Jay Blue: Dean is Lansing’s best

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By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away

I had a great time with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014, having visited Lansing three times this season and getting to see the development of some of the players that I had seen last year in Bluefield.

That said, I was very disappointed with the outcome of the season. My original prediction was that, with a very talented young pitching staff and offense that included the most top-20 prospects in the Midwest League, the club would start off slowly but would become a juggernaut as the very young players developed.

Well, my prediction didn’t come to fruition as the Lugnuts finished with a 62-77 record under John Tamago, Jr. Despite a second-half record of 30-40, the club was in playoff contention all the way down to the wire thanks to a mediocre second half by several other clubs in the Eastern Division.

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 Lansing Lugnuts:
Matt Dean 11.3
Mitch Nay 9.8
Derrick Loveless 9.7
Chaz Frank 7
D.J. Davis 6.65
Dawel Lugo 6.35
Jorge Saez 6
Jeremy Gabryszwski, Chase De Jong, Dickie Joe Thon, Jason Leblebijian 5.5
Santiago Nessy 4.25
Kendall Graveman, L.B. Dantzler 3.5
Brad Allen 3
Justin Atkinson 2.8
Alonzo Gonzalez, Shane Dawson, Brent Powers, Rowdy Tellez 2.5
Tom Robson 2
Phil Kish 1.8
Scott Silverstein 1.6
Alberto Tirado, Yeyfry Del Rosario, Michael Reeves, Starlyn Suriel, Miguel Castro 1.5
Daniel Klein 1.3
David Harris 1.1
Matt Dermody 1.05
Griffin Murphy, Carlos Ramirez, Francisco Gracesqui, Ian Parmley, Chris Schaeffer 1
Brady Dragmire, Anthony Alford 0.8
Adaric Kelly, Jimmy Cordero 0.5
As you can see, it’s a very close race at the top of the table for the every day players that I was considering for the Player of the Year award. Mitch Nay was promoted with a couple of weeks left in the season and might have been able to our Player of the Game Champion, Matt Dean who ended up leading the club in home runs.

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
I’m going to be very uncreative here and award the Player of the Year to Matthew Dean. Dean had the highest OPS of anyone on the team with more than 200 plate appearances, and despite a slightly lower batting average and OBP while hitting five fewer doubles than Mitch Nay, Dean’s ability to tap into his extra-base power for a team-leading nine home runs and 192 total bases gives him the edge.

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
The Lugnuts didn’t have any dominating pitchers this year and there are several quirks of fate that came into play that prevented any of the top prospects from grabbing this award. Therefore, I’m handing this award to Brad Allen, a 25-year-old righty from Elk Grove Village Illinois who the Jays picked up as a minor league free agent part way through the season. Allen was, by far, the most consistent pitcher for the Lugnuts throughout the second half of a year that was characterized by an inability of the younger pitchers in the rotation to either live up to the hype or stay healthy. Allen averaged almost exactly five innings per start, throwing 75 1/3 innings over 15 starts and had a 3.11 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 23 walks and 82 strikeouts (which translate to 7.4% BB rate and 26.5% K rate). If you want to hear our interview with Allen from this August, check out Podcast Episode 30.

Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Yeardragmire
Brady Dragmire threw a whopping 77 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Lugnuts over 43 appearances and was trusted to finish 19 games, earning five saves. What’s impressive about Dragmire is the quiet, unassuming way that he went about his business. Dragmire doesn’t have overpowering stuff (as can be seen by his low-ish 14.4% strikeout rate) but his exceptional control (2.9% walk rate) allowed him to post a 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. The 21-year-old was a ground ball machine, inducing 2.17 ground outs for every air out, enabling him to be effective with an improved slider and a little more velocity.

Honourable mention goes to Phil Kish who, in his first full season of baseball, ate up innings in the Lugnuts bullpen, posting a 2.77 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and dominated hitters in Vancouver (one unearned run allowed in 14 innings) when sent down at the end of the year to help out at the back of the bullpen with another NWL title run.

Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
It took me a little while to come to this decision but I’m very comfortable that Alonzo Gonzalez was the Jays’ organization’s most improved player on the Lugnuts. But wait, you say, his numbers aren’t that much better than last year when he was a starter. Aha! Last year, as a 21-year-old starter for the Lugnuts, Gonzalez was getting rocked. He had an ERA of 5.56 and a WHIP of 1.90 over 79 1/3 innings over 18 appearances (including 16 starts) before heading down to Vancouver where he pitched another 37 innings out of the bullpen (much more effectively). Coming back to Lansing at the age of 22 in 2014, Gonzalez pitched in relief but logged the same number of innings (79 1/3). While his ERA was 5.11, his WHIP was far lower at 1.47 and his peripherals were far better, walking 8.5% (down from 10.9% in Lansing last year) and striking out 25.5% (up from 12.4%). The biggest kicker for me was the difference in FIP between the years. In 2013, Gonzalez rocked a 5.56 ERA and a 5.42 FIP while in 2014, he had a 5.11 ERA and 3.83 FIP. In addition, his fastball velocity was way up when I saw him this year. He was ranging from 87-89 mph last year but was sitting 90-92 mph this season.

Honourable mentions go to Canadian infielder Justin Atkinson who raised his batting average 61 points over his 2013 season in Vancouver. atkinsonUnfortunately, his walk rate slipped by almost half and his ISO remained about the same. I’ll also give points to Jorge Saez who jumped from Bluefield to hit .291/.400/.425 with 10 doubles, a triple and two home runs before being promoted to Dunedin.

Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer
At this point, the “Best Newcomer” award goes from being something that is handed out to new draft picks to something that will be won by minor league free agents or players coming to the organization from another avenue (like the minor league Rule 5 draft). There were actually no qualifiers on the hitting side and on the pitching side the clear winner is Brad Allen.

PART II: Starting pitchers
The Lansing Lugnuts’ starting pitching staff was easily the hardest hit by injury among the Blue Jays’ affiliates. With big names like Tom Robson, Shane Dawson, Chase De Jong and Adonys Cardona going down with injuries at some point, the Jays had to bring in a couple of minor league free agents to help stabilize things. As you can see, the season was characterized by some performances that were less than we expected from some of the exciting pitchers who logged innings with Bluefield and Vancouver last year.

Texan righty Jeremy Gabryszwski was the workhorse for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014, leading the club in innings pitched (141 1/3) and starts (26). gabryszkiGaby had a solid season and saw progression on a number of fronts, even getting his feet wet with two starts in Dunedin. Despite Gaby being a dominant ace in Vancouver, his stuff didn’t translate as seamlessly to the Midwest League as might have been hoped. Gabryszwski, 21, had some ups and downs in the season, starting off slowly with concerns about his fastball velocity. He was sitting in the 85-87 mph range early in the season but by May, had gotten that velo up to the high 80s. He still doesn’t throw as hard as one might think given his 6-foot-4 frame.

Overall, the numbers were solid for Gabryszwski who posted a 4.27 ERA in his Lansing innings (5.40 in 10 innings in Dunedin) while striking out 91 batters and walking only 21. His 1.39 WHIP was solid as well. His rate stats remained largely the same as they were in Vancouver in 2013, and he saw a rise in his strikeout numbers, striking out 2% more batters in 2014 (14.9%) and just 0.3% more walks (3.5%). If Gaby can get a little more zip on his fastball while retaining control, there’s no reason to think that the former second-round draft pick can’t put himself back on the radar next year in Dunedin.

Making the second most starts for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014 was Chase De Jong, a 6-foot-4 righty who the Jays have a lot of faith in. The 20 year old was my pick for a big year in Lansing after he impressed me in Bluefield but he only showed glimpses of what he’s capable of. With a fairly straight 90-91 mph fastball, a devastating curve and a solid, improving changeup, De Jong has a lot of potential. When I saw him pitch this year, he was very successful when he kept his fastball down but when he left it up, it was very hittable, indicated by the 12 home runs he allowed in 97 innings this year. Those home runs led to a 4.82 ERA and 1.39 WHIP and De Jong saw a small jump in walk percentage (to a still-low 5.2%) and his strikeout rate dropped to 17.2%. I’d like to see him throw a two-seam fastball or a sinker in order to generate more ground balls (he only had 0.64 ground outs per fly out this year) and keep the ball in the ballpark better. Missing the end of the season with an arm injury, De Jong will need to rebound from this season next year, likely in Dunedin.

Righty Brad Allen, 25, became a real stabilizing force for the Lugnuts’ pitching staff in the second half of the season after the loss of Graveman to promotion, Robson, Dawson and Cardona to injury and Labourt and Tirado to ineffectiveness. Allen, my Pitcher of the Year, was signed as a minor league free agent after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks and picked up by an independent league team. Having his best statistical year in affiliated baseball, Allen posted a 3.11 ERA and 1.25 WHIP under the tutelage of pitching coach Vince Horsman, walking only 23 and striking out 82 in 75 1/3 innings, giving him solid walk and strikeout rates of 7.4% and 26.5%, respectively. Allen could very well be a part of a very solid rotation in Dunedin in 2015.

Another minor league free agent, lefty Brent Powers, joined the Lugnuts in midseason but wasn’t as effective overall, making 11 starts and posting a 4.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over 48 2/3 innings. He struggled with his control at times, walking 22 and only striking out 35. A 2011 18th-round draft pick by the Oakland A’s, Powers, 25, was hit hard in the outing that I saw, allowing five runs on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings on August 23. Throwing in the high-80s, Powers’ fastball has some sink on it and he has some decent offspeed stuff but he definitely needs to locate to be effective.

We continue to discuss the Lugnuts’ walking wounded, beginning with Shane Dawson, who only managed to pitch 56 innings for Lansing before succumbing to an injury. In his Age-20 season, Dawson, a native of Drayton Valley, Alberta, pitched decently for Lansing, posting a 3.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with 24 walks and 46 strikeouts in those 56 innings. That said, both his walk and strikeout rates were much worse than the outstanding numbers he put up in Bluefield and Vancouver last year with a 19.2% K rate (over 30% last year) and a 10% walk rate (under 6% last year). The big question is what a healthy Dawson can do. We’re hoping to see that in 2015 and it will probably be either in Lansing or Dunedin.

Tom Robson, a 21-year-old Delta, BC native, finally gave up his season and had Tommy John surgery this year after a very disappointing start with Lansing, notching a 6.25 ERA, 1.74 WHIP and 18 walks and 22 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. Talking to Lugnuts broadcaster Trey Wilson (who was the Bluefield broadcaster last year), I learned that Robson didn’t seem like the same pitcher he was last year, one who kept the ball on the ground at incredible rates thanks to his hard, sinking fastball (in the low 90s). Hopefully the struggles were caused by his injury and that he’ll return in late 2015 and 2016 as one of the top young arms in the system.

The Dominican Starlyn Suriel, 20, made big waves this year, starting his professional career in Vancouver and finishing it with very solid s surielnumbers in Lansing. I caught one of Suriel’s late-season starts in Lansing and was impressed by his maturity on the mound, his ability to shake off a poor start and his mix of pitches. You can read my full scouting report here and you’ll see what kind of pitcher I think he is. Suriel racked up 79 innings between Vancouver and Lansing and had fairly consistent numbers between the two levels, actually improving in many aspects at a higher level. Suriel increased his strikeout rate (from 16.6% to 18.6% and decreased his walk rate (from 8.3% to 5.8%) as a member of the Lansing Lugnuts. His 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP are quite excellent overall and he should be interesting to watch as he moves forward, probably in Dunedin next year.

I had a minor debate about where I’d discuss Alberto Tirado but I finally decided to group him with the Lansing starters. He started seven out of his 13 games with the Lugnuts, despite being used primarily in relief with Vancouver. In 40 innings in Lansing, Tirado experienced a lot of difficulty, walking 39 batters and striking out 40 while getting hit for a 6.30 ERA and 2.10 WHIP. In Vancouver, he fared a lot better, but still walked 28 batters in 35 2/3 innings, mostly out of the bullpen. His strikeout rate didn’t go up too much (although it did reach 22.2%, a hair above what he did in Bluefield last year). I saw Tirado early in the year (as well as in spring training) and he wasn’t impressive, throwing his fastball in the 91-93 mph range with a flat changeup that was sitting up in the strike zone and a mediocre slider. For a guy who was hitting 97 mph later in the year, I obviously wasn’t seeing him on his best day. That said, I’m sure he’ll be back in Lansing in 2015 although his role is still up in the air. Will the Blue Jays decide that his best bet is in the bullpen?

Knuckleballer Frank Viola III pitched 23 1/3 innings with the Lansing Lugnuts, putting up some very respectable numbers before the wheels fell off after a promotion to Dunedin. With a 3.86 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP, Viola was promoted after five starts and walked 15 batters in Dunedin over 15 2/3 innings while striking out only four before being released. One of my favourite players to talk to this season, Viola just wasn’t able to tame the knuckleball when facing some better hitters in Dunedin.

No one’s talking much about Adonys Cardona who had probably the most bizarre and potentially serious injury, breaking his elbow while throwing a pitch. The 20-year-old Venezuelan was having some control issues (much like Labourt and Tirado), walking eight in 10 2/3 innings with an 8.44 ERA and 1.97 WHIP before going down with the injury. The ultimate outcome is uncertain but we definitely hope to see Cardona back in 2015.

PART III: Relievers
The Lansing Lugnuts had a big group of relievers over the course of the season and most were fairly effective. There were a few standouts including a true flame-thrower and a guy who took some major strides of what I saw last year.

Leading the bullpen in appearances was 24-year-old lefty Scott Silverstein, drafted in the 25th round in 2013. Silverstein overcame a lot of injuries silversteinthroughout his college career to even get drafted and he had a fairly solid season overall for the Lansing Lugnuts in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-6 lefty had a 4.08 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 64 innings for the Lugnuts, walking 27 and striking out 67, giving him some very solid peripherals, striking out 22.8% of batters and walking 9.2%. He throws in the low 90s with a slider and should move up to Dunedin next year.

My reliever of the year for the Lugnuts, Brady Dragmire, was a workhorse, throwing 77 1/3 innings over 43 appearances with an excellent 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, walking just nine and striking out 45. The walk rate is very impressive and, as I mentioned in Part 1, the low strikeout total is deceiving, considering how many groundouts Dragmire induced. I’ve only seen him throw in the mid-to-high-80s (the highest I’ve seen him touch over the past two years is 88 mph) but if he’s getting a little more juice on his fastball and it has a heavy sinking action, he could be very effective at higher levels thanks to his pinpoint control. The 21-year-old should be heading to Dunedin for his Age-22 season.

Roberto Espinosa, a 22-year-old lefty from Mexico, was selected by the Blue Jays in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past year espinozabut had never really pitched above the Short-Season-A level despite having been with the Pirates’ organization since 2009. He had an up and down year with the Lugnuts, logging 70 innings and posting a 4.37 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, walking 36 and striking out 72. While the 11.3% walk rate is high, 22.6% as a strikeout rate isn’t bad at all. Espinosa was throwing in the high-80s when I saw him in May but he had a slider with some late, hard bite to it. I could see Espinosa moving up to Dunedin in 2015.

In his age-24 season, the Blue Jays put Phil Kish to work in his first full season of professional baseball after signing as an undrafted free agent last year. Kish was dominant, pitching for Lansing and Vancouver, keeping his ERA to 2.26 (combined) and his WHIP to 1.08 (combined), striking out 60 and walking only 15 in 75 2/3 innings. Another ground ball pitcher (2.68 GO/AO this season) whose strikeout totals might be a bit deceiving, Kish throws in the high-80s/low-90s with great movement on his fastball while his secondary offerings are fairly solid. Look for Kish to be another guy moving up to Dunedin.

The Blue Jays’ 18th-round selection in 2012, Alonzo Gonzalez had a better season than his numbers indicated, earning my Most Improved Player Alonzo-Gonzalez1award for the Lugnuts. Despite his 5.11 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, his secondary numbers all improved significantly since last year, particularly his strikeout percentage which doubled in 2014 to 25.5% as he racked up 90 Ks over 79 1/3 innings while walking 30, down 12 from his Lansing totals last year in the same number of innings. I can see the 6-foot-5 in Dunedin for his Age-23 season.

One pitcher who really impressed when I saw him in Lansing early in the season was Griffin Murphy. Murphy had had some injury problems over the years but he really seemed to find himself coming out of the bullpen in Lansing before struggling with his control in Dunedin after a promotion. In 36 Lansing innings, Murphy had a 2.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP, striking out 47 and walking just eight. When I saw him, he was throwing with a three-pitch mix (fastball, change, curveball) and was spotting his pitches exceptionally well (especially his offspeed pitches), hitting 93 mph from the left side. In Dunedin, things were a bit different as Murphy walked 15 in 21 innings, striking out 15 and allowing 14 earned runs for a 6.00 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. Murphy definitely has what it takes in terms of the velocity, pitch quality and control to be better at higher levels and I’m interested to see what he might be able to do at the Double-A level next year.

Starting several games at the beginning of the year, 24-year-old lefty Matt Dermody became a solid bulpen arm who could make spot starts on occasion and was a very useful pitcher for the Lugnuts. The Jays’ 28th-round pick in 2013, Dermody was outstanding in Vancouver last year but couldn’t quite match those numbers, putting up a 4.67 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP with 36 walks and 65 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings with Lansing (including 12 starts). When I saw Dermody as a starter, he was throwing in the high-80s (touching 90 mph) with a decent chngeup and a slider that he was leaving up. Dermody has a short-armed deliver that I think will play better out of the bullpen but for a guy with his size (6-foot-5), and his splits bear that out: Dermody had a 6.46 ERA and 1.84 WHIP as a starter and a 2.36 ERA and 1.17 WHIP out of the bullpen. He doesn’t sink the ball as much as you would think, though, allowing 1.06 ground outs for every air out. Dermody could move up to Dunedin but the bullpen there is already getting crowded so he could remain in Lansing to start the season.

It’s always fun to see a pitcher throwing heat and 22-year-old righty Jimmy Cordero was one of the only Blue Jays’ farmhands to light up the radar gun corderoin triple digits. With only one season in the US before 2014 (last year, mainly in the GCL), Cordero started the season with the Lugnuts but was hurt before April was done, going on the DL. Returning in July, Cordero was throwing his 100 mph fastball, electrifying the crowds in Lansing. His ERA was very good (3.06) but his control was suspect as he walked 20 batters in 32 1/3 innings, striking out 34. When I saw Cordero pitch at the end of the season, I saw a guy with one pitch. His slider was rarely thrown in the strike zone and although it was thrown very hard (88-91 mph), it wasn’t very effective for him at all. For Cordero to reach the majors, that offspeed pitch will need to develop quickly. Still, the velocity will get him by in Dunedin if he’s there next year.

A guy that I really liked last year was Adaric Kelly who has one of the best changeups in the Jays’ organization. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough in his 32 innings in Lansing as he had a 6.19 ERA and 1.75 ERA with 17 walks and 19 strikeouts before being sent down to Vancouver where he was much better (1.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, five walks, 10 strikeouts in 11 innings).

Lefty Francisco Gracesqui split his Age-22 season between Vancouver and Lansing and franciso gwas one of the pitchers who really left an impression on me this year. Having seen Gracesqui last year in Bluefield, I noticed two things about him that really took his pitching to another level. First, his fastball velocity was up a tick to the 89-91 mph range (he was throwing 87-91 mph last year) and second, he is now a three-pitch pitcher, adding a curveball to his fastball/changeup mix. I was impressed with the change last year but his curveball is now an extremely effective third pitch. In 14 1/3 innings in Vancouver, Gracesqui didn’t give up an earned run over 14 1/3 innings, allowing only six hits and seven walks with 16 strikeouts. That success translated to Lansing as he allowed only five runs in 21 1/3 innings (2.11 ERA) with better control — nine walks (including two intentional walks) — and very high strikeout numbers with 28 Ks. I could see Gracesqui becoming a starter, as he was generally used in multi-inning appearances in Lansing and the youngster from the Bronx could move up to Dunedin next year and be a swing man in 2015.

PART IV: Hitters
The Lansing Lugnuts opened the season with a core group of young, highly-touted, position-playing prospects who were the talk of the Midwest League back in April. This group included a first-round, 17th-overall draft pick, an R. Howard Webster Award winner in 2013, a Northwest League Playoff MVP and a 19-year-old shortstop. With a solid group of role players, the Lugnuts were thought to be one of the better offensive teams in the league but development in young players is rarely linear.

Santiago Nessy was the busiest catcher for the Lansing Lugnuts but was promoted after the first half of the year with 44 games under his belt. Hitting .243/.333/.351 with the Lugnuts in 168 plate appearances, Nessy actually showed a little bit of progress but his stats plummeted after his promotion to Dunedin, hitting .211/.280/.300 and was limited to 25 games because of injury. I think I mentioned last season that Nessy isn’t as old as we think he is because he’s been around for so long. Nessy still isn’t 22 and if he starts in Dunedin, I could see him finally having a breakout year if he stays healthy.

Matthew Dean, my player of the year for the Lugnuts, was the every day first baseman and had a pretty impressive season, posting a very good batting average, solid OBP and very good slugging percentage with a .281/.332/.429 slash line. Dean hit 29 doubles, five triples and nine home runs but he offered glimpses of light tower power, impressing the people around the Lugnuts with his pop. The one area that Dean could use some improvement is in his strikeout rate. Dean struck out 117 times for a 24.1% percentage, only coming down 0.4% from last year and his walk rate has dropped in two consecutive years (less than 1% each year but still, it’s a trend). Dean will almost certainly be in Dunedin in 2015 as the first baseman for the Blue Jays.

Second baseman Dickie Joe Thon led the club in games at that position and the 22 year old Puerto Rican had a hot-and-cold season that that had him hit .265/.314/.359 with 20 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Thon had pretty average numbers overall but his strikeout rate of 27.3% was pretty high and his walk rate, 5.4%, is on the low side. I can see him in Dunedin next year but I have a feeling that he’s going to have to take a big step forward in 2015 to get noticed with all the infield prospects coming through the system.

Third baseman Mitch Nay won the R. Howard Webster Award as the MVP of the Lansing Lugnuts. Looking at the overall numbers, there wasn’t much to separate Nay, Dean and Derrick Loveless but Nay led the team in RBI (59), hitting .285/.342/.389 in 120 games with the Lugnuts before moving up to the Dunedin Blue Jays and hitting .189/.250/.216 in only 40 at bats. Nay is impressive because he struck out at about half the rate of some of his teammates — 15.3% of the time in Lansing — but he’s really going to need to start converting some of his 35 doubles into home runs (he only hit three) but the raw power is certainly there and he should start to show more pop as he enters his third professional season as a 21 year old.

The every day shortstop was 19-year-old Dominican Dawel Lugo. Lugo, described to me by batting coach Ken Huckaby as a puppy, has that wide-eyed lugoenthusiasm and shows it in the way that he’s eager to swing the bat. With a .259/.286/.329 slash line, Lugo had a tough time staying consistent throughout his first full season of ball and he rarely took a walk, relying on his excellent hand/eye coordination to make contact. The drop in numbers from his solid work last year probably reflects the better quality of pitching in A-ball and demonstrates that Lugo is going to have to come to the plate with a plan, especially as he moves up in the system. I see him in Dunedin next year, primarily because there’s little room in Lansing for both him and Franklin Barreto who will be the next wunderkind shortstop to man the position for the Lugnuts.

Probably the most exciting and frustrating player on the Lansing Lugnuts was D.J. Davis, the electric center fielder. Davis, in his Age-19 season, had dj davisthe type of mixed results that you’d expect from such a toolsy but raw player. There are contradictions all over the place in Davis’ stat line. He had 19 stolen bases but was caught 20 times. He had seven triples and eight home runs, second on the team in both categories but also set a new record for the Lansing Lugnuts, striking out 167 times in his 542 plate appearances for a whopping 30.8% K rate. His .213/.268/.316 line left a lot to be desired but I’ve seen first-hand his incredible power and speed that could turn into an elite-level big leaguer if he ever figures out how to hit the offspeed pitch. I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis returns to Lansing to polish some of his skills after time in the Fall Instructional League but I wouldn’t be surprised if he started in Dunedin either.

Derrick Loveless, a 21 year old from Solon Iowa, really had a strong season for the Lugnuts, hitting .264/.363/.390, outslugging Mitch Nay and having a better OBP than either Nay or Dean. He had 18 doubles, nine triples and six home runs for theLugnuts but could stand to cut down on his 120 strikeouts a little. Loveless also added 17 stolen bases in what was probably the best all-around season for any of the hitters. I could see Loveless getting a chance to continue his development in Dunedin next year.

Chaz Frank had the third-most games in the outfield and the 23-year-old left-handed batter only joined the Lugnuts out of extended spring training in mid-May. Frank is best known as a speedy outfielder who can get on base via the walk and he showed that off, taking 39 walks and striking out only 40 times in 307 plate appearances. Frank only hit seven extra-base hits (four doubles and three triples) but also stole 17 bases, hitting .245/.348/.284. I can see Frank as a guy who will go where he’s needed next year whether it’s in Dunedin or back to Lansing.

Veteran infielder Jason Leblebijian was probably one of the more valuable members of the Lugnuts, as a jack of all trades, getting time at all four jason linfield positions and even pitching twice (giving up two unearned runs in 1 1/3 innings without walking anyone and striking out a batter). While Leblebijian isn’t going to set the world ablaze with his bat, he certainly isn’t a liability, hitting .248/.322/.378 with 23 doubles, two triples and five home runs. With a 7.7% walk rate and a 19.5% strikeout rate, Leblebijian is a very solid presence in the lineup, able to contribute on offense as well as on defense. I love watching Leblebijian play defense. His smooth, soft hands pair well with a very strong arm and his ability to play multiple positions will serve him well in what will be a long, pro career. He could be sent anywhere from Lansing to New Hampshire next year, depending on where he’s needed.

I find it a little tricky to decide what kind of year B.C.-born infielder Justin Atkinson had. On the one hand, Atkinson made some big strides in his Age-20 season with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting .291/.336/.355, improving a great deal in the batting average and slugging percentage categories over his season in Vancouver last year. The 2011 26th-round pick saw a big drop in his walk rate (from 11.3% in 2013 to 5.9% in 2014) although his strikeout rate dropped precipitously as well (from 27.0% in 2013 to 18.7% in 2014). That said, for a guy with a nice-sized frame like Atkinson (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), he hits for very little power, with just eight doubles, three triples and a home run in 289 plate appearances this year for an ISO (Isolated Power) figure of just .065. Atkinson started out as a middle infielder but has since been pushed to the corner infield positions but will likely need to hit with some more power in order to find a spot in the higher minor leagues. I think he might return to Lansing next year, considering that he won’t be 22 until late July. He could, however, be tapped to start 2015 in Dunedin.

David Harris, a 23-year-old Arkansas native, is starting to get some people talking around the Blue Jays. The infielder/outfielder’s versatility (he played second base, third base and left and right field this season with Lansing after playing three infield positions with Vancouver last year) is key to his ability to get playing time but he was also one of the Lugnuts’ better hitters down the stretch, only getting called up to Lansing (from Vancouver) in mid-June. Harris pumped up his numbers considerably after a fairly slow July but hit for a .717 OPS in August with eight of his 19 extra-base hits coming in that month. Harris ended up with a .254/.301/.406 slash line including six home runs (among the team leaders) with Lansing but a low walk rate (2.9%) and a high strikeout rate (25.7%) will need to be rectified going forward. That said, in his Age-23 season coming up in 2015, I’d expect to see Harris in Dunedin. Not bad for a 36th-round pick.

Outfielder Ian Parmley played mostly in Lansing but but was limited to 56 games overall due to injuries. While I saw some of Parmley’s power in BP, in games, he mostly went the other way and ended up with a .209/.328/.227 slash line in games although he actually had more extra-base hits (three) in 15 games in Dunedin than he had (two) in 41 games in Lansing. Parmley’s .261 batting average in Dunedin may be due to his more normalized BABIP (.308) there which was 63 points above his BABIP in Lansing (.245). Parmley’s value is in his ability to get on base as he takes a very high percentage of walks and rarely strikes out. He’ll likely be available to play for a number of teams as an extra outfielder in 2014.

Catcher Jorge Saez was another late-round draft pick who impressed in Lansing, hitting .291/.400/.425 before a promotion to Dunedin tapered some of those numbers off a bit. Still, known as an excellent defensive catcher and a team leader on the field, Saez’s abilities with the bat will make him more than just another organizational catcher for the Blue Jays. He’ll likely start the season in Dunedin or even New Hampshire in his Age-24 season in 2015.

Catcher Daniel Klein, 24, spent most of his playing time with the Lugnuts, hitting .252/.299/.383 with six doubles, a triple and two home runs in only 118 plate appearances. Klein definitely has some pop in his bat but his five walk/33 strikeout ratio leaves a lot to be desired. Like many of the catchers in the Blue Jays’ system, Klein could be in any one of a number of different places next year. With Nessy, Pentecost, Chung, Jimenez and Jansen all looking for regular playing time (although Jansen could very well be in Vancouver), the competition for playing time among the backups could be fierce in 2015.

Catcher Mike Reeves, a Peterborough native, didn’t have his second pro season go as well as his first, and hit a combined .213/.312/.257 in 232 plate appearances at three levels with Vancouver, Lansing and Dunedin. Reeves lacked power but still managed to put up almost identical strikeout and walk rates as he did last year with 27 walks and 38 strikeouts in 232 plate appearances (compared to 28 walks and 36 strikeouts in 227 plate appearances in 2013). Reeves had solid defensive numbers and will probably be fighting for a backup catching spot somewhere in the organization in 2015.

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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