Archive for the ‘Toronto Blue Jays’ category

Lose Weight, Vlad Jr.

August 18, 2019

Vlad Jr. came out of today’s game with left knee “discomfort.”  He’s listed at 6’2″ and 250 lbs at age 20.

Work out harder in the off-season, and eat better, or risk becoming the next Pablo Sandoval.  Pablo has had his moments, but when you have that kind of talent, you have to be thinking of the Hall of Fame.


Mr. Inconsistent

June 10, 2019

I just noticed that 33 year old Eric Sogard has a .799 OPS for the Toronto Blue Jays and has hit a career high five home runs so far in the still young 2019 season. He’s set his personal long-ball best in only 159 plate appearances.

I remember Sogard from when he was a glove-tree middle infielder and semi-regular for the A’s a few years ago.  He played in between 117 and 130 games three years in a row for the A’s, but the Oakland Coliseum is a tough place to hit, and two years with OPS totals below .600 and a knee injury in 2016 drummed him out of the major leagues.

He caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization in 2017 and a fast start at AAA Colorado Springs got him another shot in the Show.  He got off to an extremely hot start with the Brewers, as the team went from losing 89 the year before to winning 86 in 2017.

Sogard had a .900 OPS as late as July 23rd that season, but cooled off considerably in the second half and finished with a .770 OPS.  Along with Eric Thames, Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana, Sogard was one of the real offensive surprises and/or bright spots in the Brewers’ line-up that year.

Alas, in 2018 Sogard came crashing back down to earth.  In fact, he was absolutely horrible, slashing an awful .134/.241/.165 in 113 plate appearance, before the Brewers released him on July 10th.  The organization re-signed him, but when he didn’t play better in the minors, the Brewers released him again on September 1st.

At the time, I thought that Sogard’s 2018 was an extreme case of the law of averages coming back to take its revenge on Sogard’s fine 2017 season.  Also, Sogard was 32 in 2018, an age at which performance drops sharply for a lot of players, and I expected that we’d probably never see Sogard in the majors again.

Instead, the Blue Jays signed Sogard to a minor league contract, he got off to a reasonably good start at AAA Buffalo and got a call up on April 15th when the Jays decided that Lourdes Gurriel needed more minor league seasoning.

As in Milwaukee in 2017, Sogard got off to a hot start with the Jays and has been cooling off since the start of May.  Even so, he’s been a relative bright spot on a very bad 2019 Blue Jays team, which is mainly in the process of developing some young stars so that the team can be better in the not too distant future.

At some point soon enough one would expect that Lourdes Gurriel will go back to being the Jays’ every day 2Bman, and Sogard will move back into a bench role.  However, the Jays’ outfield has hit so poorly this season that right now Gurriel is playing in left field, and Sogard may remain at second so long as he can continue to provide more offense than the Jays’ outfielders.

San Francisco Giants Trade for CF Kevin Pillar

April 2, 2019

As I predicted, the Giants did finally pull the trigger on bringing in an established major league outfielder, although it took them five games into the regular season to do so.  The Giants obtained Kevin Pillar from the Blue Jays for a modest package consisting of 2B Alen Hanson, RHP Derek Law and RHP Juan De Paula.

Giants’ pitchers will be glad to see the team add Pillar, as his value rests mostly in his center field defense.  He will certainly get plenty of opportunities to make more highlight reel plays in McCovey Park’s Death Valley.

Pillar has some right-handed pop, which plays well at McCovey Park, with 111 extra base hits over the last two seasons, but his career .297 on-base percentage is terrible.  Playing in the NL West instead of the AL East, Pillar’s offense might be a bit better in 2019, but at age 30, it will probably be a wash.  Pillar is offensively an established commodity, and he’s good enough for the defense he provides, although he is at an age where his center field defense can reasonably be expected to be in decline.  Pillar has one more year of control before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.

The package the Giants gave up for Pillar is more quantity than quality.  Alen Hanson had been designated for assignment and was out of options, so he’s a piece that costs the Giants effectively nothing.  Derek Law might yet have seasons as an effective major league middle reliever, but he sure isn’t the prospect now that he was two years ago.  21 year old Juan De Paula is the only real prospect in the group, but he’s a long way from the majors and, listed at 6’3″ and 165 lbs, he doesn’t have a body type that holds up well under a professional pitching work load.

In short, the Blue Jays were looking to dump Pillar’s $5.8 million salary and were willing to take some warm bodies to do so.  This is a solid move for the Giants, since it does address their outfield shortfall and it doesn’t cost them much in terms of prospects.

Meanwhile, the Giants designated Michael Reed for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Pillar.  Reed will likely be claimed off waivers by another team, in spite of the fact that his 0-for-8 start to the 2019 season certainly isn’t impressive.

Toronto Blue Jays Want Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. to Push Himself Away from the Dinner Table

March 15, 2019

Obviously, the main reasons the Blue Jays just sent Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. down to minor league camp are because of a recent oblique strain plus the Jays wanting to ensure themselves another season of team control over one of MLB’s brightest prospects.  However, it’s also clear the Jays are legitimately concerned about young Vlad’s weight and whether he is committed to developing a major league body.

When the demotion was reported yesterday on, I clicked the link on young Vlad’s numbers, and the one number that stuck out to me most (other than his obviously being ready to start his major league career) is the fact that he’s listed as 250 lbs.  That is big indeed for a man then two days short of his 20th birthday.

Here’s how young Vlad looked when he showed up for Spring Training in mid-February.  Let’s not mince words — a player his age right at the moment of trying to break through to the majors shouldn’t be looking this fat (as least as far as young professional athletes go).  It’s also inescapable that when the oblique strain happened, the team must have drawn a connection to his appearance when he arrived for Spring Training.

Jays’ management has been making comments the last few weeks about young Vlad not being ready for the majors due to “the physical aspect” and how the team wants to “see a light bulb go off” and young Vlad “live his life with intent.”  Even if they haven’t openly complained about his work ethic, management obviously does think young Vlad needs to work harder on his conditioning and obviously weren’t happy about young Vlad arriving at camp a lard-butt.

The most obvious comparison to young Vlad in recent memory is Pablo Sandoval, another enormously talented young 3Bman, whose career was become a disappointment because Pablo could never push himself away from the dinner table for any length of time.  A player with young Vlad’s body at age 20 isn’t going to hold out long enough to become a Hall of Famer, even with all of young Vlad’s talent.

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.


Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Comments on the Rule 5 Draft

December 13, 2018

Early today, published a list of this year’s Rule 5 Draft Picks.  Here are my comments.

Not surprisingly, the young, high up-side, almost certainly not major league ready guys were selected first.  No. 1 selection Richie Martin is at least coming off a strong season (.807 OPS) at AA Midland and several of the other top five have played well in partial seasons at the AA level.

The most egregious pick in this regard is the Blue Jays’ selection of 18 year old Elvis Luciano, who has yet to pitch above the Rookie League level.  It remains to be seen if the Jays are willing to keep him on the major league roster for a wasted season, or if the team is instead angling to make a trade with the Royals for his rights.

6th selection Connor Joe is the first pick who really looks like the kind of player the Rule 5 draft was originally designed to benefit — a major league ready player who is stuck behind other players in his organization.  Joe slashed .299/.408/.527 in a 2018 season roughly split between AA Tulsa and AAA Oklahoma City.  Alas, he will be 26 in 2019, which means he isn’t much of a prospect any more, although he may be able to help the Reds over the next three or four seasons.

The SF Giants selected 25 year old lefty reliever Travis Bergen from the Blue Jays.  Bergen was electric (0.50 ERA) in 27 relief appearances at AA New Hampshire in 2018, but hadn’t pitched above the short-season A level before 2018 due to injuries.

The Giants also held onto the rights of Tyler Rogers for one more year before he becomes a minor league free agent.  I’ve written several times, most recently here, that Rogers really should be an ideal Rule 5 candidate, but no one in MLB agrees with me.