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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 5, 2011

September 6, 2011

And then there were five. Tomorrow, there will be four. Today is the last day of the regular season for all minor leagues – some leagues have already wrapped things up – including the Florida State League. As Vancouver starts their playoffs today, Lansing, Dunedin and New Hampshire will continue that trend over the next few days as Las Vegas wraps things up. As we also know, Bluefield was another proud playoff participant in the Blue jays’ chain, making it to the Appy League finals before bowing out yesterday. I will continue to cover the affiliate in their playoff journeys, focusing on game scores as well as player performances. It’s been a blast covering the system this year and I hope to continue to do so over the off-season and next year as well, interspersing with some other baseball-related musing I am bound to have. If you liked my work and also enjoy hockey, I will be contributing to Hockey Prospectus, of the Prospectus group of websites, this season, focusing on transactions and other roster shenanigans, starting sometimes this month. Happy Labour Day, everyone!

Vancouver Canadians – The Canadians got their drive towards the Northwest League championship off to a rocky start by dropping the first game of their best-of-three against the Eugene Emeralds at home by a score of 8-3. Game 2, and if necessary, game 3, will be held in Eugene. The Emeralds finished 7 games ahead of the Canadians on the season, and their class showed in this game, scoring runs in 4 of their first 5 innings against Canadian’s starter, RHP Blake McFarland (5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, r BB, 3 K, 2 HR) and then 3 in the 6th against RHP Kramer Champlin (1 IP, 4 H, 3 R (2 R), o BB, 0 K). The Canadians fought off the first of the Emerald runs, with a solo home run in the bottom of the 1st by RF Nicholas Baligod (2-4, HR, RBI, CS, R), one of only 2 Canadians’ batters to earn their way on base even twice in the game (1B Kevin Patterson walked twice). The Canadians’ starter for game 2 has not yet been announced, but RHP Noah Syndergaard has been reassigned to the Canadians while RHP Aaron Sanchez is still there after his late season promotion from Bluefield. Beyond the home run, Baligod deserves a kind sentence or two on a fine debut season. His .248 batting average for the season does not show that he had a perfect 1:1 BB/K ratio with 38 of each. Baligod’s BA was held down by a subpar .285 BABIP, one that perhaps should have been higher, what with his healthy17.9% line drive rate coupled with his relatively low (29.8%) incidence of fly balls. I don’t mean to make this sound like we should be getting excited about him, as he will turn 24 in a few weeks and he is an OF who put up an ISO of .088 from a corner outfield slot, but I’d rather help paint a portrait of what a player can do, before writing him off completely.

Lansing Lugnuts – In the last regular season game for Lansing, DH/OF Jonathan Jones (4-4, BB, 3 SB, R) had 4 of the Lugnuts’ 6 hits, proving once again that baseball is a team sport. Jones has had a rollercoaster of a season, starting off in Lansing hitting .247 in 26 games through Mid-May. That earned him a demotion to Vancouver, where Jones put together a solid OPS of .711 showing good ability to get on base and wreak basepath havoc once there while playing a solid CF. On the downside, Jones had no discernible power in his game, limited to a .071 ISO. Towards late August, Jones earned a return to Lansing for the stretch and he hit .395 in his last 10 games. Jones, now 22 years old, will likely have to repeat at Lansing in 2012, but with his plate discipline, speed, and ability to play CF, he could continue to find himself of use further up the ladder, especially if he can find even moderate power to his hitting game.

Dunedin Blue Jays – The regular season is over. The D-Jays are preparing to host the Daytona Cubs tomorrow in the FSL Semi-finals opener.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Even with the season wrapped up and a playoff spot secured, there is no let up for the Fisher Cats. While starting C and league MVP Travis d’Arnaud rested, 7 of today’s starters got at least one hit and 4 got at least a pair. Chief among those was CF Anthony Gose (3-4, 2B, HR (16), 2 RBI, BB, K, SB (70), 3 R). The main blemish on Gose’s game has long been his ability to consistently make contact, as he has struck out 154 times on the season (30.3% of his at bats), 2 short of the league lead. That rate is the worst of Gose’s career, as he struck out in only 25.8% of his at bats in High A last year and 21.6% of his at bats in his first full season in Low A in 2009. That’s the downside. Looking at the positive, Gose has reached new peaks with his power, as, after hitting only 9 home runs in his first 272 games, he has nearly doubles that total this year with his 16th. His ISO has gone from .094 to .131 to a new high of .162. While always incredibly fast (rating a perfect 80 on the scouting scale) he has sometimes had trouble knowing when to go for it, Last year, Gose was caught 32 times in 77 steal attempts. With his 70th stolen base of the season today (leading the Eastern League by a full 20 of the runner-up), against only 15 times caught (82.4% success rate) he has shown that that problem is behind him. As I always make a point of mentioning when a good low level performance is coming from an over-aged player it is only fair that I should also mention when a good performance up the upper levels is coming from an under-aged player, as Gose just turned 21 under one month ago. Even though there has already been talk of a potential return to the mound for Gose if hitting doesn’t work out (he was clocked in the high-90s off the mound in high school), it is was too early to seriously think about moving in that direction, as CFs with two elite tools are very hard to come by.

One other minor note; After nearly a full month sidelined due to injury, RHP Deck McGuire (2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) returned today and is in line to receive a start (or more) for the Fisher Cats in the upcoming Eastern League playoffs

Las Vegas 51s – In their last kick at the Cashman can, the 51s left a final reminder that it is a great place to hit. Really, just great. 13 hits (4 players with multiples), 10 runs. following up on my paean to him yesterday, 2B Manny Mayorson (3-3, 2 2B, BB, RBI, E) had a perfect offensive game, if blemished with the glove. CF Darin Mastroianni (4-5, RBI, 2 R) was almost perfect himself, putting an exclamation point on his season in the hopes that it would grant him a follow up recall to Toronto to finish his season to add to his single game of experience a short while ago. Without further ado, I bring you the 2011 Section 203 AAA Awards:

Player of the Year – Can only be 1B David Cooper. When looking at his final numbers, it hit me that 11 players who batted for Las Vegas this year hit above .300. 14 ended their year/AAA stint with an OPS above .800. As a team, the 51s hit a PCL-leading .307 with an .848 OPS. In a league with an average OPS of .807, Las Vegas, as a team, OPS’ed 5% higher than the league. I am not a mathematician, so this is all back-of-the-envelope stuff. Let’s reduce Cooper’s OPS by 5% to account for an overly simplified Cashman boost. Cooper led the PCL in batting at .367 and OBP at .436. His power was mostly of the doubles variety, so his SLG was .538. That brings him to an OPS of .974, good for 8th in the circuit among qualifiers. Reducing that by 5% brings his mark to .925. That drops him to 12th in the PCL. Bear again in mind that many of those above him were also stationed at favourable offensive parks including Albuquerque (Jerry Sands), Tucson (Anthony Rizzo), Reno (Cody Ransom, Ryan Langerhans and Collin Cowgill) and Cooper still gets credit for a great season. Cooper also led the league in 2Bs with 51. Here’s my favourite stat about Cooper this year. Of all the top 20 in the PCL in OPS, Cooper is the only one with more walks (67) than strike outs (43) – an incredible 1.55 BB/K. As a point of reference, Boston Red Sox 2B currently leads the Majors in that stat, with 1.21 BB/K. Last season, Jeff Keppinger, then with the Houston Astros, led the combined leagues at 1.42 BB/K. Pedroia, along with Caridnals’ demi-god, Albert Pujols both topped Cooper’s rate in 2009. In his short early stint with the Jays, while he struggled to hit anything other than harmless pop-ups, Cooper had a perfect 1:1 BB/K ratio. We’ll get to see how that figure behaves in a larger sample as Cooper was recalled after today’s game.

Pitcher of the Year – This one is difficult for the same reasons as the hitters’ numbers are hard to gauge. But it gets easier once I realize that very few starting pitchers stayed in Vegas for long enough to make much difference. Also, only two relievers, RHP Winston Abreu and RHP Sean Henn, pitched consistently well over the long haul. But I cannot look myself in the mirror if I name a 30+ reliever as the team’s pitcher of the year. I would be better off forfeiting the award. Thankfully, there is a better solution. In fact, one of the three starting pitchers to complete over 100 innings even had a WHIP lower than that of either of the two aforementioned relievers. And like Cooper above, this one also was recalled to Toronto after today’s game. The 51s pitcher of the year has to be LHP Brad Mills. Before you scoff and point out his horrendous last 2 starts for Toronto, remember that this is not about what was done in The Show, but for his minor league performances. In the same way that I reduced Cooper’s OPS by 5%, I should also reduce Mills’ ERA by the same amount. That would drop his real-life 4.00 to 3.80. Mills also had a very respectable K/BB rate of 136/39 (3.5 K/BB). He was somewhat gopher-prone (1.14 HR/9), but I can forgive that in light of the Cashman conundrum. Also worth mentioning is that Mills finished the season 2nd in the PCL in both raw strikeouts and WHIP (1.27). I’d like to see him used out of the bullpen in Toronto in the hope that his stuff plays up somewhat -like many pitchers, Mills falls apart the 3rd time through the order. I think it is worth finding out how he would perform if he knew that he was only to pitch 1-2 innings.

Disappointment of the Year – I’ll take the easy route and go with RHP Kyle Drabek. After getting his head handed to him (by dint of complete failure to locate the strike zone) in The Show, the Jays demoted Drabek to Vegas, to work out of his mechanical rut in the minors. Instead of digging himself out, he dug himself deeper into the rut. In 75 AAA innings, Drabek struck out 45 against only 41 walks. He also surrendered nearly 1.5 home runs per 9 innings pitched, while opponents hit a stunning .355 off of him. His WHIP in Vegas was a shocking 2.03! In this case, horrible performance aside, Drabek still has the same talent in his arm that made him the centrepiece of the Roy Halladay trade nearly 2 years ago. The Blue Jays still believe in him. As with Cooper and Mills above, Drabek was also recalled today and will see some more Major League action this month.

Other Las Vegas Notes – In addition to the 3 above, also recalled today were RF Adam Loewen (he’s finally free!), who put together an .875 OPS on the season with more raw power than Cooper, although he was much more of a free swinger, striking out in 26.2% of his at bats, finishing 4th in the PCL. Like with RHP Dustin McGowan, recalled yesterday, his is a great story of overcoming a debilitating injury. Loewen converted from a bum-shouldered pitcher to a power hitting outfielder. His chances of success would be greater if he had options remaining, but it will be great to see up regardless.

RHP Chad Beck got the call. A hefty 6-4″, 245, Beck pitches in the low 90s and pitched very well earlier in the year for New Hampshire before being promoted to Las Vegas. Already 26, Beck got his career off to a late start. The Jays acquired him from the Diamondbacks for middle infielder David Eckstein. Beck had huge platoon splits this year suggesting he would be best used against right handed batters (combined 3.35 FIP against), and kept as far away as possible from lefties (5.94).

Like Beck, RHP Danny Farquhar was drafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette. A short (5-11″) righty, Farquhar can hit 96 mph on the radar gun on his four-seamer, but gets more movement with his two-seamer, thrown a few mpg slower. Throughout his minor league career, Farquhar has been able to rack up  a tremendous number of strikeouts, although always with accompanying walks. In 2009, he walked a combined 5.9 batters per 9 innings between Dunedin and New Hampshire. Last year, entirely in New Hampshire, Farquhar walked 4.9/9. This season, mostly with Las Vegas, he walked 3.2/9. It was an odd season for Farquhar in that he was traded to Oakland in the off-season, along with LHP Trystan Magnuson, for CF Rajai Davis. Looking for any return on LHP David Purcey, the Jays found a taker in the Oakland A’s who willingly sent back Farquhar, who had already pitched 8 innings for their AAA affiliate in Sacramento. Like many of his Vegas teammates, Farquhar gave up more than his fair share of hits. But in the right fog, he could play the same type of role with Toronto as Jason Frasor filled for so many years. The comp seems cheap because they were both small white guys. But they also both featured similar arsenals, although Farquhar does not throw a changeup. Lots of strikeouts, lots of walks (this season notwithstanding).

More callups may follow, but, as Beck, Loewen and Farquhar had to be added to the 40-man roster, barring the removal of someone else, it would have to be a player already on the 40.

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