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Monday, May 4, 2015

Clutchlings Notebook - Week#4: Moving Day


  In the best case scenario, MLB farm departments like to give players at least two months of play to start the season at a level before they make a decision as to whether some players need to move on to the next level, or stay where they're at.  Sometimes, injuries and/or inconsistency at the top of the organization (that is, the major league team) can have a huge influence on this plan.

   This past weekend, it was almost dizzying to see how many roster moves were made as the Blue Jays had to overcome the placing of Jose Reyes on the 15-day Disabled List.  Jonathan Diaz was called up from Buffalo to take his place, which immediately left Buffalo a middle infielder short, so Kevin Nolan got the call in New Hampshire to come up and take his place.  Moving up from Dunedin to New Hampshire were Christian Lopes and Emilio Guerrero to provide some middle infield help.  Lopes was off to a slow start - he had a monster second half of the season in Australia this winter, until a hamstring injury ended his season and sent him home in time to heal for spring training.
  Another promotion to New Hampshire of note was that of  Tiago da Silva, the much traveled Brazilian reliever.
   Those moves all came on Friday.  On Saturday, with Scott Copeland recalled from Buffalo to make his MLB debut, Casey Lawrence was promoted from New Hampshire to the Bisons to take his place.  If Ryan Schimpf was moved up as well.  IF Dickie Joe Thon and P Justin Shafer were promoted from Lansing to Dunedin to shore up their roster.

     ************************************************************************

   Much has been made this weekend over the demotions of Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, and Miguel Castro.  They would not be the first rookies to ever struggle and need further time in the minors - that's part of the reason teams get three option years on players new to the 40-man roster.
I thought it would be worth a quick look to see exactly why all three had their difficulties this month.

Norris
Daniel Norris had a solid spring training, and while the injury to Marcus Stroman threw a monkey wrench into the team's pitching staff plans, Norris may have made the team as the 5th starter despite Stroman tearing up his knee.
Norris complained of going through a dead arm stretch in the middle of the month, but overall his velocity held firm between 91 and 93:

Brooksbaseball.net graph


    His last start against the Indians, when he was lifted after throwing 78 pitches in 3 innings, shows that he really didn't trust his changeup or sinker, and almost half of the pitches he threw were fastballs, which hitters mashed at a .407 clip.  Accompanying the increase in fourseam usage was quite a bump in the use of his slider, which he has had more success with.  Norris recorded only 3 swinging strikes in the Cleveland game, none with his fastball or sinker.  
   Is something physically wrong with Norris?  An MRI performed on April 21 revealed no structural damage to his elbow.  It is worth noting that Norris had bone chips removed from his left elbow after last season, and he was shut down for a month in 2013 as a precaution.  He also admits to having gone through a dead arm phase last season (he did get dinged in a couple of early July starts at AA), and the stress of spring training may have worn him out a bit:

“My workload in spring training was — I was working really hard, trying to make this team and maybe that’s catching up to me a little bit right now, but I think I’m on the tail end of it. I’m feeling better,” 
  Whatever the case is, Norris is not the dominant pitcher who raced through four levels last year. Time in Buffalo may be necessary for him to re-discover himself in a less pressure-filled environment.  He makes his first start for the Bisons on Wednesday.


Pompey
   The GTA product struggled on both sides of the ball this month.  His difficulties at the plate weren't all that surprising, but his troubles in the field were.  He misjudged some fly balls, and took curious routes on others.  The former Minor League gold glove winner was supposed to be more dependable than that.  That, coupled with his .193/.264/.337 line caused the Blue Jays to send him to Buffalo for some time to re-group.
  Quite simply, Pompey is way better than what he has shown.  He may have been pressing too much, especially during the 10 game home stand, when he likely was inundated with interview and ticket requests, and didn't have enough time to prepare and focus on baseball.
  Again, injuries may have forced the issue here.  Michael Saunders knee surgery meant a temporary halt to what likely would have been a platoon between Pompey and Kevin Pillar.  Instead, Pompey was thrown into the deep end, and when he lost his centerfield spot to Pillar, he no doubt took his fielding woes to the plate, and vice-versa.
  Pompey will be back.  

Castro
   His inclusion on the Jays roster was perhaps the biggest surprise of all coming out of spring training.  Castro simply made it impossible for the Blue Jays to send him down, and given that hey showed a distaste for crop of available free agent relievers, that may have been their hope all along.
His performance over his last ten outings has been spotty:

DATE     OPP                            W            L              ERA        SV           IP            H             ER           BB           SO
04/12/2015         @BAL    0              0              0.00        1              1.0          1              0              1              0
04/14/2015         TB           0              1              0.00        0              1.1          2              0              1              2
04/17/2015         ATL         0              0              0.00        0              1.0          0              0              1              0
04/18/2015         ATL         0              0              1.23        0              1.0          2              1              0              1
04/22/2015         BAL        0              0              1.04        1              1.1          1              0              1              1
04/23/2015         BAL        0              0              1.93        1              0.2          1              1              0              1
04/25/2015         @TB       0              0              2.79        0              0.1          2              1              0              0
04/27/2015         @BOS   0               1               3.60        0              0.1          3              1              0              1
05/01/2015         @CLE     0              0              3.27        0              1.0          1              0              0              2
05/03/2015         @CLE     0              0              4.38        0              1.1          2              2              2              2
TOTALS                                  0              2              5.79        3              9.1          15           6              6              10

 I  had originally thought that Castro's troubles might have resulted from wearing down as a result of overuse in high leverage situations, but his velocity has been fairly consistent:

                                             Game                           Fourseam     Sinker   Change Slider
TOR@NYA (4/6/15)         97.50     97.94     86.31     82.20
TOR@NYA (4/8/15)         97.08     0.00        89.32     0.00
TOR@NYA (4/9/15)         97.18     0.00        91.21     83.79
TOR@BAL (4/12/15)        97.19     0.00        88.87     82.37
TBA@TOR (4/14/15)       98.08     0.00        0.00        83.66
ATL@TOR (4/17/15)        98.73     0.00        89.92     82.58
ATL@TOR (4/18/15)        97.11     97.45     87.56     83.84
BAL@TOR (4/22/15)        97.40     0.00        86.16     84.81
BAL@TOR (4/23/15)        96.01     0.00        0.00        81.97
TOR@TBA (4/25/15)       95.63     0.00        84.96     81.02
TOR@BOS (4/27/15)       96.89     96.84     88.16     82.12
TOR@CLE (5/1/15)           96.95     96.50     89.37     81.75
TOR@CLE (5/3/15)           96.45     97.00     89.10     83.28

   His fastball velo is down a bit from that peak against Atlanta, Quite simply, he's caught too much of the plate at times:


And when he's done so, it's most often been with his fastball or sinker.  Hitters have been laying off of his change and slider, forcing him to come with the heat - and hitters have been ready.

  The concern all along for Castro has been his lack of secondary pitches.  However, Aaron Sanchez came in and was lights out throwing primarily the fourseam/sinker combination last year.  Castro needs to work on his command in Buffalo.  Just as I was about to hit the 'publish' button, GM Alex Anthopoulos said that Castro will pitch out of the Bisons' starting rotation.  Which makes me wonder if we will see him again this season.  

  And you have to feel happy for Steve Delabar, who joins Chad Jenkins as they pass Castro and Copeland headed the opposite way on the QEW.  Delabar was very upset that he didn't make the club coming out of spring training.  Delabar seemed to have most of his old velo back, but I suspect a rough outing late in March against the Orioles, and the fact that he had options (and Liam Hendriks and Todd Redmond didn't) remaining sealed his fate.
  Bisons Manager Gary Allenson used Delabar very sparingly in the early going, giving him several days off between outings, and not using him in high leverage situations.  As April turned into May, Allenson began going to Delabar more often, and later in games.  He's appeared in 6 games since April 22nd, and five of those have been scoreless outings.  
   There's no real secret to Delabar's struggles in 2014, after an All Star year in 2013.  By his own admission, Delabar relies on velocity, and not movement, to get hitters out.  His fastball lost a tick last year, as did his ability to command it, and hitters were waiting for him.  If he's back to a more reasonable facsimile of his 2013 self, as opposed to last year's version, he should be a stabilizing force in the Blue Jays pen.  Of course, with options remaining, he could be in Toronto only until Castro turns himself around. 
   Jenkins should probably get ready to ride that QEW shuffle some more.  Until the rotation straightens itself out, the Blue Jays appear to be relying on whichever starter is up next for Buffalo to help in long relief.


 I can't let an opportunity pass without a final word about LHP Ricky Romero, released by the club last week.  Romero was the darling of Toronto in 2011, anointed the staff ace, and given a huge multi-year contract.  With the Blue Jays on the hook for 2016 for a $7.5 million salary, they exercised a $600 000 buyout to get out from under that deal.  They also did it early enough in the season to give him a chance to catch on with another team.
  Romero's troubles started in 2012, when hitters started to lay off of his change up, a pitch with so much movement that it often fell right out of the strike zone.  Injuries caused a drop in velocity, meaning that Romero often had to come in with a sub-par fastball in hitters' counts.  
  He struggled through a pair of seasons after that in which he simply wasn't healthy.  Surgically repaired and ready to go this spring, I had no reports about him, but that the club kept him behind in extended after training camp broke tells you much of what you need to know.  He wasn't ready to return to competition, and the Blue Jays obviously felt his MLB days were behind him.
  Several people on Twitter complained that the Blue Jays wrecked Romero, but that's far from accurate.  Their handling of him in 2013, when they kept him behind in Florida for all of one FSL start after spring training before rushing him up for a start that he clearly wasn't prepared for was puzzling, but the organization has been patient with him.  Hitters adjusted to Romero, and either because of health or an inability to make corresponding adjustments himself, Romero was no longer an effective starting pitcher by the end of 2012.   

     ************************************************************************

In summary, many eyebrows were raised when the Blue Jays broke camp with 6 rookies.  Some of that number was by design, some by accident, but the bottom line is that the Blue Jays felt that half dozen was a better option than the alternative.  And while Castro, Norris, and Pompey needed to be farmed out, the contributions from Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, and even Aaron Sanchez, in that order, have been significant.  To me, this is just an extension of the roll the dice strategy the team has used in drafting players:  the upside of this group is such that given the injuries to Stroman and Saunders, the club felt that it was a worthwhile risk.  Did they expect that all six of them would instantly adjust?  Probably not.  If such was the case, the demoted trio would likely still be with the team.  The season is still young enough that it's not lost, and if these three can get themselves back together, they could still make a contribution to the team before the season is over.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Look at Matt Boyd


    I took pen and paper in hand, and watched Blue Jays left hand pitcher Matt Boyd make a start against the Trenton Thunder last week, and came up with some observations.

   First off, a disclaimer - I am not a scout, nor do I pretend to be one.  I was watching Boyd not from behind home plate in Trenton, but on my laptop at my kitchen table somewhere north of Toronto.
My view gave me a good idea of what Boyd's command and ability to repeat his delivery was like, but not his velocity (unless the Trenton play-by-play guys happened to mention it, and they didn't very often), or the movement on his fastball.

   A few notes about Boyd.
-the Mercer Island, WA product grew up a Mariners fan, and idolized Randy Johnson.
-Boyd grew up playing both baseball and hockey; he jokingly calls himself a "defenceman enforcer,' but he was good enough to make a Team USA regional team.  Many of his teammates went on to play in college or the WHL.
-he boasts a pair of famous people in his family tree:  former First Lady Dolly Madison, and Hall of Famer pitcher Bob Feller.  Now, in the case of Feller, it was a distant connection; it's not like he grew up on Feller's knee being regaled with tales of him striking out DiMaggio and Williams.
-he pitched out of the bullpen and played 1st at Oregon State for his first three college seasons, before being converted to a starter in his senior year.  Boyd led the Beavers to the College World Series that year, tossing a complete game four-hit shutout in the second round.
-the Blue Jays took Boyd in the 6th round of the 2013 draft
-Boyd had an April and May that was the equal of Daniel Norris' and Kendall Graveman's last year, and earned a June promotion to New Hampshire.  A foot injury, and maybe being overwhelmed a bit led to his being sent back to High A, where he pitched well, but bone chips in his elbow limited his effectiveness in August.
-Boyd has reportedly been working with pitching consultant Kyle Boddy.  Boddy runs Driveline Baseball, a company which provides, according to its website, "Proven, researched training systems for developing healthy, high-velocity pitchers of any age," based near Tacoma.  Completely healthy and recovered from last year's injuries, Boyd's increase in velocity this spring may be attributable to the work he's done with Boddy.


   The start I saw was an April 20th outing.  The game time temperature was a reasonable 69F.
This was his third start of the season.  In the prior two, he had struck out 18 batters in 9.1 innings.
Here is my charting of his pitches:


   Boyd has a high leg kick, and a slight hitch in his delivery that likely can make it hard for left handed hitters to pick up the ball from.  As you can see from my scrawls, he threw all four of his pitches, mainly relying on his fastball to get ahead on the count, which he mostly did - Boyd threw first pitch strikes to 10 of 18 hitters, and was working in pitchers' counts much of the time.  He had 6 1-2 counts on hitters, and threw 54 of his 81 pitches on the night for strikes.
 
   Boyd has a reputation for being a pitcher who relies on his command of all four pitches and his feel for pitching to get hitters out.  He lives on the black of the plate, and if he is having command issues with any of his pitches, he can struggle to throw strikes.  On this occasion, he seemed to be having some trouble with his slider, leaving it well up in the zone.  As a result, hitters tended to be able to foul off borderline pitches, as evidenced by a couple of long at bats in the early going that drove up his pitch count.  He just wasn't able to put those hitters away, and he reached his pitch count by the end of the 5th as a result.
   Boyd didn't give up a hit in this outing, and the loudest contact of the night against him was a long fly ball that just landed outside of the right field foul pole in the 2nd.  His advanced feel for pitching allowed him to know what was working for him that night, and his athleticism allowed him to repeat his delivery frequently enough that he could command his fastball pretty much throughout his outing.
  Boyd is said to have an excellent pick off move, but he didn't really need to use his best one in this game.  I should also add that C A.J. Jimenez, who was activated just before this start (and now is in Buffalo) was a big help to Boyd in the early going, showing framing and blocking skills that I've admired for some time.
   Al Skorupa of Baseball Prospectus watched a recent start of Boyd's (it may have been this one), and he came away less than impressed.  Skorupa claims that Boyd's fastball isn't "big enough, his command is below average, and there's no out pitch."  At the same time, he admired how Boyd overcame some early control issues to limit the damage.  Skorupa does like Boyd's slider, calling it a future average pitch.  He did like what he saw of Boyd's change up, as did I on the night in question - he had some good movement on it.
 

   Is Boyd a potential major league pitcher?  His projection always has been back of the rotation, but he has pitched above that benchmark in three minor league seasons.  In addition to not being a scout, I'm also not a journalist, so I don't always have to be objective.  I've spoken with Boyd on Twitter a few times, and he seems like a very mature and level-headed kid.  It's hard not to pull for someone like that, and while I'm not sure what his ultimate future holds, I think he can establish himself as a major league pitcher down the road. Boyd may likely be one of those players who has to ride the options shuttle for a few seasons before he sticks, but he's a left handed pitcher who has shown an ability to miss bats - he's struck out better than a batter per inning over 180 minor league innings. While he doesn't have the power arm profile for the bullpen like the Jays prefer, with Randy Wolf, Andrew Albers, and maybe even Scott Copeland ahead of him on the depth charts (maybe even Felix Doubront, come to think of it), Boyd could help in long relief, or as a secondary lefty option to Aaron Loup.
     I like what his college coach, Pat Casey, had to say about him, and I think it neatly sums Matt Boyd up:
“When you coach young men—and it’s difficult enough, but he’s a no-maintenance guy,” Casey said of Boyd. “He takes care of everything. He goes to school, does well in school, trains. He’s the guy you never have to worry about. He’s just easy to coach; he’s just a great kid . . . And he’s just—he’s a really fun kid to coach and he’s a great man.”


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Clutchlings Notebook - Week Three


  All four Blue Jays minor league affiliates are well underway with their seasons, so I thought I would narrow my focus a bit and take a look at some players worth keeping an eye on in the system - players who, as you move down the system, may not make an appearance and/or an impact for the big league club this year, but have a chance to get there at some point.

Buffalo
   The Bisons are a veteran team, but are well worth the trip down the QEW to watch, sitting atop the International League north standings.
  At the moment, there are not a lot of players who could reasonably be called prospects - the Bisons roster is filled more with injury insurance guys.
   Of the players who fit that prospect category, C A.J. Jimenez and IF Andy Burns would be the most worth watching.  The oft-injured Jimenez had his season debut delayed by yet another stint on the DL, but after starting at New Hampshire, he's now in Buffalo.  I watched him catch Matt Boyd's start on April 20th, and there's so much to like about him as a receiver.  Jimenez is quick and athletic, and blocks balls in the dirt well.  He's already a good framer of pitches, and helped Boyd immensely on a night when he was fighting his command with his breaking pitches a bit.  The question mark, in addition to his ability to stay healthy, is his bat.  If not for his injury, however, he may have gotten the call over Josh Thole when Dioner Navarro went on the DL. Jimenez will make a fine defense-first catcher, but his bat may limit the extent of his role on a big league club one day.
   Burns is a 3B/SS who was being groomed as a super utility player, but has played mostly 3rd and 2nd this year.  He started with New Hampshire, but was promoted to the Bisons and went 4-4 in his first game.  Burns got off to a slow start at AA last year, and I had originally thought he might be a September call up at the outset of the 2014 season.  He's another one of those overlooked guys the Blue Jays have loved to draft over the last half decade.  He had to sit out his senior NCAA season after transferring from Kentucky to Arizona, but the Jays didn't forget about him, and took him in the 11th round in 2011.
   At 27, Scott Copeland can no longer be considered a prospect, but since last August, he's placed himself on the radar.  As I write this, he went 5 strong innings for Buffalo tonight, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, walking 3 and striking out 1 - and this has been one of his poorer outings, the first one where he hasn't at least pitched into the 6th.  Copeland, of course, is not a strikeout per inning guy.  He averages over 2.5 groundouts for every fly ball out.  He just doesn't give up a lot of hard contact:


   Of course, the only way we'll likely see Copeland is if there is an injury situation, and/or a complete meltdown of the major league rotation.  And vets like Randy Wolf and maybe Andrew Albers, Jeff Francis, or possibly even Felix Doubront might get the call before him.  At the same time, what Copeland has done since arriving in Buffalo late last season is get hitters out, posting a 1.80 ERA in 7 starts over the last two seasons, and allowing just 27 hits in 45 innings.

New Hampshire
   Boyd is the obvious pick here, but he's not the only one.  I've written before that he had a better April and May than Daniel Norris or Kendall Graveman last year, before running into some injury issues that weren't enough to sideline him, but limited his effectiveness over the last half of the year.
  I have a more detailed post coming up later this week about him, but Boyd is well worth watching.  Like Copeland, he's not necessarily a power arm, although he had added velo this year.  He relies more on command and his feel for pitching.  At the same time, Boyd's 30 K's are just 3 off the minor league lead.  It's best to see him soon if you're thinking of making a trip east to see him, because he may be in Buffalo by June if he continues to pitch as well as he has.
   Dwight Smith Jr is making quite a name for himself as a hitter.  The Blue Jays tried experimenting with him at 2nd in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, because his bat doesn't really have the power to profile as a corner outfielder.  He put up solid numbers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and has continued to rake in AA, hitting .324/.361/.485.  Smith has hit in the 2nd spot in New Hampshire's order, and has benefitted immensely from having vets Jake Fox and KC Hobson behind him the lineup.  If speedster Jon Berti can get on base more frequently ahead of Smith in the order, he'll see even more fastballs.  With Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar ahead of him, there's no spot in the majors for Smith at the moment, but he should join Boyd in Buffalo in a few weeks.

Dunedin
   The D-Jays have a young lineup, and have had trouble showing much consistency so far.
Dawel Lugo and Mitch Nay have potential impact bats, but have struggled.  Roemon Fields may be the fastest player in the organization, but he has had trouble getting on base.
    LHP Jairo Labourt has alternated good outings with not-so-good ones so far this year.  Walks have been his nemesis as they were in his abbreviated stint in the Midwest League last year.  He's been missing bats and the strike zone at almost the same rate.  RHP Alberto Tirado has been sent to the bullpen in an attempt to harness his electric stuff, and for the most part, it's been working.  There's just not a lot of projection for a bullpen guy in High A.
   Dunedin is very much a work in progress.  Almost all of the info I get on them is second hand, of course, because there's no milb.tv coverage of the Florida State League, and the D-Jays play in front of a couple thousand empy seats every night.

Lansing
   This is the must-see team in the organization, and thanks to milb.tv, you can see them a fair amount, although not at home.
   Any discussion about this team now starts with Anthony Alford, the two sport star who is as fabulous a story as he is an athlete.  I've written a few thousand words about him, so please go back through my archives and have a look.
   The Reader's Digest Alford story:  A Mississippi all-state baseball and football star, small-town Alford was one of the nation's top football recruits in 2012, and the Blue Jays took him with their 3rd round pick, even though he had a scholarship to Southern Miss in hand.  He was labelled a 3rd rounder with first round talent - a story making the rounds recently is that the Blue Jays area scout for MS gave him the highest grade of any prospect in that year's draft class.
   Alford was involved in a campus incident in which a gun was pulled (not by him) after his freshman year, and he had his scholarship lifted.  Alford then enrolled at Ole Miss, and had to sit out a year due to transfer rules. He continued to report to the Blue Jays minor league complex in Florida after spring football, but his seasons were always cut short by the need to head back to campus in August, meaning that he had amassed just over 100 PAs over his first three minor league seasons.
   The Blue Jays offered Alford much of Front Street to give up football this past summer, but he declined.
Suddenly, in late September, he left Ole Miss, and announced his intention to give up his gridiron dreams.  I talked to him via Twitter about it, and while he didn't come right out and say it, Alford suggested that he initially went with football because he felt pressured to do so.  Football is King in Mississippi, and it's completely understandable that a young, impressionable young man would feel an obligation to pursue it if he was blessed with such talent.  Somehow, someone said something this fall that lifted the world off of his shoulders, and it convinced him that it was okay for him to make the switch to his first love of baseball, and he reported to Florida for Instructional League play.
   In order to get him some more ABs, the Blue Jays sent him to play in the Australian Baseball League this winter.  The veteran ABL pitchers with their breaking pitches often tied Alford up in knots, and he admitted that he got into a lot of unfavourable hitters' counts.  The experience seems to have paid off however, as had the time he spent with the Blue Jays in spring training (he said Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson made the biggest impression on him).  He spent some time this month on Lansing's DL with a knee issue, but he's been bashing since his return this past week, hitting .364/.417/.500 in 5 games with the Lugs.  The highlight of his week had to be the night he scored on a sacrifice fly - from 2nd base.
   I asked Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler about what has impressed him the most about Alford, and he said his AB's have been a study in patience, often working into 2-2 or 3-2 counts.  Unlike in Australia, when he widened his strike zone considerably with two strikes,  Goldberg-Strassler says that Alford looks like a very comfortable two-strike hitter.  And Alford's also not trying to pull the ball - he's hitting the ball up the middle and to right field.  All of these are signs of rapidly improving pitch recognition.
   I don't want to get ahead of myself, but Alford could be the best position player in the organization very soon.
    But Alford is not the only prospect on display in the Michigan State Capital. Among the others:

-1B Rowdy Tellez -  a power-hitting first baseman who has transformed his formerly chunky body.  The Midwest League is a tough home runs hitter's loop because of its parks with high outfield walls and the April and May winds that always seem to be knocking fly balls down, but I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of power numbers Tellez produces for Lansing.

-1B/DH/OF Ryan McBroom  The 15th round pick from last year's draft has mostly hit behind Tellez in the Lugnuts order, and pretty much all he has done is hit.  The power hasn't shown up just yet, but he's posted an impressive .323/.408/.418 line.

-OF DJ Davis  Davis is repeating Low A after failing to make much contact last year, striking out in 32% of his PAs.  And his vaunted speed didn't translate into a high stolen base total, as he was thrown out more times (20) than he wasn't (19).  Davis is making betting contact so far this season, and is hitting .302/.397/.444.

-C Danny Jansen When he's healthy and finally activated, Max Pentecost may ascend to the majors faster, but Jansen may well prove to be the Blue Jays catcher of the future.  He's had a slow start at the plate, but his bat has started to come around, and word has spread around the MWL that Jansen is tough to run on.

-RHP Chase De Jong  De Jong is repeating Lansing as well, and with the exception of his last start, appears to be on track for a mid-season promotion to Dunedin.  De Jong struck out 9 in his first start, but he's more of a finesse pitcher who relies on finesse and command. Which he didn't have in his most recent outing, and gave up a pair of homers.

-RHP Sean Reid-Foley The 2014 2nd round steal is perhaps the highest-ceiling member of Lansing's rotation.  On a shorter pitch count leash than his teammates at this point, Reid-Foley has struck out 13 in only 7 innings over 3 starts.

-SS Richard Urena Jose Reyes' potential successor, the 19 year old has held his own at the plate so far, hitting .241/.274/.345, and playing stellar defence.  Some have labelled his glove major league ready.  A switch hitter, Urena's bat from the right side has always been a concern, and he's struggled against lefties so far.

-LHP Shane Dawson The soft-tossing Drayton Valley, AB (as far as I can tell, only two minor leaguers come from a more northerly location than Dawson), southpaw relies on deception to get hitters out, which he's been doing at a healthy clip.  Shoulder injuries have sidelined Dawson each of the past two years, but he is fully recovered, and should move up to Dunedin at some point this season.  MWL hitters are currently hitting a paltry .113 against him.

  Other names due to soon get an assignment to a full-season team:  2015 1st rounder Jeff Hoffman, almost a year removed from Tommy John surgery; 2014 2nd rounder Clinton Hollon, and possible lefty Matt Smoral, who I thought was a lock for Lansing, but struggled this spring and was kept behind for extended spring training.