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Blue Jays Minor League Review – May Flowers

I’m not exactly certain what trajectory a lead balloon will take if dropped from a higher place, say CN Tower for example, but I’m willing to guess it plummets.  Quickly.  Similar to my feelings on the Blue Jays season.  Of course, I’m a raging optimist, and at a mere two games  under .500 heading into May things are not lost.  But man, this has been a frustrating start.

(editors note: obviously the above was written pre the somewhat redeeming series win over New York but I’m lazy, so leaving as is, just adding a note)

When I finally got my Jays top 30 finished in mid-April I was crowing about how boring the upper levels of Toronto’s minor league system would be as my top five were all with the big league club.  Oh how things have changed.  In a flurry of moves — which probably deserves its own column on whether AA is becoming increasingly desperate or pragmatic — over the last week or so, three of those top five are now Buffalo Bisons while many would make the argument that Aaron Sanchez should be joining them.

Three thoughts on what is now a far more interesting triple-A lineup:

1) Think it was Gregg Zaun who popped off on the Dalton Pompey demotion, saying, with only 83 at bats, the young Canadian should be given time to work through his issues.  Even comparing the situation to Travis Snider’s early career and the yo-yoing he did with the Jays.  I’ll talk more about it below but this is an easy, and lazy, soundbite.  No situation is the same.  All throughout spring all of us ‘pundits’ said that, for Pompey to be successful in Toronto, all he had to do was play better than average defence while providing enough value at the plate where his ability to switch-hit compensated for platoons elsewhere.

As soon as Kevin Pillar’s excellent play in the outfield pushed a tentative Pompey to left we should have seen the writing on the wall.  Better than average defence in left doesn’t quite count like center.  The lack of sample size makes it tough to draw conclusions but Dalton was not swinging the bat well.  Despite the better stats, he looked especially lost from the right side, which nullified his platoon advantage.

Giving him some time (and with Michael Saunders getting his knee drained Sunday and Jose Bautista still battling a sore shoulder, you gotta hope Pompey plays well in Buffalo) to work through the issues in AAA will hopefully get his head, and more importantly, his swing straightened out.  Ezequiel Carrera is not the answer.

2)  Everybody wants to believe that Daniel Norris’ demotion is going to be Marcus Stroman like.  In that he figures things out quickly and returns to Toronto with a cape tied around his neck.  If I’m doubting the Pompey/Snider comps it’s tough for me to jump on board with this one, as much as I’d love to believe it.

Despite leading the Jays starting staff with a pedestrian (I’m being nice here) 5.04 FIP it was pretty obvious Norris’ wasn’t where he needed to be.  He wasn’t hitting his spots with any sort of regularity nor did his pitches flash anything above average.  A trait we’d been led to believe he possessed after a pretty stellar 2014.

I don’t think he’s all of a sudden become a poor pitcher.  A stint in Buffalo should — hopefully — allow him to work through some mechanical issues without something riding on every pitch.

As an aside, Daniel made his first start for the Herd last night and was ok.  But that’s only going by the line, a not so informative methodology.

3) I have to admit, am a bit perplexed by the Miguel Castro move.  Not so much by the demotion itself.  After a great start, with six scoreless appearances, things went a tad pear shaped.

When it initially went down I thought it’d be a good idea to stretch him out as a starter.  Just not in Buffalo, given he spend the bulk of last year in Vancouver.  It’s a rather large jump.

He’s due to start tonight against a good Durham Bulls….holy moly…I just noticed it’s the Bisons v Bulls….what a grudge match.  It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of pitch count he starts on.

Right, enough of the negative.  Let’s take a quick buzz around the minor leagues:

On the hitting side of things.  After an injury delayed Jon (JD) Davis’ 2015 debut the outfielder has gotten off to a decent start with hits in four of his first six games, including three multi-hit outings.  None have gone for extra bases so it’s hard to get too excited and after injury truncated his 2014 it’s difficult to get a read on what kind of player the 2013 15th rounder actually is.  Still, as I mentioned last week, nice to see guys get off to decent starts post-injury.

Speaking of lack of power, shortstop cum utility guy Andy Burns is ISO’ing a career worst (it’s only 14 games I know) .054 with Buffalo.  Despite the small sample size it is part of a longer term trend.  A long time ago, I picked Burns as a sleeper prospect in the Jays system.  That choice was based on fact

Andy hit nine home runs last year with an ISO of .216.  He also swiped fifteen bases at an impressive 88% clip, showing a potentially nice power/speed combination.’

The above was written prior to the 2013 season, making me look pretty smart when Burns excelled in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, slugging .524 while stealing a career best 21 bases.

Since then though, Burns numbers have decreased across the board, slowly, but surely eroding his prospect status.  To the point where the Jays left Andy off of the 40 man roster when he was Rule 5 eligible and had him repeat double-A to start this season despite fact it was his third kick at the can and there really wasn’t any viable options blocking him in Buffalo.

The middle infield injuries in Toronto created some flux though and Andy was duly promoted in mid-April.  As mentioned above, Burns isn’t really hitting for any power in Buffalo.  Unfortunately that’s not the only negative.  He’s not really getting on base either.  His speed is non-existent and his nearest comparable as far as plate appearances, Munenori Kawasaki, is out OPS’ing him .739 to .667.

Things could get better but I’m guessing we won’t be seeing Burns in Toronto anytime soon.

I’d be re-miss to continue without mentioning one of the most popular players to come through Vancouver.  Now, admittedly, despite loving his game when he was here, I didn’t expect the Single Digit Assassin Jorge Flores to gain much traction in the upper minors.

He’s proving me wrong.  After a 64 game cup of coffee in New Hampshire in 2014, where he slashed a respectable (if not light) .293/.338/.341, Flores is back in the Eastern league, where, through 76 plate appearances Jorge’s five doubles have upped his slugging percentage by 60 odd points.  His numbers will normalize somewhat as he is rocking a .407 BABIP but still, if you’re looking for a younger September call-up.  The SDA may be your man.

Since this post is getting long in the tooth already, let’s keep the pitcher’s report brief.

Last week I put in a table of the Lansing starting staff while also mentioning fact Clinton Hollon and Jeff Hoffman were pitching to live hitters in extended.  An update:

I came into possession of a scouts take on both Hollon and Hoffman’s early work.

On Hoffman:

Hoffman was mostly fastballs in the 1st.  4-seam was 93-97 with a top of 98 while he threw a couple what appeared to be 2-seamers in the 88-89 range. Really pounded both corners. Fastball was explosive up in the zone. Wasn’t afraid to throw inside. 2nd inning he broke out the curve. 76-77 with sharp, quick bite. Control wasn’t there, but he’s just knocking the rust off. It’s still a filthy pitch.

On Hollon:

Hollon was 91-93 T95. Kept the ball down and away from the heart of the plate. It was his first real game action since TJ, so he was just out there getting his feel back. Only threw 15 pitches, 14 of which were FBs.  His command was definitely a positive for it being his first time out in almost a year. I’m a big fan.

Both those reports are basically as positive as one could ask for.  I’ve been saying all along that Clinton should end up in Vancouver while Hoffman’s eta for Dunedin is next Thursday.  Throw in fact that Shi Davidi confirmed Matt Smoral had an upper back injury but is now healthy and ready to get out of Florida and things should start moving quickly.

Lansing got even busier this past week when my surefire Vancouver pick (along with Hollon and Angel Perdoma) Jesus Tinoco was assigned.  That makes for a busy rotation in Michigan while Dunedin has this:

Name Age ERA G GS ▾ IP H ER HR BB SO WP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Brad Allen 26 6.12 5 5 25.0 30 17 3 10 17 2 1.600 10.8 1.1 3.6 6.1 1.70
Jayson Aquino* 22 2.81 5 5 25.2 27 8 2 6 16 0 1.286 9.5 0.7 2.1 5.6 2.67
Jairo Labourt* 21 5.27 4 4 13.2 13 8 1 11 13 2 1.756 8.6 0.7 7.2 8.6 1.18
Luis Santos 24 6.65 6 4 21.2 26 16 6 8 23 0 1.569 10.8 2.5 3.3 9.6 2.88
Murphy Smith 27 6.88 5 4 17.0 28 13 0 3 12 3 1.824 14.8 0.0 1.6 6.4 4.00
Jeremy Gabryszwski 22 4.91 3 3 11.0 19 6 1 4 5 0 2.091 15.5 0.8 3.3 4.1 1.25
Justin Shafer 22 1.80 1 1 5.0 1 1 0 3 3 0 0.800 1.8 0.0 5.4 5.4 1.00
Scott Silverstein* 25 6.10 6 1 10.1 14 7 1 8 6 1 2.129 12.2 0.9 7.0 5.2 0.75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2015.

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Three guys who have started at least one game are over 25 years old, while the rest, aside from Jairo Labourt, and maybe on the fringe Justin Shafer, could only be described as Org. Filler.

Hoffman will be covered in bubble wrap to start but clearly there is room for some of the names above to ‘exit’ Dunedin.  It’s just a matter of the younger guys in Lansing forcing the issue.  So far, reports I’ve been getting, have Shane Dawson as the only one to have earned the chance.

Names like Starlyn Suriel and Chase DeJong have lost their way a bit, especially when it comes to controlling their secondary pitches.

I think next week could be interesting.  We’ll see if the Hoff’s assignment has a trickle down effect.

Until then!

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