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Fortnight on the Farm, Vol. 3

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Tammy Rainey
8 months ago
The emerging story of the Blue Jays farm system, with all due respect to the hitters at the top of the prospect rankings, is a cadre of very successful, even in some cases surprisingly so, young pitchers. One could list a dozen SP drawing attention to themselves, and several more pitching in relief – and that’s not counting those who are injured or not assigned to a team yet (CJ Van Eck and Irv Carter for example). But I’ll try to name-check some hitters who are on a roll as well.

Triple-A Buffalo

This is the one level where the pitching highlights are limited. Casey Lawrence is pitching well but he’s also well into his 30s and not a prospect. Adrian Hernandez continues to roll along dominating out of the bullpen. In 10 AAA appearances, accumulating 10 IP, he’s allowed no ER, on 1 hit and 3 walks while striking out 16. Thomas Hatch threw six no-hit innings this weekend which was his best work of the year.
The most interesting SP at this level lately just arrived: 23-year-old Maximo Castillo. I’ll own the reality that I’ve been a low-key Castillo booster for most of his career. But I more or less gave up that dream last season. He was regularly inconsistent and ended the year with a 4.85 ERA and no particularly encouraging secondary stats. But so far, approaching the 1/3 mark of the MiLB season – he’s been, let’s say, encouraging. Including his one AAA start, 7 innings of 2 hit shutout ball striking out 8, his overall ERA in 7 starts is 2.50 with dramatic improvements in OBA (from .265 in 2021 to .177 this year), K/9 Rates (7.85 to 10.75) and H/9 (9.35 to 5.75). Watch this space.
Of course, every look at the offense is a look first at Gabriel Moreno. Gabby has improved his topline numbers to a place worthy of a guy who’s ranked #4 on the Pipeline Top 100 list. A .347/.407/.459/.866 slash line for a 22-year-old catcher at AAA is enough for anyone to be impressed, but let’s look closer and focus on his work through three weeks in May: .431/.500/.569/1.069. That’s called being on fire.
Speaking of May, the other top five (in the system) prospect here (and also #75 in the Top 100)  is Jordan Groshans. His overall line is not similar to Moreno’s, due to a more pronounced lack of power (which is a concern) at .321/.409/.372/.781 but he, too, has been noticeably hotter in May, slashing .365/.469/.404/.873. No one is going to relax, though, until he shows some in-game power. On the other hand, Samad Taylor has experienced a drop in power and a dramatic crash in walk rate in May. The stolen bases are a weapon but when you lose a hundred points off of your OBP you have a lot fewer opportunities.

Double-A New Hampshire

Last week Baseball America dropped a somewhat stunning update to the Jays’ Top 30 list and wrote up their fresh take on Hayden Juenger (who wasn’t even on their off-season list):
Scouts have been overwhelmingly positive in their praise of Juenger and his place inside the Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects…Aggressively assigned to Double-A New Hampshire out of spring training, Toronto has been using Juenger as a three-inning opener and he’s continued to show the same elite stuff in longer intervals. He pairs a mid-90s fastball with good shape that plays when elevated with a mid-80s slider and a changeup that looks plus.
Jumping from off-list to #10 is quite the feat. That said, his last two outings are the first time he’s been touched up in consecutive appearances. When he’s on, he’s almost unhittable but he’s not always on. Nick Fraze also took it on the chin lately, giving up 5 in 4 IP on May 11 while only striking out one. Without that one game, he has a 3.10 ERA, 9.0 K/9, and 0.39 BB/9.
Something else to take note of, just after Castillo got the call to AAA, Scott Mitchell reported that both Adam Kloffenstien and Trent Palmer were incoming from Vancouver. Both pitched this weekend for their AA debuts. The latter didn’t miss a beat, throwing five innings of one-run ball, striking out six. Before promotion, he had 36 K in 23.2 IP against 8 walks. Kloff had shown dramatic improvement over his 2021 troubles, with dramatic improvement in both K rate and walks. In Saturday’s game he came on in relief of Juenger and stopped the bleeding with three impressive no-hit innings. However, they tried to get another inning out of him and that was a poor choice. Walk, flyout, single, double, homer – 4 runs in. My guess is that there’s more to be learned from the first three IP than the last one. Stay tuned.
Sticking with the arbitrary May stat sample thesis, Orelvis Martinez is definitely attending that party as well. With almost exactly (one game difference) the same playing time in May so far as he had in April, he had six homers in each month, but only 1 BB in April compared to 6 in May and 24 strikeouts in April against 17 in May. His slash lines by month:
April: .188/.224/.516/.740
May: .254/.353/.576/.929
This, as previously noted, fits his career-long pattern of taking a month or so to acclimate to a new level before finding his groove. The most successful hitter for the Cats this season, though, is 2B turned 3B Tanner Morris. He, too, is hot in May but he was good in April as well, just not this good. He has a 1.010 OPS on the month. Point is, it’s safe to say that the organization can cut the roster filler in AAA (Fuentes for one) and promote Morris any time now, he’s earned it. The other name I should mention is Will Robertson. I’ve written previously that I thought AA was an aggressive assignment given his flaccid performance last year, He reached his low point on the season so far on May 12, when he finished the day hitting .219 with a .625 OPS, but since then he’s slashing .20/.393/.440/.833 which might be a hot streak or it might be he’s figured something out.
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High-A Vancouver

Speaking of promotions, Palmer and Kloff were replaced by promotions from Dunedin and Canadians fans must be happy. Ricky Tiedemann, still just 19 for three more months, who’s become in short order the #1 Blue Jays pitching prospect got one spot. He made a smooth transition, striking out nine over 4.2 IP and giving up 1 ER in his first High-A outing. The other “promotion” (really, he was assigned here all along and his work in Dunedin was a rehab stint) was Yosver Zulueta. He was similarly successful, throwing 5 shutout innings while striking out eight and walking one. This really makes the VanC rotation the best in the system by a fair margin.
Still here (though he too was considered for promotion according to Mitchell) is Sem Robersse. He’s not throwing up the eye-popping K rates of some of these others, but he’s doing all the things a pitcher needs to do to succeed. He has a 2.90 ERA and a .218 OBA with an 0.97 WHIP. Also here still is Chad Dallas. The 21-year-old has a 1.59 ERA over six outings, with 29 K in 22.2 IP, opponents are hitting just .190 off his stuff. All four of these guys landed in the aggregate Top 20 I posted a while back. Also noted in passing, reliever Jimmy Burnette, a 23-year-old lefty taken in the 18th round last year, is running a 17.8 K/9 so far and fellow reliever Conor Larkin (2021, 9th rd.) also caught a ride on the promotion shuttle from Dunedin last week, after a 1.46 ERA and a 13.9 K/9 rate at the lower level.
Turning to the hitter, shall we do even more “in May” AEP (Arbitrary End Points) reporting? Let’s. The most highly ranked offensive prospect here is Leo Jimenez, and he was also limp in April (.163/.369/.265). But in the exact same number of at bats in may, he’s slashing .306/.364/.490 with less than half as many strikeouts. Another player flattered by these monthly splits is catcher Zach Britton. April was featured underwhelming .45/.319/.255 line, May so far is a much more robust .308/.446/.558. He’s not (yet?) as highly regarded as Jimenez, Orelvis, and Gabby so maybe it’s just a hot streak instead of coming into his status – but maybe not.

Low-A Dunedin

With Tiedemann promoted, there’s no hotter story on this pitching staff than Dahian Santos. The 5’11” 19-year-old, has a 1.44 ERA, and a 17.6 K/9 and opponents are hitting .165 so far. He has given up 2 hits and struck out 18 in his last 9 IP. Another interesting story is the quick return of Nick Frasso from elbow surgery. He elected for a new sort of procedure that has a quicker recovery than typical UCL surgery and early returns are impressive. He’s thrown seven shutout innings over two outings, allowing two hits and striking out 13. Luis Quinones is here on rehab and has struck out 14 in 6.2 IP, he might get another couple of appearances before heading back to New Hampshire. Also deserving a mention is Rafael Ohashi. He’s got a 3.38 ERA and a 11.35 K/9 while cutting his walk rate from last season in half.
Let’s conclude our May samples exercise at this level. The highest ranked hitting prospect here is SS Estivan Machado and like the other prospects mentioned in this column, he was awfully cold in April. He’s not exactly on fire in May but compared to last month, .333/.360/.438 is a nice recovery.
The guy who actually IS on fire is outfielder Gabriel Martinez. He finished April with a .540 OPS though it had been as low as .518 two days previous. Counting those two games, he’s on a run of getting at least one hit in 19 of his last 20 games. He also has 7 doubles and 5 HR after having but one of each in April. For May, he’s slashing .356/.390/.658 with around half as many strikeouts as he had in April. Finally, it’s not a May split thing, because he’s been pretty consistent month to month, but slugging first baseman Rainer Nunez continues to roll along with a power stroke that’s been second only to Orelvis this season.
So, I name-checked 15 pitchers and 11 hitters who are delivering positive news from the farm (plus a couple of older guys). Maybe someday I’ll look in on who’s struggling (*cough* Hiraldo *cough) but today is not that day.

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