It’s been over 10 days since the Vancouver Canadians had to hand over the Bob Freitas Trophy, a piece of property they probably thought was theirs by right, for Northwest League supremacy to the Hillsboro Hops. 10 days. Seems longer than that. So, with hockey season (or as I call it, baseball’s prospect shoulder season) about to start, it’s about time I sat down and wrote a proper eulogy on what was another very successful season for the Vancouver Canadians.
What defines success in the minor leagues? Sure, another flag painted on the side of Nat Bailey Stadium with 2014 stencilled in it would have been nice. Getting #DriveFor5 trending on twitter over the winter would have been fun as well. We’ll find other fun things to tweet about though and the proposed expansion to the Nat will far overshadow any painted flags.
My idea of minor league success (and this is just my opinion) is twofold. The first is whether the owners still see value in carrying on operations. For Jake Mooney and Jeff Kerr, this is a given. Once again they put a lot of bums in seats, sold a bunch of hot dogs, and poured quite a few beers.
For a guy that writes mainly about Jays prospects, I’m not really concerned about hot dog sales though. I want to see prospects. Which brings us to the second test of success. How the parent organization was at developing their younger players. I could write for days (and probably will at some point) on the year the Blue Jays minor leaguers had, but, for now, let’s focus on Vancouver.
2014 saw seven of my pre-season Blue Jays top 30 prospects spend some time in Vancouver. This was the first year I had done a full top 30 so I can’t compare with previous seasons but am guessing that if we looked back at others top 10/20/30s etc, 2014 has definitely been the Year of the Prospect in Vancouver.
That isn’t just based on sheer volume either (you also need to add in ’14 draftee Max Pentecost). Of those seven, I’d say six had seasons that will see them improve their stock. One, of course, could find himself near the top.
Baseball America recently named Franklin Barreto their short-season (which includes both the NWL and New York Penn League) player of the year. Recently I wrote an article arguing that Spokane’s Luke Tendler should probably be the NWL’s MVP but either way, Barreto had a breakout season in Vancouver.
A kid that was just over three years younger than the league average offensive age that led the circuit in five offensive categories while being there or thereabouts in a few more is nothing short of spectacular. For a leading prospect publication like Baseball America to acknowledge his year only serves to reinforce what those of us that got to see him this year know already.
The kid is a stud and no matter what position he ends up at, his bat is going to play.
A second member of my top 30 received some kudos from BA as lefty Jairo Labourt was named as a starter on the short-season ‘all-star’ team. This was a bit of a no-brainer as the 6’4″ Dominican led the NWL in ERA with a spectacular 1.77 and K/9 at 10.35. His ERA may have been deflated somewhat by a below average .275 BABIP but I’m nitpicking. Of his 15 starts in Vancouver (not including playoffs) he allowed 0 runs seven times and only a single on four other occasions. Not bad when over two thirds of your starts go for one run or less.
Labourt’s FIP was 1.65 runs higher than his ERA but that inflation (still good for third in the league) is all down to walks. If you cut his 4.7/9 rate in half he would have been sitting at a 2.55 FIP with an excellent 4.56 K/BB ratio.
This is where prospect writers are going to have to make a decision on Jairo. Obviously he had an all-star season in Vancouver which is great, considering he was a year and half younger than the average pitcher. But there’s still the lingering disappointment after his early season demotion from Lansing. Can you improve someone’s prospect stock after he walked 12.9/9 in Low-A?
I know where I stand. Will be interesting to see what others do.
This is where I’ll deviate from my Year in Prospects narrative somewhat. I did find the decision to bring Labourt forward over a rested Chase Mallard in game two of the North division final odd. After taking game one for the fourth win in a row versus Spokane I would have thought starting Mallard would have been the call in a non-elimination game. That way you have Labourt rested for either a winner take all game three or game one of the NWL final.
Hopefully I remember to ask about that some time. That being said, I don’t think it would have had a huge bearing on the outcome of the final. Hillsboro proved themselves to be the better team all year and were deserved champions.
I bet they didn’t have seven top tier prospects play for them though.