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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 2, 2011

September 3, 2011

Bluefield Blue Jays – And to the Appy League finals they go, as the Bluefield Blue Jays took down Miguel Sano and the Elizabeth Twins in the 3rd game of the best of 3 semi-finals. The star of the game, if not the series was frequent Section 203 mentionee*, LF Christopher Hawkins (3-5, 2 2B, 3B, 5 RBI, R). The lefty-swinging Hawkins has actually hit lefties much better this season, showing a very strong reverse split with an OPS of .996 vs LHP and only .823 vs RHP during the regular season. Yet in this game, two of the extra base hits came against righties. In fact, of his three extra base hits, Hawkins distributed them evenly to all fields, with doubles to LF and RF and a triple to CF. An odd thing about Hawkins’ reverse split is that much, if not all, of the difference can be attributed to the vagaries of BABIP, which was an unsustainable .481 against southpaws, but a more realistic .336 against righties. Some of the difference is in his greater incidence of line drives against lefties (17.3%-11.3%), but, on the other hand, all 5 of his home runs have come off of right handed pitchers. (BABIP and Line drive % numbers updated through games of Aug. 26.) In the Blue Jays’ arm-heavy system, Hawkins has easily been one of the most impressive position players of 2011. The Appy League finals, pitting the Blue Jays against the Johnson City Cardinals in another best of 3, begins tomorrow.

*Joe Posnanski does not hold a monopoly on making up words.

Vancouver Canadians – In what stands to be his last start of the season, RHP Aaron Sanchez (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) left with a good taste in his, and our, mouths, with his finest start for Vancouver. At both Bluefield and Vancouver this year, Sanchez got things off to bad starts, before picking up his game and dominating the opposition. He only made 3 starts for Vancouver, and was rocked for 8 baserunners and 5 runs in a disaster start lasting only 1.2 innings. Since then, Sanchez has pitched 10 innings (5 per start) and allowed a solitary run with only 8 more baserunners. Sanchez has, at times struggled to throw strikes to left-handed batters, walking an unsightly 5.94/9 innings worth of them across 77 of them, prior to his solid final two starts. Against righties over the same time frame, Sanchez kept his pitches in check, with 3.58/9 innings pitched across 126 of their kind.  His ability to make adjustments will serve him well as he attempts to make the jump to Lansing in 2012.

Lansing Lugnuts – This game served as a reminder that the only thing better than a good first impression is a great final impression. As the MWL regular season winds to close, even though Lansing has booked its spot in the MWL playoffs, a trio of players are making their case for more advanced assignments in 2012. In the fist case, tiny 2B Peter Mooney (3-4, 2B, CS, R) signed with the Jays as their 21st round choice shortly after helping South Carolina wrap up the 2011 NCAA College World Series championship. In very short order, Mooney advanced through the GCL, then Bluefield and is now hitting .467/.500/.800 over 4 games with Lansing. Across the 3 affiliates, his OPS is .910 in 28 games. Of course, the sample size, even combined is too small to learn anything conclusive, but the mere fact that the pint-sized middle-infielder was drafted thrice before finally agreeing to turn pro shows the Jays were not alone in finding him intriguing. And the fact that he garnered so much interest in such a small package indicates (to me, at least) that Mooney packs more baseball talent into his small frame than many much larger players.

Coming from straight over the top with mediocre stuff, LHP Egan Smith (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) nevertheless offers some projectability going forward, although perhaps as a tweener. While he had far better control stats against same-sided hitters (walked only 3.3% of LHB vs. 5.2% of RHB), he was also far more hittable against them (12.69 H/9 vs LHP, 11.01 H/9 vs. RHB, including a home run rate nearly double against lefties. This suggests that Smith catches much more of the plate against lefties while nibbling more against righties. As is often the case with pitchers who come from straight over the top, their pitches are straighter, lacking much wiggle, with only sink for deception. I have to wonder what a change in approach would do for his results. Then again, Smith may be the kind of pitcher whose does not play up enough in the bullpen to make the shift worthwhile. In any case, he’s probably done enough to spend 2012 in Dunedin after over a full season in Lansing.

Finally, a word on RHP Daniel Webb (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K), a pitcher with great stuff out of high school who fell in the draft due to signability concerns, had to leave his four year program and who was drafted as a mid-round gamble after struggling in the JuCo ranks for one year. In just over a full year as a starter in the Blue jays’ system, Webb was failing to show any advancements to his game, giving up too many hits for a pitcher with his natural stuff (low 90s fastball, changeup, devolving curve). After a 10-week DL stint starting on June 10, Webb returned around 2 weeks ago and began pitching out of the bullpen. Lo-and-behold, his stuff began to play up and, for the first time in his professional career, he has seen stellar results, forcing groundball after groundball and a WHIP under 1 in 6.1 innings. It is still early and the bullpen role may just be a case of the Jays’ ensuring some work for Webb before the season ends, but I feel he could advance fairly quickly were he to remain pitching in relief.

Dunedin Blue Jays – C/DH Sean Ochinko (3-3, RBI, R; 1-3, 2B) had a day that reminded the organization of his potential utlity, starting once as the DH and once behind the dish. Not known for his arm, he nonetheless threw out the lone baserunner (ultra-athletic Phillies farmhand CF Jiwan James) who tried to steal on him. Winner of the Blue Jays’ official player of the year award for SS-A level auburn immediately after being drafted in the 11th round of the 2009 draft, Ochinko has since advanced steadily through the system. This offseason, AAA incumbent Ryan Budde will be a minor league FA and Yan Gomes will likely be exposed to the Rule V draft, unless he is added to the 40-man. Travis d’Arnaud and Brian Jeroloman are assured of spots in the system next year, along with MLB incumbent J.P. Arencibia. With a .774 OPS in a pitcher’s league, and the ability to perform at least adequatelty at both infield corners and behind the plate, Ochinko should find his way to the New Hampshire roster, likely in a role similar to that played by AA C Yan Gomes this season – catch some, DH some, play on 1B some. Provide at least average power and extreme roster versatility.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Since being drafted, the constant knock on RHP Chad Jenkins (5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 HR) has always been his inability to miss enough bats. Splitting his first pro season between Lansing and Dunedin, Jenkins whiffed 106 batters in 141.2 innings (6.7 K/9). Not horrible, but much less than what should be expected from a 1st round pick from an emerging college program pitching in the low minors. Going back to Dunedin to begin 2011, Jenkins fanned only 44 in 67.1 innings (5.9 K/9). More of the same upon his promotion to AA earlier this year. In his first 11 starts in the high minors, Jenkins struck out 44 batters in 69 innings (5.7 K/9). And then something clicked. Over his last 5 starts for New Hampshire, spanning 31.1 innings, Jenkins has struck out 30, for a much improved rate of 8.6 K/9, much higher than anything he has managed thus far in his career. This may just be a fluke, a late season surge that will stop as soon as the music does on 2011. Or, and this is me speculating here, Jenkins has yet to play this long at any one level. 79.1 innings at Lansing before moving up to Dunedin last year. 62.1 innings more in Dunedin before the season ended. Jenkins pitched another 67.1 innings in Dunedin this year before moving up to New Hampshire. He has now pitched 100.1 innings for the Fisher Cats, giving him more consecutive time at a single affiliate than ever before. Time to grow in a stable surrounding and make the necessary adjustments from innings eater (167.2 innings plus postseason is way more than most prospect get) to potential middle of the rotation workhorse. Speaking with Friend of Section 203, Dave Gershman recently, Jenkins also mentioned that he was pitching with more confidence. That can take time and comfort, which he had never really had before. More encouraging is that the additional strikeouts are not encumbered by extra walks, with only 7 allowed in those last 5 starts. Jenkins was almost written off as recently as last month. That would be a mistake.

Las Vegas 51s – Yes, Section 203 is home to the World Headquarters of the free RF Adam Loewen (2-4, 2B, HR (17), 2 RBI, K, R, OF Assist) movement. I understand that the Jays are wont to let the AAA season run out before calling up the reinforcement, and I’m OK with that. I truly am. That said, I fully expect Loewen to get the call within a few hours of the end of Monday afternoon’s season finale.

Oh, yes, by the way, SS Adeiny Hechavarria (2-4, R) had another multi-hit game for the 51s. That’s 4 in his last 6 games (10-24). A run of success like this cannot get boring. It is exciting in the marrow of the idea of it. I would love to see him get a few MLB games under his belt this September.

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