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A Fortnight On The Farm: Mid-Season Edition (Part One, The Draft and Triple-A)

This is the unofficial midway point of the major league season but the literal halfway point for many minor league teams (the recent extension of the schedule and addition of playoffs notwithstanding). It’s a really good time to take a look at the progress so far and what sort of impact that could or should have on prospect rankings and valuations inside and outside the organization.

On Sunday the team added a new Top Prospect to the list in the form of University of Mississippi RHP Gunnar Hoglund, and made me look smart in the process.

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Shi Davidi had this quote after the pick from the Blue Jays scouting director Shane Farrel:

“We saw a little pick up in fastball velocity this year. Combining that with his upper level ability to command the ball to both sides of the plate and throw the slider off the fastball is what really drove us to make the selection.”

Hoglund was originally thought to be in line to be the third college starter selected back before the season when everyone had the Vandy Boys 1-2. But he went down to injury which led to Tommy John surgery on May 12, which means we won’t see him in-game action until, at best, the middle of 2022 and likely not fully back to form for some months thereafter. His calling card was a beautiful delivery and outstanding control, and he’d added a tic to his velocity this spring working his fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s, and most observers note that high-end pitchers often pick up more velocity over the course of rehabbing from Tommy John (See Buehler, Walker).

As it turns out, while draft observers in the professional publications but had seldom ever mentioned having heard the Hoglund’s name in connection with the Jays, the team had been in close on Hoglund since he was in high school and recognized that his injury stood to give them a shot at a player that had otherwise been gone well before their first selection. Of course on Monday and Tuesday they filled out their other 18 choices (having lost their second-round selection for signing George Springer) but given that this beast is already so long that I’m having to do it in two parts, I’ll let others give you the briefs on the rest of the picks.

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Moving on to the farm report. Since I don’t have access, obviously, to fresh prospect rankings updated in July, I’ll just cite my own list and note that since Alek Manoah graduated this weekend, it’s an easy play to slide Hoglund in at #8 behind the Big Names that have been prominent in prospect discussions all year. Speaking of prospect lists, I feel like I’m in an awkward spot here. A mid-season report should be formatted by zooming in on the Top Prospects, and no one really does a mid-season update before the drafted players sign (or not) which leaves me using my own list that obviously doesn’t have the credibility of someone like BA or Pipeline. So understand, this is more of a framing device than a show of great confidence in the credibility of my list (which honestly is just an aggregate of all the info I’ve picked up online since I’m clearly not a scout or a talent evaluator on my own). That said, my takes, particularly through this part of the season, can sometimes be driven by stats. Which is not sound scouting practice. For example, farm watchers often mention the name of Dunedin SP Naswell Paulino and, to be honest, I just don’t see it. He does have a 9.68 K/9, but he’s also sporting a 6.33 BB/9 which, troubles me. I’m aware the younger Latin guys often have less control but I’m looking for more than THAT. So anyway, just acknowledging my limitations.

I’m still going team by team here, but I’ll focus on pointing out progress, particularly more recent progress as is my custom, by anyone on the team that is both healthy and among the top 40 names on my list (Yes, I’m obsessive like that. Surely you know this by now) and will preface by saying that you’ll note seven spots go unmentioned – Hoglund at #8 obviously, and I also put 3rd rounder Ricky Tiedmann, somewhat arbitrarily, at #35 as a reasonable placeholder position until we learn more.  Eric Pardinho at #14 is working his way back from his own TJ surgery on the complex team (which has only played a few games in their two week old season due to weather) and three other recently signed players who are on complex teams and getting their first professional games under their belts: #17 Estevan Machado, #22 Manuel Beltre, and # 26 Rikelvin De Castro. All of them shortstops. I also have Julian Merryweather at #12, just to mention for the sake of completeness.

Buffalo via Trenton

There are four Top 50 hitters on this roster Most prominent of course is rehabbing Alejandro Kirk (#5) who’s 13 days into the 20 days he can rehab before the team is obliged to get him off the 60 day-DL. Then there’s #9 SS Kevin Smith who leads the team in almost every one of the counting stats, often by a lot, and will be much discussed in trade talks this month even though his bat has gone cold the last couple of weeks. Back in town is #21 Riley Adams, who went up to the majors hot and came back very very cold. Still, he’ll probably come up in trade talks, too. The fourth is #32 Joshua Palacios, who has been on the 10-day IL for more than 60 days and, my guess, when Ryan Borucki is activated after the break (probably today in fact), he’ll go onto the 60-day to make room.

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On the mound, at least one pitcher you’d maybe think of in prospect terms since he hasn’t tightened his grip on a major league job just yet is, all the same, graduated from consideration – Thomas Hatch, who’s rounding into form and (IMO) might be closing on Steven Maetz’s rotation spot in August if things don’t change.

As prospects go, there’s a perhaps surprising eight listed names: #2 Nate Pearson (who somehow STILL hasn’t lost his eligibility) is… well, you know. Sigh. Next is #16 Patrick Murphy, back from being pressed into duty in the majors. He’s only accumulated 8.2 IP here so I imagine he gets a bit more run before he’s considered to get recalled again. Joey Murray is parked at #24 based on past work. He hasn’t gotten into an official game this year and reportedly he’s not close. I have LH Nick Allgeyer at #27. He’s second on the team in IP but it’s not easy to draw a trend line after his recent visit to the majors. But since June 1 his ERA is 2.91 and he’s struck out 28 while walking 11 over 21.2 IP.

Another guy who seems like he ought to have graduated but hasn’t (because in previous years his time in the majors was in September which generally doesn’t count) is #31 TJ Zuech. He leads Buffalo in IP and is generally okay. He was bad in three of four starts in May, hit his stride pretty well from early June on, and has a 3.08 ERA over the eight appearances since, accounting for 38 IP. But he still has the same absence of swing-and-miss results.

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Honestly, he’s the exact sort of guy that they should be trading to a bad team like Pittsburgh (where he went to college) or Baltimore that can give him a run in the absence of having anyone better handy. I’m mildly surprised he hasn’t been bumped off of the 40 (yet). This may be a too-tepid description of a guy I still have that high but it’s based mostly on pro lists that keep him hanging around this neighbourhood. Coming in at #33 is Zach Logue, another lefty. Since being promoted from AA on June 18, he’s run a little hot and cold and still needs to have a consistent run here. I have, somewhat arbitrarily, slotted newly acquired RHP Bowden Francis in at #34. Why? Well…I mean…

I don’t have much more to say about that. Lastly, there is LH reliever Kirby Snead at #40. He got roughed up on July 2, allowing 3 ER on 3 hits and 3 BB (and 3 K’s) in 1.1 IP. How much of an outlier is that? That’s the same number of earned runs he’s given up the entire rest of this season in 24.2 IP total. Without that one appearance, his ERA on the year is 1.09 and he has only 10 hits and 6 walks while striking out 33.

To keep these roughly the same size, this is the natural breakpoint. So I’ll leave you in whatever level of suspense I’ve managed to build until tomorrow…