Lansing Lugnuts Midseason Report
By Chad Hillman
Blue Jays from Away
(Editor’s Note: I’d like to welcome Chad Hillman to Blue Jays from Away. Chad has graciously accepted my invitation to continue his blogging career after “retiring” from the blogging life, when he covered the Lugnuts as well as other teams in Michigan over the years. I met Chad on one of my first trips to Lansing and he’s going to contribute some insights and evaluations for a few weeks while I’m overseas pursuing my real career.)
Before I get into my review of the first half of the Lansing Lugnuts season, I feel an introduction is in order. My name is Chad Hillman and Mr. Blue has asked me if I would like to cover the team in a utility role for the time being. I have covered the team for a few different blogs in the past and retired from the blogging life, but I do appreciate Jay giving me this platform to write at my leisure as I do miss covering the team. Now that the introduction is complete, let’s get to the first half review.
The Lugnuts finished the first half of the season with a 42-28 record, which was good for a finish at the top of the Eastern Division in the first half, and have secured a playoff berth for the first time since the 2012 season. For those that are unfamiliar with how the Midwest League season operates, the season is split into two halves and the top two teams from each half in each division qualify for the post season. There will also be no shortage of Toronto farm hands represented in the MWL All-Star game as four players were selected. Lansing sluggers Rowdy Tellez, Anthony Alford and Ryan McBroom are all in the starting line up with Shane Dawson, the Midwest League Leader in wins, coming out of the pen.
The offense led the Lugnuts this season as they led the league in runs scored (368), team batting average (.275) and OPS (.748). For those of you that follow Jesse Goldberg-Strassler on Twitter (@jgoldstrass in case you are not), you will see that Jesse has compared the offense of the 2015 Lugnuts to the pitching staff of the 2012 Lugnuts. Why is the 2012 team significant? Because it was a rotation that featured Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani, all of which have gone on to make their Major League debuts. In addition to that, David Rollins was also a member of that staff and was a Rule 5 selection by the Seattle Mariners and should be nearing his return the team. (Ed. note: One of the first things that I told Jesse Goldberg-Strassler on my visit to Lansing in the first week of the season was that the team would really hit. I wasn’t sure about the pitching at that point.)
The pitching staff is not void of prospects either. Sean Reid-Foley and Chase De Jong lead a talented staff that also features Dawson, Connor Greene, and Jesus Tinoco. The staff has put together a respectable ERA of 3.49. They have struck out 543 hitters, while walking 213.
With a playoff spot secured, Lansing may see a fair bit of turnover in their roster as the second half gets under way with some of the better performers moving up to Dunedin. Some of the most talked about candidates that could spend the second half in Florida are as follows:
Anthony Alford: Alford may be one of the more intriguing prospects in baseball because of his athleticism. Alford slipped to a third round selection out of high school because of his commitment to Southern Mississippi for football. Several scouts had indicated that if he would have committed to baseball full time out of high school, he would have been a first round selection and may have been a top ten pick. So far, he has lived up to those expectations. In his first full season of professional baseball, Alford has put up a .293/.418/.394 slash line and has stolen 12 bags. The .418 OBP is the most impressive stat to me as it shows that he has good plate discipline and patience which is somewhat surprising given the amount of time he has missed since his draft year due to football. Alford is a top flight candidate to spend the second half of his summer in the Florida sun.
D.J. Davis: Davis is somewhat of a polarizing prospect. After a disappointing stint in Lansing last year that saw him strike out 167 times (a Lansing franchise record, by the way), he has shown improved discipline at the plate. In the limited number AB’s that I have seen him this year, I have noticed that his pitch recognition appears to be much better. Pitches that were out of the strike zone that he couldn’t handle were routinely swung last season; however, this season, he is allowing those hard to reach pitches to pass and has seen his OBP improve from .268 last season to .352 this season. Davis still struggles when stealing bases which is a puzzling development: the Mississippian was just 19 for 39 last season in that department and this season has only shown a slight improvement swiping 9 bags in 15 attempts. Speed is the big tool DJ brings to the Blue Jays organization and that stat would seemingly have to improve. Still, I believe that DJ has shown enough in Lansing to warrant some time in Dunedin this summer although it most likely won’t be until August.
Rowdy Tellez: No one consistently makes more loud contact than Rowdy Tellez on this Lugnuts team. I had heard a lot of hype around his bat coming into this season and so far, all the rumors have been true. Tellez has hit 7 home runs and has a respectable .796 OPS. That may not sound like a lot of power for a corner infield prospect, but the MWL is very much a pitchers league and most of the stadiums have very high OF walls. I expect those power numbers to improve as he ages and continues to adjust to the wood bat. He has shown a knack for being able to put the ball in play and drive runners in scoring position home as he has 49 RBI on the season.
Richard Urena: Of all the offensive prospects on this team, Urena has been the most surprising to me. His glove is what I have heard everyone rave about, but it is his bat that is sticking out. The 19 year old SS has hit a team-high 11 HR’s on the season and is slugging .450. Throw in the fact that he is a switch hitter and he becomes an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on. Urena has performed well enough to warrant consideration for a promotion to Dunedin, but given his young age, I expect him to stay in Lansing for the remainder of the season.
Ryan McBroom: McBroom is someone else who has shown an impressive bat in Lansing with a slash line of .330/.405/.478. He has a good solid line drive swing, keeps his hands inside the ball well and has the ability to spray the ball around the field. He has split time at DH and 1B with Tellez however and it would seem that only one of these two would be in a position to be moved as I believe Toronto wants both of these guys playing everyday. Given that McBroom is three years older than Tellez, I would expect them to move him first to Dunedin.
Chase De Jong: Chase is repeating the Midwest League this season and as is typical for returning prospects, he has shown the ability to dominate the competition in his second go around. De Jong has been given the rope to have a slightly higher pitch count than the other starters in that he has gone into the 9th inning of his starts twice and has a complete game shut out to his credit this season. He has not only shown the mentality that he wants to get 27 outs in a game, but he seems to relish it. De Jong has an impressive curve ball and his command has gotten much better this season. I expect that De Jong may have thrown his last pitch as a Lugnut and will most likely spend the second half of the season in Dunedin.
Sean Reid-Foley: Another uber prospect who has generated a lot of buzz and excitement in the Toronto system is Reid-Foley. The second rounder did something that not many prospects do in the Toronto system and that is jump from the GCL team to Lansing. So far, he has shown everything that you would expect from a young power arm putting up and impressive 13.4 K/9 rate and only allowing 36 hits in 45.0 innings of work. He can struggle with command at times which is expected from a 19 year old power pitcher. He has a 7.2 BB/9 rate and that has led to an elevated WHIP of 1.600. Commanding his fastball will be key for him and I expect that it will improve as he matures. At 19 years old, I would expect Reid-Foley to remain in Lansing for the remainder of the season.
Lansing starts the second half campaign at home on Thursday after the MWL All-Star break. Given that a spot in the playoffs has been clinched, I expect that Lansing lineup could be ever evolving as these players graduate to the upper levels of the Toronto system.
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