By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
The Arizona Fall League is under way and both Lourdes Gurriel and Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) got into game action with Gurriel hitting a double and Case pitching a scoreless ninth to earn a save. It's a great start but what should we expect from the eight Blue Jays minor leaguers in the AFL?
Which Jays are playing in the league? On the mound, we have T.J. Zeuch, Danny Young, Jackson McClelland and Case and in the field we have Max Pentecost, Jonathan Davis and Lourdes Gurriel.
The Arizona Fall League is a hitters' league. In 2016, teams scored an average of 4.78 runs per game, which is a figure that is way higher than a typical minor league (the average in 2015 was slightly lower at 4.76) outside of the Pacific Coast League and the California League, both of which have very high rates of scoring.
If you've been a fan of the Blue Jays for more than a few years and have followed their minor leagues when their triple-A club was based in Las Vegas, you know how few top pitching prospects were sent there. The same goes for the AFL. Most teams won't send their top pitching prospects there to get hammered in the thinner air and dry heat of the Arizona desert. In that sense, I think the hitters will do much better than the pitchers.
I think Gurriel is going to get a lot of playing time and he has the potential to do very well. From what I've seen from him, Gurriel is a very opportunistic hitter who can hit mistakes but doesn't have a lot of plate discipline when it comes to pitches that are borderline strikes or out of the strike zone. In the AFL, many pitchers won't have detailed scouting reports and may be prone to challenging the hitters and that's something that Gurriel has the potential to feast on.
Whether he hits well or not, it's important for Gurriel to get the at bats in against pretty good competition which I'm sure he'll be able to do. He needs to make up for time lost during the season when he was injured.
Pentecost is a solid all-around hitter with the ability to spray the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if the ball carries well for him, allowing him to hit some home runs out of proportion to what he normally hits. Or, as a guy who only played about half of a season in class-A Advanced, he could get overwhelmed a bit by the pitching which is usually around a double-A level. It's tough to tell but I actually think that Pentecost will be fine.
With six outfielders on the roster, I don't know how much he's going to play, but with a full year of double-A under his belt and a solid understanding of the strike zone and excellent plate discipline, I have a feeling that Davis will be able to deal with whatever he's pitched. I wouldn't expect too much more than a .250/.350/.425 slash line but I think that's pretty reasonable for the outfielder.
I always have a hard time prognosticating pitchers' performance. I think that Zeuch will not have a great time in the AFL. He gave up a lot of contact during the season and if he does the same in a far worse pitching environment in Arizona than he was in in Florida, I think he's going to be hit hard.
McClelland had moments of dominance and I think that will carry over to some degree. Still, he'll have to be a little finer with his pitches than he was in A-ball but overall, I think he'll be fine.
Young had some solid success in double-A, mainly because he's a sidearmer who generates a lot of ground balls. That's a great key to success in a league where the balls fly far. He'll be fine.
Like the other relievers, Case is probably going to be fine. Case pitched mostly in double-A and had some time in Buffalo and his success at the higher levels means that he's probably figured out how to get batters out at any level. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, which could lead him to be hit hard when he's not locating at his best, but he also has the ability to generate ground balls.
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