Lansing Lugnuts Loading Up for Playoffs
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
In case you’ve missed it, the Lansing Lugnuts have made a few moves over the past couple of days that indicate that they’re retooling for the upcoming playoffs. With Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena, Sean Reid-Foley, Conner Greene, Shane Dawson and Anthony Alford key cogs of the Lugnuts’ first-half division victory who all received second-half promotions to Dunedin (and Tim Locastro, Chase De Jong and Dawel Lugo were traded), the Blue Jays are returning some familiar faces to the Lugnuts as they wind down the regular season and set to face the Great Lakes Loons in the postseason.
The first thing that the Blue Jays are clearly doing is that they’re keeping some of the Lugnuts’ top performers around. 23-year-old Ryan McBroom has been one of the Midwest League’s top performers, hitting at a .324/.395/.494 clip, with 36 doubles and 10 home runs in a tough park for home runs. Ryan Mueller at Jays Journal recently wrote about McBroom, wondering why the Jays have left McBroom in Lansing and haven’t moved him up to Dunedin. The answer is simple: they want him in Lansing for the playoffs. He also has a real chance of being named the league MVP (although Bobby Bradley’s 25 home runs could earn him that award) and he’s a huge contributor to the Lugnuts’ offense showing both patience and power. McBroom is also a later round pick and the Jays are less invested in bringing him along quickly than they other players.
Another college draftee is Chris Carlson. Carlson, 24, is very close to McBroom when it comes to his season’s OPS. I thought Carlson had a great first pro season last year in Vancouver when he hit .312/.409/.381. This year, Carlson has started to show some more power in his game and has a .304/.396/.465 slash line after a slow start to the season. Carlson is tied for third on the team with seven home runs and walks more than he strikes out. Carlson’s been hitting at the top of the order for the Lugnuts and his .396 OBP indicates that he’s getting on base more than anyone else on the team.
The third position player who’s being kept around despite being deserving of a promotion is D.J. Davis. Davis is posting vastly improved numbers in 2015, hitting .288/.343/.400 in 111 games and has actually gotten his strikeout rate down to 21.0%. He’s also stolen bases successfully 67% of the time (18 for 27) and, while he hasn’t tapped into his monstrous raw power as much as expected, he’s taking walks and tempering the more raw aspects of his game.
Returning to the Lugnuts are a couple of hitters who should be able to make a difference in the playoffs. Richard Urena, still the team’s leading home run hitter with 12, wasn’t doing badly in Dunedin with a .250 average but he wasn’t hitting for nearly as much power in Dunedin as he was in Lansing. Urena still needs to get on base more via the walk and, while his strikeout rate isn’t particularly high (21.9% in Lansing and 20.3% in Dunedin), the walk rate under 3.0% is problematic. Still only 19, with the trading of Dawel Lugo, Urena returns to Lansing where he was making progress and where he’s still very young for the level. He solidifies the infield and will continue to work on his hitting from the right side which consistently lags behind his natural left side.
Catcher Danny Jansen, 20, has returned from the DL to bolster the Lansing offense. While Juan Kelly was doing very well in his promotion from Vancouver, with Jansen’s return, there wouldn’t be enough room for both him and Jansen to catch every day. Jansen has had a mixed season so far. In just 34 games, he’s posted some encouraging numbers, walking 11.9% of the time with strikeouts in just 12.7% of plate appearances. When I saw him in April, he was hitting the ball consistently but wasn’t getting a lot of hits (to which his .208 BABIP and .209 average attest). I wonder if Jansen was getting BABIPed to death early but his patience at the plate enables him to contribute even if he isn’t getting hits to fall in. Additionally, his 23 RBI in 33 games shows that’s he’s being productive. If Jansen gets lucky, he could get red hot and really help in the playoffs.
The biggest name on the pitching side to return to the Lansing Lugnuts from a higher assignment is Sean Reid-Foley. Still just 19 (he turns 20 on August 30), Reid-Foley was finding things tougher at the higher level, particularly when he was walking a lot of batters. He still maintained high strikeout rates (although not nearly as high as in Lansing) and with Conner Greene moving the other way (up to New Hampshire), Reid-Foley will get to experience a playoff atmosphere again (after pitching for Vancouver in the playoffs last year) as well as strengthen a pitching rotation that has been struggling a bit of late.
Another pitcher to rejoin the Lugnuts (although he’s been struggling a bit) is Tom Robson who is coming back off of Tommy John surgery. The 22-year-old Robson hasn’t been as strong as he was in previous years, walking 12.3% of batters in Lansing (almost exactly the same number he walked in Lansing before his surgery last year) and striking out only 14.0% of batters (again similar to his 2014 numbers). Still, Robson has the potential to provide some veteran leadership as we move to the playoffs.
Two players coming from Vancouver who have yet to prove themselves at the Full-Season level are Clinton Hollon and Lane Thomas. Hollon started off nicely for the Lugnuts but in his two more recent starts has struggled, walking seven now over 13 1/3 innings with a low strikeout rate (8.6% of batters). Like Robson, Hollon is also coming back from Tommy John surgery and shouldn’t be judged too harshly on his results for the rest of the year. 19-year-old Lane Thomas (who turns 20 on August 23) has been playing second base and is still working on his defense there (I saw a very raw middle infielder when I saw him taking ground balls there in spring training) and has really struggled with the bat since moving up to Lansing. Thomas is hitting just .107/.194/.179 in seven games with the Lugnuts but had been really swinging the bat well in Vancouver after a slow start. Can he turn things around in the few short weeks until the playoffs? I’m sure both Hollon and Thomas are being given more playoff action to help their development but if they keep struggling, they may be relegated to less important roles for the run.
The Lugnuts are (at the moment) the only Blue Jays’ affiliate above Rookie Ball with a real shot at the playoffs. Will there be more moves coming to bolster their lineup with players from Vancouver, Bluefield or Dunedin? Who do you think will perform the best when they face off against the Great Lakes Loons on Sept. 9?
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