By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
It's that time of year that we begin our reports summarizing the season for the Blue Jays' minor league affiliates. We begin (like we did last year) with the lowest level club, the Dominican Summer League Blue Jays.
If you're new to Blue Jays from Away, we summarize all eight of the Blue Jays' minor league teams in four parts: The Blue Jays from Away Awards, Starting Pitchers, Relief Pitchers and Position Players. Players are discussed with the team that they spent the most time with (by innings pitched for pitchers and at bats for batters).
We start with the DSL Blue Jays, who finished the season with a strong 44-26 record, winning the Baseball City Division but losing in three games to the DSL Dodgers2 in the first round of the playoffs.. The hitters were 0.4 years older than the average age at 18.5 years old and finished in the middle of the pack in hitting (24th out of 40 teams) scoring 4.65 runs per game (the league average was 4.60 r/g).
It was on the pitching side that the Blue Jays were really dominant. Despite being almost a year younger than league average (at 17.8 years old), the pitchers allowed only 3.69 runs per game (almost a run less than the league average a 4.60 r/g), finishing sixth out of 40 teams.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.
The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.33 points, etc. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.
Here are the final standings for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the DSL Blue Jays:
Naswell Paulino 8.5
Nathanael Perez 7
Hector Guerrero 6.83
Rafael Lantigua 6.5
Steward Berroa, Andres Martinez 5
Warnel Valdez 4.5
Yhon Perez 2.83
Victor Figuereo, Hugo Cardona 2.67
Gaudy Ramirez 2.5
Leonicio Ventura, Gabriel Moreno, Emmanuel Vizcaino 2
Luis Alvarez 1.5
Rafael Monsion 1.33
Joi Concepcion, Jose Briceno, Yeison Estevez 1.17
Ronald Magdaniel 1
Brayan Mejia, Juan Diaz 0.5
Kenny Mauricio, Yohandy Marti 0.33
Knowing what we know about the DSL Blue Jays' stellar pitching in 2017, it's not unsurprising that our top two players in the Player of the Game Championship are pitchers with Naswell Paulino finishing above Nathanael Perez for the 2017 title.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
On the offensive side, the best player by way of rate stats is catcher Leonicio Ventura, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic. That said, Ventura only played in 33 games and had just 109 plate appearances, leading me to go with Rafael Lantigua, a 19-year-old Dominican second baseman who had the best OPS at .755. He hit .284/.379/.376 with eight doubles and six triples.
Honourable Mention: Leonicio Ventura, Steward Berroa
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
While Naswell Paulino was our Player of the Game champ, it was Nathanael Perez who was easily the most dominant pitcher for the DSL Blue Jays. Perez had a 1.42 ERA in 13 starts, giving up just 47 hits and seven walks in 47 innings, striking out 55.
Honourable Mention: Naswell Paulino, Emanuel Vizcaino
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
Seventeen-year-old Elixon Caballero was truly dominant for the DSL Blue Jays. Giving up just three earned runs in 32 innings, he had a 0.84 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while striking out 36 and walking 13. Those are some impressive numbers from a 5-foot-9 righty from Venezuela.
Honourable Mention: Luis Mendoza, Juan Diaz, Jhon Victorino
Part 2- Starting Pitchers
We're going to start our more in-depth look at the DSL Blue Jays by looking at starting pitchers. At the Rookie ball level, the distinctions between starting pitchers and relief pitchers are frequently fluid so we're going to include anyone who made more than 50% of his appearances as a starter. We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there. With the DSL club, there isn't much to go on scouting-wise, so we'll basically be looking at the players' stats to help get an idea of what might be going on. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he'll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
Our DSL Blue Jays Pitcher of the Year, Nathanael Perez, was tied for the club lead in starts with 13. At 19 years old, the Dominican righty, had an outstanding 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over 57 innings, striking out 23.9% and walking 3.0%. Perez led the club in innings pitched, strikeouts and, most impressively, walks per nine innings at 1.1 BB/9. The only other pitcher with fewer walks per nine was Luis Pena who threw just 4 2/3 innings. Perez also just gave up one home run all year, but home runs are generally at a low level in the DSL. Look for Perez in the GCL next year although if the club believes in his advanced control and command, he could begin the season in Bluefield.
Seventeen-year-old Naswell Paulino also had a tremendous debut for the GCL Blue Jays. The 5-foot-11 Dominican lefty tied for the team lead in starts at 13 and had a 2.26 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while striking out 23.1% and walking 8.0%. While his strikeout rate almost matched Perez's, his higher walk rate makes a huge difference in the effectiveness he had this season. Being two years younger than Perez, Paulino will likely start the 2018 season in the GCL.
Helping to fill out the DSL Blue Jays' starting rotation was Emanuel Vizcaino, a 6-foot-5 Dominican righty. Vizcaino just turned 18 at the end of August so he's another one of these very young pitchers who turned in a stellar performance in 2017. Vizcaino had a 2.06 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, striking out 18.5% of batters and walking 8.7% in 48 innings with 11 of his 14 appearances coming as a starter. He's another one to look for in the GCL next year.
Rafael Monsion, another tall (6-foot-3) pitcher who just turned 18 in August, actually made the jump to the GCL midseason. Monsion, a Venezuelan lefty, started in 10 of his 13 appearances for the DSL Blue Jays, tossing 43 innings with a 2.30 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, striking out 19.3% and walking 9.1%. Monsion also got three innings in relief with the GCL Blue Jays, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks with one strikeout. Look for him to return either to the GCL or move up to Bluefield in his Age-18 season next year.
Part 3 - Relief Pitchers
Leading the way out of the DSL bullpen was 17-year-old righty Yunior Hinojosa. The 6-foot-2 Dominican was very solid out of the 'pen and racked up 11 saves in 14 opportunities for the Jays. He had a 3.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his professional debut while walking just 4.9% of batters and striking out 15.7%. The Blue Jays must have been impressed as he was moved up to the GCL to finish the season, throwing 4 2/3 innings there with a 1.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP but just two walks and two strikeouts. Heading into 2018, I can see Hinojosa as an 18-year-old in the GCL.
Seventeen-year-old Venezuelan lefty Nicolas Medina was another pitcher who was used extensively by the DSL Blue Jays, tying for the team lead with 20 appearances. Medina wasn't as successful as Hinojosa, posting a 6.00 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 24 innings while striking out an excellent 23.9% of batters and walking 8.3%. Might we see him in the GCL next year? It's possible. We'll have to keep an eye on the Fall Instructional League roster before we know for sure, but I wouldn't rule out another year in the Dominican.
Dominican righty Adolfo Molina had a solid debut campaign as a 19 year old. The 6-foot-4 hurler had a 3.42 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 26 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays, striking out only 13.9% and walking 10.7%, both numbers that will need to improve. Still his overall control numbers weren't bad as he hit just three batters and had only one wild pitch. I think he'll be back in the DSL next year.
Our Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year, Elixon Caballero, was dominant despite being one of the youngest players on the team. Turning 17 on July 9, Caballero is still an under-sized righty, measuring 5-foot-9 but that didn't keep him from putting up a tiny 0.84 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his pro debut. Caballero, who hails from Venezuela, had a healthy 26.3% strikeout rate (among the highest on the club) and walked 9.5%, a number that will hopefully go down as he gets older, stronger and more polished. I'd expect to see him jumping to the GCL next year.
Luis Mendoza, 21, pitched his third season for the DSL Blue Jays in 2017 and had his best numbers yet, posting a 1.66 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over 21 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-3 Venezuelan righty did have some trouble, as can be seen by some of his secondary numbers. He only struck out 16.7% of batters and walked 13.3%, stepping back significantly in the walk category from 2016 when he walked just 6.7%. Mendoza needs to get to the US to move his career forward but three years in the DSL without being able to strike out as many batters as his younger counterparts could spell the end for Mendoza.
At 19 years old, Juan Diaz, a 6-foot Dominican lefty, had a solid debut with the DSL Jays. He threw 37 2/3 innings, making five starts out of 16 appearances and had a 1.67 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while striking out 25.7% of batters and walking 11.5%. While the walks are high (and Diaz also had nine wild pitches), the strikeouts could be an indication of good stuff. Without an in-person evaluation, it's tough to say what the Jays will do with Diaz but I'd say that there's greater than a 50% chance that he's in the GCL in 2018.
Another member of the 17-years-old club, Geremy Jimenez is a 6-foot-2 righty from the Dominican Republic who struggled in his professional debut. Jimenez had a 9.35 ERA and 2.31 WHIP walking 22.6% of batters and striking out only 6.5% in 17 1/3 innings. He generated a ton of ground balls, however and it's quite possible that the stuff is good but without the control to go with it. He'll likely be back in the DSL next year.
Seventeen-year-old Brayan Mejia produced solid results in his first professional season, posting a 3.57 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 22 2/3 innings. Still his strikeout and walk rates were the wrong way for a player to be moving up with a 9.8% strikeout rate and 16.7% walk rate with another six batters hit by a pitch and six wild pitches. Look for Mejia to return to the DSL next year.
Next we come to Alexander Molina, who is -- you guessed it -- 17 years old, is a 6-foot-1 righty from Venezuela who had some solid results in 24 1/3 innings for the DSL Blue Jays in his debut year. He had a 3.70 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, striking out 14.0% of batters while walking 12.2%. Look for him to return to the DSL to sort out his control.
Jhon Victorino was one of the older pitchers on the DSL staff, coming in at 18 years old and standing 6-foot-3. The Dominican righty didn't allow many runs, just five runs in 23 1/3 innings for a 1.93 ERA. He didn't give up many hits either, with just 13 on the season but he walked 12 and had a 1.07 WHIP with just 10 strikeouts. He'll likely return to the DSL next year.
Another "older" pitcher, Juan Jimenez, tossed 16 2/3 innings for the DSL Jays. The 6-foot-2, Dominican righty had a 5.40 ERA and 1.92 WHIP, walking 18.8% of batters while striking out 10.6%. He'll go back to the DSL for another year.
Ronald Magdaniel, a 20-year-old Venezuelan righty, was a swingman for the DSL Blue Jays, tossing 36 2/3 innings and making six starts among his 13 appearances. Magdaniel had a 3.19 ERA along with a 1.28 WHIP, walking just 5.1% of batters and striking out 19.9%. After a strong debut, it's likely that Magdaniel jumps to the GCL in 2018.
17-year-old Venezuelan Luis Alvarez had a decent professional debut, working 29 innings for the Blue Jays and posting a 4.97 ERA with a 1.52 WHIP. His strikeout and walk rates were on the right side of things as he struck out 15.2% of batters and walked 6.8%, giving him a solid step in the right direction as he begins his career. I can easily see him returning to the DSL next year.
At 6-foot-4, 17-year-old Dominican righty Yohandy Martir is imposing to hitters and he was able to strike out over a batter per inning (24.7% of all batters) while walking only 6.2% in his professional debut. While his ERA was higher, at 3.66, his low 1.12 WHIP is something that can be a calling card for him as he moves up. He might be on the bubble of the GCL roster next year but I really like his control numbers (just one wild pitch and no hit batters) and the strikeout numbers should allow him to make the jump next year.
Another 6-foot-4, 17 year old, Jeison Contreras didn't fair as well as Martir did in his pro debut. He had a 5.54 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 13 innings in the DSL, striking out 10.2% and walking 11.9%. Look for him to get another year in the DSL under his belt.
Eighteen-year-old Moises De La Cruz is a 6-foot-1 Dominican who pitched just 4 2/3 innings in the DSL, giving up three runs on two hits and three walks with three hit batters, striking out two. A return to the DSL is likely.
Luis Pena, 19, is another big Dominican righty, standing 6-foot-4 but he pitched just 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. Pena could be intriguing, thanks to those strikeouts but he was suspended for 72 games on September 1 for violating the drug policy, testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance enhancer.
We finish our look at the 2017 DSL Blue Jays by taking a peek at how the hitters did. We'll start behind the plate and look at players who got the most playing time first, followed by the guys who played less. This year's DSL squad wasn't the most proficient at the plate but there were still a few promising young talents on the team.
Twenty-year-old catcher Leonicio Ventura made his professional debut with the DSL Blue Jays this year, putting up very solid numbers at the plate, hitting .290/.370/.419 with six doubles and three triples in 93 at bats. The Dominican had a very solid walk rate at 11.0% and didn't strike out very often, with a 12.8% K rate. Overall, these are pretty good numbers for a pro debut and he was adequately successful in throwing out runners trying to steal with a 27% caught-stealing rate and just five passed ball in 28 games as a catcher. Ventura could move up to the GCL next year, particularly considering his age, but he could also stay put and get the opportunity to play a little more.
Seventeen-year-old Venezuelan catcher Gabriel Moreno shows a lot of promise behind the plate, throwing out 32% of runners trying to steal in 24 games behind the plate. He also appeared to be a little more sure-handed than Ventura or Saavedra (see below), committing only four passed balls. Moreno will likely be working on his offense after hitting .248/.374/.296 with four doubles and a triple in 125 at bats. I can see Moreno staying put in the DSL in 2018.
The third catcher on the DSL Blue Jays was 19-year-old Panamanian William Saavedra. Saavedra struggled with the bat in his professional debut, hitting .149/.250/.213 with six doubles in 94 at bats. He showed a good walk rate, taking a walk in 10.1% of his plate apearances and struck out in 14.7%, indicating that he was making contact. Saavedra threw out 23% of the runners trying to steal and had seven passed balls in 23 games. He'll likely return to the DSL.
Twenty-one-year-old first-baseman from the Dominican Republic, Yeison Estevez completed his second season with the DSL Blue Jays, taking a step back in most offensive categories. He hit .212/.282/.281, seeing a drop of 117 points in his OPS from 2016 to 2017. Estevez's walk rate dropped over 4.5%, hitting 8.5% in 2017 while he shaved two points of his strikeout rate, K'ing at a 17.1% rate in 2017. Estevez could be back in the DSL for another year if he returns.
Sharing time at first base with Estevez was Victor Figuereo who, in his third year with the DSL Blue Jays, led the club in home runs with two. Figuereo increased his offensive production slightly in his Age-20 year, hitting .215/.285/.348 with eight doubles, two triples and two home runs in 151 at bats. Figuereo, a 20-year-old Dominican, lowered hit strikeouts rate to a still-very-high 31.8% and saw his walk rate drop to 9.3%. I'd expect another year in the DSL for Figuereo.
Our Player of the Year for the DSL Blue Jays, second baseman Rafael Lantigua was strong across the board. Lantigua, 19, hit .284/.379/.376 with eight doubles, six triples and 11 stolen bases in 23 attempts. The low stolen-base success rate notwithstanding, Lantigua was one of the few players whose walk rate (12.9%) exceeded his strikeout rate (12.5%). I'd expect to see Lantigua, who hails from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, to make the jump to the GCL next year.
Seventeen-year-old Dominican Kenny Mauricio didn't hit very well in his professional debut, putting up a .206/.311/.277 slash line with 10 doubles in 164 plate appearances. Mauricio had a relatively high strikeout rate of 20.6% but paired that with a high walk rate of 12.7%. I think Mauricio will get another year of seasoning in the DSL before the club reconsiders a US assignment.
The Blue Jays had 19-year-old Mexican Hector Guerrero taking most of his reps at third base. Guerrero's debut in the DSL was fairly strong although his lack of power stands out after a season in which he hit .286/.386/.311 with two doubles and a home run in 231 plate appearances. Guerrero's calling card could very well be his outstanding walk rate (13.9%) which exceeded his strikeout rate of 8.2% by a wide margin. Guerrero did steal nine bases and was caught four times and appears to be fairly sure-handed at third base, only committing seven errors in 50 games at the position.Guerrero could make the jump to the GCL next year but without having seen him in person, it's tough to make any assessment due to his borderline numbers.
Hugo Cardona was one of the players to whom the Blue Jays offered a six-digit bonus in the international-bonus restricted season that followed the Vladimir Guerrero signing. Cardona, who just turned 18 in early September had a decent professional debut hitting .249/.342/.285 in 193 at bats as the everyday shortstop. he had five doubles and a triple, steaing 15 bases in 21 attempts. Cardona had a healthy walk rate of 10.8% and a somewhat high strikeout rate at 22.9%. I think Cardona remains in the Dominican Republic for another year.
Yhon Perez, a 17-year-old outfielder from Venezuela also showed the ability to play second base but spent most of his time in left field with a handful of games at center. Perez had a solid season, hitting .249/.335/.332 with a solid 11.1% walk rate and very good 9.3% strikeout rate, hitting eight doubles and four triples in 225 plate appearances. Perez stole eight bases in 12 attempts and will probably return to the DSL to build off of his solid debut.
Warnel Valdez, 18, played at all three outfield positions but mostly spent his time in left. He hit .224/.251/.282 with seven doubles and a home run in 170 plate appearances. Of concern is Valdez's low walk rate (2.6%) and fairly high strikeout rate (22.3%) both of which will likely have to improve for him to move up. Look for him back in the DSL next year.
Jose Briceno returned to the DSL Blue Jays and regressed somewhat. The 19-year-old Venezuelan (who turns 20 in October) had a .203/.324/.237 slash line and saw his walk rate drop 1.5% to 8.6% while his strikeout rate went up slightly to 23.0%. The one area in which he did improve year over year was his ability to get hit by pitches as he was plunked nine times in 139 plate appearances. If Briceno returns, he'll likely be back in the DSL.
Steward Berroa, 18, was the Blue Jays' everyday center fielder and had a very solid season, hitting .261/.352/.367 with three doubles, seven triples and a home run, stealing 20 bases in 32 attempts. While Berroa's strikeout rate was a tad high (22.2%), his walk rate was solid at 11.3%. I can see Berroa's strong all-around game moving up to the GCL next year but wouldn't be surprised to see him remain in the Dominican Republic.
Among right fielders, Andres Martinez led the way. One of the older players on the squad, Martinez (who is 20 on September 15) hit .285/.398/.320 with seven doubles and an excellent 14.9% walk rate while striking out in only 13.7% of his plate appearances. I can see Martinez moving up to the GCL next year but he's going to have to hit the ball with more authority, as his .035 ISO indicates.
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Check out the Handbook page for more information!