The Lansing Lugnuts ended the year with an impressive overall record of 80-60, which was good enough for second place in the Midwest League Eastern standings. They finished just behind the talented Bowling Green Hot Rods, who are the Class-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and who the Lugnuts are now facing in the playoffs.
For any reader who doesn’t know, the Lansing Lugnuts organization dates back to 1996, when the team moved from Springfield to Michigan’s capital. That was when they became a farm team for the Kansas City Royals. And since I’m diving into a bit of their history, they were also a part of the Cubbies system from 2000 – 2004 before joining the Jays’ organization in 2005. And now here we are a bunch of years later. Anywho…
Here’s a fun Lug fact: Rowdy Tellez is the most recent Lugnut alumnus to set foot on the Rogers carpet, making him the 51st player who has donned a Lugnuts cap and made it to Toronto. Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Anthony Alford, and Ryan Borucki are also a part of the Lansing alumni.
It’s fun to look back on the many baseball moons of yesterday, but here we are now looking at the future. And if you’re looking at the Jays’ future, look no further than what’s happening in Lansing.
The 2018 Lugnuts have been an exciting team to watch if you did the smart thing and bought a subscription to MiLB TV. The Lugnuts year began with Kevin Smith making a ton of noise earlier in the Spring before being promoted to Dunedin. In 46 games with Lansing, he hit .355 and had an are-you-kidding me 1.046 OPS – that’s millennial THICC.
After Kevin Smith left Class-A to chase groundballs (not Amy?!?!?!?) and mash in Dunedin, Chavez Young really grabbed the baseball by its seams and impressed many scouts and MiLB fans around the league and in Canada.
Young, the Jays’ 39th round pick back in ‘16, represented the East All-Stars in the Midwest League 2018 mid-season classic. And what’s totally crazy about his breakout year is that he is the only player in the MiLB with 50 extra base hits and 40 stolen bases – not too damn bad at all.
I could really go on and on about other players on this young, talented team. I mean, Ryan ‘walking’ Noda has drummed up some noise this season by barreling balls, as he leads the team with 20 dingers. And, of course, if you haven’t heard by now, he leads the team with 109 walks, which equals 436 pitches he knew were outside the zone and chose not to swing at. Anyway…Moving on….
At the end of the baseball day, Noda has a .421 OBP and .484 SLG percentage, which adds up to a respectable .905 OPS. So don’t be fooled by his .256 batting average, and this is a great example for why that statistic is becoming, ya know, irrelevant.
I thought it would be cool to reach out to the awesome Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lugnuts and good friend of Blue Jays Nation, to discuss all things Lansing since the team is now in the dog days of September playoff baseball fun. If you love prospect-y gold, then you will enjoy this…
Now that the season has reached these September days, what player surprised you the most?
I did not realize that Chavez Young was this good entering the year. He was spectacular defensively in both range and throwing arm, he was a top base-stealing threat, and he hit for pop from both sides of the plate while also drawing walks. He had an outstanding year.
And what player impressed you the most?
Well, Kevin Smith was an outright superstar before he was promoted. He was the best player in the league in May.
Honorable mention: I hope Samad Taylor stays below the radar. He’s young, only 20, his hands are lightning quick, and he draws walks, steals bases, and plays strong D at second base. Watch out for him.
(That Joe Smith trade to Cleveland that had so many fans howling into the abyss sure has seemed to work out for the Jays, eh? Samad Taylor and Thomas Pannone – cool stuff. Anyway…)
I know Lansing is still a few stops away from Blue Jays Way, but what Lugnut do you think could become a legit everyday player for the Jays?
Kevin Smith could become a legit everyday player for the Jays. He’s an absolute MLB infield prospect at SS/3B with a high ceiling.
What pitcher impressed you the most this season? And what was it about his stuff?
I’ll argue for 24-year-old Dany Jimenez out of the bullpen, with a ridiculous hammer breaking ball and mid-90s fastball. Lefty Zach Logue also really stood out, with great command and athleticism, and righty Yennsy Diaz’s fastball is no joke.
The best pitcher I saw all year…Nate Pearson. He looked pretty great on Tuesday night. He was AWESOME. Overwhelming velocity with great secondary stuff from a guy who knows what he’s doing. I loved watching him. Michigan State’s batters had no chance.
Since it’s Lugnuts playoff baseball time, let’s talk a bit about what you expect: who do you think will come up big for the ‘Nuts?
I think this is Chavez Young’s time. He does so many different things to help the Lugnuts win, and I think he’ll contribute across the board.
Bold prediction (even though I know your answer): Will the ‘Nuts win it all?
It’s going to be tough, but what kind of Lugnuts broadcaster would I be if I didn’t pick the Nuts to win the whole thing?
Bold *hyperbolic* Prediction 2: Could Chavez Young get 50 extra base hits and 40 plus steals in the Show?
I don’t think so, but I’d love to be proven wrong. He’s been tremendous. If we said 40/30, that would be reasonable.
I want to thank Jesse for his time and for sharing some of the prospect-y good stuff with us during these dire Jays days. Let’s hope the ‘Nuts can bounce back and win tonight’s game in Bowling Green.
(Ed. Bowling Green beat the Nuts last night 4 – 3, taking the best of 3 series 2 – 0, ending Lansing’s season.)