We’re now well and truly into the heart of the MiLB season. The Dominican League began play this weekend, the Draft is today which means the other short season teams will begin play in about two weeks. The Florida State League All Star Game is in 10 days and the Midwest League game immediately thereafter. Most of all, the time for small-sample-size mirages is past and we’re beginning to get a clearer focus on which prospects have taken a step up, or sometimes a step back, in their pursuit of a major league career. It’s true that I mention some names on a regular basis, and as long as they keep earning it I’ll be obliged to continue, but also by now we’re seeing some emergence from players that may not have been considered really exciting back in March. Starting at the top, this time.
We may not have said enough about the effect of using the major league ball at AAA this year. It really makes it difficult for a casual observer to compare this year’s results to previous seasons and process how much the different balls are a factor, both for hitters and pitchers. But we should at least be aware that an impact does exist. In terms of hitters, we’d be getting excited about Socrates Brito right about now if we’d yet to see her in a Blue Jays uniform. In 14 games for the Bisons, his OPS is a robust .910 which is reminiscent of his impressive .923 from last year, albeit that one came with the caveat of having been compiled in the hitter’s paradise that is the PCL. Seldom does one see such a dramatic distance between AAA performance and major league outcomes. Smarter folks than me will have to ponder why this is. For comparison, Teoscar Hernandez, whom most would assume as a given is more likely to be a quality major league player, is off to a slower start, sporting a .777 OPS through 14 games, and Billy McKinney in his first seven games, is actually hitting worse than he was in the majors. Good news though? Anthony Alford has continued his may revival. He’s been on base in 17 of his last 18 games (16 via one or more hits). It’s not superstar level performance, a .783 OPS in may, but it’s more on par with his pre-2018 pattern and hopefully a sign of better things to come.
On the mound, the Bisons are still not getting consistent quality from any starting pitcher, but to be fair, there’s really only one here (thanks in part to injuries) that was even supposed to be a prospect to watch, and that’s Sean Reid-Foley. He’s improved somewhat on his early season work (which was pretty horrible) in that he has an ERA of 4.35 over his last seven starts. But with 28 BB in 39.1 IP, it’s still an untenable outcome for someone who has a major league rotation slot crying out for him to get his act together. Someone else I’ll take a moment to point out to you – Jordan Romano. At first glance you would say “a 6.75 ERA? Are you kidding me?” but there’s a story behind those numbers. On May 14, hosting a very good Gwinnett (Braves) team, the Bisons were tied with the visitors going into the top of the 7th at 2 apiece. Romano took the mound in his fourth appearance since moving to the bullpen. For reasons i cannot guess he, let’s just say, didn’t have it. Single, single, walk, passed ball, walk, grand slam, reached via error, and hit batsman. In all he was charged with six runs in that outing while having recorded but one out. Here’s the thing, though, if we pretend that day never happened, here’s his line as a relief pitcher for Buffalo: 14.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 21 K in 9 appearances. That’s a 1.89 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. Unlike some other bullpen mirages, Romano has actual upside in this role and don’t be shocked if he wears a Blue jays uniform this season if he keeps this up.
There are a few interesting stories with the Fisher Cats right now, but none more scalding than center fielder Forrest Wall. You might remember that the Jays acquired him (and a couple of others) in a deal with the Rockies last summer. Folks had mixed views of whether or not he’d end up living up to the talent they Rox thought they saw on draft day. I admit that I fell into the skeptical camp, seeing him as something like the 40th best Blue Jays prospect over the winter. At this moment, he’s trying hard to prove the doubters to be fools. As late as April 18 he wasn’t sending that message at all. At that point he’d slashed .225/.380/.275 But then it clicked. He finished out April with a 10 game hitting streak and then went completely off in May. Since that low point his slash lines look like this (in 37 games) .336/.416/.527/.943 which, if that’s for real, makes him a legitimate prospect. Is it an incredible hot streak or a legit progression? We’ll see. Catcher Riley Adams keeps rolling, he’s hit .421 in his last 10 games and had a .903 OPS for the month of May. Speaking of being wrong, y’all remember in previous weeks when I said that Cullen Large would surely be promoted in the next few weeks because the Cats had a gaping hole at 3B? Well apparently somehow Nash Knight took umbrage. At the risk of further motivating him, Knight isn’t on anyone’s radar as a prospect. He’s the very embodiment of “org guy” but…still…DAMN son! He was near rock bottom as of May 1, hitting just .185 (which provoked my negative comments). I was pretty stunned when they sent him to AA anyway given he was a weak hitter in Dunedin last year, but that’s what org guys are for – fill a gap wherever it exists. He was only doing exactly what you’d expect. But then he got to May and suddenly thought he was Bo Bichette or something. Look at this – .356/.443/.542/.985 – eh? Is he suddenly a good hitter? I’m going to say no, or at least I’ll need several months of such production to reconsider, but hats off to him for a helluva month.
The “Best Rotation in the System” passed around a bad start bug this week. Hector Perez was excellent on Monday and again on Saturday (only one run in each start – his ERA over his last six games is 2.34) but in between those two, three of his four rotation mates took a licking. Patrick Murphy had his worst outing of the year on Tuesday (he bounced back in a big way yesterday), then on Thursday Nate Pearson had his worst outing as a pro (not counting the AFL) and then Friday Yennsy Diaz struggled with command and had his second rough outing in a row. Hopefully they got this bug out of the clubhouse.
In Florida the sample size continues to grow for former disappointment (and 2017 first round choice) Logan Warmoth. In his last 15 games (sandwiched around a month on the IL) 62, 23, 5-1-2, 8 he’s slashing .371/.443/.581/1.024 which, that seems good. He’ll cool of course, but maybe don’t call him disappointing anymore. Cal Stevenson continues to hit good-but-not great (which is fine) and there’s signs of life from Chavez Young who’d been struggling most of the year. He’s hitting .317 over his last 11 games, with 3 doubles and three homers. Those six XBH are more than the five he had over the whole season to that point. And of course we can’t talk about great hitting without speaking of the unstoppable Alejandro Kirk. Not only is he rocking a .962 OPS on the season, it’s actually higher at Dunedin than it was at Lansing.
In the same vein, SP Joey Murray has even better results in the FSL than those which got him promoted from Lansing. His ERA for the D-Jays is now down to 1.78 and he’s struck out 29 (against 9 walks) in 25 IP. Lefty Nick Allgeyer bounced back from an off night striking out 7 in 6 IP Wednesday night. He’s now K’ed 56 in 55.1 IP and also has issued only nine walks. Here’s a name I haven’t mentioned before – Justin Dillon. He’s been the “other guy” in this rotation, much older than his rotation mates (25 in A Ball is not how it’s supposed to go but the Jays have handled him oddly) and statistically not measuring up to their work. But he didn’t give up a run in either of his last two starts so a tip of the cap is in order.
Something of interest happened in Lansing this week. Give me a minute…oh yeah! Griffin Conine came back from his suspension and had some hitting to do. Out of he gate 8 for 13 in his first three games, including 2 doubles and 2 homers in five at bats in his second game back. That could easily be just a hot hand of course, but he certainly got everyone’s attention. IF Otto Lopez went on the IL yesterday but in his previous 18 games he’s slashed .357/.416/.471/.887 so that little slump is long gone. 1B Jake Brodt continues to swing a hot bat (.342 in his last 10) as does catcher Gabriel Moreno (.916 OPS on the season).
Reliever Jackson Rees is slowly closing in on a 2:1 strikeout-to-IP ratio. He has 17 in the last 7.1 IP and 42 in 24.1 on the season. Also, he’s only given up one earned run. Suddenly relevant SP Josh Haitt has a 2.10 ERA (same as Josh Winckowski’s season mark) in his last nine outings, with the secondary numbers to back it up. Most of the rest of the staff isn’t really blowing up the stat sheet, though the wonderfully named Cre Finfrock has been impressive in the early going and recently promoted Troy Watson bounced back from a rough debut outing to pitch five scoreless one-hit innings this week. His 2018 numbers were fairly good so keep an eye on him. A hat-tip is due to Sean Rackoski too. Like Rees, he was signed as an undrafted free agent last summer and he’s held Midwest league hitters to a .205 BA while allowing only 2 earned runs, and striking out more than a batter per IP. Also like Rees, he is 24 and entirely too old for this league. You won’t really know if either has anything to offer until they get to AA.
Within the next week, Vlad Guerrero, Jr. will graduate from prospect status and at the same time, the Blue jays will draft a bunch of dudes, some of whom will merit relatively high mention on mid-summer prospect lists. The wheel is always turning.