That whole large adult son thing is getting real in Toronto. Now that Cavan Biggio has joined Vladdy and Lourdes Gurriel Jr is back, all eyes are on Bo Bichette’s healing hand . . . and the calendar. Not only that, the trio busted out for a huge game on Sunday which can only give weary Jays fans something to cling to as they impatiently wait for the future to arrive. Of course, the future is taking it’s own sweet time on the mound. The (likely temporary) appearance of Jacob Waugespack on the roster – presumably only until Elvis Luciano returns from the bereavement list – is most certainly not any kind of answer. The player and team notes this week are a mixed bag, let’s dig in.
With another two homers this week, first baseman Jake Brodt is more and more making folks take notice. The system is exceptionally thin at first base so any positive news is encouraging but as a word of caution – Kacey Clemens looked great at Lansing in 27 games to start of 2018 and hasn’t hit a stinkin’ thing since he was promoted. Both were college players, 23 (a bit old for the MWL) and not highly touted in the draft so we’ll see. Young (19 year old) Gabriel Moreno is only eight games into his Lugnuts career but he’s off to a fine start and is already likely the second most interesting hitter in this lineup (the first being currently injured Jordan Groshans). Infielder Otto Lopez is well and truly out of his slump, which 7 for 37 over 11 games. He’s only gone 2 for 4 in five consecutive games this week.
Staff Ace Josh Winckowski had his first rough outing of the year, giving up five runs in 4.2 IP Friday night. No one is worried. SP Josh Hiatt has quietly built a string of impressive work while you might have been looking at others. Over his last eight outings his ERA is a tidy 2.30 with 12 BB and 31 K in 31.1 IP. Another under-the-radar name is reliever Will McAffer. In 21 IP he’s struck out 30 and given up six ER, but half of those were in one outing. Take out that one appearance and his ERA otherwise is 1.35 in 10 appearances. He does, however, need to cut back on the free pass (of which he’s issued 17).
Like Moreno in Lansing, catcher Alejandro Kirk is still showing no signs of adjustment difficulties at his new level. Fourteen games in his OPS is still .893 and he hasn’t lost his eye at the plate, still with as many walks as strikeouts. Third Baseman Cullen Large, one of four current D-Jays named this week to the FSL All-Star team and the only hitter (catcher Riley Adams had been chosen too but he’s in new Hampshire now), is hot again, hitting .353 over his last ten games. The D-Jays have 17 games to play until their break and I can’t imagine Large will see the 18th without a promotion to AA. Outfielder Ryan Noda his some hard time beginning on the last day of April and over the next 19 games he went 10 for 60. The sample size is tiny but he had a good weekend and maybe he’s turned it around. Historically light hitting glove-wizard shortstop Kevin Vicuna is on a hot streak. He’s hit .424 in his last 10, but I don’t expect it to last. On the other hand, speaking of shortstops, one time first round selection Logan Warmoth might have figured out something. He’s just three games back from a month long stay on the IL but he’d heated up for about a week before he got hurt and he’s picked right up this weekend. Combined over his last nine games he’s hitting .405 which, yes, is a small sample too but there’s more reason to think he’ll be at least an average hitter for him than for Vicuna.
The other three All Stars in this team are starters Nick Allgeyer and Graham Spraker, and relief pitcher Brad Wilson. like Large, Allgeyer is probably too good for this league already, but unlike the third baseman, there’s no obvious room for him in AA (which features a full rotation of quality arms already). The lefty did get touched up for four earned runs for the second time in his last three turns this week so the line is slightly less superhuman than it had been. Spraker, for his part, gave up as many as 3 ER for only the second time this season in his last outing as well, but also set a season high with six strikeouts. Wilson hasn’t been mentioned in this space before, relievers often getting overlooked, but his ERA is down to 0.89 on the strength of an ongoing 15.2 IP streak without surrendering an earned run (12 appearances). While it has been rightly said that New Hampshire has the best rotation in the system, this one isn’t far off the pace. The front four here isn’t as highly ranked on the prospect list yet, but expect to see that begin to change. Maximo Castillo and Joey Murray were “we see you” guys the previous off-season, all four of them are being watched now.
I mentioned the adaptation of catcher prospects to new levels twice before and there’s no exception here. Unlike the other two, Riley Adams took a minute to find his groove in going 2 for 23 in his first six AA games, but since then it’s 14 for 36 in 11 games with three homers. Brock Lundquist continues storming back from his early problems. He’s hit .429 in his last 10 games and .354 for the month of May. Only one homer on the season though, for a guy who hit 18 a year ago and in a park supposedly conducive to LH power. Shall we check in on SS Kevin Smith? Lets. On April 16 Smith finished his day hitting .267/.313/.489/.802 but over the next 72 at bats, spanning 20 games, he had FOUR hits. It’s the kind of slump that might make someone question their career choices. He’s played 10 games since he ended that slump over which he’s slashed .250/.268/.525/.793 which, while still lacking in OBP (and featuring too many strikeouts) at least looks more like the sort of player the Jays knew they had.
Before I get to that aforementioned rotation, let me direct your attention to future closer Jackson McClelland. He sit’s right next to Big Nate Pearson when you rank the pitchers here by ERA and basically parallels him closely, or better him, in every rate stat. Oh, and he can pop 102 also. For Pearson’s part, he remains on that managed 5-2-5-2 IP limit which I presume will increase at some point but is also a strong indication he’ll finish the year at AA. The second best pitcher in the rotation, and with apologies to young Eric Pardinho perhaps the second best in the farm system, is making his case with basically every outing lately. Over his last five appearances he’s got a line that looks like this:
34 IP – 17 H – 5 ER – 4 BB – 39 K (that’s a 1.33 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, and almost 10:1 strikeout to walk ratio)
That’ll play. And if he keeps it up it’ll be playing in Buffalo in the second half. Then there’s Yennsy Diaz who broke the on/off/on pattern he’d been in all year and pitched back-to-back 7 inning shutout games. But he failed to maintain the momentum, getting touched up for five runs yesterday. Also don’t overlook Hector Perez clawing his way out of the exceedingly deep hole he dug for himself by not being able to find the plate (15 walks in 18 IP) over his first five starts. In four turns since he bottomed out, he’s got an ERA of 2.74 but more importantly, 8 BB and 21 K over 23 IP which is a dramatic improvement.
The big news, of course, is the two best (healthy) hitters on the team getting the call to Toronto this weekend. The jays didn’t pick their spot to match up with a hot streak, it seemed to be more about almost no one on the big league roster hitting anything. Among the remaining prospects, not counting Bo, the highest profile name remains Anthony Alford, who has shaken off a horrific April slump to have an encouraging May. He’s played 19 games (going into Sunday nights game) in each month, has over twice as many hits in May and has made progress in reducing his (still too high) strikeout rate. He’s hitting .318 in his last 11 games. Of the guys demoted, Alen Hanson still can’t hit, Socrates Brito can at least hit in AAA (so far, tiny sample but he pounded the ball in the PCL last year too) and Teo is of to a good start, also in a really small sample.
Apart from a couple of relievers, the Buffalo pitching staff remains mostly a mess. I hate to give this portion of the report short shrift but any close look at the numbers here risks damaging one’s vision. The one tiny bright spot: Sean Reid-Foley, in his last outing, had to sit and wait three hours on the weather before throwing his first pitch and, what may or may not have been a related turn of events, pitched with slightly less than his customary velocity. A funny thing happened, he had his best start and best control of the season, walking only two while giving up just a pair of earned runs and striking out eight over eight IP. SRF’s history is one of “finding something” only to forget where he put it. Time will tell whether he can keep track of whatever it was he found on Thursday