Jay Blue: Barreto Vancouver’s best

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 * Vancouver Canadians did not get to see their fourth straight championship this season, but they did get to see one of the Blue Jays top prospects in INF Franklin Barreto , 18, who hit  .311 with 23 doubles, four triples and six home runs whilee stealing 29 bases.

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By Jay Blue
The Canadians featured some of the Blue Jays’ best young talents and helped to paint a very bright future for the organization thanks to some great work on both sides of the ball.

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 Vancouver Canadians:
Franklin Barreto 9.5
Ryan McBroom 9.3
Roemon Fields 6.55
Miguel Castro 6
Jairo Labourt 5.8
Chris Carlson 4.25
Tim Locastro 4
Boomer Collins 3.25
Starlyn Suriel 2.5
Chase Mallard 2.3
Jonathan Davis, Matt Smoral 2
Alexis Maldonado 1.75
Michael De La Cruz, Gunnar Heidt 1.5
Zak Wasilewski, Max Pentecost 1.3
Ryan Borucki, Alberto Tirado 1
Ryan Metzler 0.8
Adaric Kelly 0.6
Justin Shafer, Jose Fernandez, Brenden Kalfus, Christian Vazquez, Mark Biggs, Andrew Case, Mike Reeves 0.5.

The winner is Franklin Barreto although Ryan McBroom gave him a good run for his money. If you haven’t heard Barreto’s name yet, get used to it: you’re going to hear it an awful lot as he may challenge more established prospects like Roberto Osuna to be the Blue Jays’ #2 prospect going into next season (I figure that Daniel Norris will be ranked #1 by just about everyone).

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
Who could it be? Of course, it’s Franklin Barreto taking another award. All he did was hit .311/.384/.481, playing shortstop as the youngest player in the league (at the start of the season), 3.1 years younger than the league average. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Barreto still put up some impressive power numbers, hitting 23 doubles (tied for the team lead), four triples (tied for the team lead) and six home runs (second on the team). He also stole 29 bases (out of 34 attempts) and walked and struck out at respectable rates (7.9% BB rate and 19.5% K rate).

Honourable mention goes to Ryan McBroom who hit .297 with a league-leading 11 home runs for the C’s.

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Yearjario
Jairo Labourt gets a lot of credit in my mind for bouncing back so well from a difficult start to the season, followed by a demotion to Vancouver from the Lansing Lugnuts. The 20-year-old Dominican went from being a wild liability in Lansing to a dominant ace in Vancouver, leading the team in innings pitched (71 1/3) and strikeouts (82) while having an ERA of 1.77 and a WHIP of 1.18. While you would expect his numbers to improve when moving down a level, his K% and BB% are practically mirror images of each other when you compare those numbers in Vancouver with those in Lansing. Labourt had a 27.5% K rate with a 12.4% walk rate in Vancouver but a 14.9% strikeout rate and 27% walk rate in Lansing!

Honourable mention goes to Dominican Miguel Castro, 19, who dominated so much in Vancouver, he was promoted to Lansing and then quickly to Dunedin to finish with the Blue Jays in their playoff run. Chase Mallard also figured into the conversation with a 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
This is actually a very tough call but I’m going to be a homer and give the award to St. John, New Brunswick native Andrew Case, a 21-year-old righty that the Blue Jays signed after an outstanding performance in last year’s T12 Tournament. Case gets the award thanks to his reliability over a larger body of work than Michael Kraft (see honourable mention). Case led the team in appearances (24) and logged 44 innings with a 2.45 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, walking 13 and striking out 37.

Honourable mention goes to Michael Kraft, the Jays’ 37th round pick out of the University of Texas at San Antonio this year. Kraft, a 5-foot-11 lefty just turned 23 in September and he dominated in Vancouver, allowing only two runs over 21 innings for a 0.86 ERA and allowing only seven hits. His 13 walks, however show potential for control issues while his 25 strikeouts bode well for his results at higher levels. That said, it was a tough call and had he thrown more innings, Kraft would have been our reliever of the year.

Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
This award was tough to call because of the the number of new players to the organization (see below). That said, most of the returning Blue Jays farmhands did pretty much what they did last year or regressed. one player who caught my eye a bit was second-year player Alexis Maldonado, a 23-year-old infielder who played 42 games as the third baseman for the Canadians. Maldonado had a decent year in Bluefield last year, hitting .260/.351/.280 but really started hitting with a little more authority this year, slashing .303/.365/.382 with seven doubles, a triple and his first professional home run.

Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer
As I said about the previous category, there were a lot of new players to the Blue Jays’ organization with the Vancouver Canadians this year and so many of them had great debuts in professional baseball. I can’t look beyond Ryan McBroom though who not only hit .297, but launched 11 home runs, leading the Northwest League.

Honourable mentions: I’ve already mentioned Chase Mallard, Andrew Case and Michael Kraft. Now’s a good time to talk about Roemon Fields, a non-drafted free agent who was signed at the end of the season last year and only made his pro debut this year. Fields hit .269/.338/.350 and tore up the basepaths, leading the Northwest League in stolen bases with 48 (out of 57 attempts). Another player who deserves mention is 23-year-old Chris Carlson, a left-handed hitting outfielder who the Blue Jays drafted in the 28th round this year. The 5-foot-7 outfielder led the club in OBP with a .409 mark, walking 36 times and striking out only 25 times while hitting .312 with 13 doubles and a triple.

Part II: Starting pitchers
The Vancouver Canadians had another very good year and a lot of that can go down to the quality starting pitching that the team got in 2014. By the time the short season rolled around, there were several candidates who were expected to perform well in Vancouver and others who stepped up from almost nowhere to be extremely valuable contributors to the club’s success.

We’ll start with our Pitcher of the Year for the Vancouver Canadians, Dominican lefty Jairo Labourt. After a strong season in 2013 with the Bluefield Blue Jays, Labourt, 20, and Alberto Tirado were poised to break out in full-season ball with the Lansing Lugnuts. Things didn’t go their way and neither ended up succeeding in A-ball and both required a step back to Vancouver. Labourt was having control issues, walking 20 batters in only 14 innings in Lansing before getting sent to extended spring training. It looks like whatever he did with the coaches in Dunedin worked because Labourt came out of the gate in Vancouver like a man on fire, posting a 1.77 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP to go along with very strong strikeout rate of 27.5%. His 12.4% walk rate is still very high but Labourt was able to be successful in Vancouver despite it.

Making the second-most starts for the Vancouver Canadians is a guy who pitched very well in Bluefield last year. 6-foot-1 lefty Zakery Wasilewski was not  zaknearly as effective in Vancouver this year, with an ERA ballooned to 7.32 and a WHIP of 1.82. Wasilewski didn’t impress me when I saw him in spring training, with a fastball in the 84-mph range and a changeup that was staying up high without any real movement to it. Obviously one spring training outing is not indicative of what a pitcher will do once the season starts but what I saw wasn’t a great starting point either. Other big takeaways from Wasilewski’s 2014 season was that his walk rate only went down from 13.6% to 11.6% so it’s still well above average and his strikeout rate plummeted from 21.4% (about average) to 13.0%. Wasilewski will need to rebound next year. he’s 25 and could be headed to extended spring training unless he sees a jump in velocity or development of his secondary pitches.

Dominican Miguel Castro, 19, made some waves last year, starting his season in the Dominican Summer League but reaching the Appalachian League by season’s end. The 6-foot-5, fireballing righty did the same thing this year, spending most of the season in Vancouver before starting a lightning journey through A-ball, making stops in Lansing and Dunedin. Castro was dominant in Vancouver, posting a 2.15 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with 53 strikeouts and 20 walks in 50 1/3 innings before striking out 20 with seven walks in 21 2/3 innings in four starts in Lansing. He continued to excel in his two outings in Dunedin, allowing only four hits with three walks in 8 2/3 innings. Castro showed an ability to throw the ball 98 mph with some life on it as well as a solid slider and changeup. While he’s still refining his command and consistency (especially with the offspeed stuff), the way the Jays have been promoting their players, he could reach the big leagues as soon as 2015 if he starts in Dunedin as I expect he will.

The only really “new” starting pitcher in the Vancouver rotation was Chase Mallard, the Jays’ 14th round pick in the 2014 draft. Mallard, a 6-foot-2 righty, started his pro career with the Bluefield Blue Jays but was promoted after three appearances to help out the Canadians at a higher level of baseball. Mallard ended up logging 52 1/3 innings with an excellent 2.75 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, allowing 11 walks and striking out 48 batters. He was definitely one of the important pieces to the Canadians’ success in 2014 and should be in Lansing in 2015.

Daniel Lietz, 20, started the season with the Bluefield Blue Jays and dominated over his 13 1/3 innings there before getting the call up to Vancouver. The 6-foot-2 lefty who was the Jays’ fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft struggled a bit more in the Northwest League, walking 22 batters in 33 innings while striking out 27. He posted a 5.73 ERA and 1.79 WHIP. Lietz is still young and could still move up to Lansing next year, however, without a really strong performance in Vancouver under his belt, he could be back there to start 2015.

Part III: Relief Pitchers
The Vancouver Canadians were a very successful team on the diamond despite the fact that the relief corps was, in general, pretty inconsistent. Several players made the jump up from Bluefield and found the going a little bit tougher than in Rookie Ball but some others managed to tame the Northwest League.

Our Reliever of the Year, 21-year-old Canadian righty Andrew Case, led the bullpen in games and innings and had an overall excellent debut professional season. Case, signed by the Blue Jays after the T12 Tournament in 2013, logged 44 innings in 24 appearances and posted a very good 2.45 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP and very solid peripherals thanks to a 20.8% K rate and 7.3% walk rate. Look for him in full-season Lansing in 2015.

6-foot-3 Dominican lefty Jose Fernandez jumped to Vancouver from the GCL and put up some okay numbers with a 4.01 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over 24 2/3 innings. The small sample size probably inflated the WHIP a bit but his 11 walks and 24 strikeouts were pretty solid. A trip to Lansing is likely in the cards for 2015.

Struggling with his control in 2014 was 21-year-old righty Mark Biggs. Biggs’ walk rate jumped from 9.3% in 2013 in Bluefield all the way to 13.7% with Vancouver this year. While his strikeout rate also too a big jump (to 18.7%), Biggs’ 1.81 WHIP and 6.91 ERA are indicators that he needs to polish before he’s going to succeed at a higher level.

Dominican Yeyfry Del Rosario, 30, has made some progress, pitching with both Vancouver and Lansing this season with the innings totals slightly skewed towards Vancouver. Del Rosario actually put up much better control numbers in Lansing, walking five batters in 18 2/3 innings while he walked 19 in 24 1/3 innings in Vancouver. His strikeout rate, on the other hand, was an outstanding 31.3% in Vancouver and a still-healthy 25.3% for the Lugnuts. Del Rosario will almost certainly be back in Lansing to start 2015 but could also see Dunedin before too long if he pitches well in the Midwest League.

Joe Lovecchio, who recently turned 24, had a fairly decent season, mostly pitching for Vancouver. He posted a 4.37 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over 22 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and eight walks before moving up to Lansing where he threw only seven innings but allowed just two runs. Lovecchio, thanks to his age, is going to have to make some real strides in 2015 and a Lansing assignment wouldn’t be out of the question.

I’ll be frank with you all. I thought Brett Barber, a 6-foot-1 righty, would have had a better season with the Vancouver Canadians this year. His 6.91 ERA and 1.46 WHIP are not very nice coming out of the season and his much lower strikeout rate in 2015 (16.4%) is not particularly desirable. That said, Barber allowed eight of his 11 earned runs over just two back-to-back outings on August 10 and 13 and without them, his season’s numbers would look a lot better. I could see Barber, 23, in Lansing in 2015.

Selected in the 37th round this year, Michael Kraft was absolutely dominant and, had he thrown more innings this year, he would have been my choice for Reliever of the Year. In 30 2/3 innings split between Vancouver and Bluefield, Kraft allowed just two runs to post a 0.59 ERA while striking out 34 batters and walking 15. Obviously the number of walks is concerning but Kraft could very well be solid contributor over teh next few years. He’ll be 23 in 2015 and will probably get the chance to show what he can do over a full season, starting in Lansing.

Hawaiian Kamakani Usui, 24, ended up with Bluefield and Vancouver and while his five innings of work with Bluefield were very solid, Usui struggled with Vancouver, posting a 7.88 ERA and 1.75 WHIP over 16 innings, walking six and striking 12. With such low walk numbers, Usui could just have been unlucky although the offseason will be interesting to see what the Jays decide to do.

Another pitcher who struggled in Vancouver was Tim Mayza. The 22 year old had a 6.75 ERA and a 2.15 WHIP through 20 innings with the Canadians timalthough his numbers through 6 2/3 innings in Bluefield weren’t much better. The 12 walks in 20 innings aren’t encouraging although Mayza did strike out 17. He’s a little younger than Usui and might be afforded slightly more of an opportunity in 2015.

Part IV: Hitters
With one of the best offenses in the Northwest League, the Vancouver Canadians got some great seasons from some young players including players who are considered among the Blue Jays’ top prospects. As usual, we start behind the plate and go around the diamond.

Pop quiz: Who played the most games at catcher for the 2014 Vancouver Canadians? It was Michael De La Cruz, a 21-year-old Dominican catcher in his second year with the Blue Jays’ organization. De La Cruz followed up his very good 2013 season (spent mostly in the Dominican Summer League) with a solid 2014 although when all the key players are healthy, he’ll never take away a starting spot from Max Pentecost. De La Cruz hit .232/.323/.310, showing very good patience at the plate but his defense, which saw him only throw out 18% of batters is probably just good enough.

At first base, the Canadians had another breakout performance. A year after providing the Northwest League with their MVP and home run champ (first baseman L.B. Dantzler), the C’s had another offensive fireworks display from their first bagger in Ryan McBroom. Ryan “McBoom,” as I called him, shared the NWL home run title, hitting 11 after being drafted by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the draft. His 59 RBI trailed only teammate Franklin Barreto and his overall slash line of .297/.339/.502 was excellent by any stretch of the imagination. There are a lot of positive comparisons between McBroom and Dantzler but McBroom, who stands 6-foot-3, probably has more raw power than Dantzler and could project a little better. At 22, McBroom is likely ready for his first full season in 2015 and will probably join the Lansing Lugnuts. Playing time at the 1B/DH position could become an issue for the Jays in the A-ball level next year, considering that Rowdy Tellez, Matt Dean, L.B. Dantzler and McBroom will all need to get into the lineup (and three of the four are left-handed hitters).

Pop quiz #2: Which Vancouver Canadians player lead the affiliated minor leagues in hit-by-pitches? Second baseman Timothy Locastro continued to show that he can get on base unlike anyone else. In fact, by getting hit by a pitch 32 times this season, he probably did get on base unlike just about anyone else, despite hitting .313. With a .407 OBP, the fearless Locastro is a great player to have at the top of your lineup. Locastro also took advantage of some very aggressive baserunning with Vancouver which saw the club lead the league in stolen bases with Locastro swiping 32 himself while only getting caught four times. The one criticism of his play could be that his walk rate dropped by almost half in 2014 but the fact is that because he got hit so many times, he didn’t really have the chance to take many walks! Going into his Age-22 season in 2015, Locastro will likely man second base for the Lansing Lugnuts and be a key contributor.

Playing the most games at third base in 2014 was Alexis Maldonado. This unheralded non-drafted free agent hit .303/.365/.382 with the Blue Jays but didn’t really have a lot of extra-base pop. He’s already 23 and should be a solid utility man higher up in the organization.

You’ve already read plenty of raving about Franklin Barreto by now. The 18-year-old Venezuelan shortstop improved on just about every part of his game in 2014 and tore the Northwest League apart. Barreto hit .311/.384/.481 increasing his walk rate and lowering his strikeout rate from his 2013 totals at lower levels. Despite being the youngest player in the league and standing at only 5-foot-9, Barreto had a .170 ISO that included 23 doubles, four triples and six home runs while he also stole 29 bases (with five caught stealing), demonstrating a rare combination of power and speed. Barreto also made 26 errors in 68 games leaving a lot of doubt about his ability to play shortstop at higher levels of baseball but if he continues to hit as he did this year, the organization will find a position for him. The Blue Jays like to have their prospects play a full year (or close to it) in Lansing although I could see an exception if he continues to demolish opposing pitching.

After being signed as a non-drafted free agent in August after playing a tournament in Canada, Roemon Fields went on to lead the Northwest League in stolen bases with 48 in his first pro season. Fields, who went to Bethany college, also hit .269/.338/.350 with 13 doubles, four triples and a home run while posting very solid strikeout and walk rates of 18.6% and 8.2% respectively. Fields can be expected to play in Lansing next year in his Age-24 season although if the club has a need, I could see him jumping up to Dunedin where his speed game would play very well.

The Vancouver Canadians got yet another tremendous debut season out of 23-year-old outfielder Chris Carlson who was selected in the 28th round of the 2014 draft. Carlson displayed tremendous bat skills in 2014, hitting .312/.409/.381 with 13 doubles and a triple. Significantly, he walked 36 times while only striking out 25 times, showing that he was more than game for Northwest League competition. Carlson is another player who will likely play where needed in full-season A-ball next year although Lansing is the more likely stop.

The third most utilized player in the Canadians’ outfield was 25-year-old Boomer Collins who was playing in his second season after signing as an Boomer-Collinsundrafted free agent last year. Playing at a somewhat more age-appropriate level this season with Vancouver (after playing in the GCL last year), Collins showed a good eye, walking 10.2% of the time, but struck out more often and only hit .222/.311/.302 with 11 doubles and a pair of home runs. Given that next year will be Collins’ Age-26 season, it’s tough to see what the crystal ball will foretell.

After a long college season with Kennesaw State University, catcher Max Pentecost spent most of his professional time at DH, injured or collecting hits in bunches, putting up a .324/.330/.419 line over 25 games (with 19 of them in Vancouver). While the 2014 11th-overall pick didn’t hit any home runs, Pentecost hit four doubles and three triples with eight multi-hit games including a 5/5 game in the GCL and a 4/6 game with Vancouver. Because of the small sample size, we should consider Pentecost’s small sample sizes as an appetizer for his professional career to come. I can see him holding down the fort behind the plate with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014 as a 22 year old.

Also performing backup catcher duties this season was Seth Conner. Conner, who has been in the Jays’ system since being a 41st-round selection in 2010, split his time between Vancouver and Lansing although he got much more playing time in Vancouver and hit .216/.296/.250 overall in 33 games.

Three additional players split time on the infield and two of them were 2014 draftees. Gunnar Heidt signed late but still got into 23 games with the Canadians (29 overall as he started off with the GCL Blue Jays). Heidt, a 13-round pick out of the College of Charleston, hit .262/.333/.429 in Vancouver (.264/.339/.425 overall). Metzler, drafted in the ninth round, struggled through his pro debut, hitting .239/.351/.265 in 35 games with Vancouver. The batting average and OBP were fairly decent but the slugging could use some additional thump as Metzler attempts to climb through the organization. With both Heidt and Locastro available as second basemen, the A-ball levels could get crowded in 2015 with all three gunning for playing time. Christian Vasquez, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican, played mostly at third base and had a poor year, hitting .160/.236/.185 in 29 games.

In the outfield, Brenden Kalfus made his return to Vancouver this year as a 22 year old and didn’t do nearly as well as he did last year in much more limited playing time. Getting only 63 plate appearances in 25 games, Kalfus must have been injured as he hit only .140/.222/.175. Jonathan Davis also had an injury-riddled season, hitting .216/.271/.386 in 27 games and 102 plate appearances. Davis, 22, was switch hitting for the first time in his professional career and it was clearly seen in his splits (although Baseball Reference isn’t listing him as a switch hitter yet). Davis hit .300/.364/.500 against left-handed pitching but only .164/.212/.311 against righties this year. Look for him to play a full season in Lansing next year.

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!

The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!

All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.

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