A Fortnight on the Farm: Volume Three
By Tammy Rainey1 year ago
We’re just past 1/4 of the modified MiLB season, and there’s a lot to comment on so I dispensed with my introductory digression.
This has turned out to be a veteran-heavy team. With Riley Adams now filling in for the Blue Jays, and two other interesting guys (Palacios and Wall) on the IL, the starting lineup on any given night may well include four guys who are 30 or more. Most of the rest have been pretty much non-factors offensively.
The one exception is 24-year-old SS/3B Kevin Smith. In 2018, in a season split between Lansing and Dunedin, he slashed a robust .302/.358/.528 hit 25 homers and stole 29 bases and turned up in the Top 10 that winter on some Blue Jays top prospect lists. But Smith was a notorious “tinkerer” when it came to his swing and his off-season adjustments going into the 2019 season were… ill-advised. That year he hit .209/.263/.402 and struck out 151 times in 116 games. He was (and is) still rated an above-average fielder but you’re not getting to the show hitting like that. Whatever he did to get back his swing for this year, it worked. He’s having his best offensive year (a current OPS of .927, and 1.131 in June) and, for lack of a 40 man roster spot, would likely have already supplanted Santiago Espinal as Biggio’s emergency replacement. While we all look ahead to how Martin and Groshans plug into this roster in the next couple of years, if Smith keeps this up there’s a role for him, either in fleshing out the Jays bench with a productive and versatile defensively hitter, or as an increasingly attractive trade chip in July.
The pitching staff, too, has a lot of guys who are not in the finest technical sense “prospects” according to the rules, but unlike the offensive side for many, that’s merely a technical distinction as they are still young and theoretically promising. Anthony Kay is here, and struggling (he got pounded on Sunday for six runs driving his ERA to 9.95. TJ Zuech was decent on Saturday and on average, that’s all you can reasonably expect.
Thomas Hatch has 4 impressive shutout innings, in two appearances, since he most recent recovery but has a long build-up ahead to get to a starter workload. Then there’s Nate Pearson. His last outing was very encouraging, with five shutout innings and a nice in-game recovery from a spot of wildness. But a larger stretch of success is in order before too much enthusiasm is warranted. The Jays suddenly have time when it comes to rotation options.
Patrick Murphy‘s rehab continues, and though he’s been a starter through most of his career they are likely to continue to use him in relief, at least this year. He’s been on a rehab assignment for 20 days, out of 30 allowed for pitchers, a roster decision approaches.
Other bullpen success worth mentioning, at the risk of running long, include Bryan Baker, who’s allowed only one earned run in over 12 IP, with 17k…but also eight walks; Connor Overton has a 1.09 ERA, can spot start, and has struck out 27 while walking just three in his 24.1 innings (TBH, I’d be thinking hard about dropping Beasley from the 40 for this guy but I don’t know what they know); Lefty Kirby Snead has a 1.10 ERA, a 23/4 K/BB ratio (in 16.1 IP) and an impressive flow; Hobie Harris has similar numbers, as does recently promoted Tyler Saucedo (another lefty). The problem all these guys have, save Saucedo, is a crowded 40 man roster in front of them. To add one means potentially losing someone like they lost Ty Tice when they have to come off the roster. None of us fans are going to mourn the departure of someone like Jeremy Beasley or Carl Edwards, Jr. But management is much more stingy.
This is the roster with the loaded offence, both in terms of prospects rankings (five or six guys depending on the list you check) and results. So in the interest of limiting word count, let’s do short updates. Catcher Gabby Moreno continues to be among the hottest hitters in the minors, his OPS in June is still over 1.000 which is slightly less than it was in May but still. Even hotter is 2B (and 3B, OF, etc) Samad Taylor who’s outhitting everyone in the system. His June OPS is 1.474!
By comparison, Austin Martin seems pedestrian but for the first go at pro ball, and in AA, he’s impressive in his own right. His OPS since last we looked is a “mere” .956 and notably, he’s walked almost as much as he’s struck out in June and his eye is getting rave reviews. Somewhat cooler is formerly aflame Otto Lopez but his June OPS is .799 which isn’t a disappointment. On the other hand, Jordan Groshans is slogging along at a very mediocre rate. Not outright floundering but taking more time than the others to hit his stride. Keep your eye on Chavez Young who was bouncing back from a disappointing 2019 before hitting the IL, but he’s only been back for two games so I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks.
On this team, there’s much less to report on the pitching side. There’s top-5 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson, of course, back from playing for Team USA and picking up largely where he left off, striking out five in five innings of one-run ball last week. Zach Logue, who got knocked around in his last outing but has generally been the second-best starter on this team was promoted to AAA but it’s uncertain how temporary that might be. So let us mention a couple of impressive starts in the bullpen. Mike Ellenbest, who’s old for the level as he’s closer to 27 than 26, still deserves a nod for his 12.8 K/9 against a tidy 2.0 BB/9 and similarly, Andrew McInvale has been dominant out of the bullpen.
Outfielder Tanner Kirwer has cooled some but is still the most productive bat on the team with a .834 OPS in June, and he’s stolen 22 in 24 tries on the season. Coincidentally, there’s another Tanner here – Tanner Morris – a 2B drafted in the fifth round in 2019, who’s another of those guys who took a couple of weeks to get rolling before running up more impressive numbers. Since going 4 for his first 25 (albeit with seven walks). After that start, he’s hit .301 with a .787 OPS, but he’s still not showing a lot of power. His June OPS is a more robust .865 though. The familiar names I’ve mentioned – Horwitz, Gold – before are still doing fine but are pretty far down the prospect list as yet.
Okay y’all, we have to talk about Luis Quinones some more. He may be a future high-leverage bullpen arm rather than a starter, but he’s getting needed innings down here (he served a drug suspension of 80 games and so only has 50 professional IP so far). He has 24 strikeouts in 14 IP so far and opponents are hitting .070 off of him. He has occasional bouts of wildness but there might be something special here.
Another guy whose stock is climbing is newcomer Paxton Schultz, whom I’ve mentioned before, the payment from Milwaukee for Derrick Fisher. But he did get knocked around on Sunday and will be looking to bounce back next time out. I also mentioned Nick Fraze last time, he hasn’t got on the field since June 4 but isn’t on the IL so maybe something going on, or maybe not. Adam Kloffenstein had two really bad outings at the end of May but seems to have turned it mostly around. In two June starts he’s accumulated 9.2 IP, allowed 3 earned runs, while striking out 11 – but also walked 7. Finally, props are due to reliever Brandon Eisert, a 6’2″ lefty with 30 K in 21 IP (with seven walks).
This is a team all about the middle infielders. There are three Top 20-ranked shortstops, and a sleeper all trying to find playing time by developing their versatility. The most successful season to date belongs to sleeper Addison Barger about whom I said much last time. He’s played all over the infield but gets most of his reps at 2B. But he hasn’t played since June 6 after a 2-for-15 slump. The biggest name, of course, is Orelvis Martinez. It took him just a few days to start heating up but he has a .914 OPS in June so far. Leo Jimenez was hitting .111 on May 22 (in 10 games, he started the year on the IL). In 16 games since he’s slashing .397/.493/.414 and has 13 walks against nine strikeouts. No power at all though, so far. The other highly ranked guy is neither embarrassing himself nor doing anything worth going into detail about. As an aside, Miguel Hiraldo (who’s playing mostly 3B) is likely the most highly regarded prospect that has a fairly decent chance of landing in a trade package this summer. The seven above him are VERY good.
This isn’t a star-laden pitching staff, by reputation, though there’s a good crew of interesting guys. The most highly regarded (coming into the season) guy on the roster is Dutch sensation Sem Robersse. And for the most part, after a shaky start that drove up his ERA, he’s delivering. His xFIP is a tidy 2.13 and he sports a 14.5 K/9.
Since my last report he’s started twice, collecting 9 IP between them, gave up three hits and a walk and a single earned run – and struck out 14. That’ll play. The other guy who’s been a regular starter (they spread it around here) all year is Naswell Paulino. He too had a shaky start, but in his four most recent starts his ERA is 1.40 over 19.1 IP of work, recording 8 walks and 21 strikeouts. In 36 team games, there are 11 other pitchers besides these two who’ve gotten at least one start. obviously the distinction between starting and relief is kinda gray and fuzzy with the D-Jays. But I’ll mention one more guy who’s showing out of late. Lazaro Estrada got both his starts since my last report, and pitched eight combined innings allowing three runs, walking one batter and striking out eight. On the year he has 23 strikeouts in 16.1 IP. At least one reliever stands out so far, Roither Hernandez whom I’ve noted in previous updates, on the season he has 28 strikeouts in 18.1 IP, with six walks.
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