2016 Canadian draft list
Letters of Intent
Spring Training Notes
By Jay Blue
Jay Blue From Away
This was a whirlwind day with workouts in the morning, two (simultaneous) games in the afternoon as well as the trip to Tampa to see the Jays and Yankees. There was a lot to process and it’s catch up time.
In the early bullpen sessions, I saw a little bit of Ricky Romero pitching. He still doesn’t look like he’s giving it 100% and the consistency of his offspeed pitches were hit and miss but I could still see flashes of the nasty changeup that he’s known for. Additionally, he threw at least one outstanding curveball (which I thought he wasn’t throwing enough when he pitched in Toronto in September 2013).
Scott Copeland had a bullpen session and he was his typical self, throwing fastballs down in the zone with a lot of sink as well as sliders. In my mind, Copeland has just as good stuff as a lot of major league pitchers and just needs the opportunity to show what’s he’s got.
I saw Matt West throw. West is a converted infielder who has a ton of sizzle on his fastball with some nice arm-side movement. He’s still a project for the Blue Jays with minimal pitching experience thanks to his start as a hitter and missing some time due to injuries.
The last pitcher I saw in a bullpen session was Greg Burke. The 32-year-old righty is likely going to be in the Buffalo bullpen and he’s a sidearmer with a lot of sink on his fastball. I didn’t see him work with any other pitches in the session.
I was impressed by Lane Thomas’s quick bat to the ball while Josh Almonte shows a lot of power potential. He clears his hips quickly but keeps his hands (and bat) in the hitting zone well. Theoretically this should allow him to hit the ball with some authority even if he gets fooled or has to change the trajectory of the bat at the last minute.
Ryan McBroom, a 2014 draftee, is becoming my new favourite hitter to watch in the cage. He just had a really smooth and quick stroke with a nice swing path. The ball just sounds like he’s hitting it with authority when he’s at the plate.
Dunedin Game Action
If you’ve never seen a minor league spring training game, the first thing you should know is that with about 100 players in camp, they’re split up into four teams that roughly correspond to the four full-season minor league teams. Generally, two teams are on the road and two are at home. On Tuesday, the two “younger” teams (labelled “Dunedin” and “Lansing”) stayed back to face the Phillies’ younger teams while the “older” team went to Clearwater. While you’ll see a lot of the “Lansing” players open the season on the actual roster for the Lansing Lugnuts, you have to keep in mind that some of the younger and less experienced players in camp will be pushed down the depth charts to extended spring training when some of the older players are cut from the big league roster and come back to minor league camp. It’s also important to note that Tuesday’s games were the first actual spring training competition for the minor leaguers against real competition. Pitchers are working on things and hitters are just getting their timing back.
My day was spent watching the two “younger” teams with Chase De Jong starting for the “Dunedin” team and Matt Smoral starting for the “Lansing” team. If you go back and re-read my roster predictions, I prognosticated that both of these guys will actually start on those rosters, but again, there’s absolutely no guarantee.
I’ll also preface my observations by saying that there are two games going on simultaneously and it’s impossible to watch things closely on both diamonds at the same time. I generally float back and forth, trying to get a good look at guys that I haven’t seen before, especially if they were part of the previous season’s draft class. I also tried to get a good look at the more prominent names because I’m not going to have a chance to see them again in game action (Thursday’s games in Dunedin will be the “older” teams). If there’s not much to a particular note or observation it was because I was probably just picking up what little information I could before moving on to something else that was catching my attention. Pitchers (other than the starters) were throwing one inning each, to a max of 20 pitches and so, if they had a particularly quick inning, there’s a chance that I wouldn’t be able to see much.
For the rest of this post, I’ll focus on the “Dunedin” game.
For his first inning, I watched Chase De Jong. I’ve seen Chase quite a lot over the last couple of years and, like in the spring training start that I saw in 2014, he struggled in this outing. The Phillies hitters were all over his fastball and he gave up a home run and several other hard hit balls. He was being clocked in the 90-91 mph range but he was leaving the pitch up in the strike zone and, if there’s something I learned watching him last year, he needs to be down in the zone in order to get the most out of it. His changeup and his curve were both more effective and it looked like he was starting to work backwards a little bit (starting hitters off with the offspeed stuff rather than fastballs) which helped him keep the hitters off balance.
The next pitcher who I saw in that game was Brady Dragmire who is emerging as one of the top relief pitchers in the organization. Brady was my Relief Pitcher of the Year for the Lugnuts and he’s already showing his form. He’s working off a heavy, sinking fastball that is improving in velocity. Last spring in Lansing, I saw him throwing in the 86 mph range but yesterday, he was being clocked in the 89-90 mph range while touching 92. His fastball is effective because it has so much movement and he mixes in a slider and a changeup that are right around the same velocity (82 mph), allowing him to break bats and miss barrels.
Anthony Alford showed off his hitting prowess with a triple in the “Dunedin” game.
The only other notes I have from this game are about pitchers. Jonathon Wandling, a 2014 non-drafted free agent was hitting 90 mph with his fastball. Francisco Gracesqui, one of my dark horses for quick movement in 2015, was throwing his fastball at 90-91 mph with some movement. He looked like he was still finding the feel of his excellent changeup (at 80-81 mph) as the first one was up in the zone but the second one was much better, inducing a ground out. Finally, I saw 2014 draftee Dusty Isaacs who was throwing a sinking fastball in the 89-90 mph range (touching 91) with an 80 mph changeup that got a swinging strikeout. Jeremy Gabryszwski also pitched a couple of innings. While I wasn’t watching him closely (having seen him pitch several times in 2014), he appeared to be pitching effectively, mixing his speeds and using his well-developed offspeed pitches.
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