Jays from Away: Ranking the C’s
* We usually don’t run pictures of players who have lost the directions on how to wear their hats, however, class-A Vancouver Canadians L.B. Dantzler, shown here holding the Northwest League MVP trophy, is excused. He was also the Blue Jays from Away’s Player of the Year. ….
By Jay Blue
And now, after that thrilling series about the Bluefield Blue Jays, we get to the only Blue Jays farm club to win their league, the Northwest League champions (for the third time in a row) Vancouver Canadians.
It looks like the three-part series has morphed into a four-part series. This is part I (team awards), part II will deal with starting pitchers, part III with relief pitchers and part IV the hitters. Unfortunately there won’t be as many lovely photos of the Vancouver Canadians, seeing as I never made it all the way out to Vancouver to cover the team in person.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you following along with my daily Minor League Reports on Jays Journal (that I started at the old Blue Jays from Away blogger site) and on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been “awarding” 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 without much more ado, here comes my rationale for the system.
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 or three 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.
The final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the Vancouver Canadians:
L.B. Dantzler 7
Tom Robson 5.5
Jeremy Gabryszwski 5
Kyle Anderson 4.5
Dickie Thon, Mike Reeves, Brenden Kalfus 4
Eric Brown, David Harris 3.5
Jordan Leyland, Matt Dermody, Alonzo Gonzalez 3
Shane Dawson, Ian Parmley 2.5
Justin Atkinson, Jason Leblebijian, Colton Turner 2
Scott Silverstein, Justin James 1.5
Alvido Jimenez, Ronnie Melendez, Bobby Brosnahan, Tim Locastro, Christian Vazquez, Dawel Lugo, Andy Fermin 1.
Congrats to 2013 Vancouver Canadians Player of the Game Champion (and Northwest League MVP) L.B. Dantzler! I don’t want to gloat (ok, I will) but Dantzler was one of the guys that I thought would really make an impact out of this year’s draft.
Playoffs were included, which is why you see Tom Robson with such a high score but it goes to show you how good the youngster from Ladner, B.C. was — he was the best player on the team in most of the games he pitched.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
The position player of the year for the Vancouver Canadians is also L.B. Dantzler. Chaz Frank really made a push (mostly due to his .412 OBP) but his weak slugging and high CS% enabled Dantzler to run away with it.
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
I really wanted to give this one to Tom Robson, I really did. His lack of innings, however, really worked against him in the long run despite his masterpiece in the decisive Game 3 of the NWL finals. So, congratulations to Kyle Anderson on a fantastic year with the C’s!
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
This was a particularly tough decision. Do you go with a reliever who logged more innings and had pinpoint control or do you go with the closer who posted unreal strikeout numbers and was trusted to finish 23 of the team’s games?
I had to go with the underdog since I think the closer’s role is highly overrated (sorry Chuck). Matt Dermody is our reliever of the year in a very close race with Chuck Ghysels. More about both of these excellent pitchers in Part 3 of the series.
Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
Shortstop Dickie Thon is our most improved player in another close race. Thon improved his batting average over 60 points, his OBP almost 40 points and his slugging percentage almost 70 point playing in Vancouver, a higher level than he played at in 2012. An injury shortened his season and we’re hoping Thon, who’s 21, can put together a complete season soon. Runners up were Eric Brown and Kyle Anderson.
The 2013 Northwest League champions Vancouver Canadians had an outstanding pitching staff. Not only did they get great results out of the gate from Thunder Bay native Eric Brown and Jeremy Gabryszwski, but when Brown and Colton Turner went up to Lansing (Turner returned fairly soon), reinforcements arrived in the forms of Shane Dawson and Tom Robson, a pair of Canadian pitchers who had been setting the Appalachian League on fire.
We’ll begin with our Pitcher of the Year, Kyle Anderson, 23, who led the team in starts (15), innings pitched (83) and strikeouts (58). The 6-foot-2 lefty who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 by the Jays and spent most of last season with the C’s so he was repeating the level and really showed that he belonged in Vancouver. Anderson can’t really be seen as a prospect because of his age and mediocre stats in a number of categories, but he was definitely a workhorse and one of the cornerstones of the Vancouver starting staff. He finished up the season with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP with 12 walks and the aforementioned 58 strikeouts. His FIP was 2.73 which means that luck didn’t really help or hurt him and his K% of 17.1 was a big improvement over last season but still isn’t at a level that you’d be able to see him really coming out and dominating in the higher minors. I do see Anderson getting the opportunity to pitch in Lansing next year.
Jeremy Gabryszwski has one of the more difficult name to spell in the Blue Jays’ organization and he’s really a tale of two seasons. In the first half, he was dominant and induced a whole lot of ground balls while putting up control numbers with an ERA and WHIP to die for. He came back to earth in the second half but still posted a very solid season with a 2.82 ERA (2.63 FIP), a 1.06 WHIP, 10 walks and 40 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. While Gaby throws in the high-80s (occasionally hitting the low 90s), he really hasn’t shown the ability to strike a lot of batters out and his 12.9% K rate is very low, despite the 4:1 K/BB ratio. Gaby is still young (20) and there’s hope that he can sharpen up an out pitch. He’s also on the weighted ball program which might help him add some velocity. He’ll surely be in Lansing next year with little left to prove in Vancouver.
Colton Turner, 22, a 21st round draft pick in 2012 by the Blue Jays, got to spend a little time in Lansing this year but eventually returned to Vancouver despite not pitching badly there. Turner made 12 starts for the Canadians and threw 67 innings with a 2.96 ERA (3.62 FIP), a 1.09 ERA with 17 walks and 39 strikeouts. Obviously, this walk to strikeout ratio isn’t the best considering the 14.9% K rate. Turner also had some control issues in Lansing, walking 6 in 10 1/3 innings there (I have a theory that pitchers can’t get away with as much in the Midwest League where hitters appear to be much more disciplined). I would definitely see him in Lansing but maybe coming out of the bullpen next year.
Eric Brown was the Opening Day starter for the Canadians and earned himself a promotion to Lansing where he threw 28 1/3 solid innings. In Vancouver, however, he was outstanding, with a 1.37 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, eight walks and 46 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. Brown is the first of the starting pitchers that we’ve seen so far with a respectable K rate, hitting 22.7% in Vancouver (with a miniscule 3.9% walk rate) although that number dropped considerably when he got to Lansing (12.3%). Brown doesn’t have fantastic stuff but has shown that he knows how to pitch and the 24 year old has developed three solid pitches. I can see him starting the year in Dunedin as a long-man out of the pen or even ending up in a Ben-White-esque role next year.
Tom Robson, 20, a Ladner, B.C. native and 6-foot-4 was a dominant starter all year that culminated in a terrific performance in the final game of the Northwest League Championships. I saw him pitch in Bluefield and he carried the same kind of success into his work in Vancouver. He obviously doesn’t shy away from big games or big situations and his stuff doesn’t rely on batters swinging and missing on close pitches out of the strike zone. The 2011 fourth rounder pounded the strike zone with his heavy sinking fastball but has the off-speed stuff to strike out batters when they don’t hit early pitches into the ground. He posted a 4-1 ground out to air out ratio in Bluefield and a 3.17 GO/AO ratio in Vancouver. In his 38 1/3 innings in Vancouver, he had a 0.94 ERA (but a 2.55 FIP) and a 1.02 WHIP with 11 walks and 29 strikeouts. Add that to the 1.38 ERA (3.01 FIP), 0.77 WHIP, 5 walks and 18 strikeouts in 26 innings in Bluefield and you have one heck of a season for Robson. He’s a pitcher who’s going to need a good defense behind him and will probably have to be less aggressive in the strike zone as he pitches against better competition. I see him as part of a big piggy-backing system in Lansing in 2014 with some of his teammates from both Lansing and Bluefield.
Alberta native Shane Dawson, 20, made the jump to Vancouver with Robson and was also dominating the Northwest League until an injury cut his season short. Overall, the 17th round draft pick in 2012, pitched 46 innings with a 3.13 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP with 10 walks and 61 strikeouts between Bluefield and Vancouver. He was very successful in maintaining his high strikeout numbers and low walk numbers at both levels, keeping strikeouts above 33% and walks below 6%. Dawson isn’t the hardest throwing lefty but hides the ball well and has been able to be dominant. I can see him in Lansing next year if the Jays think that he can handle a bigger workload but he could return to Vancouver if the team wants to limit his innings a bit next year.
Note: Follow the link for my scouting reports on Dawson and Robson. I took a look at Eric Brown and Colton Turner when I was in Lansing.
In the same way the starting staff of the 2013 Northwest League champs Vancouver Canadians was full of dominating stars and big-named prospects, the bullpen was full of fairly anonymous low draft picks and non-drafted free agent signees that the Blue Jays have accumulated over the past few years.
This doesn’t mean that there’s no talent in the bullpen for Vancouver. On the contrary but the Vancouver bullpen had more than its share of players who are old for the level and who don’t necessarily have a major-league upside.
Leading the team in appearances (28) and saves (11) was closer Chuck Ghysels, 23. Signed as a non-drafted free agent and went to four different colleges, has pretty good stuff coming out of the pen but struggled with his control starting the season with Lansing (where I first met him). He was sent down to Vancouver where he became a very a reliable bullpen arm with a 2.15 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 13 walks and a whopping 51 strikeouts in just 29 1/3 innings (good for 2nd on the team with just over 1/3 of the innings of the leader, Kyle Anderson). When I saw Ghysels in Lansing, he was throwing about 92 mph with a pretty good breaking ball. I can see him returning to Lansing next year or even going up to Dunedin where he spent some time in both this year and in 2012.
Matthew Johnson, 25, has been in the Jays’ system since signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2010 and spent some time in Lansing this year. He returned to Vancouver and will need to move up through the system a bit quicker in order keep a job. Johnson quietly put together a very good season for the C’s throwing 31 1/3 innings with a 2.30 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and only six walks but also only 12 strikeouts. It’s the strikeouts that are worrisome for Johnson because without the ability to put hitters away at higher levels, Johnson could get stuck in the system. I’ve already written about the challenges that pitchers face going from Vancouver for Lansing and I think that guys like Johnson really exemplify that. If he doesn’t start the season in Lansing or Dunedin, I think Johnson is going to be looking for a new job.
Righty Justin James, 23, got a lot of work out of the pen as well as a couple of spot starts. The 2012 non-drafted free agent had a very solid season, making 20 appearances and throwing 44 1/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He walked 15 batters and struck out 29 making for some decent numbers. I’d expect to see James in Lansing next year but, since he’s not as old as some of his teammates, could end up back in Vancouver as an odd man out.
Garrett Pickens, 23, is a righty for the Canadians. He was drafted this year in the 29th round out of Delta State University (Mississippi) and had a solid, if unremarkable first pro season. Control was the biggest issue for Pickens who walked 15 (and struck out 15) in 27 1/3 innings with a 3.29 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Fangraphs seems to think that those good numbers were due to luck with a low .250 BABIP and a FIP at 4.44. Pickens, I’m sure, will be given a chance to start the season in Lansing but may not wind up there next season.
Joe Spano, 23, is another name that might not be familiar to Blue Jays fans. He was a non-drafted free agent in 2012 who put up eerily similar numbers last year in Bluefield as he did this year in Vancouver. Spano threw 22 1/3 innings with a 4.84 ERA, a 1.93 WHIP, 21 walks and 30 strikeouts. This suggests that he might have the stuff to make it at higher levels but he needs to get some control first with almost a walk an inning being a huge red flag. I’m not sure where he’ll end up. He may figure things out over the off-season or in spring training.
Brandon Dorsett was another non-drafted free agent from 2012 who came up to Vancouver after a season in Bluefield. His transition wasn’t as smooth as some of the other players’, throwing 19 innings with a 7.58 ERA, a 1.86 WHIP, 16 walks and eight strikeouts. With a 2:1 ratio of walks to strikeouts (ideally that ratio is the other way around), Dorsett is looking at an off-season of trying to figure out how to improve. I have no trouble seeing him return to Vancouver although if he was promoted next season and had a good year, it wouldn’t be the first case of a player getting promoted and playing better at a higher level.
Next is my Reliever of the Year, Matt Dermody. Dermody, 23, was drafted this season in the 28th round (after being drafted three previous times, all in the 20th rounds) and finally signed on to play pro ball. The 6-foot-5, lefty spent most of the season under the radar but is probably poised to make a jump and compete against better competition next year. With Vancouver, Dermody was a multi-inning reliever, throwing 40 2/3 innings in 15 games (getting two spot starts along the way) and posted a 1.77 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and walked just four batters to go with 50 strikeouts (third on the team). This 12.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio is an unbelievable figure and shows a lot of poise and maturity on the mound. I can see Dermody jumping all the way to Dunedin next year as a reliever. I’m not really sure what he throws but if he has more than two pitches, he might end up in Lansing joining the piggy-back crew.
Scott Silverstein, 23, is another big lefty (6-foot-5) that the Blue Jays drafted this year. Used mostly out of the bullpen, the 25th round pick could end up a starter next year. In 37 1/3 innings (with four starts on his resume), Silverstein put up a 4.58 ERA (with a 3.68 FIP), a 1.45 WHIP, 13 walks and 31 strikeouts: very respectable numbers for his first season in pro ball. Interestingly, he consistently gave up more ground balls than fly balls which probably contributed to a higher than average BABIP (.331). With a better infield behind him, he could probably post better numbers. Another issue for Silverstein this season could have been fatigue: he was the ace of his staff in Virginia and threw over 91 innings in his college season before coming to the pros. I see him in Lansing next year and could be a starter for a while in the minors.
Gargantuan 6-foot-8 reliever Tim Brechbuehler* (11 2/3 IP, 10.80 ERA, 2.84 WHIP, 12 BB, 12 K) spent most of this season on the disabled list but didn’t pitch well when he was active. However, the good strikeout total and teams’ tendencies to like big pitchers probably sees the 23 year old coming back next year, if not in Vancouver then somewhere else. Drew Permison (24) spent most of the season injured (5 IP, 7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 1 BB, 5 K). I see Permison coming back and pitching in Lansing if he’s healthy as his numbers were the victim of small sample size (he had a 1.80 FIP to go with the 7.20 ERA).
(* I can only spell his name without looking it up every time because I lived in Germany for a year.)
The Blue Jays released Jonathan Kountis, 25, after just 9 1/3 innings (5.79 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 5 BB, 10 K) and Bobby Brosnahan, 24, appears to have retired (19 1/3 IP, 7.45 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 8 BB, 13 K) while former outfielder, Markus Brisker, 23, was also released (4 2/3 IP, 7.71 ERA, 3.21 WHIP, 10 BB, 4 K).
The 2013 Vancouver Canadians won their league championships (for the third consecutive year) with a team that consisted mostly of singles hitters with speed. Like the pitching staff, the hitters were a group of players who were mostly drafted or signed out of college.
We’ll go around the horn and look at the starters at each of the positions first before talking about the backups.
Peterborough-born catcher Mike Reeves, 22, came to the Canadians as the Blue Jays’ 21st round pick in the 2013 draft. Touted as a solid-hitting, defense-first catcher, Reeves arrived in Vancouver and performed as advertised. Reeves earned himself an all-star berth with an outstanding first half but came back down to earth with a poor August (that actually showed more power potential than the first couple of months). He hit .275/.374/.321 overall with just six doubles and one home run in 227 plate appearances although four of the doubles and the home run came in August. The word from Vancouver-based blogger (and contributor to the Vancouver Sun) Charlie Caskey is that coaches have been working with Reeves in order to tap into some more power. Reeves definitely seems to have a lot of tools to work with. His ratio of 28 walks to 36 strikeouts is outstanding and if he can add some power to his excellent contact numbers, Reeves could turn into more than just an organizational catcher. I didn’t see him in person behind the plate but his statistics appear solid although his 25% caught stealing percentage does leave something to be desired at this point. I see Reeves starting next season in Dunedin, mainly because I think the organization will want him to get every day at bats and I think Santiago Nessy will be back in Lansing to start next year.
First base was held down by our Player of the Year, L.B. Dantzler, 22. Dantzler was drafted in the 14th round this year out of the University of South Carolina, a very strong NCAA Division I school. Dantzler, who has a list of both academic and baseball-related awards to his name, added another this season, winning the MVP award for the Northwest League on the heels of a .302/.385/.504 season that saw him lead the league in home runs with nine. Dantzler was one of the only real power bats in the Vancouver lineup (at least until Mitch Nay was called up from Bluefield for the playoffs). In addition to his nine home runs, Dantzler hit 20 doubles and walked 30 times in 265 plate appearances. Dantzler has great power despite not having the biggest frame (5-foot-11) and there are a number of players ahead of him at his position in the Blue Jays system. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dantzler in Lansing next year, serving as the DH with Matt Dean playing first base.
Also playing first base for the Canadians, at least until his promotion to Lansing, was Jordan Leyland. Leyland, who has turned 24 since the end of the season, was a hitting machine in Vancouver, hitting .341/.435/.467 in 161 plate appearances and posted an outstanding ratio of 24 walks and 34 strikeouts. Leyland struggled in Lansing after his promotion, hitting just .231/.320/.308 in 150 plate appearances. He still walked a fair bit but also struck out at a 22% clip while playing in the Midwest League. I think that the Blue Jays are going to look to Leyland to hit with more authority as he moves through the organization; for a guy who’s 6-foot-4, he hit only four home runs all season between Vancouver and Lansing. I have a feeling that he’ll begin 2014 in Lansing but could, with a good spring, wind up in Dunedin.
For second base, the Canadians seemed to have a kind of revolving door with no one getting the nod on an every day basis. Leading the pack with the most games at second is 2013, 36th-round draftee David Harris. Harris, drafted out of Southern Arkansas University, had solid defensive stats at second (if you want to trust the kind of basic fielding stats that are available for minor league players) and showed some potential with his bat, hitting .263/.296/.362 in 162 plate appearances. He showed some extra-base pop with nine doubles and two home runs but the lack of walks is troubling, taking only four free passes the entire season. I can see Harris returning to Vancouver for his age-23 season next year if he doesn’t get a promotion to be a utility infielder in Lansing.
Also playing a fair amount at second base (but mostly used at third) was Andy Fermin. Fermin, now 24, has been in the Jays’ system since being drafted out of junior college in 2010 (32nd round). Fermin has always hit at a decent rate and has been pretty flexible, playing second and third base. He spent last season in Lansing and didn’t seem to have much trouble with the Northwest League, hitting .274/.350/.358 in 241 plate appearances to post the team’s fifth-highest OPS this season. Fermin also had a the same number of walks and strikeouts (25) allowing him to put the ball in play and be a productive member of the team. Fermin seems to be a classic “under-the-radar” kind of player that exists in every organization. He doesn’t stand out in any one category but his defensive versatility and solid skills with the bat will keep him around. My (highly cloudy) crystal ball shows Fermin back in Lansing in 2014.
Dickie Thon, 21, was putting together his best season before an injury cut it short. The infielder from Puerto Rico has had a tough time in pro ball due to illness and injury but was really starting to put things together this season. In 193 plate appearances, the 2010 fifth rounder hit .280/.370/.378 with some decent extra-base hit numbers (seven doubles, three triples and a home run) but he still needs to cut down on his 28% strikeout rate. His age makes him a strong candidate to return to Vancouver (especially since I think Dawel Lugo will be in Lansing to start 2014).
My gut feeling is that the Blue Jays have a lot of faith in Surrey, B.C. native Justin Atkinson, 20, He was one of the youngest position players on the Canadians and he got the playing time of a high level prospect, playing in 64 games, mostly at third or first base. Atkinson, a 2011 26th-round draftee didn’t hit like a high level prospect, however, showing that he needs more development time with the bat, hitting .230/.322/.289 in 274 plate appearances (second on the team) and leading the club with 74 strikeouts despite walking a very respectable 31 times. At this point, the sub-.300 slugging percentage is a pretty big red flag for Atkinson, especially if he’s going to be a corner infielder. With several other infielders expected (at least by me) to make the jump to Lansing ahead of Atkinson, I can see him repeating the year in Vancouver which, given his age, is not any real career setback.
The outfield was led by a group of speedy players who all played some good defense in the expanses of Nat Bailey Stadium. Ian Parmley, 24, led the club in plate appearances with 287 and stolen bases with 23 (he was caught stealing only twice) but, like much of the Canadians’ lineup, he couldn’t provide much in the way of power, hitting .257/.323/.284 mostly out of the No. 9 slot in the order. He had seven outfield assists playing at all three positions. Parmley was drafted only last year in the seventh round as one of the below-slot signees that the Blue Jays drafted to be able to go over-slot to sign their picks from the first three rounds. Due to his age and versatility, I could see him starting the season as a back-up outfielder in either Lansing or Dunedin but could get more playing time if he hits well as the season goes on.
Leading the club in outfield assists was Brenden Kalfus, a college batting champ who was selected in the 23rd round of this year’s draft. Kalfus, 22, had a very solid first pro campaign, hitting .268/.349/.346 in 263 plate appearances and playing both corner outfield positions. Obviously Kalfus hasn’t shown the power that teams might expect out of the corner outfield spots with just 11 doubles, two triples and one home run to go with nine stolen bases this season. He’s another guy similar to Parmley who will probably play full-season ball next year but, because he’s a bit younger, could remain in Vancouver another year.
The last every day outfielder for Vancouver this season was Chaz Frank who had the best statistical season of the bunch. Frank, also 22, was the Blue Jays’ 20th-round selection this year out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went on play better as the season progressed. With a .282/.412/.365 triple slash line over 222 plate appearances, Frank showed a very mature sense of the strike zone, walking as many times as he struck out (36) and got on base more than anyone else on the team. Frank will likely play in Lansing although, depending on how things shake out in Spring Training, he could end up in Dunedin.
The backup catchers were a group made up of Daniel Klein, Seth Conner and Matt Hitt. Conner and Klein each spent time in Lansing with Conner performing poorly at the higher level and getting a demotion to Vancouver and Klein not having a lot of success in Vancouver before hitting better in Lansing. Conner, 21, didn’t break .200 in Lansing and hit just .208/.283/.250 in Vancouver while Klein, 23, had similar numbers to Conner in Vancouver (albeit with more power) but really took off with a .250/.286/.500 line with seven doubles and three home runs in 71 plate appearances in the Midwest League. Matt Hitt, 24, only had 37 plate appearances with Vancouver, getting one single in his 30 at bats with four walks.
Daniel Arcila, Christian Vazquez, Shaun Valeriote and Jorge Vega-Rosada all filled in on the infield. Arcila, 23, fromVenezuela, hit .212/.339/.327 in 63 plate appearances for the year while Vazquez, 24, a 2013 draftee (19th round), hit .203/.259/.219 in 141 plate appearances. Vega-Rosado was released by the club after getting only five hits (all singles) in 51 plate appearances while Valeriote, 23, from Guelph, Ont., had one hit and eight walks in 34 plate appearances.
In the outfield, Melvin Garcia, 22 got a promotion from Bluefield and hit .231/.330/.308 in 110 plate appearances. Ronnie Melendez, 23, wasn’t able to hit anywhere (either in Lansing or Vancouver) and was released after getting only eight hits at the two levels combined in 78 plate appearances.