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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 24, 2011

July 25, 2011

DSL Jays – Today was All Star day in the DSL. Representing Toronto were C Kervin Santiago (defensive replacement, 0 PAs) and LHP Jairo Labourt (0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K). If anything, it is heartening to know that the two chosen organization representatives are also younger players, surrounded by players often up to 2 years older. I truly beleive that both Santiago and Labourt will be brought to the US next season.

GCL Jays – And on the seventh day, they rested, consolidating the lessons of the previous six.

Bluefield Blue Jays – Before this series began, I would post little blurbs about each affiliate on a nightly basis on Twitter, all in 140 characters or less. During that time, 1B Art Charles (1-4, HR (9), 3 RBI, R, 2 K). since this series began, Charles’ bat had gone cold. In the 9 games prior to this one, Charles has gone 6-32 ( .188) without an extra base hit in has past 7 games. He also struck out 14 times in those 9 games. Hopefully, this home run gets his game back on track, but the K’s are still a concern. Now with 50 in 126 at bats,  striking out 39.7% of the time (3 K/BB) is a sure-fire recipe for failure. I still love his power potential (20 of 31 hits are for extra bases – downright Arcian), but Charles needs to make more contact to allow his power to shine.

Vancouver Canadians – In a game with little to actively recommend it, or rather, little to recommend from it, we can at least continue to track the progress of LHP David Rollins (5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 2 K) as he transitions from the amateur game to the low minors, and now his 3rd start in the more advanced (read: staffed with more mature players) Northwest League. Now 3 starts into this new phase of his career and Rollins has still only walked one batter over 14 innings. Which isn’t entirely surprising when you remember that he walked only 2 in 21.2 innings in Bluefield. So while he is striking out opposing batters at a good clip (29 in 35.2 innings total – 7.3/K9), he ends up with an absolutely dominating KK/B of 9.7. The sustainability of such incredible numbers is doubtful, particularly as his college career was, while quite good,  not quite as successful. This season, at San Jacinto Junior College (pitching against other Junior Collegians), Rollins walked 32 in 81.1 innings a rate over 4 times as frequent as he is currently exhibiting. That’s not to say that the professional coaching isn’t helping Rollins to succeed, but that we should hold off before anointing him as the next great control artist.

Lansing Lugnuts – Before the 2011 season began, many in the prognostication business had circled C Carlos Perez (2-5, HR (3), 4 RBI, R, 2 K) as the best of a quarter of highly touted young backstops. As the season progressed, and Perez was only OK, the voices turned to d’Arnaud and even Jimenez more and more often. In Perez’s first 3 seasons, he played solely in the short season leagues (DSL, GCL, NY-P), and he consistently hit the ball well, with a great approach leading to OPS marks between .797-.837. His defense also drew rave reviews, peaking after 2009 when he threw out nearly 50% of base-runners (19/39) with plus pop-times. In defense of Perez’  struggles this year, it should be noted that it is his first year in a full-season league. He has played games that count in April and May where he never had before. And April and May in Lansing, Michigan has much different weather than Auburn in July, much less the Dunedin and Dominican summers. He has long ago set a new career high for plate appearances in a season. As much through his own shortcomings as the great play of others in the system, Perez’s stock is down. Not out, but down. Concerning to me are his LHP/RHP splits (.574/.770 via OPS) and his diminished BB/K ratio; Perez started out at 1.86 BB/K in the DSL in 2008. Moving to the GCL in 2009, it dropped to a still respectable 0.7. Last year at Auburn, his BB/K finished at 0.83. And now, facing more advanced pitchers with better stuff, he’s at a career low 0.45. Make no mistake – that’s not horrible. But considering where he was just last year, it is concerning. And by the way, this game’s home run came against starting pitcher B. J. Hermsen, a decent prospect for the Twins

The least heralded of Lansing’s three Marc(k)ussi is RHP Marcus Walden (5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2  BB, 3 K). Drafted in the 9th round of the 2007 draft out of Fresno Community College, Walden is under-sized for a pitcher, standing only 5-10″. Walden got his career off to a decent enough start, pitching just over 100 innings combined between the GCL (’07) and Auburn (’08). In 2009, the Jays elected to fast-track Walden, skipping Lansing for a spot in the Dunedin rotation. He made 4 difficult starts for Dunedin and then was hurt, missing the rest 2009 and not pitching competitively in 2010, either, recuperating from Tommy John Surgery. Now 22, Walden is healthy, and has been a steady contributor for Lansing after needing one more moth on the sidelines to open the season. After nearly two months pitching out of the bullpen, Walden was moved back into the rotation in the beginning of July, and has put up a noteworthy 0.67 ERA across 5 starts (26.2 innings). Walden has a significantly better K/BB rate against RHB than LHB (19/4, 14/9), but has been less hittable against lefties. He seems to be recovered now, but is well behind the developmental curve due to those two years lost to TJS. Bear in mind that the recovery rate for that surgery is very high, but not everyone recovers at the same pace.

Dunedin Blue Jays – It would be nice to be able to get excited about LF Brad Glenn (1-4, HR (18),  RBI, R, 2 K), but I can’t. He has missed the last 2 weeks to injury, and there seems to be no diminution of his power. He’s currently tied for 3rd in the FSL in home runs, and sits 7th in slugging percentage, but he’s also 7th in strikeouts. He’s K/BB ratio has just eclipsed 4. He’s 24, went to a large school (Arizona) meaning he should be more advanced and has problems making contact. As a LF, he has no real defensive value, so any chance he has is wrapped solely in his bat. The occasional home run is nice, but without much more to back it up, it won’t be enough to allow him to succeed further up the ladder. Sorry.

1B Jon Talley (2-4, 2B, HR (13), 2 RBI, 2 R, K) is very similar as a prospect to Glenn, but 2 years younger and with some experience as a catcher. Just last year, Talley played 23 games behind the plate. From 2007 (when he was drafted) through 2009, he played behind the plate more often than he played anywhere else. This year, with the Jays’ more polished receivers all advancing, Talley has yet to don the tools of ignorance in game action, having taken over at 1B full time. On the positive side,the change has allowed to reach a new career high in at bats. On the negative end, he’s a first baseman with a .309 OBP. The Isolated Slugging of .198 is nice for a catcher, but as with Glenn, as a 1B, he needs to truly mash to get noticed. No one notices a 1B in High A with an OPS of .746. Sorry.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Just another ho-hum start for RHP Chad Jenkins (5 IP, 6 H, 4 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 3 K, HBP). He has not been bad, but the lack of strikeouts are a growing concern. With second year-pros, I would normally be concerned about workload and innings limits. With Jenkins, not so much. The Jays’ first round pick out of Kennesaw State in 2009, he is 23, which is still young, but physically mature. By physically mature, I am mean that he is a big hoss of a pitcher, standing 6-5″, 235. Last year, in his professional debut, Jenkins was allowed to pitch 141.2 innings between Lansing and Dunedin. This year, between Dunedin and New Hampshire, he has already pitched 124.1 innings. I have to think that he will be allowed to throw at least 165 innings this year, health permitting. Averaging just over 6 innings per start as he has this year, that leaves him room for 6-7 more starts. Pitching every 5th game (excluding double headers), that keeps Jenkins active until August 31, exactly 5 games before the end of New Hampshire’s regular season. As they currently look headed to the playoffs, I can also see the Jays either extending him by 10-15 innings to get that special experience, or alternately resting towards the end to allow him to pitch as long as the Fisher Cats need him. Jenkins has not yet had enough time at any one level to consolidate his gains and excel. In that light, I would actually like to see him assigned back to New Hampshire to start next year and hopefully see if he can dominate with more familiarity.

Las Vegas 51s – The Brett Lawrie (2-4, 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, CS, E) watch continues with as much diligence as we can muster as the 3B is now 11-23 in his last 5 games with 4 extra-base hits and a 2/3 BB/K rate. The error, a fielding miscue on a misplayed ground ball, which led to 3 unearned runs, gives us an excuse to remember that this is Lawrie’s 1st season as a 3B. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in 2008 as a cacther and converted him to 2B for his professional debut in 2009. He received poor reviews for his work at the keystone across 2 seasons and the Jays’ moved him to 3B after acquiring him this past off-season. His fielding percentage (never the best measure of defensive impact, but all we currently have beyond the scouting reports which are middling at best) is currently around .920, which would be below all qualifying AL 3B, except for Mark Reynolds, of Baltimore. If we want to be optimistic, for a 2nd point of reference, I offer the much maligned Edwin Encarnacion, whose 3B fielding percentage sits at .877 in too few games to qualify. Bautista, in his 16 games at the hot corner, has a .980 fielding percentage. Let’s just say that Lawrie is still not a finished product.

In his 7th start since being demoted, RHP Kyle Drabek (6 IP, 5 H, 4 R (1 ER), 3 BB, 6 K, HBP) got things going on the wrong foot, allowing 6 base-runniners through three innings, including 2 of the walks. He only walked 1 batter in his final 3 innings (although he also hit a guy with an errant pitch). Since his first two disastrous starts with Vegas, Drabek has made five starts and walked 10 in 27 innings. That’s obviously not great, but it would constitute his best stretch of the season – by a landslide. After initially moving Drabek straight from AA to the Majors at the end of last season and out of Spring Training this year, the Jays now seem inclined to take their time with Drabek. With Jo-Jo Reyes since designated for assignment, JAys’ Manager John Farrell has gone on record as saying that the 5th starter’s job will be decided between Jesse Litsch, Zach Stewart and Brad Mills. Drabek was pointedly not on the list. For now.

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