On the hitting side of things, the Bluefield Blue Jays had a little more balance, between younger drafted players, international free agents and college-age players. While it didn’t translate into success on the field for the club as a whole, there were some players who took a step forward to demand that we pay a little more attention to them.
Starting behind the plate, we see 2014 fourth-round draftee Matt Morgan, a 6-foot-1, right-handed hitting catcher. The 19-year-old followed up an absolutely miserable first professional season in 2014 with big improvements in 2015 despite playing at a higher level. Morgan hit only .185/.258/.303 but, in almost the same number of plate appearances in 2014, Morgan hit just .092. Morgan started to show some power this year, hitting eight doubles and two home runs in just 22 hits, showing a very respectable .118 ISO. Morgan still strikes out far too much (39.4%) and his BABIP was around league average meaning that his strikeouts are probably what’s keeping his batting average from rising into a much more respectable range. Defensively, Morgan showed vast improvement over his first season. While his passed balls were up from 15 to 21 this year, he threw out 36% of runners trying to steal, doubling his 2014 rate of 18%. I can see Morgan repeating in Bluefield and dominating in 2016.
21-year-old college draftee Christian Williams split time at first and third base hitting .220/.285/.318 with 11 doubles, two triples and two home runs. Williams walked 8.5% of the time while striking out 23.8%, both in the solid range. The 16th rounder is still fairly young (playing the whole season at the age of 20) and could be in Vancouver next year.
Splitting time with Williams at first base was Gabe Clark, another 20-year-old college player drafted out of Oregon State in the 26th round. Clark also struggled to make contact, hitting .219/.318/.414 but, as that slash line suggests, has been able to tap into his power better as a .195 ISO with seven doubles and six home runs. His 32.4% strikeout rate is worrisome while his 12.2% walk rate is encouraging. Clark is another Vancouver candidate for 2016.
20-year-old Venezuelan Deiferson Barreto is a player who we’ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of years now. Barreto’s stat line has remained fairly consistent since he was a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League. He’ll hit around .300, take a few walks (but not enough) and not strikeout very much at all. In his first two years in the US, he’s shown a little more gap and occasional power while playing second and third base. 2015 was no different as Barreto hit .302/.347/.402, improving his walk rate to a still-low 5.3% while his strikeout rate “ballooned” to just 12.1%. He hit eight doubles, a triple and three home runs but made 6 errors in 33 games at second base with another six in 17 games at third. Barreto could very well be tabbed to play the infield in Lansing next year but will likely have to fight Lane Thomas for playing time at second.
We’ll talk about Mattingly Romanin here because the two players with the most games at the hot corner have already been discussed. Romanin was drafted in the 39th round of the 2015 draft and played second and third base with the Bluefield Jays. Romanin hit .161/.316/.194 with just two extra-base hits (a double and a triple). He was able to take a walk (14.5% walk rate) but needs to cut down on his strikeouts to make more contact (29.1% strikeout rate). Romanin could be headed to Vancouver next year as the Blue Jays like to stack that roster with Canadians.
The Blue Jays have been pushing one of their top international free agents of 2013, Yeltsin Gudino. Gudino is still just 18 and, despite a .185/.251/.265 slash line in 2015, has shown a lot of improvement. Gudino was criticized in 2014 as not being strong enough to drive the ball against harder-throwing pitchers in the GCL but it appears that he’s making better contact in 2015, thanks to 12 doubles, a triple and his first professional home run. Gudino isn’t selling out for more power, seeing his strikeout rate drop to 15.5% while his walk rate dropped a little to 7.3%. Defensively, Gudino played exclusively at shortstop, making 21 errors in 56 games which is acceptable for an 18-year-old in his second professional year. While the Jays have been pushing him, this offseason will be big for Yeltsin. If he makes a lot of strides in the instructional league and in spring training, he could be sent to Lansing to fill the spot to be vacated by Richard Urena. Otherwise, I wouldn’t rule out a stop in Vancouver, particularly due to his young age.
In his second time getting drafted, D.J. McKnight signed on the dotted line with the Blue Jays after a 12th round selection out of Tallahassee Community College. McKnight was one of the more consistent Bluefield Blue Jays, playing mostly left field and hitting .253/.367/.354 with seven doubles and three home runs. McKnight walked a lot (12.2%) while striking out about twice as much (24.9%) and should be in Vancouver next year at the age of 22.
2015 Webster Award winner and Player of the Year Rodrigo Orozco is a 20-year-old Panamanian who signed as an international free agent. Orozco was a star in the DSL last year before jumping all the way to Bluefield and continuing to hit, slashing .300/.368/.435 before a three-game trip to Vancouver (where he hit two doubles and a single in nine at bats while walking four times). Orozco has a bit of pop, hitting 16 doubles, a triple and four home runs for the Blue Jays while walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 13.8%. Orozco is an intriguing young player who I’m looking forward to getting a look at in 2016 probably in Lansing.
Freddy Rodriguez, another international free agent, from the same class as Yeltsin Gudino, made his Appalachian League debut at the age of 18. Rodriguez’s numbers held fairly stable from year to year, even considering his promotion from the GCL to the Appy League. Rodriguez hit .232/.298/.323 with a 7.7% walk rate and 22.0% strikeout rate, both fairly steady from last year (including a 1.3% strikeout rate drop). Rodriguez is hitting with a bit of power, hitting four doubles, a triple and three home runs but he’s still not doing what one might hope from a corner outfielder. Rodriguez, like Gudino, could got to Vancouver next year and still be young for the level or, if the Jays are really pushing, he could go to Lansing.
22nd-round pick in 2015, Nick Sinay came out of Buffalo, New York and played in 33 games for the Bluefield club, hitting .227/.382/.307. The most impressive number there is the 13.4% walk rate in 112 plate appearances but he had only five extra-base hits (four doubles and a home run) in 20 hits. He might have a pretty good arm, throwing out four runners in just 29 games.
Infielder Aaron Attaway came to the plate 102 times in 2015 with Bluefield, also getting into five games with the Dunedin Blue Jays. The stats weren’t great overall with a .216/.297/.307 line, Attaway is a flexible infielder, capable of playing short, second and third and will probably be a utility infielder in Vancouver next year as a 24 year old.
Catcher Andres Sotillo, a 21-year-old Venezuelan, has been a backup in rookie ball for several years now. This year, he had one of his best with the bat, hitting .250/.375/.403 with a double, two triples and two home runs in just 89 plate appearances, walking nine times and striking out 16 times.
Oft-injured Jacob Anderson made his return in 2015 after playing in just three games since 2012. Anderson got into just 19 games and hit .159/.206/.190 with just one walk and 23 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances but anything has to be seen as a small victory. Next year, Anderson is going to need to produce, particularly now that he’s 22.
Dave Pepe was another backup outfielder, playing in just 23 games and coming to the plate 55 times. He hit .222/.321/.244 and was able to get walks without striking out much. Dean Bell (son of George), hit .163/.213/.233 at his highest level yet, playing in 17 games. After seven games, hitting .200/.231/.280, infielder Edwin Fuentes was released by the Blue Jays back in July. Another backup catcher, Brett Wellman had just 22 plate appearances all year, 18 of them in Bluefield, and hit .222/.364/.222.
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