-6. His impact was already impressive, with the home run begin his 3rd in 3 games, after zero (and only 2 doubles) in his first 21 games. He’s only played 13 games in the field, so it is too early to assess his fielding ability as a pro, although reports from his amateur days were very positive. His .910 OPS is heavily skewed by his success against RHPs (1.009/.583 RHP/LHP split), but 16 at bats against southpaws is nothing to draw conclusions from. Thon has 10 hits in his last 21 at bats, with 6 walks against 5 Ks in that time frame for good measure.

Also appearing in only the 1st game, C Santiago Nessy (3-4, 2 RBI, R, K) continued a fine offensive season that has seen him put together an .823 OPS in his first 17 games in North America. Nessy has yet to display the power-potential with accompanied his signing with in-game success, but he is hitting pitchers from both sides well, while learning what it takes to make it behind the dish. His secondary skills still need work though, as, beyond the power issue, in 227 plate appearances between last year in the DSL and now in the GCL, Nessy has a 57/18 K/BB rate. He has also struggled with baserunners, allowing steals on 72 of 91 attempts (a below average 21% CS rate). Still, he won’t turn 19 until December and will receive many more chances to take his game to the next level.

He may already be my favourite player in the system 2B/SS Jorge Vega-Rosado (1-5, HR (4), 3 RBI, 3 R, BB, 2 K, 2 SB/2-5, R, 2 K) had another memorable day, barring the 4 Ks. Those whiffs notwithstanding, his approach has been solid thus far, with a 24/12 K/BB rate. All 7 of his errors came as a SS (4 throwing errors, 3 fielding), with flawless play at 2B, his most likely future home, if for no other reason than his diminutive frame (5-8″, 175). Still, as long as his play at short is passable, JV-R can continue his quest towards a utility role.

The singles watch on LF/DH Eric Arce (2-5, RBI, R, BB, K/2-3, HR (6), 3 RBI, BB, K) continues. With 4 hits over both games (3 singles!) Arce now has amassed 18 hits over 78 at bats since signing. 11 (61.1%) were for extra bases, as the three singles up his single rate from 28.6% yesterday to 38.9% now. He doesn’t always swing, but when he does, he wings for the fences.

Bluefield Blue Jays – LHP Mitchell Taylor (5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR) lasts 5 full innings for the first time in his career. The reed-thin southpaw (6-0″, 155) was drafted out of a Texas high school with the Jays’ 7th round pick last year and signed too late to make a 2010 debut. He had a rough first couple of outings, surrendering 9 runs (7 earned) over 7.1 innings. Since then, Taylor has pitched 20.2innings over 5 appearances, allowing 17 hits, only 1 home run, 4 runs ( 1.74 ERA), 8 walks, and 16 strike outs. Actually, it is a little bit funny that his K/BB rates were much better when he was otherwise getting hit hard (9/2 over those first two appearances.)  He has yet to face enough left-handed batters to know if he would make a good LOOGY candidate if starting doesn’t work out. As with most 19-year-olds, there’s still plenty of time to figure that out.

Vancouver Canadians – Just to prove that I don’t always write about the pleasant end of the prospect scene, LF/DH Stephen McQuail (0-4, 4 K) picks up the dreaded Golden Sombrero. I had mentioned previously that his approach led to an inordinate amount of strikeouts. Now striking out in 36.8% of his at bats. The power is there, but he doesn’t walk nearly enough to qualify as a three-true-outcomes player. His K/BB rate now stands at 4.2. It bears mentioning, that while it was previously noted that McQuail struggles against lefties, all 4 of this game’s whiffs came against righties. With only 3 hits in his last 21 at bats, it is time for him to adjust his approach.

Lansing Lugnuts – Although I gave him a rather scathing report after heading down to Lansing a few months ago, anyone who can play up the middle should not be written off too quickly, even if he doesn’t always play there. In this game, he conceded CF to Jake Marisnick, but RF Markus Brisker (1-3, HR (4), 2 RBI, @, BB, K, SB) had a positive return from 3 weeks on the side-lines due to injury. The stolen base was as the trailing runner in a double steal that saw teammate SS Gari Pena swipe home. Brisker, as mentioned before, is a very raw athlete who, now in his 4th professional season, has yet to turn those tools into baseball skills. He has made some improvement, with this season marking his best sustained performance as a pro, but that peak still only amounts to an OPS of .730. Almost acceptable for a top-line starting CF. While I said that Brisker can play CF, he is not the best one on his team and quite deep on the depth chart through the organization. The tools are still there, but more skill would have already emerged if Brisker were to actuate them.

Signed last year as an undrafted free agent out of small Albright College in southeastern Pennsylvania, RHP Casey Lawrence (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K) has proven to be quite the find for the Blue Jays’ scouting staff. At 23 years of age, he is old for Low A, but with his background, his current competition is likely the most strenuous he has ever faced. Not just on a regular basis, but in is life. Ever. Averaging nearly 5.2 innings per appearance (high for Low-A), Lawrence’s composite ERA is 2.93 in 181 innings. Lawrence’s great 4.28 K/BB rate belies his subpar K/9 rate of 6.8. The Jays have already given Lawrence the mild reward of a cameo start at High A Dunedin when the need arose earlier this season. That start resembled strongly his standard start in Low A. Over 6 innings, he allowed only 2 runs, but only struck out a single batter, with no walks. He is what he is, a guy who can soak innings between the outings of the prospects of deeper pedigree. It’s not bad work if you can get it.

Dunedin Blue Jays – In 14 Low A starts before his promotion, RHP Drew Hutchison (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K) struck out a very impressive 10.5 batters per 9 innings pitched. Reports surfaced of his fastball having improved to reach the mid-90s. Although only 20 years old, those 14 starts, plus the 5 he had at the end of last year were deemed enough for Hutchison to move up to Dunedin, just over 75 minutes from his hometown of Lakeland. Hutchison handled the promotion well although saw his K/9 fall to 6.3 through his first 4 appearances (21.1 IP). In his last two starts, however, Hutchison seems to have returned to his Lansing ways with 16 Ks over 12 innings. 12K/9 is definitely higher than can be expected going forward, but it may now be sasfe to say that the promotion has not yet fazed the rising Hutchison.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Faithfully and patiently waiting on the 40-man roster, once more, RHP Joel Carreno (6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K) is passed over in favour of a left-handed reliever in veteran Wil Ledezma. Of course, many believe that Ledezma’s time with the Jays is doomed to be short-lived, either until the trade deadline, or until the Jays’ need a 5th starter again in about a week. John Farrell was quoted today as saying that the 5th starter will most likely be one of Brad Mills, Jesse Litsch or Zach Stewart. I still believe that Carreno is getting close to an innings cap, a method used by the Jays with most young starters, notably including Brandon Morrow last year. Carreno pitched 137.2 innings last year and, after this performance, is at 109.2 this year. A conservative guess would have the 24-year-old slated to pitch 160 innings this year, around 20 of which could be in the majors, as he will likely get a Major League cameo in September. Carreno, possessor of a 94 mph fastball (according to Jays Journal’s Jared Macdonald, has very interesting splits. He strikes out 10.7 lefties per 9 innings, and 11.8 righties in the same. However, while he only walks 3.7/9 right-handed batters, he has poor control against lefties, walking 5.2/9. He gets almost 3 ground balls per 2 fly outs against left-handed batters, but swings the other way against righties, getting less than 3 ground balls per fly ball. This suggests that he was a vastly different approach depending on the handedness of the batter. His breaking ball is a slider, which Kevin Goldstein has described as “killer”, thrown around 10mph slower than his heater, and a changeup. While teh Jays trust him enough to devote a spot on the 40-man roster to him, how has he flown so consistently under the radar?

Las Vegas 51s – Yesterday’s Toronto Blue Jays’ game ended in ignominious fashion, as a 4-3 heading into the bottom of the 9th was lost when a Michael Young drive to deep (but straight) right field caused current 4th/5th outfielder Corey Patterson – just having entered the game as a defensive replacement ostensibly to give the Jays a better glove out there than the leaden stylings of Eric Thames – to twist around a few times on his way back, allowing the ball to land around warning track and the winning run to jaunt on home from 3B. After another disaster start from LHP Jo-Jo Reyes the night before led to his being designated for assignment shortly thereafter, speculation in the Blue Jays’ Twitterverse immediately began with talk of Patterson’s imminent departure. While that would normally be a sufficient introduction of the Brett Lawrie (1-4, K) watch, as he could move to 3B, with Jose Bautista moving back to RF and Thames to DH/LF, Snider to LF/CF and Rajai Davis to CF/4th OF, in this instance, talk was instead about the potential arrival of one-time super prospect RF Adam Loewen (3-4, 2B, RBI, 2 R). The 4th overall selection of the 2002 draft as a LHP. By age 22, Loewen was in the majors, struggling with his control, but with 7.9 K/9, providing a demonstration of his ample potential. 6 starts into his sophomore season, Loewen suffered a stress fracture in his elbow, cutting short his season. He rehabbed, and attempted to return to the Orioles in 2008, pitching 21.1 innings before continued elbow soreness forced him to the sidelines once again. Around the All-Star break, he was again diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left elbow. Adam Loewen would never pitch again. Instead, now 25, Loewen decided to try out his luck as an outfielder, as he also had promise on the other side of the ball as an amateur. The Orioles tried to re-sign him for that purpose, but Loewen chose Toronto’s offer instead. After having just 2 at bats since entering the pro ranks 6 years before, the Jays assigned Loewen to High A Dunedin for the 2009 season. He was OK. He continued his comeback last season with an assignment to AA New Hampshire. The 26-year-old Loewen added nearly 70 points to his OPS, mostly through his burgeoning power. He was also then moved from LF to RF, to better take advantage of his still strong left arm. His outfield assist total jumped from 2 to 13. Now in Vegas, Loewen’s numbers have entered a new stratosphere – .317/.381/.545, for a .927 OPS. We need to remember to take some of the hot Vegas air out of those numbers, but even if we remove 100 points of OPS, they are still impressive. So what keeps Loewen back from replacing Corey Patterson? Simply, that he used up all of his options with Baltimore. If he doesn’t pan out and needs to be returned to the minors, the three years spent nurturing his bat will be placed on a the sacrificial alter of DFA. Much more likely is that Alex Anthopoulos and friends wait until September 1 to give Loewen a risk-free 30-day cameo in anticipation of a potentially larger role with the club next season. Patterson and Encarnacion will likely be gone. Lawrie is almost guaranteed to fill one of those slots. Adam Loewen deserves a shot at the other.

The other question pondered by some in the Twitter-world on Saturday was, if Reyes had to go, why not bring back LHP Luis Perez (3.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR)? Other than some untimely homeruns (Jim Thome and Chase Utley stick out), Perez was good, with an even 3 K/BB ratio over 35.1 innings. The simple reason he was not brought right back was that he was optioned down on July 19th. According to MLB rules, once a player is optioned from the majors to the minors, he must wait at least 10 days to return, unless the MLB club suffers a disabled list inducing injury. Such an injury did not occur, and Perez won’t be eligible to return to The Show for another 5 days. However, looking at this game, which he started, it appears that the Jays are stretching Perez’ arm back out, as he was a starter for the entirety of his professional career, before his stint in the Blue Jays bullpen. The fact is, as manager John Farrell let on earlier in the day, that in a few days, when the Jays will require the services of a 5th starter once again, they will choose one from among Jesse Litsch, Zach Stewart or Brad Mills. Assuming that Perez returns to the team, it will most likely be for a bullpen role again.

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