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Down on the Farm – Jays milb Thoughts – July 25, 2011

July 26, 2011

DSL Jays – Kind of a non-descript game in which the DSL Jays scored 4 runs in the top of the 1st, and then shut up. Back-to-back triples are always exciting, and the DSL squad accomplished the feat in that big 1st inning, with SS Ricardo Guillen and DH Emilio Guerrero dealing the twin blows. After all that high-flying fun, the most notable event of the game from a prospect perspective was the return of 3B Gabriel Cenas (0-1, K). His appearance as a pinch hitter was his first game action since June 14. Injury information for the DSL is practically non-existent, but at least he’s back. Hopefully, he will wear a glove again soon.

One of my favourite things about the DSL is the great names in the box scores. Batting 2nd for the opposing DSL Tigers was RF Confesor Lara (2-4, 3B, RBI, 3 R, BB, K, 2 SB, OF Assist) . I think that may be the best name in the game today.

GCL Jays – Very, very quietly, shortly before last season’s draft signing deadline, the Blue Jays agreed to terms with 41st round pick 1B/3B Seth Conner (1-2, R, 3 BB) from a high school in Rogersville, Missouri. Perfect Game lauded Conner as an infielder who has a good feel for the game, can play a little shortstop and shows some hitting ability. Conner signed too late to make a 2010 debut and got his career off to a horrendous start in the GCL, with only 6 hits in his first 54 at bats, with his only saving grace being a 7/11 BB/K ratio. Since then, it seems as if Conner’s decision to forego a college education might pay off. In his last 10 games, Conner has a triple-slash line of .382/.511/.529 (1.040 OPS). 3 more walks in this game validates the 19-year-old’s approach to the game. His true talent is probably somewhere between his horrible start and his red-hot present, but he is already showing the benefits of taking $100,000 flyers on talented kids in the late rounds of the draft.

Until the Blue Jays sign more of their highly touted class of 2011 draft picks, I will continue to closely monitor the performance of RHP Joe Musgrove (3 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP, 1 HR), even when the results are poor. Still only 18 years old, as I’ve mentioned before, Musgrove is ahead of the game just by playing so soon. Some mitigating circumstances to his performance today: 3 innings represents a new high for Musgrove, having gone 1.2 and 2 innings in his 2 previous performances. His first 2 innings were rather clean, hitting one batter and surrendering a double to former #3 overall pick, Jeff Clement, currently rehabbing in the GCL. Things fell apart in the 3rd, although only 1 of the balls in play left the infield before his second last batter faced, who left the infield and the outfield, for a 3-run home run. A lackluster debut does not change what Musgrove is and will be. If anything, some early struggle may help him mature – both as a pitcher and as a person.

Bluefield Blue Jays – You can sing in the rain, but, unfortunately, you can’t play baseball. Today’s game was postponed from the wetness.

Vancouver Canadians – For the first time in quite a while, I could not find a single element of inspiration from a box score. No new news. For example, I could mention SS Shane Opitz (2-4, CS), the only member of the Canadians to have multiple safeties, but we already knew he could make contact, although without any power to speak of yet. The pitching was likewise simply there with neither Justin Nicolino, nor David Rollins taking the bump and nothing out of the ordinary otherwise occurring. This is part of the downside of drafting highly touted players who want more money to sign than would be accepted by MLB until later in the summer.

Lansing Lugnuts – Section 203’s own false idol/whipping boy, RF/DH Michael Crouse (2-3, 2 2B, 2 BB, 2 R, SB) is back again with a truly impressive game. Definitely the most impressive of the all since I’ve been covering him. One of my biggest concerns about Crouse was that he tends to save his biggest swings for bullpen fodder, failing to impress when facing stud prospects. So both of this game’s doubles were hit off RHP Adrian Salcedo, ranked by both Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein as a top 10 prospect in the Twins’ organization. In this game, he saved the bullpen arms for work on his patience, eliciting both walks off relievers late in the game. As his patience/approach was far more of a concern than his ability to hit for power, I am less concerned about who walks Crouse, as long as he walks every now and again. A few more games like this and I’ll start to get excited again.

One of Section 203’s faves is young LHP David Rollins. Before you ask, no, he did not get promoted again. When Rollins was pitching as a freshman at San Jacinto in 2010, above him in seniority and the depth chart was another southpaw, LHP Sean Nolin (5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K) pitching to an 11-0 record with an 2.02 ERA (Yes, I know wins are a useless statistic. However, anytime a pitcher has a record with double-digits on the left and a zero on the right…well, it’s fun to think about). Another big, beefy pitcher, Nolin signed for a touch over slot ($175,000) and got his career underway by striking out 26 batters in 21.1 innings, mostly at Auburn. Nolin has quietly assumed a rotation spot in Lansing this year and has thus far kept his K/9 above 9, with 73 K’s in 71.1 innings. Unlike many of the other intriguing arms in the Blue Jays’ system, who either have high marks in both K’s and BB’s, or low in both, Nolin has coupled his impressive strikeouts with admirable control, walking only 18 , to give him a K/BB rate of 4.1. (See note on Tepera of Dunedin, for a comparison). As Deck McGuire was promoted from Dunedin to New Hampshire last night, speculation has mounted over who will replace him in the Dunedin rotation. I think hefty consideration has to go to Nolin, with thought also given to Marcus Walden, featured in this space yesterday.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Taking rehab up a partial notch, RHP Dustin McGowan (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K) reaches 3 innings for the first time in his comeback trail. I have it on the authority of the official twitter account of the team(@DunedinBlueJays) that McGowan has been clocked as high as 96 mph in game action during a recent home game. Stadium guns in general do not have the greatest of reputations, but even shaving that back by 2 mph, and 94 is still a happy thing. Also happy about today’s game was his control. This was only the 2nd of 6 short appearances wherein McGowan avoided handing out any free passes. According to my clock, the Jays have just about one more week to decide what to do with his rehab. My personal opinion is that a trade or three at the MLB level gets McGowan a spot in the Blue Jays bullpen and a 2 month audition at a role on the 2012 team.

Nominally a starting pitcher, for each of McGowan’s last 3 starts, RHP Ryan Tepera (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) has been backing him up in a tandem formation. Not a highly regarded prospect by any stretch of the imagination, the 23-year-old Tepera has a mediocre 4.56 ERA and 6.1 K/9 on the season, although he has sharp enough control to be standing around with a K/BB rate just shy of 3. If you think that’s nothing special, last year at Lansing, could not break 6 K/9, and his K/BB rate was truly lamentable at 1.8. Tepera can be seen as a young 23, as it was reported that he had never pitched until his senior year of high school in Lake Jackson, Texas. I have also seen reports about the great improvements made to his mechanics in his short time as a pro. So there’s that. But as a 19th rounder out of a 4-year college program (Sam Houston State), the ladder may not have too many more rungs to go.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – It was certainly fun in the moment, as CF Anthony Gose (2-6, HR (10), 2 RBI, BB, 4 K, SB) temporarily gave the Fisher Cats the lead with a big HR in the top of the 13th. A game like this featured the best and the worst of the prospect that is Anthony Gose. The SB was his 47th of the year, already a new club record for the Fisher Cats. The HR, as mentioned, was big. But his approach is still poor. Those 4 K’s bring him to 102 on the season, as he has struck out in just over 28% of his at-bats. His defensive reputation is sterling, with a cannon for an arm in addition to his top-line range, but the offensive profile is reminiscent of Rajai Davis with a bit more juice. I understand the lack of consensus among the mainstream pundits.

A fairly atypical night for RHP Henderson Alvarez (6.2 IP, 10 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 7 K). His velocity was down from earlier reports at 91-96 with sink. He induced a fair number of swinging strikes. This was only the 2nd time in his last 10 starts in which Alvarez has struck out more batters than innings pitched, if only just barely. A 7-4 GB/FB rate was typical as he gets 1.61 outs on the ground for every out in the air. But many are still confounded by the lack of K’s for a pitcher with such high arm speed and a plus changeup (the source of many of today’s whiffs) as Alvarez has only a lackluster 6.5 K/9. The lack of a breaking ball was always seen as a negative, but friend of Section 203 (Denizen of Section 203) @Dave_Gershman of http://www.pennleaguereport.net/ reported that Alvarez was also throwing the occasional good slider. A few more of those could be a serious breakthrough for a player already considered to have the ceiling of an ace, but for whom the lack of a breaking ball could restrict him to late inning duties. The scouting reports seem to indicate that Alvarez has a higher ceiling than any pitcher currently in the Jays’ organization – as long as he learns to spin a decent breaking ball.

Las Vegas 51s – After 2009, it had seemed as if LF Danny Perales (4-5, 2 2B, RBI, 2 R, E) had washed out of baseball. In his age 24 season, the USC grad had appeared in just 20 games for Cincinnati’s High-A affiliate in Sarasota and put up an OPS of .555, a number which is bad for a great defensive shortstop, and simply unacceptable from a corner outfielder. Adding to the ignominy, the previous year, he had been traded by the Diamondbacks organization which had originally drafted in the 22nd round of the 2006 draft in exchange for a left-handed relief pitcher named Jon Coutlangus, who had already played some in the majors. Coutlangus would never get back to the Show, and it appeared as if Perales’ career had failed to launch. And then the Blue Jays brought him into their organization to man the outfield at High-A Dunedin. Sometimes, when an injury opens up a temporary spot in the minors, a team will promote an organizational player to fill the hole, not wanting to ruin the psyche of a better, younger prospect by bringing him up too soon and having to demote him later. And so Perales, who was showing better power than he had in 3 years, was promoted to New Hampshire. It was only 21 games, but he put up an OPS of .897. That got him to Vegas when bodies were shuffling in and out of there late last season. He was serviceable still. Ignored again this year, Perales has seen a spot in the lineup become his almost through attrition as both Travis Snider and Eric Thames passed through the Vegas outfield on their to-and-from The Show. Playing mostly CF or LF, Perales now has a .775 OPS that is mostly batting average driven as he has not been able to take full advantage of the boost Cashman Field provides to power. Instead, his contact rate has soared. Last season, split between the 3 levels, Perales put the ball in play in 81.6% of at bats. This year, mostly with Vegas, 85.2% of Perales’ at bats end with the ball put in play. I had thought to compare Perales with Chris Lubanski, who played in Vegas last year after washing out of the Royals’ system, failing to take advantage of his pedigree as a former 5th overall draft choice. But Lubanski’s game was more power driven and he struck out far more often than Perales. No, I do not believe that Perales will make it to the show. If an injury opens a spot in Toronto for an outfielder, Adam Loewen or Darin Mastroianni probably get the call. I should also point out that Perales’ stat line is held up by great numbers in Vegas (.870 OPS), as he has struggled away from home (.655 OPS). Mastroianni is already on the 40-man roster and Loewen has been hitting the ball really, really hard all season, at home and away. But redemption stories are always fun, even when they don’t peak.

As already mentioned in this space a few times, the Blue Jays are debating between LHP Brad Mills and RHPs Zach Stewart and Jesse Litsch (5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR) for the recently vacated 5th starter job in The Show. While numbers will probably play less of a factor in the decision making than underlying performance, the numbers are not helping Litsch’s cause. His Vegas ERA now sits at 8.19 after 6 mostly rough starts in hitters’ parks. Both of the home runs he surrendered in this game were by former major leaguers, Anthony Rizzo, a highly-touted prospect who had a 35-game trial by fire earlier this year for the Padres and Bobby Kielty, who played 599 games in the majors, including 62 for the Blue Jays in 2003, but who has toiled in the high minors since 2007. None of this is to say that Litsch won’t or shouldn’t be the guy who gets the 5th stater’s job, but it happened, and I’m writing about it.

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