Jay Blue: Bluefield season in review

Angel Perdomo was Blue Jays from Away pitcher of the year at Bluefield pitching 21 1/3 innings. with a 2.62 ERA. Photo: Jay Blue.

Angel Perdomo was Blue Jays from Away pitcher of the year at Bluefield pitching 21 1/3 innings. with a 2.62 ERA. Photo: Jay Blue.

Bluefield Blue Jays 2015 Report, part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away

We move on to the Bluefield Blue Jays, the third club in the Blue Jays’ rookie chain.

The Bluefield Blue Jays were pretty awful this year, finishing with the worst record in the league, 25-42 under manager Dennis Holmberg. The hitters were slightly under the average age for the league, at 20.3 years old, and produced only 4.16 runs per game, second last in the league. The pitchers were also slightly younger than league average at 20.5 years of age and allowed the third most runs per game at 5.21.

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 Bluefield Blue Jays:
Rodrigo Orozco, Christian Williams 5.2
Juan Tejada, Gabe Clark 3.3
D.J. McKnight 2.8
Matt Morgan, Freddy Rodriguez 2.5
Juliandry Higuera, Nick Sinay 2.3
Dalton Rodriguez, Deiferson Barreto 2.1
Nick Wells Andres Sotillo, Geno Encina 2
Angel Perdomo 1.8
Miguel Burgos 1.5
Tayler Saucedo 1.3
Aaron Attaway, Luis Sanchez 1
Andrew Guillotte 0.8
Joe Claver 0.6
Jake Brentz, Mattingly Romanin, Yeltsin Gudino, Daniel Lietz 0.5
Josh DeGraaf. Jackson Lowery 0.3

That’s right, we have a tie! The tie at the top of the leaderboard reflects two things. The first is how consistently good Rodrigo Orozco was this season and the second is that Christian Williams made his limited production this year count, putting together some big games.

Congrats to Rodrigo Orozco and Christian Williams!

Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
Rodrigo Orozco is really the run-away Player of the Year for the Bluefield Blue Jays. Not only did Orozco lead the club in plate appearances (254) but he led the club in hits (67), doubles (16), runs (34), walks (24) and slugging (.435). His .300/.368/.435 slash line earned him a brief call up to the Vancouver Canadians and he was easily the best offensive player for the Blue Jays this year.

Honourable mentions: Deiferson Barreto was very good, leading the club in batting average (.302) while Gabe Clark led the club with six home runs.

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
Like the Player of the Year award, the Pitcher of the Year award was pretty easy to hand out. Angel Perdomo, a 21-year-old Dominican lefty made some big impressions pitching 48 innings with the Bluefield Blue Jays before a promotion to Vancouver where he got into five games and threw 21 1/3 innings. Key to Perdomo’s success was his ability to limit walks, walking 14 in 48 innings with Bluefield (although he walked 16 in his far fewer innings in Vancouver). Still, Perdomo had a 2.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.

Honourable mentions: Geno Encina bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation and Juliandry Higuera led the club in innings with 61 1/3 but gave up a lot of hits.

Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
This award was pretty tough to call but I’m going to go with Geno Encina despite making five starts, he started fewer than half of his appearnaces. Encina had a solid ERA at 3.86 but his very solid 1.24 WHIP and his 4.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio put him ahead of some of the other candidates who either struggled in some of the other parts of their game or didn’t pitch nearly as much.

Honourable mentions: Tyler Burden had a great ERA at 3.54 but also walked 16 batters in 28 innings while Alberto Guzman led the team in saves (4) but had a 4.07 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. Tayler Saucedo was also considered but he spent most of the season with Vancouver.

Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
The conditions for selection as the Most Improved Player are tough to fulfill. The player needs to have been playing last year and needs to show considerable improvement at the same level or moving up a level. The only player who really manages to check those boxes is Joe Claver who had an absolutely horrible season last year in his professional debut. Claver had an 11.95 ERA and 2.36 WHIP in 20 1/3 innings with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in 2014. Moving up a level (or two) to the Bluefield Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians, he posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.54 WHIP overall despite walking 17 and striking out 17.

Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer
This award goes to the player who was the most impressive in his first year in the Blue Jays’ system whether he was acquired as a draftee or a free agent. This year, the winner is a hitter. D.J. McKnight had a very solid line, hitting .253/.367/.354 with seven doubles and three home runs after being selected by the Blue Jays in the 12th round of the draft.

Honourable mention: Geno Encina, Tyler Burden

Starting Pitchers
The group of starting pitchers for the Bluefield Blue Jays was an interesting bunch that largely underachieved the results that we were probably hoping for. If you don’t see your favourite Bluefield Blue Jay here either he made more than half of his appearances out of the bullpen, or he pitched more for another team than Bluefield.

With 61 1/3 innings and 13 starts, Juliandry Higuera was the club’s top starter when it came to those two categories. Higuera had a solid Age-20 season (he just turned 21 this month), particularly considering that this was Higuera’s first baseball outside of the Dominican Republic. Higuera had a 4.26 ERA and 3.98 FIP, along with a more troublesome 1.63 WHIP. He struck out only 14.3% of batters but only walked 7.1%, giving him a solid ratio of over two to one. Higuera will likely move up to either Vancouver or Lansing next year but unless he’s more successful getting batters out via the strikeout, he might not move that quickly.

Dalton Rodriguez was second on the team in innings and starts with 60 and 12 respectively. Rodriguez hails from Mexico and just turned 19 on August 20th meaning that 2015 was still just his Age-18 season despite it being his third season in the organization. Rodriguez had a rough season last year but improved in some important areas, moving up a level each season. His 5.25 ERA was much better than in 2014 but he had a higher FIP than 2014 at 4.92. Much of the high FIP can be attributed to the five home runs that he gave up this year. Where Rodriguez really improved was in his WHIP which was down to 1.47, primarily thanks to a massive regression in the BABIP against him. Still, Rodriguez regressed in his strikeout rate (down 4% from 2014) and walk rate (up 1.3%) to go along with the increase in level. My hunch is that Rodriguez repeats Bluefield, especially if batters consistently hit the ball hard off of him.

Our Pitcher of the Year for the Bluefield Blue Jays was Angel Perdomo, a pitcher who is distinguishing himself as he comes up through the system. Though he’s a little bit older than some pitching prospects, Perdomo, 21, had a stellar season with Bluefield, posting a 2.63 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 1.17 WHIP over 48 innings, striking out 18.0% and walking 7.0%. Promoted to Vancouver to make another five appearances, Perdomo, a 6-foot-6 Dominican lefty, drastically increased his strikeout rate to 36.5% while also seeing his walk rate inflate to 18.8%. That all went with a 2.53 ERA, 3.70 FIP and 1.22 WHIP in 21 1/3 innings. I think you’re going to see Perdomo join the Lansing Lugnuts in 2016 after one of the best seasons for a Blue Jays’ minor league starting pitcher.

Nick Wells was getting a lot of people excited before he was traded away by the Blue Jays. Wells, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-5 lefty, threw 32 solid innings with Bluefield (4.78 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 1.28 WHIP) with a 23.3% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate before the trade. He went on to star with the Mariners’ Short-Season-A club, posting a 1.00 ERA, 2.66 FIP and 0.56 WHIP with a 24.6% strikeout rate and 6.2% walk rate in another 18 innings.

Jake Brentz, who turned 21 this month, was another young lefty who the Blue Jays traded in their great emptying of the left-handed pitching pool in the minors. Also going to the Mariners, Brentz had a 4.09 ERA, 5.16 FIP and 1.64 WHIP in 22 innings with the Blue Jays, striking out 16.2% and walking 11.1%. After the trade, Brentz posted much better stats at a higher level, posting a 3.86 ERA, 3.53 FIP and 1.21 WHIP with a 24.1% strikeout rate and 13.8% walk rate for Seattle’s Northwest League affiliate in Everett.

Relief Pitchers
The relief pitching corps consisted mostly of newly drafted college-age pitchers with one or two Latin American pitchers in there as well.

Tyler Burden led the squad with 17 appearances, posting a 3.54 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 1.57 WHIP. While Burden had a high 12.6% walk rate, he also struck out 17.3% of batters. The 6-foot-1 righty came to the Blue Jays in the 20th-round out of Chowan College in North Carolina and added a couple of innings in Vancouver, giving up just a hit and a walk, striking out one. Look for him in Vancouver as a 22 year old in 2016.

Zach Rodgers also made 17 appearances in Bluefield, compiling 22 2/3 innings. Finishing the season as a 22 year old, the undersized righty (5-foot-9) was a non-drafted free agent who had a 4.76 ERA but a very solid 3.74 FIP to go with a 1.59 WHIP, a 16.0% strikeout rate and a 7.0% walk rate. Rodgers is also a strong candidate to head to Vancouver in 2016.

Alberto Guzman, 22 led the Blue Jays in saves with four and showed great improvement pitching at the same level as he did in 2014. Jumping from the Dominican Summer League last year, Guzman was roughed up in Bluefield to the tune of a 7.84 ERA and 2.06 WHIP. He rebounded in 2015, throwing 24 1/3 innings over 16 appearances, posting a 4.07 ERA and 4.55 FIP, lowering his WHIP to 1.48. He also maintained his strikeout rate just over 20% while lowering his walk rate by 4.5% to a very manageable 8.3%. At 23 next year, Guzman could certainly jump to Lansing to join their bullpen.

Zakery Wasilewski, 22, has had a rough go over the past two seasons since putting up a strong season in Bluefield in 2013. Wasilewski, a native of Tazewell, Virginia, just 10 miles down the road from Bluefield, has regressed since, struggling in the Northwest League in 2014 and having another difficult season in 2015 back in Bluefield. Wasilewski had a 5.65 ERA, 5.09 FIP and 1.81 WHIP over 28 2/3 innings this year. He walked 11.0% of batters, a career low, but still on the high side, especially considering that he only struck out 13.9%. Wasilewski could be jumped up to Lansing next year after four years of pitching in Short-Season ball but he could also wind up back in Vancouver.

At the age of 23, lefty Joe Claver had a rebound year from last year, his first in the Jays’ system after signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2014. Claver notched 16 2/3 innings with the Bluefield Blue Jays, posting a 3.24 ERA, a 4.18 FIP and 1.44 WHIP, striking out 17.3% and walking 11.1%. He also got a promotion to Vancouver where his numbers weren’t as good over a small sample of six innings. Claver could also head to Lansing next year but might also be sent to Vancouver for 2016.

The next pitcher on our list is another Bluefield repeat but Miguel Burgos is the youngest player we’ve talked about so far. Burgos, a 20-year-old Venezuelan lefty joined the Bluefield Blue Jays as a 19 year old in 2014 and had a solid year, but pitched only 16 innings. This year, he added 41 1/3 innings, putting up a 3.48 ERA, 5.31 FIP and 1.57 WHIP with a 17.5% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate. As a 5-foot-9 pitcher, he’s got reliever written all over him and he could be in Vancouver next year, especially considering that he’ll only be 21 in June. That said, he’s already had four years of short-season ball (including two years in the DSL) and could easily be primed for a jump to Lansing.

Our Reliever of the Year, Geno Encina, had strong season in his draft year, throwing 44 1/3 innings (and making five starts in 12 appearances) with a 3.86 ERA, 3.34 FIP and 1.24 WHIP, striking out 24.3% of batters and walking just 5.4%. Encina is actually among the younger pitchers on this staff, having turned 21 in July and could easily be seen to jump to Lansing next year.

Daniel Lietz started his season in Vancouver, getting hit hard for a 7.50 ERA over 12 innings before moving down to Bluefield in mid-July to finish off the year. In Bluefield, his surface numbers improved but his peripherals actually regressed. While he had a 5.26 ERA and 5.58 in 25 2/3 innings with Bluefield, he struck out only 9.6% of batters and walked 20% after seeing a 14.3% strikeout rate and 12.7% walk rate in Vancouver. Lietz, 21, was the fifth-round pick of the Jays in 2013, needs to have a good offseason and spring training in order to turn things around in 2016, likely with another crack at Vancouver.

John Kravetz, a 6-foot-4 righty who signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college in Illinois, pitched at three levels in 2015, throwing the most innings with Bluefield. He had 14 innings and had a 7.07 ERA, 4.80 FIP and 2.21 WHIP, but only walked 5.3% of batters while striking out 13.3%.  Kravetz pitched 10 innings, much more successfully in the GCL, posting a 0.90 ERA and 4.61 FIP in 10 innings, striking out 20.0% and walking 11.1% and threw 1 1/3 innings for the Dunedin Blue Jays, allowing a walk and striking out a batter. Kravetz could also be in Lansing next year in his Age-23 season.

Grayson Huffman had a surprisingly rough season after an excellent first professional campaign in 2014. The 20-year-old lefty struggled with his control and being able to strand batters, resulting in a 10.54 ERA, a much better 4.76 FIP but a poor 2.63 WHIP, striking out just 10.4% and walking 13.0% in just 13 2/3 innings. Either Huffman was going through a very difficult mechanical change or he wasn’t pitching at 100%, but either way, he was certainly not the same pitcher he was in 2014.

Jackson Lowery, 23, was another three-level pitching in 2015. Lowery threw 6 1/3 innings with the GCL Blue Jays, another 10 in Bluefield and two more in Dunedin where he got roughed up for five runs. Outside of that outing, however, Lowery had strong numbers in rookie ball, allowing just one run in the GCL and striking out seven without walking anyone. He gave up just one earned run in 10 innings in Bluefield, striking out 14 and walking one. It looks like he can definitely handle a move up in 2016, moving either to Vancouver or Lansing.

In the case of another pitcher who took a step back in 2015, 6-foot-8 lefty Matt Smoral started his season late because of a back injury and then, pitching in Dunedin, gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings before moving back to Bluefield where he had a 5.06 ERA, 5.02 FIP and 1.97 WHIP in 10 2/3 innings. He struck out 28.6% of batters but couldn’t find the strike zone enough, walking 25.0%. Look for Smoral, 21, in Lansing next year if he can get out of camp healthy.

Signed out of the Frontier League late last year, Christian Cox, 23, made just two appearances for the Bluefield Blue Jays, pitching just 2/3 of an inning and allowing seven runs. Look for Cox to go to a full-season team next year (or Vancouver) and hopefully a larger sample size will give us a better idea of what he can do.

On the hitting side of things, the Bluefield Blue Jays had a little more balance, between younger drafted players, international free agents and college-age players. While it didn’t translate into success on the field for the club as a whole, there were some players who took a step forward to demand that we pay a little more attention to them.

Starting behind the plate, we see 2014 fourth-round draftee Matt Morgan, a 6-foot-1, right-handed hitting catcher. The 19-year-old followed up an absolutely miserable first professional season in 2014 with big improvements in 2015 despite playing at a higher level. Morgan hit only .185/.258/.303 but, in almost the same number of plate appearances in 2014, Morgan hit just .092. Morgan started to show some power this year, hitting eight doubles and two home runs in just 22 hits, showing a very respectable .118 ISO. Morgan still strikes out far too much (39.4%) and his BABIP was around league average meaning that his strikeouts are probably what’s keeping his batting average from rising into a much more respectable range. Defensively, Morgan showed vast improvement over his first season. While his passed balls were up from 15 to 21 this year, he threw out 36% of runners trying to steal, doubling his 2014 rate of 18%. I can see Morgan repeating in Bluefield and dominating in 2016.

College draftee Christian Williams, 21, split time at first and third base hitting .220/.285/.318 with 11 doubles, two triples and two home runs. Williams walked 8.5% of the time while striking out 23.8%, both in the solid range. The 16th rounder is still fairly young (playing the whole season at the age of 20) and could be in Vancouver next year.

Splitting time with Williams at first base was Gabe Clark, another 20-year-old college player drafted out of Oregon State in the 26th round. Clark also struggled to make contact, hitting .219/.318/.414 but, as that slash line suggests, has been able to tap into his power better as a .195 ISO with seven doubles and six home runs. His 32.4% strikeout rate is worrisome while his 12.2% walk rate is encouraging. Clark is another Vancouver candidate for 2016.

Venezuelan Deiferson Barreto, 20, is a player who we’ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of years now. Barreto’s stat line has remained fairly consistent since he was a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League. He’ll hit around .300, take a few walks (but not enough) and not strikeout very much at all. In his first two years in the US, he’s shown a little more gap and occasional power while playing second and third base. 2015 was no different as Barreto hit .302/.347/.402, improving his walk rate to a still-low 5.3% while his strikeout rate “ballooned” to just 12.1%. He hit eight doubles, a triple and three home runs but made 6 errors in 33 games at second base with another six in 17 games at third. Barreto could very well be tabbed to play the infield in Lansing next year but will likely have to fight Lane Thomas for playing time at second.

We’ll talk about Mattingly Romanin here because the two players with the most games at the hot corner have already been discussed. Romanin was drafted in the 39th round of the 2015 draft and played second and third base with the Bluefield Jays. Romanin hit .161/.316/.194 with just two extra-base hits (a double and a triple). He was able to take a walk (14.5% walk rate) but needs to cut down on his strikeouts to make more contact (29.1% strikeout rate). Romanin could be headed to Vancouver next year as the Blue Jays like to stack that roster with Canadians.

The Blue Jays have been pushing one of their top international free agents of 2013, Yeltsin Gudino. Gudino is still just 18 and, despite a .185/.251/.265 slash line in 2015, has shown a lot of improvement. Gudino was criticized in 2014 as not being strong enough to drive the ball against harder-throwing pitchers in the GCL but it appears that he’s making better contact in 2015, thanks to 12 doubles, a triple and his first professional home run. Gudino isn’t selling out for more power, seeing his strikeout rate drop to 15.5% while his walk rate dropped a little to 7.3%. Defensively, Gudino played exclusively at shortstop, making 21 errors in 56 games which is acceptable for an 18-year-old in his second professional year. While the Jays have been pushing him, this offseason will be big for Yeltsin. If he makes a lot of strides in the instructional league and in spring training, he could be sent to Lansing to fill the spot to be vacated by Richard Urena. Otherwise, I wouldn’t rule out a stop in Vancouver, particularly due to his young age.

In his second time getting drafted, D.J. McKnight signed on the dotted line with the Blue Jays after a 12th round selection out of Tallahassee Community College. McKnight was one of the more consistent Bluefield Blue Jays, playing mostly left field and hitting .253/.367/.354 with seven doubles and three home runs. McKnight walked a lot (12.2%) while striking out about twice as much (24.9%) and should be in Vancouver next year at the age of 22.

2015 Webster Award winner and Player of the Year Rodrigo Orozco is a 20-year-old Panamanian who signed as an international free agent. Orozco was a star in the DSL last year before jumping all the way to Bluefield and continuing to hit, slashing .300/.368/.435 before a three-game trip to Vancouver (where he hit two doubles and a single in nine at bats while walking four times). Orozco has a bit of pop, hitting 16 doubles, a triple and four home runs for the Blue Jays while walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 13.8%. Orozco is an intriguing young player who I’m looking forward to getting a look at in 2016 probably in Lansing.

Freddy Rodriguez, another international free agent, from the same class as Yeltsin Gudino, made his Appalachian League debut at the age of 18. Rodriguez’s numbers held fairly stable from year to year, even considering his promotion from the GCL to the Appy League. Rodriguez hit .232/.298/.323 with a 7.7% walk rate and 22.0% strikeout rate, both fairly steady from last year (including a 1.3% strikeout rate drop). Rodriguez is hitting with a bit of power, hitting four doubles, a triple and three home runs but he’s still not doing what one might hope from a corner outfielder. Rodriguez, like Gudino, could got to Vancouver next year and still be young for the level or, if the Jays are really pushing, he could go to Lansing.

22nd-round pick in 2015, Nick Sinay came out of Buffalo, New York and played in 33 games for the Bluefield club, hitting .227/.382/.307. The most impressive number there is the 13.4% walk rate in 112 plate appearances but he had only five extra-base hits (four doubles and a home run) in 20 hits. He might have a pretty good arm, throwing out four runners in just 29 games.

Infielder Aaron Attaway came to the plate 102 times in 2015 with Bluefield, also getting into five games with the Dunedin Blue Jays. The stats weren’t great overall with a .216/.297/.307 line, Attaway is a flexible infielder, capable of playing short, second and third and will probably be a utility infielder in Vancouver next year as a 24 year old.

Catcher Andres Sotillo, a 21-year-old Venezuelan, has been a backup in rookie ball for several years now. This year, he had one of his best with the bat, hitting .250/.375/.403 with a double, two triples and two home runs in just 89 plate appearances, walking nine times and striking out 16 times.

Oft-injured Jacob Anderson made his return in 2015 after playing in just three games since 2012. Anderson got into just 19 games and hit .159/.206/.190 with just one walk and 23 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances but anything has to be seen as a small victory. Next year, Anderson is going to need to produce, particularly now that he’s 22.

Dave Pepe was another backup outfielder, playing in just 23 games and coming to the plate 55 times. He hit .222/.321/.244 and was able to get walks without striking out much. Dean Bell (son of George), hit .163/.213/.233 at his highest level yet, playing in 17 games. After seven games, hitting .200/.231/.280, infielder Edwin Fuentes was released by the Blue Jays back in July. Another backup catcher, Brett Wellman had just 22 plate appearances all year, 18 of them in Bluefield, and hit .222/.364/.222.