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Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 13, 2011

September 14, 2011

Lansing Lugnuts – Soaking in the Virgin Mary shower allotted to a pennant-winning team with more than a handful of underaged players (remember – in the US, one needs to reach his/her 21st birthday to drink, the Lugnuts are now preparing for the first game of their final series against the Quad Cities River Bandits. LHP Sean Nolin takes the hill in Game 1.

Players to watch for in the River Bandits’ roster include LHP Anthony Ferrara, who eats a lot of innings and finished the regular season with a 3.03 ERA, but does not strike out a lot of batters, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out 9.9/9 usually pitching deep into games. Among position players, the River Bandits have 2B Kolten Wong, drafted by Cardinals 22nd overall this past June, who went straight to Low A and hit .335 with a .175 ISO in 47 games (although he struggled a bit against lefties) and 19-year-old RF Oscar Taveras, maybe the best pure hitter in the MWL this year, who finished the year batting .386v with a 1.028 OPS.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – Baseball is a funny game. Scratch that. A very funny game. Sometimes, you can give up 15 hits to the opposition and still come out on top. And some other times, that works for the first eight innings, but those extra hits hits allowed in the ninth turn the tables back around. While the Richmond Flying Squirrels spread their scoring around fairly evenly, scoring 10 runs across six different innings, seven of the Fisher Cats’ nine runs came in two innings. Down 3-0 in the bottom of the 3rd, the Cats exploded for four, beginning with a single from a rehabbing Colby Rasmus (his first rehab game playing the field). One out later and four consecutive Fisher Cats walked, bring them to within one run. 3B Mark Sobolewski grounded out to tie the game at 3-3 and a single by SS Jonathan Diaz (3-4, 2B, RBI, BB, K, R, E) gave the Cats the lead. It was short-lived however, as Richmond responded with a 3-spot of their own at the top of the 4th and singles in the 5th and 7th. New Hampshire added solitary runs to their tally in the 5th and 6th. Entering the bottom of the 8th, they were trailing 8-6. Sobolewski singled to lead off and was lifted for a pinch runner, in Callix Crabbe. Diaz doubled to left to put the tying run in scoring position. Crabbe scored on a sac fly to RF by DH-for-the-day Anthony Gose. Rasmus struck out and then RF Moises Sierra crushed one out fo the park to CF. New Hampshire took the lead for the first time since the third inning, with only three outs to go for Richmond. Those three outs would prove very hard to come by. Like the quartet of RHPs before him, Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire, B.J. LaMura and Wes Etheridge, RHP Bobby Korecky could not pitch without surrendering at least one run to the Flying Squirrels. With one out and a runner on 1B, a Korecky pitch was lifted by the Squirrels’ number-9 hitter, SS Skyler Stromsmoe (4-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, E) over the RF fence to give the lead back to his team. In 263 minor league games in 5 seasons across every level of the San Francisco Giants’ organization since being singed out of college as an undrafted free agent, Stromsmoe has hit only eight home runs. He picked a great time for his ninth. After the drama of the previous eight-and-a-half innings, the Cats could not muster another rally. With two down, Diaz singled, for his third hit of the game, an Anthony Gose grounder to the Squirrels’ first baseman ended the game with the the Fisher Cats losing at home, 10-9. Game two is back in Manchester tomorrow night with RHP Nestor Molina scheduled for the start for the home team.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 12, 2011

September 13, 2011

Vancouver Canadians – Before doling out the end-of-season awards for the NWL champs, it must be said that theirs was not a prospect-laden roster. They were a bit old – almost a full year, on average, older than the Eugene Emeralds, who they beat in the 1st round of the playoffs, and around 6 months older than the league as a whole. They did not field any position players seen as among the best in the Blue Jays’ organization, and only 12% of all innings were pitched by the highly-touted. Those caveats, winning is fine thing and should be celebrated, right?

On to the awards!

Player of the Year – Drafted in the 18th round this June, 2B Jonathon Berti was a college shortstop for whom it was anticipated that he could fill a spot on a roster and maybe reach AA one day. He hit for high averages in Bowling Green State, but minimal power. The native of Troy, Michigan was assigned directly to Vancouver, where he was immediately converted into a 2nd baseman. And he got his pro career off with a bang, hitting .353 with a .976 OPS in June. Those figures dropped to .323 and .799 respectively in July and finally bottomed out at .253 and .657 in August. Across those three months, Berti’s ISO descended from .147 to .086 to .040. One of the reasons for Berti’s getting this award was that the only players better did not play much more than half as much as him (1B Kevin Patterson, C Garrett Maines)  and the other primary contender, CF Jonathan Jones, was repeating the short-season level, after being demoted from Lansing before Vancouver began play. An older player, repeating the level will always bear with it a black mark against any player. Further helping sway my vote in Berti’s favour were his two home runs in the playoff drive including one in the decisive game, and, more appropriately, his good base running, having swiped 23 bases in 28 attempts, for an above-average 82.1% success rate.

Pitcher of the Year – Without any doubt, LHP Justin Nicolino. Even being assigned to Vancouver was a bit of a surprise as a high draft pick out of high school in 2010 who had yet to throw a pitch in anger. It was quickly abundantly apparent that Nicolino was far too advanced for the Northwest League, as he put up jaw-dropping numbers over 52.1 innings before getting a well-earned promotion to Lansing. His control against same-sided hitters was a bit better than that against right-handed bats (1.13 BB/9 vs LHB and 2.06 BB/9 vs RHB) but really quite phenomenal in both cases. He also struck out 11 batters per 9 innings pitched without surrendering a single home run all season. Kevin Goldstein rated his repertoire of fastball/curveball as plus, with the former being reported as high as 94 mph. This is a player to get excited about. Very excited.

Disappointment of the Year – I suppose even championship teams have disappointments. While there was a paucity of highly touted position players on the roster, 1B/3B/DH Balbino Fuenmayor was once thought highly of. Baseball America placed him in the organizational top 30 every year between 2007-2009, peaking at #10 in 2008. One of former GM J.P. Ricciardi’s rare forays into Latin america, Fuenmayor was given a cool $725,000 in the summer of 2006. As late as 2009, he was considered a raw, but with sleeper potential, still occasionally showing glimpses of plus power. After spending two season in Lansing, an assignment to Vancouver (even though he started his 3rd trip through the MWL hot) was a severe disappointment, and signal that the organization has essentially given up on their former bonus baby. Hitting .234 with a .656 OPS for Vancouver, sporting a 14/56 BB/K ratio did not cause anyone in the top brass to have a change of opinion, his usefulness in the playoffs notwithstanding. His play at the hot corner was also lamentable, relegating him to bat-only status. Barring a shocking assignment to the 40-man roster this offseason, Fuenmayor will be eligible to be plucked away from the Jays in the Rule V draft. Assuming that he will go unselected, he will then be eligible for minor league free agency after 2012.

Other Vancouver Notes – I have long held that SS Shane Opitz was the most interesting position player on the Canadians’ roster. Although he has no secondary skills of which to speak (.026 ISO, .073 isolated patience), he was the youngest regular on the team and young for the league at 19. Also, playing a decent SS helps. Finally, I was impressed by his adjustments, as his walk rate sky-rocketed in August (12 walks in his last 29 games after walking only 7 times in his first 34).

The aforementioned 1B Kevin Patterson is the definition of a bat-only player, and at age 22 and coming out of a big school (Auburn) was supposed to do well in the NWL, I can still applaud his finishing tied for 3rd on the team in home runs in only half a season.

RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Noah Syndergaard and LHP David Rollins all passed through Vancouver at points and all figure into the the Jays’ future plans (Rollins is more of a sleeper than the other two), but none pitched more than 18 innings. Vancouver is a lovely place to pass through.

RHP Jesse Hernandez, who joined the Jays last year as an undrafted free agent is still not a prospect. He’s now 23 years old and struck out only 6.2/9. Best case scenario is a guy like RHP Casey Lawrence doing similar yeoman’s work in Lansing. Hernandez allowed only 1 home run in 75.2 innings for Vancouver and pitched a gem in the title-clinching game. If that’s not worth a short paragraph in a season summary, what is?

Lansing Lugnuts – The drama of Lansing’s season continued in full as the Lugnuts booked their place in the MWL finals as they broke a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the 9th inning on a bases-loaded walk-off walk by DH Michael Crouse (0-3, 2 BB, 3 K, RBI). Sometimes, without even touching the ball, whether with bat or glove, a player can have a tremendous (positive) impact on the outcome of a game. The Lugnuts led going into the 9th inning, but allowed the TinCaps to equalize on a rally beginning with a triple from leadoff hitter and CF, Rico Noel. The following batter drove him home on a clean single to the outfield grass. 3B Oliver Dominguez (2-4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, K, 2 R) began the rally with a double leading off the inning. Earlier in the game, trailing by a run, the switch-hitting Dominguez gave the Lugnuts a 5-3 lead by clubbing a ball over the fence in RF with 2 runners on base. Also playing notable roles in the Lugnuts’ pennant-clinching victory were C Carlos Perez (2-3, 2 3B, BB, K, 3 R) and playoff hero, 2B Matthew Nuzzo (3-4, 2 RBI, R). The Midwest League finals, a best-of-5, begin on Wednesday night, with Lansing hosting the Quad Cities River Bandits, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Low A affiliate. The first two games will be in Lansing, with the third, and, if necessary, the fourth and fifth, in the River Bandits’ home park, Modern Woodmen Park, in Davenport, Iowa.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – The Fisher Cats rest today, taking the time to wash away yesterday’s champagne. While not mentioned yesterday, Colby Rasmus was the DH for the Fisher Cats in their series clinching victory. Before anyone cries “ringer!”, Rasmus went 0-4. Barring a Rajai Davis-like setback, Rasmus should be back up with Toronto within the next few days. RHP Chad Jenkins, coming off of a masterful performance (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K) in Game 1 of the previous series, is scheduled to start Game 1 of the finals as well.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 11, 2011

September 12, 2011

Today, although still writing about the Blue Jays’ system, Section 203 is a New Yorker.

Vancouver Canadians – In their first year as a short season ball affiliate of the Blue Jays, the Vancouver Canadians have won the Northwest League Championship, walking away from the Tri-City Dust Devils, 9-2 in the decisive 3rd game of their series. Going into the bottom of the 4th, the Canadians were trailing 1-0, and had already made two outs, with runners on 1st and 2nd, when a C Pierce Rankin single was thrown away by the Dust Devils CF, allowing both runners to score and Rankin to reach 3B. He then scored on an infield single by SS Shane Opitz (3-4, 3B, RBI, SB, R), who had a strong final game, capping a very strong finish to his season. He may have more juice in his bat than he has shown this year, which was none. With RHP Jesse Hernandez (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K) putting together his best start of the season, if not his career, those three runs would be all that the Canadians would need. In fact, other than the rally in the Dust Devils’ 4th, with two singles and a double, they only managed a solitary walk in his five other innings pitched. Any time where your starting pitcher strikes out more than double the batters he allows to reach base, your team has a very good chance to win. Not satisfied with a 3-1 lead, the Canadians exploded for five more in the home half of the 7th. 2B Jonathon Berti, who hit only one home run in 60 regular season games, hit his 2nd of six playoff games to lead off the inning. Following his lead, the next four batters all reached base, culminating in a triple by DH Balbino Fuenmayor. After Fuenmayor was lifted for a pinch runner (Garrett Maines again), he, too, scored, on a sacrifice fly by LF Matt Newman. The two teams traded runs in the 8th before RHP Drew Permison came on to finish the game, as he has done so many time for the Canadians this season (24). The first batter he faced hit a single, and the next two struck out. Down to their last out, DH Jaron Shepherd hit a ground ball to the right of second base which was fielded cleanly by Berti, who flipped the ball to Opitz covering the bag. Game, set, match. The Vancouver Canadians, winning a championship for the first time in their 11 years in the NWL.

A summary of the Canadians’ season will follow later this week.

Lansing Lugnuts – After escaping the first round of the Midwest League by the slimmest of margins, the Lugnuts began the 2nd round in stronger fashion, beating the Fort Wayne TinCaps in Fort Wayne, by a score of 4-1. They will return to Lansing for game 2 (and 3, if necessary), looking to advance to the MWL finals. The Lugnuts opened the scoring in the top of the third, with a small ball sequence initiated by the #9 hitter, 3B Oliver Dominguez, who singled. A sacrifice and a walk, led to an odd play in which CF Jake Marisnick hit a routine groundball to 1B. The first baseman threw the ball towards 2B for the force, but missed the return feed. In the meantime, Dominguez rounded third and barreled home. Marisnick dallying off the base long enough to create a run down. He was caught, but not before the run scored. The Lugnuts added two more, in straightforward fashion in the 4th, with the first of two doubles hit by DH Michael Crouse on the night, and a triple by LF Marcus Knecht, scoring him. Two batters later, 2B Matthew Nuzzo (2-3, RBI, SF, K, R), in another strong game, scored him on a sacrifice fly. A strong start by LHP Egan Smith (5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) ensured those three runs would hold up with his usual command of the strike zone – he averaged one walk per five innings pitched throughout the regular season as well. A trio of RHP relievers, Dustin Antolin, Shawn Griffith and Danny Barnes finished the game, allowing only one unearned run. helped along by a bad throw from Dominguez (his second of the game) in the bottom of the 7th. The series continued Monday night.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – The Fisher Cats win the pennant! The Fisher Cat win the Pennant! With Game four of the best-of-five tied at 2-2 going into the 9th inning, 1B Mike McDade (3-4, 2B, RBI) capped off a strong game by doubling past the center fielder. Pinch runner John Tolisano moved to 3B on a ground ball, setting up LF Danny Perales for his brush with heroics. The left-handed hitter pulled a ball deep in the air to right field and over the fence, giving the Fisher Cats a late two-run lead. RHP Bobby Korecky came on to close and never let a ball leave the infield, propelling the Fisher Cats into the Eastern League finals, where they will face off against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, of the San Francisco Giants organization for the right to call themselves EL champions. A good word should be thrown in the direction of unheralded RHP Yohan Pino (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR), acquired on the sly from the Cleveland Indians organization earlier this season, to provide the Jays with AA innings. After working as a swingman for most of the season, Pino moved into the rotation in mid-August, consistently working deep, averaging nearly 7 innings per start. most of the quality variety. The EL finals are scheduled to begin on Tuesday night.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB thoughts – September 10, 2011

September 11, 2011

Vancouver Canadians – With a chance to wrap up the Northwest League title, the Canadians fell just short on Saturday night, with 2B Jonathon Berti (2-4, RBI) grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th. Down 5-3 heading into the inning, one out had already been recorded before DH Balbino Fuenmayor doubled, giving the Canadians hope, in that one swing of the bat could end extend the game. Stephen McQuail came in to pinch hit for C Chris Schaeffer (2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R) who had given the Canadians an early lead with a 3rd inning solo home run and also accounted for the team’s third run. singling and coming around to score on a throwing error by Dirt Devils’ C Richard Pirkle. McQuail, very much an all or nothing hitter, walked, putting the game-tying run on. Like Fuenmayor (with Garrett Maines), McQuail was then lifted for a pinch runner in Andrew Burns. SS Shane Opitz (1-2, 2B, 2 BB, R, E) then continued to display the patience that he had developed as the season progressed, walking to fill the bases. It was his second walk of the game. But Dirt Devils RHP Nelson Gonzalez, not a true worm-burner, nonetheless coaxed a grounder to SS from Berti, culminating in a game saving 6-4-3 double play. The decisive Game 3 goes Sunday afternoon.

Lansing Lugnuts – As Earl Weaver so wisely said, “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” After staying alive yesterday thanks only to a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run by 2B Matt Nuzzo overcoming a 3-2 deficit to win 4-3, RHP Marcus Walden (5 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K) played the role of momentum in today’s decisive game 3 against the Dayton Dragons. Walden, who only joined the rotation in the second half of the season, after missing all of 2010 and pitching only 16.2 innings in 2009, displayed moxie if little else throughout most of this season. He struck out only 4.86 per 9, while limiting free passes to 2.5/9. He excelled at keeping the ball on the ground, generating 1.9 ground-outs per air out, while allowing a single, solitary home run in 100 innings, and that to the man who would eventually go on to lead the Midwest League in home runs – South Bend Silver Hawks 1B Yazy Arbelo. Nuzzo did his part in this game as well, as he drove home the Lugnuts’ second run of the game in the bottom of the 2nd on a ground ball single to RF. The Lugnuts would never relinquish that lead, adding a 3rd run in the 3rd, as LF Marcus Knecht (2-3, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB, 2 R) doubled home CF Jake Marisnick with two down. Knecht added more insurance to the Lansing cause in the 5th inning, with a long drive out to LF. That 4th Lugnut run had increased importance at that point, as the Dragons had scored two of their own in the top half of the inning, including the only extra base hit surrendered by Walden in the game. The Dragons did not go down easily, small balling their way to a 3rd in the top of the 7th. But between RHP Dayton Marze, RHP Daniel Webb (who I really feel is taking to pitching out of the bullpen) and RHP Danny Barnes, the Dragons’ batters produced nine outs in their final eight at bats in the game, and the Lugnuts went on to win the game 4-3, and the series two games to 1. The MWL semi-finals begin tomorrow, a best of three against the Fort Wayne Tin Caps of the San Diego Padres organization, a team including MWL Player of the Year, RF Rymer Liriano, as well as the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft, 2B Cory Spengenberg. Game 2 and, if necessary, game 3 will be held in Lansing.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – With their best of five series against the Reading Phillies knotted at 1-1, the Fisher Cats sent young RHP Drew Hutchison (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 6 K) to the mound today. Hutchison went on to provide another reason for a pundit like ESPN’s Keith Law to proclaim him as the Jays’ top pitching prospect assuming the RHP Henderson Alvarez loses eligibility by reaching 50 innings for Toronto before the season is out – he sat at 43.2 innings when he was lifted from today’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, so that seems a pretty sure bet. Hutchison was absolutely dominant against the R-Phillies, allowing only 3 baserunners across 6 innings, coaxing 8 ground ball outs and only 3 fly ball outs. His dominance was necessary, as Phillies RHP Austin Hyatt nearly matched him pitch for pitch, lasting 7 innings, also allowing only 3 baserunners, wile striking out 9 Fisher Cats. Unfortunately, 2 of those baserunners came back to back in the top of the 5th inning, as first Mike McDade and then Kevin Howard, singled. With only 1 out in the inning, LF Danny Perales hit a fly ball to left field that was deep enough to allow the lumbering McDade to tag and score the game’s only run. In the Fisher Cats’ two wins in this series, they outscored the R-Phillies by a combined 3-0. In the Phillies’ only win, the crushed the Fisher Cats by a score of 11-2. So although they have been outscored in the series 11-5, the Fisher Cats need only 1 won win in the next 2 games to advance to the Easter League finals. Game 4 is scheduled for tomorrow evening with RHP Yohan Pino on tap to make the start.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 9, 2011

September 10, 2011

Vancouver Canadians – With a 3-run outburst high-lit by a 2-run double by 1B Kevin Patterson, to open the game, and the series in the top of the 1st inning, and solo homers by CF Kevin Pillar and RF Nicholas Baligod in the 3rd and 6th innings respectively, the Canadians got as much as they needed to take the 1st game of the NWL finals against the Tri-City Dust Devils. Instead of RHP Ben Smith, who had been scheduled to start as of Thursday, the Canadians went with RHP Ajay Meyer (5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K), who spent his professional debut with Bluefield, with a K/BB rate just shy of 5. While not dominant, Meyer kept the Canadians in the game long enough for their 2 insurance runs in the top of the 6th. After Meyer was taken out, RHP Alesone Escalante (4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K) took over, shutting down the Dust Devils over the final 4 innings, allowing only 2 baserunners, one on an error. A converted position player, Escalante, reputed to have above average arm strength is one for whome I would cut some slack on his relatively advanced age (recently turned 23). He failed to impress in an early season audition in Lansing, but should get another shot there next year, his last year under team control.

Lansing Lugnuts – One strike away from an ignominious elimination at home at the hands of the Dayton Dragons, 2B Matt Nuzzo (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, BB, K, R) made himself a local hero with a fly ball he pulled over the fence in LF. A game-winning, walk-off shot that ensured a 3rd game. LF Marcus Knecht led off the bottom of the 9th with a single to RF, only the 2nd hit of the game for the Lugnuts. An Oliver Dominguez sacrifice moved Knecht to 2B and then K.C. Hobson struck out, putting the season on the line for Nuzzo, who had hit 4 home runs in 258 at bats over the full regular season. In his entire professional career, Nuzzo had hit 6 bombs in 458 at bats over three seasons. Down to his last strike against RHP Drew Hayes, who had a dominant season out of the Dayton ‘pen this year, Nuzzo made his mark. All previous runs in this game were scored in the 1st inning. Dayton began by loading the bases on their first 3 batters, with a hit-by-pitch, single and walk. The first run scored on a ground out and the second on a passed ball by Lugnuts’ C, Carlos Perez. The Lugnuts got their 1st, which for a long while felt like their only possible run, on a single, 2 walks and a long fly ball off the bat of DH Michael Crouse, which was deep enough to score RF Jonathan Jones from 3B. LHP Justin Nicolino (5.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 4 K) kept Lansing in the game after the rough opening frame, matching the nearly unhittable Dragons’ starter, RHP Josh Smith, who struck out 8 Lugnuts over 5.1 innings, not allowing a hit after the leadoff single by Jones in the 1st. Game 3 is tomorrow evening.

Dunedin Blue Jays – I had hoped/thought that I would not have to summarize their season this early, but, well, them’s the playoffs.

Player of the Year – It would be too easy to choose a guy like LF Brian Van Kirk who led Dunedin regulars in OPS, .046 above the nearest contender. But Van Kirk was also the oldest regular on the squad, and playing a bat-only position like LF, his relative value is not nearly as high. I could make a similar argument against RF Brad Glenn, who was that #2 man behind Van Kirk on the Dunedin OPS leader board. Glenn had an ISO around 20% higher than Van Kirk’s, but like Van Kirk, Glenn was over-aged, playing the season at 24. And again, as a RF, he has to hit. Neither Van Kirk nor Glenn are considered serious prospects at this point in their respective careers. The Position Player of the Year for the D-Jays is C A.J. Jimenez, who is almost the polar opposite of the two aforementioned corner outfielders, in that, at 21 years of age, he was among the younger regulars on the team, and as a catcher, his value is not driven solely by his bat, but he gains more traction from his defense than nearly every other position in the lineup – even shortstop. Even with those caveats, Jimenez put up a more than respectable .770 OPS on the season, an up-and-down season, which saw Jimenez smoke the ball during April and May, wilt as the weather grew hot in June and July, but made the necessary adjustments in August and through the close of the Dunedin season. As for his defense, while his caught stealing rates have dropped from figures well above 50% over the past two years, was a very strong 44% this season. With Jimenez, it is important to look past his draft pedigree of the 9th round. Like current Blue Jays LF Eric Thames, Jimenez saw his draft stock plummet in the months leading up to the draft, due to injury concerns. Jimenez has been relatively healthy since turning pro, playing in a career high 102 regular season this year. Jimenez should be the starter behind the plate for New Hampshire in 2012.

Pitcher of the Year – A tougher call among the arms of Dunedin, in that most of the top pitchers to pass through the D-Jays in 2011 did not complete the season in the FSL, but convinced the Jays’ brass that their development would be better served by moving up to New Hampshire in mid-season. Fitting that description are a quartet of RHP‘s in Nestor Molina, Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins and Drew Hutchison. Neither Jenkins nor Hutchison pitched even 70 innings for Dunedin, so I will forego handing them this award. Between those two, based purely on their performance this year for Dunedin and not on how I expect their respective values to shake out up the chain, I am going with Molina. Others pitched more, but Molina pitched better, carving up the strike zone in the FSL to the tune of a 115/14 K/BB rate, giving him the 2nd best K/BB rate (8.21) in the league. Not merely a consequence of not walking anyone, his 9.6 K/9 was backed up by infrequent scouting reports indicating a fastball in the low-mid 90s and average to above-average secondary pitches in his cutter, split-fastball and changeup. His dominance extended to New Hampshire (the start detailed below notwithstanding) and he should continue to receive praise through the offseason as pundits release their top prospect lists.

Disappointment of the Year – My first instinct was to select CF Kenny Wilson, whose season, off to a poor start, was ended by a bad shoulder injury in early June. In 66 games at this level split between 2010-11, Wilson has hit a measly .185/.282/.243. The stagnation, lost development and potential severity of any shoulder injury injury aside, I am not picking Wilson as his relative youth (22 by 2012 Opening Day) gives him enough time to re-establish his prospect-dom. Instead the award goes to RHP Andrew Liebel. First off, Liebel was originally drafted with some hope attached to his signing, a 3rd round pick in 2008 out of the heralded Long Beach State program. He spent the majority of his first full season (2009) with Dunedin, pitching effectively if short of dominant, with a 3.63 ERA belaying his 6.8 K/9 rate. He limited walks and kept the ball down. Injury caused him to miss half of 2010 and prevented a move up to AA. More missed time this season again limited Leibel to only 14 games started, 8 of which were for Dunedin, the highest level he pitched at in 2011. In 37.2 innings for Dunedin, Liebel struck out only 19 (4.5 K/9), walking 12 (2.9 BB/9). The main difference between Wilson and 2nd round pick also selected in 2008, and Liebel, is that While Wilson is not yet 22, Liebel is already 25. He may have already lost what chance he had to make a name for himself.

Other Dunedin Notes – I have grown fond of utility player Kevin Nolan, who played at 6 different positions for Dunedin this year (all but C and CF) while combining for an .813 OPS between Lansing and Dunedin. His power is also emerging, with a career-high ISO of .141 for the 23-year old. A promotion for Nolan to AA would be a homecoming for the native of Nashua, New Hampshire. He has earned it. C/1B Sean Ochinko put up numbers that would not be overly impressive, were it not for the fact that he plays a credible catcher. His utility and ISO close to .200 should earn him a spot with New Hampshire in 2012. With a full-season OPS of .723, former 1st round pick, 3B Kevin Ahrens had the best offensive season of his career, with most of his progression found in his improved batting eye (walk rate of 11.2%). Unfortunately, for the 5th year pro, it is not good enough. I don;t mind admitting to sometimes forgetting which of the two 23 year old middle infielder Ryan’s is which. 2B Ryan Schimpf has a lot more power (10 HR, .219 ISO), but SS Ryan Goins is the superior player and prospect (he’s a SS and has a much better hit tool, far better at making contact than his partner on the keystone.

I want to give Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins and Drew Hutchison their proper dues, but I think this may not be the proper place. The three have all had stellar seasons (with Jenkins, it helps if you give more weight to his late season work with new Hampshire) split among multiple levels. Each will have a place of prominence in my end-of-season rankings. Instead, I will give a final mention to RHP Ryan Tepera, who led the staff in innings pitched and was praised by Friend of Section 203, Bill Christie, who called him a workhorse, prone to the quality start. Tepera threw 5 minor league quality starts in his last 8 and had a solid K/BB rate of a shade under 2.5. Tepera will turn 24 this off-season, and needs to improve his K-rate to maintain his momentum from this year. Finally, a kind word to RHP Asher Wojciechowski, who was written up at length yesterday, essentially to point out that his walk rate has risen to rarefied heights in the latter half of this season. Continuing along that path and lowering his high HR-rate should allow him to maintain his place as a rotation member next year in New Hampshire. In any case, his recovery from early season struggles is commendable.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – After playing tight to the vest in their 2-0 Game 1 victory, the Fisher Cats lost the plot in the 3rd inning of game 2, as RHP Nestor Molina (3 IP, 5 H, 6 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 3 K, 1 Balk) could not contain the Reading Phillies’ offense. An error by SS Jonathan Diaz midway through the carnage accounted for the fact that only 2 of the 6 runs surrendered by Molina in the inning were earned. Molina also walked only hit 3rd batter in his 6 starts for New Hampshire. At least it can be said that the man he walked, R-Phillies 1B Matt Rizzotti finished 2nd in the Eastern League in free passes in the regular season, with 79. Molina must have been tired, as Rizzotti was the 8th batter Molina faced in the inning. Also of note in this game was the late injury to Fisher Cats’ RF Moises Sierra (2-3, 2B, RBI, BB). After making the last out of the home-half of the 8th, being forced at 2B after he had singled, Sierra was lifted from the game in the 9th, with what Friend of Section 203, Dave Gershman, reported as a leg injury. With the bench already used up due to the lopsided score, Fisher Cats’ reliever, RHP Bobby Korecky, was pressed into action in the outfield for 1 inning. As happens in baseball, Korecky was immediately forced to put his glove to work, as the 1st Reading batter of the top of the 9th hit a fly ball in his direction. Korecky made the play. This was the first appearance by Korecky in game at any professional level (10 seasons) at a position other than pitcher.

The Fisher Cats have now lost their home field advantage against the Phillies. Game 3 commences tomorrow in Reading with RHP Drew Hutchison scheduled to take the hill for the Fisher Cats.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 8, 2011

September 9, 2011

Vancouver Canadians – The Canadians have the night off as they prepare to take on the Tri-City Dust Devils on the road tomorrow in the first game of the best-of-3 Northwest League Finals.  RHP Ben White, who the Jays signed this year as an undrafted free agent out of Temple University, is tentatively scheduled to get the start for Vancouver. In college, White was the staff workhorse for Temple as a senior, keeping walks down and with a decent K-rate. On the downside, he was very hittable, albeit a trait shared by his fellow starting pitchers. However, White kept that trait with the Canadians in his professional debut, allowing 36 hits in 27 innings with a K/BB rate of exactly 1, with 10 of each. A word also to OF Kevin Pillar and LHP Tyler Ybarra, both of whom will have the unique distinction of playing in two minor league finals’ series, having both featured prominently in the Bluefield run to the Finals of the Appalachian League.

Lansing Lugnuts – Although leading 2-0 by the middle of the 4th inning, the Lugnuts could not hold on in the first game of their playoff series against the Dayton Dragons, eventually losing 7-3. Starting well for Lansing, LHP Sean Nolin (4.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K) lost the plot in the 5th, allowing 3 runs when 5 consecutive batters reached base, on a walk, double two singles and an error. It might have been worse had one of those baserunners not been thrown out by CF Jake Marisnick trying to go 1st to 3rd on a single up the middle. Outside of Marisnick, 3B Oliver Dominguez (2-3, RBI, K, 2 SB, 2 R) had a strong game for the Lugnuts, wreaking some havoc on the basepaths. Ironically, the Dragons’ leadoff hitter, SS Billy Hamilton, who was featured in this space recently as he stole his 100th base of the season against the Lugnuts, was unable to bag another one in this game, despite reaching base 3 times in 4 plate appearances. In the one time he did attempt to steal a base, he was gunned down by Lugnuts C Carlos Perez (1-3, BB, K), who eliminated each of the 3 runners who attempted to swindle him out of a free base in the game. A very good sign for Perez, as the catcher previously highly lauded for his defensive game, had a down season in terms of CS rates, dropping from 49% in the GCL in 2009, to 36% last year in Auburn to 29% this year for Lansing. Mitigating that number is the fact that Perez played more than double the games behind the plate this year than he ever had in a single season before.

Dunedin Blue Jays – Another affiliate bites the dust, as the D-Jays could not take advantage of a great start by RHP Asher Wojciechowski (5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K), allowing 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th to lose the rubber match of their 3-game set against the Daytona Cubs. Stymied by D-Cubs RHP Matt Loosen (6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K) for 6 innings, the D-Jays scored two more in the top of the 8th on a 2-run homer by RF Brad Glenn, his 27th home run this year. It did not survive the D-Cubs’ rally in the 8th as they bated around on their way to upending the score and taking the series. Wojciechowski had an up-and-down season that had many ready to consign him to a future in the bullpen after he followed up a stellar 4 starts in April with a 7.81 ERA across 53 innings in May and June. He then turned a sharp corner, pitching to a 2.92 ERA over 61.2 innings across the rest of the regular season and playoffs. The difference can be traced to command and control. Control in the sense that he walked 2.9/9 in May and June but only 1.2/9 the rest of the way. He went from very good at pitching strikes to excellent. Command in the sense that his first half strikes tended to the meatball variety, as Wojciechowski surrendered 14 home runs in his first 73.2 innings pitched (1.7 HR/9), and cut that back drastically to a single home run allowed over 61.2 innings in the 2nd half of his season. The improvement is not to say that his future will not be in the bullpen, but that, still in High A, it is too early to make a determination.

A full review of the Dunedin Blue Jays season will be posted this weekend, if not by tomorrow.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – RHP Chad Jenkins (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K) continued his hot run to end the Eastern League Regular season with likely the strongest start of his still young professional career, pitching 7 strong shutout innings, allowing the 2 lonely runs put on the board by his offense to hold up and give the Fisher Cats the win in the opening game of the best-of-5 EL Semi-Finals. The Fisher Cats first run was manufactured, beginning with an Anthony Gose infield single with 1 out in the bottom of the first. He moved to 2B when Moises Sierra was hit by a pitch and then scored on a ground ball single up the middle by Travis d’Arnaud. Jenkins threw another 6 innings of shutout ball against the Reading Phillies, which was matched, well….almost matched by Reading starter, RHP Tyler Cloyd, who kept the Fisher Cats from adding to their total from the 1st until there was 1 down in the bottom of the 7th. At that point, 3B Mark Sobolewski (1-2, HR, RBI, BB, R) made it his mission to safeguard the lead and clubbed a Cloyd offering deep into the night and over the wall in LF. The extra cushion allowed Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano to put the game into the hands of the bullpen, where he got 1 clean inning each from RHPs Clint Everts and Bobby Korecky. Game 2 goes tomorrow night with RHP Nestor Molina hoping to give his team a 2-0 lead in the series.

Down on the Farm – Jays MILB Thoughts – September 7, 2011

September 8, 2011

Vancouver Canadians – Game 3 was a thriller, as Vancouver got to the bottom of the 9th leading by2 and the Emeralds loaded the bases with 1 run already with 2 outs still to go and the heart of the order coming to bat. Canadians’ closer, RHP Drew Permison (2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K) was on the mound, but he had already pitched the 8th and was now facing his 9th batter in 2B Travis Whitmore. The average Permison appearance this year lasted under 3 batters faced. Whitmore whiffed, watching a called 3rd strike. With the Emeralds season on the line, C Matthew Colantonio stepped to the plate. This is the situation that all kids fantasize about. 2 down, bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, glory on the line. Success, and your team moves into the league finals. Failure, and the season is over. Whatever else you might want to say about Permison, he is an extreme groundball pitcher getting 3.85 ground outs per air out for Vancouver this year, including 2 already in this elongated appearance. And here, for all the marbles, he got another, a groundball to SS Shane Opitz, who flipped the ball to the keystone, into the glove of 2B Jonathan Berti, who stepped on the bag, ending the game and putting the Canadians in the NWL Final.

As key as Permison’s performance obviously was, none of that could have happened if RHP Aaron Sanchez (4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 8 K) was not simply pitching dirty in the game’s early stages, allowing the Canadians to jump to a 5-0 lead by the time he was through. He faced 19 batters and only 7 even managed to put the ball into play. He may have had the jitters early, walking the bases loaded in the 1st inning before getting a called 3rd strike to end the frame. But he calmed down retiring the next 11 batters he faced before walking one and giving up his first hit, a line drive 2B to LF in the bottom of 5th that led to his being lifted. RHP Philip Brua held the line then, but with Sanchez out of the game, the Emerals clawed their way back in, setting up the 9th inning drama recapped above. The NWL Finals, pitting the Canadians against the Tri-City Dust Devils of the Colorado Rockies organization, begins on Friday. The finals are a best of 3, with Tri-City hosting the first game and Vancouver the 2nd, and if necessary, the 3rd.

Lansing Lugnuts – The rain in Ohio washes away playoff games. Game 1 has been pushed back to tomorrow night.

Dunedin Blue Jays – After the shenanigans of Game 1, The Daytona Cubs came into this game knowing they could not give the D-Jays the same opportunity for hi-jinx. After a scoreless 1st inning, the Cubs notched one run a-piece in each of the next 2 innings and those would prove to be enough for the victory as the D-Jays’ bats could not muster more than a single, solitary tally against Cubs LHP Jeffry Antigua, who went 7 strong, keeping the D-Jays off the bases while relying on his defense to account for 20 of the 21 outs he recorded. The impotent bats negated a solid start from Dunedin RHP Ryan Tepera (6.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP). Tepera, a slight 23 year-old had a decent season for Dunedin, eating up 146.1 innings with a 4.43 ERA. That accounted for an additional 26.1 on top of what he managed in 2010 for Lansing. While his ERA was nearly half a run higher, his K-rate was practically unchanged from a year ago (5.9/9 then, 5.7/9 now), while he drastically cut into his walk rate (dropped from 3.3/9 to 2.3/9). Most of the change in his numbers comes from an enhanced hits allowed rate and a slight uptick in home runs allowed (0.5/9 to 0.8/9). His batting average against rose the most, from .251 against in Lansing, to .276 against in Dunedin. Most damning for Tepera are his sizable platoon splits, most evident in his K/BB rates. Against right-handed batters, Tepera had a 3.28 K/BB, while his pitching to left-handers was much more mundane, giving him a 1.7 K/BB. His statistical profile is similar enough to recent call up RHP Chad Beck‘s, but Beck also throws in the low-mid 90’s.Tepera has not received those reports.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – The same rain clouds that wiped away today’s scheduled playoff game for Lansing also set back New Hampshire’s playoff run by a day.