As we come to the end of this speculative journey, I look back and find that circumstances won’t leave my preceding predictions alone. So permit me a moment to remark upon what has transpired and the ramifications thereof. First off, we now know that John Axford and Ryan Tepera will not be on the opening day roster (I will ignore the story about Bud Norris as there were not enough details to include him yet). This of course opens a spot for two additional pitchers I had supposed would be in Buffalo. Two from a pool of Gaviglio, Paulino, Barnes and possibly Pannone. MAYBE newcomer Jason Adam? Another player potentially impacting the Bisons roster is Jordan Romano. He’s not going to make the Rangers roster and if he clears waivers he stands to be in Buffalo. They seem to have been using him in relief this spring and whatever the Jays’ intentions for the season, he’ll have to begin in the bullpen and maybe be eased in via a long relief role.
Also, Jonathan Davis has a sprained ankle which severely strains the OF depth in AAA. Particularly if Dalton Pompey doesn’t make it back there. If that is the way it works out they pretty much have to give Forrest Wall a look until Davis recovers. Usually in situations like this there’s a trickle down effect where someone who either isn’t really ready, or was ready but was blocked, benefits from the opening.
Now, to Lansing.
Catchers: This is one of the more difficult calls to make. There are a few unimpressive holdover options or guys who are due, on experience, to potentially be promoted – but there are also three – THREE! – legitimate prospects from the short season teams who deserve to step in front of those guys. In this I’m going to go with Alejandro Kirk as the guy seemingly best suited to break camp with a full season team. He played all season at Bluefield and both hit like gangbusters and showed off better than expected defense. Alternately they might choose Hagen Danner but he did a lot of DHing last year due to injury which slowed him a step. The other option, Gabriel Moreno, may be the highest ceiling guy of the three but he played much of the season in the GCL and is around half a year behind on the promotion chain. The primary reserve will likely be the returning Ryan Gold. The third guy, if there is one, would stand to be a choice between Javier Hernandez, who has shown almost no capacity to hit, or Yorman Rodriguez who hasn’t forced any promotions but he hit far better than Hernandez and the former can’t have much leash left.
First Base: being a 2018 college selection probably give Jake Brodt an edge here. His overall line is unimpressive but he really picked it up in August. Returning Bryan Lizardo who can play both corners will get time here too.
Second base: Two dissimilar backgrounds here will give the ‘Nuts some different looks. Otto Lopez, who can play all over, was Vancouver’s best hitter last year and walked more than he struck out. Joining him will probably be 2018 7th rounder (Notre Dame) Nick Podkul who recovered from a very bad July to play well enough in August and like Broidt, college guys who are any good at all move up to full season ball the next year after the draft.
Shortstop: Recently acquired Ronny Brito would seem the logical name to pencil in here, though it’s not like he’ll be at SS every time he takes the field. The organization will want to get a good first hand look at him though. Also here, also from last year’s draft, you’ll likely find Vinny Capra who finished his season last year with 25 games in Lansing but can use some more reps on this level.
Third Base: If you are sensing a pattern, it’s not just you. John Aiello only got into 12 games in Bluefield but as a 22 year old college draftee, if he’s healthy and has a competent spring he’ll be here. Also here is holdover Jesus Navarro who played 54 games in Lansing last year and wasn’t awful with the bat which was a new thing for him. He’ll need to keep it up.
ETA: a commenter rightly observers that there should be some mention of Jordan Groshans here. Personally, I’d be aggressive and assign him here but I’m not completely convinced the organization is as aggressive as I am. If he has a practically perfect spring he might change their mind, but my hunch is that his inevitable (barring injury) arrival is still some ways off. The real decision would be whether he stays in extended long enough to log a few weeks in Vancouver and then come up here around the first of August, or if he comes in out of extended camp sometime before the June draft. But I’m certainly prepared to be proven wrong here.
Outfield: This is one of the more tricky predictions as well, because an outsider like myself can’t be certain what kind of reads the staff are getting in camp. For example, while I plugged Cal Stevenson into the D-Jays, it wouldn’t be a shock to find him here on opening day. If that were the case, then Tanner Kirwer, whom I’m projecting for this roster, would be there instead more than likely. He brought speed and defense and a solid bat to the Canadians last year. Another likely promotion is Mc Gregory Contreras (yes, it’s written like that) who’s reportedly very raw on defense and has a horrible BB/SO ratio, but also clearly had the best power on the team in Vancouver. Holdovers include Reggie Pruitt, who’s on the DJ Davis track if he doesn’t figure it out this year, walk-machine Noberto Obeso who didn’t have as much luck reaching 1B by any other method, and Brandon Polizzi who struggled after a late-season promotion last year (and wasn’t an offensive star even before the promotion but is said to be a great intangible guy).
Rotation: With the story of his experiencing some soreness any lingering speculation that stud prospect Eric Pardinho would make this cut is removed, though it would have been a reach anyway. Nevertheless the ‘Nuts have an abundance of rotation options. Sure thing, and likely opening day starter, Josh Winckowski finished a good season very strong in Vancouver and put himself firmly on the radar. Joining him will be some combination of college pitchers drafted last year, probably with two or three piggyback arrangements to manage innings pitched. Candidates include Nick Allgeyer (who I put in the Dunedin bullpen last time but that depends on whether they see him as a starter prospect or a reliever), Joey Murray (undersized but near-untouchable in Vancouver), Sean Wymer (who landed on the back end of some of the longer prospect lists), and Troy Watson who did well in Bluefield as a part-time starter. If Allgeyer is here (I’m basically admitting I might have been wrong last time because I failed to remember he got starts in Vancouver) then these four could piggyback initially to fill two turns of the rotation. One of the other two spots is probably holdover Jordan Barrett who arrived mid-season last year. The other spot could be Maximo
Castillo who might get to go to Dunedin but is still only 20, or Donnie Sellers, another holdover who got the start in over half of his appearances for Lansing last year. Another candidate is Jose Espada who’s had two seasons for the Canadians of not pitching up to his talent level. Or maybe Adams Cuevas about whom I’ve heard very little but he’s 23 and had an excellent line for Bluefield as a part-time starter. There’s also Nathanael Perez who was a little too hittable in Bluefield last year but is still one to watch because he dominated the year before and there’s good buzz about him.. Logically Vancouver would be the next stop but a good spring might push the issue. Understand, even though I highlighted eleven names there, it’s certain not all of these will be active on this roster on opening day. There’s just enough uncertainty that I can’t be certain how the last couple of slots will go.
As a caveat, if I was right about Allgeyer and they work him as a reliever, that kind of busts up the two-piggyback-turns notion here and Watson may be held back for Vancouver (or to await some attrition) and two spots would be open for these other candidates.
Bullpen: Far more names available that there are slots. Even with the maximum allowable roster at this level there’s several guys who may find themselves released soon. Holdover Brody Rodning might have a case for Dunedin but that pen is overstuffed already, another holdover is Kyle Weatherly but he’s been a mixed bag – a failed starter and just okay reliever – who’s running out of time. There are three others who pitched here last year with progressively worse results: Matt Shannon, Colton Laws, Andrew Deramo and converted fielder Emerson Jimenez. The latter might stick because he has an electric arm even if he’s not sure what he’s doing with it yet, but these other guys should be concerned. So let’s say Rhodning and Jimenez are in for a moment. Vancouver had two guys whom I haven’t found a spot for yet but deserve promotion: Fritz Stadler, and Will McAffer. From Bluefield you have to bring on Brad Wilson and two-way sensation (he also plays 1B and hit pretty well last year in that role) Andy McGuire. That’s six guy’s I’m fairly confident about, not counting anyone who is here but slides out of the rotation mix. Those other guys are on life support in this organization, it would seem (looking in from the outside of course).