Jay Blue: Harris, Loveless, Leblebjian, Turner, Kish head Down Under

Former Blue Jays farmhand C Jack Murphy is headed down under to Australia again this off season. Photo: Jay Blue. 

Former Blue Jays farmhand C Jack Murphy is headed down under to Australia again this off season. Photo: Jay Blue. 

Aussie Bound: Five Named to Canberra Cavalry
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away

A friend of the blog Matt Percy tweeted me some information he got from Canberra Times’ Sport reporter David Polkinghorne (@Super_Couch) regarding the Blue Jays’ 2015 delegates to the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. 

A note to any of our Aussie readers (and anyone else) for whom some of the statistical lingo might be a bit foreign, I highly recommend heading to Fangraphs.com and mousing over their “Glossary” tab. You can get the lowdown on a lot of the SABRmetrics there.

While I haven’t seen the information first hand, Matt has worked as a stadium announcer for the Cavalry and his info is usually very good. Heck, we’ve had him on the podcast a couple of times and I always look forward to hearing his Aussie accent from down under. He reports that five players will be headed to Australia this year.

@JaysFromAway David Harris, Derek Loveless, Jason Leblebjian, Colton Turner and Phil Kish...per my man @Super_Couch

— Matt Percy (@mattpercy100) October 12, 2015

There aren’t too many surprises in three of the five selections here for me. Unfortunately, Jack Murphy is no longer a Blue Jay minor leaguer and so even if he does go back to Australia for a fourth year, he’s not representing the Great White North.

Last year, Murphy, Anthony Alford, Christian Lopes and L.B. Dantzler got to play ball all winter and the year before that, it was Murphy, Michael Crouse, Jon Berti and Shane Opitz.  In 2012, the Blue Jays sent K.C. Hobson, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Knecht and Jack Murphy while John Tolisano and Kenny Wilson went in 2011. Notice a pattern here? All of the players are position players. 2015 is going to be the first time that the Blue Jays send pitchers to the Australian Baseball League.

The Jays are sending a couple of older pitchers down to Australia in Phil Kish and Colton Turner. Kish, now 26, had an up and down year in Lansing and Dunedin, walking 21, striking out 36 with a 5.10 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in 54 2/3 innings. Kish throws in the high 80s with some great movement on his fastball while also throwing a slider and a changeup. Kish is looking to take his career up a notch and will look to refine his game over the winter in Australia rather than work at Ernst and Young.

Colton Turner, 24, was a 21st round pick in 2012 who had some tremendous success in the first two years of his career before tearing his UCL and missing all of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery. The lefty came back in 2015 with a very solid season pitching out of the Lansing bullpen with a 4.02 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 52 strikeouts and 28 walks in 65 innings. The two top things that I’ve seen from Turner this summer were that his velocity was up into the low 90s (after seeing him in the mid-to-high 80s in 2013) and that he had found his control, throwing 12 2/3 outstanding innings without walking anyone after returning to the Lugnuts from the Dunedin Blue Jays in late August.

Looking towards the position players, David Harris is a very intriguing player who was a 36th round pick out of Southern Arkansas University in 2013. Very athletic with tons of bat speed, Harris won’t steal as many bases as someone like Alford but he had a very good year with Lansing, hitting for a .280 batting average, a .333 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage (the three, when taken together as .280/.333/.427, are called a “triple slash line”). He has some decent power but shows more of it to the gaps rather than over the fences. Prone to striking out a bit, Harris struggled in a 27-game audition in Dunedin, striking out 31 times in 113 plate appearances while only walking twice. He did, however, hit six doubles and two home runs in that span. I like Harris’s bat a lot if he can take a few more walks and strike out a bit less. He’s still a work in progress in the outfield after spending his first year or two as an infielder.

Derrick Loveless is another young man who you might want to keep an eye on. Despite being 22, Loveless has spent five years in the Blue Jays’ organization, working his way up to Dunedin in 2015. A 27th-round pick out of high school in Iowa in 2011, Loveless is another athletic young player who has seen some success but had a deceptive year in 2015. One of Lansing’s most consistent players in 2014, he hit .216/.321/.345 this season but I think he’s better than that. He struck out in almost a quarter of his plate appearances (which he’ll need to tame) but walked more than half as much as he struck out, posting an OBP (On-Base Percentage) over 100 points above his batting average, mitigating a lot of his problems with the strikeout. Loveless had a slightly low .273 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) this year but still put up above average production for the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. In addition, Loveless hit 10 home runs (when the league leaders hit just 14) and stole eight bases. He’s a solid outfielder and should probably play right field in Canberra.

Finally, there’s a lot that can be said about 24-year-old infielder Jason Leblebijian. Leblebijian, a 25th round pick in 2012, is a jack of all trades on the infield, playing any position well but he’s good enough that he can be counted on to play shortstop. He also provides a solid bat as he showed this year in Lansing. In almost 300 plate appearances, he hit .277/.346/.473 with nine home runs and 10 stolen bases. He has a good sense of the strike zone and will help a team with walks. The biggest blip on Lebleb’s season in 2015 was his performance in Dunedin where he hit just .170/.250/.223 with a tiny isolated slugging (ISO) of .054. I’m sure our Aussie friends are asking “what the heck is ISO?” (or some colourful version of that). ISO is a player’s slugging percentage (singles + doubles + triples + home runs divided by at bats, where each type of hit is weighted accordingly - singles count as one, doubles two, triples three, home runs four) minus his batting average. This basically tells us how much power a player hits with. For Leblebijian, his ISO in Lansing was .197, which is excellent (most minor league players hover in the .100 - .130 range), making his low ISO in Dunedin even more curious. Apologies for the statistical diversion.

While there aren’t any sure-fire big leaguers coming from the Blue Jays’ system to Canberra in 2015, there are five intriguing players who are all class acts and we at Blue Jays from Away are sure you’re going to love them down in Australia this winter, er summer.

 

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Jay Blue

A lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan, Jay Blue started blogging about the Jays when he was living in Berlin, Germany. He founded his own blog, Blue Jays from Away, to write about developments with his home town team, focusing on the Jays' minor league system. When he's not watching baseball, he is usually on the diamond umpiring or he's pursuing his research interests in the field of ethnomusicology.