By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It's that time of year when spring training has begun. The big league players have returned to Florida, taken their pictures and have even done some baseball related activities. This is when my mind drifts to the season to come and projects the rosters for the Blue Jays' minor league teams as we look to open the season. As usual, I started with the Jays' lowest-level team, the Lansing Lugnuts (low A), and work my way up the ladder to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
It's Dunedin time! Today I'll write about the pitchers and tomorrow I'll write about the hitters. Filling up the roster for class-A Advanced Dunedin was easier than Lansing. Pitchers who looked like they were ready to move up from Lansing or not quite ready to go to double-A New Hampshire will fill the core of the club. I do have some players who I think will jump over the Midwest League too.
A Dunedin assignment may also be in the cards for players who have had injury histories. The club may want to keep them close to their own facilities in Dunedin and therefore, they may start out the season in Dunedin until the brass is assured that the player can hold up to regular wear and tear.
Without further ado, here are my projected Dunedin pitchers:
Nate Pearson, 21, was named the Blue Jays' No. 4 prospect coming into the season (and made it into Baseball America's Top 100 list at No. 91) and the fireballing righty made a huge impression in the Northwest League in limited innings, striking out 24 in 19 innings and allowing just six hits. I think he'll jump over Lansing to start in Dunedin.
Patrick Murphy had a strong turn in Lansing in his Age 22 season last year and got a taste of Dunedin. The oft-injured righty will be closely monitored in Dunedin as the season gets underway but it's expected that he can continue to log some innings with continued success.
Justin Maese, 21, had a rough time with his control in Lansing last year and some shoulder problems didn't help his season either. I think the Jays will keep an eye on him in Dunedin where his hard sinker/slider combo will play very well.
Angel Perdomo spent his Age-23 season in Dunedin after a strong 2016 in Lansing. He had a 3.70 ERA and 1.55 WHIP but had a 5.1 BB/9 while seeing his strikeout rate fall from 11.1 K/9 to 7.8 K/9. He also spent the last part of the season on the DL so I think he'll start in Dunedin to move up to New Hampshire if there's room and he shows he's ready.
On the Bubble
Denis Diaz really struggled with control in Lansing last year, walking 56 batters in 70 innings, so why do I think that he's possibly moving up to Dunedin? Mostly because I think there isn't going to be much room there in the rotation. Also, he's 23 now, making him a little old for A-ball but he'll still fit in well in Dunedin.
Kyle Weatherly also appeared in my Lansing article but I actually realized that I had him in my spreadsheet in Dunedin. Hence he's on the bubble for Dunedin if healthy.
Juliandry Higuera is another pitcher who could just as easily pitch in Lansing or Dunedin but I think the lefty will be in Dunedin thanks to some solid numbers for Lansing last year.
Nick Hartman, 23, split his time between Lansing and Dunedin last year with all but 7 1/3 innings in Lansing. With 37 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts and a 3.29 ERA, I think Hartman moves up in 2018.
Dan Lietz is another 23 year old and the lefty had strong numbers in Lansing only to see them fall off a bit in Dunedin. I think he'll get a chance to redeem himself after walking 19 with nine strikeouts in 20 innings with the D-Jays last year.
Tayler Saucedo went to Australia to get his groove back after an up-and-down season. He worked mostly out of the bullpen in Lansing but earned back a starting role in Dunedin and had a 4.48 ERA and 1.56 WHIP over 96 1/3 innings combined. He didn't have great results in Australia, giving up four home runs in 16 innings but had a decent 16-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio for Canberra.
Kirby Snead, 23, had a stellar season split between the Lugnuts and D-Jays last year with a 1.79 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings but I think the Jays will hold him back in Dunedin to get the side-arming lefty a few more innings there before New Hampshire.
Andy Ravel had an up-and-down season in Lansing last year but still ate up 114 1/3 innings with the Lugnuts, posting a 7.56 ERA and 1.72 WHIP. With a crowded Lansing rotation and bullpen, I think Ravel, 23, moves up to work out of the Dunedin 'pen.
Mike Ellenbest had a season very much like Andy Ravel. Ellenbest, 23, logged 122 2/3 innings with Lansing last year but had a 6.53 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. In a similar situation, I think he works out of the 'pen in Dunedin.
William Ouellette got into three games with Dunedin before the short season started, but cut his teeth with a very strong season as the closer for the Vancouver Canadians, striking out the final batter to seal their Northwest League championship. He had a 3.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, striking out 35 and walking 7 in 30 innings. I think he skips over Lansing and lands in Dunedin to start the year.
On the Bubble
Travis Bergen has struggled to stay on the field in his three years since being drafted. Now 24, he's going to need to have his innings managed carefully but showed flashes of brilliance in 9 1/3 innings in Vancouver last year, striking out 14 and walking 5.
Jake Fishman is likely going to Lansing but could be a candidate to get bumped up if the roster is looking full in Lansing.
Juliandry Higuera could be a lefty reliever if there isn't room in the starting rotation.
Drew Muren, 29, is easily the oldest player on this list. One of the harder throwers in the organization after the Blue Jays picked him up in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, Muren only pitched in 28 games at three levels (in two organizations) last year after being converted to a pitcher in 2016. I think the Jays will keep him close to Dunedin to start the year to see where he is in his development as a pitcher before they release him to the upper levels if he earns it.
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