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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August 21, 2011

August 22, 2011

GCL Blue Jays – As is generally the case on Sundays, the GCL Blue Jays are idle today. Just one more day for Eric Arce to celebrate the breaking of the GCL home runs in a season record.

Bluefield Blue Jays – In a recent episode of Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast, Jason Parks mentioned having spoken to a scout friend who positively gushed over the potential in LF Christopher Hawkins (2-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, SB, R, K). The ceiling mentioned was that of a 1st division starter, which roughly translates to one of the 15 best LF’s in baseball. Left Field is a bit of an odd position in terms of the players who end up there, but that’s some pretty good company, nonetheless. I’ve menti0ned Hawkins enough in this space that I must be running out of things to say about him. That much is true. But today’s steal was as the front end of a double steal with DH Gustavo Pierre. As Pierre stole 2B, Hawkins blazed home from 3B to give the Bluefield’s a 2-0 edge. Consider this a special occasion blurb.

A decent under-the-radar pitching prospect in Bluefield, LHP Tyler Ybarra (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K) continued his transition into a starter’s role, helping make up for the innings and developmental time lost as he spent all of 2010 on the sidelines. Ybarra has spent most of 2011 coming out of the Bluefield pen in longer stints (3+ innings). His numbers there have been solid, but his time starting is even more so. In 4 starts, Ybarra has pitched 17 innings, allowing 11 hits, 4 runs (including 2 home runs) with a 20/4 strikeout to walk ratio. Ybarra has severe reverse splits, like many young pitchers do, struggling with his control against left handed pitchers. He has walked 7 of 33 lefties, but only 4 of 119 righties. I expect the 21 year old Ybarra to get many more innings (conservatively, I think he will more than double his current total of 36 innings) next season, either with Vancouver or with Lansing.

Vancouver Canadians – The big news out of Lansing today, of course, was the leaked promotion of top pitching prospects from Vancouver, LHP Justin Nicolino and RHP Noah Syndergaard to Lansing for the stretch drive and the playoffs, which was long ago clinched by the Lugnuts. I’ve written about both players several times before. For my most recent notes on Nicolino, click here and for Syndergaard, click here. Both pitchers finished their short season ball careers with a bang. There is enough MWL season left for three starts for each pitcher, plus whatever more they can squeeze out of the playoffs. With the ascent of the big two and the recent unexplained incapacity of LHP David Rollins (hasn’t pitched since July 24), Vancouver has been severely diminished as a hotbed for prospects. For this, and the remaining 12 games in the regular season schedule – the Canadians were unlikely to make the NWL playoffs with Nicolino and Syndergaard, much less likely without them – I’m afraid my blurbs on the Canadians will be rather short. There are still some interesting players, but not overly so.

With a miniscule .077 isolated before this game, 2B Jonathon Berti (2-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, SB, 2 K, 2 R) surprised with a pair with two-baggers, raising his ISO by a full 10 points. It’s still a weak figure, but, as previously mentioned, power was never his game. Not mentioned in the previous Berti blurb, was his running game. The stolen base in this game was Berti’s 20th, against 5 times caught, for a healthy 80% success rate. The two walks in this game also bear witness to his solid batting eye. Berti has walked in 9.9% of his plate appearances. Without a power game, nor any proven ability to play at SS, Berti may find his opportunities limited as he moves up the ladder.

When looking at 3B Andrew Burns‘ (2-4, 2B, BB, SB, 3 R) poor numbers for the Canadians, it is important to bear in mind the inherent rustiness in his game. Burns sat out this past college season as he had transferred from the University of Kentucky to that of Arizona, prohibiting him from partaking in game action. He raked over 5 games in the GCL after signing, but this game’s outburst brought his average up to a miserable .196 with little in the way of secondary skills, at least in as much as his production is concerned. In light of the above, I think a mulligan is in order. The scouting reports from before the draft still hold true, as Burns was lauded for above-average speed and arm strength, while the questions about his bat will have to be answered in 2012. Just turned 21, he will have to earn a full season ball assignment in instructional league and minor league spring training.

Lansing Lugnuts – Until we get to discuss Nicolino and Syndergaard’s Low A debuts, Lansing has more to discuss, including this game’s starting pitcher, LHP Sean Nolin (7 IP, 4 H, 3 R (2 ER), 0 BB, 1 HBP, 8 K). Nolin has been a bit overshadowed for the most part this season, first by Drew Hutchison during the first half of the season and then by the Lugnuts’ outfield firm of Marisnick, Knecht, Course and Brisker has garnered most of the attention as Lansing had already wrapped up a MWL playoff berth. Part of the blame is that Nolin has made a habit of not going deep into his games, averaging just over 4 innings pitched for every appearance (19 starts, 4 times out of the bullpen). In his last 10 starts, he has still averaged under 5 innings per start. His raw numbers are hurt somewhat by poor balls-in-play numbers against left-handed batters, leaving Nolin with lopsided reverse splits. His FIP of 3.33 is practically equal to that of fellow Lugnuts southpaw Egan Smith although Nolin has been much more likely to strikeout opposing batters, averaging 9.2 K/9. If Nolin can reduce his propensity to the longball (at 0.74/9, one of the highest on the Lugnuts’ staff), Nolin can profile as a backend pitcher further up the chain. The 2010 6th round pick has earned a spot with Dunedin for 2012.

Dunedin Blue Jays – A true utility player, today’s 1B, Kevin Nolan (1-3, 2 RBI, BB, 2 K) has played everywhere on the field this season excluding CF and C. Interestingly, his most frequently played positions have been 1B and SS, an odd pairing if there ever was one. He seems to have held his own across the board. A 20th round pick as a senior out of Winthrop, Nolan took some time getting used to hitting against professional pitching. A relatively big guy at 6-2″, 200, Nolan nevertheless failed to show any power whatsoever in his first two season, with a combined isolated slugging (ISO) of .075. With his first 7 career home runs this year, Nolan has a .154 ISO between Lansing and Dunedin. Nolan, who will turn 24 this offseason, is far from a legit prospect, but is useful enough to have a minor league career for a few more years at least, potentially as high as AAA.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – After two stellar starts to the New Hampshire portion of his rehabilitation, RHP Dustin McGowan (3.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HR) hit a performance snag. This is not so much a health snag, but simply a bad game. On the bright side, the guy who tagged McGowan for a home run, Joe Benson, is a very highly touted 5-tool prospect in the Twins’ organization. According to Jays’ beat writer Gregor Chisholm, McGowan has 3 more scheduled starts before rosters expand in September, and he is slated to pitch 4, 4 and then 5 innings respectively. Jays’ manager John Farrell has been quoted as saying that McGowan is still very much in the club’s September plans. As it is looking more and more like Jose Bautista will be snubbed again come awards season, the return of Dustin McGowan may be the best story of the Jays’ season.

Las Vegas 51s – Over the years, there have been many hitters, usually slugger-types, who have earned the label of AAAA (4A) hitters due to their abundant successes in AAA in conjunction with their utter inability to hit MLB pitching. Rarely has the same been said of pitchers. But they are out there. And they can be recognized by stellar minor league walk rates along with OK (not great) K rates and mediocre stuff. More and more, it is looking like LHP Brad Mills (7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) is just such a pitcher. Even his line in this game encapsulates all of the criteria. He avoided walks, allowing him to minimize the damage of the hits he allowed. Amusingly, the home run he surrendered was to an old prospect who has come to earn (sort of) a AAAA label himself in C Max Ramirez – except that Ramirez dominated AA, but saw his performance drop in AAA and disappear in the Majors. As we saw clearly in his recent MLB cameo, Mills does not have the stuff to dominate anyone at the MLB level, and the pitches just outside the zone that get hit weakly in Vegas and the like are ignored, forcing him to come inside more often and get pounded – as 4 home runs surrendered in 18.1 innings attests to.

Debuting in this game for the 51s was the newest member of the Blue Jays’ system, RHP Kyle Davies (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K), recently released by the Kansas City Royals. A former top prospect of the Atlanta Braves, Davies was traded to the Royals back in 2007 in exchange for RHP Octavio Dotel (small world!) as new Royals GM Dayton Moore sought to fill his organization with as many members of his ex-employer’s system as possible. Receiving chance after chance for the Royals over approximately 4 full seasons, Davies put up some of the worst pitching seasons since the happy ball 1930’s. The reports on his stuff remained positive, as he pitches in the low-mid 90’s, with decent secondary pitches. It seems his command was not strong enough to get batters out consistently. It has been suggested in some circles that Davies has the tools to make a decent reliever. Like most pitchers, he has been more effective (relatively speaking) the first time through the batting order than in subsequent matchups. His appearance in the 8th inning of a close game here suggests that the Jays are going to try him in that role. This is a good low-risk, medium reward move by the organization.

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