Projecting your 2017 Dunedin Blue Jays

Dunedin Blue Jays 2017 Projected Pitchers
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away

We’re following up on our projected roster for the Lansing Lugnuts by moving up the ladder to Dunedin. I think the Dunedin roster gets a little easier to project than Lansing but there are always surprises as the Blue Jays make their own evaluations.
On the pitching side, Dunedin will have some big name starters leading the way but the predictions do get a little dicey. When looking at Dunedin, we have we have to consider who isn’t getting promoted even though they may merit moving up because of a trickle-down effect. Players from big league camp will get sent to Buffalo, pitchers who might be ready for Buffalo might get sent to New Hampshire, and those pitchers who have already spent most of a year (or more) in Dunedin and could be ready for Double-A get stuck in Dunedin. Here’s our prediction of who might be on the mound for Dunedin to start the year.

Starting Pitchers
Jon Harris was absolutely dominant coming out of the gate with the Lansing Lugnuts last year and continued to pitch very well in eight starts with the Dunedin Blue Jays. The Jays’ 2015 first-round draft pick, Harris will start his Age-23 season with New Hampshire and will get a little more seasoning before hitting Double-A at some point.

Angel Perdomo has little left to prove in Lansing after leading the Midwest League in strikeouts last year. Still, I think the Jays will be a little more cautious with him as he gains consistency in Dunedin at the age of 23.

Like Harris, Francisco Rios started in Lansing but was promoted after just six starts, getting 19 outings in Dunedin. His innings were controlled a bit at the end of the year due to his rising innings total (he threw 120 2/3 last year, almost double the year before) but his strikeout rate dropped precipitously in Dunedin. Rios is getting great reports and pitched in the MLB Futures Game last year but he’s a little younger than some of the other pitchers who I think will be in Dunedin and Rios probably gets at least a couple of months there.

Jordan Romano spent the year in Lansing where he was outstanding returning from Tommy John surgery. He maintained almost a strikeout-per-inning ratio while walking 3.3 per nine after missing a year. Romano will be 24 in April and will be tested in Dunedin.

On the Bubble
Justin Shafer, Josh DeGraaf
These two guys, Shafer and DeGraaf are on the bubble mainly because they may or may not be in the rotation. Shafer has not been great in Dunedin in parts of two years, but has a heavy sinker and a solid slider. Josh DeGraaf is a guy with some helium. I’ve heard good things about how much the minor league staff like him and he moved into the Lansing rotation last year. Either could be a swingman for the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Potential Surprise
Justin Maese could start here after some strong outings in Lansing last year.

Tom Robson has struggled since returning from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago with some extra velocity. I’ve seem him touch 97 mph but he hasn’t really been able to control his pitches as much, leading him to be used out of the bullpen. Robson is in his Age-24 year.
Chris Rowley returned to the Blue Jays last year after two years in the army. He was very solid jumping to Dunedin (after pitching in the GCL in 2013) but I don’t think there’s going to be room for him in New Hampshire to start the year. Because of his military service, Rowley is 26.

Carlos Ramirez is also a little older (he’ll be 26 in April) but has fewer miles on his arm as he only started pitching full time in 2014 after coming up to Lansing through the Jays’ system as an outfielder. Ramirez had some solid stats for Dunedin last year but I think he’ll get a little more time for seasoning but he could go to New Hampshire, I just think the NH roster is getting a little crowded (by my estimation).

Starlyn Suriel came out of nowhere in 2014 but hasn’t been able to get into more than one game in Double-A since. Suriel, 23, had a very low strikeout rate in Dunedin and will probably repeat the level.

Andrew Case was the closer for the Lansing Lugnuts and went to Australia to pitch down there this winter. While he missed half of 2016 with a suspension, Case is 24 and needs to be tested at the Advanced-A level this year.

Geno Encina is one pitcher who I think will be skipped up a level. Last year, he made 10 appearances in Vancouver, two more in Lansing and one in Dunedin. Still, his command in Vancouver (four walks in 26 2/3 innings) was so good that I think that a strike thrower like him will jump a level. Call it a hunch.

A 22-year-old lefty, Daniel Lietz started the year atrociously in Lansing and was sent to Vancouver where he found himself and returned to Lansing where he was much improved after returning. I think Lietz moves up to Dunedin in 2017.

On the Bubble
I saw Kirby Snead last year in Lansing and he’s a side-arming lefty who could move quickly. He’s got a high-80s fastball with a ton of movement and a solid slider and reminds me a lot of Chad Girodo. Obviously, he could return to Lansing but I think he’s going to start in Dunedin.

Kender Villegas, Philip Walby
Villegas was signed this offseason and he could return to the Florida State League after spending all of last year with the Brevard County Manatees (the Brewers’ FSL club). He could also move up to New Hampshire. Walby was also signed in the offseason and has struggled at the Advanced-A level for some years before putting up some decent numbers for Tampa last year. He has walked a lot of hitters historically and could pitch in Lansing.

Potential Surprises
With a lot of people talking about Zach Jackson, he could move up quickly.

Tayler Saucedo could also move up to Dunedin last year after a full year in Lansing, particularly if he has a good spring.

Jonathon Wandling missed all of last year with an injury but I think he could move up to Dunedin if healthy and he pitches will in the spring.

* * *

Dunedin hitters are next on my annual series that tries to prognosticate the opening day rosters of the Jays’ minor league affiliates.

Many of these players saw time in Dunedin last year, either as a taste of a higher level at some point in the year, or were around for the full year. Some other players have proven themselves at Dunedin but, by my estimation, there just isn’t enough room for them up a level in Double-A New Hampshire. Still others need to show a little bit more before they move up.

One position that is really confounding me this year is the catching position. In addition to adding Reese McGuire last August, the Blue Jays have signed or claimed no fewer than four other catchers to play at the higher levels of the system. While they released A.J. Jimenez and and lost Jorge Saez in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, the players whom they added make things very sticky for players coming up through the system to find playing time. Which catchers make the rosters of the full-season minor league squads will really depend on how the battles for the spots at the top of the organization shake out.

Another interesting position is at shortstop. The Blue Jays have a big question mark with the signing of Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. and have said that they’re going to play him at shortstop and I’ve also read other writers say that they’ve heard that the Blue Jays will start him in New Hampshire. The other key piece of information to creating this puzzle is where the Blue Jays put Richard Urena. Urena plays everyday at shortstop wherever he goes, meaning that Gurriel can’t start on the same team. If you keep reading the subsequent articles, you’ll see where I think Urena ends up and that piece of the puzzle is vital to deciding where Gurriel goes.

I think the everyday catcher for the Dunedin Blue Jays will be Danny Jansen. Jansen is coming into his Age-22 season and has struggled to hit over the past couple of years since his breakout in Bluefield in 2014. Still, Jansen has had a big dose of the injury bug so he needs to stay healthy and get a full season under his belt to really show what he can do.

I actually really liked what I saw from Justin Atkinson at the plate last year in Lansing despite his poor numbers. The 23-year-old Canadian catcher is entering his third full year behind the plate and is making good progress. Despite the sub-.200 batting average last year, I saw Atkinson making very solid contact and he showed more power than he had before. Despite this being Atkinson’s seventh year in the Jays’ system, he has never played above the Class-A level and I think this year he gets a shot. He also adds versatility, having been an infielder before moving behind the plate.

Ryan Hissey was the Blue Jays’ Webster Award winner for the Vancouver Canadians in his draft year of 2015. 23 in April, Hissey put up some solid numbers in Lansing last year and could be moved up to Dunedin. There’s also a chance that he returns to Lansing if things get too clogged up in Dunedin.

1B Juan Kelly

1B Juan Kelly

First Base
This is where things are a little clearer in my mind. Juan Kelly, 22, was one of the most consistent Lansing Lugnuts with the bat and has some defensive flexibility, being able to play both first and third.

Second Base
John La Prise had a solid season in Lansing last year in his first full professional season. La Prise, 23, got a taste of Dunedin last year and is a very good defender at second base. I’d like to see a little more power production this year though.

Third Base
Carl Wise has struggled in two seasons since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. A power-hitting third baseman (and catcher) in college, Wise only hit .240/.291/.329 last year in Lansing but has been beset by injuries.

Mitch Nay was one of the Jays’ top power-hitting prospects until a couple of years ago when he struggled in Dunedin, hitting just five home runs in 109 games with the Blue Jays, after he hit six home runs in 64 games in Bluefield in his first pro year in 2013. Nay missed almost all of 2016 with a knee injury and he needs a good 2017 to restore the shine on his star.

Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
As I explained above, I think Richard Urena starts in New Hampshire. That means that, if the Blue Jays want their Cuban import to play shortstop, he’s either in Buffalo or Dunedin. Without any pro experience beyond the Cuban League, I think he’s in Dunedin to start to see how he reacts to this level. He could be gone in a month if he proves he’s beyond it.

Gunnar Heidt played some shortstop last year and is a versatile infielder. A former college teammate of Wise’s, Heidt finally showed some offensive consistency at the Advanced-A level in his Age-23 season last year.

Utility Infield
Aaron Attaway Ryan Metzler
Versatility is key for both of these players. Attaway saw time in Dunedin last year, playing second for Dunedin but second, third and short for Lansing. Metzler had more time in Lansing but struggled with the bat for both clubs (.164/.260/.246 combined).

Josh Almonte, 23, got his first shot in Dunedin last year but didn’t make the most of it, hitting .162/.210/.216 in 39 games there. He’ll likely play right field, a great place to show off his plus-plus arm in Dunedin and try to find his groove at the plate.

The shine has certainly come off of D.J. Davis’s prospect status but, despite being in the Jays’ system for five years already, he’s just 22 years old. After repeating the level in Lansing with far better results in 2015, it was time for Davis to move up to Dunedin where he struggled again. With so many tools, he gets another shot and the Blue Jays are hoping that he returns to the form he found two years ago.

Connor Panas, a Toronto boy, emerged from a reserve roll in his first full season last year to blast his way to the top of the Lansing Lugnuts’ home run chart. Built like a linebacker, he went on to play every day for the back half of the season and could very well play regularly in Dunedin.

Andrew Guillotte was one of Lansing’s more consistent hitters and spent the full year there, mostly at the top of the order, using his good eye and ability to grind out at bats to get on base and use his speed. He also showed some solid gap power and will likely be a fourth outfielder who can rack up a lot of at bats spelling regulars at all three positions.

On the Bubble
Mike Reeves, a catcher, has shown an increase in power towards the end of the season last year and into his time in the Australian Baseball League over the winter. The Peterborough-born 26-year-old is probably ready to serve a backup role in Double-A but there a lot of catchers ahead of him on the depth chart.

Michael De La Cruz is younger than Reeves but, after a solid season in Dunedin, mostly as a backup catcher, “De La” could be in a similar role in Double-A. I think Cruz is more likely to stay in Dunedin than Reeves, who has three years of age on him.
David Harris has experience both at third base and the outfield but a suspension last year cut into his playing time and he didn’t seem to get into a groove after dominating the Australian league in the winter of 2015/16. He’s 25 but will be pressed to find playing time.

J.C. Cardenas could return to Lansing or head up to Dunedin, depending on where his glove is needed most.

Jake Thomas impressed me in spring training last year with the quality of contact he was making and was a solid outfield backup for the Lugnuts in 2016. I think he could be back in Lansing to back up but wouldn’t be surprised he was in Dunedin.

Potential Surprises
Max Pentecost, I think is going to be in Double-A but the potential logjam of catchers means that he might return to Dunedin, playing defensively this year.

Lane Thomas has struggled with the bat in Lansing, but with a good showing in spring training, he could very well make the jump to Dunedin to start the year.