* Ryan Borucki, scouted and signed by Mike Medici in the 15th round of the 2012 draft earned Blue Jays from Away pitcher of the year honors at Bluefield for manager Dennis Holmberg. The right-hander also earned MiLB.com post-season pitcher of the post season after pitching well at class-A Vancouver.
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
Moving up the ladder, it’s time to talk about the Bluefield Blue Jays, Toronto’s Advanced-Rookie affiliate in the Appalachian League.
Once again managed by Dennis Holmberg, the Bluefield Blue Jays fielded a decent team, finishing 33-35 over the course of the year but the talent level just couldn’t compare to last year’s playoff team (that was mostly gutted by the time the playoffs actually rolled around). That said, there were definitely some solid prospects as well as some under-the-radar guys who could be blossoming into very good players over the next few years.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.
The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.3 points. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.
The final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the Bluefield Blue Jays:
Josh Almonte 5.5
Richard Urena 5.3
Rowdy Tellez 4.8
Gabriel Cenas 4
Ryan Borucki, Jesus Tinoco 3
Dan Jansen, Evan Smith, Lydell Moseby 2.5
Matt Smoral, Jesus Gonzalez 2.3
Oscar Cabrera, Angel Rojas, Joey Aquino, Lane Thomas, Kevin Garcia 2
Carlos Ramirez, Trent Miller 1.5
Austin Davis, Miguel Burgos, James Lynch, Aaron Attaway, Rolando Segovia 1
Conner Greene 0.8
Daniel Lietz, Francisco Rios, Jordan Romano, Sean Hurley, Conor Fisk, Grayson Huffman 0.5
Anthony Alford 0.3
Yep, there’s a dark horse at the top of the list. Josh Almonte had a great season for the Blue Jays, hitting .307/.343/.398 after two years of offensive futility in the GCL. Almonte was rumoured to have had a great spring training (I overheard some very positive comments about him while I was down there) and he followed through. With some pop in his bat (13 extra-base hits), speed in his legs (15 stolen bases) and some decent range in the outfield, Almonte could be making some noise in the near future.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
If you read my post on predicting the R. Howard Webster Award winners, you would have noticed that I’m very high on catcher Dan Jansen who is my choice for the Bluefield Player of the year. The team’s co-leader in home runs with five, Jansen also hit 10 doubles, walked 16 times and only struck out 17 times, posting the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage on the team despite having his season cut to 38 games due to an injury. The 2013 16th-round draft pick from Appleton, Wisconsin also threw out 34% of the runners trying to steal, giving him a solid defensive tool to go with his developing bat.
Honourable mentions went to Richard Urena and Rowdy Tellez who both had excellent seasons. Urena led the team in doubles (15) and Tellez really turned things on after the first few weeks of the season. If Tellez hadn’t had a slow start, he likely would have gotten the award himself.
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
Splitting the season between Bluefield and Vancouver, Ryan Borucki made his return to pro ball after Tommy John surgery kept him out of the entire season in 2013. Borucki, 20, was absolutely dominant in Bluefield with a 2.70 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 33 1/3 innings. He struck out 30 and walked only six and that 5:1 ratio elevated him above the other contenders.
Honourable Mention: Joey Aquino, the Jays’ 35th-round selection in 2014, had a strong year with a 2.48 ERA and he was second on the staff in innings pitched with 54 1/3. Aquino was 23 this year and his low strikeout total kept him from winning this award despite an excellent pro debut.
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
There were several outstanding candidates for this award but when the chips all fell, it was Chase Wellbrock whose utter dominance was just mind-blowing. The 33rd-round pick of the Jays in 2014 laid waste to the Appy League hitters, dominating them over 24 1/3 innings, allowing only 13 hits and one(!) intentional walk with 34 strikeouts for an insane 0.57 WHIP and 0.37 ERA.
Honourable Mention: 6-foot-2, Dominican lefty Oscar Cabrera was two years younger than Wellbrock and was very dominating himself, throwing 36 1/3 innings with a 1.98 ERA and 1.32 WHIP and Markham, Ontario native Jordan Romano, a 10th-round 2014 draft pick out of college, had a 2.16 ERA with nine walks and 33 strikeouts over 25 innings with Bluefield.
Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
There were a couple of excellent choices for this award on this team but Josh Almonte went from being a sub-.200 hitter in the GCL to one of the Bluefield Blue Jays’ core players. Going from a .167/.229/.229 slash line in 2013 to a .307/.343/.398 line in 2014, Almonte also played in 62 games (by far the most on the team) and was the club’s center fielder for 56 of them.
Honourable Mention: Oscar Cabrera, our honourable mention for reliever of the year gets another honourable mention, going from a 6.93 ERA and an WHIP over 2.00 down to this year’s sub-2.00 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He still has a long way to go in terms of command but even if the improved numbers were due to luck, he definitely had it on his side.
Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer
This is a tough award to call but I’m going to hand it to Joey Aquino. His innings-eating approach (54 1/3 IP) as well as his solid numbers across the board (2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10 BB, 32 K) are a great sign for a first-year pro.
Honourable Mention: Chase Wellbrock deserves mention again after his tremendous dominance that earned him a promotion to Lansing the end of the year. Outfielder Trent Miller had a solid year (.707 OPS) after being the Jays’ final selection in the draft this year (40th round). Jordan Romano and Conor Fisk (24th round) were also solid out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays.
Part 2: Starting Staff
It’s time to get to talking about the Bluefield Blue Jays starting staff. There were a couple of big names and many not so big ones but the Blue Jays’ more aggressive promotional strategy left the Bluefield Blue Jays in the lurch after several of their better starters were promoted midway through the season.
Once again, the Blue Jays were using a piggyback system for starters for much of the season and, to be included in this part of the team report, a pitcher needed to make about half of his appearances as a starter.
Leading the club in starts with 12 was Venezuelan righty Jesus Tinoco. Tinoco, just 19, held his own in the league, throwing 56 1/3 innings with a 4.95 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 20 walks and 47 strikeouts, numbers that are very comparable to his season in 2013 in the GCL. When looking at his strikeout and walk rates, both went down as he jumped to a higher level and so, while the numbers aren’t fantastic, they’re not horrible either. Having seen Tinoco’s stuff in spring training, I can see definitely see him heading to Lansing next year (maybe in a bullpen role) in his Age-20 season, especially since he’s already pumped his season’s innings total up over 50.
Hawaiian Joey Aquino came to the Blue Jays in the 2014 draft (35th round) and was a stalwart for the Bluefield staff, throwing 54 1/3 innings and making 11 starts. He had a 2.48 ERA along with a 1.05 WHIP, 10 walks and 32 strikeouts. As a 23 year old coming out of a four-year college, Aquino’s peripherals (especially the strikeout numbers) are not impressive with only a 14.7% strikeout rate and he also benefited from a low, .253 BABIP and a relatively high LOB%. I can see Aquino in Vancouver next year.
Francisco Rios, a 19-year-old Mexican righty, jumped directly from the Dominican Summer League to Bluefield and didn’t miss a beat, putting up somewhat similar numbers that were bloated thanks to a high BABIP. While his overall stats don’t scream “prospect” (5.91 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 18 BB, 38 K), the Blue Jays let him work through his propensity to get hit hard and kept sending him out to pitch, letting him rack up 53 1/3 innings. Since I didn’t get down to Bluefield this year, I’m not sure what to make of this young righty. His K% of 15.0% is a little low but he was definitely on the young side for the league. He could easily repeat the level to start next year and not be behind the eight-ball in his development, especially since most international pitchers his age were still in the Dominican league.
Evan Smith, 6-foot-5 lefty, started his Age-18 season in the GCL but was quickly promoted to Bluefield as he dominated his competition in Florida. In the spring, I saw Smith throwing an 89-90 mph fastball with a very easy arm motion and a good slider in the 78-80-mph range. He obviously was able to locate the ball as he only walked 15 batters in 52 combined innings with 12 of those coming in 40 innings in Bluefield. In the Appalachian League, he struck out 34 batters with a 4.05 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, turning 19 on August 17. This fourth round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2013 could either head to Vancouver next year or make the jump to Lansing. I see Smith as a guy who could be a dark horse in a couple of years, especially if he picks up a couple of ticks on his fastball.
If you’re looking for dark horses, look not further than to Ryan Borucki. The 20 year old was a 15th round pick coming out of the 2012 draft and had some serious talk about his mid-90s fastball. After injury troubles caused him to throw just six innings in 2012 and miss all of 2013, people told me to keep an eye on him in 2014. He obviously impressed with his command, posting a 5.00 K/BB ratio in Bluefield through 33 1/3 innings before being promoted to Vancouver where he actually improved that rate to 7.33. He walked only nine batters over 57 innings at both levels while striking out 52 and posting a 0.84 WHIP with a 2.37 ERA. I’m looking for Borucki to be used in a piggy-back role in Lansing next year to keep the strain on his arm down for one more year, but he’ll be 21 next year, an age where the Blue Jays typically take the training wheels off.
Another big name prospect started the 2014 season in Bluefield and finished in Vancouver. Matt Smoral was a supplemental round pick in the2012 draft but missed his whole draft year due to a broken foot. The Blue Jays didn’t want to rush the 6-foot-8 lefty and they kept him in the GCL last year where he put up some ugly numbers thanks to control issues that plague most tall pitchers. 2014, however, was the first year that the Blue Jays really allowed Smoral to go out and pitche regularly and he showed some flashes of his potential despite still struggling with his control. In Bluefield, Smoral had a 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP to go with 18 walks and 51 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. Yep. Smoral struck out 32.5% of his opponents in Bluefield but had a high 11.5% walk rate. Those numbers both regressed in 20 innings in Vancouver that saw him walk 15 batters and strike out 19 (for an 18.3% BB rate and 23.2% K rate). Obviously Smoral wasn’t fooling the older competition quite as much in Vancouver and he still needs work on his control but he could start the year in Lansing, piggybacking and working with Vince Horsman, a highly regarded pitching coach who some credit with really helping Daniel Norris take that next step.
Like Francisco Rios, Miguel Burgos was a 19-year-old who made the jump from the Dominican Summer League to the Appalachian League. The short (5-foot-9), Venezuelan lefty started off strongly, throwing 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, three walks and 14 strikeouts before he stopped pitching after his July 9 start in which he went only three innings. It looks like an injury cut Burgos’ season sort but it isn’t known what kind of injury it was.
Part 3: Relievers
The Bluefield Blue Jays’ relief corps featured a lot of new faces to the Blue Jays organization and one who has been around a long time.
Making the most appearances and leading the team in saves with eight was Dusty Isaacs, the Blue Jays’ 18th-round draft pick in 2014. Coming from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Isaacs made himself right at home at the back of the Blue Jays’ pen, throwing 29 innings with just five walks and 36 strikeouts, pitching to an ERA of 3.41 and WHIP of 1.31. Isaacs appears to be a real strike-thrower, walking just 4.0% of the batters he faced and striking out 29% and he could be a candidate to move up to either Vancouver or Lansing next year.
Chase Wellbrock got into 20 games with Bluefield before getting a late-season look in Lansing with the Lugnuts and, as I mentioned in his write up as the Reliever of the Year, was dominant in Bluefield. At 22 years old, Wellbrock made the adjustment to professional baseball seamlessly, despite being a 33rd-round pick, giving up just one earned run in 24 1/3 innings and allowing only 13 hits and one (intentional) walk with 34 strikeouts. Moving up to Lansing, he wasn’t quite as sharp, allowing four runs in seven innings but only walked one and struck out five. Look for Wellbrock to jump to full-season ball right away next year.
I first saw 23-year-old Carlos Ramirez as a toolsy Dominican right-fielder with a cannon of an arm and great BP power but who never figured things out enough in games. After a poor start to another season with the Lansing Lugnuts (in which he hit .176/.250/.242 in 101 plate appearances), Ramirez was sent to extended spring training to begin his transition to being a pitcher. He emerged quickly with the Bluefield Blue Jays and threw 34 1/3 innings, posting a 2.62 ERA but was plagued by walks, issuing 19 free passes and striking out 24 with a 1.48 WHIP. It was certainly a positive start to a pitching career for Ramirez who will likely be moved fairly quickly through the organization starting next year where he could very well be back in Lansing.
Conor Fisk, a newbie to the organization, was selected in the 24th round out of University of Southern Mississippi and became another over-age reliever who had a great year for the Bluefield Blue Jays. Fisk threw 33 2/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, walking only 12 and striking out 32 in his Age-22 year. He’ll likely be in Vancouver or Lansing next year.
Oscar Cabrera really turned things around as a Blue Jays after two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. Last year, his WHIP was over 2.00 and his ERA almost 7.00 but in 2014, things were completely different as he was much harder to hit, posting a 1.98 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 21 walks and 36 strikeouts over 36 1/3 innings. The walk rate is still very high but Cabrera made big strides and could be up for a Vancouver spot next year as a 21-year-old.
After a year in the DSL, the Blue Jays gave 21-year-old righty Alberto Guzman a chance against much better competition in the Appalachian League. Guzman, didn’t fare nearly as well as he did in 2013, with a 2.06 WHIP and 7.84 ERA, thanks to 20 walks in 31 innings although he did strike out 32. It’s hard to figure where Guzman will be next although a Vancouver assignment wouldn’t be out of the question.
Jordan Romano, 21-year-old Canadian righty, was right at home in pro ball after being drafted by his hometown team in the 10th round of the 2014 draft out of Oral Roberts University. Romano, who stands at 6-foot-4, was one of the more physically imposing members of the relief corps and dominated to the tune of a 2.16 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 25 innings (with three additional innings in the GCL). Romano only walked 9 while striking out 33 which bodes well for things to come. With that type of mature presence, he may very well be given a chance to pitch in Lansing next year unless the Blue Jays want to get some Can-Con in Vancouver.
The final member of the bullpen (who saw the most time with Bluefield) was 6-foot-5 righty J.T. Autrey, drafted in the 32nd round out of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Autrey, 22, did not have a good pro debut, putting up a 9.82 ERA and 2.66 WHIP over 14 2/3 innings split between Bluefield and the GCL. Autrey really struggled iwth his control, walking 16 and only striking out 11 batters. I can see him back in Bluefield to start next year.
Part 4: Hitters
We go around the horn as we take a look at the Bluefield Blue Jays’ hitters in 2014. We start behind the plate.
In 2014, the Blue Jays drafted two catchers in the first four rounds of the draft getting Max Pentecost (11th overall) and Matt Morgan (fourth round). Where did this leave 19-year-old Dan Jansen, the Jays’ 16th-round pick in 2013? Obviously with something to prove to the Blue Jays’ brass as well as himself. Already showing that he has excellent bat control in his debut season with the GCL Blue Jays last year, Jansen took things a step further, leading the club in several offensive categories, hitting .282/.390/.484 (with 10 doubles and five home runs) before an injury cut short his season at 38 games. Jansen is showing advanced plate discipline, striking out only 17 times this year but walking 16 times and slugging extremely well. His defense appeared to be very solid, as he threw out 34% of potential base stealers. He’ll be 20 next year and, could be moved up slowly in order to allow Pentecost to play the full year in Lansing. I’d look for Jansen to get a taste of Canada with the Vancouver Canadians.
At first base, Rowdy Tellez has been written about a lot in this blog and I won’t over-burden you with the obvious: this guy can hit. Despite a slow start to the year, Tellez finished with very strong numbers with a .293/.358/.424 line (with 11 doubles, a triple and four home runs) in Bluefield before moving up to Lansing and hitting .357/.449/.500 with a pair of home runs in 49 plate appearances. He’s already showing the ability to take a walk and his strikeout rate, even in Lansing, wasn’t all that bad. Defensively, Tellez is far from a finished product and should get plenty of work through the instructional league and spring training. Look for him to spend at least the first half of the season with the Lugnuts next year as a 20 year old.
Rolando Segovia, a 19 year old from Venezuela, was the every day second baseman for the Blue Jays and the 5-foot-11 switch hitter had a solid year, hitting .244/.335/.372 with 12 doubles and three home runs. His solid walk rate (10.3%) and decent strikeout rate (21.5%) bode well for the future and, as a second baseman, there isn’t much competition in the organization. That said, I think that he’ll be in Vancouver next year, only moving up one rung in the ladder and not really taking anyone by storm.
Catcher Gabriel Cenas, 20-year-old Venezuelan third baseman, ended up with the most time at third this season for the Blue Jays. As one of the better hitters on the GCL Blue Jays last year, I thought that he’d be more productive this year but the 6-foot-1 right-handed hitter only had eight extra-base hits (six doubles and two home runs) while hitting .221/.294/.282. If he doesn’t repeat the level next year, look for him in Vancouver.
One of the youngest players on the team, 18-year-old Richard Urena was the going to get every day reps at shortstop. The Dominican is probably the best-fielding shortstop that the Blue Jays have among their lower-level international free agent shortstops and, in 2014, provided some offensive thump to go with the glove. Urena hit .318/.363/.433 with 15 doubles, two triples and two home runs before moving up to Vancouver for another nine games where he dropped off, hitting .242/.297/.364. Still, If Urena can hit as well in Vancouver next year as he did in Bluefield this year, the Jays will have an embarrassment of riches at that position going forward.
Center fielder Josh Almonte logged the most games in the outfield with 61 and, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this report, he was one of the key players on the club. Almonte, a 2012 22nd-round pick, hit .307/.343/.398 with 15 stolen bases, six doubles, four triples and a home run. The biggest concern with Almonte is his very low walk rate which, in 2014, dipped to 3.0% to go with a 25.9% strikeout rate (which has actually improved every year as a pro). There is raw power there and if he learns how to tap into while showing better command of the strike zone, he could be an up and comer. He’ll be 21 next year and could make the jump to Lansing with three years of short-season ball under his belt.
It’s hard to believe that Jesus Gonzalez, the every day right fielder for the Bluefield club, is still only 19. The toolsy player is still just that: toolsy. He has a great arm as well as solid raw power but he still hasn’t been able to put things together in games. In his second year in Bluefield, Gonzalez didn’t make any strides, hitting .188/.227/.265, posting a sub-.500 OPS for the second consecutive year. He has extreme problems with plate discipline, walking only 4.9% of the time and striking out 37.4%. Gonzalez’s time to show the Blue Jays what he’s got is now because after three poor seasons, patience must be wearing thin.
Trent Miller, the Blue Jays’ last pick in the 2014 draft (40th round) had a solid campaign with the Bluefield Blue Jays, hitting .257/.307/.400 before moving up to Vancouver for eight games. Miller is now 23 and will probably be in Vancouver for 2014.
Austin Davis, son of Blue Jays’ minor league field coordinator Doug Davis, signed on with the Jays as a non-drafted free agent after the draft concluded. The 21 year old played in 46 games, getting plenty of opportunity to play, but didn’t make the most of his experience, hitting only .216/.268/.216 without any extra-base hits and striking out four times as much as he walked.
Backing up Dan Jansen behind the plate were Kevin Garcia (30th-round pick in 2014) and Andres Sotillo (international FA from Venezuela). Garcia, 21, did more with the bat, hitting .255/.324/.316 over 112 plate appearances split between Vancouver and Bluefield with 80 of those plate appearances coming in Bluefield. Sotillo, 20, split his time almost evenly between the GCL and Bluefield, getting 65 plate appearances between the two with 33 of those in Bluefield. He hit .155/.246/.207 over those 22 games.
Three players got some additional time on the infield with Lydell Moseby (son of Lloyd Moseby) benefiting the most from Rowdy Tellez’s late season promotion to Lansing. While his batting average left a lot to be desired (.211), he took quite a few walks (12) without striking out a lot (24 times) and, despite only playing in 30 games and getting 110 plate appearances, he showed the power that’s latent inside his 6-foot-6 frame, tying Dan Jansen for the club lead in home runs (5) with four of those blasts coming in August. 2014 20th-round pick Aaron Attaway, 22, got into 36 games, playing second, third and short, hitting .206/.355/.309. 21-year-old Venezuelan Angel Rojas got 114 plate appearances over 34 games, playing all four infield positions, and hitting .250/.315/.310.
In the outfield, 39th-round pick James Lynch had a rough start to his pro career, hitting .132/.177/.189 with three doubles and a home run among his 14 hits. He only walked five times and struck out 37 times with Bluefield. Sean Hurley, drafted in the 24th round in 2013, played in 41 games combined between Vancouver and Bluefield with 23 games at the lower level. He also struggled with the bat, hitting a combined .157/.267/.270 over 136 plate appearances. 2012 third-rounder Anthony Alford played in a career-high 14 games in 2014 before leaving to rejoin his football team at Ole Miss. He played nine games in Bluefield and five in Lansing, hitting a combined .259/.333/.389, hitting two home runs and stealing five bases in just 60 plate appearances. His better numbers came from his five-game stint in Lansing. Finally, Jake Anderson continues to have a giant question mark beside his name in the prospect ledger. Anderson, playing for the first time since 2012 thanks to injury issues, only got into three games, going 1/10.
Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!
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