Jay Blue: Gulf Coast Jays season in review

RHP Justin Mease was the rookie-class Gulf Coast Jays pitcher of the year. Photo: Eddie Michels. 

RHP Justin Mease was the rookie-class Gulf Coast Jays pitcher of the year. Photo: Eddie Michels. 

GCL Blue Jays 2015 Report, Part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away

It’s that time of year that we begin our reports summarizing the season for the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates. We continue with the Blue Jays’ complex team in Florida, the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.

Like the DSL Blue Jays, the GCL club made the playoffs, making it all the way to the league finals, losing in two straight games to the GCL Red Sox. Under manager Cesar Martin, the GCL Blue Jays were 39-19, outplaying their Pythagorean record (32-26) by seven games. The Blue Jays sat in fifth place in the league, scoring 4.40 runs per game with a club that averaged almost a year over the league average age. The pitchers finished in the middle of the pack, allowing the eighth fewest runs per game (3.90) with a pitching staff that was 0.2 years older than average for the league.

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.

The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.3 points. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.

The final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the GCL Blue Jays:
Jake Thomas 5.05
Cliff Brantley 4.5
Osman Gutierrez 4
Justin Maese 3.8
Kalik May 3.5
Lance Jones 3.05
Edward Olivares 3
Hansel Rodriguez 2.5
Levi Scott 2.25
Juandy Mendoza 2.1
Mike Estevez, Reggie Pruitt 2
Denis Diaz 1.8
Luis Sanchez, Javier Hernandez, Guadalupe Chavez 1.5
Ryan Hissey, Nash Knight 1.3
Jose Espada, Nate Abel 1
Jesus Severino, Jose Nova 0.8
Bryan Lizardo 0.55
Owen Spiwak, Connor Panas, Gunner Eastman, Jackson Lowery, Griffin Glaude, Juan Nunez, Danny Jansen, Yennsy Diaz, Robert Lucido 0.5
Ryan Cook 0.3

It was a very close race, particularly at the top as no one really ran away with the title, but when all the dust settled, Jake Thomas had the most points, so congratulations, Jake Thomas, the 2015 Blue Jays from Away GCL Player of the Game Champion..


Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
While it’s always interesting to see who comes up on top of the Player of the Game Points leaderboard, this year, the Player of the Year will be someone different. By virtue of hitting for the club’s best average (of anyone with more than 100 plate appearances), with a tremendous on-base percentage while also hitting for a little bit of power, the Player of the Year is Lance Jones. The 22 year old hit .299 with a .446 OBP and .402 slugging percentage in 150 plate appearances.

Honourable mentions go to Kalik May (.261/.376/.406, 10 SB) and Jake Thomas (.263/.393/.365).


Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
This is a tough race to call, mainly because there were two players who were under consideration who are very different. Justin Maese, 18, was the Blue Jays’ third round pick in the 2015 draft. A high schooler, Maese was exceptional, posting a 1.01 ERA while walking just six batters all year with a 1.06 WHIP. I was considering Mike Estevez for the award as well but Maese’s age and ability to pitch so well at such a young age gave him the edge. All of the club’s starters were pretty solid, however, and John Kravetz, Denis Diaz, Luis Sanchez and Jose Espada were all in the running.

Congrats to Justin Maese!


Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
While a few other relievers were very good (including Griffin Glaude and Nate Abel), the winner of this award is clearly Mike Estevez whose 1.38 ERA and 1.19 WHIP were strong while his 32 strikeouts in 26 innings were outstanding. Estevez not only earned the role as closer, he was able to keep it through most of the season, saving nine games.

Congrats to Mike Estevez, the GCL Blue Jays’ Reliever of the Year!


Starting Pitchers
We move on to the starting pitchers at for the GCL Blue Jays. At the Rookie ball level, the distinctions between starting pitchers and relief pitchers are frequently fluid, particularly since teams tend to use a piggyback system that has pitchers only starting half of their games so we’re going to include anyone who started at least 50% of their appearances. You’ll also notice that there are pitchers who ended up (or started) with the GCL Blue Jays who aren’t discussed here. Players are listed with the teams that they threw the most innings for and there are several pitchers who were called up to the GCL from the DSL who were discussed in the DSL report.

The distinction of the first spot in this report goes to Osman Gutierrez, a 20-year-old Nicaraguan righty who stands 6-foot-4. After spending three years in the Dominican Summer League, Gutierrez finally graduated to the Gulf Coast League and made nine starts for 46 1/3 innings, tops on the team. He ended up posting a 4.66 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP, striking out a decent 20.0% of batters while walking only 7.3%, an improvement on every other year that he’s pitched in the Blue Jays’ organization. Still, Gutierrez gave up a lot of runs and even a few home runs in a league that he was right around the average age for leaving cause to wonder about the quality of his stuff.

The pitcher with the second most innings and tied for second most starts was Hansel Rodriguez. The 18-year-old Dominican showed tremendous improvement in his second year in the league, posting a 4.68 ERA but a 2.65 FIP and a 1.37 WHIP. Rodriguez struck out 20.2% of batters while walking only 5.5%, cutting his HBP numbers by three-quarters (from four to one) despite pitching more than twice as many innings. Rodriguez is starting to show what he can do and should move up to Bluefield next season.

At the age of 20, Honduran righty Denis Diaz threw 37 2/3 innings for the GCL Jays (and added three innings for the Dunedin Blue Jays), logging a 3.58 ERA, 4.69 FIP and 1.43 WHIP. He had a worrisome 13.3% walk rate and a an 18.7% strikeout rate. Danny Jansen mentioned that he was impressed by his stuff which leads me to believe that he could still put things together by finding his command.

If you follow Chris King on Twitter (@StatsKing), you’ll know that he has high regard for the Jays’ fifth-round draft pick in 2015, Jose Espada. The 18-year-old righty from Puerto Rico had a 3.41 ERA, a 3.34 FIP and a 0.96 WHIP in his draft year. Espada held batters to a .195 average while also striking out 22.8% of hitters and walking only 5.9% showing some interesting maturity on the mound to go with a high-80s/low-90s fastball, changeup and breaking ball. He and Maese are probably the top two guys who could get the “Sean Reid-Foley” treatment and jump straight to A-ball but I think the Jays will be patient and have them open the year in extended spring training.

6-foot-3 Dominican righty Luis Sanchez also had a very strong half-year with the GCL Blue Jays before moving up to the Bluefield club. He threw 33 1/3 innings, posting a 2.97 ERA, 2.92 FIP and 1.35 WHIP. Sanchez struck out 18.6% of batters while posting an 8.6% walk rate in the GCL. He didn’t far as well, however, in 20 1/3 innings for Bluefield, getting tagged for a 7.08 ERA (5.34 FIP) and 1.87 WHIP, walking 15.3% and striking out 17.4%. Sanchez, 21, will probably start another season in extended spring training but could see Vancouver if he gets off to a good start.

Our 2015 Pitcher of the Year, Justin Maese, wasn’t given a very large workload. The Blue Jays are likely sheltering the 6-foot-3 righty due to his young age of 18. The big Texan was impressive in that he kept improving his results towards the end of the season, giving up just four walks and two runs in his last four outings, despite pitching at least five innings in all of them. Maese probably won’t be fast-tracked, primarily because of his low strikeout rate (13.3%) despite his outstanding control numbers (4.2% walk rate, just one wild pitch). I can see him in Bluefield and Vancouver in 2016 as a 19-year-old.


Relief pitchers
It’s time for some relief as we now discuss the GCL Blue Jays’ relief pitching corps. Keep in mind that we discuss players on the team for whom they threw the most innings so a number of GCL Blue Jays pitchers will be discussed elsewhere.

Nate Abel, 22, logged the most innings of any reliever on the GCL Blue Jays, having a very strong year in his first out of college. He had a 2.61 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 1.29 WHIP while striking out 20.5% of batters and walking 10.6% in 31 innings. Abel also got into a game in the Florida State league, throwing three innings and allowing a run on four hits and a walk. A non-drafted free agent, Abel could play for any number of teams next year, including Bluefield, Vancouver or Lansing.

Griffin Glaude is another college pitcher who joined the GCL Blue Jays for the season before getting a taste of High-A in September. Glaude is also a non-drafted free agent who was extremely successful in rookie ball,  logging 28 2/3 innings with a 2.20 ERA, 2.02 FIP and 0.73 WHIP, striking out 33.0% of batters and walking only 6.3%. He struggled two innings in Dunedin, allowing two runs on two hits and a walk in two innings of work. He’s another candidate for Vancouver next year at the age of 23, but, looking at his excellent peripherals, could end up in Lansing.

Mike Estevez, 22,  was another NDFA signed by the Blue Jays after the draft and was named our Reliever of the Year for the GCL Blue Jays after dominating the lowest North American league. Estevez had a 1.38 ERA and 2.12 FIP with a 1.19 WHIP in 26 innings, saving nine games along the way. His strong 28.3% strikeout rate and 8.0% walk rates also helped him overcome a slightly high BABIP. I can see Estevez in Vancouver or Bluefield in 2016.

When he signed in 2013, Kelyn Jose was described by Ben Badler as being able to run his fastball up to 93-94 but, as he’s gotten older, he’s been able to improve that from the reports I’ve heard. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, I’ve heard that Jose’s fastball is coming it at nearly (or over) 100 mph now and he’s doing it as a lefty. Jose, 20, had a much improved season as he struggles to find his control but the Blue Jays were sending him out to work, getting him 25 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in the GCL while he posted a 3.51 ERA, 3.62 FIP and a 1.44 WHIP. Much of that higher WHIP came from a high 13.5% walk rate that is still well down from his 2014 rate of 19.4% in the Dominican Summer League. He struck out 21.9%, down from 25.5% last year but that’s not uncommon of a pitcher who’s trying to command a big fastball at the expense of working on his complementary pitches. Look for Jose to keep moving up after stints in the Fall Instructional League and spring training.

Another non-drafted free agent, Gunner Eastman, 23, pitched 25 innings in the GCL for the Blue Jays. He posted a 5.40 ERA and 4.99 WHIP with a 1.76 ERA, walking 17.1% of batters and striking out only 12.8%.

Hunter Barnett was a 34th round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2015 but only managed to get into three games for the GCL Blue Jays at the age of 21. Barnett pitched one game in June, one at the beginning of July but didn’t get into another until the end of August. In the end, Barnett didn’t allow an earned run, giving up one run on three hits and a walk with a strikeout in 3 1/3 innings.

Returning to the Blue Jays and making his debut as a pitcher was Gustavo Pierre who pitched in one game and threw a perfect inning for the GCL Blue Jays. Pierre was converted after a seven year minor league career as an infielder culminated with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Double-A squad, hitting .227/.258/.311 before he was traded back to the Blue Jays.

Wilton Lopez pitched in 1 1/3 innings on the rehab trail, allowing four runs on six hits before being released by the Blue Jays.


We come to the final part of our series on the GCL Blue Jays where we discuss the hitters. It was generally an older group of players in 2015, seeing lots of 2015 college draftees in the mix with a few Latin American players and only one high-school draftee.

Starting behind the plate, we have 19-year-old Venezuelan Javier Hernandez. Hernandez showed some promise with the bat at the GCL level last year with a very small sample-sized call up from the Dominican Republic. Hernandez regressed back to his previous levels, hitting .200/.263/.294 over 97 plate appearances in 2016, walking in only 4.1% of PAs and striking out in almost 30% (29.9%). Hernandez impresses the most behind the plate, throwing out 41% of potential base stealers while being very sure-handed, making only two errors and allowing just four passed balls.

6-foot-4 first baseman Levi Scott came to the Blue Jays in the 28th round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Texas at Arlington and struggled with the bat in the professional game, hitting .205/.316/.273 with the GCL Blue Jays despite being 22. On a positive note, he had an outstanding 14.2% walk rate with a decent strikeout rate of 21.6%, meaning that there could be some solid contact in his bat going forward as he continues to adjust to the pro game. He’s a strong candidate to play either in Vancouver or Bluefield next year.

Second baseman Juandy Mendoza was drafted by the Jays in the 23rd round this year out of Otero Junior College in Colorado and led the club in games at second base. He ended up playing 42 games and coming to the plate 146 times, compiling a .193/.317/.269 slash line with a half-dozen doubles and just one home run. Mendoza looks like he’s got some speed, stealing 10 bases and getting caught only once and showed a good eye, walking in 10.3% of plate appearances despite striking out in 28.8%. Mendoza also pitched in one game, throwing 1 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing one hit. Next year, I’d look for Mendoza in Bluefield.

After a strong finish to his 2014 season in the Dominican Summer League, I was expecting a lot from 18-year-old Bryan Lizardo, who came up to the Gulf Coast League for 2015. Lizardo clearly had trouble with the competition level, however, seeing a 250-point drop in OPS from year to year. He got into 43 games and was pretty sure-handed at third base, making only five errors (after 20 in 67 games in 2014). Lizardo hit .193/.255/.250 and didn’t show nearly as much power or patience as he had in 2014. Lizardo walked a respectable 7.8% of the time but struck out far too much at 34.6%. He also hit for a very low .057 ISO. Being so young, if Lizardo doesn’t improve considerably in his stint in the Fall Instructional League and in spring training, you could expect to see him back in Dunedin for more GCL action.

Another 18-year-old Dominican, Jesus Severino, held down the fort at shortstop for the most games. After getting off to a roaring start with the DSL Blue Jays (hitting .354/.483/.396 in 14 games), Severino came up to the GCL where he didn’t find the same success, hitting just .198/.316/.260 in 115 plate appearances. Severino was very patient, walking in 11.3% of his PAs but struck out in 26.1%. He made 16 errors in 40 games at shortstop this season but, again, like many young players at that important spot on the diamond, he needs more time to evaluate whether he’ll be a shortstop long term. As it is, Severino could very well be another hold over in the GCL unless there’s significant improvement over the fall and spring leagues.

In the outfield, the GCL Blue Jays were much more reliant on college players who came from this year’s draft. 36th-round pick Lance Jones, 22, showed a lot of poise at the plate, hitting .299/.446/.402 with three doubles, three triples and a home run in 150 plate appearances, stealing six bases. He’s a strong candidate for a job in Vancouver next year.

Reggie Pruitt stood out as the only high-school draftee on in the field after being selected in the 24th round out of his school in Kennesaw, Georgia. Pruitt showed great speed on the bases, stealing 15 bags but also struggled at the plate, hitting .223/.309/.289 with six doubles and a triple in 144 plate appearances. Pruitt’s 8.3% walk rate and 25.7% strikeout rate show some nice potential for the speedy, athletic player. I’d wager that he gets a chance in Bluefield next year.

Signing late with the Blue Jays in 2014, 19-year-old Edward Olivares jumped into our consciousness after a .314/.436/.414 campaign in the DSL last year. This year, moving up to the GCL, Olivares struggled, like many of his Dominican compatriots. Olivares only hit .198/.345/.362 in 142 plate appearances, walking in 7.7% of PAs while striking out in only 19.0%. Olivares shows a lot of speed, stealing 14 bases and getting caught just twice and strikes me as a guy to still keep an eye on despite a low batting average in 2015. Bluefield will likely be where he goes in 2016.

While he led the club in plate appearances, Jake Thomas didn’t play a lot in the field. Thomas was the Jays’ 27th-round pick of the 2015 draft out of Binghamton, New York and was one of the offensive leaders of the club, hitting .263/.393/.365, walking in 14.5% of plate appearances and striking out in only 17.6%. At 22, you can likely see Thomas in Vancouver next year or even Lansing if another bat is needed and he shows the ability to compete in spring training.

Nash Knight is another player who didn’t spend enough time at one position to be considered the “everyday” guy there but he amassed the third-most plate appearances on the team. Coming out of Dallas Baptist University, Knight, who turned 23 on September 20, hit .207/.331/.286 with five doubles and two home runs. He distinguished himself by walking 28 times (16.3%) while only striking out 39 times (22.7%). Nash is another Vancouver candidate based on his age and college playing experience.

Kalik May was the Jays’ 33rd-round pick this season and came to the Blue Jays out of Mississippi Valley State University. He was one of the offensive leaders for the GCL Blue Jays and played mostly center and right field hitting .261/.376/.406 with six doubles, four triples and two home runs, stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts. May, 22, should jump to Vancouver but could be a dark horse for a roster spot in Lansing if one opens up.

Returning to the GCL Blue Jays at the age of 22 was Cliff Brantley who posted some solid year-over-year improvement while repeating the level. Brantley hit .252/.308/.378, with three doubles, a triple and three home runs in 121 plate appearances, showing the most growth in power production, raising his ISO by 65 points in 2015. His walk rate of 5.8% is still low and his strikeout rate of 22.3% jumped from last year, possibly as a result of his increase in power.

Infielder Miguel Almonte played 28 games at second base for the GCL Blue Jays as an 18 year old coming out of the Dominican Summer League. Like a lot of the other young Latin Americans, Almonte saw a big reduction in effectiveness in the US, hitting just .127/.216/.139 with 31 strikeouts in 89 plate appearances. He’s probably tabbed for another season in the GCL.

The catcher who caught the second most games this year was Owen Spiwak, a 20-year-old, Mississauga native who was drafted in the 10th round this year out of Odessa College in Texas. In 31 games with the GCL Blue Jays, Spiwak didn’t see much difficulty with the pitching, hitting .293/.337/.329 in 89 plate appearances. Despite a low walk total, I can see Spiwak moving up quickly and landing in Vancouver in 2016, in part because of his Canadian passport.

Shortstop Andrew Florides played his third year for the GCL Blue Jays, hitting just .068/.141/.068 despite getting the most playing time he’s had in his career, coming to the plate 65 times over 22 games.

The Jays’ 40th-round pick of the 2015 draft, catcher Robert Lucido was an interesting player who actually didn’t play in his last year of college. He did, however, start to get more playing time as a pro (at the age of 22), hitting fairly well in his 37 at bats for the GCL Blue Jays, posting a .259/.459/.407 line with two doubles and a triple among his seven hits. Behind the plate, Lucido didn’t throw out a single base runner out of the seven who stole against him.

Finally, the Blue Jays selected John La Prise in the 19th round of the 2015 draft but the 22-year-old didn’t play much, just getting two plate appearances all season.

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