While the major league club, despite a wonderful weekend, is facing up to some harsh realities, it’s that time of the summer when things get hopping again in prospect land. Beginning with the Rule 4 draft last week, systems see an influx of new talent and the start of play for the short-season clubs, usually packed with newly-drafted players and seasoned with a sprinkling of the more highly regarded July 2nd talent signed last year. Before I look at this week’s featured performers, let’s glance over these four squads and see who might be worth keeping an eye on.
Vancouver generally gets the more advanced college draftees if there’s room on the roster. This year’s highest college selection is second-rounder Griffin Conine, who’s rumored to be close to a deal — as of this writing, he’s the only player among the Jays’ first 15 selections who remains unsigned. When the ink is dry, he’ll surely become the regular right fielder for this team. Already on Vancouver’s roster are eight 2018 draftees, including Dane Johnson’s son Cobi, local-to-Vancouver product Will McAffer, and pitchers taken in the fourth, eighth, and 12th rounds. Also here are intriguing keystone combination Nick Podkul and Vinnie Capra (seventh and 20th respectively), as well as budget catcher Chris Bec. By far the most interesting players up from the lower levels with the Canadians are outfielder Mc Gregory Contrares and starter Randy Pondler.
At Bluefield, whose roster was announced late Monday and may not be completely finalized yet, there are no less than eight pitchers taken in this year’s draft, with the highest selection being 13th round choice Brad Wilson. There’s also center fielder Hunter Steinmetz (11th) and third baseman John Aiello (14th). On this team, though, it’s the promoted guys who bear watching. Rumor has it that last year’s top July 2nd signing, Brazilian pitching phenom Eric Pardinho, will be assigned here — which is basically unheard-of for a 17-year-old pitcher. There’s also unheralded Dominican Nathanael Perez, who crushed DSL hitters last summer, 2017 second-round catcher Hagen Danner, and center fielder Dominic Abadassa, a 23rd-round pick in 2016 who turned heads with a .402 OBP in the GCL last year.
Speaking of the GCL Jays, the featured player here is obviously this year’s first-round choice Jordan Groshans. And while he is not yet formally assigned, you have to assume that Groshans’ buddy Adam Kloffenstein, a starting pitcher selected in the third round, will be added soon. In a month or so, both will likely be moving up to Bluefield. Sixth-round shortstop Addison Barger is considered a player to watch, and there are four other 2018 draftees here so far. (At least two others listed as signed do not yet appear on any roster.) Keep an eye on Alejandro Melean, who earned the second-highest bonus among pitchers signed by the Jays last July 2nd, and Panamanian shortstop Leo Jimenez from the same signing class.
Finally, while it’s difficult for anyone to follow players in the DSL, the other two players that the Jays signed from last summer’s BA top-40 list of international free agents are playing here. Miguel Hiraldo, rated by some as the best hitter in his class, busted out of the gate hitting .365 with two homers already — you usually don’t see many homers in the DSL. Center fielder Alberto Rodriguez, meanwhile, has struggled early.
Hottest Pitcher: Sean Reid-Foley
The first time I mentioned SRF in this space he had to share the honors. But not this time. We’re midway through June now, the full-season teams have played around half of their games, and all of the best-performing pitchers in the system have at some point in June had a rough outing — except one.
When Reid-Foley was promoted to Triple A on May 24th, he got absolutely pounded. He gave up eight runs while getting only nine outs. Nerves, maybe? Whatever it was, he’s sorted it out in June. In four starts since his meltdown, he’s posted a 2.42 ERA with 29 strikeouts against five walks in 22.1 IP. If you, like me, have had doubts in the past 15 months or so about whether Reid-Foley was going to live up to the hype, signs are now pointing to yes.
Hottest Hitter: Ryan Noda
Just in case you weren’t paying attention last year, let me refresh you on young Mr. Noda. Noda was a 15th-round choice in 2017, known to have prodigious power and above average on-base skills, but he hit for a low average in his draft year and slid to the third day of the draft. Even the Jays were not completely sure they’d scored a steal — highly-regarded college draftees tend to go to Vancouver, but Noda was assigned instead to Bluefield. He promptly proceeded to beat Appy League pitching into submission, slashing an incredible .364/.507/.575, though there was a reason for caution in the form of an equally incredibly .470 BABIP.
Flash forward to 2018 and the first baseman’s assignment to the full-season Lugnuts, where he proceeded to lead the world in walks and nothing else. Over April and May he walked 51 times, and didn’t crank his first home run until May 30. As the first of June arrived, his line was .203/.443/.308. But he seems to have figured something out recently: In 12 June games he’s hitting .400/.463/.889 and showing no sign of cooling. Over the weekend he went 5-for-9 with a homer — his seventh in June — with another walk thrown in for good measure.
5 Other Stat Lines
- T.J. Zeuch – RHP – sporting a 1.51 ERA in his last five starts. Being a ground ball machine, the strikeouts aren’t there but the results are.
- Bo Bichette – SS – Struggling for the first time in his baseball life, Bo got as low as hitting .244 with a .687 OPS on May 23. Since then he’s slashing .351/.408/.574 in 25 games, so the struggles seem to be in the past.
- Rowdy Tellez – 1B – Every season before last year I’d report Rowdy was cold early before he got hot and was good the rest of the year. Last year he never got heated up. This year, he seemed to hit bottom on May 14, when his average sat at .227. Since then his line is .301/.357/.388, which, while still not quite the production you want out of your first baseman, is encouraging.
- Anthony Alford – CF – Injuries and interruption by big league promotion had Alford floundering into late May with an abysmal .139 average. He seems to have righted the ship, though: In his last 18 games he’s slashing .297/.366/.406, which is a trend in the right direction if he can avoid injury.
- Patrick Murphy – RHP – In his last six starts Murphy has a 1.64 ERA and 30 strikeouts against 13 walks. His secondary numbers are not dominant but, like Zeuch, Murphy is getting plenty of outs on groundballs.
Buffalo sits in second place, 3 1/2 games back of the division lead, with catcher Jansen remaining the most consistent offensive force. Dwight Smith Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have been big contributors as well, and Rowdy Tellez has begun to come around in the last month or so. As is typical for Triple A, there’s been a lost of roster shuffle, particularly on the pitching staff. But Ryan Borucki and the seldom-noticed Chris Rowley have been mainstays of the rotation since the Jays plucked Gaviglio, McGuire, and Biagini out of their opening day rotation.
New Hampshire Fisher-Cats
Marcus Stroman was scheduled to get in his final rehab start in New Hampshire Monday night, but the game was rained out. Per his Twitter account, the Jays are just going to bring him back to the majors anyway. Meanwhile, the Fisher-Cats remain a game in front of the Trenton Thunder for first place in the tightly-contested division. You’re familiar already with the big three Bloodlines prospects, but another big offensive contributor is center fielder Jon Davis, who’s got a .390 OBP and 16 stolen bases from the leadoff spot. The loss of Reid-Foley was a blow to the pitching staff, but the addition of Zeuch and the recent hot streak by 2015 first-rounder Jon Harris have filled some of the gap.
Dunedin Blue Jays
The D-Jays sent two players to the mid-season game: personal favorite lefty starter Angel Perdomo, and last year’s third selection catcher Riley Adams. As a team, they ended the first half 10 games under .500 and in last place. Recently-arrived shortstop Kevin Smith brought his flaming bat with him, though, and if Adams and fresh-off-the-DL Logan Warmoth can get on track there’s potential for more from the listless offense (to say nothing of potential help from Lansing). Among unpromoted starting pitchers, the best work has come from Perdomo and Murphy, while Lansing promotions Yennsy Diaz and Zach Logue have not looked overwhelmed. Pour one out for 2012 first selection DJ Davis, whose underslot bonus probably made it possible to sign Anthony Alford: He never figured out how to hit, and he was released today by the organization.
The ‘Nuts finished their first half in second place, 4 1/2 games back of Bowling Green but playing over-.600 ball and with a postseason berth in hand. Their offense hinges around the aforementioned Noda, swift center fielder Chavez Young (their ASG rep), power-hitting and mustache-wielding right fielder Brock Lundquist, and — when healthy — infielder Cullen Large. Their best unpromoted pitcher, Graham Spraker, remains on the DL.
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