It’s that time of year that we begin our reports summarizing the season for the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates. We continue with the Blue Jays’ Rookie level team in the Appalachian League, the Bluefield Blue Jays.
The plucky Bluefield Blue Jays, under the usual tutelage of Dennis Holmberg had a strong season, just missing the playoffs with a 37-31. The Blue Jays scored the most runs in in the league, averaging 5.51 runs per game with a lineup that averaged 0.4 years above the league. The pitching was right around league average (0.01 runs per game better than average, actually) and was fifth in the league by giving up 4.84 runs per game with a pitching staff that was 0.4 years younger than the league average.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.
The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.33 points, etc. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.
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The clear winner for the Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion is Bradley Jones. Jones was dominant in the Appy League in his draft year, and despite not having the most size for a corner infielder, slugged his way to the league home run title. Congrats, Brad!
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
While the powers that be may be cheering for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. to win this award, Guerrero was certainly not the best offensive player on the Bluefield Blue Jays. In limited playing time, Javier Monzon, Lance Jones, Cam O’Brien and Nash Knight all had better years, despite all being 5-6 years older than Vladdy. Still, no one compared to 21-year-old Bradley Jones who destroyed the Appalachian League with a .291/.336/.578 slash line that included 18 doubles, a triple and 16 home runs.
Honourable mention: Cam O’Brien, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
The Pitcher of the Year contest is much more closely contested than the Player of the Year. The pitchers were not particularly dominant but through his ability to eat innings and to maintain (and even improve) his effectiveness despite moving up a level, the winner is Osman Gutierrez. Gutierrez threw 65 innings (leading the club) while posting a 3.88 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, striking out 22.8% of batters (up from his GCL rate of 20.0% in 2015) and walking 7.3% of batters (steady from his previous year’s totals).
Honourable mention: Juliandry Higuera
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
The Reliever of the Year award has more competition than the pitcher of the year. The Bluefield bullpen featured several strong pitchers including Connor Eller, Chris Hall and Canadian Brayden Bouchey, however, Angel Alicea was, in my mind, the most dominant pitcher for the club. While Eller and Chris Hall both had better WHIP ratios, Alicea’s 32 2/3 innings compared only with Eller and his 2.76 ERA was slightly worse than Eller’s (and Hall’s was better than both of theirs). Still, Connor Eller benefited from a .227 BABIP and struck out 24.6% of batters (walking 6.7%) but Alicea still held batters to a .220 average despite a .338 BABIP and struck out a full third (33.3%) of batters while walking only 7.4%. This, to me, speaks of the ability to dominate hitters, with the high strikeout rate plus giving up so few hits despite the fact that more balls in play went for hits. Congrats to Angel Alicea!
Honourable mention: Connor Eller, Chris Hall, Brayden Bouchey
Blue Jays from Away Most Improved Player
The Most Improved Player is an interesting award with several criteria. A player needs to be in at least his second season in the organization while also showing improvement from year to year, preferably at the same or a higher level than the year previous. The reason I like this award the most is it shines a light on a player who may be on the verge of breaking out. This year’s award goes to first-baseman Levi Scott. Scott was a 28th round pick in 2015 and, despite being 22 in the Gulf Coast League least year, struggled to a .589 OPS while showing glimpses of power in his massive 6-foot-5 frame. This year, he began to deliver, improving his OPS by 135 points, hitting .253/.312/.412 with 12 doubles and five home runs in almost exactly the same amount of playing time.
Blue Jays from Away Best Newcomer
This is another category in which it might be fashionable to go with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. as his first year of professional baseball was certainly excellent considering his age and the level he was playing at. That said, the member of the Blue Jays’ 2016 draft class (or 2015 international free agent class) who had the biggest impact was 21-year-old Bradley Jones who led the entire league in home runs.
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