JB: How bout them Lugnuts? Dawson, Davis Mayza, McBroom
Lansing Lugnuts 2015 Report, part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Ah, Lansing. Aside from Buffalo, Lansing is the closest of the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates to Toronto and, this year, it was the most successful, winning the Eastern Division of the Midwest League in the first half and winning their first playoff series against the Great Lakes Loons before losing in three game to the West Michigan Whitecaps in the second round.
Under first-year manager Ken Huckaby, the Lugnuts had a 73-66 record that dominated in the first half, largely due to the big group of outstanding prospects, most of whom were either promoted or traded by the time August came around. I won’t retread ground we’ve already covered but needless to say, the Lugnuts’ success in the first half couldn’t be repeated in the second no matter how many players the Blue Jays sent back to the club for the playoffs. The Lugnuts’ offense was a force to reckoned with, leading entire Midwest League by averaging 5.03 runs per game at an average age of 21.8 years old (0.4 years older than the league average). The pitching staff, however, wasn’t nearly as prolific, finishing fourth from the bottom of the league table, allowing 4.48 runs per game at 0.2 years younger than the league average of 22 years old.
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 Iâ€™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 “€œabove 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 Lugnuts:
Ryan McBroom 13.9
D.J. Davis 10.8
Chris Carlson 8.1
Jason Leblebijian 7.6
Richard Urena 7
Rowdy Tellez 6.5
Josh Almonte 6
Chase De Jong, Jesus Tinoco, Justin Shafer, Shane Dawson 4.3
David Harris 4.25
Tim Locastro 4.1
Starlyn Suriel, Jonathan Davis 4
Anthony Alford 3.7
Conner Greene 3.3, Chase Mallard 3.3
Conor Fisk 2.5
Michael De La Cruz 2.25
Dickie Joe Thon 2
Dawel Lugo 1.8
Sean Reid-Foley, Juan Kelly, Tom Robson 1.5
Colton Turner 1.35
Gunnar Heidt 1.3
Boomer Collins, Christian Vazquez, Clinton Hollon, Alex Maldonado 1
Danny Jansen, Tim Mayza 0.8
Alonzo Gonzalez, Andrew Case, Jose Fernandez, Dusty Isaacs, Jon Wandling, Marcus Stroman 0.5
Phil Kish, Justin Atkinson 0.3
Austin Davis 0.25
Ryan McBroom earns the award as the 2015 Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion despite a closer-than-you-might think with D.J. Davis coming in second. Still, the Midwest League MVP’s ability to produce and excel made him the “man of the match” in more games than anyone else.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
Once again, Ryan McBroom takes home the (hypothetical) hardware. McBroom out-OPSed everyone on the team who had more than 71 plate appearances, hitting .315/.387/.482 with 39 doubles and 12 home runs. Several other players had good years but no one was really all that close to McBroom.
Honourable mentions: D.J. Davis, Chris Carlson, Anthony Alford, Rowdy Tellez, Jason Leblebijian
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
This award is also an easy one to call. One of the Midwest League’s best pitchers this year was Shane Dawson who was not only among the club leaders in innings (101 2/3) despite missing time to win a gold medal in the Pan-Am Games and making five starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays, but among the leaders in ERA (3.01), WHIP (1.17) and finished the season with the most strikeouts on the club (98) while walking only 24.
Honourable mentions: Justin Shafer, Chase De Jong
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
It wasn’t difficult to narrow this award down to three players but beyond that it was very tough to call a clear winner. In the end, I used a couple of stats to come down on the side of the winner. In my mind, Tim Mayza was the Reliever of the Year. Mayza took a huge step forward for the Lugnuts, improving almost all of his numbers and becoming an essential arm in the bullpen, throwing 55 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old lefty had a 3.07 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP while striking out 26.3% of batters: one of the highest rates on the club (third when you only count pitchers with 20 or more innings). For me, the deciding factors were the strikeout rate and his 2.62 FIP which was below his closest competitors’.
Honourable mentions: Dusty Isaacs, Justin Shafer
Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
Is there any doubt that D.J. Davis is the most improved player on the Lugnuts? After a fairly miserable year in which he set the club record for strikeouts in a season, Davis set to work in 2015 and improved his OPS by almost 150 points, reduced his strikeout rate by almost 10% (from 30.8% to 21.5%) while increasing his ISO slightly.
Honourable mentions: Tim Mayza
The Lugnuts had some very strong pitching throughout the year with a wide variety of pitchers joining the rotation. While the rotation at the end of the year looked very little like the one at the beginning, several young prospects got a good start to their 2015 campaigns with the Lugnuts.
The 2015 Lugnuts’ leader in games started was 21-year-old Starlyn Suriel, who emerged from out of nowhere in 2014. 2015 wasn’t as kind to the 5-foot-11 Dominican as he posted a solid, but unspectacular year. This season, spent entirely with the Lugnuts, Suriel posted a 4.16 ERA and 4.49 FIP with a 1.38 WHIP over 114 2/3 innings, mostly regressing from what he did last year and both numbers correspond to a rising BABIP over his 2014 numbers. His walk rate only went up a half of a percentage point (to a still-low 6.3%) but, in a most concerning development, his strikeout rate dropped from 18.6% to 14.4%. With a low ground ball rate (0.69 GO/AO ratio), Suriel will need to get more outs via the strikeout if he’s going to continue to be effective at higher levels. Still, after about a year and a third in Lansing, there’s no reason to hold him back in 2016. Look for him in the Dunedin rotation.
The Lugnuts’ ace, Shane Dawson, was second on the club in starts made (17) and had some pretty outstanding numbers wherever he went. Dawson’s 3.01 ERA and 3.19 FIP were excellent, as was his 1.17 WHIP with a 23.9% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate over 101 2/3 innings, giving him a strikeout-to-walk rate of 4.08. With a promotion to Dunedin, he continued to pitch well, adding 26 innings with a 3.12 ERA, 3.74 FIP and 1.08 WHIP, walking just 7.3% and striking out 20.0%. The organization loves the Alberta native’s level of competition and his ability to overcome some injuries in the past to stay healthy in 2015. Dawson is a sure-fire bet to see in Dunedin to start 2016 and a stint in New Hampshire will not be unexpected for the 22-year-old lefty.
Sean Reid-Foley, 20, was a surprise inclusion on the Lugnuts’ roster to open the 2015 season and I saw the young man both at the beginning and the end of the season with the Lugnuts. Reid-Foley worked a lot over the full season, adding 96 innings to his professional resume in Lansing and Dunedin. In 63 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts, Reid-Foley saw more success with a 3.69 ERA and 3.44 FIP, discovering that the Midwest League hitters were generally overwhelmed by his stuff. Reid-Foley struck out 30.7% of the batters he faced and hitters only hit .233 against him he induced more groundouts than flyouts. In 32 2/3 innings with Dunedin, however, he was still tough to hit but discovered that he was his own worst enemy, seeing his walk rate increase to 16.2% (after being 14.7% in Lansing) while his strikeout rate dropped to 23.7% (still very good). His 5.23 ERA (but only 3.81 FIP) was much more unsightly. Reid-Foley still has some issues to work out but he can be very good for the Blue Jays if he continues to develop. He’ll be in Dunedin in 2016 and could also see time in New Hampshire if he gets his control issues in check.
Righty Chase Mallard, 23, was looking to continue the success that he had with the Vancouver Canadians in 2014 but, while he was an inning-eater for the Lugnuts, he wasn’t able to quite replicate the same type of season he had last year. Mallard led the club in innings with 123 and was being piggybacked as a starter throughout much of the season. Mallard started 15 of his 29 games and his FIP of 4.05 was much better than his 5.49 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Mallard showed the same kind of control as he did last year with Vancouver, walking just 6.8% of batters, but his stuff didn’t fool Midwest League batters as much, as he struck out only 15.7% of those he faced. His best month, looking at peripheral stats, was July in which he threw 30 2/3 innings and allowed a WHIP of 1.14 but his ERA ballooned to 5.58, mostly because the five home runs he surrendered. Mallard will likely be in Dunedin next year but to get much further, he’s going to have to develop a real out pitch that he can get by batters.
The 6-foot-4 righty Jesus Tinoco made a very big impression in his time in Lansing, leading to his being included in the trade that brought Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto. Tinoco, 20, notched a 3.54 EA and 2.77 FIP in 81 1/3 innings, putting up a 1.35 WHIP with a 19.3% strikeout rate and an excellent 6.2% walk rate. All of his numbers got better (except the FIP) after the trade as he threw 40 excellent innings with a 1.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 23.3% strikeout rate and 5.0% walk rate with Asheville in the South Atlantic League (still the same level as Lansing).
Righty Chase De Jong, 21, was also traded earlier in the year, along with Tim Locastro to the Dodgers for some international bonus pool money. De Jong still threw 86 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts, posting some very solid improvements over his 2014 numbers with the same club. De Jong had a 3.13 ERA and 3.70 FIP with a 1.08 WHIP and 21.9% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate. After the trade, he threw 50 innings with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, who won the California League, posting a 3.96 ERA, 4.22 WHIP but a 1.18 WHIP and 24.6% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate, all in a much more difficult league for pitchers. In addition, De Jong got to pitch in the playoffs, making two starts and giving up just two runs in 12 2/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and a 0.87 WHIP.
Righty Conner Greene was another surprise addition to the Lugnuts, considering that he only made six appearances in Rookie-level Bluefield last year. Still, the Blue Jays had a lot of faith in the 20-year-old righty and he started the season in Lansing, eventually reaching New Hampshire. Of the three levels, Greene spent the most time in Lansing, throwing 67 1/3 innings with a 3.88 ERA but a lower 3.22 FIP to go with a 1.40 WHIP. Greene was impressive, striking out 22.7% of batters while walking 6.6%. In the Florida State League, word is that he improved his curveball, throwing it harder for a more effective pitch and he struck out 21.6% and actually dropped his walk rate to 4.9% in 40 innings while posting a stellar 2.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. At his final stop, in Double-A New Hampshire, Greene threw 25 more innings but saw a big drop in his strikeout rate, down to 13.9%, while his walk rate jumped to 11.1%, contributing to a 4.68 ERA and 4.15 FIP. Obviously Greene is showing that he has the stuff (with a fastball that can hit 96 mph, a curve and very good changeup) but he’s going to need to command those pitches better to get the more experienced hitters out at the Double-A level. Greene will almost certainly start next year in Double-A (even if Alex Anthopoulos has mentioned that Conner could get an invitation to big league camp) and the Blue Jays are obviously seeing something they like. Whatever happens next year, Greene is definitely young for whichever level he’s at and had a breakout season in 2015.
Another Conor, Conor Fisk, is the next on our tour of starters in Lansing. Fisk, 23, had a solid season that started in May (with one appearance in Lansing) but didn’t continue until the Vancouver Canadians’ season opened. He made three appearances there before moving up to Lansing and finishing the season splitting time between the Midwest League and the Florida State League. Fisk threw 54 1/3 innings with Lansing with some solid numbers, putting up a 4.31 ERA, 4.48 FIP and 1.23 WHIP. More concerning is his strikeout rate of only 14.1% but he only walked 5.3%. In 19 2/3 innings in Dunedin, however, that strikeout rate rose to 17.2% while his walk rate went up to 6.9%. Despite more Ks, Fisk had a 5.95 ERA but a 3.88 FIP and 1.37 WHIP in Dunedin. That’s where my money would be for where Fisk starts 2016.
While he only pitched 26 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts, Tom Robson’s season started late thanks to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. His increased velocity since the last time he was healthy (in late 2013) is making his sinking fastball a plus pitch but he still had a lot of inconsistency in his game thanks to the year off. Robson, a 22-year-old B.C. native, had a combined 10 innings between the GCL and Vancouver Canadians before arriving in Lansing where he had a 5.06 ERA and 4.71 FIP, striking out 17.1% and walking 11.4%. Still, Robson showed some hope for the future, making an excellent six-inning start in the playoffs and allowing only one run. Robson will be in Dunedin in 2016 and could move quickly if he maintains his 93mph+ velocity and regains the command that made him dominant a couple of years ago.
Who provided the relief for the Lugnuts? A veteran crew of pitchers, most of whom had come out of college programs in the last couple of years. That said, a couple of the key arms in the pen were hanging off of international free agents.
The first of those international free agents is Dominican lefty Jose Fernandez who led the club in appearances with 35. Throwing 51 2/3 innings, the 6-foot-3 22 year old had an excellent season with a 3.31 ERA, 3.05 FIP and 1.35 WHIP. While his strikeout rate dropped about two percent from his 2014 numbers with Vancouver (going from 21.1% in 2014 to 18.9% in 2015), he also lowered his walk rate significantly from 9.7% in 2014 to 7.4% this year. That, combined with a somewhat-high .335 BABIP leads me to think that Fernandez will probably be anchoring a bullpen in Dunedin in 2016.
Coming out of high school in 2011, Mark Biggs has moved slowly through the Blue Jays’ organization but the 22-year-old righty has had his best season in uniform in his fourth year since the draft. Despite a 6.91 ERA in Vancouver last year, Biggs had a 4.00 FIP, leading us to believe that there were better results to come. Biggs not only dropped over two-and-a-half points off his ERA in 2015 (down to 4.28), he did it with a 3.89 FIP. He also lowered his WHIP by 0.2, giving up 1.61 hits and walks per inning in 2015. Significantly, Biggs walked only 8.2% of batters over his 61 innings, dropping that number 5.5% from his 2014 figure but his strikeout rate dropped significantly too, to 15.4% overall. Biggs could easily repeat the year in Lansing but I’d think that he’ll get a chance to show if he can make it in Dunedin after a full year with the Lugnuts.
Colton Turner, 24, wasn’t being talked about much this offseason, mainly because missed all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery performed last February. He was ready to go in spring training and earned an assignment to Lansing and spent much of the year as one of the Lugnuts’ go-to lefties. Turner rebounded very well from the year off, throwing 65 innings for the Lugnuts (and one for the Dunedin Blue Jays) while showing an increase in velocity from the last time I had seen him (in late 2013). He posted a solid 4.02 ERA, 3.49 FIP and 1.54 WHIP, striking out 18.1% and walking 9.7%. I can see the walk rate dropping as he gets further away from his surgery but, having reinvented himself as a lefty reliever, Turner could make it to Double-A New Hampshire in some point in 2016.
Righty Phil Kish had some mixed results in 2015 after signing as a minor league free agent in 2013. Kish, 26, logged 39 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts, posting a 5.67 ERA, a much better 3.72 FIP and a 1.82 WHIP while striking out 15.0% and walking 6.7%. He moved up for 15 innings in Dunedin and while his ERA and WHIP were better (at 3.60 and 1.60 respectively), his FIP was almost a run higher at 4.70. He also walked more batters (11.9%) and struck out fewer (10.5%).
In his first full year as a pitcher, Carlos Ramirez appears to have turned the corner. While his surface stats aren’t the best, there’s some potential here for the 24 year old with the 95-mph heat. Ramirez threw 32 1/3 innings for the Lugnuts and had a 4.73 ERA and 3.64 FIP with a 1.61 WHIP. His strikeout and walk rates are very good, however, especially when considering where he was last year, pitching in Rookie-level Bluefield. Last year, Ramirez had a 15.4% strikeout rate and 12.2% walk rate while this year, he’s shown tons of progress, posting solid rates for just about anyone at a higher level. In 2015, Ramirez struck out 21.0% of batters and walked 9.8%, showing much more polish but he still lacks consistency. In 7 1/3 innings with Dunedin, he wasn’t so successful, walking 22.7 of batters while striking out only 15.9%. Ramirez is almost sure to start the year in Dunedin and could reach New Hampshire if he shows a little more consistency than he did in Lansing.
Another pitcher who took a big step forward this season was lefty Tim Mayza. Standing at 6-foot-3, Mayza, 23, was starting to see his velocity and effectiveness climb as he refined his slider into a strikeout pitch. Mayza threw 55 2/3 innings for the Lugnuts with a 3.07 ERA and 2.62 FIP, adding a very good 1.37 WHIP. All of these numbers are huge improvements over his performance for the Vancouver Canadians last year and he added a huge boost to his strikeout rate, up to 26.3% while keeping his walk rate (11.4%) fairly steady. Mayza still needs to refine his control but as a long-limbed lefty with a big-time fastball, if he can throw more strikes coming out of the pen, he can be very effective moving up a level or two in 2016.
Dusty Isaacs was also an extremely effective pitcher out of the Lansing ‘pen, throwing 50 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts with a 3.93 ERA, 2.82 FIP and 1.31 WHIP. Isaacs, 24, was a control freak, walking only 5.2% of batters while also striking out 28.4%. He wasn’t as effective in a 2 1/3 inning stint with Dunedin but he’ll likely get plenty of opportunity to show what he can do at that level in 2016.
In his age-22 season, Justin Shafer really started to adapt to the pitching game. A position player for much of his college career, Shafer really started to pitch more as a junior and came to the Blue Jays in the 2014 draft as a pitcher with a lot of upside. I’ve scouted Shafer quite a bit this season (and you can find those reports if you’re a Premium Member) and I definitely saw some improvement as the season wore on. That said, his numbers in 73 innings in Lansing don’t scream “dominant,” and I noticed that he hasn’t been able to put batters away as his 13.8% strikeout rate attests. He has good control with a 7.2% walk rate but the command needs to be refined to avoid getting hit. He had a 2.96 ERA and strong 1.14 WHIP with a slightly worse 4.01 FIP with the Lugnuts. In a 22 1/3 innings audition with the Dunedin Blue Jays, Shafer was hit much harder, posting an 8.06 ERA, 1.97 WHIP and 4.96 FIP with only a 9.7% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate. Shafer is headed to the Arizona Fall League and will likely start in Dunedin next year as a 23 year old.
Righty Chase Wellbrock must have suffered a bad injury, throwing only 4 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts. He allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits with just one walk and one strikeout. Lefty Francisco Gracesqui threw only twice with the Lugnuts, accumulating 1 2/3 innings with four walks before he was released by the Blue Jays. Gracesqui caught on with New Jersey in the Canadian-American Association (an independent league) and threw 38 1/3 innings with 46 strikeouts and 24 walks, posting a 2.58 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.
The Lugnuts’ offense had a banner year, leading the entire Midwest League in runs, doubles, stolen bases and slugging percentage and finishing second in batting average and on-base percentage and finishing third in home runs (in a park that is not exactly home-run friendly). An offensive season like 2015 only comes when a number of minor leaguers having outstanding seasons and, as we’ll soon see, that was most certainly the case.
Behind the plate, Michael De La Cruz led the club with 60 games, mostly due to injury to other players. The 22-year-old Dominican made his Midwest-League debut with the Lugnuts in 2015 and spent the season as a solid, if unheralded, contributor. True, De La Cruz won’t hit for much power (with only 15 doubles) but he does walk enough to get his line up to .242/.318/.313. His offensive numbers settled right into where he was last year in Vancouver and I’d think it’s fair to say that this is what what we should expect from the switch-hitter going forward. Defensively “De La” is solid, but was dealing with a pitching staff who tended to be a bit wild and committed 18 passed balls but threw out 27% of runners trying to steal.
Despite being only 20, Danny Jansen is very mature for his age and has started to blossom into a very strong catcher for the Blue Jays’ organization. Unfortunately, for his second straight year, Jansen missed a lot of time with an injury (breaking a bone in his hand after getting hit by a bat). Jansen threw out 29% of runners and only committed two passed balls in 51 games behind the plate (including five on rehab with the GCL Blue Jays), showing outstanding improvement over his abilities to keep the ball in front of him. Offensively, however, I think it’s fair to say that there were times where he got frustrated. He has power and can barrel the ball but he was missing his pitch somewhat often, resulting in only a .213 BABIP and .206/.299/.331 slash line. The power production of eight doubles and four home runs among 33 hits was very solid, though and Jansen’s walk rate of 10.3% was excellent. That combined with a tiny, 12.0% strikeout rate, shows that Jansen is able to work counts and make productive outs but will work on making more solid contact to take advantage of his natural power. There are a number of catchers developing in the system and the injury-riddled start to Max Pentecost’s career and Ryan Hissey’s development in Vancouver this year makes it tough to prognosticate where Jansen will start in 2016. Will he be back in Lansing splitting time with Hissey or will he go to Dunedin to split time with Pentecost?
At first base for the Lugnuts, there was Ryan McBroom. McBroom earned a mantle’s full of awards just this season including the MVP for the Midwest League, a Mid-Season All-Star berth, two Post-Season All-Star awards as BOTH a DH and 1B (something that has never happened in the Midwest League) and the R. Howard Webster Award as the MVP of the Lugnuts from the Blue Jays organization. Needless to say, we don’t have to run down too much on Mr. McBoom’s achievements. His numbers speak for themselves: .315/.387/.482 line with a .397 wOBA and 151 wRC+ (his production was 51% higher than league average). His 9.1% walk rate is very good and his 17.9% strikeout rate shows that the higher level of ball didn’t phase him. McBroom never pressed for home runs, hitting 39 doubles, a triple and 12 homers while also leading the league in sacrifice flies with 13. The Jays’ 15th round pick of 2014 is almost certainly slated for Dunedin next year, but at age 23, he’ll have to do even more to move quickly to overtake one of 2015 teammates.
No longer with the Blue Jays is the Lugnuts’ leader in games at second base. Timothy Locastro was part of a deal to the Dodgers (along with Chase De Jong) to get the Jays some extra money in their international bonus pool in order to minimize the penalties when signing Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. Locastro had an outstanding opening of the season with the Lugnuts, hitting .310/.409/.421 with 10 doubles, a triple and five home runs in just 289 plate appearances. He also was hit by a pitch 21 times and stole 30 bases (in 41 attempts) while striking out only 25 times. Following his trade, Locastro was moved up to High-A Rancho Cucamonga where he wasn’t as successful, hitting .224/.328/.327 with a 7.6% walk rate but saw a huge rise in strikeout rate (to 16.3%).
While Gunnar Heidt played the most third base for the Lugnuts, we already discussed him with the Vancouver Canadians so we go to the next man on the list, 24-year-old Alex Maldonado. Maldonado joined the Lugnuts after five games with the Vancouver Canadians and played some solid defense without too much success with the bat. He hit only .198/.297/.257 with a 12.3% walk rate and a decent 19.0% strikeout rate. Maldonado doesn’t hit with much power (just seven doubles and one home run in 195 plate appearances), and will need to hit better than .200 to make himself valuable.
One of the players who I saw really grow over the course of the season in Lansing was switch-hitting shortstop Richard Urena. The 19-year-old Domincan (surprisingly) led the Lugnuts with 15 home runs and added 13 doubles and four triples for an impressive ISO (Isolated Slugging) of .172. He hit .266/.289/.438 in 408 plate appearances with the Lugnuts. Obviously the weakest link in his game is his eye, walking only 3.2% of the time and striking out 20.6%. That said, he’s showing real growth from the right side of the plate and I can see him start to even out his lopsided splits next season. Urena struggled in his first go-round in the Florida State League, hitting .250/.268/.315 but his strikeout rate didn’t spike and I can see those numbers improving in Dunedin in 2016 at the tender age of 20.
Ever a grinder at the plate, Chris Carlson reminds me a lot of Kevin Pillar but with less of a physical presence but a better arm. Carlson got off to a slow start on the season but continued to demonstrate that he was going to hit no matter what level he was at. The 24-year-old is another player with a very mature approach at the plate, walking in 11.4% of plate appearances while striking out in only 9.2% (yep, he walked more than he struck out). He also hit the ball with some authority, hitting .290/.379/.437 with 21 doubles, eight triples and seven home runs, adding 15 stolen bases (in 24 attempts) and gunning down eight runners on the bases. I can see Carlson getting a short stint in Dunedin and if he shows himself more than equal to that level of baseball, moving quickly to New Hampshire.
Our Most Improved Player, D.J. Davis has shown some people that he shouldn’t be counted out; Davis only turned 21 this July and is not nearly as old as some might think. In his second full year with the Lugnuts, Davis improved almost every part of his game, hitting .282/.340/.391. He struck out almost a third less than he did in 2014, dropping that figure to 21.5% while walking in 7.0% of plate appearances. He also was successful in about 68% of his stolen base attempts (21 for 31) and bunted for hits much more. Davis hit more doubles (19), the same number of triples (seven) and one fewer home run (seven) than last year but was a far more productive player. The one blemish was his 11 errors this season which is very high for an outfielder. Still, Davis has come along way and while he’s probably under the radar now (with the shine of a 17th-overall draft pick off of him), he’s doing a lot of good things that are enabling him to tap into the tools that still give him a bright future if he continues to improve. At least half a season in Dunedin awaits Davis in 2016 and I’d argue that a full season there would be a good use of his time.
Josh Almonte was probably the D.J. Davis of 2015: A fairly raw, toolsy prospect who had impressed at the lower levels was being given a chance to show what he could do jumping up from Bluefield. At the age of 21, Amonte showed some tantalizing glimpses of what he’s capable of but an injury kept him out half the season and robbed him of some of his development. Almonte hit .252/.284/.352 and showed some of his power and speed with 15 doubles, two triples and two home runs adding 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Almonte also has an absolute cannon (at least a 70-grade) from the outfield and threw out 10 runners on the bases in just 66 games. Almonte still struck out a lot (29.1%) while not being patient enough at the plate (3.7% walk rate). But it’s really a tale of two halves for Almonte: from the beginning of the season to June 25, he didn’t walk once and hit only .218/.228/.250. After July 15 (when he returned from injury), he hit .286/.336/.452 with all but four of his extra-base hits and walking in 7.2% of his plate appearances. Clearly Almonte is learning and will likely come back in 2016 to continue his development before moving on to Dunedin at some point in the year.
One of the biggest names on the Lugnuts didn’t earn spots on the “starting nine,” largely because he spent about a third of his season in Dunedin. Rowdy Tellez came off a strong debut in the Midwest League in 2014 with another strong half-season in 2015, hitting .296/.351/.444 with seven home runs. He walked in 8.0% of his plate appearances and only struck out in 18.7%, impressing everyone with his composure and his ability to take a professional at bat. Tellez was moved up to Dunedin after helping the Lugnuts clinch the division title in the first half of the season and continued to impress there, hitting .275/.338/.473 with seven home runs before injuring a bone in his hand and undergoing successful surgery. The Blue Jays have Tellez tagged to participate in the Arizona Fall League and should be in New Hampshire in 2015 as a 21-year-old. His maturity and powerful left-handed swing is tailor-made for Manchester’s park. I want to see him hit 30 home runs in Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Jason Leblebijian proved himself to be one of the best hitters for the Lugnuts in two stints with the club. Hitting .277/.346/.473 with nine home runs in just 297 plate appearances, Leblebijian was one of the players who really filled a hole in the batting order down the stretch and in the playoffs. Lebleb wasn’t able to achieve the same level of success in 124 plate appearances in Dunedin, hitting just .170/.250/.223 but there’s almost no reason for him not to return there in his Age-25 season in 2016. Leblebijian is an ideal utility man. One of the smoothest infielders I’ve seen, he can play any infield position extremely well and is always a plus to any clubhouse.
One of the more athletic players on the Lugnuts, David Harris had a similar season to Leblebijian, hitting extremely well in the Midwest League while struggling when given the opportunity in Dunedin. Harris hit .280/.333/.427 with Lansing, hitting 13 doubles, three triples and four home runs in 234 plate appearances, walking 6.4% of the time and striking out 23.1%. Those peripheral numbers became more exaggerated when he moved up for 27 games, walking in 1.8% of plate appearances and striking out in 27.4%, hitting just .211/.239/.321. Still, Harris’s gap power potential is real and while hasn’t hit a ton of home runs, he can still be valuable if he can get on base more and cut down on the strikeouts. Look for another shot at Dunedin in 2016.
While Boomer Collins finished his season in Dunedin, he had 146 plate appearances in Lansing, hitting .285/.336/.446 with eight doubles, two triples and three home runs. Boomer also hit .236/.269/.341 in 131 PAs in Dunedin, obviously showing some struggles at the higher level.
Infielder Christian Vazquez finally made the jump to full-season baseball, playing in 30 games with the Lugnuts and hitting .243/.296/.336. The light-hitting Puerto Rican played two games in Dunedin (with one hit in nine at bats) and will likely be back in Lansing at the age of 26 in 2016.
Another bench player for the Lugnuts was Austin Davis who had a great start to the season in Vancouver, hitting .302/.348/.326 in 12 games. Playing in 26 games with Lansing, he hit .195/.250/.232 with just three doubles and 25 strikeouts (27.8% of the time).
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