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The Annual Lansing Lugnut Love-In

After going four for five picking the 2014 opening day Lansing Lugnuts starting rotation (hey, it’s not like I said the price of a barrel of oil would halve in 2015) the now annual Lansing prediction piece is back!

As the first full-season step on the minor league ladder, the Midwest League Lugs get a lot of prospect love.  Reason being there are two pipes of talent that flow into Michigan.  Those that need to take the next step from the Northwest League Vancouver Canadians and the younger kids who excelled in Bluefield.

I think I mentioned this in my top prospect write up of Dan Jansen.  As an organization, Toronto likes to test third year players who had success in the Appalachian League with a full-season assignment.

This strategy tends to get a rise from us prospect pornsters as we dream on a mlb future for a gaggle of 20 year olds.  Unfortunately, for many of those rising stars, the step up proves to be a bit high.  Whether it’s the early season cold of Michigan or the uptick in caliber it seems that Lansing has been a prospect graveyard the last couple of years.

Last year I had six players in the first 16 of my top 30 prospects that would start the season in Lansing.  All six of those have fallen down the ladder in 2015 with two — D.J. Davis and Chase DeJong — out of the 30 entirely.

So ya, fool me once…..

I was very excited about the 2014 Lansing squad.  This season I’m going to temper that hype somewhat.  Doesn’t mean I don’t think there are going to be some blue chippers flying north in April.

Excluding injured players, in my top 2015 top 30, I have nine names with Lansing next to them.  Five pitchers and four position players.

So there’s your starting rotation right?  Well……..I’m waffling a bit, let’s take a closer look.

The Locks:

Both Jairo Labourt and Matt Smoral are very similar in a lot of ways.  Both will be 21 this month (in fact I’m writing this on Labourt’s b-day, have a good one big guy), they are big — 6’5″ and 6’8″ respectively — left-handed and mechanically still a work in progress.

When I wrote up Jairo’s prospect profile I coined the term Daniel Norris paradigm.  Meaning we can’t give up on these big lefties who are struggling to repeat their deliveries as, once they do, the results could end up being pretty special.

Unfortunately neither are going to have the benefit of Vince Horsman‘s tutelage as the well respected pitching coach who is often credited with Norris’ turnaround has moved up a level to Dunedin — all the more incentive to get there I suppose.

There’ll be a bit more pressure on Labourt as this is his second kick at the Midwest League can.  His time in Vancouver helped, getting himself working straighter, more downhill, hopefully that carries through to this season.

For Smoral we’re still using the word projectable as he just doesn’t have the pro innings under his belt (211 to 79.1) that Labourt does.  A stress fracture in his foot delayed his pro debut until 2013 so Smoral may have a bit of room for failure.  That being said, I’ve heard some positive reports out of instructs that Matt’s stiff front side has been cleaned up somewhat.

I’m not going to lie, this is the kid I’m most excited about.  I know a lot has been made about Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna so far this spring, and rightfully so, but I think Smoral could have a breakout year in his own right.

The next member (predicted) of the staff had a breakout of his own in 2014.  After sitting out 2013 to recover from tommy john surgery, Ryan Borucki was excellent through eight appearances in Bluefield before getting the call to Vancouver.  Where he was even better, putting up a 7.33 K/BB ratio and .676 WHIP in 23 and two thirds innings pitched.

With a low to mid 90s fastball that he controls down in the zone, it will be the improving secondary offerings which decides whether Borucki is successful in Michigan.

2014 Draftees:

I know I have a tendency to link to other work but there’s so much good stuff out there it’s hard not to salute.  The excellent Kiley McDaniel over at fangraphs.com recently posted his exhaustive Blue Jays prospect list.  Reason I mention it here is because the ‘projected path’ they have for their #2 prospect, Jeff Hoffman, is Lansing in 2015.

While I think Hoffman will start a level higher post rehab, I have a sinking feeling that 2nd rounder Sean Reid-Foley (Fangraphs #10 prospect — will need to wait a bit to see where I slotted him) will make the jump to the Midwest League.

I could easily talk myself out of this: he’s only thrown 22.2 pro innings with nothing above the GCL.  He doesn’t fit into the ‘3rd year pro who dominated Bluefield’ model discussed earlier.  But here’s the rub.  He was promoted to Vancouver for the playoffs and although he didn’t get into a game, us C’s fans have seen this movie before.  Young prospect gets late season call to Vancouver before jumping to Lansing following year.  News at 11.

SRF is a big body that throws strikes.  Like many 19 year olds, he needs to clean up his mechanics, including an arm action that has a few worried about his long-term health, but if he does start the year with the Lugs, and has some success, people will start getting excited.

The Returnees:

It’s a bit of a stretch to call Alberto Tirado a returnee but he did start 2014 in Lansing where he was rather terrible.  He wasn’t much better in Vancouver and it took a break to sort his head out and a move to the bullpen before we got to see what many prospectors/scouts were raving about pre-2014.  Using the Castro/Osuna spring training buzz again, a lot has been made about the possibility that one or both of those 20 year olds could potentially end up in the Jays ‘pen earlier rather than later.

While I don’t particularly agree with that strategy, I suppose, if it helps the big team, then it is a worth stunting their development.  In Low-A though, I don’t see Toronto’s management giving up on Tirado’s potential by making his relief stint a full-time gig.  I think he gets one more chance to start in 2015.

So there you have it.  A very young, very exciting (as usual) predicted rotation for Lansing.  With the Jays signing quite a few arms for depth in Buffalo this year there’s going to be a compressed feel to both New Hampshire and Dunedin.  Where this leaves guys who struggled a bit last year, i.e. Chase DeJong, Zakery Wasilewski, etc. or those that may be considered tweeners like Starlyn Suriel is very interesting in its own right.

Minor league camp is open, some of these names will need to have very good springs.

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