Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alford Regaining Top Prospect Lustre

milb.com photo

   Toronto Blue Jays OF prospect Anthony Alford burst onto the top prospect scene in 2015 with a breakout season at two levels which landed him on most Top 100 prospect lists.
   After fully committing to baseball after giving up on college football the previous fall, the raw (just over 100 PAs in three prior pro seasons since being drafted in 2012) but toolsy outfielder showed an ability to get on base, game-changing speed, and great range in the outfield.
   Poised to rise even higher on those lists, Alford's 2016 season was dealt a serious blow when he was injured in a home plate collision on Opening Day, and even though he was back on the field a month later, he never really recovered.

   One month into his first season at AA, however, and Alford is quickly regaining much of his former status.
After going 1-3 on Friday with a double, walk, and a run scored, he is 2nd in the Eastern League in hitting, and is near the top of many offensive categories in sporting a .397/.472/.556 line.
  After returning to play in May of last year, he suffered a concussion in an outfield collision, and missed several more weeks.  Upon his return, his timing was off, and he struggled at the plate.  His 2016 stats may have been heavily influenced by his slow start, but his second half of the season was a different story, which we noted last fall:
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
   There are several factors which have likely contributed to Alford's ascent this season, dating back to spring training.  In his 3rd MLB training camp, he finally became more comfortable (he admitted to being wide-eyed in his first one, but was very impressed by the work ethic of the likes of Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson), and with the Blue Jays opting to rest their core players and bring them in gradually, Alford received a great deal of work this spring, which no doubt helped hone his pitch-recognition skills and helped to give him a jump start on the season.  A conversation he had with Blue Jays outfield instructor Hall-of-Famer Tim Raines helped, too:
 "Being blessed to be able to talk to a Hall of Famer and just pick his brain about the stuff he struggled with and the things that helped him along in his career, it made my level of expectation higher. It gives me something more to strive for."

   Being healthy has no doubt been another important factor in Alford's hot start. Consistency and reps are important to any player; for one still learning the game, being in the lineup every day is probably much more so.  To make up for lost development time, Alford was sent to the Arizona Fall League last October, a showcase for some of the game's top prospects.  He impressed many during his time there.  The time spent facing advanced pitching appears to have paid off in spades this spring, as he continues to work deep into counts and use the whole field:

MLBfarm photo

   An overlooked aspect to Alford's success this spring may be the protection he's receiving from 1B Ryan McBroom in the New Hampshire batting order.  Primarily a lead off hitter prior to this season, Alford has been shifted to the 3rd spot in the lineup, and you have to wonder if the hulking presence of McBroom in the on deck circle has helped Alford get a better selection of pitches to choose from.

   The gap between A and AA is considered to be the biggest in the minor leagues.  Hitters and Pitches at AA can no longer get by on the strength of their physical talents alone.  For many, "having a plan," is the key to their reaching and succeeding at that level:  Pitchers come to understand that they can no longer simply blow the ball by hitters, and Hitters have to realize that they can't sit back and wait to hammer mistakes like they could at the lower levels of the game.  Pitchers at AA are better at upsetting the timing of hitters, whether it's through better fastball command, or more effective secondary pitches.  What has to be most encouraging to the Blue Jays organization about Alford's start is that he's putting the ball in play at a greater rate than ever before. After striking out about 25% of the time through his first several minor league seasons, Alford has cut that down to about 15%.  Making contact and using his speed puts tremendous pressure on opposing defences - even though he's stolen 7 bases already, that's the game-changing aspect of his speed. On any ball that finds a gap between fielders, he's a legitimate threat for extra bases.

   Added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster last fall in order to keep him from being exposed in the Rule 5 draft, there might be a temptation to rush Alford's timetable at this point.  It's worth keeping in mind that this is only his third full season, and he missed considerable time last year.  The Blue Jays will likely be content to keep him at New Hampshire for at least a half season with a possible promotion to AAA Buffalo, but with the team facing the prospect of a tear down after a slow start, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see him patrolling centrefield at the Rogers Centre sometime in 2018.

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Regular readers of this space likely know that I've written more about Alford than any other Blue Jays prospect.  As one who works with young people in my day job, I find his story to be very inspiring. That someone who has faced the struggles at a young age he has, and has a prodigious athletic gift can remain so humble and accommodating demonstrates great character.
Here are just a few of the things I've written about him in the past, if you're interested in learning more about his story:






Monday, April 24, 2017

MLB Draft Beginning to Take Shape



  With the MLB draft a little over a month away, many teams' draft boards are lining up.  As is usually the case, a couple of players have distanced themselves from the pack:  California prep two-way player Hunter Greene, and Louisville LHP Brendan McKay.

   The Blue Jays have a pair of first round picks - the 22nd, and the 28th (compensation for the loss of free agent parrot walker Edwin Encarnacion.  In the latest mock draft at Baseball America, Missouri State 3B has Jake Burger is pegged at #22.

   There are a number of reasons why Burger, who we had going to the Blue Jays in our previous draft article, is a good fit for the Blue Jays.  They have made the usual noise about taking the Best Player Available, but they showed a preference for more polished college players last year, and given the success they've had with those picks, Burger (who has been labelled the best power bat in the draft) checks several boxes.  He's decent enough a defender at 3rd to remain there for a while, and his bat speed is obvious.

    Burger currently leads the Missouri Valley Conference in OBP and Slugging, and is 3rd in Average, while fanning only 19 times in almost 170 PAs.  He has not seen a lot of strikes, but he has hammered many that have strayed too close to the strike zone.  The concerns about him involve his stocky physique.  Less obvious is an arm bar that some scouts feel will be exploited by pro pitchers. He's been ranked as high as 12th on some boards, and as low as the mid-20s on others.  Given the success the Blue Jays have had in transforming some of their prospects in terms of strength and conditioning, there's every reason to believe they could perform the same kind of metamorphosis with Burger.

  UCLA RHP Griffin Canning is another player who several mock drafts suggested would be a good fit for the Blue Jays.  With a four-pitch mix and a fastball that's topping out at 96, he's moving up many draft boards, however, and may not be around when it's the Blue Jays' turn with either first round pick.
   North Carolina prep southpaw MacKenzie Gore was initially ranked in the 20s, but the high-kicking lefty with the plus fastball has risen up several boards, and probably will be gone by the time the Blue Jays make their first pick.
   
   A player ranked consistently in the late 20s is South Carolina RHP Wil (one 'L") Crowe, a stocky (6'2"/250) starter who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  The Indians took him in the 21st round last June, but he decided to return to South Carolina for his senior year.  Prior to blowing out his elbow, he was on the verge of becoming the Gamecock's ace, and likely would have been a second round selection.  With a fastball in the mid-90s and a solid four pitch mix, Crowe could be the kind of under-the-radar pick who moves quickly.  He was dominant in a start this past weekend against the Gators in Florida - the last time he walked off the mound there two years ago was his last outing prior to Tommy John.

   A couple of other names that may be available and have been linked to the Blue Jays include North Carolina SS Logan Warmouth, who fits the Best Player Available mode, and Hagen Danner, a California HS RHP who has fastball command and a nice 12-6 curve.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bradley Jones: Bat on the Rise

Clutchlings Photo

     It's often easy to overlook a player.  Bradley Jones was an 18th round pick out of the College of Charleston last June, and it was easy to peg him as a bat-first, limited defensively player.  Certainly, Baseball America was not a huge fan of his overall game:

Jones draws some comparisons to former College of Charleston teammate Carl Wise--a fourth round pick by the Blue Jays last June--but his tools aren't quite as loud. He was some versatility, actually playing shortstop over the summer, but he's been primarily a first baseman and corner outfielder for the Cougars. Jones has above-average power and hit 11 home runs this spring but is a free swinger, and the Cougars' home ballpark helps hitters. Jones is a low motor player with mostly average tools and has the look of a utility type with power.

   After hitting 6 Home Runs in his first month at Bluefield, it was easy to suggest that as a college player, Jones was a bit advanced for that level.  In fact, I was surprised that he didn't start in Vancouver, but Christian Williams, who was taken in the 16th round a year earlier, was ahead of him on the 1st Base depth chart.
   Jones took off in August, hitting 9 Home Runs, en route to leading the Appy League in Homers, RBI, Total Bases, and Slugging.  That made him worth another look, but with two similar players ahead of him in the system in Rowdy Tellez and Ryan McBroom, Jones was not a player to be included in any top prospect discussions.  He was nowhere to be found in BA's Top Appy Prospects list and accompanying chat.

   Fast forward to this month, and that's all beginning to change.

   Jones, who went to Charleston as a shortstop, also played the corner outfield spots in college, in addition to 1st Base.  At instructs last fall, he spent considerable time at 2nd and 3rd in order to enhance his versatility.  That has allowed Lansing Manager Cesar Martin considerable flexibility this year to get Jones' potent bat into the Lugnuts lineup on a daily basis.  And that's paid off in spades, as Jones trails teammate Bo Bichette in Midwest League hitting, and he's near the top in most offensive categories.
  More importantly, after hitting mostly 6th in the opening games of the season, he's settled in at the 5th spot, providing protection in the lineup for his former Bluefield teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Jones has played 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and seen time at DH as he's mashed his way to a 1.219 OPS through the first two-plus weeks of the season.

   At the plate, Jones has a balanced approach.  Using only a slight leg kick, his bat drifts back slowly, and he brings his hands in tight to his body, getting his bat through the strike zone in time to consistently barrel up balls.

video
   h/t to @JaysBoard for the video...

   A concern has to be a swing that can be long, creating a swing-and-miss element (27.7% K rate last year, 28.6% so far this year), he is showing some improved plate discipline:

Clutchlings video/Youtube


  Defensively, Jones is at least adequate at the moment, and will likely improve with experience.  Not blessed with great speed, he has decent reactions to the ball, but has something of a crossfire throw, which allows him to unload the ball quickly after a smooth transfer, but he doesn't get a lot on it:


Clutchlings video/Youtube


   While Jones has been feasting on pitching in the low minors, the truer test of his bat-to-ball skills will come when he reaches High A and then AA.  Pitchers at those levels will have sharper command of their fastballs, and more effective secondary pitches.  For the moment thought, even though he's overshadowed by teammates Guerrero Jr and Bichette, Jones has become arguably the most dangerous bat in the Lansing lineup.  He leads the Midwest League in hits and Runs Batted In,  is tied for 1st in Homers, and is 2nd in Average and Slugging.  While there is some question as to where Bichette and Guerrero ultimately wind up on the field, Jones appears to be profiling as a super-utility guy, capable of playing a multitude of positions. The three should continue to move up the system ladder together, and it's time we start talking about Jones more as a result.
    Teenagers Bichette and Guerrero may have more remaining projection and potentially higher ceilings than the soon-to-be (in June) 22 year old Jones, but he is already proving his worth to the organization.

 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Max Pentecost - Coming Soon Behind the Plate


   One of the great things about being a blogger is that once you've established yourself (the extent of which can be debated), folks send tidbits your way that are not always available to the general public, like this kernel that came in during a thrilling Double OT Toronto Maple Leafs win:

  To wit:

  H/t to @JaysBoard, who runs a Blue Jays forum (bluejaysmessageboard.com), and a member who submitted the above who goes by the name of Spats.  

   Pentecost was the second of two first round selections (11th overall) in 2014, a year in which he was honoured with the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's Top College Catcher.
   
 Pentecost last saw action behind the plate with Vancouver on July 15, 2014.  He suited up for all of 19 games with the C's before being shut down with what was thought to be fatigue from a long college season, and a possible knee injury.  It turns out that there was significant damage to Pentecost's throwing shoulder, and three subsequent surgeries cost him all of 2015, and limited him to DH duties when he returned to action with Lansing in May of last year.
   Last fall, Blue Jays Player Development Director Gil Kim said the plan was to have Pentecost behind the plate in time for spring training.  Kim was not available for comment this weekend (I'll keep trying), but it would appear that that timetable was pushed back a bit.  
   Sending Pentecost to Extended Spring Training (which began yesterday) makes a great deal of sense. With the team's medical facility at the minor league complex, close tabs could be kept on him while he tests his shoulder in game action.  Today is an off-day for the D-Jays, who have a 7-game homestand coming up beginning on Monday.
   A healthy Pentecost would give the Blue Jays a wealth of depth at the receiving position.  Reese McGuire is working with future Blue Jays teammates Conner Greene, Tim Mayza, and Sean Reid-Foley at New Hampshire, while the oft-injured Danny Jansen, who has been lauded for his skills and leadership, has started the season behind the plate for Dunedin, and has gotten off to a hot (.835 OPS) start.  Having Jansen in the lineup would allow the Blue Jays to ease Pentecost into action behind the plate, allowing him to alternate between Catcher and Designated Hitter until he was fully ready to resume full-time duties.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Look at the Lugnuts

Clutchlings Photo

  It was a beautiful day in Central Michigan Saturday as the Lansing Lugnuts opened their home Midwest League season at Cooley Law School Stadium in the State Capitol.  24 hours before the area -like much of Southern Ontario - had seen snow, and remnants of it could be found along I-69 after crossing the Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia, but conditions were perfect for spring baseball.

  The Lugnuts were playing a return engagement with the nearby Great Lakes Loons, who the Lugs had swept a doubleheader from the night before (the opener on Thursday had been a victim of the storms sweeping the Midwest).

  Lansing has a diverse lineup of players mostly new to full-season ball, with a roster comprised of products of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and 13 different states in the U.S. - but, surprisingly, no Canadians, with as many as four of them on the roster last year.

  A guy making the drive across the border was treated to a gorgeous day (as was the following day), with a good view of batting and infield practice, a street party introducing the players and new team logo prior to the game, and a clear (if not quickly cooling) April sky as the 6 pm game time approached.

  I am not a scout, and while decades of playing, watching, and studying the game have given me the ability to do a reasonable impression of one, I encourage you to corroborate the following opinions with a real, live version of one.

  Here are some notes from my weekend.....

P Patrick Murphy
   Few players on the field have struggled through as much adversity as the Arizona RHP has. Blue Jays scout (now cross-checker) Blake Crosby was in Chandler, AZ (a suburb of Phoenix) in 2012 scouting 3B Mitch Nay, who the Blue Jays took as a sandwich pick that June.  He was intrigued by Murphy, who was a junior on the Chandler team.  Just prior to the state playoffs, Murphy tore his UCL in a pre-game warmup (although he went on to pitch a complete-game shutout).  He sat out his senior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  The Blue Jays still felt encouraged enough about his long-term prospects to take him in the 3rd round that year (2013).
Clutchlings Photo

   Murphy did not make his pro debut until 2014, and he only made three appearances that season before being shut down with an injury.  He was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, and underwent surgery to remove a rib that was pinching a nerve, leading to arm numbness.  In addition, he had a different nerve removed from his elbow; everything added up to costing him all of the 2015 season.
   Murphy didn't return to action until May of last year - a total absence of 671 days.  He pitched well in short outings for Lansing, but was sent down to Vancouver when their season opened in June. After C's ace Justin Maese was promoted to Lansing a few weeks later, Murphy took over the role of Vancouver's top starter, and later was named the Northwest League's 12-best prospect by Baseball America for his efforts.

   The 6'4/220 Murphy looks every the part a pitcher, and he has the build of a starter, a potential innings-eater. He throws a fastball, curve, and change.  Murphy needed only 12 pitches to get through the first inning, sitting between 88-91, and hitting 92 with his FB.  He did give up a pair of hard-hit balls, one of which dropped in for a single.
   In the 2nd, Murphy showed the effects of a long bottom of the first in which his teammates put four runs on the board.  The first five pitches he threw were balls; his 7th was a double laced down the LF line, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with none out.  Both runners eventually came in to score, but Murphy unleashed his curve that inning, a frame in which he needed 18 pitches and a nifty play by converted 2nd Baseman Bradley Jones for Murphy to get out of.
   The 3rd inning was a coming out party for that curve.  Murphy was able to command both sides of the plate with his fastball, getting ahead of the hitters, then dropping Uncle Charlie in for strikes. With his over-the-top delivery, Murphy gets good tilt and a 12-6 action on his curve, and even when hitters sat on it in this game, the movement and downward action on it were so effective that they were not able to make solid contact with it.  He did give up a Home Run that inning on a fastball that caught too much of the plate - with its high outfield walls, Cooley is usually a pitcher-friendly park, but with the breeze blowing out to center field that night, 4 long balls were hit.
  Murphy threw 11 pitches in the 3rd, 13 in the 4th, and only 8 in the 5th, his shortest of the night.  He began to rely on the curve more, throwing the occasional change, to miss a number of bats.  Murphy did give up a lead off double, followed by an infield single to the hole that Bo Bichette showed good range to simply get to, but his throw was no where near strong enough to get the runner at first.  Jones started a neat double play to get the first two outs of the inning.
   Back out for the 6th at 62 pitches, Murphy struggled due to some likely fatigue, and some long innings while his teammates plated more runs.  After giving up a double, single,  run-scoring double, and another single, Murphy was done for the night.  After pitching mostly effectively through the first 5, Murphy was squared up that inning, even though he hit 95, and sat 91-93.  After waging a mostly winning battle with his fastball all night, his command had clearly deserted him that inning.
   On the night, Murphy gave up 9 hits in 5 innings, along with 6 runs (all earned).  He walked one and fanned four.  Murphy threw 78 pitches, 51 of them for strikes - he was pitching from behind for much of the night, throwing only 11 first-strike pitches to the 24 hitters he faced.  Murphy recorded 6 outs via ground balls, and 3 by fly balls.
   While he had difficulties with his command on the night, his curve is emerging as a wipeout pitch.  The Blue Jays are likely hoping that his command will improve as the season progresses and the weather warms up, which will make his curve that much more effective a weapon.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr
   Much has been made of the cream of the 2015 international free agent crop.  After only one short season of play, the son of the future Hall-of-Famer has become the Blue Jays top prospect, and a Baseball America cover boy.
   During batting practice, Guerrero demonstrates an easy, loose swing that generates tremendous power at the tender age of 18 due to his bat speed, and thick, solid lower half.  As he gets older and becomes stronger, it's easy to project that power up even more.  He shows good judgement at the plate, seldom expanding his strike zone.


   In the field, he has been described as an adequate defender since being switched to 3rd last year. His stocky build does limit his range somewhat, but he does have quick reactions to the ball, and his arm is at least average.  He may not remind anyone of Brooks Robinson, and his ultimate position may be across the diamond, but Guerrero shows enough at the hot corner to remain there for the short and medium-term future.
   On the bases, Guerrero may not be a speed demon, but he gets down the first base line well, and is a smart and sometimes aggressive baserunner.  He won't get any faster as he ages, but it's hard to see him becoming a base clogger.
   Guerrero walked on four pitches to load the bases in his first AB on Saturday.  He lined up a single on the middle in his second, and flew out softly to right in his third.  Coming up for the fourth time in the 6th, Guerrero drilled a pitch down the left field line for a two-out double, then lined out to right in his final plate appearance.
   Guerrero has said that he wants to be in the majors by the time he is 20, and while the team no doubt wants to take their time with his development, he is only going to get better and better.  His final place on the field may be in question, but there is no doubt that his bat will soon play.
   As much as we are all in something of a rush to see this kid reach the big leagues, he still has some growing to do.  He may not dominate the Midwest League, mainly because if the rest of the league shows a disinclination to throw him fastballs anywhere near the strike zone like the Great Lakes' pitchers did all weekend, he's just not going to put up ridiculous numbers unless he gets some support behind him in the lineup. If he had been raised stateside, he would be a high school senior, and a likely first overall pick in June.  The Blue Jays in all likelihood will be patient with him, and let him continue to develop his all-around game.
   He'll be worth the wait, friends.

Bo Bichette 
   The Blue Jays scored something of a coup by taking the Florida high schooler with their second of two second round picks last June.  Bichette laid waste to GCL pitching last summer, scorching his way to a .427/.451/.732 line despite missing a month of the season with appendicitis (Bichette hinted that missing so much time was not his idea, but the Blue Jays had 1.1 million reasons for being cautious with him).  Despite that small sample size, he was ranked the GCL's 4th best prospect by BA, and the Blue Jays's 8th by MLB Pipeline.
   Prior to the draft, there was some concern about Bichette's hitting mechanics.  With a high back elbow and an extreme bat wrap to trigger his swing, some thought pro pitchers might exploit him on the inner half.
   So much for that.
   The Blue Jays did little to change his mechanics last year, but the wrap has been quieted down this year. He still makes consistently hard contact, and his BP prior to the home opener was a sight to behold.  His older brother Dante Jr tore up the GCL in his first pro season, and has mostly struggled at the plate ever since, but Bo is clearly cut from a different mould.  He can work a count, but he can also jump on a first-pitch fastball like he did in this At Bat:


   
  In the field, the Blue Jays seem content to let Bichette play mostly shorstop, even with the presence of a superior defender in Yeltsin Gudino on the roster.  Bichette has good reactions to the ball, and even though few were hit to him over the course of the first weekend of play, he showed solid instincts when he tracked a grounder to the hole between 3rd and 2nd, but skipped his throw to first in a vain attempt to nab the runner. In pre-game practice, Bichette showed a great work ethic, fast-twitch reflexes, but only an average arm. That long throw from the hole may continue to be a challenge. There is still room for improvement, but like Guerrero at 3rd, it's hard to see Bichette staying at SS in the long-term.  He will be a bat-first player wherever he ends up.

J.B Woodman
   Taken a few picks ahead of Bichette, the collegian was ranked the 6th best Northwest League prospect by BA last year.  Scouts noted the amount of hard contact he made on both fastballs and off-speed pitches.  If there's one nagging concern from last year, it's the 72K's in just under 200 ABs, and while Woodman works the count in most of his plate appearances, there appears to be a fair amount of swing and miss to his game - in the first four games of the season, he fanned at least twice in each contest.  Woodman's swing can be a bit long, which probably contributes to his misses.



 While is still is early, it will be interesting to see if Woodman can make more contact as the season progresses.
   In the outfield, Woodman covers a good amount of ground, and the lasers he threw during pre-game practice show why some scouts suggest he profiles as a right fielder.

Bradley Jones
   Overshadowed by his younger teammate Guerrero last year, Jones led the Appy League in Home Runs. He  underwent a position change last fall at Instructs, trading his 1st Baseman's mitt for an infielder's glove. Jones started the first game of the year at 2nd, and the next game at 3rd.  In the first, he started a nifty 4-unassisted-3 double play, and in the 2nd, made a nice play on a slow roller and fired across the diamond to retire the hitter.


   Jones does have something of a side arm throwing motion, and while that allows him to unload the ball quickly, it doesn't always result in the strongest of throws.  Jones played outfield in college, so perhaps the Blue Jays are trying to develop him as a super-utility player.  Just the same, that bat will play, and he actually was one of the better defensive Lugnuts on the weekend.
   At the plate, Jones demonstrated the patience that was prevalent throughout the Lugnuts' lineup, going 3-5 on Sunday and launching a Home Run to left center.  He has a swing-and-miss aspect to his offence, but with Woodman, Bichette, and Guerrero, he should become part of a gauntlet of sluggers in the middle of the Lansing order.

Nash Knight
   I admit to having a huge preference for the underdog.  Undrafted out of Dallas Baptist (Ryan Goins' Alma Mater), he joined the organization in 2015, and mashed his way to a .402/473/.588 line at Bluefield before earning an August promotion to Vancouver last year.
   Despite those gaudy numbers last year, Knight is still very much an org guy - a minor league roster filler.  In an attempt to build some versatility, he was converted to Catcher last fall at Instructs, but with the depth of the system at that position (Ryan Hissey returns to Catching duties this year, joined by Michael De la Cruz, who was with the team in 2015), he played 1st on Opening Day, and probably won't see much action behind the plate this year unless injuries dictate otherwise.
   During pre-Opening Day BP, even with Bichette, Guerrero, Woodman, and Jones blasting bombs, Knight's show was perhaps the most impressive.  He was hitting line drive rockets all over the field. At 24, the clock on his chances of an MLB career is ticking close to midnight, but it was fun to watch that BP session.

Zach Jackson
   Many have suggested that last year's 4th rounder could be on a fast track to the big club.  There's a lot to like - a FB that hits 94, and a funky delivery that creates deception and allows him, like Murphy, to get on top of a 12-6 curveball, his go-to pitch.  In fact, Jackson even admitted that he used it sparingly at Vancouver last year,
   Jackson took over from Murphy in the 6th, and retired the side on five pitches to limit the damage, fanning the last batter on a pair of nasty 81 swing-and-whiff hooks.  In his next inning, he retired the side in order again, topping 94, and sitting 88-91 with a mix of an 84-85 change and that curve ball.
   Back out again for another inning of work in the 8th, he gave up a leadoff Homer, followed by a walk and a double before his night was brought to an end.  Clearly gassed, he was dominant for his first two innings.  If there's one concern about Jackson, it's that lefties appear to be able to square him up solidly.  Either another pitch or improved location will be necessary for him to get them out on a more consistent basis. Still, as his stamina builds this year, he should add a tick or two to his FB, which will make his curve even more devastating.  He's profiling as one of those max effort, lights-out guy in short stretches.

Cesar Martin
   When we think of the minors, we tend to think of young players in terms of prospects.  What's easy to overlook is that sometimes MLB teams are grooming future Managers and Coaches as well.  And that may be the case with Martin (say Mar-teen), who joined the Blue Jays organization as an 18 year old almost two decades ago.  Martin played briefly in the system, and has been an instructor at various levels for several years.
   For the last two years, he managed the highly successful GCL Blue Jays entry, so moving up to Lansing was a natural fit.  Martin has been described as a quiet guy with a laid-back approach, but is able to get through to his players.  From his interactions with them before the game, it's obvious that he already has a good rapport with them, and has their respect.
   There is no guarantee of an MLB job for minor league players, and the same holds true for Managers and Coaches.  For many, their value to their respective organizations lies in their abilities to develop players, and while he may be a Managerial prospect on the rise in his own right, Martin may fit that profile.
 
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   There are few commodities in minor league baseball more dispensable than the long reliever.
Generally speaking, relievers at the big league level are converted starters - for every Aaron Loup that comes up through the system in a relief role, there's Ryan Tepera, Joe Biagini, Roberto Osuna, or Matt Dermody who moved into the bullpen from the rotation at some point during their MiLB apprenticeship.
   The minor league long reliever's main job is to protect the high-profile arms in the starting rotation.  Once they have reached their pitch limits, the long man comes in to soak up innings.  Early in the season, when the pitch counts are in the 60-80 range (depending on the starter), the long man typically comes in during the fifth or sixth innings, and most Managers try to use them for multiple innings.  It's understandable - the more relievers he has to use on any given day, the fewer he'll have at his disposal the following one
    Minor league long men tend to be non-drafted free agents, often the college variety.  They're guys who have proven that they can get hitters out, but either lack the velocity or secondary pitches to turn over a lineup, hence their move to the bullpen.
    Jackson Lowery was one of those guys.  A teammate of Zach Jackson's at Arkansas, Lowery took the long route to pro ball.  Originally an infielder when he attended Central Arkansas after high school, he transferred to a Mississippi Junior College in order to pitch.  The following year, he realized a dream when he caught on with the Razorbacks.  Even though he was a mainstay in the Arkansas 'pen in 2015 in long relief, because he was viewed as undersized at 6'/170, he was overlooked in the draft.
   Signed by the Blue Jays, he pitched well in rookie ball at 2015, and Saved 11 games between Vancouver and Lansing last year.  I had thought that he was ticketed for Dunedin this year, but he became a victim of a numbers game, as the Blue Jays had too many bullpen arms for A ball.  Lowery went to Australia to pitch for Canberra in the off season, but was used sparingly, and was overmatched against the more advanced hitters.
   Every year, I manage to convince one of the Blue Jays prospects sent to Australia to correspond with me over the winter.  Last year, it was Phil Kish, this past year it was Lowery.  Both were relievers who were sent to Australia to get some extra innings in the hope that it would accelerate their development.  To be honest, they were also sent there probably to protect some of the more valued bullpen arms in the organization.  Lest we say we spot a trend here, Anthony Alford also carried on a correspondence with me the year before Kish.
   Kish was released in spring training last year, and Lowery was let go at the end of spring training this year. Both had some decent seasons, and both filled important roles for the teams they played on, but in the end, the front office felt that they were bumping their heads against their respective ceilings, and with other arms coming up from the levels below them every year that throw harder or have better secondaries, they became odd men out in the process.
   I appreciate the insights into baseball, pitching, and life in Australia that both players shared.  Both were, in the words of Pat Jordan in his lyrical A False Spring, "the boy who went away":  players who may not have realized their major league dreams, but came much closer to them than the rest of us did.  Kish is already well into an accounting career that he had started in the off seasons during his playing days;  Lowery has not indicated if he'll try to catch on with another organization,  find an indy ball team, go back to school, or transition to the working world.  Whatever he chooses, I wish him well.


   

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Brazilian IFA P Eric Pardinho Linked to Blue Jays


WBC Baseball photo

      A bit of a throwaway at the end of an excellent analysis of the top Blue Jays prospects by Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs was this tidbit about a rising International Free Agent prospect:

I’ve also heard the team mentioned as a potential suitor for Brazilian righty Eric Pardinho, who will be eligible to sign with a club in July

  It took me a few hours to remember it, but I knew that name, and had seen him pitch before.  At the tender age of 15, Pardinho became the youngest player in WBC history when he pitched in the 6th inning of his native Brazil's 10-0 whitewashing of Pakistan in a WBC qualifier last October.  Prospect hunters like myself had tuned in to watch Toronto's 2016 2nd round pick, Bo Bichette, suit up for the Brazilians.
   In truth, the Pakistani team was overmatched against  Brazil.  The athleticism was there, but the lack of baseball experience was painfully obvious.  Pardinho acquitted himself well just the same, surrendering a hit (up 1-2, he hung a breaking ball) and a walk in two-thirds of an inning.  Pardinho's first pitch clocked in at 94 mph.  He was half the age of some of the hitters he was facing.

   Eric Pardinho hails from Bastos, a town in the state of Sao Paolo with a significant Japanese heritage.  His mother, in fact, was born in Brazil to Japanese parents, and Pardinho spent part of his childhood in Japan. He entered Brazil's famous CT Yakult Academy at the age of 12, and spent three years there, using "traditional Japanese training techniques."  He first gained international acclaim at the U16 Pan Am championships in Panama last year, fanning 14 and giving up just one hit against a prospect-laded Dominican Republic team.  Pardinho has also spent time at the MLB Elite Camp which is housed at the Yakult complex.

   At 5'10"/165, there are some concerns about Pardinho's size, but the Blue Jays have a starter in the rotation who has easily dispelled that notion.  One look at his parents suggest that he won't get a lot bigger, but there is still plenty to like about him.  Pardinho has hit 95 with his fastball, but usually sits at 93.  There's ample room for added velocity there.  He has a clean, drop-and-drive delivery which he consistently repeats, and has a solid lower half, which should mean that despite the speed his teenage elbow has been subjected to, his health history is likely clean.
   In addition to his fastball, Pardinho's curve is said to be his best secondary pitch.  Pardinho pitched at a Perfect Game World Showcase earlier this year, and this report was filed on him:
 Medium, athletic frame with square shoulders, very nice build with present strength throughout, strong lower half and core which are incorporated into delivery. Primary righthanded pitcher, lots of tempo, rhythm, and balance to delivery, high leg lift up past belt, gathers over rubber well and and shows a long and fluid arm stroke through the backside working to a high three-quarters arm slot. Advanced ability to repeat delivery, especially for age, and remains on line with lower half directionality. Very low effort delivery and release, able to generate plane on fastball and showed advanced command of fastball that lived comfortably in the 90-93 mph range. Worked either side of the plate with fastball with intent, curveball shows downer life and 12-6 shape with late, tight bite at 79 mph, slider was just as tight at 81 mph with solid finish to the glove side. 

    Calling him "A special kid," Carlos Santos-Silva, coordinator of international game development for MLB said:
       His size is not too striking, but the ball just explodes out of his hand. There is a lot of      potential. Not just to be a player, but to also be a spokesperson for the game in Brazil.


   Yan Gomes was the first Brazilian to play in MLB, making his debut with the Blue Jays in 2012.  Since then, Padres P Andres Rienzo and Royals OF Paulo Orlando have joined him.  Brazil has long been viewed as a fertile, untapped market of prospects.  Hall of Famer Barry Larkin has helped lead MLB's efforts in the South American country, Managing the WBC entry last fall, and helping to establish MLB's first Brazilian complex.  Pardhino may become the first of many signings from that country over the next few years.


   2016 was a hangover year for the Blue Jays in terms of International signings.  Having broken the bank for Vladimir Guerrero Jr the year before, Toronto could not sign a prospect to a bonus of greater than $300 000.  Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish was understandably tight-lipped about the club's plans for this year's July 2nd signings ("I'd prefer to talk about our strategy on July 3rd," he said in an interview), but it's no surprise to hear that the Blue Jays have targeted one of the highest profile IFAs this year.  Pardinho has reportedly been scouted by the Mets, Giants, Reds, and Padres, and had workouts this spring in Arizona for the Angels and the Indians.  According to Longerhans, though, the Blue Jays have the inside track.  We hear rumours of teams being involved with players all the time, but where there's International smoke, there's usually fire.  Guerrero was widely said to have a pre-July 2nd agreement (unofficially, of course) with the Blue Jays long before he actually signed on the dotted line.

  Pardinho does have some red flags:  his age, his relative lack of size, and despite his delivery and training (he wasn't allowed to throw breaking balls until he was 13), there has to be some concern about his elbow with that 90+ FB. At the same time, many MLB organizations would love to get their top prospects into their respective folds by 16,  not 18.  In addition, when you look at the number of decent pitchers under 6', it's actually a pretty impressive list.  As far as the elbow is concerned, most teams would have to be cautious, but it's pretty hard to pass on that velocity.   There is much to suggest that there is huge upside here.

  It won't be a big surprise to see the Blue Jays land Pardinho on July 2nd.

Some video for your consideration....

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Blue Jays 2017 Minor League Primer



  This will be my fifth season of following the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system closely and reporting to you on the latest developments with its players and staff.

   The Blue Jays have undergone significant changes in their minor league operations over the past 18 months, with a huge focus on player development.  President Mark Shapiro, who came up through the minor league ops in Cleveland, places a huge emphasis on his team acquiring and developing its own players, and browsing the free agent and trade markets for the missing pieces.  This is a significant departure from the Alex Anthopoulos era, which used prospects as currency to bolster the major league roster (a practice that dates back to the Father of the farm system, Branch Rickey, who liked to grow prospects like corn, and "watch them grow into money,") and creativity on draft day to re-stock the system.  From November 2015 to the end of July 2016, Anthopoulos traded a total of 18 prospects in deals that were inspired by the mantra, "Prospects are good, Parades are better." Given the back-to-back playoff appearances to break a drought that started when most of the millenials who follow the team were born, it's hard to argue with the results.  At the same time, it left the Blue Jays with an ageing core, and a farm system that was thin on top-level prospects.  With Shapiro, GM Ross Atkins, and VP Ben Cherington now in the Blue Jays front office, there are three former farm directors overseeing the direction of the team.  Couple that with the new high performance division, which designs individual training, nutrition, sleep, and sport psychology plans for each player, and you have a team that is laser-focused on building from within. Anthopoulos got the team back to the post-season; Shapiro's goal is to make it competitive on an annual basis.

   The Blue Jays farm system rebounded last year thanks in part to the four college players they took with their first five picks in the June draft.  Much of the depth of the organization is still in the lower levels, but this is a system that is on the rise.  While the Blue Jays under AA were not wedded to the philosophy, they tended to take projectable athletes when push came to shove, valuing baseball's most volatile commodity, the high school pitcher, in the process.  High risk-high reward talent, and players from non-traditional markets helped the Blue Jays gain a competitive advantage.  Under new amateur scouting director Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays draft board may line up differently this year than it has in the past, but Sanders has a proven track record in drafting premium athletes during his time with the Red Sox, using methods that were outside of the box in terms of traditional ones.
   The Blue Jays start all players in short season play; which of the three teams they begin at is largely a function of their experience prior to joining the organization.  Players typically play one or two seasons before moving up to full season play.  The Blue Jays prefer a prospect spend a year at each full season level, whether that's in the course of one season, or over two.  Prospects move up a level when they demonstrate from a competitive and maturity standpoint that they're ready.  For pitchers, it means that they've demonstrated an ability to either miss bats, or induce weak contact; for hitters, it means that they have shown the skills to consistently barrel up balls.

  No other sport has a development system as extensive as baseball's.  It takes 3-5 years, on average, to develop a major league player.  The Blue Jays this year will field 8 farm teams: six in the U.S, one in the Dominican Republic, and one in Canada.  5 of these teams are owned locally, and the Blue Jays have Player Development Contracts with all of them to provide players.  The affiliates, in return, provide a good environment for players, coaching staff, and roving instructors to play and work in.   Starting from the bottom, here's a brief recap of each team and the level they play at.


Dominican Summer League
   The DSL Blue Jays play in the team's year-round facility in Boca Chica, a resort town just outside of Santo Domingo.  Players at this level are the youngest and rawest in terms of talent in the system. International players, as they're called (most hail from the Dominican, Venezuela, or Mexico), can sign as early as 16. When they do sign, it's a contract that starts the following year.  After they sign (July 2nd is the earliest date that most International players can be signed), players compete in a local loop called the Tricky League against prospects from other teams, and then report back to Boca Chica the following March for spring training.  The complex shuts down for April, then opens up again in May for the Dominican version of Extended Spring Training.  Play in the DSL begins in mid-June, and ends in late August.  Players typically live in dorms at their team's complex, training and taking English classes.  As one might expect, only a handful of players from this level ever make the major leagues.  Because the average DSL player is signed one-two years earlier than stateside players, their gestation period is typically much longer.  Miguel Castro, who opened the 2016 season in the Blue Jays bullpen before being shipped to Colorado as part of a package of players for Troy Tulowitzki, played for the 2012 DSL Jays, as did southpaw Angel Perdomo, who will pitch at Dunedin this year, and may one day pitch in relief in the majors.  Emilio Guerrero, who will likely play at Buffalo this year and has an outside shot as a super utility player one day, was a member of the 2011 DSL Jays. High profile signings like Roberto Osuna, Franklin Barreto (dealt to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson deal - now the Athletics' top prospect), and Vladimir Guerrero Jr have all skipped the DSL.
   Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish and Director of Latin American Operations Sandy Rosario oversee the running of the Blue Jays Dominican scouting and player development.  Longtime Blue Jays minor league Manager John Tamargo Jr will take the reins of the club this year, assisted by longtime Field Co-ordinator Pablo Cruz.

Gulf Coast League
   Playing before a sparse gathering of scouts, family, girlfriends, and prospect watchers, the GCL begins play in late June, and finishes around Labour Day.  No admission is charged, and spectators must bring their own refreshments.  Games are often played in the late morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and the scorching Florida sun.  The GCL Blue Jays play out of the team's minor league complex in Dunedin.  Luis Hurtado, who once caught in the Jays system, is making his Managerial debut for the team this year.  Joining Hurtado will be Pitching Coach Juan Rincon, who pitched for four teams over a 10 year MLB career, and Hitting Coach Paul Elliott, who has scouted, coached, and managed in the system for two decades.
   The GCL is stocked with players who have graduated from the DSL, and players selected in the lower rounds of the June draft.

Appalachian League - Bluefield Blue Jays
  The DSL and GCL are termed "rookie leagues," and there are eligibility restrictions (typically, a player may not have more than three years' of playing experience).  The Appy League is considered an advanced rookie league, with travel and paying spectators.  For most players, it's their first experience playing "under the lights" in pro ball. Bluefield's most well-known grad is Kevin Pillar, who won the league batting title and MVP award playing for the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2011.  Dennis Holmberg, who has been with the organization for 38 years, will return to manage this year, joined by Pitching Coach Antonio Caceres, and Hitting Coach Carlos Villalobos, who is moving up from the DSL.  Villalobos is a veteran of minor league ball, having played in the US, Mexico, Taiwan, and China.

Northwest League - Vancouver Canadians
   It's a common sight when the Blue Jays visit Seattle to take on the Mariners - the stands are full of Blue Jays fans.  There has always been a strong Toronto following on Canada's West Coast, but the partnership between the Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canadians has strengthened the bonds considerably.
   The Northwest League is considered short-season baseball.  Play begins in late June, and the playoffs wrap up by the second week of September.  Players in this league have worked their way up from the lower levels, or are college grads recently drafted.
   Vancouver has been a Toronto affiliate since 2011.  In their first three seasons, they won the league championship, and made it to the final in their fourth.  The last two years have been somewhat lean, and while the objective for major league teams sees development over winning, the fans of Vancouver deserve a strong team on the field. This year may be a bit of a test - C's fans know that the emphasis is on development, but if the team fields another non-playoff team again, it will be interesting to see if fan interest is maintained.
   Vancouver is one of the most successful franchises in minor league baseball, and if you are visiting Van for any reason in July or August, you owe it to yourself to take in a C's game.  Vancouver has been among the NWL leaders in attendance for the past six seasons, and the addition of new left field bleachers last season put them over the top. Over 6 000 fans watch the Blue Jays game from Toronto on their tvs at home, then head out to quaint Nat Bailey Stadium to watch the C's.
  C's fans still talk about the gem a 17-year old call up named Roberto Osuna tossed in 2012, striking out 13 of the 15 hitters he faced.
   Veteran minor league staffer Rich Miller, who managed the C's to their win in 2011, is returning to the fold to run the team again.  He's aided by veteran Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski and Hitting Coach Dave Pano.

Midwest League - Lansing Lugnuts
   Lansing is the lowest rung on the "full season" ladder, beginning regular season play in early April, and ending on Labour Day.
   The Lugnuts have been an affiliate of the Blue Jays since 2005.  Given the proximity of Lansing to Toronto, it's not uncommon to see several Jays executives at a game.
   Lansing will be managed by Cesar Martin, seen by many as an up-and-coming managerial prospect. Martin played in the Blue Jays system, and for the last two years led the highly successful GCL Jays, drawing raves for his work with the team's youngest prospects. Martin will be assisted by Pitching Coach Willie Collazo, Hitting Coach Donnie Murphy, and Position Coach Chris Schaeffer.
   In 2012, the Lugnuts had a trio of teenaged starters who "piggybacked" each other in the first half of the season.  Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, and Aaron Sanchez have all gone on to establish themselves as solid MLB starters.  The buzz this year is about 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who will likely start the year in Lansing, and at 18 has already established himself as one of the top prospects in the game.
I took a stab at projecting Lansing's roster here.  I'm already off by one, as Jake Anderson, a 2011 supplemental first rounder, was released last month after six injury-plagued seasons.

Florida State League - Dunedin Blue Jays
   There's a bit of a hangover in this sleepy Gulf Coast community when spring training ends.  It seems to manifest itself the most with the D-Jays, who play before a few thousand empty seats at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, spring training home of the Blue Jays.  And when the construction crews move in when play in the FSL ends in September this year, the team will be looking for a temporary home while upgrades are made to the stadium.
   Just the same, the D-Jays are an important link in the Blue Jays minor league chain.  Because the team's high performance division is headquartered in Dunedin, rehabbing minor and major leaguers take their first few post-injury steps with the team.
   Dunedin was one of the Blue Jays' first farm teams, beginning in 1978.  The team was mothballed after its second season, but has been a Toronto affiliate since 1987.  Many future major leaguers have passed through Dunedin, including a Cy Young Winner (Roy Halladay) and a three-time All Star (Carlos Delgado).
 John Schneider, who with 9 years of experience is the longest-tenured Manager in the system, is moving up from Lansing to helm the D-Jays this year.  Former MLBer Corey Hart will serve as the Hitting Coach, and Miguel Abreu will be the Position Coach.    
I looked into the crystal ball and tried to project Dunedin's Opening Day roster.  

Eastern League - New Hampshire Fisher Cats
   Deep in the heart of Red Sox country there has been a Blue Jays affiliate since 2006, bringing home a league title in 2011.
   Several years ago, it seemed that the Blue Jays were on the verge of switching their affiliation to a team that was considering re-locating to Ottawa, which would have been a great fit in terms of continuing to grow the Blue Jays brand.  A lack of political will among the civic leaders in the nation's capital to fund necessary stadium upgrades brought an end to those plans, and to tell the truth, the Blue Jays and New Hampshire are quite happy with their partnership.
   Former MLBer Gary Allenson, who Managed at Buffalo the past several seasons, returns to New Hampshire, who he last managed in 2013.  Former Jays farmhand Andy Fermin will join Allenson as Position Coach, while Canadian Vince Horsman will move up from Dunedin to be the Pitching Coach, and Ronnie Ortegon, who came over from the Braves organization, will be the Hitting Coach.
My projections for the group that will open New Hampshire's season can be found here.

International League - Buffalo Bisons
   Another very successful partnership just 90 minutes away can be found on the Niagara Frontier, and it's always been a bit surprising that the two sides didn't connect until 2013.
   Canadian money is accepted at par at Coca Cola Field until the end of April, and even after that, there are lots of places to dine at for reasonable prices just steps away from the ballpark.  Top prospect Rowdy Tellez will begin the season at Buffalo, and other top prospects like Conner Greene, Reese McGuire, and Anthony Alford may join him (if he's still there, of course) later this summer.
  Bobby Meacham moves up from New Hampshire to become the Bisons' Manager this year, aided by longtime Pitching Coach Bob Stanley, and Blue Jays World Series hero Devon White, who is making his coaching debut as Hitting Coach.
  Buffalo's roster was just too difficult to try to predict this year.
 

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   For Further Reading....
For a detailed analysis of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects, go to https://clutchlings.blogspot.ca/2016/09/toronto-blue-jays-top-10-prospects.html

If you really want to go deeper, here's a look at the prospects I've ranked 11-20:
https://clutchlings.blogspot.ca/2016/10/the-next-10-toronto-blue-jays-prospects.html

If you want to know more about life in the Gulf Coast League, I wrote about it several years ago:
https://clutchlings.blogspot.ca/2013/07/the-gulf-roast-league-baseballs-basement.html


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About Me
    I'm one of those guys - I've been a fan since Day One, when my parents let me skip school for the afternoon to watch that snowy April Home Opener.
   That makes me a bit older than the average prospect blogger.  Unlike others who blog from their mother's basement, I blog from my own.  Actually, I watch archived minor league games on my iPad while I run on my treadmill in my own basement.  Then I write about them from the comfort of a La-Z-Boy in my family room.  At times, I think that maybe I'm a bit old for this, but then I consider John Lott, who has a few years on me but gets better with both his writing and photography every year, and Roger Angell, whose brilliance has not faded as he continues to write into his 90s.  Angell recently wrote:
I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window.
  Given the excellence of that pair, I figure I have a few decades of writing ahead of me.  If I can even approach the quality they have produced, I will be truly grateful.
  I have been playing, studying, and reading about the game for decades.  My Uncle Tommy introduced me to Strat-O-Matic baseball in the early 1970s.  Around that time, I found a copy of the old Sporting News Baseball Guide of his, and I was mesmerized by the volume of minor league stats, and that the game was played in places like Holyoke, MA, or even Thetford Mines, PQ.
   I have always loved grassroots baseball.  Growing up in Midland, ON, a former bustling grain harbour on the Great Lakes, I was an ardent fan of our local men's team, the Midland Indians, who played in a beautiful park in the middle of town ringed by stately old oaks and maples.  My dream was to one day patrol centrefield one day for my hometown team, but that dream died when I turned 16 and had graduated from our town's minor baseball system.  Our aged local arena, which skirted the left field line, had burned down the previous summer, and the team folded when the ball field was taken over by the old building's demolition.A player who I followed closely on the Indians was a RHP named Gordie Dyment, who had pitched in the Phillies and Giants systems.  While with the latter, his pitching coach one year was legendary Hall of Fame Pitcher Carl Hubbell, who with his screwball fanned Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin (five HoFers who totaled over 13 000 hits between them) in the 1934 All Star Game.  Dyment tutored many of us Midland Minor Ball players, and I always think about that connection. I was mentored by a guy who was coached by someone who struck out Babe Ruth.
 
   Over the five years that I have been cranking this blog out, I've made contacts with countless minor league broadcasters, players, scouts, and fellow bloggers.  Over the past year or so I've narrowed my focus to evaluating players, and talking to some of the behind-the-scenes people in the Blue Jays front office.  I am not a scout, and I don't expect an organization will pay my way to scout school one day, but I have studied and talked to scouts a great deal, and I think I have started to develop an eye for what they look for in a player.  Speaking to Blue Jays executives has given me a sense of where this organization is going, and it's helped me to see things that are not always readily apparent in their development philosophy.

   I try to look at players through a scout's lens.  Minor league advanced stats are hard to come by, and the ones that do exist can be misleading.  When I watch a minor league game, I'm scouting players, not the game.  And while I can't get the same perspective you can get from being there, I can get a sense of a pitcher's command of his fastball, or a hitter's pitch recognition skills.  You will seldom read stats in one of my reports.  I'm focused on deeper things than that.

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  One name I almost forgot to mention is Gil Kim, whose official title is Director of Player Development.  Gil is a baseball lifer, and the story of his long and winding minor league path is a good read.  Gil works with the scouting, instructional, and high performance staff to help develop players in the Blue Jays system.  He is a great guy to talk to, and is most accommodating.  Kim's hiring last spring was another piece in the puzzle of putting together a first-rate player development system.  He has backgrounds in playing, coaching, and scouting, putting together a resume that is an ideal for a jack-of-all-trades position such as his.  Gil oversees the day-to-day operations of the Blue Jays minor league organization.  He is quick to credit others in the Blue Jays front office for the farm system's success, and from talking to him, you can tell that he is thrilled to be working for the team. He's another great hire by Mark Shapiro.