Through almost three weeks of Arizona Fall League baseball, here are the lines for Blue Jays prospects.
The Rafters continue their season today at Phoenix. First pitch is at 12:35 MST. Should you wish, you can follow the action live here.
Last season, Ricky Romero was a shell of his 2011 self. After his breakout 2011 season it seemed that despite his equivocal numbers in the minors, Romero, the number six overall pick in the 2005 draft (ahead of Troy Tulowitzki who propelled the Rockies to the 2007 World Series while Romero stagnated in Double-A with shoulder issues), had finally proven his worth.
Any time a starter can throw over 220 innings and record a sub-3.00 ERA in the American League East, he is worth keeping around. And that is exactly what the Jays front office did in the dog days of his 2011 breakout season: locked him in. In the middle of an August month in which Romero was 5-0 with a torrid 2.05 ERA and .91 WHIP, the Jays signed him to a five-year, $30-million deal with a lucrative club option. Who wouldn’t? It appeared that Romero would be the Jays’ ace for the next half-decade.
The first installment in Romero’s multi-year deal – 2012 – was, well, utterly terrible. I don’t want to belabor what has already received considerable analysis in various post-mortem and state-of-the-franchise pieces, so I will just give you the raw, hard numbers. Take a look at Romero’s 2012 season. For perspective, I included his 2011 numbers, too.
The Star said it best in in its early October season recap: “[Romero’s] ace status isn’t gone; [but] it is in question.” While Brandon Morrow will enter spring training as the Jays’ presumptive ace, 2011 did not erase what Romero was able to achieve in 2012. One thing’s for sure, though. In the minds of Jays fans, it certainly did cast doubt on Romero’s ability to replicate that performance in 2013 and beyond.
What should we make of Romero’s 2011 performance? Was it an anomalous showing from a top prospect that didn’t exactly pan out? A flash in the pan, if you will? Only posterity will know for sure, but Jays fans hope that it’s the 2012 version of Romero which will be remembered as the outlier.
This entry, which is certainly a digression from the central focus of this blog (although, after watching Romero last season, it’s not farfetched to imagine him with Buffalo in 2013 if he continues where he left off), will explore two questions.
First, I will look for the trends and habits that buried Romero in 2012. One diagnosis I will not accept for Romero’s implosion is the temperamental excuse: i.e. “Romero just needs to straighten his head out.” While baseball is a psychological sport and some soul-searching might benefit Romero, I am looking for data, not platitudes. Second, I will compare Romero’s pitch data from the last two seasons to see if there was a substantial loss in velocity or movement in 2012.
Between these two question, I will attempt to parse some sort of explanation for Romero’s lackluster performance last season.
I know baseball is not a sport which lends itself to simple but-for causation – in fact, my conclusion is decidedly inconclusive – but I will try to identify the main culprits. “It’s the process, not the end result,” I was told when a track season replete with 100-mile training weeks ended in a bust. I think some sort of rationale for Romero’s disappointment might provide some closure for the trainwreck that was 2012.
Looking at Romero’s 2012 numbers, the most glaring statistic is his walk rate. While Romero walked 3.2/9 in 2012, that figure rose to 5.2/9 last season. The principle of regression to the mean does not account for this dramatic increase in free passes. In 2010 Romero walked 3.5 per 9 innings; in 2009 4.0/9 innings.
To what do you attribute this dramatic uptick in walk percentage? This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s not reducible to Romero’s inability to find the strike zone. Romero actually threw pitches in the strike zone at a higher rate in 2012 (42.7%) than he did in 2011 (42.4%). What really troubled Romero, however, was his ability to get ahead in the count and throw strikes at the right time. This is evidenced by Romero’s career low first-strike rate. While Romero had first-strike rates of 58.1% and 57.9% in 2010 and 2011, respectively, in 2012 Romero sported a first-strike rate of 53.3%. The league average is 59.9%. Woof.
When the count sits in the hitter’s favor, Romero is forced to throw hittable pitches within the zone – lest increase an already unacceptable walk-rate. Romero’s career-high zone-contact percentage of 90.9% in 2012 – almost three percent greater than the league average – is consistent with this.
In 2011, when behind in the count, Romero threw his fourseamer only 64% of the time against lefties and 53% against righties. This relatively sparing use of his fastball allowed him to mix up his pitches, keeping batters off balance. In 2012, however, instead of mixing in his secondary pitches, when the batter was ahead Romero relied on his fourseamer a whopping 81% of the time against lefties and 68% against righties.
Let’s face it: Romero’s pitch selection was predictable when behind in the count, and he was behind in the count often. Couple that predictability with a slight downtick in the velocity of Romero’s fourseamer (92.72mph in 2011 v. 91.92mph 2012) and – as we’ll explore later, decreased life – and the more disciplined, pitch-selective batters were seeing volleyballs from Romero.
Hence, the second-most dramatic difference in Romero’s statistics between 2011 and 2012: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). BABIP measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits, or how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits, excluding homeruns. Romero’s 2011 BABIP (.242) was an impressive .49 lower than the league average (.291). In 2012, however, Romero’s .311 BABIP Romero was .18 over the league average. Generally speaking, BABIP is not a highly-regarded metric. It is thought to be a function of defense and luck, rather than replicable skill. On a long enough timeline, it is asserted that every pitcher’s BABIP should be more or less equal.
But such a marked variance between Romero’s 2011 and 2012 BABIPs, coupled with the dramatic increase in Romero’s line-drive percentage (14.2% in 2011 to 20.1% in 2012), is telling. It demonstrates that when hitters were putting the ball in play off Romero, they were doing so emphatically. By pitching into hitter-advantageous counts, Romero found himself in batters’ clutches. Consistent with our earlier assessment that Romero was over-utilizing his fourseamer in hitter’s counts, Romero’s BABIP for his fastball is most egregious. While in 2011 Romero’s fastball BABIP was .290, in 2012 it stood at .368. With one ball on the count, that figure rose to an incredible .384.
Romero’s difficulty in getting ahead in the count fundamentally altered his pitch usage in 2012. Rather than drawing from his four-pitch arsenal, Romero seemed to aim his most reliable pitch into the zone. This defensive-minded “must-throw-strikes” approach might explain why Romero rationed his sinker so much last season.
In 2011 Romero threw his sinker 22% of the time, often as a put-away pitch toward the back-end of the at bat. The sinker worked well for Romero in that breakthrough season. Netting a groundball in 67% of balls in play, Romero accrued a .185 BABIP when throwing the hard, biting 92mph pitch. In 2012, however, the pitch was used infrequently, accounting for just 11% of pitches thrown – his eminently hittable fourseamer compensating for the difference (up from 48% of pitches in 2011 to 57% in 2012). Romero’s groundball rate remained relatively stable in 2012 despite the decrease in sinkers (54.7% in 2011 to 53.5% in 2012), but those groundballs obviously went for hits more often. While, among the rest of Romero’s career, his high sinker usage in 2012 is certainly an outlier, give his demonstrated success with the pitch late in the count, perhaps it would behoove him to throw it more often 2013.
I am not about to reduce Romero’s 2012 struggles entirely to his inability to throw first-pitch strikes, but I think it was a culprit. The first pitch establishes the tenor of the at bat. In a lot of ways, it dictates whether the pitcher is the hunter or hunted. Romero has quality stuff, but he doesn’t boast an overpowering, dominant pitch that can he can rely on to miss bats down in the count. Instead, as he did well in 2011, it is imperative that Romero keep hitters off-balance and in a defensive mindset so that harmless contact can be induced. This is not achieved by consistently falling behind in counts. It is common knowledge that pitchers enjoy better results when they get ahead in the count. Romero is no exception.
To what do you attribute Romero’s early-count control issues? Is it a mechanical or psychological problem? It does not seem to be the former. A recent article at Baseball Prospectus compared Romero’s 2011 and 2012 deliveries and concluded that, in a lot of ways, last season’s mechanics were actually superior to the “exaggerated drop-and-dive” and “severe spine tilt” that characterized his delivery during his breakthrough 2011 campaign. The article concluded that because Romero’s 2012 delivery provided him with a stronger foundation for pitch repetition, it should have left him with better control and consistency. Not the case. Theory and practice do not always jibe.
So it must be psychological then, right? This would be my cue to embark on a pseudo-psychological diatribe about Romero’s lack of focus and his need to temper a volatile temperament, but I won’t. Maybe, after his exemplary 2011 showing and the addition of a second wild-card berth, the ace expectations were too much for Romero to shoulder in 2012. Perhaps Romero was simply in a funk. I have neither the data nor desire to psychoanalyze the man. Suffice it to say that if Romero wants to remain in the starting rotation in 2013, let alone lead it, he will need to throw more first pitch strikes.
But there’s more to the story. A tendency to fall into hitter-advantageous counts could lead to a parade of horribles for a pitcher, but does it explain career low swing and miss (8.3%) and K/9 (6.2/9) rates? In part, yes, it could. With regard to the strikeout rate, obviously it takes more work to earn the K from a count that stands at 1-0 than an 0-1 count. However, there does not seem to be an apparent causal link between low first-strike and swing-and-miss rates. The metric yearns for some other explanation: depreciation in Romero’s stuff.
Did Romero simply throw more effective pitches in 2011? Let’s take a gander
As the charts show, in terms of velocity, the differences are negligible. We see slight decreases in Romero’s fourseamer (-.80mph), and sinker (-.91mph), and a more substantial decrease in his changeup (-2.15mph). His curveball remained virtually the same speed (77.79mph to 77.67mph). So it does not appear that Romero suffered from an arm strength issue in 2012 of the sort that the Yankees’ Phil Hughes or Reds’ Arlodis Chapman endured in early 2011.
Regarding movement, while horizontal movement remained steady, Romero’s fourseamer lost about an inch in vertical movement last season. This might seem like a de minimis loss of “life” on a pitch over a distance of 52-55 feet, but it’s not. An inch of late movement could mean the difference between the batter hitting the pitch directly on the screws, or fouling it to the backstop. This flatness on Romero’s 2012 fastball could help to explain why hitters teed off on the pitch with such regularity (See .368 BABIP).
But, for the most part, there was not an egregious loss of vertical or horizontal movement in Romero’s pitches in 2012. The graphics below present a nice visual on the similarity in movement of Romero’s pitches in 2011 and 2012, replete with RHH and LHH splits.
If Romero’s 2012 ills had to reside in his stuff, the main suspect would have to be his changeup. Romero’s swing-and-miss and whiff/swing rates decreased markedly for his changeup in 2012. While in 2011 Romero possessed a whiff rate of 23.61% and a whiff/swing rate of 44.74%, in 2012 he recorded rates of 16.57% and 35.32%, respectively.
A good changeup is largely a function of its release point and the pitch’s velocity relative to the pitcher’s fastball. It is a pitch of deception. The longer it looks like a fastball to the hitter, the better. The substantial velocity decrease in the changeup (-2.15mph) should not be viewed in isolation as a cause for the pitch’s loss of effectiveness. It should instead be viewed in relation to Romero’s fastball, which lost about one mile per hour in velocity in 2012.
Typical FB-CU discrepancies in the MLB ranges from 4mph to 15mph, with a mean of around 8mph. Romero’s discrepancy, which was 7.02mph in 2011, actually increased in 2012 to 8.37mph. Thus the discrepancies for both years hovered right around the league average, making it impossible to impute hitters’ success off Romero’s changeup on this basis.
The release point of the pitch, however, is another story. Romero’s changeup was so effective in 2011 due in part to its release point, which virtually mirrored that of his fastball. The tight cluster of delivery points in the graphic below shows that in 2011 batters could not easily discern pitches based on their point of release from Romero’s hand. Instead they were required to gauge the spin and trajectory of the ball to determine the type of pitch. A consequence to this uniformity of release point meant that batters had less time to react to the pitch and decide whether to swing.
In 2012, however, the uniformity in Romero’s release point became disparate. As shown by the graphic below, Romero routinely delivered his different pitches from discrete release points. This allowed hitters to detect the pitch type upon release from Romero’s hand, giving them increased time to weigh the merits and demerits of swinging.
So, I have identified three main issues that hamstrung Romero in 2012. From these issues flow a variety of other problems that caused 2012 to be such a disappointment for the young lefty. First, he needs to throw more first-pitch strikes which, in turn, should remediate what was a career-worst BB/9 rate in 2012 and result in a lower BABIP. By getting ahead in the count, Romero would also be more apt to use his secondary pitches late in the count – namely his hard sinker – and avoid simply laying fastballs in the zone. Second, while his delivery mechanics appear sound, it is crucial that Romero work with pitching coach Bruce Walton to adjust the release point on his secondary pitches. The greater the uniformity and consistency in his release, the greater his deception, and ultimately, success. Third, Romero’s fastball lost some life in 2012 and could use some “giddy-up” to miss more bats. Hopefully he will toe the mound rejuvenated and ready to do work next spring. The Jays will need him to look like his 2011 iteration if they want to avoid a 20 year postseason drought.
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I am currently covering the Blue Jays’ delegates in the Arizona Fall League, as well as representatives in the Dominican and Mexican leagues.
Salt River: 3
Kevin Pillar (.375, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SB) (CF): 1-3, BB
Ian Kadish (3.86 ERA, 2.1 IP, 1 SO, 1 BB) (RP): 1 IP, 1 SO
The Rafters lost for the third straight night; this time against the Scottsdale Scorpions. The Scorpions were powered by top Giants prospect Joe Panik who went 3-for-3 with a walk, stolen base, and an RBI. Of the eight Jays representatives on the Rafter’s roster, only Kevin Pillar and Ian Kadish saw action – the former going 1-3 with a walk, the latter pitching a flawless top of the 6th inning, striking out one.
Pillar picked up where he left off Wednesday when he went 3-5 with 2 RBI. He showed great discipline at the plate, laying off pitches outside of the zone, and making solid contact on pitches in the zone. Leading off in the bottom of the bottom of the first inning, Pillar just missed his second homerun of the young season. After working the count full, Pillar found a pitch up in the zone from LHP Giants prospect Chris Gloor and rocketed it to left field. Unfortunately, the heavy desert evening air suppressed the sky-shot and Chris Dominguez camped under the ball at the warning track for a routine fly out. In his next at bat against Gloor, however, Pillar traded power for finesse, deftly poking a high-outside fastball into right field for a single.
While Pillar’s third at bat did not net him a base hit, it was arguably his best. After working the count full, Pillar fouled off four straight put-away pitches up-and-in. On the next pitch – the tenth of the at bat – Pillar hit the ball right on the screws and ripped it to the right side of the infield, directly at third basemen and Angels farmhand Kaleb Cowart.
In his final at bat, Pillar walked on four straight pitches from reliever Mark Montgomery. Without question, Pillar is seeing the ball very well right now.
After a rough 1/3 inning debut outing against Surprise on 10/13, Kadish has been very effective out of the pen for the Rafters. On Saturday Kadish commanded a 1-2-3 inning, shutting down the bottom of the Scottsdale order. He struck out the first batter Ricky Oropesa swinging, facilitated an Alex Monsalve flyout in foul territory, and induced Indians OF prospect Carlos Moncrief to ground out meekly to 1B.
The Rafters have Sunday off, and will resume play tomorrow against Mesa, when they will try to snap their three game skid.
While the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League have struggled as a team since my last writing (1-2), the contingent of Jays prospects have continued their strong representation of the Blue Jays organization. Because virtually all fans view the AFL as an expedient – a means for furthering the development of future Jays, and not an endgame – I will focus solely on the individual achievements of the prospects, and not the overall performance of the team, which has suffered serious offensive woes in its last two games.
Salt River: 12
Kevin Pillar (LF) 3-5, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 SB
Jake Marisnick (CF) 1-4, 1 RBI
Ian Kadish (RHP): 1.0 IP, 0 ER
Kevin Pillar, 23, had a phenomenal season with Single-A Lansing this year (.322, .390, .451) – a campaign which ultimately secured him Midwest League MVP honors. Pillar has seemingly carried the momentum from his MVP summer to his new southwestern assignment. The protracted season does not appear to have exacted fatigue or lethargy on the 2011 32nd Round draftee. In fact, Pillar has redoubled the intensity in his new role with the Rafters.
Pillar, who is only slated to play Wednesdays and Saturdays with the Rafters, is not getting the playing time he is accustomed to. While he was a veritable starter with Dundein and Lansing, he has been platooned thus far with the Rafters. Nevertheless, when he has been given the opportunity to suit up, Pillar has made the most of it. “I’m just making the best of the opportunities,” he said recently in an official Blue Jays press release. “I’m only playing two days, so I’m looking to play hard. Whatever role they put me in, I’m trying to adjust to it.”
And adjust he has. In only 13 at bats, Pillar is hitting .385 with one homerun, three RBIs, and three stolen bases. The versatile outfielder seems to always be in the thick of the action, securing eight total bases during his meager playing time. This propensity of Pillar’s was typified by his role in the Rafters’ dramatic comeback win against Peoria on Wednesday. The Rafters were down 7-0 in the fifth, but were able to outscore Peoria 12-2 in the final four frames to complete the comeback. Pillar was an integral part of the win. Not only did he garner three key hits, driving in two; but he stole home plate.
During a sixth inning during which the Rafters had already scored four runs, Pillar reached on a single to left field and found himself at third base after a line drive single to right by Tyler Bortinick. One perfectly executed double steal later, Pillar was the fifth run of a breakout inning.
According to Pillar, because left-handed pull-hitter Andy Wilkins was at the plate, and the infield was markedly shifted to the right, he was able to take a giant secondary lead. “When I saw the catcher throw down [to second base], I was able to walk in,” said Pillar. “It was just something I did on my own, I just got a good read. At that point we still needed runs, so I capitalized on it.”
Below are pitch-tracks of Pillar’s three singles from Wednesday. He should play today against Scottsdale.
Salt River: 1
Jake Marisnick (CF) 2-4, 2B, 1 SO
Deck McGuire (RHP) 1.0 IP, 0 ER
Sam Dyson (RHP) 1.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 SO, 1 SB
After permitting 12 runs in four innings the previous afternoon, Peoria pitching came back with a vengeance,with six pitchers collectively shutting down the Rafters. Of the Blue Jays delegates, CF Jake Marisick was the only position player to see action, and he made the most of it, hitting 2-4 with a double and a strikeout.
Marisnick’s first hit came in the bottom of the third. After an eight-pitch at bat which saw Jake foul off four tough pitches up in the zone, he fought off a front and center fourseamer, which ended up trickling back toward the pitcher, Robbie Erlin. The comebacker caught Erlin off-balance, and Marisnick was able to showcase his plus-speed for an infield basehit.
Marisnick’s second hit was a bit more emphatic. In the Botton of the 5th Marisnick saw two fastballs right down the middle from LHP Logan Darrell. After taking the first one for a strike to open the at bat, he ripped the second sharply down the left field foul line for a double.
Salt River: 0
Jake Marisnick 0-3, 3 SO
Ryan Goins 1-2, 1 BB
Sean Ochinko 0-3, 1 SO
Ryan Tepera 4.0 IP, 3H, 3 SO, 0 ER
The Rafters compiled 12 runs in four innings on Wednesday, yet managed only one in 19 innings through Thursday and Friday. While Marisnick and Ochinko were muted by the Scottsdale starter T.J. House who pitched 5 innings of no-hit baseball, Goins was able to muster a single and a walk in the later innings.
While House dominated the Rafters through five innings, he did not put forward the only stellar pitching performance. Jays RHP prospect Ryan Tepera went tic-for-tac with House, throwing up four scoreless innings of his own. Allowing only three hits and walking one, Tepera was able to improve his season ERA to a mediocre 5.68: a stat which once stood at 15.43 after a forgettable debut performance in which he permitted four runs in only 2.1 innings of relief work.
The Salt River Rafters play Scottsdale today at 5:35 MST. You can follow the gamecast here.
Last night the Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) game of interest to Blue Jays fans — the Salt River Rafters against the Phoenix Desert Dogs — concluded in extra frames as a 3-3 draw. I guess it would be counter to the spirit of the AFL for extra-inning games to continue indefinitely into the desert night, taxing the tendons and ligaments of young hurlers, but, for me, there is something unsettling about a baseball game ending in a tie. Regardless of my initial reaction, it is an exhibition game and the development of the athletes obviously comes first.
Here is a breakdown of how the Jays’ delegates performed. I know the pictorial presentation of every highlight might be a bit excessive, but since the games are not televised — and box scores are boring — I figured it could add some life to the recap.
Ryan Goins (SS) 1/5, 1 RBI, 1 SO
In the bottom of the 6th, Goins ripped a groundball through the right side of the infield, scoring Matt Davidson and moving Kent Matthes to third base. Unfortunately, in the next at-bat while leading off first base, Goins was unable to evade Sean Ochinko’s line-drive – resulting in the ball’s deflection to RF – so instead of advancing to second on his compatriot’s knock, he was called out.
Sean Ochinko (C) 2/5, 1 2B, 1 RBI
In the bottom of the second, Ochinko drove an up-and-in fastball the other way into left field, scoring teammate Kent Matthes from third.
In the bottom of the 6th, with runners on first and third, Ochinko found himself in a pitcher’s count. After fouling off some tough pitches up-and-in the zone, Ochinko found one over the plate and lasered the pitch the other way. Because the ball was hit so hard, Goins, at first, had little time to react and the ball actually hit him, deflecting into the outfield.
Both Goins and Ochinko had opportunities to win the game for the Salt River Rafters in the bottom of the 8th, when they faced Aaron Barrett with Kent Matthes at second base.
On a 2-2 count Barrett offered a four-seam fastball up in the zone, but Goins could not catch up to it, failing to even advance the go-ahead run to third.
Ochinko was able to work the count full, but on the pay-off pitch, could only muster a meek infield flyball, which was caught by the third basemen Yordy Cabrera.
Deck McGuire 1.0 IP, 3 H, 1BB, 1 ER, 1 SO
Deck entered the game in the top of the 4th inning, relieving starter Chase Anderson. While he was able to retire Hunter Morris on a groundout to 2B Carlos Sanchez, the next batter, Edward Salcedo, sliced a line drive into the right field alley, resulting in a triple. Salcedo would score on a single up the middle by the next batter, Christian Yelich.
Despite retiring the subsequent batter Yordy Cabrera on a lazy fly ball to CF, McGuire was not quite out of the soup. After Max Stassi singled to left, McGuire issued a base on balls to Kevin Kiermaier, and the bases were left loaded with two outs.
Things were looking pretty grim for McGuire, who before the appearance had not allowed a run, but after a brief meeting at the mound with the pitching coach, Deck was able to buckle down and strikeout Hak-Ju Lee.
While McGuire’s performance last night certainly was not seemless, it demonstrated the young righty’s fortitude in tough spots.
Sam Dyson 1.0 IP, 0 H, 2 SO
Dyson came on in the top of the 11th and delivered a brilliant performance in a game he probably did not expect to pitch in. In a pithy 1-2-3- inning, Dyson set down Chirs Yelich swinging, coaxed Yordy Cabrera to line out to CF Trayce Thompson, and caught Max Stassi looking at a low-inside sinker that just barely caught the zone.
The Salt River Rafters will face Peoria this afternoon. You can follow the gamecast here.
We are one week into the Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) season and the Salt River Rafters – composed, in part, of Blue Jays prospects –have compiled a 4-2 record, one game ahead of the Mesa Solar Sox for first place in the East division. The standout performer on the Rafters for the first week has to be top Rockies SP prospect Tyler Chatwood who, in two starts, has struck out 11, allowing only six hits and touted a K/BB ratio of almost 4-to-1. Chatwood currently leads the AFL in strikeouts.
Out of the Blue Jays’ delegates, 2010 first round draftee Deck McGuire is the leading performer. In two innings of relief, McGuire has allowed no hits, striking out three and walking one.
In his first appearance last Tuesday against Mesa, McGuire entered the game in the sixth in a high-leverage situation: two outs with runners at first and third. While Deck faltered initially – issuing a seven pitch walk of Cubs prospect Matt Szcuzur to load the bases – the hard-throwing righty ultimately escaped the jam, inducing a soft groundball to shortstop Carlos Sanchez, who went to second for the force out.
While the top of the sixth was a harmless yet somewhat tumultuous debut for McGuire, in the top of the seventh he rolled. Deck opened the inning with two strikeouts. He froze first-round Tigers draftee Nick Castellanos looking at a fastball right down the middle and overpowered AFL Player of the Week Jonathan Singleton on a similar pitch. To close the inning McGuire got ahead of pinch hitter Jonathan Schoop to a 2-1 count, and was able to encourage a lineout to Jays compatriot Jake Marisnick in center field.
In his second appearance last Friday against the Scottsdale Scorpions, Deck was called in the bottom of the eight to face righties Alex Monsalve and Gift Ngoepe. He induced a weak flyout to left by Monsalve and struck Ngoepe out on four pitches — the final strike catching the lower-inside corner.
On the whole, it was a promising first week for a vaunted yet enigmatic McGuire who showed great promise in 2011, but disappointed last season. Let’s hope he continues his fall success and carries any momentum forward into spring training.
Through six games, here are the lines on the rest of the Blue Jays’ seven delegates.
OF Kevin Pillar: 2/8, 1 RBI, 1 HR, 1 SO, 1SB,
OF Jake Marisnick: 4/15, 2 2B, 0 RBI, 6 SO,
SS Ryan Goins: 0/8, 1 SO, 1BB, 1R, 1 SO
C Sean Ochinko 1/7, 1 SO, 1 R
RHP Sam Dyson: 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 3 SO,
RHP Ryan Tepera 2.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 1 SO
RHP Deck McGuire: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0ER, 1BB, 1 SO
RHP Ian Kadish: .1 IP, 2H, 1 ER, 1 BB,
The Rafters face Phoenix today at 6:35 MST. While you cannot watch the game, you can follow the gamecast here.
The Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) commenced this week and the Salt River Rafters – composed of the Jays’ seven delegates and other top prospects from the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox – are off to an auspicious 2-0 start. That’s right. If watching the postseason has simply been a reminder of what the highly-lauded 2012 Jays were not, you can follow the organization’s lifeblood as they strut their stuff in spring training facilities along the Sunbelt.
Since I want to begin posting these entries with some regularity and – in accordance with Commissioner Selig’s no-news-during-playoffs edict – there have been minimal Blue Jays/Bisons developments, I figured I could profile one of the Blue Jays’ AFL delegates each day. I can’t guarantee I will post daily, but I am hoping to post an entry at least every other day.
I think there are two main audiences for this blog. First, there are Jays fans looking for the down-low on when their much-anticipated prospects could don the red, white and blue and contribute in the AL East. Second, there are Bisons fans that are more attuned to the here and now; i.e. whether the Las Vegas transplants can compete for an International League Championship.
I’m not saying that both of these demographics are mutually exclusive; there will obviously be some readers who don’t fit neatly within either category. You can obviously root for the Bisons’ immediate success while at the same time valuing the long-term development of the players. But by-and-large, readers of this blog are looking for gratification at varying times: some immediate, others delayed.
As such, I will cater these profiles to both audiences. Not only will I inquire into what each player has to offer today, but I will try to gauge their overall trajectory: when can we expect this player to be big-league ready, if at all? For each player, I will explore three questions.
Where have they been? This encompasses pedigree/draft information, as well as prior accomplishments.
What do they have? This includes skill-sets and tendencies, as well as current level of performance.
Where are they going? This is a nice way of asking if they will ever enjoy success in the majors.
This first entry will focus on RHP Sam Dyson who, regrettably, had a pretty rough first outing for the River Rafters. Yesterday Sam pitched 2 innings in relief, collecting two strikeouts, but surrendering 2 earned runs; the fatal blow coming off a 420 foot bomb to dead center by Astros 1B prospect Jonathan Singleton. We can hope for a better performance from Sam in the weeks to come.
Where has Sam Dyson been?
Dyson, a former South Carolina Gamecock, was drafted in the 4th Round by the Jays in 2010. The euphoria of winning a College World Series title probably subsided quickly for Sam in 2011, when he had to sit out the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. While he saw 2/3 of an inning of big-league action this season – surrendering three runs – Sam spent the majority of the season with Class A+ Dundein, where he posted decent numbers (2-0, 4.08, 1.40), and Double-A New Hampshire where he excelled (2-2, 2.38, 1.17). In fact, during his first 15 games working out of the New Hampshire bullpen, Sam compiled a stellar 0.75 ERA, the likely stimulus for his brief promotion to the majors.
What does Sam Dyson have?
This might come as a surprise given his dominance out of the pen for New Hampshire last season – the marking of an overpowering strikeout pitcher – but Sam is not a strikeout guy. At least not anymore. Instead, he’s a pure sinkerballer whose bread-and-butter is inducing groundball outs.
At South Carolina, Sam had a different approach to the game. He was the number two starter and sported a diverse repertoire, including a four-seam fastball that hovered around 94-95mph. Gone are those days. Dyson can still rear back and throw a low-90s fastball – usually in the 91-92mph range – but it is the sharp dive on his sinker that has allowed him to transcend within the organization in one season’s time.
During his minor league stint last season, Sam converted 350% more ground outs than flyouts. Keeping the ball on the ground is a redeeming attribute for any pitcher, but unfortunately Sam doesn’t miss many bats. Sam averaged only 5 K/9 with Dundein, 4.37 K/9 with New Hampshire and an overall strikeout rate of around 12%. That means, seven out of every eight batters will put the ball in play; not the sort of guy you want relieving with runners on base.
Nevertheless, Sam’s success last year speaks for itself. What he lacks in the inability to miss bats, he compensates in his ability to coax harmless groundballs in big spots. From a full-breadth starter to a dominant reliever, Sam has adapted to his circumstances and carved out a niche-role within the organization. There remains a glimmer of possibility that Sam regains the arm-strength he lost from the Tommy John procedure but, assuming he doesn’t, the complexion of his game has fundamentally changed. While his move from the rotation to the bullpen might have originated as a rehabilitative expedient – monitoring his innings and re-strengthening his arm – Sam will probably remain in the bullpen.
He probably won’t be getting the call in high-leverage situations with runners on base, but he throws strikes (1.57 BB/9 with Dundein, 2.98 BB/9 with New Hampshire) and can rack up scoreless relief innings.
Sam has a minimalist delivery, which ostensibly places a lot of stress on his arm.
Sam’s selection for the AFL might seem a bit peculiar. He is not a top prospect. His health is also a concern. If the basis for his move to the bullpen was to ration his innings, why convert his comeback season into a protracted 8 month relief marathon? He is fresh off of Tommy John surgery.
So, what gives? I think the Jays are taking a calculated risk with Sam. Recognizing his susceptibility for injury, scouts nonetheless need a larger sample size of performance to determine whether Sam can contribute to the Jays in 2013. The AFL will serve as a litmus test for Sam Dyson’s 2013 assignment. After just one successful season in the farm system, Dyson touts a resume that indicates major league potential. How he fares against beefed up AFL lineups will indicate whether that potential can be realized in 2013.
Where is Sam Dyson going?
If Sam Dyson stays healthy, he could become a fixture in the Blue Jays bullpen. His major league debut – consisting of two dismal outings last year – left much to be desired, but given the Jays solid infield defense (See Edwin Encarnacion .994 fld%; Kelly Johnson .983 fld%; Yunel Escobar 982 fld%), his propensity to generate groundball outs could be a major boon to a staff that surrendered an MLB-leading 204 homeruns this season.
Of course his performance in the AFL will play a substantial role in his initial assignment, but I project Sam beginning the season at AA-NH and concluding it with the Jays.