Jay Blue: 2019 Lansing Lugnuts Report
October 8, 2019
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
We're going to start our more in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at starting pitchers. Three pitchers topped the 100-inning mark and the starters who found the most success in Lansing were quickly moved up to Dunedin, leaving the team with finding a new wave of starting pitchers by mid-season.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there. 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.
Sean Wymer, 22, was the Blue Jays' 4th-round pick in the 2018 draft and he spent the entire season with the Lugnuts, leading the club with 26 starts (in 28 appearances) and 137 2/3 innings. While Wymer's season stats are not all that impressive overall, with a 5.43 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and a 15.2% strikeout rate, his 5.9% walk rate was excellent and he did get 43.7% of balls in play on the ground. Wymer went out with a bang, beating the Fort Wayne TinCaps with a complete-game, nine-inning victory, allowing a run on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Aside from his strong finale, he had his best month in July, after a solid June but an atrocious May. Wymer has likely earned himself a look for Dunedin after a solid season in 2019.
6-foot-4 righty Troy Miller was a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Michigan in 2018 who had moments of brilliance but other, less brilliant, moments in his 2019 season, starting 22 of his 23 games and throwing 103 innings. Miller had a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, striking out 16.2% of batters and he walked 10.8%. Miller's ups and downs were well documented in this blog as he failed to go five innings in 10 starts and allowed more than four runs in eight of them. Still, he had some gems, tossing seven innings of two-run ball, striking out seven on July 21 and striking out eight ( a season high), allowing one run on four hits in seven innings on July 10. He would also equal his seven-strikeout total on August 21, allowing an unearned run on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts against the South Bend Cubs. There are positives to take from Miller's first full season and he could be a guy to watch to see if he can find some consistency in 2020, probably in Dunedin.
An interesting name is third on our list. Not just because of his first name being "Cobi," but Cobi Johnson made the third-most starts for the Lugnuts despite being used fairly heavily as a reliever as well. The 6-foot-4, 23-year-old righty, who is the son of the Jays' former rehab pitching guru, Dane Johnson, struggled with a heavier workload in Lansing after being dominating as a closer in Vancouver last year. Johnson tossed 99 2/3 innings over 25 outings (16 starts) with a 5.24 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, striking out 21.6% of hitters faced but also walking 12.8% and giving more fly balls (43.8%) than ground balls (37.1%). For Johnson, a Dunedin assignment is likely but he'll need to work on his control to be more effective going forward.
22-year-old giant Fitz Stadler stands 6-foot-9 and was the Blue Jays' 18th-round pick of the 2018 draft. Stadler is another pitcher who worked out of the bullpen in short-season in his draft year but spent much of his 2019 as a starter with Lansing. Like Johnson, Stadler made 16 starts (in 27 appearances) but Stadler was able to crack the 100-inning barrier, tossing 106 frames with a 4.92 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. Stadler was also able to strike out over 20% of batters (20.3%) and his walk rate of 8.6% was pretty solid. He also leveraged his long levers and high downward plane to get 53.0% of balls in play on the ground. Stadler was much more consistent than Miller was, especially in the second half of the year as he only had one outing in which he allowed more than three earned runs after July. Look for him in Dunedin in 2019.
Troy Watson got a late start to his season, joining the Lansing Lugnuts in late May and piggybacked a bit before settling into the rotation full time. The 2018 15th-round pick wound up with 15 starts and 19 appearances in Lansing, finishing with 91 2/3 innings and a 3.14 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. His low strikeout rate of 12.1% is somewhat concerning but he was able to keep his walk rate reasonable at 9.7%. He had a very solid cluster of outings from mid-June to mid-July, having just one appearance in that group in which he allowed more than two runs (including on scoreless outing and three of four or more innings with just one run against). He was rewarded by getting moved up to Dunedin for a start on July 18 in which he allowed four runs on 10 hits in six innings, without strikeout anyone out. He was sent back to Lansing and continued his solid work, tying his season-high of five strikeouts in a game in his final two starts including 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball against Great Lakes on August 25 and five innings of one-run ball against West Michigan on August 30. I think Watson will get another crack at Dunedin next year.
Asserting himself as a pitcher to be watched carefully, Josh Winckowski followed up a stellar 2018 campaign, winning the Pitcher of the Year Award in the Northwest League with another strong season that had him advance to Dunedin. A 15th-round pick out of high school in 2016, the 21-year-old Winckowski tossed 73 2/3 innings in 13 starts with the Lugnuts, logging 73 2/3 innings and posting a stellar 2.32 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He struck out a very strong 23.7% of batters while walking 8.7% with a superb 55.8% ground ball rate. Moving up to Dunedin after being a Mid-Season All-Star in the Midwest League, Winckowski made 11 more appearances, getting 53 2/3 more innings of work. While the numbers did drop off a little, they were still very strong with a 3.19 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 16.3% of batters and walking 7.5% and having his ground ball rate fall somewhat to 48.8%. Still, for Winckowski, who was almost two years younger than the average player in the Florida State League, it was an excellent season overall and gives us more reasons to keep an eye on him. I think he'll start 2020 back in Dunedin but could move to New Hampshire mid-season if he can get his strikeout rate back up to where it was in Lansing last year.
The key minor league player in the deal that sent fan favourite Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants was pitcher Juan De Paula. The 6-foot-3, 22-year-old Dominican righty struggled at times with the Lansing Lugnuts, particularly with his control as he threw eight times with a 7.76 ERA over 29 innings, walking 19 and striking out 20 before he went on the injured list. He made two rehab outings with the GCL over a month later, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings and had a strong outing for Bluefield (4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 3 K) before returning to Lansing on July 13. There, he allowed seven runs in his return and 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings three starts later but also had 5 2/3 innings of one unearned run on July 24 and five innings with one run allowed on August 3. He would only make one more start before getting shut down, surrendering six runs in 3 1/3 innings on August 8 to finish his year. He would conclude his time in Lansing with a 9.17 ERA and 2.13 WHIP, striking out only 12.3% and walking 13.0%. Obviously, De Paula needs to be healthy and needs to work on his control and command before he can move up to Dunedin so I think he'll start back in Lansing in 2020.
18-year-old Brazilian phenom Eric Pardinho struggled with injury through his 2019 season, starting with the Lansing Lugnuts but only getting into seven games with the Lugnuts but posting a 2.41 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 22.1% of batters and walking 9.6% in 33 2/3 innings. He also threw four innings in a rehab start in the GCL, striking out five and walking three, allowing just one hit and no runs. It'll be interesting to see where Pardinho will start 2020. I think he could move to Dunedin given the maturity and pitchability he shows, with advanced offspeed pitches even when he doesn't have his best fastball command (as I witnessed in one start this year), but because he's still just 18, he may be back in Lansing to start 2020.
We continue our more in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at relief pitchers. We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances and work our way downwards from there. 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.
Leading the club in appearances was our Pitcher of the Year, Marcus Reyes. Reyes was a bullpen staple for the Lugnuts, making 39 appearances with an outstanding 2.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over a pretty incredible 77 1/3 innings. The 77 1/3 innings are incredible mostly because Reyes didn't make a start all year, meaning that he averaged almost two innings per outing, a rarity among relievers. Reyes, a 24-year-old lefty who was a 38th-round pick out of San Diego State University in 2017, kept the ball on the ground, posting a 50.4% ground ball rate while striking out 17.7% of batters and walking only 5.7%. Reyes's poor numbers in August are likely due to some fatigue as he was worked hard all season and had never pitched in a five-month season before. He allowed eight runs (six earned) in his last four outings and, had he been shut down before then, he would have finished with a 2.04 ERA and a 5.81 OPS against. In addition, he had an 18-inning streak without giving up a run from June 28 to July 26 and then tacked on another 11 1/3 innings without surrendering a run from July 31 to August 19 after one outing in which he allowed four earned runs (a season high) on July 28. There's no reason why Reyes won't move up to Dunedin next year after a stellar full-season debut.
Cre Finfrock, a 29th-round pick of the 2018 draft out of the University of Central Florida, didn't join the Lugnuts until May 9 but still was second on the Lugnuts in appearances. Taking over the closer role, Finfrock led the Midwest League with 17 saves and posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, striking out a whopping 31.1% of batters while walking 9.9% over 38 1/3 innings. He got an end-of-season promotion to Dunedin where he made one appearance, striking out two batters and allowing a hit. Finfrock will also likely join the bullpen in Dunedin in 2020 after being a post-season All-Star in the Midwest League.
Canadian righty Will McAffer (North Vancouver, BC) was a 25th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2018 and, after a season in Vancouver, joined the Lansing Lugnuts for 2019. McAffer tossed 56 innings in 31 outings, posting a 4.34 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, striking out a very solid 27.6% of batters but also walked 15.4%. He'll need to get those walks under control while also getting a few more balls on the ground more as he had a 52.2% fly ball rate. Still, the 22 year old could spend part of a season in Lansing or he may jump to Dunedin if he shows well in Spring Training.
Sean Rackoski, 24, was a non-drafted free agent in 2018 and jumped to Lansing, showing that he belonged at whatever level he was at in 2019. With Lansing, he was used at the end of games, finishing 16 of his 28 games and earning five saves with a 2.87 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 47 innings. The 6-foot-7 righty throws reasonably hard but has some deception and a solid slider on his side as he he struck out 25.3% of batters while walking 9.3% and got 50.0% percent of balls in play on the ground. Promoted to Dunedin at the end of July, Rackoski added 15 2/3 innings in Florida, with a 2.30 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, striking out 29.3% of batters and walking only 3.3%. Can Rackoski replicate those Dunedin numbers in 2020? They are consistent enough with the rest of his performance in 2019 that it's highly conceivable that he starts in Dunedin and is able to keep making batters look bad.
Josh Hiatt, drafted in the 16th-round of the 2018 draft, didn't pitch as a professional in his draft year but joined the Lansing Lugnuts to start 2019. The 22-year-old righty was used as a piggyback starter for the first part of the year but after coming back from the IL after missing over a month, he was only used out of the bullpen, generally in shorter stints. Overall, Hiatt had a solid 3.64 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, striking 18.1% of batters and walking 11.0% with a 50.0% ground ball rate on balls in play. He fared better out of the bullpen, posting a .652 OPS against as a reliever while he had a .756 OPS against as a starter, translating to a 2.74 ERA and 1.37 WHIP coming out of the 'pen against a 4.99 ERA and 1.50 WHIP when starting games. Hiatt should be in Dunedin at some point next year but the pitching staff could be crowded at the start of the year, so he might begin in Lansing.
24-year-old Joey Pulido (who turned 24 in late September) was a 32nd round pick in 2018 and made four stops in the Blue Jays' organization in 2019. Pulido started with Lansing, pitching 10 times (with a 6.57 ERA and .833 OPS against) before jumping all the way up to Buffalo for one outing on June 1, taking the loss and giving up four runs on three hits (including a home run) with a walk and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. He went back to Lansing and pitched another 14 times with some slightly improved numbers (a 5.86 ERA and .809 OPS against) before going to Vancouver for two scoreless outings (just two hits and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings) before finishing the season in New Hampshire where he tossed 5 2/3 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits (including a home run) with four walks and a whopping eight strikeouts. But the bulk of the year was spent in Lansing and he had a 6.08 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 40 innings, striking out 20.9% of batters and walking 11.3%. It's hard to see where he'll start in 2020 but he wasn't overmatched in New Hampshire at the end of the year, so a Dunedin start might not be out of the question.
Mike Pascoe, 21, came out of San Jacinto College in Houston to join the Blue Jays organization as a 24th-round draft pick in 2018. He joined Lansing out of spring training but gave up runs in his first five outings and 12 of his first 16. He posted a 5.34 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over 32 innings, striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 15.2%. He was sent down to Vancouver in early July and finished out the season with the Canadians, logging another 17 2/3 innings with some even worse numbers that included an 8.66 ERA and 2.43 WHIP, striking out 22.6% of batters but walking 19.6%. Pascoe was particularly victimized by the home run in Lansing, allowing six long balls in just 32 innings and lack of control really figured in to his struggles in Vancouver as he walked 17, hit seven batters and threw five wild pitches in just 17 2/3 innings. Look for Pascoe to get another crack at Lansing in 2020, although they might keep him in extended spring training if the Jays are looking to work on his mechanics at some point.
Juan Nunez made it to full-season ball in 2019 for the first time since he joined the Blue Jays' organization back in 2014. After two seasons in the DSL and GCL, the missing all of 2016 with knee surgery and then two more seasons in 2017 and 2018 in Vancouver, Nunez didn't get out of extended spring training in 2019, going to Vancouver to start the season. He had two scoreless outings, allowing just four hits in four innings with a walk and three strikeouts before he was promoted to Lansing, finishing the season with the Lugnuts. Nunez did not really post better numbers than he had since 2017, tossing 21 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts and having a 5.40 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but he struck out 27.8% of batters and kept his walk rate to 8.3%, one of the best numbers he's had as a pro. He could return to Lansing or jump to Dunedin in 2020, his Age-24 season.
Justin Watts, 25, joined the Blue Jays' system as a 37th-round pick out of the University of Southern Indiana but spent much of 2019 injured. Watts pitched for the Lugnuts in 2019 through a six-week span than ran from June 26 to August 11. He pitched quite effectively, tossing 14 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, striking out 30.0% of batters and walking only 10.0%. In this small sample size, he did give up fly balls on 68.6% of balls in play, leaving me hoping that it's an anomaly and that figure will come down to his more customary percentage in the high forties in 2020. I can see him in Dunedin next year.
Another victim of injuries, Brody Rodning, got into one game with the Lugnuts in May before getting put on the shelf for three months. He tossed three times with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in 3 1/3 innings, striking out five without walking anyone. He returned to Lansing for the last two weeks of the season and threw six more times, giving him a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 8 2/3 innings, walking just one and striking out nine. We'll look forward to Rodning joining the Dunedin Blue Jays at some point in 2020.
Jose Espada, 22, is another player whose time on the mound was limited in 2019 because of injuries. Espada got his season underway with a rehab outing in late June but then didn't emerge again for over a month, coming back with three more appearances with the GCL Blue Jays in the first half of August. He went up to Lansing and, starting August 15, made six appearances for the Lugnuts before the season ended. Espada didn't give up a run in four innings with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing just one hit with two walks and four strikeouts while he had a 4.70 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 7 2/3 innings with Lansing, striking out nine and walking one. He'll probably pitch his Age-23 season in Lansing to start next year.
We conclude our in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at the hitters. If a player split his season by playing for more than one team, keep in mind he'll be considered with the team for which he had the most plate appearances.
Turning out to be one of the real bright spots on the 2019 Lansing roster was catcher Gabriel Moreno. Moreno, still just 19, arrived in Lansing in mid-May and became the club's most consistent hitter (although he did fade in August). He impressed with his ability to avoid strikeouts, posting a K-rate of just 11.1% but, like many young Latin-American players, improvement to his 6.5% walk rate (already a career high) will definitely benefit him. He had a strong season, hitting .280/.337/.485 with 17 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs and the former infielder has adapted well to the catching position, throwing out 33% of potential base stealers but had 11 passed balls. Moreno, at his tender age, could start in Lansing in 2020 but he's shown that he has little to prove at the level.
21-year-old lefthanded hitting catcher Ryan Gold, the Blue Jays' 27th-round pick of the 2016 draft out of high school, isn't going to stand out in a line up but he did provide solid catching and hitting while also playing some first base and even pitching a scoreless inning for the Lugnuts in 2019. In his second crack at the level, Gold his .239/.301/.391 with 25 doubles, five triples and seven home runs, keeping his strikeout rate mostly stable from 2018, also in Lansing, at 21.4% while his walk rate moved up to 6.4%. Gold's ISO almost doubled from 2018 (jumping from .082 to .152) and his wOBA was higher despite a 31-point drop in BABIP. With a 23% caught stealing rate, Gold isn't a particular standout behind the plate but he has sure hands (as can be seen from having just two passed balls in 47 games behind the plate) and isn't a liability. I can see Gold moving up to play a backup role in Dunedin in 2020.
Hagen Danner, following a strong season in Bluefield in 2018, moved up to Lansing in 2020. Danner got into 80 games and posted a .170/.254/.369 slash line, hitting for solid power with eight doubles, five triples and 12 home runs but his strikeouts soared to 31.3% while his walk rate regressed to 8.8%. Danner also played first base almost half the time he spent in the field and had nine passed balls in just 23 games behind the plate, throwing out 29% of potential base stealers. Danner's power is tantalizing but he needs to cut down his strikeouts and make better contact. He'll likely get a chance to repeat Lansing at Age 21 in 2020 but without hitting, there's a question of whether Danner will return to the pitching mound where he starred in high school.
Jake Brodt, 23, spent most of the 2019 season as the first baseman for the Lansing Lugnuts, playing in 96 games and he put up some solid numbers at the plate, with a .238/.330/.407 slash line, hitting 14 doubles, three triples and 13 home runs. Brodt continues to show an impressive eye at the plate, walking in 11.3% of his plate appearances but his trouble with strikeouts showed up again as he struck out in one-third of his plate appearances. Brodt played two games in August for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, but went 0/6 with a pair of strikeouts. Brodt's season was up and then down as he combined to post a .280/.380/.503 slash line in April and May but then just a .197/.279/.318 slash line the rest of the way. Was it that the Midwest League had figured him out after a couple of months on the circuit? In which case, Brodt is going to need to adjust, perhaps back in Lansing to start, but more likely in Dunedin.
In his third year since signing with the Blue Jays, 21-year-old infielder Rafael Lantigua led the club in games at second base with 55 but he also played 23 games at shortstop and 18 at third with another game in left field. Lantigua didn't join the Lugnuts until early May but was a contributing regular, hitting .254/.302/.373 with 16 doubles, six triples and four home runs, stealing nine bases in 17 tries. Lantigua does have some work to do to increase his 6.3% walk rate but his 15.9% strikeout rate is generally very good. Lantigua could get a stiffer test in his 2020 season, moving up to Dunedin.
Third baseman Johnny Aiello, 22, jumped from Bluefield in 2018 (his draft year) right to Lansing and put up some solid numbers despite the increase in competition level. Aiello hit .258/.352/.419 with 18 doubles and eight home runs while missing much of May and June with an injury. Aiello slumped in July, possibly as a hangover from missing time but surged in August, hitting .304/.375/.532 with four of his eight home runs. While Aiello had a solid 8.3% walk rate, his strikeout rate, like several other players on the Lugnuts, was worrying, at 31.9%. He'll probably get the nod to move up to Dunedin but the strikeouts make us wonder how long he'll be able to keep up his strong offensive output before he gets more exposed by better pitching.
Otto Lopez (Montreal, Que.), the (barely) 21-year-old "super-utility" player-in-training, spent most of his time at shortstop in 2019 with the Lansing Lugnuts. In his Age-20 season, Lopez had a strong season, winning the Midwest League batting title by hitting .324 with a .371 OBP and .425 slugging percentage, hitting 20 doubles, five triples and five home runs while stealing 20 bases (but getting caught 15 times). Lopez saw some regression in his walk rate, dropping to 6.9% but his strikeout rate stayed quite low, at just 12.8%. While Lopez played six different positions in 2018 with Vancouver and Bluefield, he only played four in 2019, getting 82 games at shortstop, 19 at second base and 12 combined between left and right field (mostly left). For Lopez, the defense was an issue and, while he could make some excellent plays, he also committed 25 errors at short and another four at second. Lopez is ready to move up to Dunedin but will probably be working hard to improve his defense going into 2020.
Ostensibly the 2019 version of Bo Bichette's MVP season in Lansing a couple of years ago, Jordan Groshans was poised to take on the Midwest League as a 19-year-old in the year following his draft year. Groshans got off to a great start, hitting .337./.427/.482 with six doubles and two home runs in just 96 plate appearances, with a walk rate of 13.5% and a strikeout rate of only 21.9% before the youngster injured his foot, ending his season and requiring surgery. While he made a big impact in just 23 games, Groshans will probably start 2020 back with Lansing and will look to show that he's one of the game's best prospects after what will go down as a promising, but lost, season.
After being drafted in the seventh-round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Georgia, 22-year-old infielder L.J. Talley played 52 games with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting .191/.266/.333 with six doubles, a triple and six home runs. He showed good power potential with the six home runs in 208 plate appearances and he had an 8.7% walk rate with a decent 18.8% strikeout rate. His low .204 BABIP could be an indicator that he'll improve next year and his August .828 OPS could also be another indication that he was finding his rhythm and the feel for wood-bat hitting. Look for him to either begin back in Lansing or start 2020 in Dunedin.
Nick Podkul, 22, started his season with Lansing, hitting .254/.369/.368 with 13 doubles, two triples and two home runs, stealing 12 bases in 13 attempts in 241 plate appearances over 57 games before he was promoted to the Dunedin Blue Jays, where, in another 37 games, he hit .227/.331/.300 with three doubles, a triple and a home run, stealing five bases in seven attempts. Podkul maintained his strikeout and walk ratios as he was promoted with a 13.7% BB-rate and 17.0% K-rate in Lansing and a 12.9% BB-rate and 16.7% K-rate in Dunedin. Podkul's BABIP suffered by 36 points in Dunedin (explaining most of the 27-point drop in batting average and 38-point drop in OBP) but his 41-point drop in ISO (Isolated Slugging) is the more concerning as it might indicate that he wasn't making as solid contact in Dunedin. Still Podkul will probably start 2020 in Dunedin.
Released in June, Jesus Severino played just 12 games in 2019 (all with Lansing), hitting just .125/.205/.200 with a double and a triple in 44 plate appearances, walking four times and striking out 10 times.
Leading the Lansing Lugnuts in games played in the outfield was Reggie Pruitt. The 22-year-old speedster was repeating the level after he started to come around with the bat in 2018. In 2019, I noticed that Pruitt was on base every time I saw him in spring training and he continued that when he got back to Lansing. He played 88 games, hitting .273/.352/.365 with 12 doubles, eight triples and one home run. On the up side was Pruitt's walk rate of 10.4%, a career high, while his strikeout rate had come down 3.5% from 2018 to a still-high 26.3%. Despite playing just 88 games, Pruitt finished second in the Midwest League with 40 stolen bases (playing 33 games fewer than the leader), getting caught 13 times. Promoted to Dunedin, he played in 21 games there, hitting just .230/.296/.351 with five doubles and two triples, stealing eight bases without getting caught and posting a walk rate of 8.6% and a strikeout rate of 28.4%. Pruitt, if he can cut down his strikeouts and put the ball in play more, can capitalize on his speed which is at the top of the organization. I see him in Dunedin trying to reproduce the production he had in 2019 with the Lugnuts.
Outfielder D.J. Neal was second on the Lugnuts in games in the outfield. The former 26th-round pick also struggled a bit in his first exposure to full-season ball, hitting just .238/.289/.312 with seven doubles, a triple and four home runs in 84 games. He walked in just 6.2% of plate appearances while striking out in 24.1%, down from his 26.6% rate in Bluefield in 2018. Neal, 22, may be back in Lansing to try to improve his offensive output.
Far-too-high strikeout rates have been the theme of this Lansing Lugnuts report. No player demonstrated the potential irrelevance of the strikeout more than Griffin Conine, the Jays' second-round pick in 2018 who missed the first half of the 2019 season thanks to a suspension after he tested positive for a stimulant. Conine spent his time off in extended spring training working on some issues with his swing that led to some decent numbers in Vancouver last year but not great and he came out of the gate with a mission in 2019. He hit a whopping .283/.371/.576 with 19 doubles, two triples and a club-leading 22 home runs, despite playing just 80 games. Conine walked in 10.9% of his plate appearances but struck out in a whopping 35.9%. That said, it was an area that he told Blue Jays from Away (find the interview here) was definitely one he was aware of and he was working to improve. If we look at his strikeout rate by month, we get 36.9% in June, 41.1% in July and 33.6% in August, showing some potential for improvement (incidentally, he didn't strike out at all in nine plate appearances in September). Conine will move up to Dunedin in 2020 and he'll be 22 when the season starts. He'll need to cut down the Ks, particularly as he faces better pitching, or much of his power is going to fade.
22-year-old outfielder Hunter Steinmetz is the prototypical minor-league grinder. The 11th-round pick of the Jays in 2018, Steinmetz spent most of his 2019 season with Lansing and hit .216/.311/.305 with 11 doubles, two triples and two home runs, stealing 14 bases in 18 attempts. Steinmetz's OPS was likely saved by his 10.9% walk rate and he struck out in a respectable 22.2% of plate appearances. He started in Dunedin in late May, playing five games and going 2/12 with six strikeouts and was sent to Lansing soon after. I can see Steinmetz either returning to Lansing or moving up to Dunedin.
23-year-old Albertan Tanner Kirwer (Sherwood Park, Alta.) had his season blemished by injuries, playing in just 52 games for the Lansing Lugnuts and hitting a decent .260/.353/.326, hitting five doubles, two triples and a home run while stealing 18 bases in 20 tries. Kirwer had a solid 9.6% walk rate and a 23.4% strikeout rate. I think he'll either be back in Lansing to start 2020 or he'll be in Dunedin.
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