Jay Blue: 2019 Vancouver Canadians Report

Adam Kloffenstein posted a 2.24 ERA in 13 starts for the class-A Short Season Vancouver Canadians in 2019. Photo: Vancouver Canadians

Adam Kloffenstein posted a 2.24 ERA in 13 starts for the class-A Short Season Vancouver Canadians in 2019. Photo: Vancouver Canadians

September 26, 2019

By Jay Blue

Blue Jays from Away

We're going to start our more in-depth look at the Vancouver Canadians by looking at starting pitchers. While there were some pitchers who took the ball regularly as part of the starting rotation, a couple were in a piggyback rotation and didn't start every game but logged innings that were comparable to those who started all the time.

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.

Our 2019 Vancouver Pitcher of the Year, Adam Kloffenstein, who spent almost the entire season as an 18 year old, was the top starter for the Canadians in terms of starts made. He led the team with 13 starts and 64 1/3 innings, posting a stellar 2.24 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while putting up a 24.7% strikeout rate with an 8.9% walk rate and getting 60.1% of balls in play on the ground. It was a strong year for the youngster who didn't pitch much in his draft year in 2018 and I'm sure he'll be starting 2020 in Lansing as a 19 year old.

21-year-old Dominican lefty Juan Diaz placed second on the Canadians when it came to innings, logging 62 2/2 IP in 12 starts and having a solid season with a 4.31 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, while striking out 17.1% and walking 6.8%. He had a strong walk rate but saw a big drop in the strikeout rate but he did skip over Bluefield, jumping from the GCL to Vancouver in 2019. I think he'll move up to Lansing in 2020 but he'll need to find ways to keep his strikeout rate from dropping further as he progresses.

The Blue Jays selected 6-foot-3 righty Nick Fraze out of Texas State University in the 22nd round of the 2019 draft and sent him to Canada to start his pro career. Fraze made 12 appearances and started 10 of them, logging 34 innings with a 2.12 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. The 21 year old struck out 20.6% of batters and walked 7.6% for a solid ratio while also getting more grounders (46.2%) than fly balls (38.5%). I can see Fraze moving up to Lansing in 2020.

Another 2019 draftee, 20-year-old Gabriel Ponce, joined the Vancouver Canadians after he was drafted out of Arizona Western College in the 28th round. Ponce, a 6-foot-2 righty, threw 38 2/3 innings with the Canadians, posting 4.66 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, striking out 20.7% of batters while walking 9.2%. He tended to give up more fly balls (44.1%) than grounders (32.2%). If there's a candidate among the college-age pitchers to be held back in Vancouver for another season, it just might be Ponce, who is younger and was hit harder than some of other pitchers on the staff.

22-year-old righty Grant Townsend was a 34th-round pick in 2018 and got to move up to Vancouver in 2019 after getting a start in Dunedin in May. In that outing, he allowed four runs on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in five innings to get a win for the Dunedin Blue Jays. He subsequently made eight appearances (seven starts) with Vancouver, posting a 3.56 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 30 1/3 innings, striking out an excellent 31.5% of batters while walking 10.5%. He didn't get many ground balls (25.0%), allowing a lot of fly balls (44.1%) and especially a lot of line-drives (30.9%). Townsend didn't pitch after August 10 and so may have had an injury prematurely end his season. I can see him in Lansing next year.

Coming in next on the starts list is the big fella, 6-foot-6, 260 pound Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays' first-round pick in 2019. Manoah, 21, had a similar season to the debut that Nate Pearson had in 2017 as Manoah was used very sparingly after a long college season. Manoah was dominant in his 17 innings, posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, striking out a whopping 39.7% of his opponents while only walking 7.4%. I can see Manoah exposed to the rigours of full-season baseball in Dunedin next year as the Blue Jays groom him to lead a further wave of minor leaguers to come the majors in about two to three years.

Canadian righty Alex Nolan (Burlington, Ont.) tossed starters innings for the Vancouver Canadians, throwing 58 2/3 innings with a strong 3.22 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Nolan, a Burlington native who attended Brock University, struck out 14.3% of batters while walking only 4.5%. I think he can move up to Lansing as he was pitching in 2019 in his Age-23 season.

While he only started five of his 13 appearances, 23-year-old Cuban William Gaston was often piggybacking behind Alek Manoah. At 6-foot-5, Gaston is another tall righty who logged 47 1/3 innings, posting a 3.23 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. Gaston struck out 18.5% of batters but walked a far-too-high 14.8% but got 45.3% of balls in play on the ground. I can see Gaston, at his more advanced age than other Canadians, moving up to Lansing next year.

Relief Pitchers

We continue our more in-depth look at the Vancouver Canadians 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 Grayson Huffman. The 24-year-old lefty has had a rough go in his professional career so far. He's only logged 147 innings (including 2019) since being drafted in 2014 and pitched in Vancouver for the third time in 2019 after missing the entire 2018 season. Huffman logged 32 2/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, striking out a stellar 27.7% of batters while his walk rate stayed high at 13.5%. It's getting to the point where Huffman will need to jump to full season ball next year so I think he's in Lansing to start April.

Luke Gillingham was our Reliever of the Year for the Vancouver Canadians, logging 24 appearances and 34 innings. Gillingham, 25, was pitching in Vancouver at an "advanced" age for a completely different reason than Huffman, as he lost close to three years after being drafted serving in the US Navy. Gillingham wasn't throwing particularly hard from most reports but he was very successful coming at Northwest League hitters from the left side. He had a 2.65 ERA with 1.06 WHIP with a stellar 33.3% strikeout rate and a solid 10.1% walk rate. He wasn't particularly a ground ball pitcher (38.0% GB% and 46.5% FB%) but he seemed to be able to miss bats well. I think Gillingham could be moved faster than some pitchers and will start 2020 in either Lansing or Dunedin.

Another lefty, 19-year-old Venezuelan Nicolas Medina, was in the number three spot on the list of appearances for the Vancouver Canadians. Medina has been pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League for several years now and the jump to the Northwest League at the age of 19 was an interesting decision. He struggled to some degree, posting a 6.03 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. He did strike out 20.8% but also walked 10.7% of batters and had almost the same percentage (37.8%) of ground balls as fly balls (36.0%). I think, given his age and results in 2019, Medina could return to Vancouver in 2020.

The second time was a charm for 23-year-old Parker Caracci. The University of Mississippi draftee was selected in the 37th round by the Jays in 2018 but he went back to school, getting drafted again by the Blue Jays in the 21st round in 2019. Pitching in Vancouver, Caracci was very good, filing a 3.03 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 29 2/3 professional innings, striking out an excellent 26.7% of batters but he also walked 14.1%. I think Caracci has earned himself some time in Lansing in 2020.

Another slightly older pitcher, 25-year-old Josh Almonte, made his first trip to Vancouver after skipping over the level on his initial climb through the Jays' system as an outfielder. Almonte made his second stop as a pitcher, and used his 95+ mph fastball in 23 2/3 innings to show some improvement over his first season last year with Bluefield. Almonte had a 5.32 ERA and 1.86 WHIP and he struck out 27.8% of batters but really struggled to find control, walking 25.2%, contributing significantly to his struggles overall. Almonte could move up to Lansing next year and needs to get innings. If he finds his control and a consistent slider (which wasn't bad when I saw it in spring training), he could move up levels quickly in 2020 given his age and velocity.

At 24, Gage Burland was one of the older pitchers for Vancouver and the 6-foot-2 righty from Washington State actually got his season going for Dunedin where he got into three games in late May, pitching a scoreless inning in his first outing, striking out one but struggled a bit in his next two outings, giving up a combined five runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 1 2/3 more innings. Moving to Vancouver when their season opened, Burland logged 19 2/3 innings with a 7.32 ERA and 2.19 WHIP, striking out 23.3% and walking 14.6%. I think Burland, who also had an excellent ground ball rate of 56.7%, should see Lansing in 2020.

6-foot righty Andy McGuire played both ways in 2018, his draft year, but must have decided to focus strictly on pitching in 2019 as he pitched both for Vancouver and Lansing. McGuire started with Vancouver, throwing 23 innings with a 3.91 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, striking out 12.1% of batters while walking only 7.1% and getting 61.6% of balls in play on the ground. Moving to Lansing, he threw 20 1/3 innings while putting up a 3.98 ERA but a much higher WHIP at 1.62. Additionally, McGuire struggled to miss bats, striking out only 8.8% of batters and walking 12.1% but still had a high ground ball rate at 58.8%. I think McGuire, 24, will probably return to Lansing to start 2020.

Luis Quinones, 22, was our runner up for the Reliever of the Year in Vancouver, making 10 appearances (including four starts) with 30 1/3 innings. The 2019 34th-round draftee started the year with two appearances in Bluefield, throwing 6 1/3 innings with just two runs against him on one hit and two walks with 10 strikeouts before moving up to Vancouver where he threw 30 1/3 innings with a 1.09 WHIP and 2.97 ERA, 38.2% strikeout rate and 13.8% walk rate. Unfortunately, Quinones was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for an anabolic steroid and will likely miss more than half of 2020 if he's moved up to Lansing, where he'll probably next see action.

Jared DiCesare, 21, made two stops in the Blue Jays' system after being drafted in the 17th round out of George Mason University this year. Starting in Bluefield, DiCesare had a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 15 innings, striking out 12 batters without walking anyone before he moved up to Vancouver. In Vancouver, he was used in a long relief role mostly (or as a piggyback starter, if you want to look at it that way), throwing 27 innings in seven appearances including two starts. He had a 3.67 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 20.9% of batters and walking only 4.6%. He's looking like a guy who'll probably get a look in Lansing in 2020.

Randy Pondler, 22, is another pitcher who logged a fair number of innings in a relief role for Vancouver. The Nicaraguan lefty was likely injured in spring training keeping him from starting the year with Lansing after a strong year in Vancouver last year. He returned this year to throw 23 innings in seven outings, but was hit fairly hard, putting up a 7.83 ERA and 1.87 WHIP, striking out 15.0% of batters and walking 12.2%. He was promoted to Lansing, however, and did better there in a shorter relief role, coming into six games and throwing 12 innings with a 5.25 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, striking out 20.3% of batters and walking 8.5%. I can see Pondler starting the season in Lansing in 2020.\

Hitters

We conclude our in-depth look at the Vancouver Canadians 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 he had the most plate appearances for.

Catchers

Brett Wright led the Vancouver Canadians in games caught and the 24-year-old got a lot more playing time, the most since being drafted in the 26th round of the 2018 draft. Wright got into 41 games (30 behind the plate) and had a .192/.333/.300 slash line, hitting eight doubles and two home runs while walking in 11.1% of his plate appearances and striking out in 21.6%. Wright also threw out 38% of potential base stealers, doing a great job behind the plate with only four passed balls in 258 innings of work. I can see Wright moving up to Lansing next year after two seasons with Vancouver.

Lefthanded hitting Philip Clarke joined the Vancouver Canadians late after he was drafted in the ninth round in 2019 out of Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt had a big run, winning the College World Series and as a result, Clarke only got into 37 games with Vancouver. He hit a respectable .257/.359/.333 with five doubles and two home runs, walking in 12.6% of plate appearances and striking out in 13.2%. There are a lot of good indicators there in his performance at the plate while behind the plate Clarke threw out 24% of potential base stealers and had six passed balls in 216 1/3 innings. I think he'll also move up to Lansing in his Age-22 season next year.

The Blue Jays acquired 22-year-old Nicaraguan infielder Jesus Lopez from the Oakland Athletics in the early-season deal that sent Kendrys Morales to Oakland. Lopez, who had played in the Midwest League last year, was sent to extended spring training to begin his conversion to catching and he emerged in Vancouver, playing mostly third base with nine games behind the plate. Lopez hit .255/.289/.343 with the Canadians, hitting nine doubles and a home run, while walking in 4.0% of his plate appearances and striking out in 18.0%. In his limited exposure behind the plate, he threw out 20% of potential base stealers but had nine passed balls in just 79 1/3 innings. He also played three games with Lansing, going 5/8 with a walk and two strikeouts , hitting a double and throwing out the only batter who tried to steal. I think Lopez could move up to Dunedin next year, having already had experience as a hitter in the Midwest League but he'll also need to work on his catching skills in order to get a more aggressive assignment.

Infielders

Leading the Vancouver Canadians in games at first base was our Player of the Year, Yorman Rodriguez. The 22-year-old Venezuelan had an outstanding season at the plate, hitting .369/.406/.410 in 40 games with Vancouver, hitting six doubles, two triples and four home runs before he moved up to Lansing where he hit .344/.354/.459 with seven doubles, two triples and a home run in just 22 games. Rodriguez impresses with tiny strikeout rates (just 7.1% in Vancouver and 6.1% in Lansing) but struggles to get on base enough with just a 5.3% walk rate in Vancouver and 2.0% in Lansing. His BABIP at both levels were quite high (.378 in VAN and .356 in LAN), meaning that if those figures normalize, he'll need an increased walk rate to help keep his OBP at or above league average levels. Rodriguez should start back with Lansing for a couple of months in 2019.

Getting the most games at second base and shortstop was 21-year-old infielder Tanner Morris, the Jays' second round pick in this year's draft out of the University of Virginia. Morris played 64 games, including 29 at second base, 29 at shortstop and one at third, led the Cs in plate appearances with 294. Morris, who actually turned 21 after the season, had a decent pro debut, hitting .246/.384/.346 with 16 doubles, a triple and two home runs, walking in 16.7% of his plate appearances and striking out in 19.0%. He'll probably move up to Lansing in 2020.

Luis De Los Santos, 21, played 59 games with Vancouver but actually got into competitive games with the Dunedin blue Jays in early May, playing five games and hitting .231/.286/.538, hitting a home run and a double in just 14 plate appearances for Dunedin. Then, De Los Santos was sent to Lansing where he struggled over 25 games, hitting .205/.262/.282 with four doubles and a triple, walking in 7.1% of his 84 plate appearances and striking out in 22.6%. He was sent to Vancouver shortly after the season there opened and he continued to struggle, hitting just .215/.255/.294 with 12 doubles and two home runs in 245 plate appearances, posting a 4.5% walk rate and a 17.6% strikeout rate. I can see De Los Santos moving up to Lansing next year but I think it will depend on numbers and how well he does in spring training.

Ronny Brito, 20, was acquired by the Blue Jays in the deal that sent Russell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Brito also got his season underway in May with the Dunedin Blue Jays, going 4/13 with a double and two walks, striking out five times. He then opened with Vancouver's season and had a .216/.292/.321 slash line with just six doubles, a triple and four home runs in 212 plate appearances with a walk rate of 9.9% and a strikeout rate that was sky high at 38.7%. Brito joined the Lansing Lugnuts at the end of the season, playing in five games and going 3/5 with a double, no walks and seven strikeouts. I think Brito could be back in Lansing but he's going to have to show better plate discipline and cut down on his strikeouts.

21-year-old Trevor Schwecke was drafted in the 13th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and spent the entire season playing with Vancouver, mostly at first base but with eight games at second, 10 at shortstop and 14 at third base. Schwecke hit .231/.336/.312, showing a great eye at the plate with a 13.1% walk rate but a 26.2% strikeout rate. He hit 10 doubles, a triple and two home runs, showing a modicum of power (but an ISO of .081). Schwecke will likely move up to Lansing next year.

Outfielders

Cameron Eden played a little bit on the infield for the Vancouver Canadians, but the sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of UC Berkeley played 44 games at centre field, hitting .220/.292/.284 with seven doubles, two triples and one home run, stealing eight bases in 10 tries. Eden had 240 plate appearances, walking in 7.9% and striking out in 23.3% for fairly average numbers in those categories. He will likely move up to Lansing in 2020 as a 22 year old.

Mc Gregory Contreras was moved up to Lansing to start his season and the 21-year-old Venezuelan struggled at a higher level, hitting just .211/.268/.325, hitting six doubles, two triples and a home run in 124 plate appearances. He was particularly susceptible to the strikeout as he went down on strikes in 41.1% of his plate appearances, walking in 7.3%. He was moved down to Vancouver and played in 63 games, having some trouble defensively in the outfield while hitting an almost identical .211/.260/.319 with 12 doubles, three triples and three home runs in 270 PAs. He did lower his strikeout rate to 32.6% but his walk rate also fell to 4.1%. Contreras is an interesting case of a guy who has not shown the ability to adjust to better pitching and actually regressed from 2018 to 2019 when playing at the same level. I can see him getting another crack at Lansing but he'll also need to have his confidence built back up.

Will Robertson, 21, was the Jays' fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Creighton University and he had one of the best offensive seasons for the Vancouver Canadians, playing mostly right field (with four in left and seven as the DH). Robertson started slowly, hitting just .127/.225/.143 in his first 17 games but went on a tear for his final 44 and was able to finish strongly (including multi-hit games in three of his last four) with a .268/.365/.404 slash line with 11 doubles, a triple and six home runs. Roberton struck out in only 18.6% of his 263 plate appearances while walking in a healthy 11.8%. I think Robertson could be in Lansing to start 2020 but is also a candidate to skip over the Lugnuts (depending on other players ahead of him) and jump to Dunedin.

Dom Abbadessa, 21, is another player who started in Lansing and struggled there, getting sent to Vancouver once their season opened. Abbadessa hit .189/.305/.267 with the Lugnuts, hitting just three doubles and two triples in 105 plate appearances with a 26.7% strikeout rate and 11.4% walk rate. After moving to Vancouver, he hit .184/.250/.218 with just a double and two triples in 44 games, seeing his strikeout rate go down to 18.4% while his walk rate also fell, to 7.4%. I can see Abbadessa getting another shot at Lansing but his confidence also needs a boost after his 2019 season.

Adrian Ramos, 21, was a 2018 draftee, coming out of Miami-Dade College in the 19th round and the Puerto Rican was excellent in the GCL in 2019. Moved up to Vancouver in his Age-21 season, he struggled mightily, hitting just .104/.290/.157 with a double, a triple and a home run among his 12 hits in 146 plate appearances. Ramos's strikeout rate jumped to 27.4% but his walk rate also spiked to 17.1% while his BABIP slipped to .149. While some regression can be expected, I think Ramos will need to prove himself at Vancouver again before he moves into full-season ball.

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