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Blue Jays Minor League Update – First Few Weeks

I wish someone would draw a hard and fast line in the sand as to when small sample sizes end and we can start reading far too much into what 20 year old kids are managing in the lower echelons of minor league baseball.  With most of the Jays affiliates almost 20 games deep into their seasons I figured it was time to at least get some thoughts on how some of the kids were doing.

There’s quite a few sites out there that publish weekly updates, including the return of the Mentoch.  My schedule doesn’t allow for a standardized update so will dispense with regularly occurring features like player of the week, etc.  Will instead be a collection of musings, some half-way intelligent, most not.

After a bum knee kept outfielder Anthony Alford in extended for the first two or so weeks of the season we, unfortunately, have to tag Alford’s accomplishments with the small sample size addendum.  Still, it’s nice to see a vaunted Jays position prospect come out of the gate flying.

At five games and 24 plate appearances, Anthony has basically matched his 5 and 25 cameo he had with Lansing last season.  The cameo where he slashed .320/.320/.480 with a home run and four stolen bases making us all fall in love with him again.

So far this season he’s actually improved across the board, taking two walks to actually have a BB rate while also lowering his K% from 32% to a still not great 25%.  But as a twitter pal pointed out, this is a continuation of what happened in Canberra during Alford’s ABL stint. Where he progressively got better as the season wore on.

I can’t find pitches per plate appearance data for minor leaguers but reports I’ve been getting have Alford seeing quite a few, sometimes to his detriment.  Taking himself out of fastball counts.  Still, if he continues to show some power to right field (see his hitter heat map here) he gives himself time to figure out when he should be looking to get the barrel out ahead of the heater.

A .500 BABIP tells us the current streak is unsustainable but remember this.  Since he turned pro in 2012 Alford has accumulated 134 plate appearances, roughly a quarter of what you’d expect to have in a full minor league season.  If the Mississippi native continues to hit anywhere near how he has started and you’re looking at a top three Blue Jays prospect next season and more than likely a top 50 overall.

Speaking of Mississippi natives, fellow 2012 draftee DJ Davis has gotten off to a nice start himself in Lansing, slashing .302/.397/.444.  Unfortunately for DJ, the fact he’s repeating the Midwest League, has 1140 career plate appearances under his belt, and is still striking out over 25% of the time — with word on the street being that he still can’t pick up any halfway decent breaking ball — means I’m going to reserve judgement until he can maintain this pace through 70 to 80 games.

Still.  Baby steps.  Although, how someone with his purported 70 grade speed gets caught stealing basically 50% of the time is beyond me.  Is obviously still struggling to read pitchers.

From two high-risk/high-reward talents we move to someone who’s ceiling is considerably lower but does nothing but hit.  After putting up some good numbers last year in Dunedin, Dwight Smith Jr’s prospect stock caught a bit of helium this off-season.  So far in 2015 he’s done nothing to dispel the optimism, getting off to a red-hot start in New Hampshire.  I’ve always been told that the biggest jump minor leaguers will make is from high-A to AA.  Fact that Smith Jr has made the transition look rather easy thus far is encouraging.

What impresses me about Smith is fact that his strike out rates have declined (17.1/12.9/8.3) as he’s moved up the ladder while maintaining an OBP of .360+.  Unlike Alford, Smith won’t be in anyones top 5, even if he maintains this pace, but he won’t care, as he’ll probably be in a Blue Jays uniform come September.

On the pitching side of the ledger, I had hoped to get everyone excited about what is happening with the starters in Lansing.  Unfortunately, however, a couple of tough outings from Green, Mallard and Reid-Foley have skewed some of the numbers in the wrong direction.  Still, looking at the table below, there’s a lot to like.

Name Age ERA G GS ▾ IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Chase De Jong 21 3.20 4 4 19.2 16 8 7 3 7 21 1 1.169 7.3 1.4 3.2 9.6 3.00
Conner Greene 20 4.61 3 3 13.2 17 7 7 0 3 15 1 1.463 11.2 0.0 2.0 9.9 5.00
Chase Mallard 23 5.65 3 3 14.1 22 9 9 1 1 10 1 1.605 13.8 0.6 0.6 6.3 10.00
Sean Reid-Foley 19 2.45 3 3 7.1 6 2 2 0 9 13 2 2.045 7.4 0.0 11.0 16.0 1.44
Starlyn Suriel 21 2.08 4 3 17.1 12 4 4 0 5 13 3 0.981 6.2 0.0 2.6 6.8 2.60
Shane Dawson* 21 1.50 4 2 18.0 7 3 3 1 6 21 0 0.722 3.5 0.5 3.0 10.5 3.50
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/27/2015.

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I’m most impressed with (full disclosure, I’m biased as hell here, given his tour with the C’s) Shane Dawson’s performances thus far.  After missing the back end of 2013 and struggling through 2014 with shoulder scapula issues, the soft-ish tossing lefty is back and throwing well.  His velo won’t scare anyone but his ability to change speeds and pick his spots means hitters are rarely hitting their pitch.  As shown by the 7 hits and 21 K’s in 18 innings pitched.

I think I’ve said this before but bears mentioning again.  With Clinton Hollon and a certain Jeff Hoffman set to return from their tommy john rehabs and Matt Smoral still in extended I can see some more shuffling of the deck in terms of starting pitching at the A ball level.  Former C Jeremy Gabryszwski was activated and started for Dunedin this past Saturday.  I don’t think that’s the only move we’ll be seeing.

Higher up the chain, 2013 6th rounder Matt Boyd has garnered some well-deserved ink.  For both good and bad reasons.  The good:

After struggling during his three stints in New Hampshire last year — while dominating in Dunedin — the 6’3″ lefty has seemingly made the necessary adjustments, giving up his first earned runs of the season during his fourth (and last) appearance.

Looking at the peripherals, aside from a higher than usual 3.48 BB/9 there is nothing not to like about Boyd’s season thus far.  I did a phone interview with former C Mike Reeves shortly before the end of spring training (will get it up soon, I promise) and he tipped Boyd as someone to watch out for, saying ‘he was throwing fuel’ during the spring.

Interestingly this doesn’t seem to be playing up so far in games as Baseball Prospectus’ Al Skorupa saw Matt recently, calling his fastball average ‘Boyd has a 50 FB (88-92,m t92) with sinking action‘.  He wasn’t overly impressed with the secondary offerings either but did remark on his ‘feel for pitching and setting up hitters.

With the success inevitably comes the chatter and that’s the negative for me.  With some of the younger starters (and bullpen pieces) struggling in Toronto and depth in AAA thin, at best, if Boyd continues to throw well his name will crop up more and more.

For those of us still hoping for a first playoff appearance in Toronto in…..well, a long time.  Matt Boyd spending time in any key role wouldn’t be a good sign.

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