We finish our look at the 2017 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. This year’s Bluefield squad had some thump with a couple of recently drafted players adjusting well to the professional game.
The catching duties for Bluefield were split fairly evenly between three players with Yorman Rodriguez getting the most time there. Rodriguez, 20, was in his third season since signing with the Blue Jays out of Venezuela and made his presence felt with a .346/.374/.429 slash line, hitting 11 doubles and three home runs. Rodriguez didn’t walk much (just 2.7% of his plate appearances) but didn’t strike out much either (just 9.7% of his plate appearances). Rodriguez started the year in Vancouver and hit .190/.227/.238 in 22 plate appearances before moving back down to Bluefield to finish the year. Rodriguez did get some time in the playoffs, hitting .182/.250/.182 with two singles in 11 at bats. Defensively, Rodriguez threw out 26% of potential base stealers and had seven passed balls. He should start in Vancouver next year.
The #2 catcher was Ryan Gold, a 19-year-old lefthanded hitting catcher who was the Jays’ 27th-round pick out of high school in South Carolina last year. Despite standing at just 5-foot-9, Gold has some surprising power, hitting .302/.382/.482 with 11 doubles, a triple and four home runs for Bluefield. With a solid 9.6% walk rate and decent 21.0% strikeout rate, Gold is progressing very well for a young player moving up in the organization. Gold hit .364/.417/.818 with a pair of doubles and a home run in 11 at bats in the postseason. On the defensive side, however, he still needs to improve, committing 10 passed balls and throwing out just 24% of base stealers. Gold could also head to Vancouver next year.
The Blue Jays drafted 20-year-old (who turns 21 on September 26) Reilly Johnson out of the State Junior College of Florida in the 30th round of 2017 and he served as the Blue Jays’ third catcher, hitting .232/.333/.280 in 25 games. Johnson had a healthy 12.4% walk rate and a strong 16.5% strikeout rate but his lack of power is something that will have to be worked on as he continues to adjust to professional ball. Johnson caught in 18 games and threw out just 10% of potential base stealers and had eight passed balls, giving the impression that he’ll still have to work on defensive issues. He showed some flexibility, playing a game at third base. Johnson could remain in short-season ball next year and his assignment will depend on where Rodriguez and Gold begin their 2018 seasons.
The Bluefield Blue Jays’ leading hitter and the Appalachian League’s MVP was first-baseman Ryan Noda. Noda joins the Blue Jays’ ranks of players drafted in the “teens” (Noda was the Jays’ 15th-round pick in 2017) who went on to win an MVP award, following in the footsteps of L.B. Dantzler (Northwest League MVP 2013) and Ryan McBroom (Midwest League MVP 2015). Noda absolutely dominated the Appy League, hitting .364/.507/.575 with 18 doubles, three triples and seven home runs, despite falling off in August although I surmise that he wasn’t getting nearly as many good pitches to hit, taking way more walks (his OPB in August was 192 points higher than his batting average). In the playoffs, Noda struggled, going 0/11 with a walk and six strikeouts. I can see Noda in Lansing next year and he has the chance to follow Bradley Jones, who was a dominant hitter in the Appalachian League last year and had a successful transition to Lansing this year.
23-year-old Francisco Rodriguez got some limited playing time this year, getting into just 25 games with Bluefield and three with Vancouver. He hit just .183/.293/.225 in 71 at bats with Bluefield, hitting three doubles, despite his strong, stocky built (6-foot-1, 220 lbs.). Rodriguez struck out a whopping 40.2% of the time and walked 9.8% and he didn’t get a hit in Vancouver in seven plate appearances. It’s hard to see Rodriguez getting many more chances if he continues to struggle at the plate this much in rookie ball.
At second base, Jesus Navarro got the bulk of the playing time. A 19-year-old Dominican, Navarro hit just .203/.267/.221 in 52 games (and went 0/1 in one game for Dunedin). Havarro showed negligible power with a double and a triple among his 35 hits and he didn’t steal a base, getting caught twice. On the (sort of) bright side, Navarro’s 7.6% walk rate and 15.2% strikeout rate show some promise going forward although in three season in the Blue Jays’ organization, has yet to match his offensive production in his debut in the DSL with a modest .632 OPS. He could be back in Bluefield next year.
20-year-old Dominican shortstop Jesus Severino spent most of his time at third base in 2017, hitting .228/.303/.331 with the Bluefield Blue Jays, hitting eight doubles and two home runs. A slick fielder, Severino showed a little with the bat, walking in 8.3% of his plate appearances and struck out in 18.6%, down from 25.0% in 2016, also with Bluefield. Severino will likely move to Vancouver next year.
On a team with a ton of good offensive players, shortstop Kevin Smith stood out, hitting .271/.312/.466 with 25 doubles, a triple and a club-leading eight home runs. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Maryland, Smith also stole nine bases without getting caught but could improve his strikeout and walk ratios as he walked in just 5.7% of his plate appearances and struck out in 24.7%. Smith struggled in the playoffs, going 1/12 with a single, two walks and one RBI. With Logan Warmoth likely heading to Lansing to start 2018, a Vancouver appearance might be likely to start for Smith although a move to full season ball wouldn’t surprise me as a good place for the 21-year-old.
The Blue Jays probably didn’t expect much when they signed Brandon Grudzielanek (nephew of former major leaguer Mark) as a non-drafted free agent. Still, he contributed a significant amount to the club, hitting .295/.340/.397 in 146 at bats, hitting five doubles, two triples and two home runs (after going 2/3 in his one game in the GCL). Grudzielanek could walk more, after finishing with a 6.8% walk rate and a 16.1% strikeout rate but did well for a guy who wasn’t drafted. Grudzielanek was 1/11 in the playoffs, driving in two runs and walking once. He’ll likely head to Vancouver to be a utility infielder in 2018.
Sterling Guzman was another utility infielder for the Bluefield Blue Jays, but an injury placed him on the 60-day DL at the beginning of August after a solid start to his year. Guzman hit .304/.429/.413 in 46 at bats, hitting two doubles and a home run and stealing two bases. Guzman’s healthy 17.2% walk rate was almost as high as his 22.4% strikeout rate and the young player could return to Bluefield in his Age-20 season next year to try to get a full year of action.
Playing every day in left field, Mc Gregory Contreras, 19, jumped over the GCL with a solid offensive season, hitting .279/.335/.421 with eight doubles, two triples and five home runs. Contreras, who played center field last year and was mostly used in left this year, saw a vastly lower walk rate of 5.8% this year (down from 15.4% in the DSL last year) while striking out in 26.6% of his plate appearances. Still, the numbers are strong for a young Venezuelan making his US debut in Advanced-Rookie ball. Contreras appeared to improve, particularly in his power-hitting department as the season went on, launching six doubles, a triple and two home runs in August. Look for Contreras to spend his Age-20 season in Vancouver next year.
21-year-old Antony Fuentes was another solid hitter for the Bluefield club as he continued his steady ascent through the Jays’ system at the age of 21 (turning 22 on September 26). The Venezuelan outfielder hit .284/.347/.439 in 45 games, hitting eight doubles, two triples and four home runs. Fuentes walked in 5.7% of his plate appearances (up from 4.1% in the GCL last year) while striking out in 19.5% (way up from 8.1% last year). I can see Fuentes getting some time in Lansing next year but a stop in Vancouver could also be in his cards.
In his second year with the Blue Jays, Chavez Young had a very strong season, showing people what this young Bahamian might be. In 62 games in Bluefield, Young hit .282/.332/.440 with 14 doubles, seven triples and four home runs. He did walk in only 4.6% of his plate appearances but struck out in a vastly reduced 20.6% over his 32.1% in the GCL last year. Chavez actually started his season in Vancouver, hitting .308/.400/.538 with a double, a triple and five strikeouts in 15 plate appearances before heading back southeast to Bluefield. Young was fortunate enough to get into the playoffs with two teams, going 7/26 overall with two home runs (one each for Bluefield and Vancouver) while showing a lot more patience in the playoffs with Vancouver, despite hitting just .176, he had three walks in 17 at bats. Young is looking more and more like an exciting young player who, having just turned 20 in August, could be demonstrating that his learning curve is going to be a lot shorter than some think. He could either start in Vancouver or Lansing next year.
Even though he’s been in the Jays’ system for four years now, Freddy Rodriguez is still only 20 years old. The 6-foot-1 Venezuelan outfielder may have finally turned a corner in his professional career as he’s traversed the US-based Rookie-Ball levels for four seasons. Not hitting above .240 in his first three years, Rodriguez hit .308/.388/.473 with the Blue Jays this year (in his second try at Bluefield), hitting two doubles, two triples and three home runs in 28 games. He appears to be recovered from the injury that landed him on the 60-day DL last year and had a career-high 11.5% walk rate and a career-low 20.2% strikeout rate while posting an ISO over .100 for the first time (at .165). Things are definitely looking up for Rodriguez and he could either be in Vancouver or Lansing in 2018.
The Blue Jays’ 20th-round pick out of Niagara University, Tanner Kirwer hails from Alberta and made his pro debut with the Bluefield Blue Jays, hitting .224/.323/.329 in 25 games before being put on the 60-day DL. Kirwer hit four doubles, a triple and a home run, striking out in 26.2% of plate appearances and walking in 4.9% before his season ended on July 23. Kirwer could be a strong part of a Canadian contingent playing for Vancouver in 2018 and he’ll be 22 next season.
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