By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
As spring training draws to a close and the Toronto Blue Jays get ready to pack up and head north to Montreal before returning to Toronto, the club is letting a few little gems about where some high-profile minor leaguers will start the season.
In an article on TSN.ca, it was reported that Mark Shapiro told Rick Westhead that Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette would start the season in double-A New Hampshire while pitcher Nate Pearson would start in class-A Advanced Dunedin. Is this a surprise? If you had read my projected rosters series of articles from earlier in March, then the answer is certainly no.
My prediction was based on a number of moving pieces including where other players who play the same positions might end up, my read on the club's impression on the players and how they did last year. Of course, these things are never nailed down until the rosters are released. For example, while I predicted a couple of pitchers might be bullpen bound, but seeing how they were used in spring training has changed my mind (Dany Jimenez is an example).
So what's the big deal about double-A? Well, as Clutchlings, over at Future Blue Jays, writes, "In AA, players tend to have a plan." From my own discussions with players about what the difference is between the levels, they mostly say that players in double-A are able to execute much more consistently. In terms of what's happening on the field, for example, a pitcher will hit his spots, pitching to the corners of the plate much more frequently than they do in the lower levels. Their breaking pitches are much more consistent and tightly spun, meaning that hitters don't get meatballs that spin but don't break, sitting up in the zone for a big swing. Hitters are more able to recognize when pitches are going to be out of the zone so you won't see as many swings over top of breaking balls in the dirt.
Improved consistency in execution and coming to the field with a plan cuts down on mistakes, cuts down on errors and separates the players who are close to The Show and who aren't going to to get there. It's a big step for our Dynamic Duo but I think both players hold their own at first. As Clutchlings writes, both players have advanced approaches at the plate. They don't swing at anything and have a very good sense of what they can do with certain pitches. This approach will enable them to let pitches go that they don't feel they can put a good swing on, even if they're strikes. I think that Guerrero is more passive in this approach than Bichette is. Bichette is more likely to go after a pitch he can hit hard early in the count, whereas Guerrero frequently allows himself to get into a two-strike count if he's not getting the pitch he's looking for early.
But don't worry. Both of these players, as young as they are, have shown that they are able to adjust (another big deal at the double-A level: it's "adjust or die") and figure out how pitchers are approaching them and then respond. They may hit "well enough" at first but turn things on later in the season. Or they may tear up the Eastern League. Either way, it's going to be fun.
As for Nate Pearson, he'll be fine in class-A Advanced. With his pure stuff there's really no way he's going to be challenged in class-A Lansing. From what I could see in his brief, two-inning outing, he was locating his fastball and changeup well and, while he's still working on refining his other curveballs, they will play just fine in the Florida State League.
In other news, the Blue Jays announced the roster for the mini-series in Montreal:
As usual, the Blue Jays like to bring some of their minor leaguers up to Montreal to get them a taste of the electric atmosphere that awaits in Toronto. This year, some of the choices are interesting and, for the most part, expected, but I think that there were a couple of omissions.
It's great to see Canadian Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) along for the ride. He'll join minor league pitchers Jose Fernandez (who has shown well this spring), Justin Shafer, Dusty Isaacs, Conor Fisk, Josh DeGraaf, Danny Young and William Ouellette.
All of these pitchers have thrown in double-A except for Ouellette who peaked last year in Dunedin. Tim Mayza also gets a chance to go (but since he's made his major league debut, I won't count him in the same category). It would have been nice to see Deck McGuire in Montreal too.
As for catchers heading to Montreal, the Jays will bring Montreal native Russell Martin, Luke Maile, Patrick Cantwell and Max Pentecost. Cantwell has been the third catcher throughout the whole spring and is likely the prime candidate to replace Maile if he is injured, enabling the Blue Jays to keep Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire on their development track in the minors. Speaking of whom, neither is going to Montreal, which I think is a bit odd. Jansen hasn't hit well in big league spring training but has been strong from what I've seen in minor league camp. McGuire has better numbers over 15 plate appearances and again, has been solid in minor league camp and I think both of them will start in Buffalo.
On the infield, we'll have minor leaguers Jason Leblebijian, Gift Ngoepe, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. With this list, there's really not anything to complain about. Biggio is a nice touch and I never expected Guerrero, who was born in Montreal, to not be going north. Leblebijian has played a ton with the big league club this spring and is currently in third in at bats with 47 in 23 games and is hitting a solid .255/.364/.383. Ngoepe was a favourite to make the club out of spring training before the Blue Jays acquired Danny Espinosa, so it's nice for the first African-born player to go play a couple of games in a city outside of the U.S. A couple of missing names include Lourdes Gurriel and Richard Urena, both of whom I expect to start in Buffalo.
Finally, the Jays will take minor league outfielders Roemon Fields, Teoscar Hernandez and Andrew Guillotte. Thanks to injuries, both Fields and Hernandez have played a ton in spring training. Fields has gotten into 23 games with a .357/.413/.597 slash line (which will not be sustainable once the season starts) while Hernandez is hitting .333/.365/.646 with four spring home runs, tied for the club lead with Curtis Granderson. The club obviously likes Andrew Guillotte and he's played in 13 games in the spring, getting 15 at bats. Guillotte is versatile and is able to play infield as well as outfield. One name that is missing is Jonathan Davis who has impressed in big league camp while Dwight Smith Jr is also staying behind with Dalton Pompey.
Because of the early start to the season, there's no conflict with minor league spring training, which breaks on April 1 (with the minor league season starting on April 5). So the big question is why the Blue Jays aren't taking some of the most logical choices up to Montreal with them.
What do you think? Are Guerrero Jr. and Bichette going to be in over their heads in New Hampshire? Who should be going to Montreal?
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