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Friday, April 17, 2015

A Look at Chase De Jong

    Image result for chase de jong scouting report  
The Toronto Blue Jays have become well known for drafting and developing a certain type of pitcher since Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM in 2009, and overhauled the scouting department:  tall, lean, and athletic.
  The Blue Jays are not married to that concept, and as Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna (although he's radically transformed his body since Tommy John surgery) have proven, they can scout outside of that box, but for every Stroman, there's an Aaron Sanchez and a Miguel Castro, and for every Osuna there's a Jeff Hoffman, Matt Smoral, and a Sean Reid-Foley.
    The reasoning for scouring the hemisphere for this type of pitcher is understandable.  The length allows them to develop a downward plane of their fastballs, which causes the hitter to have to change his focus during the ball's flight to home plate, creating a greater margin of error for a swing and miss, or weak contact.  Tall pitchers (like Castro and Sanchez, especially) can create a bit of an optical illusion because of their extension that hitters call "late life"; hitters have a fraction of a second less to track Castro's fastball, so it appears to "jump" on them because the ball is on them sooner than they realize.
   The lean body type allows the pitcher to have a lower-maintenance physique, which is less prone to injury, and more able to handle the wear and tear of a heavy workload.  One of the few negative things scouts had to say about Osuna was his formerly chunky build.  Medical science is still learning about the factors that precipitate torn ulnar collateral ligaments, but surely an untuned body has to be one.  A heavier pitcher may not necessarily have the musculature to support that weight during the course of repeating a pitching motion thousands of times during a season.
   The athleticism allows the pitcher to repeat his delivery consistently, and maintain a consistent arm slot for their deliveries, while maintaining a bit of deception for the hitters.  At times, a prospect like Daniel Norris comes into the organization with mechanics that are not optimal, but their athletic ability allows them to learn a new way to throw the ball, as well as the confidence to see them through the inevitable setbacks they will encounter as a result.  Athleticism also allows the pitcher to land in a good position to field any balls that come their way.

    I had the opportunity, thanks to, to watch Chase De Jong's start this week against Great Lakes.  De Jong, taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, fits the bill for this prototypical Toronto type of pitcher, at 6'4", 205.  Even though he's repeating the Midwest League, there's a great deal to be enthused about, given this start, and the one he threw the week before.  Here's a scouting report from prior to his draft year:

A USC commit, DeJong sits in the high 80s, topping out in low 90s. With a lot of projection left in there, Dejong looks to throw much harder as he fills out his tall, lean frame. He already possesses a hard curve with bite and feel for a changeup and he looks to be a smart pitcher who pounds the strike zone. He works downhill well, getting over his front side, and has an easy arm, remaining very balanced throughout. While not an exceptional talent at the moment, DeJong is the kind of high school arm that could be a completely different pitcher in two years thanks to more physical development and experience in the minors. He isn't the flashiest high school prospect, but has some of the higher upside in the class and shows a good balance of present skills and projectability.  He has the potential to be a solid starter, with the potential for three above average to plus pitches.
   The Blue Jays rolled the dice with De Jong, as they have with so many other picks in the Anthopoulos era.  Because of his USC pledge, De Jong was considered a tough sign - his father is a medical doctor, and his mother is a M. Ed. holder and a middle school guidance counsellor, and some teams obviously felt that education would come first, causing him to drop from a likely sandwich round pick to the 81st overall.  A $620 000 signing bonus offer helped to talk him out of his college commitment.
    De Jong made his pro debut in 2012, and after a pair of promising campaigns in rookie ball, skipped Vancouver and was sent to Lansing for full season ball last year.  And to put it mildly, he struggled.  After a rough April, De Jong seemed to be putting things together in May, but scuffled for much of the rest of the season before being shut down in early August.  Around the plate much of the time, De Jong gave up 113 hits in 97 innings, but walked only 22.
   Understandably, the Blue Jays wanted De Jong to repeat Lansing this season.  Since he barely tops 90 with his fastball and relies on his command, the organization has had him working on a two seamer to get some more movement on his fastball.  His first start of the season showcased the new pitch, as he struck out 9 Lake County hitters before leaving after reaching his pitch count with two out in the 5th on Lansing's Opening Day.
   The camera angle at Great Lakes provides an excellent view of the pitcher from center field, but isn't at a high enough angle to show movement.  De Jong, as is his custom, was around the plate for much of his five inning stint.  He had trouble commanding his curve at times, throwing it up in the zone.  His four seamer also tended to float a bit up in the strike zone, but he owned the bottom half with his two seamer, and while he wasn't as dominant as he was in his first start, De Jong still was impressive, allowing a run on three hits, while walking one and striking out five.
   De Jong has a smooth, easy delivery, and consistently repeats it.  He lands in a good fielding position.  Since he doesn't overpower, command and movement will be the keys to any hopes he has of advancing in the organization.  While velocity and missing a lot of bats advances prospects faster, Mark Buehrle proves that there's a lot to be said for changing speeds, command, and guile.


  I also got my first look at Catcher Danny Jansen, and while he's struggled with the bat like many of his young teammates have, I can understand the rave reviews he's earned for his skills behind the plate.
   A big target at 6'2", 210 lbs, Jansen is an effective framer of pitches already, and that skill will only improve as he learns his Lansing pitching staff better.  He is a good blocker of balls in the dirt, and is surprisingly agile for a kid his size.  Jansen gets out to field choppers, bunts, and slow rollers very well.  He handles pitchers well, and has been a contributor to De Jong's success, catching both of his starts so far. Jansen has yet to record his first MWL hit after 18 PA's, but he has hit everywhere he's played, so that may only be a matter of time.  And four walks are included in that total, so he's showing some good strike zone judgement. Max Pentecost may reach the majors before Jansen, but there's a lot to like with this just-turned 20 year old.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Clutchlings Notebook: Week 1

   Mother Nature had a bit of a say in things, but otherwise the first weekend of the minor league season could not have gone much better for Toronto Blue Jays affiliates.

   Dunedin's Jairo Labourt got things rolling with 5 innings of 3-hit, 1-run ball for Dunedin, and Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo, and Matt Dean all went deep as the D-Jays opened their Florida State League season with a victory over Clearwater on Thursday.

  That set the stage for several more impressive pitching performances on Friday.  Matt Boyd, who got a taste of major league action in Montreal the weekend before, struck out 9 over 4.1 innings for New Hampshire, giving up 3 hits, no runs, and walked only one as the Fisher Cats topped New Britain to start the season.  Boyd and relievers Danny Barnes, Luis Perez, Blake McFarland combined to strike out 17 Rock Cats.  Meanwhile, in Lansing, Chase De Jong also struck out 9 over 4.2 innings in leading the Lugnuts to an Opening Day win over Lake County.
  Lansing had yet another solid start on Saturday from Starlyn Suriel, who contributed 5 innings of scoreless, 1-hit ball, along with 8 K's in a 3-2 win over Lake County in the first game of a doubleheader. Suriel retired the first 11 hitters he faced before allowing a two out walk in the 4th.  In game two, Shane Dawson, who hadn't pitched since last July, threw 5 solid innings, but took the loss as Lansing fell 2-1.  Dawson gave up a pair of hits, walked one and struck out 6, with the only blemish on an otherwise great outing a two-run homer he gave up in the 4th.  Newly acquired Jayson Aquino also tossed five solid innings for Dunedin on Saturday.  To round things out, Scott Copeland threw 7 scoreless innings for Buffalo, surrendering just one hit and one walk for the Bisons.
  Adding that up, I get six high quality starts for the organization in 24 hours.

   On Sunday, the organization went 4-5, as Buffalo, Dunedin, and Lansing all recorded victories, while New Hampshire split a twin bill.  Randy Wolf walked a bit of a tightrope early on, but spun five scoreless innings for Buffalo, and a quartet of relievers helped the Bisons shut out Rochester.
   New Hampshire lost that first game to New Britain, but a trio of pitchers led the Fisher Cats to victory in the 2nd game to shut out the Rock Cats.  Danny Barnes struck out 4 over 2 innings of relief work to earn the save.
   Dunedin's offence woke up to lead the D-Jays to victory over Clearwater, with Matt Dean, Andy Fermin, and David Harris contributing two hits each.  Harris also belted his first home run of the season.  Tiago da Silva, the well-travelled Brazilian reliever, pitched a pair of innings in relief.
And Lansing rode some timely hitting to tie their game against Fort Wayne up in the 9th, then won it in the 10th.

   Lastly, Gail Dull is a Phillies fan who lives in Dunedin.  She writes a great blog, full of photos and coverage of minor league baseball, primarily the Florida State League's Clearwater Threshers.  She lives about four blocks away from the D-Jays home Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, which makes me extremely envious, because if the Gods and Toronto drivers are willing, I'm two hours door to door from my house to the Rogers Centre.  She was kind enough to send along some samples of her work:

RHP Luis Santos, who has pitched in the Pirates and Royals organizations prior to signing with Toronto this year:

@BaseballBetsy photo

A rehabbing Michael Saunders up to bat against Clearwater:

@BaseballBetsy photo

Speedy outfielder Roemon Fields:

@BaseballBetsy photo

Fields watches pitcher Brad Allen's delivery.
@BaseballBetsy photo

Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day Review

   Two of the Blue Jays affiliates celebrated their home openers yesterday. Well, one did, the other  and Mother Nature had something to say about the other.

   The Buffalo Bisons hosted Rochester, and went up against the Twins' top pitching prospect, Alex Myers.  Myers battled some control issues, surrendering 6 walks, but the Red Wings pounded Bisons starter Andrew Albers for 8 hits and 4 runs, and took the contest 6-3.  Buffalo battled back with a pair of runs in the sixth to pull within a run, but Rochester scored a pair off of Bisons closer Bobby Korecky in the final frame to put the game out of reach.
   Ryan Tepara and Gregory Infante each had scoreless outings in relief of Albers. There's a good chance that one or both may see time with the Blue Jays.

  New Hampshire had their home opener against New Britain postponed by wind, snow, and rain. There was no word on who was to have started the game, but my bet was Matt Boyd.  The Fisher Cats will make up the game with the Rock Cats as part of a twin bill on Sunday.  There's no word again on today's starter as New Hampshire will try to open their season again, but it would have to be Boyd or Taylor Cole.

   Dunedin opened their season by spoiling the Phillies affiliate's home opener, topping their neighbour Clearwater Threshers, 5-2.   Jairo Labourt started the game for the D-Jays, and was lights out in the early going:

  Labourt lost a bit of velocity in the 6th, and gave up some hard contact, but the start was encouraging.  Labourt started last year with Lansing, but struggled with his command, and was snet back to extended spring training to regroup, and he rediscovered his control when he was shipped out to Vancouver in June.  In 5.1 innings, Labourt gave up 5 hits, a pair of runs, and walked one.  He struck out 3, including rehabbing Phillies outfielder Dom Brown twice.   The Blue Jays own rehabber, Michael Saunders, was 0-3, but was robbed by Clearwater OF Aaron Brown, who brought a home run back over the fence.

   Mitch Nay, Dawel Lugo, and Matt Dean all went deep for Dunedin.  The trio hit a collective total of 16 Home Runs in the tough hitter's parks of the Midwest League last year, and while the Florida State League can be tough on hitters as well, perhaps this is the year that the power that has been prophesized for all three might be realized.

   And it only took four innings for the first triple play in all of baseball to be registered when Dean grounded into a 5-4-3 triple killing.

   Lansing's home opener is tonight, but they opened the newly renovated Cooley Law Stadium with their annual Crosstown Showdown against Michigan State.  The Lugs topped the Spartans 9-4. Lansing traditionally brings in pitchers from the lower levels to pitch this game, in order to save the regular pitching staff members for league play.  Lansing broadcaster recalled a game from a couple of years ago:

   Lansing used a quintet of pitchers in this game.  2014 8th round pick Justin Shafer started the game, and after giving up 3 runs in the first inning, settled down to strike out the side in the second.  Conner Greene, a 7th round pick in 2013 who has some acting credits to his name, pitched a scoreless third and fourth inning.  Chase Wellbrock, a 33rd round pick last year, pitched the fifth and gave up a run and struck out two.  Jesus Tinoco and Sean Reid-Foley each pitched scoreless, two K innings to finish the seven-inning contest.  All pitchers should start at Vancouver this year, although there are rumblings that Greene will be staying in Michigan.
  On the offensive side of things for Lansing, 1B Ryan McBroom was 2-2 with a double and a solo shot to open the scoring in the 2nd, and SS Richard Urena hit a solo blast as well.
   The Lugnuts open their Midwest League season against Lake County tonight in Lansing, with the repeating Chase De Jong taking the mound.

   It's shaping up to be a great minor league season.  The Bisons, for now, have a mostly veteran roster, so even though I hope to see them a few times this summer, my focus will be on New Hampshire, Dunedin, and Lansing for now, then expand to the short season teams in June.  I tweet regular updates about probably pitchers and 140 character game summaries.  If you don't follow me, I'm @Clutchlings77 on Twitter.

   A late note:  today's Bisons game has been postponed due to wind.