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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August 16, 2011

August 17, 2011

DSL Jays – As I intimated yesterday, it is very tough to say anything positive about this team. This year’s big money signings have not seen the field for official games, last year’s big money signings are either in the GCL (Adonys Carmona), frequently injured (Gabriel Cenas) or horrible (Luis Martin). So I can pile on to the otherwise horribly performing players or root out a sleeper here or there that may one day play in full season ball. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that today’s feature DSL player first got my attention due to his awesome first name. I am, of course, referring to the inimitable LHP Ericdavis Marquez (3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K, WP, HBP, pickoff). Now 20 years old, Marquez was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela at a time when his namesake, Eric Davis was coming off his last very good season before his career would be defined by the injuries that curtailed it. Davis was instrumental that Fall in bringing the World Series Championship back to Cincinnati for the first time since the Beg Red Machine of 1976.  A key member of those great Reds’ teams of the 70s, and a latter day teammate of Davis was the superb Venezuelan shortstop, Davey Concepcion. Alas, Concepcion was not from Maracaibo, but from Ocumare de la Costa, in the region of Aragua. Coincidence? Only Ericdavis Marquez and his parents know for sure. Here’s what we do know – the Jays signed Marquez this year after two seasons pitching for the Pirates squad in the Venezuelan Summer League. He’s already pitched more this year than in the last two combined. He’s struck out 58 in those 57 innings, and limited free passes to 17. He has yet to surrender a home run (which really isn’t that phenomenal in the hitting immature DSL). And he’s tiny. Marquez stands only 5-11″, and weighs a minute 151 pounds. He hasn’t had much chance to face lefties this year to see if he has LOOGY potential, so most of his dominance has come against right handed batters. Scratch that: 54 of his 57 innings have come against righties. All of his dominance, then. So that is what Ericdavis Marquez has done. What can he do? Let’s see if he remains in the organization next year. Until then, just take glory in his name. Ericdavis Marquez.

GCL Jays – Today’s game was postponed

Bluefield Blue Jays – Like with Stephen McQuail yesterday, Bluefield today gets me to look to another past Section 203 fave, whose approach has hampered his abilities from turning into performance. I am, of course, writing about 1B Art Charles (1-5, RBI, K) . Actually, to criticize his approach may not be fair. It is hard to get numbers from the Appy League about swinging strikes as compared to called strikes. Charles does actually walk with relative frequency (11.9% of plate appearances). The unfortunate thing is his K% is astronomical (although still well shy of Luis Martin territory) as he has struck out in 31.9% of plate appearances, 37.3% of at bats before today’s game – Charles leads the Appy league in raw strikeouts, 9 ahead of the runner-up (teammate Gustavo Pierre. Charles is still tied for 5th in the Appy League in home runs and is 7th in total bases. Unlike McQuail, I have more faith in Charles’ ability to improve, if only due to his age (20) and his history as a two-way player. As a left-handed thropwer, many in the industry saw his future coming on the mound and that is how he was twice drafted before the Jays took a flyer on him in last year’s draft. More time to focus on this side of the game and more improvements can be expected. His OPS is already more than 50 points higher than it was in his debut in the GCL last year.

Every time I despair of players languishing in the DSL, I think of 2B Daniel Arcila (1-4, HR (9), 3 RBI, R) and regain hope, if only momentary and meagre. In 189 professional games before this season (160 in the DSL), Arcila had muscled only 4 balls over the fences. In his last 7 games for Bluefield, Arcila has popped 3, bringing this season’s total up to 9. Arcila’s .822 OPS is largely driven by his emergent power as his ISO (slugging %-AVG) of  .256 is current batting average (.238). So I think back to his numbers in the DSL. Even without any power, his OPS still looked awful, at .589 over three seasons in San Pedro de Macoris. His 2008 line sticks out for the patience he showed (then, not as much today). In spite of only 5 extra base hits in 170 at bats, Arcila somehow managed to walk 49 times, giving him an OBP of .401 to go along with his .224 batting average. My point here is that, in spite of putting up repeated horrible lines in the Dominican, since being brought stateside, Arcila, recently turned 21, has shown himself to be a decent little player. The former shortstop has scarcely played on the left side of the diamond since coming to the US which will diminish his chances of moving too far up the ladder. Still, these blundering kids in the DSL have someone to aspire towards.

Vancouver Canadians – Today is southpaw day at Section 203. And it’s just as well, as it has been a relatively slow days. RHP Jesse Hernandez (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K) had a nice start, but there isn’t really anything new I can write  about him that I haven’t already written before. So today’s Canadians feature will instead focus on LHP Shane Davis (1 IP, 2 H, 1 UER, 2 BB, 0 K). Yes, that’s a rough outing, but he breathes and throws with his left arm (and much faster than I do) so he’s a de-facto possibility. Drafted in this year’s 42nd round out of Canisius College in Buffalo where Davis was the team’s ace, averaging around 6.5 innings per start, with a 3.23 ERA and a K/BB ratio of almost 3. On the down side, he did not strike out too many batters in college (5.4/9). Coming out of the bullpen for the Canadians, Davis has recorded a much higher incidence of strikeouts (7.1/9) but his walk rate as at an equally high point. As the Jays attempt to market themselves better to the local fan base, they have made more of an effort to draft Canadian players in the later rounds. Davis was one of those, born in Belmont, Ontario. In fact, there were no fewer than 12 Canadians on last year’s Canisius roster, and Davis was on of two that Toronto drafted. As mentioned yesterday, the other, Chris Cox, has yet to sign, but as a fifth year senior, he is not beholden to the signing deadline. The 23 year old may have a future in the game, but although he is a lefty, it is more likely to be off the ice, as Davis already holds a BA in Criminal Justice and is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sports Administration.

Lansing Lugnuts – No games in the Midwest League today.

Dunedin Blue Jays – I do not wish failure on any player. Not on guys who play for the Jays, nor on guys who play against them. I truly wish they could all make it to the show, all secure starting jobs and all prepare lengthy speeches for Summer afternoons in Cooperstown. But if I’m to write about Blue Jays prospects, I also have to be realistic. The odds are that, at most, there is one guy in the system who will become a Hall of Famer (and zero would not be a surprise either). One of the things I try to do is figure out which guys are simply there, playing today because the organization does not have a better prospect for that level. Dunedin has a fair number of those guys this year. LF Brian Van Kirk (1-4, HR (14), RBI, R) has been putting up great numbers this year, now batting .301 with an OPS of .898. In a pitcher-friendly league like the FSL, that is really commendable. The problem here is not that it’s his second stint at the level. Rather, the problem for Van Kirk is that he was born in 1985. He turned 26 last Wednesday. Just for reference, today’s home run was hit off a Phillies prospect named David Buchanan. Buchanan is 22. It’s sure neat that his OPS has risen every month this year, from .464 in April, to .785 in May, .935 in June, .999 in July and now 1.028 so far in August. John Tolisano, 3 years younger plays his position in New Hampshire and has a brighter future. Marcus Knecht plays in LF in Lansing. Knecht has future written all over him. Van Kirk has coach written all over him. For his sake, I hope he gets first dibs on bus seats and roommates on the road.

On a similar note, coming out of the bullpen is short LHP Matt Wright (2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K). Two years younger than Van Kirk, 24 is still kind of old for this level. To his credit, Wright has dominated both here as well as last season at Lansing. How’s this for symmetry? Last season, he struck out 82 in 67.2 innings at Lansing. After this performance, Wright has now struck out 82 High A batters in 67 innings. He’s been much more effective against lefties, getting a ground ball rate around 30% higher and preventing runs at a very high level. With his solid control, I should like to see him get a promotion up to New Hampshire, if only to give them another Lefty. Maybe as part of a chain movement, what with two Vegas lefties (Wil Ledezma and Rommie Lewis) being promoted to Toronto, maybe the Jays can give Evan Crawford a cameo in Vegas and Wright one in New Hampshire. If you must be a non-prospect, you might as well be a little lefty who misses bats. Wright will have to repeat the trick in AA for me to become a believer.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Selected a few rounds before Wright in the 2008 draft, LHP Evan Crawford (0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K) is one year older than Wright, but pitching with just as much success against more advanced competition, is taller and is just as left handed. Crawford has a bit of a reverse split, as he is much more prone to walking left-handed batters (5.7/9) than righties (3.4/9), suggesting that LOOGY-dom may not be in his future. Promoted by a twitter question today, it hit me that, with today’s Blue Jays transactions, Crawford may be next in line for left-handed reliever duties in Toronto.

While his current manager, Sal Fasano, is only mildly impressed, RHP Dustin McGowan (4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K) is now doing it against more polished prospects, showing that he can do more than strike out relative children. The ceiling he displayed in Toronto before the injuries tool will never return, but I commend McGowan for his hard work, and top-shelf perseverance to even get to this point. I had thought to compare him to Mark Prior and Prior’s own interminable comebacks, but McGowan has already pitched in anger more this season than Prior has combined since the 2006 season. Here’s hoping for a happy ending come September.

Las Vegas 51s – Today`s theme has been left handed pitching. So what better way to finish today`s post than with a nod to the performance of DH/LF/LHP Jason Lane (4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4K). Lane played in the Major Leagues for 6 seasons, all as an outfielder. His best season was 2005, when he hit 26 home runs with an .815 OPS with the Houston Astros. Lane also hit a home run in that year’s World Series as the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox in the tightest played sweep you can imagine. Before this season, Lane had occasioned to pitch a handful of professional innings. He’s pitched 11 now this season. A lit of that is due to the hitter’s paradise that is Las Vegas. The 51s’ starting staff has struggled (Brad Mills notwithstanding) to last deep into games, wearing down the normal bullpen guys. Willing to pitch in a pinch, Lane has also proven able. As teammate Adam Loewen is close to completing the conversion from MLB pitcher to MLB hitter (I still think he gets a September callup), Jason Lane, 34 years old, is playing out the string, a baseball Rennaissance man.

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