Minor League baseball is a difficult way to make a living. You’re away from home for six months at a time, long, uncomfortable trips are frequent and there’s a fierce competition for jobs even among a player’s own team.
The Blue Jays released 15 minor leaguers in the past few days and we’re going to give them their due because, let’s face it, it’s a cold world for minor league baseball players, particularly those who haven’t performed in the last year or two. In professional baseball, it’s mostly about “what have you done for me lately,” and players (particularly non-drafted free agents and low draft picks) have little leverage with which to hold on if their numbers go south. Thanks go out to Ryan Mueller whose piece at Jays Journal reminded me to check the transaction wire for myself.
Unfortunately, most of what I’m going to write might be a bit repetitive if you’ve read Ryan’s post but with news like this, that can’t be helped. I’ll try to give you a bit more of what I’ve seen and gathered about some of the players who have been released to maybe colour things in a bit.
DSL Blue Jays
Wilmin Lara – I’m not surprised that Lara was cut loose, despite his best statistical season in 2015. He hasn’t been getting much action and the fact that he had two years to recover from whatever injury that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season and hasn’t really been able to do more than put up solid numbers at the lowest level of affiliated ball at the Age of 21 is not very encouraging. My gut is that there are some character issues here. Lara was placed on the restricted list on August 3, likely because of an internal suspension. Players at this level don’t get a lot of rope, particularly if they didn’t sign for very much money and if they haven’t been able to make it to the US.
Jose Acosta – an 18-year-old Venezuelan, Acosta only pitched the one year with the Blue Jays with a 5.56 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, walking more than he struck out. While it’s rare for players in their first year of professional ball to get released, it does happen and could be a sign that new president Mark Shapiro has asked the club to get a little more aggressive in letting players go.
Guillermo de La Cruz – De La Cruz, also 18, pitched in two seasons for the Blue Jays, improving in 2015 with a 1.29 WHIP and 3.51 ERA. There’s really nothing statistical that would say that he was having trouble on the field so either his tools weren’t calling out to be kept or there were off the field issues.
Jean Almanzar – Now 20, Almanzar has had only 75 plate appearances over three seasons with the DSL Blue Jays and things are getting awfully crowded on the infield. It’s likely that he wasn’t expected to jump to Florida and, after three years, was considered to have peaked.
Bluefield Blue Jays
Joe Claver – I thought Joe Claver, now 24, was starting to turn the corner after a poor first season in the pros in 2014. He had a solid 3.18 ERA with Bluefield and Vancouver and, at 24, was old for the levels he was at but we’ve seen older in the past few years. Claver did particularly struggle with his control in Vancouver, walking eight batters in six innings.
John Kravetz – Another player who was released after his first season, Kravetz was excellent in the GCL but was hit hard in Bluefield. Still, the sample sizes (just 10 innings in GCL and 14 innings in Bluefield) were rather small leading me to really wonder about his release.
Dean Bell – You can’t say that Bell didn’t get a fair shake with the Blue Jays system. The son of ex-Jays great George Bell, Dean played for three seasons, playing his best in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .245/.293/.306 in 2013. In fewer and fewer chances at higher levels, he didn’t crack the .200 mark with his batting average.
Kevin Garcia – A 23-year-old catcher, Garcia has never been a starter in his two years of pro ball and, after having 98 at bats in 2014, had 110 in 2015 with Vancouver. While Garcia held his own at the plate (.255/.346/.300), he is way down the depth charts in a system that should have a few catchers moving up to (or beyond) Vancouver and Lansing next year.
Michael Kraft – Kraft, 24, is another two-year vet, getting selected in the 37th round in 2014. He had a strong season in Vancouver in 2014 but couldn’t follow it up as well this year, walking 32 batters in 36 2/3 innings in Vancouver this year.
Bob Wheatley – I had higher hopes for Wheatley, a 26th round pick from 2014 out of USC. I had thought that, coming out of a solid NCAA DI program Wheatley would be able to step into the lower levels of the minors and pitch better than he did. His 4.99 ERA this season wasn’t bad but he walked 17 batters and gave up five home runs in 30 2/3 innings.
Sean Hurley – Hurley, 23, was the biggest surprise of the bunch. Hurley had a breakout season in 2015, leading the Vancouver Canadians in home runs with nine and hitting .253/.363/.441. A 24th-round pick in 2013, Hurley had three seasons to prove himself, and to me, he seemed to. This is a case where the inside information that the clubs have about a player, whether they think he can (or can’t) perform at a higher level or whether there are off-field issues probably factored in to a decision.
Dunedin Blue Jays
Arik Sikula – A popular player, especially among fans, Sikula, 26, struggled after coming back from injury with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but finished strong with the Dunedin Blue Jays. A strike thrower, Sikula was a 36th round pick in 2011 and could very well get another shot with another club (I wonder if the Dodgers are still looking for ex-Jays minor leaguers).
Griffin Murphy – On the one hand, I could see the writing on the wall, and on the other, I’m always wondering why Murphy hasn’t been able to put it all together. I’ve seen the 24-year-old lefty throw 93 mph with his fastball and pepper the strike zone with three pitches, confounding hitters in Lansing. He never recreated the success that he had in 2014 with the Lugnuts at the Advanced-A level with Dunedin, though and Murphy only pitched in nine games this year. Murphy has struggled with his weight in the past and it may be that his troubles with the scale have kept this 2010 second rounder from being his best on the field.
Boomer Collins – One the most popular players on any team he’s with, Boomer Collins has always excelled in the clubhouse. While he was solid in Lansing this year, Collins struggled to the tune of a .236/.269/.341 line for the Dunedin Blue Jays. At the age of 26 and as a non-drafted free agent in 2013, Collins was likely released to clear out some space for guys like David Harris, D.J. Davis and Chris Carlson coming up next year.
Christian Vazquez – Vazquez, 26, is a typical light-hitting infielder. While good with the glove, the 2013 19th rounder has never really hit at any level despite posting a career-bast .243/.296/.336 line with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2015. While he may have reached his peak under hitting coach Kenny Graham, Vazquez is getting too old to be an A-ball player.
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