So the farm teams are now a full month into the season and the player promotion news has started to pick up. Some has been announced, some I’ll speculate about, some I can only ask a question. Also, we’ve enough stats now to look into who’s trending in a direction we might not have noticed based on the overall line.
The anticipated shakeup of the wildly under-preforming rotation seems to have begun. Veteran free agent signing Ryan Feierabend came off the DL to make his first start for the organization this week which seems to have pushed Jordan Romano to the bullpen, where he’s made three relief appearances already. On top of that, Tyler Saucedo started yesterday (Sunday) on what would have been David Paulino’s usual turn (even though Paulino’s last outing was his first really quality turn of the year). Whether that’s a spot start for some temporary reason or portends an addition to the rotation (more speculation on that below) remains to be seen. Shi Davidi reports that both TJ Zuech (oblique) and Jon Harris (shoulder) have started throwing after injuries delayed the start of their season but they are surely not ready to push anyone aside yet. Meanwhile Ross Atkins commented on Friday that they are not ready to give up on Sean Reid-Foley despite his struggles with command because he is otherwise impressing them. I, personally, don’t see how Shawn Morimando can keep his turn if Romano didn’t, he’s pitched considerably worse. On the promotion news from, beside Saucedo (who just arrived this week) LH reliever Kirby Snead (scored upon but once in AA) joins the Bisons’ bullpen.
Offensively, the Biggio and Gurri9el, Jr one-two punch continues apace, and the only news here is no so much about offense as Atkins reported Friday that LGJ would begin getting outfield reps in order to be more versatile when he returns. He hasn’t played the OF for the Jays but did play 40 games there for Cuba and is familiar with the position. If you play for the Blue Jays and your name is Brito you should definitely hear footsteps. Beyond those obvious suspects, a big ol’ hat tip is due to Jonathan Davis who came off the DL on fire. In 13 games the undersized CF has already hit three homers, walked more than he’s struck out, and posted a 177 wRC+. Under the heading of sneaky progress – it’s too early to call it a trend – you’ll find Anthony Alford. He’s hit .250 with a couple of homers in the last week which is not gangbusters but when you finish April hitting .138 you take your encouragement where you can find it.
Obviously the major news here is that Nate Pearson is on his way. While there’s no official announcement yet (that will likely come tomorrow when he’ll be on turn to start for the Fisher Cats) it cam directly from the GM so it’s not some crazy rumor. Here’s where my first speculation comes in. Andrew Sopko is 24, he came into this season with 33 AA starts to his credit, he has the best ERA and WHIP among the SP and hasn’t had a misstep. He really had no business at AA to begin with (and the Buffalo rotation hasn’t provided a counter-argument to that claim) so I’ll go ahead and say it would be stunning if he doesn’t move concurrently with Pearson in order to open up a turn for Nate. Whether that would be taking over Paulino’s turn or replacing Morimando remains to be seen. Offseason acquisition (minor league FA) Willy Ortiz has come off the DL and joined the bullpen too. To this point in his career he’s been a starter with pretty good stats.
Joining Pearson on the promotion plane is catcher Riley Adams. I’d speculated before that, particularly given Max Pentecost’s having retired, if Adams did well in Dunedin he would be there long and, well, he did really well. He was sitting on a 174 wRC+ when he got the call and frankly, the ‘Cats could really use the help. Santiago Espinal and Forrest Wall continue to have a “pretty good” stat line but there’s also four regulars with an OPS under .600 still.
Davidi’s piece also reports that the D-Jays are receiving SP Joey Murray from Lansing. Like Pearson that probably won’t be listed as official until the day he starts for them (his next regular turn is Tuesday for what that’s worth) which presumably means Turner Larkins goes back to being the “sixth starter” on this staff. There’s still plenty of good pitching to see here though. Nick Allgeyer continues to impress, as does Maximo Castillo who’s turning heads with more than just the stat line. Indeed, while writers comment that the Jays are lighter on top end pitching than hitting (which is not untrue) the middle of the system is pretty think with above average, intriguing arms (the entire AA rotation and almost all of this one) that need repetitions to maximize their abilities which creates something of a log-jam. Even if you think Allgeyer, for example, is outclassing the FSL, you can’t do anything until you decide one of your AA guys likewise demands a promotion.
Offensively they may not miss Adams at all as they gained from Lansing the beloved Alejandro Kirk who’s offensive output for the Lugnuts equaled what Adams did for the D-Jays. Strikingly, Kirk had over twice as many walks as strikeout in Lansing. The other big bat here remains Cullen Large. His wEC+ of 172 almost equals Adams’ 174 mark and the Fisher Cats 3B position is a sinkhole inadequately filled by a couple of org guys who are not AA talents. Another guy to take notice of is Cal Stevenson. His first 10 games here were horrible (down to a .139 BA), offensively, which lead to a stat line that still won’t stand out to the casual observer but since then, in 14 games, he’s slashing .283/.367/.434 which would have put him among the team leaders. Demi Orimoloye has hit better the last 10 games or so as well.
In this rotation, one might have guessed that Josh Winckowski might have been the choice to move up in the wake of Pearson opening a slot, but just days before that decision was announced he landed on the IL. Still, as measured by xFIP Murray has been every bit as good (2.86 for the latter as opposed to 2.99) even though there’s a notable gap in ERA (3.82 to 1.04). I’m fully expecting that untouchable reliever Jackson Rees will get the call very soon. Eight baserunners, one unearned run and 25 strikeouts in 14 IP speaks volumes. In Winckowski’s spot they picked up Troy Miller from extended but for Murray, we don’t know yet. Eric Pardinho is working his way back from injury and seems to be getting close to game action (the outcome Lugnuts fans most crave of course). Winckowski himself might be back quickly (they generally don’t tell you what the injury is or the time-table for recovery looks like) and based on last year’s stats there are at least three other SP in extended who might get added (though to be fair, if you were looking at last year’s stats Miller wouldn’t have been your prediction.)
Offensively Kirk is a pretty big blow, especially while Jordan Groshans is on the IL (though his stay is reportedly expected to be short) but the Lansing lineup is increasingly deep. Like Stevenson in Dunedin, 1B Jake Brodt started off pretty cold for the first 10 games, but since then in 14 games he’s slashing .340/.475/.660 which makes him the most dangerous bat in this lineup right now. Same pattern for OF DJ neal who was hitting .219 after 10 games, but has slashed .380/.436/.600 since. Second Baseman Nick Podkul took only seven games to right his ship. in 15 games since he bottomed out at .120 his line is .358/.469/.509 so the early narrative of a top-heavy lineup has been put to bed here. On the subject of promotions, a lot of prospect watchers (apart from the Vancouver Canadians partisans) are excited for the idea of Gabe Moreno possibly moving into the spot vacated by Kirk but that’s not a given. Hagen Danner is a legitimate prospect as well and he spent a lot of time at DH last year due to injuries. The team will surely want him getting behind-the-plate reps this year and he stands to be the presumptive starter now.
There’s still the potential to see further dominoes fall in the coming week or so before things settle down for another quiet stretch. Maybe by next week I’ll know whether some of these speculations held up.