Sunday, 26 September 2010

2010 Positional Review: Catchers

Probably no position in the Blue Jays system other than the starting pitchers has gotten more real and virtual ink than the catchers, and for good reason. When everyone was healthy, the Jays could field a legitimate potential major league catcher for each of their top five minor league teams, and still have a few intriguing if marginal guys besides.

1. J.P. Arencibia (24) - Perhaps no prospect in the Jays system reversed his fortunes in 2010 more than Arencibia. I took the time before writing this commentary to look back and see what I had to say last year, when JPA was coming off the only bad season at the plate he's ever had. That review was written without my even knowing about the fact that Arencibia had had both kidney surgery, and LASIK eye surgery last offseason, or hearing the comments he made in the spring about how much his vision was hampering his production in 2009.

What I did note last year was that Arencibia was, in my judgment, rushed when the Jays assigned him to AAA after only 67 AA games in 2008. The combination of all those factors couldn't help but have led to less than his best work in 2009 and I retained him at the #1 spot among Jays' catchers on that list. but not even I expected the sort of resurgence he had in 2010.

One of the things that jumped out about the 2009 statistics was that in the same months in which Arencibia hit the most homers, he also drew the most walks. Every observer who commented on that season immediately said "you can't cut it in the majors with that walk rate." Well, Arencibia was apparently listening, increasing his BB% from 5.6% to 9.2% (which is about equal to John Buck's career high in the majors). that is still not great, and it is undoubtedly his greatest weakness, but it's not too low to survive in the majors. Arencibia really is looking an awful lot like Buck 2.0, though one hopes he can live up to his billing over the course of his career better than Buck (who got a lot of praise coming through the minors) did.

2. Carlos Perez (20) - Maybe not the guy you expected to see at this point? I'll get to the other guy in a sec. There was considerable buzz around Perez last off-season (ranked in more than one Top 10 list), though he was and is a long way from the majors in terms of the development chain. He did nothing but get better this year. Playing in 66 games for short-season Auburn, Perez posted an .834 OPS (fueled by a .396 OBP) and had eight triples and seven steals, demonstrating his speed and athleticism. He's expected to develop power as he matures, and that skill - if it comes - would make him as complete a player as their is in the Jays system.
He's considered a skilled defender for his age as well, but given his physical skills, it is not inconcievable that with so many good catchers he ends up being moved to another position if he's blocked when he's ready for the majors in 3-4 years. He'll get his first shot at full season ball in Lansing next year.

3. Travis d'Arnaud (22) - The Jays were really excited to acquire d'Arnaud (whom they had intended to draft with the pick that turned out to be Brett Cecil before the Phillies scooped him up) in the Halladay deal and out of the gate, he certainly justified that praise. In April he put up a sterling .909 OPS but that number began to slip in May as he suffered from what we would eventually learn to be pain in his lower back. A DL stint did little to alleviate the situation and d'Arnaud returned a shell of his former self, striking out 48 times in 44 June and July games (which was wildly off from his career pattern to that point). After he hit .205 in July he was shut down at the end of the month and, I believe, was sent for surgery on his back.

Back injuries are big red flags for catchers, especially one who's in an organization where the major league team plays on turf. It's difficult to forecast what the future holds for d'Arnaud. If healthy, he's arguably a top 10 prospect for the Blue Jays - but that's a big if. Also, it might so happen to be that he's repaired enough to play, but not enough to be a catcher. Keep an eye out for the possibility of him being moved out from behind the plate if the injury is chronic. it the health question that leads me to rank him this low. If healthy, it's possible the Jays might advance him to NH in the spring, despite the poor results at Dunedin.

4. AJ Jimenez (20) - Puerto Rican Jimenez, who'll turn 21 in early May next year, spent the year at Lansing and insisted on being included in the catcher conversation. His manager was former major league catcher Sal Fasano, and Fasano raved about Jimenez's major league potential. Like Perez, he's athletic (he stole 17 bases) and yet to develop as much power as you'd like, and he, too, is said to be a quality defender. Unlike Perez, he has serious work to do on his walk rate, and needs to cut down on his strikeouts.
Of all the guys here so far, if you lay aside potential health issues, Jimenez might be the guy most likely to pull a Sandy Martinez and simply not translate to the majors. But don't assume that means I'm writing him off. He's a talented kid and just needs refinement. Look for him to go to Dunedin next year (in lock-step with d'Arnaud's promotion) and don't be surprised if that pitcher's league makes him look kinda bad - very few hitters put up real impressive states in the FSL.

5. Brian Jeroloman (25) - Thanks to the maddening quirks of MiLB, I can't give you the specific details of Jeroloman's 2010 season but from memory I can tell you this - along about mid-may one of the most intriguing questions in the Jays' system was "What's gotten into Brian Jeroloman?" The defense-first catcher (he's been compared to the best of major league defenders over the last decade or so - think Mike Matheny or Brad Ausmus, for instance) had suddenly figured out what the lumber was for. Sadly, it didn't last and he reverted pretty much to form over the balance of the season.
Still, it was on the whole an impressive second spin around the EL. He raised his OBP (the one offensive skill that had been his calling card before 2009) from .330 to .429 and improved his slugging percentage by almost 100 points. It's difficult to know what to make of the early offensive outburst, but the smart money is still on Jeroloman settling in as a classic all-glove, no-bat major league second string catcher in a year or two. But next year, he'll get to inflate his stats again be heading to Las Vegas.

Other catchers in the system to keep an eye on: Yan Gomes (free-swinger with good pop), Sean Ochinko (versatile guy, can play 3B and 1B), and Santiago Nessy (bonus baby is a LONG way off),

Friday, 24 September 2010

Point of Order

We've heard, over the course of the last month, a considerable amount of rhetoric floated about the interwebs concerning whether or not Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera should be the MVP. Occasionally this buzz is invaded by some enterprising soul, engaging in the ever-present and always annoying effort to make the Yankees the center of every discussion, who insists that it is really Robinson Cano who is worthy.

Many's the time the case is made that the Tigers would be the Mariners without Cabrera, while the Rangers have a potent lineup. Others delve into the relative value of various stats, or the comparable values of their defensive positions (this is where the Cano crowd really turns up the volume).

What you NEVER hear in these discussions is any mention of the man who now has not only 52 homers, but 41% more homers than his closest competitor: Jose Bautista.

For all the good it will do me (i.e. none) let me guide you, gentle reader, through the logic which leads me to call that omission a travesty.

First, let's take the comparisons individually. Since Cabrera seems to be the slight favorite, I'll start with him. As of the end of play on Friday, September 24, 2010, here are the stats (no WAR or anything because the voters won't look at the advanced metrics anyway) with JB on the left and MC on the right:

Avg - .268 - .329
OBP - .387 - .420
SLG - .635 - .619
OPS - 1.021 - .1039

AB - 534 - 535
R - 105 - 108
H - 143 - 176
2B - 34 - 45
3B - 3 - 1
HR - 52 - 36
XBH - 89 - 82
RBI - 118 - 122
BB - 98 - 87
K - 106 - 93

Note that if JB had TEN more SINGLES he'd have the same OPS as Cabrera.

I ask you fair minded reader, even if you allow that Cabrera's season is marginally better (coming into tonight, his OPS+ was slightly ahead) does it make any sense to you that Cabrera is the marginal favorite and Bautista is not even in the damned conversation?!

Perhaps you prefer Hamilton?
(parenthesis is Hamilton's rate pro-rated to same number of AB as Bautista)

Avg - .268 - .361
OBP - .387 - .414
SLG - .635 - .635
OPS - 1.021 - .1049

AB - 534 - 507
R - 105 - 94 (99)
H - 143 - 183 (193)
2B - 34 - 40 (42)
3B - 3 - 3 (3)
HR - 52 - 31 (33)
XBH - 89 - 74 (78)
RBI - 118 - 97 (102)
BB - 98 - 43 (45)
K - 106 - 95 (100)

Again, the major difference here is fueled by batting average. Fifteen singles and they have identical OPS figures. Again, Hamilton is in every MVP story, Bautista can't get a mention.

Cano? don't get me started!

Avg - .268 - .319
OBP - .387 - .380
SLG - .635 - .536
OPS - 1.021 - .916

AB - 534 - 595
R - 105 - 100
H - 143 - 190
2B - 34 - 39
3B - 3 - 3
HR - 52 - 28
XBH - 89 - 70
RBI - 118 - 104
BB - 98 - 55
K - 106 - 74

I'll deviate from my "old school stats" format here to point out that even if you factor in defense, Cano's WAR (6.5) is slightly below Bautista's (6.7) - you irrational Yankees fans can now exit the room.

Now, to go back to the front runners, the argument in favor of Hamilton is superior stats (and he does lead this group with a WAR of 8) and if that's your position, cool. But are you willing to say that his stats are SO superior that a man who's about one single every two weeks away from him isn't even in the top 3 candidates? Still, I tip my hat to the Hamilton argument - if total stats are your bottom line then fine, vote Hamilton #1 and Bautista #2 and we have no quarrel.

My real beef here is with the folks who say "Where would Detroit be without Cabrera?" First, let's specify that both teams have exactly the same W/L record as of tonight. Next, let's look at each team's statistical totals with the player in question factored out.

Without Cabrera, the Tigers' team OPS drops from .753 to .722 (-.031) and their rank in the league drops from 6th best to 10th. Without Bautista, the Jays team OPS drops from .763 to .737 (-.026) and their rank drops from 4th to 9th in the American League. Defensively, by the way, Cabrera fills the second easiest position in the lineup to replace (next to DH) and Baustista saved the Jays a lot of grief by being flexible enough to play two key defensive positions (neither man is a gold glover).

So I ask you, in all sincerity, are the Jays without Bautista - in the AL East no less - really a better team than the Tigers without Cabrera by any appreciable margin?

If not, then I demand justice. By any measure, Bautista is in the same conversation as either Hamilto or Cabrera in terms of offensive production. By the most obvious standards, Bautista was as valuable to the Jays as Cabrera was to the Tigers. if you start talking about the respective teams being contenders, I'll ask you whether it's Bautista's fault (or Cabrera's accomplishment) that the Tigers are not in the AL East.

On shear production, Bautista is the second most valuable hitter in the American League this year. Factoring in the more uncertain factors of value in the context of his particular team, Bautista's claim in that regard is every bit as good as Cabrera's.

Should he win?
Frankly, given that the latter consideration is a draw between Bautista and Cabrera, I'd be inclined to vote for Hamilton. But any voter who puts Cabrera in the top three and not Bautista doesn't deserve his ballot.

(if you think I've made a good case, make sure that the "big name" writers see it and let's see if we can create some late buzz)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Managing somehow

As the Cito Countdown reaches Ten Games, and JB has nailed #50...and we even had a sighting of the rare and elusive JPA today (wonder how many of those M's runs would have scored with an actual good defensive catcher behind the plate . . .) the major focus of discussion in jays-land turns to who the next manager will be.

I'll defer to Parkes at DJF for a thumbnail sketch of the oft-mentioned candidates but I did want to throw together a list of all the names I can find that have been mentioned, with a brief thought where appropriate:

EDIT: I've re-ordered the list a bit to try to reflect a ranking of who I think has the best odds, with the exception that I really think Gonzalez lands in Atlanta but he's just too good to rank lower, IMO)

1. Brian Butterfield - top in-house candidate, if familiarity with the organization is a big consideration, that's an ace in his hand.
2. Fredi Gonzalez - if you go outside the organization, this is the guy you probably want - but the assumption is he's a lock to follow Bobby cox in Atlanta.
3. Eric Wedge - One time indians manager, still widely well-regarded
4. Tim Wallach - perhaps the most highly praised out-of-system candidate who hasn't yet managed in the majors, he's the Dodgers AAA manager. the last time the Dodgers passed over their AAA manager and hired someone else, that guy went on to get a job elsewhere - and Mike Scioscia has turned out pretty well.
5. Ryan Sandberg - The "name" guy, reportedly under consideration but seems an awkward fit - if he's good, it would be insane if the Cubs didn't hire him, that's the job he wants. If they don't, that would be a red flag, no? 'Course it could just mean the Cubs are stupid too. You could argue he's a better choice than Wallach but as long as he's holding out for the Chicago job it weakens his chances here.
6. Dave Martinez - One of Joe Maddon's coaches in Tampa, good place to pick up lessons applicable here.
7. Nick Leyva - Has openly declared his desire for it, if jays go with him they might lose Butterfield to Baltimore.
8. Don Baylor - Cito has put in a plug for him.
9. Rob Thomson - Yankees 3B coach, NOT the guy who used to play 2B for the Giants. But he is Canadian, for what that is worth.
10. Pat Listach - yes, the one-time Brewer SS, said to be an "up and comer"
11. Don Wakamatsu - Everyone seems to agree he's got skills and got a raw deal in Seattle.
12. Juan Samuel - another former Jays player (along with Martinez) buzz has cooled lately on him as the list has grown.
13. Luis Rivera - AA manager, probably not his time yet.
14. Sal Fasano - Lansing manager, not his time yet, but likely will work his way up to a big-league staff within a few years.
15. Bobby Valentine - A lot of folks are enamored with him - I've never understood why. Spotlight in TO probably not hot enough for his tastes.
16. Joey Cora - was all the buzz over the last couple of years but less has been said this time around, probably for no important reason.
17. Alan Trammell - Nobody has mentioned him lately, particularly in relation to the Jays. But many feel he was doomed by the talent level in Detroit, and he has good mentors (Sparky Anderson and Lou Pinella).
18. Willie Randolph - Was once the "next big thing" - the dew might be off that rose - or not.
19. Bob Melvin - won manager of the year in Arizona . . . but has lost two different jobs pretty quickly.
20. Bob Brenly - won a ring in Arizona, hasn't managed since they fired him in '04. One has to wonder about the D'Backs penchant for firing people quickly. Also a prominent candidate for the Cubs job. I hope he gets it.

I'll add more as the names come over the wire. It's also necessary, for the sake of thoroughness, to mention that there will be a carousel of "big names" which will be in play this off season as several high profile managers are in the last year of their contract. Notably, the Yankees' Joe Girardi and the Cardinals Tony LaRussa. You can bet Valentine won't take his name out of that dance early. Also, besides Atlanta, Seattle, the Dodgers, the Cubs and Brewers also have openings, and the Mets are sure to join that group. Likely the Pirates as well. So technically, you have to include LaRussa (for instance)as a "candidate" in Toronto but there doesn't seem to be any buzz that they will go for the name choice.

Note: If I misspelled any names, overlook it. I was too rushed to hunt down a spelling verification on all these guys.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

2010 Positional Review: Relief Pitchers

As Jose Bautista moves within one of being the first Blue Jay ever to reach 50 home runs (I doubt even the BAS saw THAT coming) and we learn that the Blue Jays highest short season team will be playing in Vancouver next year (more on that later in the off-season) and while we wait to see if Alex Anthopoulos can somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat and get the Jays' AAA out of Las Vegas, it's time for the Weekly positional review. This list will be much shorter than last weeks, but if you start with the starting pitchers, this is what comes next.

The preliminary caveat to this list is that a LOT of guys on the last list will likely find that the bullpen is their fastest route to the majors. In fact, if Bob Elliot is to be believed, the Jays warned both Henderson Alvarez and Zach Stewart that they should be prepared for either role next year. Though frankly, it would take an unusual circumstance for either to be relieving next year. Alvarez is just too far down the chain for a player of his caliber to go to the 'pen (In fact, there's even a possibility that Elliot misplaced a comma and Alvarez wasn't in fact, given this instruction).

As for Stewart, the obvious explanation is that the talented right-hander (who's considered to be good enough to close in the majors now better than most who are doing that job) is the hole card that the Jays have in reserve as they manipulate the shape of their major league 'pen over the off-season. If the Jays decide to decline the option on Kevin Gregg and collect the compensatory draft pick, then the closer role is up for grabs with David Purcey and Josh Roenicke the presumptive front runners. But both pitchers have warts on their previous records and if the more experienced candidates fail, the Jays might open the door for Stewart - especially given the depth of options for the rotation over the next year or two.

Now, looking down the list, the following guys (not all rookies of course) could find themselves candidates for the major league 'pen in 2011 having been squeezed out of the rotation: Scott Richmond, Marc Rzepzynski, Brad Mills, Jesse Litsch, and Bobby Ray.

Looking further down the list, some obvious candidates to get a clearer path to the majors in relief pitching than as starters include: Bobby Bell, Joel Cerrano, Luis Perez and possibly(because of his health record) Sam Dyson. Of course, any starter who gets buried in the depth chart is equal parts relief candidate and trade bait.

On to the list:

1. Josh Roenicke (28) RHP - The sequence of this list is a total judgment call, and I could put any of the top four anywhere in the top four and be both right and wrong. Of the four, there has been more praise directed at Roenicke's raw ability than any of the rest and that's why he's here. It's true he's 28 which, in normal terms, is too old to still be a prospect. The thing that makes him an exception is that he came to pitching late, being 23 when the Reds converted him, and he has only about 260 IP in his career. He's said to have real closer ability if he can make progress with his control, which has been sporadic.

2. Danny Farquhar (24) RHP - Farquhar opened the AA season as a closer but was moved out of that role in may as the Jays saw him as a reliever more suited to multiple innings. He's quite good at missing bats and fairly good at missing the strike zone as well. While posting an impressively low H:9 ratio of 5.82 over his career, Farquhar still only managed a 1.21 WHIP in 2010. Farquhar is notorious for throwing from multiple arm angles which contributes to the difficulty to hit him, one would assume, as well as potentially leading to more wildness in the aggregate.
One thing to note about his 2010 season: Over almost six weeks from May 1 to June 8, Farquhar threw 16 IP and gave up 19 earned runs (and allowed 18 hits and walked 16). In all other appearances, he he threw 60.2 innings and gave up 11 earned runs (32 hits and 26 walks) - that's an ERA of 1.63 and if that represents the "real" Danny Farquhar, then that's something to be excited about.

3. Trystan Magnuson (25) RHP - the lanky (6'7") Magnuson isn't a power pitcher but he's become quite a good one. At one point during the 2010 season he went 8 weeks (17 appearances) without giving up a single run, earned or otherwise. His control is superlative, giving up only 10 walks all year (including only 3 in his last 30 IP) but he's not overpowering (hitters averaged .256 off him as compared to .189 for Farquhar). His ceiling might be a sort of Jon Rauch type reliever, though he's less likely to see that kind of leverage until he proves himself in the majors.

4. Alan Farina (24) RHP - Promoted to AA for good in July (after a brief earlier visit) Farina continued the dominance he'd begun at Dunedin. His combined ERA for both stops was 1.29 and hitters in the Eastern League had even less success than those in the FSL against him (.092 in the EL, .156 in A ball). He's a half step behind the two men in front of him, having only 19 IP in AA, but his work is so impressive he might catch up with them soon. Like Farquhar, he has an impressive ground ball ratio which can only help as he moves up to pitch in front of better defenses and on better fields. With the right chain of events, all four of these guys could pitch in Toronto in 2011.

5. Frank Gailey (25) LHP - There's a considerable gap in projectability between the top four and the rest, but there are some names to note and Gailey is one. He's a bit old for Dunedin (at 24 this year) which is why there's a caveat, but perhaps it should be a smaller one than I've implied. Gailey was a workhorse in the Dunedin pen, logging an very impressive 91.1 IP (only one start on the back-end of a double header in which he went 4 innings) and striking out 99 against a stingy 10 walks. Given his age, relative to level, he's another guy than can and should be challenged and moved as fast as his production indicates.

6. Evan Crawford (24) LHP - Crawford did well after being shifted from a sometimes starter at Lansing to a full-time reliever in Dunedin. He showed a rather extreme groudball split (2.74) and batters hit just .237 off him. He got better as he went on too, posting an ERA of 0.93 after August 1. He was a tic old for that level, and hopefully the Jays challenge him by moving him up to AA next spring.

7. Matt Wright (23) LHP - He'll turn 24 on May 7 and spent the whole year in Lansing where he was some two years old for what's considered real prospect territory for that level, but he struck out 82 in 67.2 IP and held opposition hitters to a .201 BA. Another guy who needs to be challenged as it's not uncommon for an older guy to dominate in the lower levels and, while team coaches and scouts might know what they have and what's illusion, it's hard for us to discern that from stats.

8. Drew Permison (22) RHP - Drafted in the 42nd round of the 2010 draft, Permison announced his presence with authority for the Auburn Doubledays, striking out 59 in 39 IP and holding opposing hitters to a .164 BA. Again, age is a slight caveat, as is his late-round draft status, but doing so well in his first professional season is worth noting.

Other names to watch include Kyle Ginley, who once had good raw stuff but can't stay healthy, Dustin Antolin who also was highly praised but went for TJ surgery earl in the season, as well as several others who are probably not going to amount to much but, given the task of identifying promising pitchers who are relieving in the low minors is highly problematic I'll err on the high side and list several names:
RHPs Ron Uviedo, Matt Daley, Nestor Molina, Dayton Martze, Daniel Barnes, and LHPs Rommie Lewis, and Michael Kelly.

Wells Played.

(I almost titled this "Wells done" but that might have mislead)

By now many of you know that our own Vernon Wells is the 2010 winner of the Branch Rickey Award.

The Rickey Award is given each year to the player who best personifies Rotary International's motto, "Service Above Self" through their humanitarian works. Well informed Toronto residents and Jays fans have been aware for some time the amount of money and effort Wells pours into his Perfect 10 Foundation and he's a regular nominee for this award. It is a considerable honor to win it and he'll be inducted into the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame in Denver on Nov. 13, 2010.

It is appropriate then, that I echo the comments made elsewhere: for all the grief Wells took on the field last year, whether justified or not, on a human level (you know, up here where the stuff that's more important than a child's game lives) it really is a shame that shuch a throughly classy guy had to go through that. it's one thing to boo the Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens' of the world, or even to boo the guy you perceive to be an ass on a rival team (looking at you A-Rod and Youk) but I, for one, would love to see the fans of my favorite team show as much class towards classy guys as they deserve, even when their on-field performance disappoints us.

Next time we bitch and moan how very much money the super-deep pockets of Rogers Communications has to come up with for Vernon Wells, let's take a minute to note how VERY much of that money is passed on to the neediest among us and ask ourselves - is it REALLY such a crime that the pockets of the big faceless corporate giant are a little lighter so that a good-hearted ball player can make a difference in countless young lives who need it most?

(Yes, I know the purpose of the contract wasn't to help poor kids but that is the ultimate effect)

Certainly, between the lines, he's making too much money from 2010-2014, but the important stuff in this world doesn't happen between the chalk lines, as much as we fans might sometimes lose sight of that fact.

Friday, 17 September 2010

...and now we know

Is it possible to roll one's eyes completely out the back of their head?

I feel I must try.

As if we didn't have enough to shake our heads about with our erstwhile manager and his loopy explanations for his illogical actions, we get this, from Cito yesterday concerning his reasoning for STILL sitting JPA even though Baltimore is no contender (you might remember his LAST excuse was he had to play vets against contenders out of respect to the pennant race):

"The thing I'd like to see is to give Buck every opportunity to get his 20th home run," Gaston said. "The sooner he gets it, I can do something. That's pretty much what it is."

Uh . . . excuse my crudeness but WHAT THE FUCK?


It was bad enough when he was playing vets for their next contract - hell he can even crow about that given that Overbay came out of his early season slump - but at least there wasn't a prospect losing at bats to Overbay. But playing a guy for a very ordinary "milestone"? ARGH!

Note well, he didn't say "one of the reasons" or "it's A consideration" he said "the THING is" - singular. he said "that's pretty much it" which doesn't leave room for that plus something else.

then, as if he realized for a second what a fool he sounded like, he amended his remarks thusly:

Gaston said another consideration for the 24-year-old Arencibia's lack of playing time has been the Blue Jays' young pitching staff, which has grown accustomed to throwing to Buck.

"We kind of owe them something, too," Gaston said. "Not to say that [Arencibia] is not a good receiver back there -- he is a good receiver -- but you want to put the best lineup out there for [the pitchers' sake], too. They're really responsible for us even having [73] wins."

let's break this down - there's only three potential considerations for what it means to "put the best lineup out there"

1. Offense - so, the same man who starts Mike McCoy over Snider in left field, or John McDonald at 3B, feels obliged to put the best hitters out there every day? As Daffy duck would day "it is to laugh!"

2. Handling pitchers - the argument might be made that the pitchers had rather throw to Buck. first, that's stupid since none of them have thrown to him more than twice and most haven't at all. Second, he's the guy they will throw to next year so they might as well get over it. third, the argument might be made that Buck is "helping the young pitchers" but the counter-argument is - if they haven't learned everything Buck has to teach them in 25+ starts, what are they going to learn in the last 2 or 3? At most this argument only applies to Drabek.

2. Other defense - throwing out runners, blocking the plate, et al. again, JPA is gonna have to do that in 2011, what long term goal are we sacrificing to see if he can do that NOW (more than what we already know from his minor league work). and if the difference beyond marginal enough that we have insulted Ricky Romero (for instance) more by doing so than we do by starting a short stop in left field?

It's utter bullshit. On every level.

Now, let's be fair - there IS a good reason why JPA might spend his time sitting upon recall - the learning curve for a young pitcher in knowing how to pitch to all these unfamiliar players is incredibly steep. But if JPA were only going to start in September in games that didn't affect the pennant race, he'd only need to study FOUR teams. If he can't learn that in two weeks we have a problem.

But that's irrelevant because Cito didn't SAY "Arencibia needs time to learn the hitters in this league and we have him working on that." Which would have been a perfectly rational and reasonable argument, even if you think it overstated.

Cito, as usual, gave us some irrational nonsensical bullshit.

Let us remember that, for the previous five years or so at least, that the hue and cry about JP Ricciardi was what a liar he was (among other things) - where are those people now?

A GM arguably has far more reason to lie to the fans than a manager does, so why can't Cito be straight with us?

I mean, sure, he MIGHT be telling the truth - but if he is, he has no business in the job on the face of it. His stated reasoning is often wildly irrational. so I prefer to think that his actual reasons are not what he chooses to say into a microphone, because anyone that irrational shouldn't succeed to the extent he does.

Personally, I'd take it a LOT better if he just came out and said "Veterans have earned the right to start and kids can damned well wait their turn" and let the chips fall where they may. I might disagree, but I could respect it.

Seventeen days . . . and most a-frakin-ssuredly counting.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Let's find out

(Image from the "Scenes we'd like to see more of" file)

I won't bother to dig you up a link but I'm sure you are familiar with Cito Gaston's standing belief that he should play his best (i.e. veteran) lineup when he's facing a contending team out of respect for the race. Fair enough. I don't have to agree but if that's what he claims to believe...okay.

That is, of course, the standard rationalization for why he hasn't given JP Arencibia anything to do in the almost two weeks he's been back with the Jays. Well, we are about to find out if that's more of Cito's Standard Issue bullshit (which is to say, stuff he tells you he thinks right before he goes out and does something which directly contradicts what he told you) or not. For the next two weeks, the Jays are playing non-contenders (Yes, Boston, that includes you) and in the last week, there's a possibility the Twins will be far enough ahead that they are no longer threatened. In short, possibly 12 of the remaining 19 games (allowing for the day-game-after-night-game exception) COULD be available for JPA.

I'll be pretty surprised if he starts more than half that many.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Just so you know...

From Twitter:

BlueJays Kyle Drabek will be making his major league debut on Wednesday vs. Baltimore

That is all.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

2010 Positional Review: Starting Pitchers

I'm changing up the order this year, quite frankly because the most exciting thing to write about in the Jays minor league system is the deep and talented assemblage of starting pitchers. So many in fact that it's certain not all of them will remain starting pitchers. I know that there's nothing more common among fans than overvaluing your own teams' prospects, but even adjusting for that, there's indisputably over half a dozen guys who still haven't reached the majors that have very good odds of being impact major league pitchers.

And that's on top of eight or nine experienced guys who are no longer prospects.

In fact, one of the more interesting stories over the next, say, three seasons is going to be how the Jays sort through the reality that they have more than five guys who have every promise of being excellent major league pitchers in 2012 or 2013.

Looking over the established major league foursome, one guy who's very secure right now is recently extended Ricky Romero. Barring injury he's going to be out there every five days for the foreseeable future.
Behind him is Brandon Morrow. Morrow has three more years under team control and showed enough progress this year to give Jays' management and fans visions of Cy young level dominance.
Then there's Shaun Marcum. He's the veteran leader of the staff right now, looking ahead to his age 29 season next year. but he has only two years before free agency and this time next year we might well be speculating about the trade market for him over the winter. If you don't understand that comment you will before I get out of the top five prospects.
Brett Cecil, while suffering the occasional hiccup (as he did Friday night vs. the Rays) has also convinced most observers he has top of the rotation potential.

As we look ahead to 2011, one of the foremost questions will be "Who's gonna be the #5?" the consensus, of course, is that before the season is over, the #1 pitching prospect in the season will be taking that turn regularly. but it's no sure thing he'll break camp there, for a variety of reasons. in the mean time, there are not a few things the Jays have to sort out. such as:

Jesse Litsch: will he be healthy next spring, and will he be effective enough to cling to the spot he once held?
Scott Richmond: Healthy again, and dominant as he worked his way back through the minors this year. but on the wrong side of 30.
Shawn Hill: Likewise, not a "young gun" but a well regarded talent when healthy - which he hasn't been much. I have a hunch the Jays would like to see him fill that role and build trade value before Drabek forces his way in.
Dustin McGowan: one assumes that even with renewed health he won't be major league ready without some time in the minors.
Brad Mills: will be discussed on this list below, will be in the ST mix.
Marc Rzepczynski: not technically a rookie, but for all practical purposes, he's still a prospect. however, for the sake of not confusing the issue I'll give him his due here before getting to the formal list. Zep looked, in 2009, very much like a pitcher to be reckoned with. He drew comparisons in some quarters to pitchers as good as Brandon Webb. but a ST injury derailed his course to the 2010 rotation and control issues have plagued him the entire season. if Zep pitched well enough to win the #5 spot, he has the ability to make it very difficult for the Jays to make a spot for Drabek (absent injury of course) - but there's absolutely no way to predict which Zep shows up next spring. If he were still a rookie, I'd rank him probably about 7th or 8th on the upcoming list. If he is on, he's a not inconsiderable talent.

Clearly, the Jays are not under any pressure to rush a prospect into the 2011 rotation. On the contrary, some of those guys will be back in AAA, some will be in a bullpen somewhere, some may even be out of the organization by opening day. The cliche is you can never have too much pitching but the Jays appear to be trying their best to test the truth of that bromide.

Now, on to the list:
(ages as of April 1, 2011)

1. Kyle Drabek (23) RH - Over the course of the season, the amount of praise that's been directed Drabek's way has continued to mount. While Jays coaches continue to speak cautiously about his readiness, few observers argue he's in need of much if any more development. There's a prevalent school of thought that there's no reason for Drabek to ever do anything in Vegas except take a gambling vacation. However, there are practical considerations which argue to the contrary.
First, there's the simple matter of sorting out, and getting value for, the half dozen lesser but more experienced candidates in front of him. Then, there's the reality that a proper delay adds another year to the time before the Jays have to anticipate his free agency . . . timed properly, it can also keep him from going to arbitration unnecessarily early. The rule of thumb for avoiding Super Two status is around 128 days or less of service time. But as more teams make that calculation, that number might well fall. If the team has these factors in mind, you can look for Drabek around the first of June. Once he arrives, the arguments can begin about which of the Jays young guns will have the best career because he'll belong in that conversation as much as Romero, Morrow, and Cecil will.

2. Zach Stewart (24) RH - Early in the season, Stewart struggled with control and mildly worried some observers when the F-Cats pulled him from the rotation briefly to address some mechanical issues. Whatever they did certainly worked out well. Over the last 18 starts of the season he posted a 2.52 ERA. The interesting thing here is that over that successful run, he still averaged 3.39 walks per 9 IP, which is down only marginally from the 3.95 rate he had in the early going. But he got better as the season wore on (that rate per 9 was down to 2.5 over his last eight starts) and he walked only 1 in 7 shutout innings in the playoffs against Trenton.
All this in a season in which he exceeded his previous career high in IP on the season by almost 37%.
While some are already advocating for Stewart to skip AAA, that's unwise. first, barring a trade or major injury, there's no rotation spot in Toronto for both he and Drabek. Second, he still only reached 143 IP and that would, in theory, have him running out of gas in the 170's or so next year. Long term it would pay the team well to not push him to a big increase in consecutive years. Which means staying in AAA where his innings can be managed. finally, unless you have to, there's no reason to break in two high profile rookies in the same year.

3. Henderson Alvarez - (20) RH - Alvarez (who turns 21 in mid-April) came out of the gate in 2010 better than any pitcher in the system, giving up only 1 earned run in four April starts. In mid-May Alvarez inexplicably got very hittable. and stayed that way. Batters had hit .207 off him in April and hit over .300 against him every month thereafter. In August the Jays shut him down for a while due to fatigue. I've seen nothing specific about what went wrong with him other than vague references to mechanics. But there's no indication anywhere that their opinion of him as a prospect has faded. it's worth remembering that being 20 years old in Hi-A is an accomplishment in itself. His star hasn't faded significantly yet. He'll likely repeat Dunedin next year.

4. Aaron Sanchez (18) RH - I promise you, you won't see Sanchez ranked this high on any other list of Jays' prospects, but my guess is the 2010 draftee will change that up shortly. He won't make the majors before college draftees like McGuire or Wojciechowski but all things being equal, he may well have a better career. Admittedly, I'm speaking from a relatively thin body of evidence here but I'm letting you know up front I'm playing a hunch here. But I'm not alone. The Jays scout who recommended they draft Sanchez was none other than Mel Queen, who is said to have reported "He may be the best I've seen, he's better than Carpenter." The Jays have the luxury of taking their time with him, so it might be four years before we're discussing how he fits into the major league rotation. but if he stays healthy, that day will likely come. My guess is he starts out in Auburn next year and earns a promotion to Lansing at some point.

5. Chad Jenkins (23) RH - At first glance, it would be easy to call 2010 a bit underwhelming for a #1 pick. It does indicate that threre's work to do, but your first full pro season split between lo and hi A ball is fairly challenging. Jenkins started off fairly well in Dunedin but got too hittable in July and August. Possibly, some of this had to do with having his IP ceiling pushed. By the end of June he'd matched his career high in college. At that point he had 14 walks and 72 strikeouts in 92 IP, thereafter those figures were 17, 34, and 49.1 which is a pretty steep drop off. Expect Jenkins to start 2011 back in Dunedin and move up (assuming he's ready) in conjunction with Drabek's ascension to the majors.

6. Deck McGuire (21) RH - The Jays first overall pick in 2011, he followed the recent trend of signing at the last minute and thereby costing himself an opportunity to log some professional innings in his draft year. That's an issue Anthopoulos and others plan to bring to the table when the next CBA is negotiated. McGuire is, in all likelihood, a slightly better clone of Chad Jenkins (slightly taller, not quite as thick, but both "big bodied" high endurance and pretty advanced guys) and this time next year will probably be ranked ahead of him. For now Jenkins having pitched reasonably in the pros give him an edge. Look for McGuire to follow Jenkins' footsteps next year, starting at Lansing and moving up to Dunedin mid-season.

7. Adonis Cardona (17) RH - Already fairly advanced for his age and experience, beyond that we don't know much about him except that he was reported to be, and paid like, a mid-to-upper first round draft pick if he'd been draft eligible. So this ranking is based on the presumption that's accurate. but he's a long way away.

8. Asher Wojciechowski (22) RH - listed as the same size physically as Jenkins, and considered just as advanced coming into the draft. There's probably as little difference between them as between Jenkins and McGuire. there's a nice redundancy between the three of them that safeguards the team against failure and injury. Expect him to make the Lansing roster out of ST.

9. Noah Syndergaard (18) RH - The dark horse draftee that no one saw coming that early, Syndergaard is not a low-talent "safe" pick. He's 6'5" and growing still. He came on strong over the course of his senior year and the Jays think they have a potential stud. He'll open the season either back in the GCL or, more likely, in the new Bluefield team's rotation.

10. Joel Carreno (24) RH - This is maybe my most uncertain ranking. Carreno has been, until this year, very much an under-the-radar guy in the Jays system, but he led the system in strikeouts in 2010. He got marginally more hittable this year, but the quantum leap in swing-and-miss pitches was eye catching. He was a bit old for Dunedin but not enough to dismiss his accomplishments, and I expect him to pitch opening day for New Hampshire.

11. Griffin Murphy (19) LH - Arguably the best LHP in the prep class in 2010, the 61st overall pick might also be the best LH prospect left in the Jays system (assuming we don't count Zep). The other obvious candidate would be Brad Mills, to whom Murphy is probably highly comparable. The only separation between them, for me, is that being seven years younger, Murphy has time to exceed that projection and Mills is nearing his ceiling.

12. Sam Dyson (22) RH - The Jays got a mild steal in Dyson as a 4th round pick, mostly because of a long medical history. Dyson has big stuff which projects to the middle of a major league rotation, but it's not quite as big as it once was. He's had surgery on BOTH shoulders, and twice on the elbow (but no TJ so far). if he gets back the lost velocity - and stays healthy - the Jays will look real good on that pick as he's fairly refined. But no one on this list is more likely to fall apart because of his health. For his age and development, he ought to start in Lansing if he's not crowded out.

13. Drew Hutchison (R) 20 - Some reviews of the Jays' 2009 draft suggested that they might have gotten a significant steal when the took the hard to sign Hutch in the 15th round and got his name on the dotted line. He did nothing this year to make anyone doubt that. Between Auburn and Lansing he posted a BAA against of a stingy .198, he struck out almost a batter an inning and had a better than 3:1 K:BB ratio. There's a distinct possibility he should be 2 or 3 spots higher on this list. At his age he'll surely be back in Lansing as part of what could be the best rotation in the Midwest League.

14. Brad Mills (26) LH - some would argue Mills over a few of the guys already listed, and a case can be made. The spread between #9 and #14 here is not dramatic. but a guy who's 26 is close to as good as he's going to be, and he's on the outside ultimately looking in at the Jays rotation. if dealt to a NL team with a forgiving park (say Florida) he could have a nice little career. with the Jays, his realistic goal is to be the guy who replaces Brian Tallet.

15. Justin Nicolino (18) LH - taken also in the second round, the difference between Murphy and Nicolino is the amount of projection needed to imagine their ceiling. Nicolino is 6'3" and listed going into the draft as only 160, so there's considerable physical projectability. Likewise, his stuff is relatively under-developed but scouts think that as he fills out his fastball could creep towards the mid-90's. Expect slow movement and possibly early stumbles from Nicolino, but the Jays can afford to be patient. Absolutely a GCL candidate to start.

16. Devy Estrada (18) RH - After turning in a dominant performance in the DSL at 16, Estrada largely repeated his work in the GCL as a seventeen year old. There are mixed opinion on how his stuff will play at higher levels but you have to notice the results so far. Probably advances to Bluefield in the spring.

17. Egan Smith (22) LH - The unheralded Smith spent most of the season in Lansing, and saw an otherwise respectable season disguised by a couple of forgettable early August starts. The jury is out on how much he succeeds at higher levels, he's so under-the-radar tat we seldom get much comment on how good a prospect he really is so I'm going completely off stats. If you see the Jays move him aggressively (albeit he should be at Duneidn to start the year) there might be something there. Otherwise he may project as an organizational soldier.

18. Casey Lawrence (23) RH Lawrence is one of those potential feel-good stories you like to root for a happy ending to (the most noteable example lately being Tim Collins). He was signed after the 2010 draft as an undrafted Free Agent, and went on to spank the NY-Penn league in ten dominant starts, before finishing the season with three respectable turns in Lansing. He'll complete the Lansing five as the season begins in April, and time will tell how long the Cinderella story will last.

19. Bobby Bell (25) RH - Bell brought a record of unbroken pro success into the 2010 season. First as a reliever and then as a mid-season addition to the Dunedin rotation in 2009, Bell was masterful. But repeated injuries robbed Bell of any positive takeaway from the 2010 season. His ultimate future is in the 'pen probably, if for no other reason than the depth chart - but he's likely to stay a starter next season as he tries to find his previous magic.

20. Jo-Jo Reyes (26) LH - Reyes has a year's service time in the majors so I'm breaking the rookie rule pattern here, but since he's not likely to be a realistic candidate to break camp with the Jays, and given his age, I think it's ok to consider him a "prospect" for the purposes of this discussion. After coming over from the Braves in the Escobar deal, he had two starts for the F-Cats - one brilliant and one forgettable, before landing on the DL for the rest of the season. As is always the case, one needs to be in the CIA to find out the nature of such injuries and it's withut that knowledge I'm forced to comment. Reyes was rushed to the Majors by the age of 22 after barely 300 (very good) minor league innings. but he didn't pitch well in the majors and the Braves shuttled him back and forth for a couple of largely forgettable seasons. but a case could be made that in the right circumstances he'd be as good or better than Mills, and if he came to ST healthy next year, don't be completely stunned if he comes from the back of the pack to contend for that fifth starter job.

Ten other guys to keep an eye on: Bobby Ray, Luis Perez, Daniel Webb, Andrew Liebel, Mitch Taylor, Misaul Diaz, Jesse Hernandez, Sean Nolin, Nick Purdy, Myles Jaye.

There are a few other, even darker horses (guys like Ray Gonzalez and Chuck Huggins and even Randy Boone) but given the quality of the system, there's not a lot of room for such guys to break through here. The next few years will be fascinating times.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Season's End

Not the major league season, of course, but today marked the end of the regular season for the minor leagues. Two Toronto affiliates qualified for the playoffs - AA New Hampshire, and Hi-A Dunedin.

The AA playoffs start Wednesday against Yankee affiliate Trenton (and the Yankees, showing a deep respect for fair play, are sending Andy Petitte to "rehab" for Trenton on Thursday) with Kyle Drabek presumably starting the first game in a best of five series with the winner moving on to another best of five for the EL championship.

Dunedin also takes on a Yankees' farm club when they begin a best of three series against Tampa on Tuesday.

But of course, beyond that, my attention immediately turns to the annual off-season Positional Farm Reports, and top prospect rankings. Rest assured these are coming in short order. Before I'm done I'll take at least passing notice of no less than 70 players, including over 30 pitchers. I'll give the playoffs a decent respect before I start posting those, however.

If you hadn't noticed already, the Jays have recalled from AAA Las Vegas Jarrett Hoffpauir, Josh Roenicke, Sawn Hill, Bobby Ray, and Rommie Lewis. Zep has been moved up to start Wednesday on 3 days rest (likely supplanted by Ray in a tandem effort) and Hill will start Thursday (and likely subsequently in Morrow's turn.

It's still not announced what the near future holds for Scott Richmond and Brad Mills.