Lansing Lugnuts 2017
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It’s that time of year when spring training has begun. The big league players have returned to Florida, taken their pictures and have even done some baseball related activities. This is when my mind drifts to the season to come and projects the rosters for the Blue Jays’ minor league teams as we look to open the season. As usual, I’m going to start with the Jays’ lowest-level team, the Lansing Lugnuts, and work my way up the ladder to the Buffalo Bisons.
This year, I’m breaking up the rosters into pitchers and position players. That will give me a little bit more space to talk about some of my choices and decisions because coming up with rosters and, particularly for the Lugnuts, it was very hard to pare things down. There are a lot of pitchers projected to be hanging around Class-A with several who could start in Lansing or Dunedin while several are on the bubble and could either make the squad or either head to extended spring training or get released by the time the season opens. The latter possibility is very real for these minor league players and I don’t bring it up lightly. In an ideal world, my Lansing roster has about 40 players but when do they all play? This exercise also gives you an idea of what the Blue Jays management goes through in cutting down their rosters heading into April. When making my projections, I’m looking at what the club has done in the past and try to see the future. I’m still getting a feel on how the new regime is going about their decision making, therefore, I’m bound to be wrong about some players. Probably more than I have been wrong about in the past.
In just his Age-20 season, Maese will return to Lansing for about half the year. This regime has been more conservative (for the most part), particularly with younger pitchers and Maese threw a combined 82 2/3 innings last year between Lansing and Vancouver. He’ll probably anchor a strong rotation to start the year and will probably be on a 70-pitch limit for the first month or so.
Last year’s first-round draft pick had a solid season in Vancouver but struggled in Lansing in two starts. That’s nothing to worry about. One of last year’s top pitchers in the system, Jon Harris also struggled in his draft year but found himself in year two. I think Zeuch will do that too. Like Maese, he probably won’t stay in Lansing the whole year if he’s doing well.
Murphy was getting a lot of attention as the backbone of the Vancouver rotation after many years of injury woes. He was a horse last year but the Blue Jays will likely limit his workload a little bit but he’ll take a regular turn in Lansing.
Here’s my first “who?” of the list. Weatherly is a college pitcher (although he went to a junior college) and, while his Bluefield numbers from last year don’t exactly scream “domination,” the were very good. Weatherly is 22 and has the stuff to pitch well in Lansing.
On the Bubble
Andy Ravel and Mike Ellenbest
Why are these two guys lumped together? Because they piggybacked last year in Vancouver coming out of the draft and neither really distinguished himself. That said, they’re both 22 and will probably need to find a spot in Lansing.
Jose Espada and Osman Gutierrez
I’ll lump these two guys together because, while Ravel and Ellenbest both pitched in Vancouver, both Espada and Gutierrez pitched in Bluefield. Gutierrez, 22, was excellent and is the older of the two, meaning that he’s more likely to start the year in Lansing. Espada is only 20, however and could be held back a little bit to start the year and bide his time until a roster spot opens.
Jackson Lowery had a solid time in Lansing last year after moving up from Vancouver showing good control. I think the Dunedin bullpen is too crowded for him to move up but he’ll probably be back.
Danny Young has struggled with his control since being drafted in 2015, but the lefty is 23 and probably needs to be in Lansing.
Tayler Saucedo another lefty, started 2016 in the Lansing rotation but his lack of consistency got him bumped to the ‘pen. Still, he has shown the potential to be a dominant pitcher and will get a chance in relief in 2017.
Connor Eller, a 23-year-old right-handed reliever, Eller dominated in Bluefield and, thanks to his age, will probably move up to Lansing.
Jackson McClelland, 22, had strong numbers in Vancouver and while “the other Jackson,” Lowery, moved up to Lansing, McClelland stayed in Vancouver. His time as a Lugnut will be this year.
Travis Bergen was highly touted coming out of the draft in 2015. He hasn’t pitched much due to injury but could very well be in Lansing’s bullpen if he’s not held down in Florida to start either in extended or Dunedin.
On the Bubble
In my mind, I’ve got Jackson, who was a very strong pitcher for the Vancouver Canadians, either in Lansing or Dunedin. He’s been talked about as having a fantastic curveball and, as a reliever, could move quickly through the organization. If he shows well in the spring, finding his command, he could be in Dunedin to start the year. If not, he might be in Lansing.
Wandling didn’t pitch last year due to injury but is another pitcher who could move up to Dunedin.
Ryan Cook, Evan Smith
Both Cook and Smith spent time in Lansing last year but it wasn’t smooth sailing for either. Cook had an ERA over 5.00, walking 34 in 69 2/3 innings while Smith got hit hard in a brief stint in Lansing and then again in Vancouver where his ERA was over 7.00.
Griffin Glaude was a non-drafted free agent who has done nothing but pitch well. In Vancouver, he struck out 40 batters in 34 1/3 innings but walked 17. His small stature (5-foot-9), more advanced age (25 on April 6) and the fact that he’s a non-drafted free agent makes his position more precarious than some other players.
For me, deciding on which hitters might be in Lansing was much easier than the pitchers. While I may be wrong, I decided to use a few pieces of information to help me decide. I looked at who was a late-season call up to the Lugnuts as well as some other players who snuck in for the Crosstown Showdown. The hardest position for me to figure out was the catching slots. There just wasn’t a clear standout to be the everyday catcher for the Lugnuts.
Javier Hernandez was pretty much the main catcher in Vancouver and while his offensive stats were nothing that stood out, he was able to do the job over the course of the season. He’ll probably be a backup in Lansing.
Ridge Smith had very strong numbers with some good power in Bluefield last year and he deserves the chance to get a significant amount of playing time as he moves into his first full season. He has a very strong arm behind the plate and I’m hoping that he gets a starting role and plays 70+ games in Lansing.
Matt Morgan is the wild card here. After three seasons of short-season ball, he hasn’t really progressed with the bat but, as a fourth-round pick, he needs to move up. His high strikeout rates tell me that he may not be ready but he’s coming into a make or break season.
Bradley Jones led the Appalachian League in home runs last year and was a huge part of a strong Bluefield team. While he strikes out a lot, he’s a college player who definitely wouldn’t be rushed if he heads to Lansing.
Christian Williams has impressed me in spring training but it hasn’t translated into numbers for the 22 year old from Florida but he’s got a big frame, a lot of raw power and needs to be tested at a higher level.
Cavan Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a very solid player coming out of the draft last year. While he doesn’t stand out with his tools, his baseball IQ and intangibles make him a strong team player.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. by all accounts (including my own) had a stellar professional debut at the age of 17 in the Appy League. He’s mature enough and has been around enough baseball to handle the jump to Lansing as an 18 year old and my thought is that he needs the reps in a higher level than extended spring training can offer him.
Here is where I diverge from what might be the conventional thinking out there. After a phenomenal debut as an 18 year old in the Gulf Coast League, Bo Bichette (the son of Dante Bichette) was brought up to Lansing for the Crosstown Showdown and would give the Lugnuts one heck of a legacy infield with him, Biggio and Guerrero. The other reason that I think Bichette makes the jump is that I think that Yeltsin Gudino may not be ready for Lansing.
Javier Monzon was a Cuban defector who signed last offseason at the age of 23. Not as heralded as some of the other Cubans who have come out in the past, Monzon tore up the GCL and had some solid numbers (especially power numbers) in Bluefield. High strikeout rate there is a concern but, at 24 years old, he probably needs to see what he can do.
J.C. Cardenas was with Lansing last year in a utility role (playing mostly shortstop) and he would be valuable being able to take the pressure off Bichette at short. He didn’t really hit well, and a return to Lansing could give him a chance to show what he can do with the bat in a return engagement.
Mattingly Romanin didn’t play much with the Vancouver Canadians last year but could be a valuable versatile utility man. He showed a little more pop last year and walked a ton and might not be a hole in the lineup when he plays.
I think Lane Thomas returns to play center field after an injury plagued year in which he struggled to find his groove at the plate. A former high draft pick, he deserves to find his form.
J.B. Woodman was an outstanding call up to Lansing after a very strong debut season with the Vancouver Canadians last year. He also has some swing and miss to his game, but he has a ton of other skills.
Joshua Palacios likely rounds out the every day outfield for the Lugnuts. He dominated Vancouver pitching and was solid when called up to Lansing last year.
Rodrigo Orozco had a very strong first season in the US in 2015 but regressed a bit in 2016 with Vancouver. Still, he walked more than he struck out and he has the potential to have some gap power.
On the Bubble
Jake Anderson struggled to start the season in Lansing and still had some trouble in Vancouver. Still, 2016 was Anderson’s first full year of playing since 2012 so some growing pains are to be expected. He probably has one more shot to be productive.
Lance Jones, Nick Sinay
Jones and Sinay were both in short-season ball last year and both had some decent numbers. Sinay, in particular, is a gritty player that managers love. He grinds out at bats, walks a ton and has great speed. Jones had great numbers in Bluefield and solid ones in Vancouver and, at 24, could probably use a step up to Lansing.
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