We turn to the hitters of the Bluefield Blue Jays to see who did what in 2018. We’ll start with the catchers and go around the horn to the infield and then to the outfield.
Alejandro Kirk made a big jump from playing in just one game in his professional debut in 2017 to playing 58 games and catching 32 in his second year, jumping to the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2018. Kirk, 19, is a short, stocky Mexican catcher who is showing uncommon abilities at the plate. In 244 plate appearances, he hit .354 (third in the Appalachian League) with a .443 OBP and .558 slugging percentage, hitting 10 doubles, a triple and 10 home runs to lead the club. His 1.001 OPS was just behind teammate Cal Stevenson and uber-prospect Wander Franco and he finished sixth in the league in that category. Also impressive were his 13.5% walk rate and his 8.6% strikeout rate. In three playoff games, he was 6/12 with two doubles, a home run and three walks, striking out just once. Kirk also threw out 43% of potential base stealers, giving him an excellent all-around game. Kirk’s advanced command of the strike zone probably has him in Lansing next year.
21-year-old Venezuelan catcher Andres Guerra got into 23 games behind the plate, in a backup role for the Bluefield Blue Jays, throwing out just 15% of potential base stealers. Not known for his bat, Guerra had one of his better seasons at the plate, hitting .225/.325/.380 with two doubles and the first three home runs of his professional career. Guerra walked in 12.0% of his plate appearances and struck out in 25.3%, both numbers right around what we would have expected from him and he was 0/4 in the playoffs, striking out three times. Look for him to be backing up in short-season ball next year.
Hagen Danner, the Blue Jays’ second-round pick in 2017, improved dramatically at the plate in his second year of professional ball, moving up to Bluefield in his Age-19 season. Danner, who hit just .160 in his professional debut, hit .279/.409/.432 as a sophomore, adding 11 doubles and two home runs. Danner boosted his walk rate to 14.6%, a huge improvement over his paltry 3.7% rate in 2017 while his strikeout rate dropped slightly to 25.5% (from 26.5%). Danner was 0/5 in the playoffs, striking out twice. Defensively, Danner caught just nine games and DHed in 23, throwing out just 22% of runners trying to steal. Look for Danner to either jump to Lansing next year or spend more time working on his defense in extended spring training and then Vancouver.
Patrick Morris got the bulk of the time at first base in his second season after being selected by the Blue Jays in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. Morris struggled with strikeouts in his Age-19 season with Bluefield but showed some promising pop with is bat, hitting .215/.326/.337 with eight doubles, a triple and four home runs in 218 plate appearances. Morris walked in 13.8% of his plate appearances but struck out in 26.6%. I can see Morris in Vancouver next year.
Second baseman Rafael Lantigua was another key cog in the Blue Jays’ offensive machine, posting a .303/.422/.376 slash line with seven doubles, a triple and a home run while stealing seven bases in 12 attempts. Lantigua walked in 15.0% of plate appearances (200 in Bluefield) and struck out in 16.5%. He also hit .212/.297/.364 in 37 plate appearances with the GCL Blue Jays early in the season. Lantigua was also a solid contributor in the postseason, going 4/10 with three walks and a double. Lantigua played games at second, third and shortstop, giving him some defensive versatility. I can see Lantigua in Lansing next year if there’s room for him.
Davis Schneider, 19, went to work with the Bluefield Blue Jays in his second year since being drafted in the 28th round of the 2017 draft. Schneider put up a very similar slash line to his 2017 numbers but regressed in a couple of important areas. He still showed some promising power with the bat, hitting eight doubles, a triple and three home runs in 161 plate appearances and had a .233/.350/.376 slash line. He also still had a high walk rate at 13.7% (down from 17.1% last year) but his strikeout rate spiked in 2018, settling at 29.2%, up over 12% from his 2017 strikeout rate. Schneider played mostly at third but also got into seven games at second base and was quite sure-handed on defense, making four errors at third base in 275 innings. I can see Schneider either going to Vancouver next year or even spending some more time in Bluefield in 2019.
Luis De Los Santos was the Bluefield Blue Jays’ everyday shortstop, continuing his rise up through the Blue Jays’ system after 2016 in the DSL, and 2017 (mostly) in the GCL. De Los Santos’s numbers regressed across the board with the exception of his power in his Age-20 season. He hit .246/.307/.414 with eight doubles, a career-high five triples and, by far a career-high, seven home runs as he also stole nine bases and was caught stealing twice. De Los Santos improved his walk rate to 5.8% and struck out at a 22.7% rate while his ISO jumped to .168 in 2018. He had a solid postseason, hitting .308/.308/.615 (4/13 with a double and a home run). Look for De Los Santos to possibly start 2018 in Lansing as he’ll turn 21 in June of 2019.
An injury soured John Aiello’s first professional season as the 21-year-old third baseman showed a lot of promise in 12 games, hitting .273/.429/.409 with eight walks and 12 strikeouts in 56 plate appearances, hitting three doubles and a home run.
Jose Theran played 35 games for the Bluefield Blue Jays, hitting .260/.317/.396 with four doubles, three triples and a home run in 106 plate appearances. Theran continued moving up a level per year and the 20-year-old Colombian played mostly second base but also became an emergency pitcher, throwing an inning with a hit and a walk allowed but nothing else.
The Bluefield Blue Jays’ two-way player, Andy McGuire pitched in 18 games and got into 13 as a hitter. He hit a promising .275/.431/.375 with four doubles in 51 plate appearances, taking walks in 19.6% of them and striking out in 21.6%. The question of whether the dual role for McGuire is going to rob him of development time at one or both positions is the big question for him going forward. Does he continue to both hit and pitch? That is the biggest question for his future.
D.J. Daniels played 42 games for the Bluefield Blue Jays in his Age-20 season, hitting .184/.258/.265 with five doubles and two home runs. While this may sound like a very rough season, Daniels actually is on the upswing, improving in almost every category over his two season in the GCL. Daniels walked in 6.0% of his 151 plate appearances but his true Achilles Heel showed up with a 35.8% strikeout rate. Daniels may repeat Bluefield next year and certainly needs to bring his strikeout rate down.
Cal Stevenson, our Player of the Year, was utterly dominant in his first professional season. Now 22, Stevenson started off his season by going 9/19 with the GCL Blue Jays, hitting a pair of doubles while walking 11 times and striking out only three (for a .474/.645/.579 slash line). In 249 plate appearances in Bluefield, Cal hit .359/.494/.518 with 13 doubles, six triples, two home runs and 20 stolen bases in 21 attempts. He also walked in an uncanny 21.3% of plate appearances and struck out in only 8.4%. Stevenson was 4/11 in the playoffs, hitting a home run and walking four times. I’m looking for Stevenson to join the Lansing Lugnuts next year.
Dom Abbadessa, 20, had a strong year in his third in the Blue Jays’ system, moving up from the GCL and giving himself his second consecutive excellent season as a pro. Abbadessa hit .311/.366/.420 for the Blue Jays with 14 doubles, three triples and two home runs, stealing 18 bases in 23 attempts. Abbadesssa walked in 5.3% of plate appearances (giving him somewhere to improve) but his strikeout rate was very good at 17.8%. He did struggle in the playoffs, going 2/14 with a walk and five strikeouts. Look for Abbadessa, who has now had three pro seasons, to probably get the call to Lansing but he could be held back in extended spring training and go to Vancouver.
D.J. Neal spent most of the season in right field and put up decent numbers that were somewhat more problematic than his strong debut season in 2017. Neal, 21, hit .237/.297/.394 with seven doubles, nine triples and four home runs, showing a ton of extra-base pop and speed with 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Neal walked in 7.3% of plate appearances, improving over his rate in 2017 in the GCL but saw a big increase in strikeouts, up to 26.6% (an 11% increase) in 2018. The former collegiate football player also showed a strong arm, getting five outfield assists in right. Neal was 4/15 in the playoffs, hitting a double and striking out twice without taking a walk.
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