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Blue Jays Future Learning in Lansing

After kicking their season off a day later than the rest of the Blue Jay full season affiliates, due to their annual crosstown rivalry game with the Michigan State Spartans, the Lansing Lugnuts caught up with four games over the weekend versus the Lake County Captains. The results may not have been what the Lugs were hoping for, but it’s going to be more about the process for the Jays’ Midwest League affiliate. Make no mistake, this is one of the more important seasons for a Toronto minor league team.

As I wrote last week, there are plenty of prospects to keep an eye on over the three affiliates above Lansing, including the Jays top 3 prospects, but as far as sheer volume, Lansing is absolutely loaded. From my prospect top 30, nine are with Lansing (10 if you include Roberto Osuna who is on the DL), including three of the top 10. How these kids develop this year, will go a long way towards deciding where the Jays system is ranked going into 2015. No pressure then guys.

In regards to the actual roster, although many of the spots were easy calls, there were a few surprises, as well as a an organizational shift in philosophy, or just a bald faced lie. Let’s get to that first. When I attempted to predict the Lugs starting staff I was doing so with one arm tied behind my back. I went with a 5-man rotation given fact Alex Anthopoulos told me point blank that there would be no piggy-backing in Lansing this season. Something obviously changed, whether it be the realization that they had a surplus of arms that were too good for Vancouver but not quite ready for Dunedin, or I was fed some good old fashioned Blue Jay misinformation. I’d like to believe the latter, but am inclined to go with the former.

Of the five names I went with, four did get assigned to Lansing (Chase DeJong, Jairo Labourt, Alberto Tirado, and Jeremy Gabryszwski). My 5th was Shane Dawson and I was surprised he didn’t go, but after chatting to the Drayton Valley native on twitter, it was simply a case of the Jays believing he needed more innings after the shoulder injury which prematurely ended his 2013.

So, after an off-season of saying Tom Robson will go to Dunedin, he’ll start in Lansing. Which, isn’t a surprise really. The Jays are reluctant to be that aggressive with their younger pitchers. Robson, 2013 8th rounder Kendall Graveman, and Gabryszwski will get their own days. For me, this is a vote of confidence for Robson. If he throws well, he’ll be the first promoted to Dunedin when the other arms need to stretch out. Speaking of which, the piggy-backs will be Labourt/Tirado and DeJong with Adonys Cardona.

While there is no doubting Cardona’s stuff, I did raise my eyebrows with this assignment. The term ‘piggy-backing’ was coined (for me at least) when the Jays employed the tactic in 2012 to limit the innings of the Lansing ‘Big 3′ of Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino. Even so, those three logged 90.1, 103.2, and 124.1 innings respectively. Cardona was shut down early last season limiting him to 25.1 innings, touching anywhere close to 90 this year would be a massive jump. Very curious to see how this plays out.

Positionally, D.J. Davis, Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo, Santiago Nessy, and Matt Dean were all slam dunks. Although I did expect Dickie Thon Jr to be moved to 2nd base at some point, given fact there are four better shortstop prospects catching him, but I was surprised they did so right off the bat in Lansing. With his injury in mid-August last year cutting his season short, I expected him to be held back for more reps at second before an assignment. That being said, he was having a decent year in Vancouver before the injury, and if you look at his development it has been linear. He’s jumped a level every year since 2011 when he made his pro debut. Makes his Lansing assignment logical.

Two other 2013 Vancouver Canadians surprised me as well. One for his Lansing assignment, the second for heading back to extended instead of going to Michigan.

I felt Surrey native Justin Atkinson was over-matched in the Northwest League last year and was sure he would be returned to the Canadians. My gut feeling is that he still will be once the C’s open their season, but good for Justin. He obviously had a good enough spring where the Jays felt he should be playing under the lights rather than working in Florida.

Of the Canadians 2013 outfield, I was positive Chaz Frank would be starting the year in Lansing. It’s possible the Jays see the University of North Carolina alum strictly as a center fielder and weren’t willing to take reps away from 2012 1st rounder D.J. Davis, which pushes Frank down to Vancouver. What this means for Chaz is unclear. His bat is more advanced than Davis’, who is extremely raw, so what purpose does it serve to have him in Vancouver? My only guess is that the Jays are going to see how Davis reacts to Midwest League pitching before making a final decision. With Dalton Pompey getting full reps in Dunedin, the 23 year old Frank is behind two younger players. Not ideal. He’ll be under a lot of pressure to have a big year and force his way into the center field picture.

As mentioned, there’s plenty to see above Lansing, i.e. tonight has Sean Nolin going for Buffalo, Aaron Sanchez in New Hampshire, and Matt Boyd with Dunedin. But let’s be honest, Lansing will be the focus of most Blue Jay prospect junkies. Let’s just hope these young kids (and if you look at the average age of the team, they are very young) live up to the hype.

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