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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August 18, 2011

August 19, 2011

DSL Jays – DSL Jays, oh how I mock you. Well, the pain is soon to come to an end. Saturday marks the last regular season game for the saddest of sad-sack affiliates. As we count down the pain, we shall take a moment to clap a single hand against itself for RF Maydawin De La Cruz (1-3, HR (2), RBI, 2 K, HBP, R). De La Cruz is, according to baseball-reference.com, the only Maydawin to ever play baseball professionally. So right there, he has already beaten tremendous odds. As bad as things have been for the 18 year-old this year (and a .597 OPS is bad), it actually constitutes a remarkable improvement on the putrid .295 OPS he put forth in 65 plate appearances in his debut last year. On the whole, his approach has not been horrible as he has walked in nearly 15% of his plate appearances. Unfortunately, that approach is killed by a swing with huge holes. with the two strikeouts in this game, he has now struck out in 42.9% of his at bats this year. Both of his strikeouts in this game came swinging. Not Luis Martin (0-3, 2 K today) territory, but really bad. De La Cruz is now one of only 3 DSL Jays with more than 1 home run on the season. Join me, as we try to have fun in the face of futility.

GCL Jays – A shorter post for a shorter game, called with one out in the top of the sixth and a rehabbing RHP Daniel Webb on the mound for the Jays’ affiliate. While he is still listed as a shortstop on his milb.com player page, 2B Jorge Vegas-Rosado (1-2, BB, R, 2 SB) is a very small man, standing 5-8″, and weighing a sprightly 175 pounds. Any future he can make for himself will have to be at 2B. David Eckstein is a rare and wondrous occurrence. Not only is his size working against him, but JV-R will also have to overcome his poor draft pedigree. Selected two months ago out of Miami Dade JC in the 28th round, JV-R is one of 18 round-mates who signed. 14 of those went to 4-year schools and singed according to their lack of leverage. One guy was not affiliated with any school – that also notes lack of leverage. One was a high schooler (not sure if he was signed over slot or not) and JV-R was one of two JuCo players. As he signed early, it is evident that he signed for slot or very, very close. It should be sufficient to note that slot for the 28th round isn’t that high. According to friend of Section 203, Bill Christie, JV-R was one of the most impressive players for the GCL Jays before the slot busters joined in the last few weeks. As exciting as his play has been, it will be hard to gauge JV-R until next year. The competition he is facing now is better than it was 2 weeks ago, but those more talented (and better leveraged) players are just now getting their feet wet, in many cases after not having played competitive baseball in two months or more. Their rust is still not a great grounds for comparison. Still, it’s always fun to cheer on the little guy.

Bluefield Blue Jays – Another short game, another short write-up. The game being called after only 5 innings allowed the very aptly named RHP Myles Jaye (5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K) to pitch the complete game. And he pitched it extremely well. Signed as an overslot player as a 17th round pick from a Georgia high school last year, Jaye did not debut until this year and has yet to pitch beyond 5 innings in any one game. The 8 strikeouts are a new high. Jaye has struck out 2.8 per walk with respectable rates on both end of that equation. He has been a bit home run prone, surrendering 6 over 47 innings with most of the damage being done by right handed hitters. Other than the home run rates, his splits have been fairly even and in the context of 47 innings, the sample is too small to worry too much about. As the regular season begins to wind down, I start to think about future assignments. Jaye may be ready for Lansing, but is young enough that a stint in Vancouver would not be out of the question. I will make my 2012 assignment projections after all affiliates have completed their seasons.

Vancouver Canadians – Of the numerous high upside, over slot high school pitchers drafted by the Jays in 2009, it is still an open question as to which one has had the most impressive season. Making another mark in his favour yesterday was RHP Noah Syndergaard (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K) with an absolutely stellar start against a prospect heavy team from Everett. Syndergaard was almost untouchable earlier in the year pitching for Bluefield, allowing only 34 baserunners in 32 innings while striking out 37. Since moving up to Vancouver, facing generally a more mature brand of prospect (the Appy League gets more 19-20 year olds while the Northwest League sees many more 21 year olds), Syndergaard has not missed a beat. Across his first four starts at the more advanced level, he has struck out 22 against 20 baserunners across 20 innings. The fact that he is keeping the ball on the ground portends well for his future. What is also intriguing is that he gets the vast majority of his strikeouts swinging (38 swinging compared to 13 looking). What that suggests is that Syndergaard is simply overpowering opposing hitters.

Lansing Lugnuts – Drafted in the 6th round of the Jays’ disastrous 2009 draft (disastrous for failing to sign 3 of their 1st 4 picks – not a reflection on those who did sign), 1B K.C. Hobson (2-4, RBI, E) signed late for above slot money, spurning college for $500,000. While Baseball America had made note of defensive improvements to Hobson’s game, as well as the usual plaudits of good defensive fundamentals, such as is stated of any player who has grown up around the game. K.C.’s father, Clell, otherwise known as Butch, Hobson, had an 8 year MLB career, mostly with the Boston Red Sox. Butch also managed the Red Sopx for 3 seasons, when K.C. was a toddler. Most people outside of Boston remember the elder Hobson today for his historically awful fielding. The numbers bear this out particularly starkly from his 1978 season when his fielding percentage was a ghastly .899. Even today, prolonged fielding slumps leaving fielding percentages under .900 are often referred to as Hobsonian, in his honour. In that regard, the apple did not fall far from the tree, as K.C.’s error in this game was his 21st. He’s a 1B. That’s nearly 12% of all error committed by the Lugnuts. Form their 1B. The Lugnuts have the league’s worst fielding percentage. Only the incredible Gustavo Pierre had more (36, before being demoted). The fielding indifference could almost be forgiven if Hobson had been hitting like a 1B should. Alas, he has not. The patience is great, and Hobson has a lovely64/57 K/BB rate. That gives him a great OBP of .355. Which is great. In fact, it’s better than his slugging %, now resting at .344. Hobson, turning 21 this Sunday is a prime candidate to repeat next at Lansing again next year.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Not wishing to pile on to RHP Andrew Liebel (4 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR), I will only point out that, at 25 years old, the injuries that have limited him to under 120 combined innings over the past two seasons may have destroyed any hope he once had to make it to the Show. A small pitcher drafted for his command and control, the injuries have also damaged his ability to put away the opposing hitters, with only 6.2K/9 over the past two seasons in the lower levels. I think it’s safe to assume both that Liebel will not be protected on the 40-man roster after this summer and that, furthermore, he will not be selected in the Rule V draft in the Winter. Liebel may be entering his final chance to make it in 2012.

In a minor note, recent re-acquisition, LHP Brian Tallet (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K) made his first rehab appearance in the Jays’ system since being re-acquired in July’s Colby Rasmus trade.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – After SS Adeiny Hechevarria was promoted to Las Vegas, the last remaining Fisher Cats position player on the parent club’s 40-man roster is RF Moises Sierra (3-4, 2B, RBI, BB, 4 R, SB, OF assist). Blessed with a cannon for a right arm and solid power and speed tools, Sierra has been held back by a below average hitting approach. Sierra has walked in only 6.6% of his career plate appearances, and 7% of AA plate appearances. Ideally, as a player on the right side of the defensive spectrum, his bat should be able to carry his roster spot. To be a productive member of the heart of a batting order, you would want to see a walk rate of over 8% as a sign of offensive sustainability. It’s more of a shame as Sierra does not have as much swing-and-miss as many others of his type, with a career K% of 21.2%, 19.1% in AA. He is only 22 and coming off a season lost to injury, so there is probably still growth to his game. Most MLB teams carry only 4 outfielders, with the spare needing to be a guy who can play in CF. Sierra needs to keep refining his approach to be more than a replacement player as an MLB RF, but he has come far enough that it would not be a stretch to see him make the additional gains.

Signed out of Venezuela as a 17-year-old in 2006 as a 3B/RF, towards the close of his second season in Latin Summer League ball, the Jays gave up on the poor contact ability and complete lack of power and moved RHP Nestor Molina (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K) to the mound. Molina spent one full year pitching out of the bullpen in the DSL and then came stateside in 2009. Immediately, eh displayed excellent control, walking only 5 batters in 43 innings spent mostly in the GCL. Last year, Molina pitched in long relief in Lansing for most of his year. He pitched well (just over 3 K/BB), but as a long reliever pitching in Low A at age 21, he drew very little in the way of scouty hype. Molina began this year, for the first time, as a starter, pitching in Dunedin. His pitching repertoire was always that of a starter, and the results were eye popping. In 108.1 innings, Molina put up a 115/14 K/BB with a 2.58 ERA. From a 21 year-old Low A reliever, Molina is now a 22  year-old starter in AA. Across his first two starts in the advanced minors, Molina has struck out 17 against only 1 walk in 11 innings. Whereas he would have to have been considered a very long shot to be protected room the Rule V draft, Molina now looks like a lock to find himself on the 40-man roster this offseason. And, no – he is not related to the Catching Molina Brothers.

Las Vegas 51s – I kind of feel bad for CF Darin Mastroianni (2-4). Mastroianni played 202 games at AA New Hampshire between the second half of 2009 and all of 2010. He stole an awesome 84 bases in that time at an 82.4% success rate. The former unheralded 17th round draft pick then found himself placed on the Jays’ 40-man roster after last season as the Jays sought to protect the speedy outfielder from the prying hands of the opposition. Moved up to AAA for the first time this year, Mastroianni saw his OPS hold serve, which, while usually a good sign, failed to impress the top brass in the hitter’s haven of Vegas. Combined with the MLB struggles of Travis Snider, Mastroianni more than once saw himself demoted back down to AA for more steady playing time. While still on the 40-man roster, that may not last through the Winter. Whether he loses the spot to teammate Adam Loewen or someone else, barring a surprising September callup, the opportunity to get to the Big Leagues with the Blue Jays may have passed him by.

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