By: Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
The Lansing Lugnuts look like they’re going to be an exciting team to watch in 2017 with the inclusion of some of the Blue Jays’ youngest prospects. The club looks like it could have a first half in which players are learning and growing, but it could ultimately become a powerhouse in the Midwest League by the end of the year.
Justin Maese headlines the pitching corps and he could be one of the fastest risers this year after the impressive performance that I saw from him in Dunedin this spring. Patrick Murphy, who was Vancouver’s best pitcher last year, Osman Gutierrez, who was dominant in Bluefield last year and Andy Ravel are also expected to start for the Lugnuts. I would also expect to see Mike Ellenbest (who, with Ravel, was drafted last year and pitched for the Canadians last year).
This rotation is somewhat similar to what I had predicted although T.J. Zeuch is heading to Dunedin and Kyle Weatherly, who is working on a number of his secondary pitches, likely needs more time to polish those in extended spring training.
In the bullpen will be veteran Lugnut (and Canadian) Andrew Case, but if he comes out strong out of the gate, he’ll probably move up. The Lugs will also see Griffin Glaude, returning lefties Daniel Leitz, Tayler Saucedo and Kirby Snead while Jackson McClelland, Philip Walby and Nick Hartman also join the ‘pen. Fans will be excited to see Zach Jackson‘s killer curve ball and he could emerge as the club’s closer.
I don’t see Jackson Lowery, Danny Young, Connor Eller or Travis Bergen on the list and they all could be either in extended spring training, injured or looking for work. Evan Smith was released and Grayson Huffman is also missing from the rosters.
Ryan Hissey is returning to the Lugnuts to lead the club behind the plate and there are a couple of interested players who will back him up. Michael De La Cruz, who backed up in Dunedin last year will come back to Lansing while Nash Knight, who dominated with the bat in Bluefield before cooling off in Vancouver, gets his Lansing assignment as his first as a catcher.
I thought Javier Hernandez and Ridge Smith would join the Lugnuts but Hernandez appeared to be injured and Smith is probably in extended spring training. I also thought that Matt Morgan might be included as a way of pushing him but he didn’t play much in Spring Training and wasn’t included on a roster.
The Blue Jays have a great group of young infielders as can be seen by the rosters that I’ve already written about. Lansing will be no different with several potential breakout players. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is, of course, the headliner here, but as I predicted, Bo Bichette will also make his full-season debut with the ‘Nuts. The duo that I predicted of Christian Williams and Bradley Jones will both be on the roster while Yeltsin Gudino will also join the club on the infield.
There are only five infielders listed which means that we’ll probably see Nash Knight play infield a bit and there could be another player named to the roster before the season opens. If Bichette and Gudino are going to share time at shortstop, I’m wondering if one of them moves to seconed base to play there.
I had J.C. Cardenas as a backup but he’ll be in Dunedin with Cavan Biggio, who I thought would play second base.
The outfield will consist of J.B. Woodman, likely playing centre field with Nick Sinay and Edward Olivares in the corners and Jake Thomas backing up.
With just four outfielders named, I there are a couple of names missing. I thought Josh Almonte would be on the Dunedin roster but he could be injured and Joshua Palacios is also likely being held back from an Opening Day roster due to an injury. Lane Thomas opens in Dunedin and Rodrigo Orozco will probably be in extended spring training.