It’s getting late in the MiLB season so i don’t have much in the way of a narrative introduction this week. So why not playoff possibilities? The Bisons are 5 games out of first place with 22 games to play. They are 7 out in the Wild Card standings. The Fisher Cats are languishing in last place and going nowhere. Dunedin won their division in the first half, so they are in already, still they are also leading the second half standings as well and have the second best overall record in the League. Lansing is tied for third place, five games back of the division leader and 4 back of a potential wild card berth. Their edge? 14 of the 20 games remaining are on the road where the ‘Nuts are 18-10 in the second half, and of the six at home (where they have played .333 ball in the second half) three of those are against the trailing Fort Wayne team which stinks on the road. They have a fighter’s chance here. The Canadians are in last place in the second half standings but only 4 games out since no team has built a good record here. I don’t expect they will catch fire but mathematically there’s an opportunity. Bluefield is 10 games out and has essentially no hope.
On to the player notes…
At long last, after an extended spell on the IL, I get to discuss Anthony Alford again. Things have changed in the organization over the year in ways that directly affect Alford. Teoscar Hernandez playing CF in the majors, Lordues Gurriel, Jr. taking full ownership of LF. Randal Grichuk signed long term. An now the arrival of Derek Fisher to effusive praise from Ross Atkins. Still, Alford found his bat right away going 5 for 12 in his three games back from rehab. You might be lulled into thinking he’s having an ordinary year, but that’s basically down to a horrendous April. In 46 games since (remember the long stint in the IL with an oblique injury) he’s slashed .314/.385/.480/.865 which, call him up, amirite?! Speaking of, Rowdy is still crushing it. If he’s ever really made a case for being a part of the long-term core, he’s doing it now with his 1.138 OPS in 26 games.
The story of the moment Saturday was lefty Kirby Snead. In that game saw him pitch two one hit innings while striking out five, and he has a 1.42 ERA in his last 8 outings with a 15:3 K:BB ratio. Also, Jordan Romano has begun his rehab assignment but it’s anyone’s guess if he ends up here or back in Toronto where he got raves earlier in the year. There are a couple of SP stories worth a nod, thoo. Newly acquired (and top 10 prospect in the system) LHP Anthony Kay spun six one-hit shutout innings yesterday while striking out eight. By far his best AAA outing. Thursday TJ Zuech had arguably his best outing of the year, carrying a two-hit shutout into the 8th inning. Sadly manager Bobby Meacham pushed his luck too far. Zuech gave up 4 straight singles to start the inning, and was relieved by Tyler Saucedo who promptly surrendered a grand slam homer. But you have to respect the first seven innings nevertheless.
The ongoing conversation regarding the NH offense was the wait for Kevin Smith to come around. He really caught fire (statistically) on June 22 and since he’s only went more than 2 games without a hit once – a four game mini-slump at the beginning of August but that thankfully didn’t last. We haven’t checked in on catcher Riley Adams in a while, partly because of the rise of young Gabe Moreno and Alejandro Kirk and partly because his production has been solid but unspectacular. But it’s worth noting that he’s shown his horrible June was the outlier of his season. It’s unclear how the Jays will eventually sort out the wealth of catching prospects but he’s a factor in those decisions.
I’ve said a lot through the season about the NH rotation, the one guy I really didn’t expect to enter into that conversation was Justin Dillon. The team clearly believed in him because they used him even as high as AAA (to good results) last year in his first full professional season. But he struggled badly in AA though as it turns out that was due to a lingering injury (per the latest episode of Around the Nest). But this season he was kinda squeezed out of New Hampshire even though he was 25. He made 11 starts in 13 appearances in Dunedin and earned his was back to AA when an opening occurred. Just before the All Star break he stumbled badly, getting rocked twice. But since the break he has a 1.54 ERA in six appearances (5 of them starts) coming into yesterdays game, in which he was charged with 4 ER in 4 IP. I didn’t list him in me piece about SP depth but as far as the potential to appear in the majors and maybe grow into something like a Ryan Tepera role, he might be a sleeper to watch. Someone else I didn’t mention in that article because he seemed to be the least talked about of the newly acquired pitchers is Thomas Hatch.. But his second start her was noticeably better than his first and he has a 3.56 ERA over his last seven starts.
Most of the real productive offensive talent has been promoted from this team by now. Apart from catcher Alejandro Kirk this is more and more a collection of unrealized potential and ranked prospects having inconsistent years. Ryan Noda had an impressive April and hasn’t hit higher than .219 in any month since. Demi Orimolye had a monster June and has been org-filler in every other month. Kevin Vicuna keeps getting praise (based on his excellent glove work) but his second half OPS is .597 and he’s never shown much offensive results. On the other hand, I’ve been a skeptic of the praise given to 2B Samad Taylor but he’s due some credit. Since the first of June he’s slashing (going into Sunday’s play) .270/.376/.475/.851 which is fine production for a swift middle infielder, if he keeps it up he’ll justify the praise he’s been getting. Also worth mentioning is Chavez Young. The CF has landed in the top 20 on some lists but he’s struggled a lot this year (again from Around the Nest, this was apparently due to an off-field issue out not of his making). He’s maybe put that behind him a bit though, in his last 35 games dating back to late June he has slashed (again, going into Sunday) .288/.341/.392/.733 which is short of the expectations that accompanied him after last year but there’s some momentum perhaps.
I’m sure you’ll be interested in a SWR update pretty much every week for the rest of this season because of certain reasons. He was better this week, not issuing any free passes and striking out 8 over 5 innings of work. Josh Winckowski returned from the IL with a strong outing yesterday, five shutout innings with five baserunners and five strikeouts. He’s had one bad outing since being promoted to Dunedin (8 appearances). Take that one away and his ERA at this level is 1.47 with a 0.96 WHIP. Also worthy of your attention is reliever Jackson Rees. He’s now pitched more innings in Dunedin than he did in Lansing and his ERA at each level is below 1.00 while he’s struck out 80 batters in 52.2 IP, moreover in his last 12 outings stretching back over a month, he’s unscored upon in 15.1 IP while walking four and striking out 21. You’d not be overstepping in assuming he’s due for a taste of AA before the season ends.
Your really can’t touch on the Lugnuts without marveling at the advent of Yorman Rodriguez (C/1B). Last week I mused that the Jays were gonna need to find a way to get him to Lansing and on Friday he made his debut and what a debut. In three games this weekend he went 8 for 15 with 2 doubles and 2 triples. Watch this guy and see how he finishes the year. Griffin Conine is still smashing the baseball, he took over the league lead in homers over the weekend, and is hitting .359 in August. Otto Lopez continues solid steady production, he hasn’t had a really bad month all season.
The pitcher who’ll catch your eye this week is Troy Watson. He threw seven one-hit shutout innings Saturday, with four strikeouts and no walks. He got roughed up early in the year but since June 15 he has an ERA of 2.44. Still, in that span (11 outings) he’s struck out only 26 in 59 IP so unless he’s a Zuech like ground-ball artist (which the stats do not indicate him to be) that’s an area that will need improvement.
I wrote before about the 2019 draftees gaining offensive momentum for this team, one highly regarded pick who was lagging a bit was SS Tanner Morris who’s now rocking a 12 game on base streak during which he has an .890 OPS. Alek Manoah has now pitched three times, totaling 6 IP as the build him back up and . . . he”s struck out 12. I haven’t looked in on Grant Townsend lately except to notice the extended period (almost 3 weeks) of inactivity in July but he caught my attention this week in a negative sense when he got pounded for the first time this year on Saturday. In his previous 8 appearances his ERA was 1.93 and he’d struck out 34 in 28 IP with a under 1.00 WHIP. Saturday he was charged with 6 runs in 2.1 IP. I’m not too worried.
With Yorman Rodriguez, a catcher who still got most of the 1B at bats, promoted from Vancouver I have a hunch they are going to be getting a 1B from Bluefield. Spencer Horwitz, a 2019 24th round selection, is hitting .324 and has an .820 OPS and at 21is a college player of the sort typically assigned to the Northwest League rather than the Appy. PK Morris is a HS pick, 14th round in 2017, who’s on his second trip through the Appy at age 20. He’s doing much better than last year but probably would take a back seat, between the two, for the purpose of promotion decisions. You could also conceivably see Davis Schnider go back as he’s ripping up Appy League pitching while playing mostly 2B and 3B. Assuming they see him as basically the next Nash Night who will just be plugged in wherever there’s a need, he might be Vancouver’s next 1B too. Like Schneider, catcher Ryan Sloniger is basically too good for this league but the Jays Have a prime catcher prospect at every single level above him so he’ll probably stay here for the rest of the year.
The second busiest GCL starter in the system, as measured by IP, is Rafael Monison. The 6’3″ Venezuelan lefty has thrown 27.1 IP, struck out 25 (against only 7 walks) and has a 1.95 ERA. Remember the name. Kendall Williams, by the way, now has four appearances accumulating 8 IP and has struck out 12 which is the kind of thing you like to see from a newly drafted HS pitcher, even if there won’t be a truly meaningful sample size in this league.
Down in the Dominican the name of the game this year seems to be speed. Francisco Fajardo, a switch–hitting 2b, has a .30 BA and swiped 24 in 28 attempts in 44 games. Seventeen year old CF Juan Pizzaro (.291) is right behind him with 22, and another 2B, 17 year old Adrian Montero has 17 (and he’s walked 23 times and struck out only 9, so maybe he gets a cup of coffee stateside before the month is out? Time is running out for that but all of these will be invited to extended so why not?