The theme this week may be one of following up on the names already mentioned, as well as taking a look at a few names you might have expected to see but haven’t. At the obvious risk of repeating myself, it’s so early that extreme reactions, positive or negative, are unwise even though they are tempting. The fella you bragged on as hot last week can see a big dip in his numbers after just five or six poor games at the plate, or vice-versa. Still, that’s why I call it “hot takes” – because hot takes are often premature!
Starting with the pitching staff this time, I have to lead with this: If Josh Winckowski isn’t on your radar yet, you might want to correct that. Down the stretch last year in Vancouver, the now 20 year old (young for the Midwest League) RHP posted a 1.78 ERA over his last six starts, striking out 40 against only 7 BB in 35.1 IP. This year he’s picked right up where he left off, with a 1.04 ERA through five starts while continuing to post solid secondary stats. While promotion schedules are complex organizational decisions and not knee-jerk reactions to stats (see this great piece from Future Blue Jays for an elaboration on that truth) speaking as an outside observer, Josh seems to be hitting a lot of marks in terms of handling the league. The rotation will turn over nine more times before the MWL all-star break in mid-June, if he keeps performing at a high level his appearance in that game might be his last before promotion. A step behind is Joey Murray. Last year’s 8th round choice got pounded real good in his second outing this year, but collectively his other four turns amount to a 2.33 ERA. As a 22 year old college pitcher, he’s likely not going to be slow-walked if he’s not being challenged in the MWL.
On the offensive side, you’ve seen me brag on SS Jordan Groshans and C Alejandro Kirk who both have seen irrelevant decreases in their OPS from the lofty heights up over 1.000 but are still fine. The third member of the early season triumvirate, Otto Lopez, has cooled a bit more thanks to a short 2-for-20 run over four games last week. But Lansing’s offense has expanded beyond those three. Props are deserved by 1B Jake Brodt, for example. Selected out of Santa Clara in the 9th round last year, he’s 23 which is slightly old for the league, but after a cold start in his first 10 games for Lansing, he’s slashed .321/.457/.714 over his last eight. But the guy I need to talk about is Reggie Pruitt. Pruitt was a guy that the Jays bought out of a college commitment based on great tools and athleticism. He’s days away from his 22nd birthday now and came into this season having played 243 less than impressive professional games. He was looking a lot like the second coming of DJ Davis, to be frank (although at least he hadn’t been a first round choice!). His career OPS was under .600 and the one thing he’d shown he could do well, offensively, is steal a base. But as the cliche goes, you can’t steal first base. So while he had at one point been a pet prospect of mine, I came into this season with a lot of skepticism that he’d sort anything out. So when he arrived at mid-April with an almost .800 OPS I was reluctant to highlight him, when he spent the next week cooling off (his OPS dropped down to .712) I figured “here it comes” but then, the take was too hot. A week later and it’s back to .823 and he has my attention. He still strikes out too much, but wit his speed and defense, any respectable offense makes him someone to watch.
Prediction: With Vladdy in the majors and Bo on the shelf, the new originator of “what else can we write about this guy?” stories is going to be Nate Pearson. This week he upped the ante on that by striking out 10 in five innings (11 days previous it was nine in five IP) and the biggest point of curiosity is how long will the Jays continue to alternate fine inning outings with two inning outings. Yes, he came into the year with only about 30 professional in-game innings but he’s obviously healthy and capable so you have to think they will ramp that up soon. Not on Pearson’s level, but increasingly proving he’s someone to watch is lefty Nick Allgeyer whom I’ve mentioned to you before. Six months older than Pearson, but without the injury history, he lowered his ERA on the season to 1.01 with another five shutout innings this week. Venezuelan Maximo Castillo, whom I spoke of last week, turned it up a notch this week as well pitching six innings of one-hit ball while striking out seven on Saturday. How has he upped his game? Base-runners and the limiting thereof. Last year in a campaign of mixed results in Lansing, he gave up more than a hit per inning and walked 2.9/9IP for a 1.40 WHIP. This year it’s 0.81 which may be unsustainable but if it reflects real progress and not just a hot streak then we’re gonna hear that magnificent name a lot more.
Among the hitters there are several names that got off-season praise or rankings that were off to slow starts. Most of those persist, but the last week has seen a turn in fortunes for 2017 first rounder Logan Warmoth. which some observers have noted seems to be the results of actual adjustments rather than just baseball fortunes. Over his last six games, he’s 11 for 26 with three XBH and four walks. The organization will be watching to see if this is a true turning point. Meanwhile, Riley Adams, Cullen “Livin'” Large and Ryan Noda continue to rake.
One of the mysteries of this Fisher Cats season has been curiosity about Patrick Murphy’s slow start. Maybe he’s sorted it out though, as yesterday he had by far his best outing of this young season, eight two-hit innings with seven strikeouts. Conversely, Yennsy Diaz who had been rolling took a tumble this week not getting out of the fourth inning due to lack of control. So far in four starts he’s been awesome-bad-awesome-awful. Have I mentioned Kirby Snead much yet? Well I should. In seven appearances so far the lefty has yet to walk a hitter, and has given up a mere three hits and a single run while striking out 12. In his two previous seasons he’d walked far too many so watch this space.
While previously hot bats have mostly cooled, the hot hands now belong to CF Forrest Wall (In his last eight games he’s 10 for 30 with four doubles and five walks) and IF Santiago Espinal. The 24 year old Dominican struggled for the first week but since then he’s slashed .354/.404/.456/.860 which … that’s good. On the flip side of this is the infielder who was supposed to be the big wheel of this offense who, so far, isn’t. Kevin Smith was hot for a week to begin the season and then lost his groove. After six games he had an .877 OBP. But since then he’s been mired in an 8 for 55 slump, including a current 1 for 21 run. Look for this to improve at some point.
The Bisons pitching continues to be … not good. The best ERA among starters is 4.62 and you don’t want me to figure up the collective figure for the rotation. Danny Barnes got crushed in two of his last three relief appearances, and Zach Jackson still can;t figure out how to stay in the zone. But for a couple of good relievers – Dusty Issacs and Derek Law whom I’ve mentioned before – there’s nothing at all you want to see here.
The offense has suffered no such difficulties. While they lost Valddy, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (The Other Junior) landed in Buffalo on fire at the plate hitting .351 in his first nine games and already leading the team in XBH. Richard Urena also provided a boost, carrying over his hot bat from Toronto to AAA. Cavan Biggio is riding a three game hitless streak which dinged his gaudy BA a bit but he’s still got the best overall results on the team. You no doubt know about Bo’s broken hand and 4-6 week ride on the IL – but what you may not know is how unfortunate the timing was. He was only hitting .344 in his previous nine games and had walked seven times over that stretch. Speaking of unfortunate, Anthony Alford can’t buy a break apparently. His one-for-four on Sunday was only his second in 41 at bats. Amazingly 20 of those 39 outs have been strikeouts. There’s NO WAY this is a true representation of his abilities. This has nowhere to go but up.