Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects

   2016 was a year of steady, if not spectacular growth in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system.
After former GM Alex Anthopoulos dealt 18 prospects to improve the major league roster in an eight-month period, the system was bound to go through a dry spell.
   The good news is that there was some talent in the lower levels of the system that showed encouraging signs; the bad news is that there's still a lack of upper-level depth - there are no Blue Jays prospects in Baseball America's Top 50, and only 3 in the back end of the Top 100.
   The new Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins regime opted to pump the brakes somewhat on the development of prospects.  Promotions were still in the offing, but this is an organization that now opts for a slow but steady approach to bringing a prospect through the system.  It's not likely we will see a player sail through three or four levels in a season, as Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris, and Kendall Graveman did in 2014, anytime soon. The message to prospects was clear:  you will not be rushed, nor will you make it to the next level until you've checked all the boxes on your list of skills to improve.
   The club's draft philosophy, in what turned out to be Brian Parker's last as head of amateur scouting, took a shift in direction.  After showing a preference for projectable athletes (ie, high school pitchers), the team dipped into the college ranks, taking collegians with 5 of their first 6 picks.  This may have been in the interest of re-stocking the system quickly after Anthopoulos raided the cupboard last year, or it may indicate a desire to go with safer, more polished players who are closer to MLB-ready.  The addition of former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, who will help oversee player development, is a huge boost to the organization, and will no doubt bring some of his advanced player evaluation methods to the club.
   The system is no longer among the bottom in terms of rankings, but it's not near the top, either.

 


1.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr  3B
ETA:  late 2019, early 2020
Future Outlook  impact, middle of the order bat
Calling Card:  advanced strike zone judgement, Home Run Derby power

   A year ago, I was hard pressed to include a 16-year old who had never stepped on a professional field in the Top 10 list, and placed him at the back end.
   Now, after watching him handle Appalachian League pitching very well as a 17 year old, I am all in.  In naming him the Appy League's top prospect, despite being the loop's youngest player, Baseball America said:
Guerrero showed elite hard-hit ability, consistently squaring up pitches and covering the plate well. He shows plus bat speed, natural timing in the box, an understanding of the strike zone and an ability to recognize and track offspeed pitches.

   It's early, and there are hurdles for the young slugger to face, but he is already shaping up as possibly the best hitting prospect the organization has ever produced.
  Vlad Jr has shown strike zone judgement (12% walk rate), bat speed (he slugged .449), and an ability to use the whole field:

MLBfarm.com
   That's three ingredients for future success.
   The biggest concerns about Guerrero heading into 2016 were his bulky build, and his ultimate position.  While he'll never be a 30-30 guy like his Dad (he will draw more walks than his Father did, though), Vlad Jr stole 15 bases in 20 attempts, which owed more to base running smarts than it did outright speed, but demonstrated another facet of his game.
   Reports on Guerrero at the hot corner suggested that he was at least adequate in terms of range, footwork, and hands, and has the arm strength to stick there a while longer.  He'll continue to work on his skills at 3rd during Fall Instructional League.
   Guerrero hit .271 and had an .808 OPS - a late season swoon in which he went 3-25 dropped his numbers, but this is a player who more than held his own in his first pro season against players 3-4 years older than him.  If he grew up stateside, Vlad Jr would just be heading into his senior year of high school. Much has been made of his build, which leaned toward the slightly chubby side when he signed, but reports indicate that like Rowdy Tellez and Roberto Osuna before him, Guerrero is slowly transforming his body through training and nutrition.
    I wasn't convinced a year ago, but I'm more than convinced now.  This is a middle-of-the-order, impact bat in the making.  Guerrero has said he wants to be in the majors before he turns 20, and while the club will want to take things gradually with him, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him there by then.  Expect Guerrero to spend next season with Lansing.  He may take a bit of a step back at the start of the season with the colder weather and the more polished pitchers in the Midwest League, but there's every reason to believe he'll adjust.  This is a kid who skipped both the DSL and the GCL; there's some maturity there.
   With his soon to be Hall of Famer Dad in attendance, Jr knocked his first round tripper in his second pro game:

video



2.  Rowdy Tellez  1B
ETA:  late 2017, early 2018
Future Outlook:  middle of the order bat
Calling Card:  not a one-dimensional slugger; gets on base, uses the whole field.

   It's Rowdy time!
   I have been an enthusiastic fan of the oversized slugger since his first pro season.  The organization has patiently moved him through the system, and he has responded to every challenge.
   Sent to AA New Hampshire to start the season (when several of his fellow prospects were sent back to Dunedin for more seasoning) because of his advanced feel for the strike zone, Tellez did not see a lot of strikes in April, as pitchers avoided him and preferred to pitch to his slow-starting Fisher Cats teammates. Tellez did not expand his strike zone that month, and stayed patient, hitting only .164, but posting a .345 OBP.  As his teammates heated up, so did Tellez, and he put up solid numbers: .297/.387/.917, with 23 Homers, finishing 3rd in the Eastern League in Slugging and OPS.
   What has always impressed me the most about Tellez is that he's more than a one-dimensional slugger. There have always been concerns about his lack of speed and his fielding, but he has done as much as any player in the organization to transform his body and become more agile.  And while there's 30-Homer potential there, Tellez does not go up to the plate swinging from the heels, telling David Lauria of Fangraphs:
“I’ve watched a lot of guys over the years. The two I’ve really narrowed it down to watching — dissecting their swings and approaches — are Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo. I look at how easy Gonzalez swings and I’ve adopted a little bit of what Rizzo does with two strikes. He takes out his leg kick and works on driving the ball the other way. He knows he can hit home runs to all fields, even with a two-strike approach and not having the leg kick. That’s what I’m doing now. If you can eliminate strikeouts… it’s a huge game-changer."
   The plan for Tellez is to begin the year with Buffalo in 2017, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest that if the Blue Jays are unable to re-sign Edwin Encarnacion, and he has a decent spring, Tellez could break camp with the big club as the starting 1st Baseman next year.  Replacing Edwing's bat in the lineup will be a tall order, but Tellez could offer the club a player that gets on base, puts the ball in play, and isn't afraid to change his approach with two strikes.
   It's easy to picture this smooth left-handed stroke in the Rogers Centre:

video

3.  Anthony Alford OF
ETA:  2018
Future Outlook  Kenny Lofton-like lead off hitter
Calling Card:  game-changing speed and developing gap power

  2015 was a breakout year for the former two-sport star, who gave up his gridiron dreams in the fall of 2014 to focus on baseball after three years of part-time play since being drafted in the 3rd round of 2012. After a solid half season at Dunedin at the end of last season, it was reasonable to expect Alford would start at New Hampshire.  Not so fast, said the organization, recognizing his relative baseball inexperience, and the need to improve his pitch recognition and strike zone judgement, sending him back to the D-Jays to open the season.
   Injured in a home-plate collision on Dunedin's opening day, and put on the shelf again six weeks later with a concussion suffered in an outfield collision, Alford's first half was pretty much a wipeout.
   And that's not a bad thing.  Almost all successful prospects have to go through some adversity on their way up the ladder, and this year was the Mississippian's turn.  The bad times can be more instructive than the good times.
   After a .200/.277/.256 first half, Alford was finally healthy by July, and turned things around, posting a .257/.381/.449 line.  Alford's 117 strikeouts have to be a concern to the organization, although his K rate was 37% in the first half, when he was in and out of the lineup, and only 25% in the second, when he was a fixture atop the D-Jays' batting order.  The 7 Home Runs he hit in the 2nd half hint at some developing power.
   Alford has always trusted his ability, and he has learned to put failure on the field into perspective, as he told Milb.com:
"I'm just learning, learning more about myself. This season has been a good learning season for me because I've never had to deal with failure. I've failed a lot this year. I guess that's something I needed to go through," he said. "I'm not afraid to fail because I know myself and I know my ability and my mind-set. I'm going to overcome it and I'm going to make the adjustment because that's just who I am as an athlete."
   Even though he stole only 18 bases in 24 attempts after swiping 27 a year ago, Alford still profiles as a top of the order bat with game-changing speed.  He works the count well, and the club is hoping that he will learn not to expand his strike zone so much with two strikes to help cut down on the whiffs. That the organization still views him as a top prospect is evidenced by the fact that he was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he will make up for some missed playing time, and hone his skills against top competition.  Alford will begin 2017 in New Hampshire, where he should regain much of his former prospect lustre.
   The Florida State League is a black hole for streaming video, so we'll have to make do with some clouds of dust as Alford triples for Lansing in 2015:

video


4.  Sean Reid-Foley  RHP
ETA:  2018
Future Outlook:  #2 or #3 starter; innings eater
Calling Card:  95 mph fastball with command to both sides of the plate

   The 2014 2nd rounder impressed many in his first year of full season ball last year, and after splitting time between Dunedin and Lansing last year, it was a bit of a surprise that he started the year in Michigan.
   But the new management team sent a clear message across the organization that promotion to the next level isn't automatic, and is contingent upon a prospect working on a number of things.
   And for Reid-Foley, that thing was commanding his fastball to both sides of the plate.
   As I wrote earlier this year, Reid-Foley came into 2016 with a new, simplified delivery.  First implemented at Instructs of Fall 2015, the new mechanics were meant to simplify things, and help Reid-Foley find a delivery that he could repeat consistently.  In 2015, he would lose the strike zone almost without warning during a game that he was cruising along in, and scouts noted that he lacked the experience to make the mechanical adjustments that would help him re-discover it, driving up his pitch count, and hastening his exit from the game.
  Reid-Foley fanned 59 in 58 innings in his first 11 starts with Lansing, with only 22 walks, earning a return trip to Dunedin, where he struck out a career-high 12 over 7 innings in his first start.  In his next start, he fanned only 3 thru 6, but more impressive was that he didn't walk a batter - in 57 innings with the D-Jays, he whiffed 71, while walking only 16.   His season would have been even more impressive had he not been shut down for the rest of the season after August 10th.  Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim told Sportsnet's Shi Davidi that it was for precautionary reasons:
"You always want to be conservative or cautious with pitchers and elbows. He returned to throwing three weeks ago, he’s doing fine, he feels great. It was more precautionary than anything. He had a great season, made a lot of positive strides, and we didn’t want to push anything there, although he wanted to pitch."
   Reid-Foley is a power pitcher who missed a lot of bats with his 93-95 fastball and wipeout slider.  Sent to Instructs once again, he'll try to refine command of his changeup.  There once were comparisons to Jonathan Papelbon, but Reid-Foley has demonstrated an ability to turn over a lineup, and now is the most promising starting pitcher in the organization.  Only three years out of high school, he will continue his slow but steady climb up the ladder at New Hampshire next year.

   SRF from 2015 displaying his swing-and-miss stuff:

video


5.  Richard Urena SS
ETA:  late 2017, early 2018
Future Outlook:  steady defensive middle infielder
Calling Card:  surprising pop - more than just a glove

   In July of 2012, the Blue Jays secured the services of the two highest-rated shortstops of the International free agent class.  Urena and Venezuelan Franklin Barreto moved up the lower levels of the organization in lock step, with Barreto usually a level ahead of Urena.  The consensus was that Barreto's defensive skill set was best suited to another position, and that Urena proejcted as a better defensive player, but when the two briefly played together in Vancouver in 2014, Barreto played short, and Urena played 3rd.
  That off season, when then-GM Alex Anthopoulos was in the midst of putting together a deal to acquire Josh Donaldson from Oakland, he had to decide which of the two youngsters was the team's shortstop of the future.
  He chose Urena.
  To be honest, I was disappointed that the club let Barreto go after winning the Northwest League MVP at the age of 18, but you have to give up something to get something, and one can hardly argue with the results of that deal.
   And Urena, who had been regarded as a defence-first player, has done nothing but hit in the ensuing two seasons, and actually out hit Barreto this year (.295/.334/.434 vs  .284/.342/.422) - Barreto spent much of his year in AA, while Urena was promoted to that level in August.
   Urena is a slick fielder, with quick twitch reactions.  The knock against his defensive skills was his tendency to nonchalant routine plays, a knack which he has cut back drastically on.  After starting the year at Dunedin (where he was named a Florida State League All Start despite missing the final month of the season), he was promoted to New Hampshire in August after putting up a .305/.351/.447 line, and he was a hit in the Eastern League, going 7-14 in his first three games, and demonstrating his speed and gap power with a pair of triples, and three more in a game a week later.
   Urena is aggressive at the plate, and jumps on fastballs early in the game.  He's shown improved plate discipline, and cut down on his strikeout totals from last year.  His swing from the right side has been a work in progress, and still needs further refining, although he posted respectable numbers.  In naming him their top Blue Jays mid-season prospect, MLB Pipeline noted:
Urena also made significant progress on defense last season by making only 23 errors in 120 games at shortstop, after he committed 40 in 119 games between his first two pro seasons. He has the tools to stick at the position, with soft hands, clean actions and plus arm strength. Urena may be a ways away from making an impact at the highest level, but he shows the makings of an everyday shortstop capable of hitting for some average and 15-20 homers in a given season.
  He has kind of gotten lost in the ascendancy of Tellez, SRF, and Guerrero, but Urena is on the verge of being MLB-ready.   While Troy Tulowitzki shows no signs of slowing down, he's Tulo's eventual successor at short.  With Tellez, Urena, and Greene in the lineup next year, AAA Buffalo will be a team worth watching.
  Urena triples for his first AA hit in August:

video

6.  Conner Greene RHP
ETA:  2018
Future Outlook: mid rotation starter
Calling Card:  pounder of the lower half of the strike zone
 
   Greene caught a heavy dose of helium last year, in his first campaign of full season ball, beginning the year at Lansing, and finishing at New Hampshire.  Invited to MLB spring training, he had a successful debut, and appeared set to step back on that rocket ride to the top.
   Except like Reid-Foley, he still had things to work on, and was sent back to Dunedin, fastball command and his secondaries being the items in question.  Kim also told Sportsnet's Davidi that there were some things he needed to work on between starts:
This year he worked on his five-day routine … becoming more consistent, whether it’s side sessions, or long toss, locking everything in with the same focus he has on the mound. Those are areas of his game that have improved.
   By mid-season, Greene was back in AA, and seemed to alternate lights out appearances with ones in which he was knocked around.  He did throw six innings of no-hit ball in one mid-August start.  Greene sits 92-94 with his fastball, and has a change that is particularly effective.  He did not miss as many bats this year as he did last year (2016 on the top, 2015 on the bottom).....

 
      ....but he did generate more ground ball outs, evidence of his success in keeping his pitches down in the zone.
   There is a tendency to think that Greene took a slight step backward in his development this year if you make that kind of judgement based solely on his numbers.  Still, he is young (he turned 21 as the season opened in April), but this was truly a year of refinement for the athletic righthander.  It's easy to look solely at a prospect's numbers for a given season and ignore the body of work and the ongoing adjustments that were part of it.  Even after a breakout season in 2015, there was still room for improvement.  Greene may begin the year at New Hampshire, but should see Buffalo by season's end.

video

   

7.  Jon Harris RHP
ETA: 2018
Future Outlook: durable back of the rotation arm
Calling Card:  lots of groundball outs
   During the Alex Anthopoulos era, the Blue Jays showed a preference for drafting athletic high school pitchers who may not have always been at the top of the scouting lists, but fit a profile that promised future projection.  HS pitchers have always been among the biggest gambles in the draft, but the Blue Jays shunned tradition, with the goal of getting those athletes into the system as soon as possible in order to overhaul just about every aspect of their pitching profile.
   One of those was a 6'2/150 pitcher from surburban St Louis who was so skinny he probably had to run around in the shower to get wet named Jon Harris, in the 33rd round.  Harris opted to attend Missouri State, and the Blue Jays were ecstatic when his name was still on the board three years later when it came time to make their first overall pick at number 29.  Harris had grown to 6'4"/190, and had become one of the top collegiate pitchers in the nation.
   His first summer in pro ball was not a successful one, however, as Harris struggled with this command at Vancouver, missing the plate on many occasions, or finding too much of it on others.  There was talk that Harris was worn down from a long NCAA season, but there were also suggestions that his delivery, which had a lot of moving parts, was to blame.  A major re-make of hs mechanics was in store during Instructs, and you can see the results from one of his final college outings to one with Lansing this spring. The deliveries are similar, but his hands rise over his head in the bottom one, leading to a more deliberate motion, and a less awkward finish, leaving him in a better fielding positon:


via GIPHY

via GIPHY

   Harris was also taught the grip for a four-seam change up to go along with his four-seam fastball, and the results were impressive.  Sent to Lansing to start the season, Harris gave up an unearned run in his second start, then allowed no runs over his next six starts, a span of 32 innings.  In each of his final two starts, he struck out 11 in 7 innings, both career highs.  Harris was promoted to Dunedin in late July.
  Harris offers a four pitch mix, with his fastball, slider and change having been graded as potential plus pitches.  He sits 92-94 with that fastball, which has some heavy sink to it when he's on, leading to a lot of ground balls.  He commented during the season that keeping weight on was an issue for him throughout high school and college, but he's managed to pack on some pounds and strength.  Harris projects as an inning-eating back of the rotation arm, and he likely will repeat Dunedin next year for at least a half season.
 
8.  Max Pentecost C
ETA:  2019
Future Outlook:  Russell Martin's heir apparent
Calling Card:  plus athleticism, translating to success at the plate and on the basepaths
 
   When Pentecost took to the field (as a DH, actually) for Lansing, it marked his first game in almost two years.  Shut down after only 25 games with Vancouver after being drafted 11th overall by the Blue Jays in 2014, it took three surgeries to properly repair his throwing shoulder.
   Pentecost was limited to DH duties all year, but continued to work on his receiving skills on the sideline, and will continue to do so at Instructs.  The plan is to have him back behind the plate by spring training, meaning that 2017 will be a huge year for Pentecost.  It usually takes several hundred minor league games to develop a catcher, but Pentecost may have to cram a lot into a few years.
  For now, the big club is set with Russell Martin signed for 3 more seasons, and the acquisition of Reese McGuire this summer has helped to shore up a position that was becoming dangerously thin in the organization.  This buys Pentecost some valuable development time.
   Pentecost has a compact swing, and sprays the ball to all fields.  He is not the prototypical lumbering, base-clogging Catcher - he was labelled one of the best athletes in his draft class.  He showed some pop (10 Homers between Dunedin and Lansing - two tough HR parks - in just over 300 PAs), but his 32% K rate is on the high side for a guy with good speed.  Some of that may have been due to rust, but Pentecost needs to put the ball in play more.
    Pentecost will likely start the season at Dunedin, with a possible move to AA by mid-season.
In this video clip, Pentecost shows both his power and speed:

video


9.  T.J Zeuch RHP
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook: mid-rotation starter
Calling Card:  heavy fastball that bores in on right-handed hitters
   Zeuch missed the first month of his college season with a groin injury, and because his Pitt Panthers were eliminated from NCAA play in May, the 1st round pick didn't pitch until early July.  So, we didn't see a lot of the 6'7" righty.
   But rest assured, we will see plenty next year.
   Zeuch made 6 starts for Vancouver and Lansing, usually limited to around 75 pitches per outing.  He sat 92-94 with his fastball, and will no doubt be working on his secondary pitches at Instructs.
   With his size, Zeuch gets late life on his fastball, which gets in on hitters in a hurry.  He has a fair amount of sinking movement on his sinker, and his slider is probably his best off-speed pitch.  In his time with Vancouver, he missed bats, and generated a lot of weak contact:

   Zeuch will return to Lansing to start 2016.  Even though his mechanics may not need as much refining as did Harris', chances are we'll see a different Zeuch next season.  



10.  Bo Bichette SS/2B
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook:  power-hitting 2B
Calling Card:  elite bat speed

   The 2nd round pick this year laid waste to GCL pitching, putting up a video game-like line of .427/.451/.732 despite missing over a month after an emergency appendectomy in July.
   Almost any GCL stats should come with a disclaimer (his brother Dante hit .342/.446/.505 there in 2011, but hasn't hit above .271 since then), but it's hard not to be impressed with Bichette's approach, and the number of balls he squared up in Florida.
   Drafted as a SS, Bichette will be given a chance to stick there, but he will likely wind up at 2nd or possibly 3rd if his power continues to develop.  He has some of the fast-twitch reflexes necessary to play short, but his arm can be erratic. Scouts were concerned about his hitting mechanics prior to the draft, particularly his set-up, but it's hard to argue with the results.
   Our good internet friend Chris King, who evaluates pro and amateur players and lives not far from the Jays minor league complex, was impressed:
   As an added bonus, Bichette and his brother Dante Jr were able to suit up for Brazil in their World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Brooklyn this past week.  Playing SS, Bichette showed both his upside and inexperience.  In one inning, he deftly fielded a groundball on the short hop, throwing across his body on the run to nip the runner at first.  Two batters later, he dove to his left to spear a sharply hit groundball, only to throw the ball wildly over his brother's head at 1st.  At the plate, in the pair of at bats I saw, he showed good patience in the first, not expanding his strike zone, and went the other way with a fastball for a base hit.  In his next plate appearance, perhaps a little frustrated at the steady diet of breaking balls he was seeing, he chased a pitch outside of the strike zone for strike three.
   Gil Kim calls Bichette one of the most projectable hitters in the system, and despite pre-draft concerns about his swing, the organization will not tinker with it at Instructs:
 We are not concerned with his mechanics or defense, but we will work in Instructs on getting him caught up with some ABs that he missed during the season. 
   Bichette was recently named the GCL's 4th best prospect by Baseball America, and gave this evaluation:
With hitting mannerisms reminiscent of Josh Donaldson, Bichette gears up for his swing with a leg kick, cranks his back elbow with a deep load, then accelerates the bat head into the hitting zone thanks to terrific bat speed. He keeps the barrel on plane through the zone for a long time, showing a mature approach and polished feel to hit for his age, and he quiets his swing when he gets into two-strike counts. He hits to all fields and drives the ball with plus power.

 It will not be a surprise at all if Bichette skips two levels to join Vladdy Jr at Lansing to start 2017.  If not for his appendectomy, he likely would have spent August playing under the lights with Bluefield, anyway.  You can judge his swing for yourself in this pre-draft video:

video

Update:   A few days after publishing this post, an alert reader pointed out the Bichette had been hospitalized for acute appendicitis.  Bichette had actually not been feeling well for several days in mid July, but was told by a doctor that what he had was viral, and would pass.  Bichette tried to soldier on for a few days, but could go no further, and went to the emergency ward.  There, doctors discovered that his appendix had in fact burst, but his body was slowly absorbing the toxins - Bichette joked that he performed surgery on himself.
   As someone who had his appendix rupture as it was being removed, I can only marvel at Bichette.  I have never been so sick in all my life.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Blue Jays/Dunedin Spring Training Upgrades Nearing Reality



 After a couple of years of negotiations, the Blue Jays and the City of Dunedin came one step closer to completing a new spring training facility agreement to replace the one that expires next year.

 Dunedin is the only spring training home the club has ever known, a fact Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro acknowledged to residents at a public meeting held in the Florida town on Monday night.

  The main feature of the $81 million agreement, which will keep the team in Dunedin for the next quarter century once it is finalized, is a significant makeover to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, home of the Blue Jays spring training games, and the team's High A affiliate, the Dunedin Blue Jays. FAES has been charitably described as "quaint, but outdated."

  The Blue Jays have always preferred to have their minor league complex and spring training stadium, which are currently about an 8-minute drive apart, under one roof, but recognize that space is at a premium in Dunedin.  Upgrades to the Mattick Complex will be part of the improvements, but the majority of the expenditure will be building a more fan-friendly stadium.  Those in attendance at the meeting were able to view a video of these proposed enhancements created by the architectural firm Populous, which specializes in stadium construction and renovations.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, Populous says the improvements will add to the "intensity and intimacy of the game," as well as increase stadium capacity  by 3 000 seats.

  According to one of the attendees at Monday's meeting, the improvements to FAES include a berm with popular lawn seating along the 3rd baseline, a Tiki Bar in right-center field, a playground for kids, and several breezeways to help improve stadium ventilation.  With the park sheltered somewhat from the breezes off of the Gulf, the last upgrade may help thick-skinned northerners on hot March afternoons.  A year-round Blue Jays merchandise store will also be part of the project.

  The Bobby Mattick minor league complex will be enlarged to accommodate three new fields, with a state-of-the-art training and medical facility in the middle of the complex.  This had been high on Shapiro's wish list of upgrades.  My great internet friend +baseballbetsy , who was part of the Dunedin committee, wrote a very detailed and thorough post about the new facilities and the whole process here.

  Timelines for the project are said to be very aggressive, with most of the work completed by the opening of 2019 spring training if the project is approved.  The deal has yet to be approved, and sources of financing on Dunedin's part still need to be worked out, but the Blue Jays are now that much closer to staying in their spring training home of 40 years.

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blue Jays Release Instructional League Roster

J.B. Woodman - Vancouver Province photo


  The Toronto Blue Jays today released their list of invitees to Instructional League play in Florida.
The league dates back to 1958, and has served as a place where top prospects can go to receive more detailed and intensive instruction from the team's staff of minor league instructors.  It can be also used for rehabbing veterans who missed time due to injury, or minor league players who are being asked to switch positions.
   Instructs, as it's commonly called, begin in late September, and wrap up in late October.  A typical day begins with on-field instructions and drills from 9 am until noon, and then a game played under controlled conditions at 1 pm. It's a key time for the organization's top executives to watch and evaluate these players in person.
  An invitation to Instructs signals to a prospect that the organization thinks enough of their potential to invited them down to further refine their skills.  The time can be very valuable.  RHP Sean Reid-Foley was taught a new, simplified delivery at last fall's instructs, and had a dominant season at two levels before being shut down in August.  Other times, pitchers are sent to Instructs to work on a new pitch, or refine command of one of their secondary pitches.

   The 2016 roster, with some thoughts:

Pitchers:


  A couple of names stand out:
-Maximo Castillo, who more than held his own as a 17 year old in the GCL this year.  His numbers weren't glittering (17% K rate, 3.74 FIP) but he was one of the youngest players in the league.
-Yennsy Diaz may have led Appy League qualifiers in ERA, but after finally starting to work more down in the zone in August experienced some success.  He sat 93-95 with his fastball for much of the season.  He's raw, but still has lots of projection left.  Here's a look, thanks to Baseball America:

video

-Jose Espada was the club's 6th round pick from Puerto Rico in 2015, and had a successful debut season in the GCL.  He did not fare as well in the Appy League this year.  He's another one of those long, lean, athletic pitchers the organization covets.
-Clinton Hollon is an electric-armed pitcher who has missed two seasons due to Tommy John surgery (2014), and a pair of drug suspensions (2016).  He is looking to get his career back on track. 
-Zach Jackson was selected in the 4th round this past June.  He pitched mostly in relief in college, and pitched exclusively out of the bullpen after being drafted, striking out 23 in 17 innings with Vancouver.  He could move quickly through the system in a relief role.
-Kelyn Jose has an absolutely electric arm, hitting 100 several times with his FB this summer with Bluefield.  He sits 95-97, but has had his troubles finding the plate, walking more (19) than striking out (17) in 17.2 innings.
-Justin Maese is easily the most impressive name on this list.  In only his second pro season, the 2015 2nd rounder out of Texas HS ball advanced as far as Lansing.  Last year at Instructs, he learned a new slider from departed Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator Sal Fasano.
-Angel Perdomo led both the Blue Jays system and the Midwest League in strikeouts with 157 in 127 innings.  Perdomo seemed to wear down a bit in August, although he may have been working on his secondaries in order to get to the next level.
-2016 1st rounder T.J. Zeuch gets great extension from his 6'7" frame, and will no doubt have his mechanics and secondaries fine tuned this fall.

Catchers

 -Ryan Gold was a 27th rounder out of South Carolina HS this year, and hit well (.280/.359/.402) in the GCL this summer.
-Javier Hernandez is a defence-first player who has already drawn raves about his play behind the plate.  His bat, to this point, has been a different matter.
-Matt Morgan was a highly regarded 4th rounder in 2014 who has struggled greatly (.151/.253/.240) in his three years of pro ball.  Despite his experience, he was the youngest Catcher on Bluefield's roster to open the season.
-Max Pentecost missed all of the 2015 recovering from a pair of shoulder surgeries.  The 2014 1st rounder returned to action with Lansing in May, and was promoted to Dunedin in July.  He hit .302/.361/.486 at both levels.  His 2016 action, of course was all at DH, and with the bevy of pitchers at Instructs, he will be needed to help catch them.  Don't expect him return to his duties behind the plate in game action until next Spring Training, however.
-Yorman Rodriguez has mashed (.318/.379/.438) in two years of pro ball, and earned a promotion to the GCL this summer.  He split his time with the GCL Jays between DH, C, and 1B, indicating that maybe a position switch will be coming up down the road.

Infielders

-Bo Bichette's name jumps off this list for prospects not named Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  The 2016 2nd pick was hammering GCL pitching (.421/.440/.724), and was rumoured to be on his way to Bluefield when a ruptured appendix interrupted his season on July 21st.  He missed over a month, but came back to go 3-8 in the final two games of the season.  Bichette split time between 2B and SS this year, but the son of the former MLBer will be given every opportunity to stick at short.
-Cavan Biggio, another son of a former Major Leaguer (and Hall of Famer) acquitted himself well mostly at Vancouver his summer after being taken in the 5th round ouf of Notre Dame in June.
-What more can we say about Vladdy Jr?  As a 17 year old, he was one of the top prospects in the Appy League, demonstrating great strike zone judgement.  A late season slump caused his numbers to tail off a bit, but he's the real deal.  From all accounts, he was at least adequate at 3B, and the organization will no doubt want to further develop his skills at the hot corner.  Vlad was at Instructs last year, and hit a few of these:

-Bradley Jones led the Appy League in Home Runs and RBI, leading the league in Total Bases and Slugging, and was 5th in OPS.
-Nash Knight hit .402 at Bluefield in his second pro season, but didn't have enough ABs to qualify after being promoted to Vancouver in August.
-Mitch Nay was once one of the organization's top prospects, and was invited to spring training with the big club last year, but missed almost all of this year due to back problems.

Outfielders
-Josh Palacios stands out on this list to me.  The 2016 4th rounder may already be one of the best athletes in the organization, with quick-twitch skills at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths.
-J.B. Woodman was the team's 2nd round pick this year, and after spending most of the summer with Vancouver, hit .441/.487/.588 in 9 late season games with Lansing.  
-Chavez Young turned some heads in the GCL. The Freeport, Bahamas native (by way of Georgia HS) had 6 multi-hit outings over a 7 game stretch in August.  He heads up one of the more talented OF groups to attend Instructs in several years.  

  There are other names on this list that might stand out to others, but after five months of watching box scores, live MiLB Gameday feeds, live streamed games, Twitter
observations, and emails with personnel across the system, these are the ones that stood out the most to me.

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   One final note:  it has not been confirmed, but sources indicate that an announcement about the Blue Jays spring training facilities in Dunedin will be made in Florida on September 26th.  It has been suggested that a vastly improved (or replaced) Florida Auto Exchange Stadium will be the centerpiece of the new deal between the city and the team to replace the one that will expire next year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Clutchlings Notebook - Final Edition

Andrea Valo Photo

  The veteran Blue Jays farmhand tweeted the above comment in the wake of Tim Tebow signing with the Mets for a $100 000 bonus after a whirlwind courtship with several teams, the Blue Jays reportedly being one of them.
   There is no doubt about Tebow's athleticism, but at age 29, and not having stepped on a ball diamond for 11 years, he just not was worth the relatively small signing bonus (albeit one that far outnumbered the one Lawrence and hundreds of other minor leaguers received).
  Tebow will report to the Mets' Instructional League camp later this month, but he will be taking one day off per week to honour his college football broadcasting commitment.
  He will no likely help generate some early buzz for the Mets next spring training, but it's hard to see him breaking camp with a team at the end of March.  Never one to turn down a look at an athlete with some projection, the Blue Jays likely considered the lengthy odds against Tebow, and said no, thanks.

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   Former Toronto Sun Blue Jays beat reporter Bob Elliott reported on the Canadian Baseball Network site that the Blue Jays have cancelled the annual (since 1982) R. Howard Webster Award winners weekend. Named for one of the Blue Jays founders, the Award recognizes the MVPs of each Blue Jays affiliate.  For 30 years, the club has brought these prospects to Toronto late in the season to meet the media, and generally become familiar with the city.
  It's not surprising that the new regime has opted to discontinue this tradition, and may hold some sort of ceremony next spring.  With a full house in attendance almost every night, and tv ratings experiencing a boom, it's hard to think that the bottom line might be one of the reasons this event was cancelled.  Bringing the players to the city (as well as the organization's top scout for the year) was a great PR gesture, and introduced these future Blue Jays to the fans.  It was also great recognition for the players, many of whom toil in anonymity.  Few would be able to afford a weekend on a minor leaguer's salary, as well.
   Inquiries to the Blue Jays as to why the event has been ended have gone unanswered.
   Peering into the crystal ball, the Webster Award winners would be:

Buffalo - Jesus Montero
New Hampshire - Rowdy Tellez
Dunedin - Ryan McBroom
Lansing - Ryan Borucki
Vancouver - Joshua Palacios
Bluefield - Bradley Jones
GCL Blue Jays - Bo Bichette
DSL Blue Jays - Yorman Rodriguez



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    Three affiliates were involved in playoff races that went down to the final days of their respective regular seasons, but in the end, only Dunedin made it to the post-season.  With 10 days to go, both Bluefield and Lansing were in playoff positions, but both stumbled down the stretch, and found themselves on the outside looking in when the season was over.
   Dunedin played a lot of baseball in their best of three division final with cross-town rival Tampa, a Yankees affiliate.  While the major league partners were doing battle last week in New York, the minor league teams played an epic series, with Tampa the eventual winner.
   Game 1, played in Tampa, was a classic pitcher's duel.  The teams traded runs in the 3rd inning, then were shut down the rest of the way by the Yankees' Yefrey Ramirez, and the D-Jays' Luis Santos, who struck out 10 over 8 innings.  The end of 9 innings saw the teams still deadlocked at 1.  Both had runners in scoring position with two outs in their halves of the 11th, but couldn't score.  Tampa finally scored in the top of the 13th when top prospect Gleyber Torres cashed in the winning run on a double to left.  The D-Jays were blanked in their half of the inning, and Tampa had a 1-0 lead in the series.
  Facing elimination in game 2, the D-Jays got to work quickly, as an Anthony Alford walk to lead the game off eventually came around to score on a Max Pentecost sac fly.  Dunedin added a pair in the top of the 2nd, but Tampa got those two runs back in their half of the 2nd on a Home Run off of starter Jon Harris.  The teams traded zeroes until the bottom of the 8th, when Tampa tied the score.  Not to be undone, the D-Jays re-took the lead in the top of the 9th, only to have Tampa tie things up in the bottom half.
   Headed to extras again, the bullpens for both clubs held the fort until things burst open in the top of the 15th for Dunedin:

    Tampa failed to score in their turn at bat in the 15th, so the series was headed to a third and deciding game.
   The home Yanks scored first in the bottom of the first inning, but Dunedin got that run back on a solo HR by Ryan McBroom in the 2nd.  Tampa scored again in the bottom of the 4th, but the D-Jays matched that with a run in the 5th, and took the lead with 4 more in the 6th.
   The bottom of the 6th proved to be the turning point in the series, however, as Tampa scored 6 times against tiring Dunedin starter Connor Fisk, taking a 9-6 lead.  The D-Jays scored a run in the 7th, and narrowed the lead to one by scoring a run in the top of the 9th, but stranded pinch-runner Josh Almonte, who came into the game to run for Pentecost after he had doubled in Dunedin's 8th run.  With the tying run in scoring position and only one out, Tampa reliever Jordan Foley struck out Matt Dean and Mike Reeves to preserve the win, giving the Yankees the series win in the process.
   It was a great series for both sides.  Dunedin's J.D. Davis hit .467 for the series, including a 5-7 night in game two.  Dunedin rode a 43-23 second half to reach the post season, one of the best half season records for a Toronto affiliate in recent memory.

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   They came to pro ball from three different, non-traditional directions.  But 2016 ended on a high note for right-handed pitchers Jordan Romano, Jackson Lowery, and Gabe Noyalis.
   Romano, a Markham, Ontario native, was playing for the Ontario Blue Jays (a Toronto-based travel ball team), when he played in a tournament in Oklahoma.  The former Canadian national junior team member caught the eye of a recruiter at Connors State, a junior college in Muskogee.  He pitched for the Cowboys for two seasons before moving to Oral Roberts, a Division 1 school about an hour away.  Romano served as the Golden Eagles closer, and was drafted after his junior year in the 10th round by the Blue Jays in 2014.
  Romano had a strong pro debut, striking out 34 hitters in 28 innings (all but 3 of them with Bluefield), and headed into 2015 full of optimism.  A torn UCL near the end of spring training put his plans on hold, as Romano underwent Tommy John surgery, and missed the entire season.
   Lowery attended Central Arkansas out of high school as an infielder, but transferred after his freshman year to Meridian (MS) Community College to become a pitcher.  The next year, the Arkansas native returned home to realize a dream and pitch for the Razorbacks.  In his senior year, he became a mainstay in long relief for Arkansas late in the season.  Undrafted after that season, the sinker/slider pitcher signed as a free agent in early July of 2015.  Lowery was determined to prove the teams that passed on him wrong.  He pitched in the GCL and at Bluefield last summer.
  Gabe Noyalis may have taken the most unconventional route to pro ball of this trio.  Noyalis pitched for Bucknell in his first year of college play, then transfered to D3 powerhouse Misericordia for his sophomore season, only to walk away from the game completely after that campaign.  He did start to hit the weight room regularly after that, and fell in love with lifting.  Baseball was off his radar until the spring of 2015, when his former high school coach asked him to throw some BP to the team prior to a state playoff game.  Noyalis hit 91 with this fastball, and with some encouragement got in touch with Blue Jays scout Matt Anderson, who was his 7th Grade basketball coach.  After auditioning for a few teams, Noyalis signed with the Jays after hitting 98 at Anderson's baseball camp in Texas.

 
     Romano threw himself into his rehab after his surgery last spring,  was pitching off a mound again by January, and was throwing batting practice a month later.  Held behind as spring training camp broke, he was itching to get into game action.  Romano, who was told he would be a starter this year, began pitching in two and three inning stints in extended in April, and was sitting 92-94 with his fastball.  By late May, he was up to 5 innings, as the club determined his readiness to get back into competition.  His first appearance in 22 months came on June 13th, as he limited Great Lakes to one run and two hits over 7, striking out 7.  He struggled at times with his fastball command, but it improved as the summer progressed, and he described his slider as, "the best it's ever been."  He put everything together in a late August start against Dayton, fanning 10 in 6 innings in one of the best starts by a Blue Jays minor league pitcher this year.  He was removed from the start for precautionary reasons in the top of the 7th after losing control of a couple of fastballs and was shaking his arm as he walked off the mound, but tests revealed no damage, and he returned to action in a piggyback role with top draft pick T.J. Zeuch before the season ended.
   For the season, Romano was 3-2 with a 2.11 ERA, which would have led the Midwest League if he had enough innings to qualify.  He struck out 72 hitters in as many innings, walked 27, and MWL hitters managed only a .191 average against him.
  When asked what he learned from his first year of full season ball, Romano responded, "(I) Learned a good routine with throwing and working out that helped my arm feel good.  A big thing is that if I had a bad start or two I shouldn't try to change a bunch of things.   Just try to stick with what got me here."  His plan for the off season is to improve his fastball command.  For next year, his goals are to improve his change up to the point where it's a viable third pitch, and make it as high as AA.

   Lowery stayed behind in extended when spring training broke, and was sent to Vancouver when short season play began in June.  Northwest League hitters were over matched against him, and after 9 appearances, he was on his way to Lansing.  Lowery was lights out for much of August for the Lugnuts, reeling off 8 scoreless outings at one point, but he had a couple of rough outings down the stretch as Lansing fell out of a playoff spot, and it weighed heavy on him, saying, "I didn't finish like I wanted and let my team down a few times.  (It) will make me better this off season."
   As to what lessons he took away from this season, Lowery observed:
I learned a lot this year. One of the biggest things I learned is to focus more on certain things in pregame throwing and limit my throws. I could definitely feel a difference when I didn't throw as much and made each throw important to what I needed to work on.  
  He also joked that he learned that the higher the level, the less he needs to throw his fastball.  Sometimes the best lessons are the most painful ones.
   Lowery's plan for the off season is to get stronger and put on weight - at 6'/175, Lowery has always been viewed as undersized.  He may have been a bit disappointed with how his season finished, but he put together an impressive body of work this year.

   Noyalis headed northwest with Lowery to begin the season with Vancouver as well, and had a pair of scoreless outings in his first mound action in four years.  The next six weeks did not go as well, and Noyalis' ERA ballooned to 8.41 by mid-August.  His final two weeks in the Northwest League were a much different story, as Noyalis ended the year with 4 scoreless outings in his final 5 appearances, striking out 4 in 2 innings in his final game.
     Noyalis reflected on his first pro season:
I learned a lot, mostly how to handle the workload of a professional season, the pace of the game, the ins and outs of a professional organization and how it's ran from a players perspective, what kind of pitcher I am/aim to be, things of that sort.
    One of the reasons the Blue Jays like having Vancouver as an affiliate is that it gives their prospects a brief taste of living in Canada, with it's different currency, and cross-border travel.  Noyalis enjoyed his time in British Colombia:
 (It) was a great experience that I'll never forget, the city was amazing and I couldn't have asked for a better host family.. I got to see Stanley Park but didn't make it to the (Grouse) Grind and I'm not sure if I saw the (Capilano) bridge but I was on a few of them.. I was also at Granville Island and I got to go downtown quite a bit.
   Noyalis' off season plans include getting as strong as possible while still maintaining his mobility, and when he resumes throwing at the end of October, he wants to focus on his fastball command by getting more consistent with his mechanics.

   All three took circuitous routes to get there, but they've already outlasted hundreds of other players to make it to full season ball (where Noyalis will be next year).  The road ahead is still a long one, and the trio faces tall odds to make it to MLB despite the progress they've made so far.   All three are reflective, articulate, and motivated young men, and it has been fascinating to follow their progress so far and have them share their thoughts on the journey.

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   The Lugnuts and Michigan State Spartans play an exhibition game every April on the eve of Lansing's home opener.  This year's game was snowed out, so it was moved to the day after Labour Day, which gave a chance for prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette to suit up for the Lugs.  Along with Toronto's own Connor Panas, who hit 16 round trippers for Lansing this year, the three took part in a pre-game Home Run Derby.
   Panas ultimately won the Derby, but Vlad Jr gave us all to look forward to next spring (when he should break camp with Lansing:

video

   Thanks to Chad Hillman for the video.  Chad watches a lot of Lugnuts and Tigers games, and live tweets his great insights.  Follow him at @HillmanChad.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Clinton Hollon Invited to Instructs

+baseballbetsy photo


  Toronto Blue Jays RHP prospect Clinton Hollon, who has lost considerable time to injury and suspension since he joined the organization, has been invited to the Blue Jays Instructional League camp later this month to resume his career.

  The electric-armed righty led his high school to a state title as a junior, but concerns about both his right elbow and makeup caused him to fall out of the first round of the 2013 draft, and he fell to the Blue Jays in the 2nd round. He pitched through elbow pain in his first pro season that year, and gutted it out some more the following spring, but ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2014.

  Hollon came back with a bang in June of 2015, quickly becoming the ace of Vancouver's staff before sizzling in his Midwest League debut with Lansing two months later.  

   That, unfortunately, has proven to be the high water mark of his career to date, as 2016 was a complete washout for Hollon.  A positive PED test for amphetamines in late August of 2015 cost him the last two weeks of that season, and would have cost him the first 8 weeks of 2016, but just a few weeks before his scheduled return, the Commissioner' Office announced another 50-game suspension for Hollon after he failed a second drug test for a drug of abuse.

  In the past, the club has shown little patience for players who have failed a drug of abuse test, but considering their investment in Hollon and a few other factors, they sent him home to Kentucky in May, where he has spent most of his time regrouping and pondering his future.  Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim confirmed that Hollon is now at the team's minor league complex in Dunedin working on his strength and conditioning, and will be taking part in Instructs once camp opens in a few weeks.

  Hollon formerly had a strong presence on social media, but understandably has cut back on his accessibility.   He has a great deal of promise, and here's to hoping that this is the first step in getting his career back on track.

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   In an unrelated note, Kim confirmed that C Max Pentecost, who was limited to DH duties at Lansing and Dunedin this year after losing all of 2015 to shoulder issues, will not be getting back behind the plate until next spring training.  There had been some thought that he might return at some point late this summer, but the club opted for caution with the 2014 1st rounder.  With Russell Martin firmly ensconced at the position in Toronto, there is no need to rush Pentecost, who will likely begin next year with Dunedin.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

6 Blue Jays Prospects Headed to Arizona

Ryan McBrrom - Clutchlings photo


  The Arizona Fall League was established almost a quarter century ago to serve as a finishing school for team's top prospects.  With play centered at the spring training homes of several MLB teams in the Phoenix area, it's the ideal lab for scouts to evaluate prospects' play against top competition.  Sometimes teams send players there to learn a new position or role, make up for missed time, or to generally have a chance to play against elite competition.
   When Tommy John surgery shut him down for the last half of 2013 and the first half of the following season, Roberto Osuna had a chance to pitch in a relief role to get some added innings in Arizona in the fall of 2014.  The team saw enough to invite him to spring training the following year, where he impressed enough (even though he had never pitched above High A) to break camp with the team, and the rest is history.
   Six Blue Jays prospects and pitching coach Vince Horsman will make the trek southwest when play begins in October to suit up for the Mesa Solar Sox.  The league features six teams, and the schedule opens on October 11th, with the season wrapping up with the playoff final on November 19th.  The Fall Stars game on November 5th will be televised, but few other games likely will be.  Fortunately, there is a bevy of prospect evaluators live Tweeting the games, so there are sources of information.

   Here's a look at the invited Blue Jays
Conner Greene RHP
   The organization's top pitching prospect had his development intentionally slowed this season.  Despite finishing last year at AA (in his first year of full season ball), Greene began 2016 back at Dunedin, with a goal of improving his fastball command.  Experimenting with several arm angles, Greene's results in April and May would suggest that he was struggling, but it was more a product of coming up with an effective arm slot - as fans, we sometimes don't realize that minor league pitchers do not always approach a start with having a goal of producing a W for the team.  One Blue Jays prospect whose change up needs refining said that he is under orders to throw 10 of them in a game.  As a minor league pitcher, there are always things to work on.
  Greene began to blow Florida State League hitters away in early June, and was back in New Hampshire by July.  He tossed a couple of gems with the Fisher Cats, most noticeably six innings of no-hit ball in mid-August.  While he can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s, he's at his most effective when he works down in the zone, inducing weak contact.

Anthony Alford OF
   There's nothing wrong with a prospect facing adversity early in his career.  If he treats it as a learning experience, and keeps to the fundamentals and skills he's been taught by the organizations's instructors, he'll eventually break out of it.
  Such is the case for the Blue Jays top prospect entering the 2016 season, who scuffled through an injury-plagued first half of the year after a breakout 2015 campaign, his first since quitting football to focus solely on baseball.
  Alford was injured in a home plate collision on Dunedin's opening game, then missed time with a concussion suffered just a few weeks after his return in May.
   Consistency at the plate was elusive for Alford in the season's first half, and there was a lot of swing and miss to his game, as his K rate reached 30%.  Still, Alford works the count well, gets on base, and uses the whole field, and what has to be encouraging to the club is the 8 Home Runs and .459 slugging percentage he's posted in the second half, suggesting that the power is starting to show.
  Alford is in Arizona to get more reps, and to be challenged by the top level pitching he's going to face.  It's another stepping stone on his way to the big leagues.

Matt Dermody LHP
   Dermody was yet another tall, lean (6"5", 180) pitcher the Jays stockpiled during the Brian Parker/Alex Anthopoulos era.  I saw him start in Vancouver in 2013, weeks after he had been selected in the 28th round out of Iowa.
  Dermody was drafted out of high school (where he threw the first 6-inning, 18K perfect game in state history) by the Pirates in the 26th round, but opted to attend college in his home state.  The Rockies chose him in the 29th round in 2011, but he opted to stay in school.  The Diamondbacks took him in the 23rd round in 2012, and Dermody was on the verge of signing, until an MRI revealed a 40% UCL tear. Dermody went back to school and rehabbed his elbow, but had little signing leverage, and the Blue Jays, always big fans of projection, chose him late, and shipped him off the to GCL.
  My notes from his Vancouver outing showed that he sat 92 with his fastball, which had some life down in the zone, but he struggled with his secondaries.  He split time as a starter and reliever with Lansing the following season, and by 2015, he was a full time bullpen arm with Dunedin.  After giving up 98 hits in 77 FSL innings last year, there was little to suggest that he would be due for a breakout season a year later.
   Repeating Dunedin this year, he quickly rose to New Hampshire and then Buffalo, joining the Bisons solid bullpen corps.  His numbers this year tell a different story, as he posted a 1.82 ERA between the three levels over 54 innings.
   What has been responsible for Dermody's transformation?  The usual suspects - adding some deception to his delivery to make him tougher on lefthanded hitters, and improved command of his fastball and slider.

   Dermody's rise up the ladder was made complete by a promotion to Toronto when major league rosters expanded today.  He likely won't play a huge role in September, but gives the bullpen some much-needed southpaw depth.

Danny Jansen C
   The Blue Jays have stockpiled pitching since 2010.  They seem to be doing the same with catchers, which is not such a bad idea, given the uniqueness and demands of the position, and the length of time it takes to develop one.
  Jansen has moved steadily up the ladder, spending this year at Dunedin, but has missed parts of the last three seasons due to injury, and the team is likely anxious to speed up his development.  Early in his career, the highly-regarded 2013 16th rounder was drawing raves for his catching skills.  He is already an excellent pitch framer and blocker of balls in the dirt, and has been praised for his ability to handle a pitching staff.
   Jansen will never be a middle-of-the-order hitter, but the organization thinks enough of his skills to give him some added experience in Arizona.  Even with Max Pentecost and Reese McGuire ahead of him on the Blue Jays catching depth charts, there are many who have said that Jansen could play in the majors one day.

Tim Mayza LHP
    Minor league relievers don't tend to have a lot of value.  Their main job, it seems to an observer, is to protect the valuable young arms of the starting rotation from having to go beyond their pitch count, which usually leads to a fairly high attrition rate.
   Lefty bullpen arms can sometimes be a different matter, and Mayza is developing into one of them.  Armed with a fastball that can touch 95, and complemented by an improving slider, Mayza had a breakout season with Lansing last year, and sandwiched a promotion to AA between stints with Dunedin this year, fanning 63 in as many innings.
   Mayza has a "tall and fall" delivery, and with his back partially turned to home plate, can be tough on left handed hitters, and profiles as another southpaw specialist.  He struggled a bit with his command at AA, but the organization felt comfortable in challenging him with an assignment to the AFL.

Ryan McBroom 1B/DH
   Originally drafted by the Royals after his junior year at West Virginia, McBroom opted to go back to school, and the Blue Jays nabbed him in the 15th round in 2014.  And all he's done in his first three pro seasons is hit: .297/.339/.502 at Vancouver, .315/.387/.482 (and Midwest League MVP) at Lansing, and .279/.329/.477 mostly with Dunedin this year.
   McBroom is rarely mentioned in talk of the system's best prospects, however.  At 6'3"/230, he's pretty limited defensively, and while he's passed L.B. Dantzler as a prospect, his path upwards will likely always be blocked by Rowdy Tellez.  The team experimented with him in the outfield last year, and perhaps there will be a return to that in Arizona, but McBroom's future is entirely dependent on his bat.
  But what a bat it is - McBroom has topped 20 Home Runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and while he scuffled in a brief trial with New Hampshire this summer, it will be very interesting to see how he fares against tougher pitching in Arizona.  Success in the southwest may help him break through as a prospect.