I find it a little easier to predict the hitters for a club than the pitchers, mainly because I put together my own depth charts for position players and compile it throughout the winter. So who are your 2016 Lansing Lugnuts going to be at the start of the season?
Michael De La Cruz
What? Four catchers? The Blue Jays have a lot of catchers at the A-ball level and having four on this list means that I think any of these four could reasonably end up starting the season in Lansing. De La Cruz is probably going to be a backup wherever he goes while Juan Kelly can also play first base but impressed in a short stint in Lansing last year.
The real question is going to be where Danny Jansen starts the season. Missing a lot of time due to injuries last year, Jansen could certainly be assigned back there to start, especially since I don’t think there’s going to be much time behind the plate available in Dunedin. The Blue Jays signed several catchers for the upper levels in the offseason which will push people down the depth chart. That said, there are some really nice reports from Jansen’s play this spring and a Dunedin assignment might not be out of the question. Ryan Hissey is likely going to play for Lansing, earning a promotion as well as the R. Howard Webster award for Vancouver last year.
Without any players in a similar mold to Rowdy Tellez, Ryan McBroom or L.B. Dantzler, I think that first base in Lansing is going to be manned by players who will also be able to play elsewhere. Panas is getting good reviews in spring training and played five games at first base in Vancouver last year (in a very good offensive year) while also playing in the outfield. Williams plays third as well as, in my opinion is the likeliest of the 2015 rookie-ball corner infielders to make the jump.
Thomas had a rough 2015 thanks to injuries and the challenges involved in learning a new position. He’ll be getting most of the reps but there a couple of wild cards who might be there to back up or nibble away at Thomas’s playing time. Metzler is an excellent defender who has spent two years in short-season ball after coming out of college. Barreto has now spent four years in short-season ball (two in the Dominican Summer League) and has done nothing short of hit well in each of them. It’s time for Barreto to hit Lansing.
I think Wise, last year’s fourth-round pick, has the inside track to play third base every day with the Lugnuts but Heidt (who was with the Lugnuts last year) could see a return engagement.
While Cardenas was the Vancouver Canadians’ everyday shortstop in 2015, his offensive numbers suggested that he might have been a bit overmatched at the plate. The Blue Jays also signed Cuban Javier Monzon, a 23-year-old who probably projects to get going in extended spring training or in Lansing to start the year. I’m interested in what both of these players can do with Cardenas having been the Jays’ 2015 sixth-rounder and Monzon being a complete mystery at this point.
I think any or all of these three could be with the Lugnuts. Davis and Maldonado both played there last year and Attaway has been in Bluefield for two years now after coming out of college.
Earl Burl III
I think the first four players on this list are going to be starting the season in Lansing for sure. Almonte finished the season strongly after struggling in the first half and, if he shows that that’s a new norm for him, could start in Dunedin. But the Blue Jays have brought in a number of outfielders at the top of the organization, meaning that a lot of players will be starting the year down a level from where they might be expected to. I think Burl and Guillotte move up along with Panas who could play the outfield as well as first base.
For the next group of players, I think that the Jays would only promote Orozco to Lansing if he’s going to get playing time. Lynch has been a backup for most of his two years in the Jays organization and I don’t think that’s going to change in 2016. McKnight is the wild card here. He had a solid season in his first as a pro last year and is 22 but he could spend another year in short-season ball with Vancouver.
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