With most of our country still in a deep freeze, Canadians are trying to stay warm and cursing the tail end of winter. It’s hard to believe that baseball is back in a few short weeks. But, soon all of us hosers will be putting our toques away and eyeing the May two-four weekend. Rip roarin’ and rarin’ to go. We’re still a long mud season away from sipping barley and hop sandwiches at the cottage. But, it’s fun to think about those lazy summer days – baseball on the radio.
The MiLB season is less than a month away, so I decided to touch base with the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and our friend Jesse Goldberg-Strassler to talk all things prospect-y rich in the Jays’ system, especially in Michigan’s capital. Last year, the Lansing Lugnuts featured some of Toronto’s best prospects from Kevin Smith to Chavez Young to Yennsy Diaz and all his fire.
This year, there is a new wave of exciting talent that will set foot on the grass at Cooley Law School Stadium. A wave that will feature 18-year-old Brazilian pitcher Eric Pardinho, who MLB has ranked as the Jays’ 5th best prospect in the system. And Josh Winckowski, who was the 2018 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year. Let’s not forget the 2018 first-round pick Jordan Groshans, or Cal Stevenson, too. There’s a lot of talent making its way to the Jays’ Low-A affiliate, so let’s take a look at who you can expect to see in Lansing this season.
Alright man…Let’s start with the past: Which player in the graduating class of 2018 Lansing Lugnuts are you excited to see advance through the Jays’ system?
I’m pumped about the 2018 Lugnuts moving forward. Specifically, I can’t wait to see what kinds of 2019 seasons Yennsy Diaz, Zach Logue, Maximo Castillo, Dany Jimenez, Kevin Smith, Chavez Young, Samad Taylor, Kevin Vicuna, Ryan Noda, Brock Lundquist, and Cullen Large have.
What kind of adjustments do these players need to make to have success at the higher levels?
The higher you go, the more teams are able to execute on their scouting reports of you. So if they discover, for instance, that you can’t lay off a high fastball, or lay off a bad breaking ball, or whatever it might be, you’re going to get nothing but that. It’s all about adjusting to their discoveries of your weaknesses, which tests each player’s mental strength.
I want Vlad’s mental strength to be tested on Opening Day. Anywho…What Lugnut from last year do you see as having the highest ceiling?
Kevin Smith, who looked like an absolute superstar with us. Fantastic defense, hitting ability, hitting for power, and smart base running. If he had stayed the whole year, he would have been the Midwest League MVP.
Alright man…Bold Prediction: Will Kevin Smith have a better MLB career than Bo Bichette?
Boldly: No. Bo will make more All-Star Games than Kevin.
(Ed. I can live with Vlad, Bo, Biggio, and Smith on the same future All-Star team.)
What pitcher from last year’s squad should Jays fans keep an eye on this summer?
Yennsy Diaz, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason even though he’s never pitched above Dunedin. That lets you know what the Jays’ brass thinks about him and his fastball.
I think they think that it’s the good stuff. Now, let’s just hope that Bergen or Romano come back to the organization when all the Rule-5 things are said and done. Speaking of pitchers, let’s talk about who Jays fans can expect to see in Lansing this year. I know that there’s one pitcher who you must be excited to get a closer look at?
Come on, man – it’s Eric Pardinho. He lit up Bluefield as a 17-year-old last year, and now he’ll likely get a chance to be the ace of the Lansing staff as an 18-year-old this year. He’s Vladdy the pitcher, except without the Hall of Fame bloodlines and the height.
‘Vladdy the pitcher’ – more. of. this. Where do you expect Pardinho to finish the year?
I expect him to spend the entire year with us, with plenty of highs and lows along the way. They’ll likely be very careful with his innings limit, too. Young pitchers are different than young hitters. The very best case scenario sees him make it to Dunedin, but that only happens if he’s simply overwhelming in the Midwest League.
Are there any other intriguing 2019 Lugnuts arms fans should be excited about?
Josh Winckowski was the 2018 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year, which makes him plenty intriguing in my book. He’s only 20 years old (and will turn 21 in late June). Sean Wymer was the Jays’ 4th-round pick last year for a reason, and I’m ready to see it. And Joey Murray, the 8th-rounder, struck out 39 batters in 25 2/3 innings last year with a 1.75 ERA, which matched how dominant he was in college. He’s my favorite under-the-radar guy to watch out for.
What Lugnuts bats do you think will cause some Midwest damage?
Cal Stevenson, Otto Lopez, Alejandro Kirk, Jake Brodt, and, once his suspension ends, Griffin Conine. The outfield should be plenty interesting depending on whether Dom Abbadessa/Mc Gregory Contreras/Tanner Kirwer get the call. The biggest names would be the first-rounder, Jordan Groshans, and the player picked up in the Russell Martin deal, Ronny Brito. That said, last year I wanted Riley Adams and Logan Warmoth in Lansing and didn’t get either one — and it turned out the guys we got, like Kevin Smith, were tremendous.
What 2019 Lugnut has the best tools?
I expect it’s either Groshans or Brito. Can’t wait to see either/both. Dark horse: Cal Stevenson.
Brito – not too bad at all. Alright let’s move away from the Lugnuts for a second because there are some awesome things about to happen in Buffalo: Do the Buffalo Bisons win the International League championship?
Yes, I’m all in with Buffalo. Trample them, Herd.
I am definitely going to be taking the QEW to Buffalo to eat some wings and watch the best minor league team in baseball. I really enjoy listening to you call a game, so I need to know: Is Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in mid-season form?
Not a bit, haha! I’m in mid-season basketball broadcasting form, but baseball? I need some spring training to get right. And the weather needs to get warmer stat.
Should Jays fans make the trip to Lansing this summer?
YES. Pardinho, Groshans, Winckowski, Brito, Conine, Kirk, and onward. Watch the future. And here’s what I want as the starting lineup. (Fast-forward to Conine’s suspension being over) 1. LF Cal Stevenson 2. 2B Otto Lopez 3. 3B Jordan Groshans 4. C Alejandro Kirk 5. RF Griffin Conine 6. SS Ronny Brito 7. 1B Jake Brodt 8. DH Mc Gregory Contreras 9. LF Dominic Abbadessa SP: Eric Pardinho, relieved by Sean Wymer / Cobi Johnson.
I know we’re still a pile of weeks away before mud season is over and Canadians open up their cottages on the May two-four weekend. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start to think about the glorious summer that’s coming. And while you’re humming and hawing about what road trips to take, consider a baseball adventure to Lansing. If you end up heading down there, go to Dagwoods, Blondie’s Barn, Good Truckin’ Diner, or the Golden Harvest to get your early morning bacon fix. Here’s the link to the Lansing Lugnuts 2019 schedule.