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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – August 22, 2011

August 23, 2011

GCL Blue Jays – This is where the action is. We like records here in Section 203, we do. DH/LF Eric Arce (1-3, HR (14), RBI, R, 2 BB, K) continues his Bondsian run through the GCL, upping his record for home runs in a season by another notch. Why Bondsian? Because when he isn’t bashing, he’s waiting for his pitch. It’s games like this that have given Arce the GCL lead in HRs, BBs and OPS. Over 50% of the balls Arce puts in play have been driven to the outfield.

The highest signed draft pick of the Jays this ear, and friend of Section 203, RF Jacob Anderson (2-4, 2B, HR (2), 4 RBI, BB, K, R) has another solid game, pulling an upper-80’s fastball out of the park to left field. Anderson is proving to be a more mature hitter (small sample size warning) than expected, with a sound approach giving him 3 walks in his first five games. Many young power hitters expand their zones needlessly, selling out for power on pitches they couldn’t do much with. One test he has yet to face has been southpaw pitching, as he has had only 5 plate appearances against them, coming away with a single and a walk. There will be plenty of that for that in the coming seasons.

Finally, RHP Joseph Musgrove (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K) continues his ascendancy with another quality outing. Over his last five appearances now, Musgrove has pitched 15 innings (exactly 3 each time, indicating that is his per-game cap), allowing 8 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk while striking out 13. Musgrove was noted for inconsistent velocities in high school (88-98 for his heater) and I am curious as to how he will come out throwing next yea, after a full offseason of conditioning and probably some additional professional instruction.

Bluefield Blue Jays – After an inconsistent debut in the GCL last season, LF Christopher Hawkins (2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, SB, 2 R) was ranked by Baseball America as a top 20 prospect in the league, as well as naming him the best athlete in the Jays’ 2010 draft class and the #26 prospect in the system. It was noted that he had cleaned up his swing since being drafted, incorporating more of his lower half (read: tapping into his base for added power) and smoothing out an arm bar from his swing path (read: quickening the swing). The results of that work are made abundantly clear when looking at the great lines he has put up this year for Bluefield. His OPS has risen by .199 year over year, with much better contact and power. Although he has seen more pitches as this year has gone on, he could still stand to add some extra patience to his game, to better allow him to take advantage of his plus speed – Hawkins leads Bluefield in stolen bases and was 11th in the Appy League before swiping 2B in this game. I should think that Hawkins will fare better in BA’s league and organizational rankings this year. His OPS is 7th among players under 20 in the Appy league this year.

Vancouver Canadians – In a poorly played blowout, we can introduce a new player to the spotlight of Section 203. A senior sign out of the 30th round this year, 1B Kevin Patterson (3-4, 2 2B, HR (5), 2 RBI, BB, K, 2 R) was said by Baseball America to have tremendous raw power, which he seemed to sell out for with frequency in college (big school Auburn), striking out in well over a quarter of his at bats – 28.7%. It was also mentioned that his defense had improved over his college career, to the point that he was passable by the end. A large man at 6-4″, 220 (listed), Patterson’s game is still the same. His defense is still shaky, with 5 errors in 24 games at 1B. His power is still big (.258 ISO) but he still strikes out a ton (29.4% of his at bats – both last two figures are combined between GCL and Vancouver). Looking for some optimism, I will point out that, while Patterson got off to an extremely slow start after moving up to Vancouver (9 hits in his first 50 at bats, 1 HR), he has hit .417 in his last nine games, with 4 more dingers. He has also shown power against pitchers of both stripes this year. As much as I like Art Charles at Bluefield, Patterson is probably the Jays’ organization’s short season 1B most ready for full season ball in 2012.

Lansing Lugnuts – It sometimes takes a game like this, losing 17-7, for me to point out an unsung player, a non-prospect by a long shot, and introduce him to Section 203. 2B Matt Nuzzo (3-5, RBI, R, K, E) spent four years at Ivy League Brown University, finishing in the storied schools’ top 10 in hits, doubles, home runs, extra base hits, RBIs, total bases and at bats. A senior, the Jays drafted him in the 24th round in 2009 and he has since made himself useful at three levels (GCL, NY-P and MWL). At 24 years of age, he is old to be making his full season debut. Interestingly, after sepnding his first 2 years almost exclusively at 3B, the Jays’ organization has shifted Nuzzo over to 2B this year. That tells me two things. First, that Nuzzo is an adaptable player. The error in this game was his 8th of the season at 2B after only appearing in one game at the position in his last two seasons. Even at Brown, he played mostly 3B and SS. Secondly, the move tells me that the Jays do not hold Nuzzo in high regard. At the start of this season, Oliver Dominguez was the Lansing 2B. Nuzzo was an afterthought, not even active. Dominguez struggled to a .937 fielding percentage across 50 games (fielding percentage is not a great way to measure defense, but is the most available way for minor leaguers. Dominguez has since become an organizational pinata, being smacked around on demand at whatever affiliate was needed in a given week  and whatever infield position that team needed. Since taking over, in addition to steady defense (much better range factor than Dominguez, as well), Nuzzo has been a steady, if unexciting hitter for Lansing, although with splits that give him the advantage at home, and against right-handed pitchers. Nuzzo, for all the backhanded praise I have just showered upon him, has maybe one more level in him before he can put his Ivy League education to good use. At the end of the day, it’s worth applauding.

Dunedin Blue Jays – The Florida State League is resting today.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Although he was a first round pick only 2 years ago, I have to think that RHP Chad Jenkins (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 8 K) is no longer one of the top 5 pitching prospects in the system. At a glance, I would hazard that Jenkins has been passed by Hutchison, McGuire, Nicolino, Syndergaard and maybe even the yet-to-debut Daniel Norris. Most of the reason for that has been his inability to strike out batters first in Dunedin and now in New Hampshire. His 8 in this game finally brings his K/9 above 6. In fact, it is now at its highest level since his debut stretch with Lansing last year. Keeping him relevant are his solid groundball rate combined 52.8% GB rate before getting 9 of 11 balls in play in this game on the ground) and his ability to go deep into a ball game, matched only by Deck McGuire so far among organizational arms. Jenkins still easily has the ceiling of a #4 starter in The Show and seems a fairly safe bet to make it up in some capacity.

Las Veags 51s – As SS Adeiny Hechevarria (0-4, 2 K) finally hits a AAA snag, going without a hit in his last 2 games, after getting multiple hits in 8 of his first 9 at the highest level, I will devote this space to an open thought/question appropriate to 8 days before MLB rosters expand on September 1. The 51s’ roster has 8 players currently on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster. They are: RHP Kyle Drabek, LHP Brad Mills, RHP P.J. Walters, C Brian Jeroloman, 1B David Cooper, Hechevarria, LF Darin Mastroianni, and RF Travis Snider. I have to assume that the 3 pitchers will get the call, as arms are always needed. I don’t think that any of them will get a start for the Jays, but each will pitch a modicum of innings out of the bullpen. I believe that Jeroloman, an unheralded foot soldier now in his 6th season in the Blue Jays’ system, will get his reward. Never a big hitter, he was once a top prospect in the system before Alex Anthopoulos made it his mission to bring in more high-ceiling talent. Jeroloman has earned a reputation as a good defensive catcher with on-base ability, but not much hitting skill. His Vegas OPS is still below .650 this year. I have to believe that David Cooper, running away with the PCL batting title will get another chance to improve upon his work from May. Hechevarria has already been publicly noted by John Farrell as a maybe. Maybe after Las Vegas’ season is over on September 5. Travis Snider, who used up his final minor league option this year is a must, as he will have to remain up on the MLB roster next year, or be lost to another team. I don’t think, however, that Mastroianni makes the cut. Added to the 40-man roster last offseason, he was coming off of 116 stolen bases in 2 seasons and 2 levels. This year he was demoted from Vegas back to New Hampshire on 2 occasions, and did not overly impress in either locale. I think it far more likely that one of the Jays’ open spaces on the 40-man is given to RF Adam Loewen is rewarded for seemingly completing the transition from power pitcher to power hitting outfielder. Already out of otions from his days as a hurler, if added to the roster now, he would not have to be optioned back to Vegas and the Jays could then retain his services over the Winter to make a more informed decision next Spring.

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