For the second year in a row, the Blue Jays are sending a Canadian down under to the Canberra Cavalry Australian Baseball League as part of its three-player contingent for the winter league.
Connor Panas, 24, is the lone offensive player heading down to Australia to join the Cavalry and he is coming off his best season in the Blue Jays’ organization since being drafted in the ninth round of the 2015 draft. Panas, born in Toronto, moved up to Dunedin in 2017 and, similar to his 2016 season when he played his way into an everyday role with the Lansing Lugnuts, did the same while also leading the Florida State League in home runs thanks to a red-hot second half of the season. While he hit .276/.364/.457 overall, he slammed his way to a .315/.388/.590 slash line after July 1 while hitting 13 of his 20 doubles and 14 of his 18 home runs. Panas is looking to build on that All-Star season, and is vying to be the next Blue Jays hero of the Canberra Cavalry.
Last year was the first time that the Blue Jays sent pitching prospects down to the ABL and this year they’re sending two. Tayler Saucedo is one of two lefties heading down. Saucedo, 24, is no stranger to the Pacific ocean, having been born in Hawaii. Saucedo is another 2015 draftee, coming to the Jays in the 21st round out of Tennessee Wesleyan University. The lefty has yet to have the success he did in his draft year, split between Bluefield and Vancouver as he entered the full-season ranks of the minors. Saucedo showed flashes of excellence with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2016 but had a 5.91 ERA and 1.60 WHIP over the course of the season over 120 1/3 innings. In 2017, he started back in Lansing and was promoted to Dunedin after 40 innings there, posting a 4.48 ERA and 1.56 WHIP with 45 walks and 85 strikeouts over 96 1/3 innings. Much like in 2016, Saucedo had occasions when he was dominant but also had rough outings as well. We’ll see how he fares in Australia!
The final member of the trio is lefty Daniel Lietz. Lietz, 23, was drafted in the fifth round in the 2013 draft, and settled into Lansing’s bullpen dominating at the level for the first time. He spent the first three years of his pro career in short-season ball, working his way from the GCL to the Appalachian League and the Northwest League in that time. In 2016, he started his season in Lansing, was sent back to Vancouver before finishing in Lansing with a solid 4.20 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Lietz started 2017 in Lansing, pitching his way to a 2.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 39 2/3 innings and was promoted to Dunedin in July where he struggled to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and 2.10 WHIP, giving up 10 runs in his last three outings (spanning just 1 2/3 innings) before finishing the year in Lansing where he also gave up two runs (one earned) in 1 2/3 innings. The question in my mind is whether Lietz ran out of gas at the end of the year or perhaps there was some kind of injury beneath the surface. We hope he’s rested and ready to face the action in the Australian Baseball League!
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