For half a season now, I’ve been speculating that this player or that is due for a promotion. Even in the last month of the minor league season I’ve noted other writers commenting on the subject. But I’ve reversed field. Let me explain why.
As of this moment, five of the Jays’ six non-complex teams are in line for the postseason. While only Lansing is locked in at the moment, all of the rest save Buffalo have a really good chance. That means that with few exceptions, the organization is going to see more value in keeping good players on their current teams as they push towards the postseason. This consideration is certain to trump the value of a mere three weeks spent at a higher level for most prominent players, to say nothing of the fact that a postseason appearance extends the team’s season potentially as much as 10 or 11 games depending on level. Some unexpected promotions in order to fill team-specific needs might still happen, though, as well as promotions within or out of the complex. And speaking of promotions…
Given the fact that a certain lightly-regarded and little-known third baseman is pretty much the only thing anyone is talking about in the Blue Jays farm system lately, it’s little mystery who’s going to be one of my featured players this week. But in the shadow of that success, a number of less-heralded players are rebuilding their seasons after having struggled earlier in the year.
It often happens that a player’s season, even from just a statistical standpoint, will seem less impressive than it actually is, simply because initial struggles make their total line look pedestrian. But there is just as often an identifiable point where such players turned their season around. Think Devon Travis and Randal Grickuk on the major league squad, whose seasons have hinged around returns from injury. These points can rightly be called “arbitrary endpoints,” but they are less arbitrary than the commonly-used endpoints of calendar months. I have restrained myself to only using points which are tied to a specific event, like a return from injury, or where there’s a clear reversal in trajectory. In the “Other Stat Lines” section you will find a collection of names, most of which you’ll probably recognize, who have experienced a significant turning point this season.
Hottest Pitcher: Travis Bergen
It’s rare that a relief pitcher qualifies for notice like this, and that’s primarily because in any two week stretch he might only throw five or six innings. I’m breaking from that trend, though, partly because no starter really demanded inclusion. So it gives me the chance to draw your attention — again — to a guy you will very likely get to know next season.
Travis Bergen is a 24 year old lefty who was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and, much like Ryan Borucki, was plagued by injuries in the early years of his career. He’s a fastball/slider guy with excellent control and an impressive strikeout rate, but coming into 2018, he had thrown all of 28.2 professional innings. His innings pitched at Double A this season now exceed that total, and over those 29 innings he has a 0.31 ERA. He’s allowed just a single run since joining the Fisher-Cats on June 3, and hasn’t walked a batter in his last eight appearances. He’s walked only six total while in Double A, striking out 35. For his career, he’s struck out 106 in 78.2 innings pitched, with only 23 free passes. Because of the injuries, though, he’ll need to be protected on the 40 man roster this fall, or he’ll surely leave via the Rule 5 Draft.
Hottest Hitter: Vlad Guerrero, Jr.
Is it really necessary for me to provide details here? I mean, you know, right? Vlad is sporting a 1.173 OPS in his first look at Triple A. He hasn’t had two consecutive games without a hit this entire season. He’s failed to reach base in only five games. In 259 minor league games, and over a thousand plate appearances, the 19-year-old still has more walks than strikeouts.
7 Other Stat Lines
- Rowdy Tellez – Rowdy’s personal concerns over the last two seasons have been well-documented, and his lost season last year continued into 2018. By May 14 he was floundering again, slashing .227/.333/.295. At that point, though, he found his swing again. Since then, he’s slashing .289/.342/.494/.836 in 75 games, which is still maybe not a top prospect line (albeit that would pro-rate to 36 doubles and 24 homers in 150 games so it’s not nothing). But it’s enough to make you wonder what he could do without the off-field troubles.
- Bo Bichette – Cheating a bit here. Bo was hot for the first week of the season, but after that he came to down earth hard for 36 games. He slashed .201/.283/.342 over that span, and arrived at May 23 with a .669 OPS — which actually looked better than it was because of the torrid first week. Since then, though, in 68 games he’s slashed .307/.354/.509/.863, which is the Bo we know and love.
- Harold Ramirez – After playing himself into non-prospect status last year, Ramirez started out the same this year, finishing April 28 with a .224 average and a .562 OPS. Since then he’s been a completely different guy, with each month better than the last. He’s slashing .336/.377/.512 in 86 games. Which is good for him, because he has to hit — none of his other skills will carry him into the majors.
- Max Pentecost – I’ve been the high one on Max since probably the day he was drafted. This was the year, I had thought, with the injuries in the rear view, that it would all come together for him. But by late July even I was struggling to keep the faith. After play on July 25, he was hitting .198 with a shameful .545 OPS. I’ll be interested in hearing the story, by and by, of what turned things around — but turn they have. Since then, Pentecost’s line is .429/.429/.633 in 13 games (yes I just broke my significant sample size rule, didn’t I?). There’s still the matter of not having drawn a walk since July 21, and only two since June 23, but I’ll take encouragement where I can find it.
- Riley Adams – On July 8th, the 2017 third-rounder was, along with first-rounder and teammate Logan Warmoth, struggling with a .206 BA and a .632 OPS. Unlike Warmoth, Adams has since found his stride. In 24 games he’s hit .314/.404/.399, which is still a bit light on power, but a lot closer to what people were expecting back in the spring.
- Patrick Murphy – Through the first two months of the season, Murphy’s ERA was a respectable 3.91. But he’d allowed 58 hits in 48.1 innings pitched, and neither the walks nor strikeouts impressed. Since then, though, his ERA is 1.88 with 55 hits in 81.1 innings pitched to go along with 81 strikeouts. He has issued 29 walks in that time, but 11 of those came in two aberrational outings.
- Ryan Noda – Noda’s numbers already look pretty good with an .893 OPS, but at the end of play on May 27 he was sitting on an utterly baffling .195/.444/.276 line. Since then, he’s hit .294/.409/.579, which is a much more attractive set of numbers.
The Bisons still linger under .500 and are three games from being eliminated from playoff contention.
The Fisher-Cats, in contrast, are 3.5 games up on the second place contender, and 10.5 up on the third place team. Given that the top two teams make the playoffs, they are firmly in the driver’s seat with 21 regular season games to go.
With 17 FSL regular season games left on the calendar, the D-Jays are 3.5 games out, in second place, and a half game up on the third place team. They need to finish first to advance to the playoffs, but August has not been kind, as they are in the midst of a 1-8 skid. There’s still enough time, and enough skill on their roster, for them to turn it around. They have three critical games at first-place Clearwater next week.
The ‘Nuts qualified for the postseason in the first half. At present, they are only one game out of first place in the second-half standings as well.
The C’s are 12-6 in the second half, good for a first-place standing and one game lead with 18 left to play.
Bluefield is in second place, three games out, in a format where the top two in each division make the playoffs. They lead their closest rival, Danville, by 2.5 with 13 games left to play, including three against Danville on the road.
GCL & DSL
I usually don’t say much about these teams, as the win/loss results are even less important than elsewhere in the system. Many of these players will never even make it out of the complex leagues, and those recently drafted are typically running on fumes. A poor stat line here doesn’t really provide much information. That said, as the season winds down, there are some standout performances worth noticing. In the Gulf Coast League, 2018 first-round choice Jordan Gorshans still carries a .901 OPS, and has to be viewed as a big success so far. Left-handed starter Juan Diaz has a 2.52 ERA and 39 strikeouts against a mere 8 walks in 39 innings.
In the Dominican League, where players seldom post eye-popping offensive numbers, shortstop/third baseman Miguel Hiraldo — the most highly-regarded hitter from last year’s July 2 signing day — took his .834 OPS stateside this week. The most successful remaining hitter is speedy outfielder Jhon Solarte. But the real story here is the starting pitching. Four members of the rotation have ERAs under 3.00, three of those with very nice BB/K/IP ratios as well. 19-year-old Cuban Lazaro Estrada leads the way with a 1.98 ERA and a 6.3 K:BB ratio. 18-year-old Mexican Santos Moreno is fairly close behind. Both are somewhat undersized righties. Left-hander Adrian Hernandez is also 18 and undersized, but has 52 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched. It is a pitcher-friendly league, and none of them may turn out to be anything. But they are nonetheless names to remember.
A final note: the Blue Jays acquired right-handed pitcher Bryan Baker from the Rockies to complete the Oh deal. He’s 23, an 11th-round college pick in the 2016 draft. Baker is 6’6″ and 220, after making 11 starts in his draft year he was converted to the pen. He had an impressive 2017 with the Rockies’ low-A affiliate, with a WHIP slightly under 1.00, over nine strikeouts per nine, and a 1.66 ERA. This season he’s been pitching in the best hitter’s park in the minor leagues — the Rockies’ A Advanced team at Lancaster — and has shown increased velocity, but more trouble with the strike zone. He’s walked 34 in 45 innings pitched, while striking out 58.
The intriguing thing for me is that, in 20 appearances since June 10, Baker has allowed earned runs only twice — 4 ER in 19.1 innings – in the most hitter-friendly park in the minors. Minor league relievers have a high bar to clear, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of here for the third guy-to-be named-later in a mid-summer trade.
Lead Photo © Kim Klement – USA Today Sports