Saturday, October 22, 2016

Blue Jays Name Prospects Headed to Australia

Canberra mascot Sarge in New York
Peter Bojkowski photo

   The Blue Jays have (finally) named the prospects that will be headed to the Australian Baseball League to suit up for the Canberra Cavalry when ABL play opens at the end of the month.

  Relievers Andrew Case, Jackson LoweryJosh DeGraaf, outfielders DJ Davis and Josh Almonte, and Catcher Mike Reeves will take to the field for Canberra, who have had a successful partnership with the Blue Jays dating back several years.  The Blue Jays tend to use the down under experience to help a player make up for lost time due to injury or other issues, or to accelerate their development.  Anthony Alford was sent to Australia in 2015 after stepping away from college football, and the crash course he took in pitch recognition helped him break out as a prospect that year when he returned stateside.  "It's like they pitch you backward," Alford said of the mostly veteran-laden Aussie pitching staffs after struggling in the ABL with a heavy diet of breaking balls and fastballs just off the plate.  The experience helped him leap onto Baseball America's Top 100 list after the 2015 season. IF Jason Leblebijian was just another utility org guy in the system before hitting .324/.401/.578 for Canberra last season, and he didn't stop hitting when he returned home, slashing .294/.361/.436 between Dunedin and New Hampshire this season, establishing himself as a future MLB prospect. Cavalry Manger Michael Collins called the team's MVP the best SS the ABL has seen since Didi Gregorious (who played for Canberra in their first season):
After you get past Didi, Lebby's provided great defence, he's made a lot of great plays that people have almost come to expect as somewhat routine, which definitely are not [routine] ... plays that most people don't even get close to and he's almost making.

    RHP Case, a native of Saint John, NB, was signed as a free agent after a dominant performance at the inaugural Roberto Alomar T12 tournament in Toronto, a September showcase of the best amateur players in Canada, in 2013.  Case threw a 13-strikeout no-hitter in the semi-final, earning a contract with the Blue Jays.  He was suspended by MLB for 50 games in March of this year after failing to take a drug test.  Case claimed that he couldn't afford the flight from Alberta, where he was training, to Toronto for the test.  In truth, he may have mismanaged his time as well as his money.  Case, who was likely headed to Lansing, where he finished 2015, but had his season debut pushed back to July as a result of the suspension.  He posted an 0-2 record with a 2.28 ERA and 11 Saves in 22 appearances for Lansing, fanning 19 and helping to fortify the back end of the Lugnuts' bullpen.
  Case is not a power pitcher, topping out at 93 with his fastball.  He relies on command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and a curveball that has nice shape and depth to it, which he can consistently throw for strikes.

    Righthander Lowery was another undrafted free agent signed out of Arkansas last season, where one of his teammates was 2016 4th rounder LHP  Zach Jackson.  Lowery went originally to Central Arkansas as an infielder, but transferred after a year to Meridian (MS) CC in order to pitch.  The following year, he realized a dream when he returned home to pitch with the Razorbacks.  Even though he became a long relief mainstay for Arkansas that year, his relative pitching inexperience and his size (6'0", 175) caused him to be overlooked in the draft in 2015.
  After a solid debut season in rookie ball last year, Jackson started the season with Vancouver, but was promoted to Lansing this year after saving 5 games in as many opportunities with the C's.  With Lansing, he pitched well in July and the first part of August, but struggled down the stretch, and it didn't sit well with him. "(I) didn't finish like I wanted, and let my team down a few times.  It will make me a better person this offseason."
   Lowery is a sinker/slider pitcher who, like Case, uses sequencing and location to get hitters out.  The contact he gives up tends to be of the ground ball variety.  He admitted that he was a little hesitant to accept travelling far from home, but sees the bigger picture in terms of his baseball career:
At first it got to me a little, not the distance but the time away, missing things like duck season and my family during the holidays. In order to accomplish the things that I want to accomplish in this game I have to sacrifice things and I'm willing to sacrifice almost anything in order to live out this dream. I have the support of my family so I'll do whatever it takes. It's an honor to be invited to this league and to have the support of the Blue Jays. I owe it all to them. They are the reason I am still playing and it is a privilege to represent the organization. I hope to continue to grow as a pitcher mentally and physically and continue to get stronger for next season.

     Righthy DeGraaf, a 2015 31st rounder out of NAIA Taylor University, is a finesse pitcher like his Lansing teammates Case and Lowery.  He did a little bit of everything for the Lugnuts this year, starting 7 games, pitching in long relief, and saving 3 games over 94 innings.  He complements his sinker with a slider and a changeup, his out pitch.
   One of the things that I have come to really enjoy about writing this blog is researching the background of players like DeGraaf - guys who were not highly touted, but have maximized their ability.  DeGraaf's high school coach spoke glowingly about him:
“We knew that Josh would go on to good things,” Kein said. “When he was playing for us, it was evident that he wasn’t as physically mature as he was going to get. He has done a lot of hard work. He is one of the best players I have ever coached. He played shortstop for three years on the varsity level. He was a great program kid and a great leader. He is one of the few players I have ever hadl that was a captain in both his junior and senior years. It was his intelligence that put him head and shoulders above others. He is a very smart player. He knew our system inside and out and the game in general. He was a great teacher to the younger kids.”
   Of all the prospects headed to the ABL, none have the pedigree of Davis - and few have underachieved to the extent he has.  A 2012 1st rounder from Mississippi HS ball, Davis was one of the youngest players in his draft class, and represented a roll of the dice for the Blue Jays amateur scouting staff.  His tools were without question, but The Magnolia State is more known for producing footballers than it is baseball players.
In five minor league seasons, Davis has posted a line of .239/.312/.352, which was inflated by a .282/.340/.391 2015 season with Lansing - his second at that level, after striking out a league-high 167 times the year before.
   Davis missed a month due to injury this year with Dunedin, and hit only .197 for the D-Jays in 97 games. He's headed to the ABL not only to make up for that lost time, but also perhaps to sharpen his pitch recognition skills - he's struck out almost 30% of the time over his minor league career.
   He's fallen off the prospect radar, but the tools are no doubt still there, and at 22, there is still time for Davis to turn his career around.

   Almonte was a 22nd rounder taken out of Long Island, NY high school in 2012, and the club's patience in his gradual development was rewarded with a breakout .307/.343/.398 season with short-season Bluefield in 2014.  He had trouble staying healthy with Lansing in 2015, and slipped below the Mendoza line between Lansing and Dunedin this year, hitting .199/.245/.275.  The tools are there, but the performance mostly has not.

  Reeves is from the hockey hotbed of Peterborough, ON, by way of Florida Gulf Coast University in the 2013 draft.  In four years in mostly a back up role, he has yet to play above High A.  Reeves will provide some depth for Canberra behind the plate.

  The Blue Jays, for their part, are pleased with the partnership they have with Canberra.  The Cavalry draw decent crowds, and are well supported by the community.  The level of competition is not elite, but it's reasonably good.  The league has a number of  AA-type pitchers and indy ball veterans who are hopeful of another shot at affiliated ball, and are putting their beset foot forward.  Despite being far from home, it's a good atmosphere for prospects who wouldn't have an opportunity to play elsewhere.  The Canberra organization is similarly pleased with the arrangement, according to Cavalry CEO Donn McMichael:
The Canberra Cavalry consider our relationship with The Blue Jays as THE most important of all that we have. The Blue Jays have always been very professional in our dealings with them and have always tried to support any gaps in our roster. They communicate well with us and we are aware early in compiling our roster who they intend on sending to us.
 The players that have played with us from the Jays have all been quality men and have been willing to assist us in our community engagement with visits to schools, paediatric wards at the hospital etc

   It's a unique experience for these players, most of whom have never been so far from home.  As Lowery suggested, it's a necessary step to help further their careers.  Alford has some words of advice for the prospects the Blue Jays have sent to Australia:
Just be a student of the game. Continue to sharpen their craft. Don't get caught up in the results, because the stats there don't determine who they are as a baseball player. Continue to learn, because you can never learn too much.

   The elephant in the ABL, of course, is the decision by MLB to pull its funding this year after the original five-year commitment they made to Australian baseball ended.  Baseball is still a fringe sport in Australia, and the ABL is a crucial part of its development.  League rules mandate that at least 5 homegrown players must be in a team's lineup at all time.  When MLB stepped in to help revive the ABL in 2010, they agreed to finance the league for 75% of its expenses (most of which went to building playing facilities that were brought up to MLB standards), with the Australian Baseball Federation picking up the rest.
   The 2015-16 season did not get off to a rousing start when league CEO Peter Wermuth was let go on the eve of the season opener.  Fans were frustrated over the league's lack of growth.  This season, with the funding cut backs, the regular season was shortened from 55 to 40 games.
   The league still faces an uncertain future.  Some teams, like Canberra, have developed partnerships with the local business community, but other teams in the 6-team loop are struggling at the gate and on their spreadsheets. In some parks around the league, the empty seats and lack of advertising don't suggest a rosy financial picture.  MLB has looked at other emerging markets like China in which to grow the game and discover new talent.  Still, McMichael is optimistic about the league's future:
I am very confident that the ABL will continue to grow and help develop the talent that we are producing in Australia, and be a destination for both affiliated and independent ball players to play winter ball.
 This year is very much a year of consolidation for the ABL after the departure of MLB. It is fair to say that without the assistance of MLB over the past 6 years the ABL would not be in the strong position that it is and we are very grateful for all that they have done is assisting us.


      Only Brisbane has secured sponsorship to stream all of its games on the ABL's website.  The other teams will stream one game per series.  The ABL does have a YouTube channel, where you can watch highlights and archived games.
   The time difference between Canberra and Toronto is 15 hours, so watching the Cavs will often mean getting up in the dark at about 4:30 am to watch.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Next 10 - Toronto Blue Jays Prospects 11-20

  A year ago, it was difficult to come up with this past of the Blue Jays Top Prospects list.
Alex Anthopoulos' prospect wheeling and dealing had emptied the system of much of its depth.
  This year, it's a different story.
   Aided by the rapid ascendancy of prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and the addition of draft picks like T.J. Zeuch, the system now boasts a wider base of talent than it did a year ago.  A stellar 2016 draft also helped to re-stock the system quickly.  Players who may have cracked the top 10 list of other organizations found themselves on the outside of the Toronto list.
    If the front office decides to re-tool the major league roster next season, they have far greater prospect currency to deal with than they did a year ago.
11.  Justin Maese, RHP
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook:  Mid to back of the rotation
Calling Card:  bat-breaking, ground ball contact

   Maese definitely merited consideration for the Top 10.  In only his second year of pro ball, he advanced as far as Lansing, progressing from the GCL to Low A in about one season's worth of starts.
   The 2015 3rd rounder had an impressive debut with the GCL Jays, and quickly picked up and perfected a slider at Instructs that fall with former Blue Jays minor league pitching co-ordinator Sal Fasano. Held back in extended to build his innings and arm strength up this year, he skipped Bluefield, and began the season as Vancouver's Opening Day starter.  Maese made only 5 starts for the C's, but the front office had seen enough (as had Baseball America, which named him the league's 8th best prospect on that small sample size), and promoted him to Lansing in July.  Despite being one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, Maese fared well in full-season ball.
  Sitting 91-93 and touching 95, Maese's fastball has a ton of natural sink to it, and when he's pounding the bottom of the strike zone with it, he's extremely tough to barrel up.  Add to that his 89 mph slider, and Maese keeps hitters off balance.  He does tend to give up ground ball contact, but he's the type of pitcher who can only be a pitch away from getting out of trouble with a double play ball.  You really get a sense of his ground ball-inducing abilities with this chart:

  Maese is the latest in a long line of lean,  tall and downward-plane pitching, athletic pitchers.  The former HS QB fields his position well, and credit goes to Blue Jays Texas scout Gerald Murray for going off the beaten baseball path to find this gem.  He should begin the season with Lansing next year, but will likely finish in Dunedin.

12.  Angel Perdomo LHP
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook: Back of the rotation, or back of the bullpen power arm
Calling Card:  Premium velocity
   Perdomo was in the back end of my Top 10 last year, and even though he slipped a bit due to the new depth of prospects in the organization, I have always been a huge fan of the 6'7" southpaw.
   Brought along slowly, Perdomo remained at Lansing for the full season, even though rotation mates like Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris, and Francisco Rios were promoted to Dunedin with numbers that were not that much better than his.
   Fastball command has long been an issue for the lefty, and that's what kept him in Lansing for the year. But few pitchers in minor league baseball missed as many bats as Perdomo did in 2016 - his 156 Ks lead the organization and the Midwest League, and was the second highest total in all of minor league ball.  When you faced Perdomo this year, chances were good that you would go down swinging:
  Perdomo's numbers in the second half were not as sizzling as they were in the first.  That may because he was tiring in his first year of full season ball, or it may owe to the fact that he was working more on his secondaries.
  When he is on his game, Perdomo sits 93-94 with his fastball from a delivery that can be very tough on left-handed hitters, and uses a slider that flashes plus, and a change up that grades at least as average to complement his fastball.  The thinking is that as he moves up the ladder, more advanced hitters may lay off his four seamer up in the zone, and that he may profile as a bullpen arm one day.  Repeating his delivery consistently to improve that fastball command has been Perdomo's biggest challenge.  He sometimes falls off to the 3rd base side, or rushes his arm.  Tall southpaws tend to take longer to develop, and even though Perdomo will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft next month if he's not put on the 40-man roster, the organization will likely keep him in a starter's role in Dunedin next year.


 13.  Reese McGuire, C
ETA: 2017
Future Outlook:  defence-first, steady MLB back up
Calling Card:  superior receiving skills
   Catching depth has been something of a weakness in the organization.  With the acquisition of McGuire at the trade deadline, the return to health of Max Pentecost, and the development of several lower level Catching prospects, it has now become a strength.
   In McGuire's draft year (2013), I followed scouting reports on him closely, because several had suggested he might land where the Blue Jays were drafting at the 10 spot (the Jays chose fellow California high schooler Phil Bickford, who chose not to sign, and re-entered the draft a year later).   BA's draft report on McGuire looks much the same as a scouting report about him might look now:
He is a natural behind the plate. He remains loose, even after adding strength to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound build. His receiving, blocking and arm strength are all above-average, and he has been calling his own games since he was 10 years old. He has a high baseball IQ and game awareness. The question will be how much McGuire will hit. He has a smooth lefthanded swing with strength and bat speed and shows the tools to be an above-average pure hitter with average power. The San Diego recruit runs better than most catchers. Even if he doesn't reach his offensive ceiling, McGuire's defense will allow him to be a big league backup, but if he hits he has all-star potential.
  McGuire has risen as far as AA in four pro seasons, so there's always hope that his bat will come around, but a career line of .267/.324/.329 suggests it may not.   He was once a BA Top 100 prospect, but has fallen out of their rankings.  McGuire had a decent showing the Arizona Fall League last year, has decent bat speed, and he tends to make contact and put balls in play, so there's always a possibility that his swing plane can be altered to hit more line drives than his customary ground ball contact.
  With the future of R.A. Dickey and his personal catcher Josh Thole uncertain, there could be a battle for Russell Martin's back up job next spring, depending on what the club does with Dioner Navarro. Unless a Catcher from outside the organization is brought in, McGuire could be battling A.J. Jimenez for that spot.

14. Francisco Rios, RHP
ETA:  2018
Future Outlook:  Bullpen Power Arm
Calling Card:  Barrel-dodging slider
  Rios is perhaps the most under-the-radar prospect on this list, and no one broke out more than this 2012 late IFA signing from Mexico.
   Rios posted reasonably good numbers with Vancouver last year, but there was little to prophesize the start he had with Lansing, posting a 1.20 ERA over his first 6 starts, and fanning 43 in 30 innings.  That performance landed him a promotion to Dunedin (and a spot on the World roster at the Futures Game), where he gave up more contact, but still gave an indication that he's headed higher in the organization.
   Rios has added some jump to his fastball, hitting 95 early in the season, and sitting 91-93.  His delivery does present with some deception on his fastball, and even more on his slider, which flashes plus potential. He commands both sides of the plate, and is not afraid to bury that slider when he's ahead in the count.  He also tries to elevate that fastball to generate swings and misses, but he was not successful with it in the FSL as he was the MWL.
  What may limit Rios' ascencion up the ladder is his other secondary pitches - his change is inconsistent, his curve would need to improve greatly to even reach that level.  While he should return for at least a half season at Dunedin next year, he may eventually move to his pen, where his fastball may tick up, and be complemented even more by his slider.

15.  Harold Ramirez, OF
ETA: late 2017
Future Outlook:  Corner MLB OF
Calling Card:  Above-Average Hit Tool

   One may think that since McGuire and Ramirez ranked higher on most Pirates' prospects lists than I have, that I'm not that high on either.  To be truthful, I'm not sure there are two prospects in the Blue Jays top 20 that are closer to MLB-ready than this pair.
   Ramirez has something of an unorthodox approach at the plate, but all he's done as a prospect is hit.  A knee injury after joining the organization limited him to one Eastern League game, but this is a player who has posted a .306/.364/.407 line since turning pro.
   Reports suggest that Ramirez profiles as a corner OF because of his arm, but the Jays thought enough of him to push incumbent Roemon Fields to LF in New Hampshire when Ramirez arrived at the trade deadline.
    MLB Pipeline's evaluation of RHH Ramirez:
He hits the ball hard to all fields and while he has a line-drive, crush-the-ball-to-right-center approach, he certainly has the strength and bat speed to grow into more power. He has a solid approach and will take a walk.
  Ramirez has had a history of injuries, but if he's healthy, he should start the 2017 season in Buffalo, where he should also continue to hit.  The outfield was a bit crowded in the Pirates' system, hence their willingness to part with him, and with only perhaps Dalton Pompey realistically ahead of him, if change comes to the Blue Jays outfield this off season, Ramirez could find himself in the big leagues at some point next year.

16.  J.B Woodman, OF
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook:  MLB right fielder
Calling Card:  Five Tools

   The first of the two 2nd round picks the Blue Jays had this past June, Woodman tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in Home Runs this past season. In naming him the Northwest League's 6th prospect, BA observed:
 Evaluators around the league noted that Woodman made a lot of hard contact and showed the ability to hit both fastballs and offspeed pitches equally well. He showed contact problems by ranking fifth in the league with 72 strikeouts. He’s a steady defender who gets good jumps and reads on balls and has speed enough to steal double-digit bases.
  A centre fielder in college and with Vancouver for this past season, scouts think his arm and bat play better in right field.   It is true that he swings and misses a lot, but he also works the count and draws walks.  He finished the last week of the season in Lansing, and will return there next spring.  Several reports I have received about Woodman comment on his bat speed and pitch recognition skills, which will help him make a successful jump to full season ball.  While Woodman hit the ball to all fields, the LHH hit his three Homers to the opposite field:

   With the emphasis the organization has placed on HS pitchers over the last several drafts, a toolsy, athletic player like Woodman is something of a novelty.  Of all the players on this list, he's the one that I'm most interested to follow next year.

 17.  Ryan Borucki, LHP
ETA:  2019
Future Outlook: back of the rotation starter
Calling Card:  MLB-ready change-up

   If there was an award for Grit and Resilience in the organization, the next two pitchers on this list would have shared it for 2016.
   A 15th round pick in 2012 whose stock had fallen due to a torn UCL, Borucki has missed two full seasons since joining the organization (Tommy John in 2013; elbow and shoulder issues last year).
    The Appy League's 12th-ranked prospect in 2014 despite only spending a month there, Borucki seemed ready to head to full season play in 2015, but was limited to only 5 innings.
   Finally healthy this year, the club opted to keep him in Florida when spring training camp broke, assigning him to Dunedin. Whether this was designed to challenge him, keep him in a warm climate until the weather further north warmed up, or have him close to the team's medical facilities in the case of a breakdown is unknown, but Florida State League hitters pounded him at a .421 clip over his first 6 starts.
   Sent down a level to Lansing, Borucki turned his season (and possibly his career) around with a Midwest League 2nd-best 2.41 ERA, and a 10-4 record.  Borucki fanned 107 in 115 innings, walking only 26. Working with Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware and then-Blue Jays minor league pitching instructor Sal Fasano, he added some deception to his delivery, and began missing barrels with greater regularity.
   The tall, athletic lefthander can dial it up to 95 with has fastball, but sits in the 90-92 range.  He complements it with what might be the best change up in the organization, a pitch with great deception and depth that MWL hitters had little or no chance against.  Perhaps the most encouraging sign this season was the career-high 135 innings he threw this year.
   Borucki has lost some development time, but showed the determination and pitchability that led the organization to roll the dice on him 4 years ago.  He should return to Dunedin and pitch with greater success next year, and might move quickly now that he has a healthy full season under his belt.



18.  Patrick Murphy, RHP
ETA:  2020
Future Outlook: Back of the rotation
Calling Card:  
   If Borucki is medium-grade sandpaper, Murphy is the coarse-grade variety.  His has been the longest road among the prospects on this list.
He missed his senior year of high school due to a torn UCL, but the Blue Jays still took him in the 3rd round that year (2013).  His pro debut, delayed to 2014, lasted all of 4 innings.
  Shut down early in 2015 due to lingering arm numbness and pain, Murphy missed the entire 2015 season after surgery to remove a rib to help lessen pain in the arm. Held back in extended this year, he pitched in 8 games for Lansing before heading to Vancouver when the Northwest League season opened.
  Murphy found himself with the C's, anchoring their rotation, pitching in the league's All Star game, and being named the loop's 12-best prospect.  His work drew notice from the opposition, according to BA:
Managers praised Murphy for the angle on his 92-96 mph fastball and ability to pound the bottom part of the zone with his entire arsenal. He couples his fastball with a 12-to-6 curveball that rates as an above-average pitch and a changeup he spent time developing at Vancouver
 Having not pitched in almost two calendar years, Murphy showed some rust with Lansing, walking 14 in only 21 innings.  His command improved with Vancouver.  His development will likely be slow and steady, with a return to Lansing next season

19.  Jordan Romano, RHP
ETA:  2019
Future Outlook:  Back of the rotation innings-eater
Calling Card:  Pounder of the lower part of the strike zone
   If you can remember only one thing about the Markham, ON, native it should be this:  toward the end of spring training in 2015, Romano threw a pitch in a game that made the count full - and also made his UCL give way.  He felt it, but stayed in the game for one more pitch, uncorking a hellacious slider to strike the hitter out.  A few weeks later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, wiping out his season.
   I have followed Romano's career closely since the Blue Jays made him their 10th pick in 2014 out of Oral Roberts, where he was 3rd on their all-time Saves list -despite only playing one season there.
   As someone who grew up playing on some of the fields Romano played on in Southern Ontario (albeit a couple of decades earlier), it's easy for me to feel an affinity for someone who defied long odds to get drafted, and may beat even longer ones to pitch in the majors one day.  He kept me up-to-date with his progress throughout his rehab, and impressed me with his positive attitude.
  Romano spent part of the off season working out with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and it showed.  He faced live hitters for the first time in April in Extended, and, converted to starting, made his first appearance in 22 months for Lansing, throwing a complete game, 7-inning 2-hit/1-run gem in early June, walking none and striking out 7.
   Romano was consistent for the Lugs all summer, failing to go at least 3 innings in only 1 of his 14 starts.  His 2.11 ERA would have led the Midwest League if he had enough innings to qualify.  He walked 27 and fanned 72 in as many innings.  I watched Romano's final start of the season, a 10-strikeout command performance over 6.  
   Romano sits 92-93 with his fastball, and is adept at getting ahead of hitters, commanding both sides of the plate.  He can elevate his fastball when he has two strikes on a hitter, but it will be interesting to see how hitters at the next level handle it.  At 6'4", he gets good extension and downward plane on his pitches.  He complements that fastball with a slider that has good bite, and a change up that improved with each start.  Staying ahead of hitters makes his subsequent pitches that much better, and is a key for Romano as he moves up to Dunedin next year.
   Harris, Perdomo, and Rios may have been a new version of the Lansing Three earlier in the season, but Borucki, Romano, and Maese formed their own version in the second half.


20.  Josh Palacios, OF
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook: 4th outfielder
Calling Card:  outstanding athleticsim

   He may not have made the NWL top prospects list, but Palacios may already be one of the best athletes in the organization.   The 4th rounder from last June's draft hit .355/.437/.473 for Vancouver, and while scouts forecast a fourth outfielder-type projection for him, it will be interesting to see what a year of full season ball in 2017 will do in terms of developing his bat speed and base running abilities.  Palacios has quick hands, looks like a hurdler, and gets around the bases in a hurry.

  A sage baseball man once told me when in doubt, go with projection.  Palacios may not have drawn rave reviews, but the organization still thought enough of him to take him in the 4th round.  There may not be much room for projection left for him in terms of tools, but the athleticism is there - enough to make him worth following when he begins full season play with Lansing next year.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dickey-Syndergaard and Revisionist History

   I did something I almost always regret last night.
  No, I didn't eat at McDonald's, but I did get into it with someone on Twitter.
  These things usually don't go well, because I'm not one to need to have to have the last word, and as a married man I've learned over the years to bite my tongue.  Twitter fights usually don't go well for me, and I vow not to get sucked in again next time.
  But sometimes, when I see something on Twitter that I don't think is anything close to right, I sometimes lose the inner battle not to respond.
   Someone last night posted this, and I just couldn't help but respond:

  I was a huge Noah Syndergaard fan, thanks to the Lansing Three articles the media inundated us with in 2012 (those articles prompted me to turn my lifelong interest in the minors into this very blog), and was somewhat shocked to learn that he had been dealt. But that was balanced by the news that he was bringing a Cy Young winner in return. And as Andrew Stoeten pointed out in the National Post, former GM Alex Anthopoulos had sold us all on the need to stockpile minor league talent.  But not to use it as a way to build a winner in the distant future, rather as currency to upgrade the major league team without sacrificing much, if any, of the 40-man roster.
  The Blue Jays did pay a huge price to land R.A. Dickey, but context plays a huge role in the evaluation of this deal.  Yes, there is this about Noah Syndergaard:

  But when the deal was made, the Blue Jays were in a much different position.  After several years of declining television ratings and attendance (bottoming out at 1.5 million in 2010, their lowest total in almost 30 years), the team had identified a window of competitive opportunity after the 2012 season.  And Anthopoulos, always one to roll the dice, completed a huge deal with Florida to bring Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes to the team.  Having gone all in, Anthopoulos had one more piece of the puzzle to add, and that was a frontline stater.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post observed:

As with Price this year, Toronto felt its rotation was crying out for a bulldog ace (remember Dickey had just won the Cy Young a few months earlier). As with Price, the Blue Jays had not been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1993. They saw that rare instance when the AL East opened up because the Yankees and Red Sox were simultaneously vulnerable. Then, like now, they did not want to waste prime years of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion when both were on team-friendly contracts, and generally believed they had a window with a win-now core.
  Full houses and record tv ratings were not the norm in 2012, and the Blue Jays brain trust knew that something had to happen to jump start a moribund organization.  On his return to Toronto as a member of the Dodgers organization this year, Anthopoulos acknowledged:

"We felt we were at a bit of a crossroads there in terms of do you scale it back and strip down and maybe (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) get moved," said Anthopoulos. "Do you trade Edwin? Do you trade Jose? It's hard to be in the middle. I don't think in any sports team it's probably not the appropriate place to be. You have to make a decision on where you want to be. Ultimately it didn't work out for 2013. In 2014 we felt we had a team that could have made the playoffs. The unfortunate part is we just weren't able to get anything done at the trade deadline. The following year, able to learn from some past experiences, at the trade deadline (we were) able to make moves, and things like that.

"The thought was we were going to be able to (contend) three years in a row and beyond to be able to get to the playoffs and get to the World Series. The thought was it could be what it is today in terms of attendance, TV ratings, fan interest. The belief was there. It was almost like a wick and you needed to light it. If you could, it would open up all kinds of things. That’s what I think I'm most proud of, and sure there are other people here who were involved with it because there were so many people involved, but seeing where the sport is in Canada right now, seeing how the organization is viewed and the fan interest, all those type of things."

     The truth is that the Blue Jays did have a wealth of minor league talent to deal from, and when the Mets likely said that either Syndergaard or Aaron Sanchez had to be part of the return for Dickey, the Blue Jays opted to keep the latter.  It's worth noting what Baseball America had to say about the two in their ranking of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects after 2012:
Syndergaard and fellow 2010 sandwich pick Aaron Sanchez have risen through the minors together and will team again in 2013 at high Class A Dunedin. Both have the ceiling of a frontline starter, with Syndergaard not quite matching Sanchez in stuff but outshining him in terms of polish.

    The Blue Jays knew that there was a definite gamble that Syndergaard and d'Arnaud would turn into frontline players (although  d'Arnaud's injury history has followed him to New York), but the thinking among the front office staff was that by the time that happened, the Blue Jays' window on the Yankees and Red Sox would be closing, and Encarnacion and Bautista would be beyond their primes.

   The chance to add an innings-eating Cy Young winner was just too good to pass up, and even though Dickey did not repeat his performance in the AL East, he gave the team 800 mostly decent innings at a time when the rotation underwent significant change.  And even though Anthopoulos was the face of the team's administration, the whole front office - which included some pretty astute baseball minds - signed off on the deal.  Syndergaard, while projected as a number 2 starter at best at the time of the trade.  Few people outside of the scouting world could have predicted that he would become the fireballing top of the rotation arm he has developed into - certainly many making the claim that he would had never seen him pitch prior to his MLB debut with the Mets.  The truth is that Low A prospects are still a long way away.  Certainly, some blue chip, obvious talents can have their future predicted for them at level, but there was no guarantee that he would reach his ceiling.

   Those who claim that the Jays should not have made that deal are engaging in revisionist history.  Stoeten summed this whole situation up neatly:

You’ll still find fans who dispute this — who believe that the Jays should have stayed the course and waited for the prospects to develop. Realistically, by the 2012 off-season, doing nothing was no longer an option for a front office that not only wanted to keep the wolves at bay, but saw huge opportunity in building around the emergence of the elite slugging duo of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — both of whom were signed to significantly below-market contracts. It likely was no longer an option for an ownership group that ought to have been concerned about the decay of the Jays’ brand and the value of the club’s broadcast rights, which are a pillar of programming on their Sportsnet networks.