The sun is beginning to set on the MiLB season, teams not bound for the playoffs (Dunedin, possibly Buffalo, possibly Lansing) have 15 more games to play before wrapping up for the year. That doesn’t mean we lack for news, though. The most significant item dropped just yesterday as we learned that Big Nate Pearson will move up to AAA to finish the year (along with CF Forrest Wall which is likely a result of Anthony Alford heading back to the IL). The Bisons are just two games out of the division lead and if they make the playoffs, this is where you want Pearson to be. He looks set to reach 100 regular season innings, but one or more playoff starts (plus possibly an AFL assignment) can boost that some more. The more he accumulates this year, the greater the likelihood he gets fast tracked to Toronto next year.
The GCL squad has 13 games left on their schedule over the next two weeks, including some double-headers necessary to make up the recent run of rainouts. As i write this on Sunday evening, the squad has managed to get in a game just once since Tuesday, a game in which Clay Buchholz returned to the field by the way (he’s since moved to Dunedin, more on that in a bit). as they make the downhill run the hottest bat belongs to legit prospect Alberto Rodriguez, an 18 year old right fielder, whose slashing .301/.388/.425/.813 since the first of July and hitting .308 in his last 10 games. Another 18 year old, highly ranked SS Miguel Hiraldo, is finishing strong in Bluefield as well. After a strong July, he been significantly better than even that in August, hitting .350 with a .942 OPS. The Baby jays only have 11 games left but he’s already made his mark for the season.
In Vancouver the better stories remain those on the mound. While we continue to lust after Alek Manoah and Kloff, there are other names for you to notice. As Jesse and Rob noted on Around the Nest, recent draftee Luis Quinones (34th round this summer) and Naval vet Luke Gillingham (37th in 2016) have been dominating the circuit out of the bullpen (mostly, the former has 2 starts and has been doing some piggyback outings).
Griffin Conine has taken over the league lead in homers (and would be in OPS if he had the at-bats to qualify). His strikeout rate is slightly better in August but on the month it’s still 1.5 per game. Meanwhile, utility knife Otto Lopez is hitting a crisp .348 in August. Among pitchers, I have neglected to mention lefty reliever Marcus Reyes. Like some others I’ve mentioned in previous columns, he’s old for the league (24) but props for results given that since June began, he’s thrown 43.1 IP to the tune of a 1.45 ERA and a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Lansing, by the way, is just 3 games out in their division and just two behind to qualify for a playoff spot. The team currently in that spot, the South Bend Cubs, hosts the ‘Nuts for a critical thre game series beginning Wednesday.
So look at the Dunedin stats for offense, ordered by OPS, and of the first six players there with at least 50 AB, only one – Alejandro Kirk (.860 OPS) – remains on this team. Then you come to Ryan Noda who leads the team in homers (12) and strikeouts (127) while mounting a pretty okay OPS of .765, and after that it gets pretty light as far as season totals go, but CF Chavez Young is trying to turn that around. Over his last 21 games stretching back to (coincidentally) the week fellow outfielder Cal Stevenson was traded he’s hitting .321/.376/.397/.773 which, while still short on the power he’d previously displayed, is still encouraging.
Pitching wise, Maximo Castillo continues to impress. In his last seven outings stretching back to the beginning of July he’s thrown 70 innings, allowed 28 hits and 10 walks while striking out 43 and recording a 1.13 ERA. I was mystified when he wasn’t on the top prospect lists at midseason, I’ll be dumbfounded if this keep up and he’s not there over the winter – he’s on mine. Meanwhile, newly acquired Simenon Woods Richardson turned in another impressive outing yesterday allowing one run over 5 IP. On the other end of the age spectrum, veteran Clay Buchholz got a rehab start in yesterday’s second game and allowed one run over 4 IP while striking out 7. The Blue Jays need someone in the rotation next weekend (unless they run Godley out again) and one wonders if this is all the rehab he needs before going back to the bigs.
I haven’t mentioned much about catcher Riley Adams lately, but it’s worth mentioning that since his awful June, his OPS is .869 over 29 games which makes me wonder if there’s not consideration being given to having him move up to Buffalo to join the playoff push soon. On the other hand, the great Kevin Smith rebound has seemingly run aground again. His OPS in August is a less than encouraging .541 which… yeah. One other interesting bit of info, SS/2B Logan Warmoth made his professional debut in CF yesterday. While there’s something to be said for versatility, the bigger concern is still getting him to hit AA pitching which his .190 BA suggests is not going all that well.
Among the pitchers, Justin Dillon continues to role along, lowering his ERA to 1.98 over his last 8 outings. Also, it might be time for us to start taking Thomas Hatch more seriously. After a rough go in his Fisher Cats debut, in three subsequent starts he’s logged a 2.60 ERA while 16 and walking 2 in 17.1 IP which is a brief but respectable run.
At some point in time it’s only fair that I recognize a couple of Bisons who are nobody’s idea of a prospect (both being 29) but without whom the Bisons wouldn’t be playoff contenders. Journeyman Patrick Kivlehan has played first, third, right field and left for Buffalo this season and leads the team with 21 homers and 59 RBI (for you old school readers!). Prodigal son Andy Burns, returning to the only MiLB org he’s known this year after a sojourn in Korea rewarded the teams confidence big time. He’s been a steady productive presence while other bigger names have gone up and down. He’s having his best year yet and is the sort of guy you want to root for getting his late-in-life (relatively) shot at sticking in the majors (he’s had a cup of coffee back in 2016). Alas, the Jays have no real opening for a dark horse third baseman (who can also play second and first). One wonders what would be the harm in giving him a shot at replacing Smoak on the roster next year given their love of versatility, but one also assumes they are too invested in Billy McKinney to do that.
On the pitching side the news which I mentioned earlier (and let’s face it, no longer news to the vast majority of Jays fans by now) is the arrival of Nate Pearson. His turn comes up Tuesday and for the duration, the Bisons are looking at three top 20 prospects in their rotation as they chase the playoff berth. One of those of course being another newcomer, Anthony Kay who’s now strung together three solid outings of his own, with a 2.25 ERA over 16 innings during which he’s struck out 24 batters. The other is one-time first rounder TJ Zuech who may finally be getting back the form he had shown when he came off the IL back in June. He threw six shutout innings this week while striking out an uncharacteristically (but encouragingly) high six batters. Back in June, in his first three games this year, he threw 14.1 innings, and struck out 16 (very unusual for Zuech who’s always been a low-k groundball pitcher) a putting up a 2.51 ERA. In between was a run of inconsistent and mostly mediocre work over 8 starts. If he has in fact got that grove back it’s great for the Bisons and for his career prospects.
We’ll do this twice more, then move on to the post-season. Stay tuned.