This post has been kicking around inside my head since the Bluefield Blue Jays lost their Appalachian League semi-final to their arch-rival Pulaski Mariners, allowing pitchers Chase DeJong, Jairo Labourt, and Brady Dragmire (along with 3rd basemen/DH Mitch Nay) to jump on a plane to Vancouver and help the C’s win their third straight Northwest League title.
At the time, I wrote this about DeJong, ‘at only 19, I think a Lansing assignment in 2014 may be a bit of a stretch, so let’s hope this is just a taster before we see Chase for a full (short) season next summer.’ I wasn’t wrong about it being just a ‘taster’ as DeJong only managed one inning for the C’s, while fellow call-up Dragmire threw one and two thirds. Labourt bucked the trend somewhat, actually starting a game, going five and two third excellent innings while striking out 10.
Of course, this was irrelevant for those of us that wanted to see them pitch as all of the innings thrown by the Bluefield three were in the C’s road greys. Never mind, the second part of my earlier statement would hold true and C’s fans would get the opportunity to see these prospects start 2014 at the Nat.
ummmm. Now I’m not so sure about that. I first got an inkling that these three, along with the rest of the C’s staff, wouldn’t be back to Vancouver when chatting with C’s pitching coach ‘Big’ Jim Czajkowski after the final game. I verbalized what had become a knawing feeling. Would I get to see these guys actually pitch? Jim was his usual blunt self. ‘No, I don’t think you’ll see any of our starters from this year back again.’
My fears were confirmed at the recent Canadians hotstove luncheon, when Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told me there were no plans to piggy-back the young arms in Lansing this season, preferring to stretch them out. He then went on to specifically name Labourt, DeJong, and fellow live arm Alberto Tirado.
So, with all of these high upside arms (Tirado was 76 on Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospects for 2014) and no piggy-backing, who exactly will be in the rotation for Lansing come April? And will those that don’t make it be in Vancouver? Dunedin? Or out of a job?
The first three slots are the easiest to fill as AA told me (unless, of course, he was mucking with a poor C’s blogger). So let’s pencil in DeJong, Labourt, and Tirado.
Above are the 2013 Bluefield stats for the three. Having not seen any of them actually pitch, it’s stats and scouting reports for me. For DeJong to be successful in the Midwest League, he’ll need to lower his H/9 and GB/FB ratios. Despite the room to add to his low 90s fastball and potential plus curve, I don’t think he’ll strike out over 10 per 9 in 2014. His 2013 ERA, although good, is inflated. His 1.90 FIP shows just how effective he was at limiting any damage. I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to prospects, but if DeJong continues to fill out and adds a mile or two to his fastball, we could be looking at a great year.
Tirado is going to shove it in Lansing. With three potential plus pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and late movement on his change, how could things go wrong? Well, at nineteen, he does have some maturing to do physically and his mechanics can get out of whack. His 2013 3.7 BB/9 ratio also suggests he needs to work on his command. Still, it’s impossible not to dream.
Labourt is the toughest one for me to get a read on. Most of what you read is positive, especially his size, and pitchability. He should stick as a starter, and if his fastball develops further and slider becomes the wipeout offering that many say it could then we’re, once again, looking at a plus arm in the system. His 10 strikeouts in game one of the NWL final raised some eyebrows. Hopefully he can build from that.
Two spots to fill, and here’s where I’m going to waffle somewhat. I’m 95% certain the fourth spot goes to Shane Dawson, with one caveat. His shoulder injury has healed sufficiently to allow a full-season assignment.
We got the opportunity to see the Drayton Valley, Alberta native for four starts before a suprascapular nerve impingement shut him down for the season. Watching him live, his stuff doesn’t jump out at you, with his fastball only touching the upper 80s. But there’s no denying the stats, he misses bats. His ability to mix speeds, not only with an excellent change but also by never throwing his fastball at the same velocity. He has an advanced approach, and an excellent ability to set up and finish hitters. How that plays, as hitters in the Midwest League get more opportunities to adjust? My head says they will, and this is where Dawson stalls a bit, my heart says the Albertan’s makeup and desire see him continue what has been an excellent start to his pro career.
No waffling on the fifth spot. There’s a bunch of names that probably hope they are going to get the tap to head to Michigan in early April, but I’m going to treat this exercise as if the Lugs are going with a firm five man rotation. The four names I considered: Tom Robson, Colton Turner, Kyle Anderson, and Jeremy Gabryszwski. Robson is the obvious choice and best pitcher of the four, but after speaking to him at the Vancouver Canadians hotstove luncheon I’ve convinced myself he will skip Low A and head straight to High A Dunedin.
Beyond that, I was trying to decide between Turner and Anderson. Both are 23, both have nothing left to prove in Northwest League after repeating in Vancouver, and both had decent 2013′s. Gabryszwski is two years younger and, after a great start in 2013, struggled in August. Especially against teams that had seen him already. Hitters seemed to adjust when they saw him a second time. That does not bode well for a full-season assignment, but for whatever reason, I still think he is the guy that gets the nod come April.
What that means for Colton and Kyle is unclear. Turner, as a left-hander who did spend time in Lansing last year, will find a niche somewhere, either in the bullpen or possibly even as a starter in Dunedin. Kyle I’m not as sure about. I don’t think he’ll be released, but I am struggling to come up with a role for him. He’s a change up pitcher with a mediocre fastball. His arsenal doesn’t suit the ‘pen but as mentioned above, he doesn’t need to start anymore with Vancouver. Will be interested in his 2014 assignment.
I don’t doubt that there will be plenty who disagree with my choices, especially the younger kids but I think the Jays are going to be a bit more aggressive with their prospects this year. That fits in with my Robson to Dunedin prediction. I could be way off base, but either way, Lansing is going to have a very exciting staff in 2014.