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'm going to start with the Jays' lowest-level team, the Lansing Lugnuts, and work my way up the ladder to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
Yesterday, I wrote about the pitchers and today I'll write about the hitters. I usually find the Lansing roster the easiest to project. There are usually a few players who distinguish themselves in Bluefield (Rookie ball) and Short-Season A Vancouver, earning their way onto the Lansing roster to start the year. There are also usually several players who finished the season in Lansing but haven't quite shown enough to get moved up to class-A Advanced Dunedin.
This year, however, I'm finding my spreadsheet to be overloaded with players (particularly outfielders) who I think are good enough to step up to Lansing but without a lot of room to move up to Dunedin. This is why you'll see that I have a few categories to the players. The first few listed are the players that I feel are going to be in Lansing to start the year for sure. Then there's the on the bubble players who could either be in Dunedin or may start off in extended spring training.
There are lots of catchers and outfielders vying for the few positions available and the Blue Jays' organization is especially deep in catchers.
Riley Adams is almost assuredly going to be starting the year in Lansing. After a strong season in his debut in 2017 with the Vancouver Canadians, he's poised as a college catcher to move up to Lansing to start the year. If the 21-year-old is not in Lansing, the only reason is that he's going to start in Dunedin.
Matt Morgan is a four-year veteran of the Blue Jays' system and made his Lansing debut last year but played mostly in Vancouver. Morgan has struggled with the bat in his career but it's time to see if 22-year-old former fourth-round pick has what it takes at a higher level.
On the Bubble
Alberto Mineo, 23, was picked up by the Blue Jays in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft and spent all of last year in class-A South Bend. I think he could back up in Dunedin but otherwise, he'll start off his Blue Jays career back in the Midwest League, at least for a bit, to see if he can reproduce the type of numbers he had last year in his best offensive season ever, hitting .278/.374/.358.
Ridge Smith could also start the season with Dunedin and he's a personal favourite of mine. He has one of the strongest arms I've seen behind the plate in the system and, still being 22 (until the end of April), he's among the younger of these potential Lugnut catchers. He hit .247/.337/.386 in Lansing last year in 51 games and could very well start the season there.
Andres Sotillo, 24, has already been in the Jays' system for six years and last year was his first spent in full-season ball, spending time as a backup in double-A New Hampshire, Dunedin and Lansing. It's really tough to predict where backup catchers will start the year because they can be almost interchangeable.
I think David Jacob, who finished his season with a bang in Lansing, starts with the club. Jacob, a 22-year-old left-handed hitter, hit eight home runs in just 43 games last year including 18 with Lansing in which he hit .288/.358/.438. I think he gets some more A-ball experience before he moves up.
Cullen Large, 22, had some solid numbers in 34 games with Vancouver last year before he got injured, ending his season. He'll move up to Lansing as a three-year college draftee in the fifth round in 2017. I can see him playing more third base in the coming season.
Kevin Smith, 21, intrigues me more the more I read and learn about him (and you can read more in the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, coming soon!). He had a strong season in Bluefield, leading the team in home runs with eight (and 25 doubles), hitting .271/.312/.466 coming out of the University of Maryland in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. I think he holds down the shortstop position in Lansing.
Samad Taylor, just 19, was a 10th round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2016 and came over to the Blue Jays in the trade for reliever Joe Smith at last year's trade deadline. He had very solid numbers in Short-Season-A in both the New York-Penn League and the Northwest League and I think the Jays are a bit aggressive with him in Lansing.
Kacy Clemens had a very strong professional debut in Vancouver last year and was one of the club's most consistent performers. He'll probably share duties at first base with David Jacob in Lansing as a 23-year-old.
On the Bubble
Will Savage, a minor league free agent this offseason, will probably join the Lugnuts with the ability to play on the infield. He's a 23-year-old, light hitting player who came to the Detroit Tigers out of Columbia University and has spent all of his two professional seasons at the Short-Season-A level or higher, with 25 games played down the road from Lansing at West Michigan.
Mattingly Romanin (Burlington, Ont.), another light hitting utility player, split 2017 between Lansing and Vancouver, but while he combined for a .202 batting average, he took a ton of walks in Vancouver, posting a .378 OBP in 26 games there.
Bryan Lizardo has spent four seasons in the Blue Jays' system and the 20-year-old has yet to fulfill the potential that he showed when he was signed as an international free agent. He hit just .212/.276/.276 in 222 plate appearances in Vancouver last year.
Ryan Noda was the MVP of the Appalachian League last year, hitting a stupendous .364/.507/.575 with 18 doubles, three triples and seven home runs. Turning 22 on March 30, Noda has played first base and the outfield and will likely see time at both positions with the Lugnuts.
Another player who spent last year in Bluefield was Mc Gregory Contreras, who enters his Age-19 season with a solid year in Advanced-Rookie ball, hitting .279/.335/.421 with eight doubles, two triples and five home runs in 51 games.
Reggie Pruitt, 20, didn't have the best of seasons last year in Vancouver if you look at his overall numbers but the three-year pro from Georgia turned things on at the end of the season, after a very rough start. He'll probably play in centre field most of the time (unless the Jays want Contreras to split time with him there).
Another potential centre fielder is Chavez Young who hit .282/.332/.440 in Bluefield over 62 games and then helped out in Vancouver at the end of the year as they rolled to their Northwest League championship. Young may join the Lugnuts a little later, mainly due to his age, 20, but he has likely earned the chance to start in Lansing.
Brock Lundquist, the Blue Jays' sixth-round pick last year, had a solid year in Vancouver, hitting .251/.364/.377 with 13 doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of home runs. I think he'll play a corner outfield position regularly in Lansing.
On the Bubble
Norberto Obeso, 22, had a decent year with the bat in Vancouver, hitting .252/.364/.329 and there's no reason for him not to move up in his fourth year in the Jays' system. That said, he could be held back in extended spring training or could take the spot of a guy like Young or Contreras.
Antony Fuentes, 22, is another guy who, by virtue of age and professional experience should move up to Lansing. Entering his fifth season in the organization, Fuentes is a corner outfielder who has shown some nice power potential in his career and hit eight doubles, two triples and four home runs, hitting .284/.347/.439 with Bluefield last year.
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