After making our way around the infield we now move to the outfield. Similar to the infield, most of the players spent a bit of time at multiple positions so I’ll defer to Baseball Reference and categorize by starts. I may take some artistic license to even the posts out a bit. See how we go. In a bit of further housekeeping, I am hoping to have all positions completed by the time spring training breaks so we can do a bit of a review of my predictions prior to players actually being assigned (whether it be Lansing, Dunedin <foreshadowing alert>, or extended spring training)
Right, so Left Field is probably the most crowded of the three outfield spots. However, of the names above:
We covered Derrick Chung with the second basemen. Ronald Melendez only made that one appearance all year, not really worth a mention. And Nick Baligod and Ian Parmley spent the bulk of their time in right and center respectively so will have to wait for them.
That leave us two names, both with very different pedigrees.
Dwight Smith Jr. was taken in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft after the Jays lost (hahahahah) catcher Miguel Olivo to the Mariners (ahhh, for the old days and Type B free agent designations getting AA first rounders). After signing late, Smith made his pro debut this past year, covering two levels over the course of the short season. Unlike many of the other Jays upper round picks over the last few years, Smith doesn’t contain off the charts athleticism. He was drafted as an advanced hitter who had a baseball brain. Unfortunately, looking at the 2012 numbers, the hit tool didn’t quite get going in pro ball.
After putting up an unimpressive .226/.289/.340 slash line in Bluefield, Smith Jr was promoted to Vancouver in early August. This fits with the Jays philosophy of getting top tier prospects experience in potential playoff environments no matter their performance. Over seventy one plate appearances with the C’s (straying away from small sample size) the numbers actually got worse which confirms the eye test that said he was over-matched in the Northwest League. The most worrying aspect of his performance was the inability to get on base. At 5’11” 180 pounds there is not a lot of power projection. Smith will need to live in the gaps. He only has average speed, but is a good base runner. Just needs to get there.
Defensively, Smith made the bulk of his appearances in Bluefield at center but was bumped to left once he arrived at Vancouver. Colleague Kyle over at Jays Journal breaks down his tools here. Given his lack of range and speed, it is no surprise that he was shifted away from center. With other prospects, of the same age, ahead of him I think the move will be permanent. I am surprised, if they are true, by the rumblings Kyle mentioned about possible moving to second base. Anything can happen, I suppose, something to keep any eye on come spring training.
I was going to predict a return to Vancouver anyway, as Lansing’s outfield will be pretty crowded to start. If, in fact, he does make a positional switch then extended spring training will be the best place for Dwight. As a twenty year old, Smith won’t be considered young for the Northwest League and will be expected to dominate, earning himself a call up to Lansing mid way through the summer. If his bat stays dormant, his status will shift from prospect to bust, which would be a massive disappointment.
The second, and busiest, left fielder we’ll be looking at came into the organization on the opposite end of the spectrum. After being drafted in the 49th round of the 2007 draft, Matt Newman decided to attend Arizona State University after which he went undrafted, signing with Toronto as a free agent. That puts him behind the eight ball a bit in that he is already old for any of the lower levels, and, although the Jays wouldn’t admit it, as a free agent, he wouldn’t get the kind of push higher draft picks would.
Last season was Matt’s repeat year in Vancouver and thankfully, for him at least, Newman was able to improve on pretty much every aspect of his offensive game. Most impressively, his power game surged, doubling his home run total and upping his ISO from .121 to .199. His BABIP also went up which, as I’ve mentioned previously, could be attributed to luck, but more than likely means he started driving the ball a bit better.
Worryingly, Matt’s k rate also crept up in 2012. A trend not usually associated with someone repeating a level. Could lead you to believe his pitch recognition isn’t improving as he gets more pro at bats. Striking out almost a quarter of the time will not serve him well, considering his power potential is only average at best. I think Newman’s ceiling, at the very best case scenario, would be as a fourth outfielder type. Somebody in the mold of Jays current farmhand Kevin Pillar. To get there he’ll need to cut down on his whiffs and up his walk rate (along with everything else).
2013 will be a big year for Matt. August of 2012 was his best month, putting up a .931 OPS which was instrumental in the C’s push for the second half flag. This late surge may have put him in a position to be given a chance at full season ball this year. I still think the Lansing outfield will be too crowded for him and another year in Vancouver will do him absolutely nothing, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say, given his age, Newman skips low A and finds himself in Dunedin to start the season. Of course, as extended spring training is in Dunedin as well, I’m kinda covering all bases here.
Watch him end up in Lansing…..