As might be expected, my predictions regarding the short season squads last week were somewhat so-so. I point I failed to make was one I was reminded of in the team related news this week – some draftees don’t yet have passports. Alek Mamoah being the prominent example. Such a player who will in all likelihood end up with Vancouver will still have to keep tuned up in Florida until the paperwork is in order, which is a hidden factor when projecting where recent draftees will be assigned. That said, the Canadians’ season is now underway and the opening day roster is official. Six 2019 draftees have been assigned there already, most notably 4th rounder RF Will Robertson (as expected) but also infielders (shortstops by trade but there can be only one on any given day) Tanner Morris (5th), Cameron Eden (6th) and Trevor Schwecke (13th) and relief(?) pitchers Nick Fraze (22nd) and Gabriel Ponce (28th). The big news though is that last year’s third round choice, Adam Kloffenstien (still just 18) was assigned here after very little game experience in his draft year last season. I wasn’t expecting that. Cuban IFA signing William Gaston, the brother of the more highly regarded catcher that was signed by the O’s over the winter, might be one to watch. The feel-good story is LHP Luke Gillingham. He was drafted late in the 2016 draft with a commitment to the Navy hanging over his head (as the Jays experienced with Chris Rowley recently) and pitched in his first professional game in almost three years on Saturday.
While the Bluefield and GCL rosters are not official yet (I’ll update this post in the next couple of days once those teams are announced) I will say now that other than Kloff and Juan Diaz making the Van C’s, most of my speculation last week on these two teams still seems sound. So let’s turn for now to the notes for the teams in action this week.
UPDATE: For one thing, I have finally been able to to nfirm that the GCL doesn’t actually start until next Monday (for some reason I had thought it was this week) and so the specifics of that roster will have to wait. As for Bluefield, here are some highlights. The youngest starter on this roster to open the season is RH Venezuelan Alejandro Melean who was rated at the 32 best player eligible to sign in the J2 class of 2017. He received the third highest bonus among Jays’ signees that year. He’s joined by Naswell Paulino, whom I mentioned below in the Lansing update. After his one inning for the Lugnuts he was transferred to this roster which, frankly, makes much more sense. Also worth watching is a starter i speculated about last wee, Cuban RH Lazaro Estrada who through 70 IP over 14 starts in the DSL last year and struck out 87, while walking only 12 – which is a very impressive figure for the skill level in that league. Offensively the infield will be the focus of attention. Shortstop (third baseman?) Miguel Hiraldo was rated the 23rd best 2017 J2 prospect and was routinely ranked among the Jays top 15 prospects last winter. Another highly regarded prospect is middle infielder Leo Jimenez (he’s #14 on the MLB Pipeline list but they seem to be the high opinion on him). But wait, there’s more. Last year’s #8 draft choice Addison Barger got good notices on draft day (though he hit poorly in the GCL last year) and this year’s #8 Angel Camacho, listed as a third baseman, is here too. Finally, first baseman Joseph Reyes isn’t on anyone’s radar and likely for good reason, since he was playing in the GCL at 20 last year – but he did hit well.
It’s rather amazing to note that for all their insanely troublesome pitching problems the Bisons are only three games under .500 thanks, one supposes, to offensive production. And thanks to being 8-2 in their last 10 games. It seems safe to talk about Socrates Brito again. He has 28 AAA games now and an .859 OPS – but he’s hitting even better lately. However, five walks and 26 strikeout in 28 games suggest there’s still a flaw in his game. On the other hand, another demoted Blue Jay, Billy McKinney, isn’t helping much at all, with a .211 BA but he’s hit slightly better (still very much not good) over his last 10. File this under unexpected news: Reese McGuire is having a comparatively nice run at the plate. Since the first of May he’s slashed .270/,342/.400 which isn’t Alejandro Kirk territory but more than enough offense for such a good defender – if he can sustain it.
Things were kinda quiet on the pitching front as the Bisons try to patch together a rotation. Andrew Sopko left his start with an injury, Given a chance to impress the even more desperate Blue jays, Sean Reid-Foley spit the bit again (four walks and four earned runs in three IP) and David Paulino came back from the IL. The latter though, deserves a nod – in two starts this week he put up this line: 9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 12 K. Both the Bisons and the jays will be hoping to see more of that kind of work (and some health, for a change).
Offensive leader Forrest Wall had a cold snap recently, going on a 4 for 29 skid through Thursday’s play. He had a better weekend though. Overachieving Nash Knight is seemingly lowly drifting back to earth, going 3-20 in his last six games. Catcher Riley Adams remains in a DEEP slump, he’s 3 for his last 35. In other news of note, SS Logan Warmoth was promoted from Dunedin this week, creating potential playing time conflict at the position with struggling Kevin Smith. So far the team has opted to play Warmoth at 2B, I don’t know if it’s a deliberate position shift or an accommodation to get both in the lineup or simply a versatility building plan.
I have mixed results to report on the pitching side. Big Nate dominated again. Over his last three outing he’s pitched a combined 9 innings with 9 K and a single baserunner (on a very very close call single). On the other hand, Patrick Murphy seems to have lost his groove for a moment here. He’s been roughed up in three of his last four starts and both the walk and strikeout numbers went the wrong way. Over his last eight starts (44.2 IP) he has a 3.23 ERA but still has a modest 2:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Yennsy Diaz keeps doing what he does – alternating dominant starts with outings in which he gets touched up, and lefty Zach Logue continues to quietly get the job done (2.72 ERA over his last six).
Let’s see. Large is hurt, Warmoth is in AA, Bichette returned to Buffalo, Ronny Brito (the younger of two players acquired from the Dodgers for Russel Martin) had a productive four games here but he’s off to Vancouver now. So who’s going to drive the offense when they come out of the break today? Besides the ever reliable Alejandro Kirk I mean. Well, besides the likelihood that by the time you read this Griffin Conine’s promotion will have been announced, Chavez Young was slowly coming back from a very bad start but Ryan Noda and Cal Stevenson were ice cold over the last 10 games of the first half. The D-Jays are a playoff team already but they will need some bats to heat up.
TJ Zuech and Jon Harris got rehab outings with the D-Jays this week, the former pitched well – the latter…did not. Harris was kicked up to the AA bullpen anyway. Given the full AA rotation I’m not certain that when TJ is up to speed they won’t try to plug one of the wounds in the Buffalo rotation with his services. With the AA rotation completely full of quality guys, and Murphy having regressed when a promotion had been speculated about just a couple of weeks ago, the existing Dunedin rotation remains largely intact. Joey Murray has been the leader with a crisp 1.49 ERA in his seven high-A starts, but Graham Spraker keeps getting better (2.04) Nick Allgeye and Maximo Castilo still have ERAs under 3.00 and even fifth starter Justin Dillon had a nice run. Still, most observers thk Josh Winckowski is likely to be promoted after the Midwest League break so as things stand now, barring someone hitting the DL, Dillon looks to lose out. One caveat: with Zuech here on rehab and both Clay Buchholtz and Ryan Borucki nearing a return to game action, Winky might linger in Lansing until all those recuperating arms pass through Florida.
As of yesterday, the Lugnuts arrived at their own All Star Break. They were not playoff contenders at any point, hurt by inconsistent pitching and the long absence of Jordan Groshans. In his absence, Griffin Conine continues to dominate. As mentioned most observers seem to think he’ll join the D-Jays this week. While he is pounding the cover off the ball in Lansing, it is worth noting he’s struck out 25 times in his 17 games and that’s certainly something the coaches are discussing with him. Most of the regular offensive contributors were cooled off some as the break arrived, but infielder Nick Podkul hit .294 over his last 10, and catcher Hagan Danner, who was abysmal in May (.244 OPS), has a line of .267/.327/.689/1.015 in his 12 games in June. Also of note, the first Blue Jays 2019 draft selection to reach full-season ball is LJ (not L.J.) Talley, a middle infielder here to presumably shore up the depth while Groshans and Otto Lopez (who hasn’t played at all in June) recover.
Besides the continued excellence of Winckowski, there are few consistent performers here. As noted last week, Cre Finfrock took up the mantle left by the promotion of Jackson Rees and a couple of other relievers are doing fine but unremarkable work. The (other) starters on the other hand might have a fine night on one occasion and get knocked around on another with no real statistical patter of consistency. Under the category of new faces we also have one Naswell Paulino, relief (at least for now?) pitcher, a 19 year old lefty who produced strong results starting in the DSL in 2017 but lost all of last season to a drug related suspension. This week was his first official game action since that ’17 season. Reportedly the organization thinks highly of his abilities.
By the time I post again all these full season teams will have passed the halfway point (as measured by games played) on the season and it will be time to update the top prospect rankings, if you care about that sort of thing.