We finish our look at the 2016 Bluefield Blue Jays by taking a peek at how the hitters did. We’ll start behind the plate and look at players who got the most playing time first, followed by the guys who played less. Remember that if a player played more with another Jays affiliate, he’ll be discussed in that team’s report.
20-year-old Matt Morgan has now played three seasons of baseball in the Blue Jays’ organization since being selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Morgan has struggled with his bat, particularly in his two years with the Bluefield Blue Jays. Morgan hit .179/.313/.286 in 135 plate appearances. While he did show improvement in his strikeout and walk rates, the positive is that he walked in 15.6% of his plate appearances but the negative is that he struck out in a full third of them (33.3%). Defensively, Morgan improved in 2016, throwing out 28% of runners and allowed 14 passed balls (down from 21 in 2015 in just about the same amount of innings) but his errors were up significantly. Morgan will move up because of his status as a high round pick but he’ll need to start contributing with the bat to keep moving.
Ridge Smith was one of the two other catchers on the Bluefield Blue Jays, both of whom made their pro debuts this season. Smith was the Jays’ 12th-round draft pick this season and had a solid year in his first as a pro. He hit .228/.317/.457 with a significant amount of power, hitting five doubles, three triples and four home runs. Smith walked in 7.5% of his 106 plate appearances but struck out in a concerning 26.4%. Smith caught in 29 games, starting 25 of them and threw out a full third of runners trying to steal but made seven errors and committed four passed balls. Smith will likely be in Vancouver next year in his Age-22 season.
Cam O’Brien played the least behind the plate but he hit so well that the Blue Jays found a spot for him in the lineup in 33 games, mostly as a DH. O’Brien hit .264/.414/.516, showing a ton of power and patience in his 116 plate appearances. O’Brien hit six doubles, a triple and five home runs in just 116 plate appearances while walking in 17.2% of them and striking out in 23.3%. Defensively, O’Brien caught in only 10 games but threw out 42% of the 12 runners who tried to steal. He didn’t allow a passed ball and didn’t make an error. O’Brien could jump up to Lansing as a backup catcher and play himself into an everyday role (much like Connor Panas did this year).
In the 18th round of the 2016 draft, the Blue Jays selected first/third baseman Bradley Jones. The 6-foot-1 product of the College of Charleston immediately took to professional baseball, hitting .291/.336/.578 with 18 doubles, a triple and a league-leading 16 home runs in 256 plate appearances. Jones is a hard swinger, striking out in 27.7% of his plate appearances and will need to be much more selective at the plate after a 6.6% walk rate in his first season. Jones has surprising speed for someone with so much pop, stealing 16 bases while getting caught just four times. Look for Jones to jump to Vancouver or Lansing in his Age-22 season in 2017. Where he ends up likely depends on what he shows the Jays’ staff in the Fall Instructional League and spring training.
First-baseman/DH Levi Scott earned our Most Improved Player award after having a powerful season in Bluefield. After struggling with professional pitching in his first year in the pros in 2015, Scott turned things around, despite a drop in his walk rate and a climb in his strikeout rate. Scott ended up hitting .253/.312/.412 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 170 plate appearances. The 6-foot-5 slugger is now 24 and will need to be tested at higher levels soon. I can see a Vancouver assignment in 2017 but a Lansing spot isn’t out of the question if he performs well in the spring.
Juandy Mendoza, a Colombian-born infielder who was drafted out of Otero Junior College by the Blue Jays in 2015, played the most at second base. I find it a little difficult putting the hard-nosed player with some pop that I saw play this summer with the numbers that he finished with. Mendoza hit just .194/.270/.343 this season with Bluefield, finishing under the, ahem, Mendoza Line for the second straight year after hitting .193 with the GCL Blue Jays last year. The 21 year old did hit 11 doubles and three home runs in 153 plate appearances, showing some power and increasing his OPS almost 30 points while his ISO almost doubled from year to year. Mendoza also improved his strikeout rate, dropping it by over three points to a still-high 25.7% but his walk rate fell almost in half to 5.9%. Still, Mendoza accomplished what he did with a very-low .250 BABIP and he had a very good August, hitting .262/.318/.475 over 17 games. I can see Mendoza playing one more year of short-season baseball in Vancouver in 2017.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was the Bluefield Blue Jays’ third baseman, doing everything you want from one of the club’s key players, playing in 62 games and coming to the plate 276 times. He hit a very solid .271/.359/.449, walking in 12.0% of his plate appearances while striking out in only 12.7%. Additionally, Guerrero showed surprising speed (15 stolen bases in 20 attempts) while playing some solid defense, making only nine errors in 50 games. Oh, did we mention that Guerrero is still just 17 years old? It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays do with Guerrero in 2017. One camp is convinced that he’ll skip Vancouver and go right to Lansing where, while he might struggle at the beginning of the year, these observers believe he’ll figure things out within a month or two. The other camp thinks that his Montreal birth makes him a prime candidate to play for the Vancouver Canadians. While Shapiro and Atkins have been more conservative in their prospect development, I lean towards seeing Vladdy in Lansing in 2017.
Jesus Severino, 19, one of the Jays’ bigger international free agent signings of 2013, made it to Bluefield in 2016 and didn’t do all that well with the bat despite a strong season in the field. Severino hit .213/.320/.278 with six doubles, a triple and a home run in 200 plate appearances, walking in 11.5% of them and striking out in 25.0%. Severino is probably going to move up a level to Vancouver next year as the chain of international free agent shortstops continues it upward progression.
I started calling Nash Knight “Mash” Knight after he started leading the Appalachian league in batting average. Knight hit .402/.473/.588 in 25 games, belting seven doubles, a triple and three home runs in 110 plate appearances. Knight walked in 10.9% of plate appearances and struck out in 14.5%. He was then promoted to Vancouver where he played 24 games and got 103 plate appearances, hitting a respectable .261/.340/.272 but only had one extra-base hit, a double. Still, his rate stats didn’t suffer much, walking in 10.7% of plate appearances and striking out in 16.5%, proving that he didn’t find the higher level to be too much more difficult. Knight, who was an undrafted free agent last year, will likely play in Vancouver in 2017 as a 24 year old unless there’s a spot for him in Lansing.
Andrew Florides, 21, has been in the Jays’ system for four seasons now since getting drafted in the 27th round of the 2013 draft. Florides showed some improvement over his previous forays with the bat but it still wasn’t an encouraging season. After two years of hitting under .100, he managed to stick the landing this year, hitting .100/.135/.120, hitting his first professional extra-base hit, a double. In his first year outside of the GCL, Florides struck out in 41.5% of his 53 plate appearances and walked in 3.8%. Clearly Florides hasn’t developed as anyone has hoped and he could be coming to a crossroads in his career soon.
Kalik May led the club in games in left field, getting a promotion to Bluefield after hitting .333 with a double and two triples in his first three games in the GCL this season. In Bluefield, however, May hit only .218 with a .311 OBP and .346 slugging percentage. May hit eight doubles, three triples and two home runs in 180 plate appearances, stealing seven bases in 11 attempts. May strikes out far too much (33.9%) but had a very healthy walk rate of 9.4% with Bluefield. He’ll likely be in Bluefield or Vancouver next year as a 24 year old.
High school draftee Reggie Pruitt made some strides as a 19 year old with the Bluefield Blue Jays but still has a long way to go before he’s ready for prime time. Pruitt has explosive speed, stealing 16 bases and getting caught just twice this year but he only hit .237/.316/.266 with three doubles and a triple in 197 plate appearances. On the plus side, Pruitt’s strikeout rate dropped this year at a higher level than last year, down to 21.8% while his walk rate dropped to 6.6%. Pruitt will likely move up to Vancouver next year but he could repeat Bluefield without any real setbacks to his development.
Getting the most time in left field was SUNY Buffalo product Nick Sinay whom the Jays selected in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft. Sinay was an offensive catalyst at the top of the order, hitting .246/.435/.304 with four doubles, two triples and a home run in 265 plate appearances. His .435 OPB was built on 40 walks (15.1% walk rate) to go along with getting hit by pitches 24 times. Sinay used that opportunity to steal 34 bases in 39 attempts and scoring 52 runs for the club. He was rewarded with a promotion to Vancouver at the end of the season and he went 1/5 in one game, getting plunked once and striking out twice. Look for Sinay, 22, to play in Vancouver next year unless the Lugnuts need some help.
Earl Burl III got into 37 games with Bluefield this year after 50 with Vancouver last year. He hit .211/.311/.254 in 134 plate appearances, playing mostly center and left field and Burl had just two doubles and a home run with six stolen bases in 10 attempts. Burl struck out in 26.1% of plate appearances but walked in 12.7%. Look for Burl to be back in Vancouver in 2017.
After a rough start in Vancouver, Lance Jones, 23, was sent back to Bluefield, hitting .247/.356/.329 with the Canadians in 102 plate appearances. In 28 games with Bluefield, he put up a much better showing, hitting .325/.486/.429 with 12 stolen bases, three doubles, a triple and a home run. Jones’s incredible 21.5% walk rate for Bluefield was almost double his already high rate of 11.8% in Vancouver while his strikeout rate of 19.6% was only 1% higher than that in Vancouver. The biggest difference to Jones’s results was his BABIP which was over 100 points higher in Blufield than Vancouver. His results will likely regress back to what he did in Vancouver when he returns there in 2017.
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