We continue our summary of the 2015 DSL Blue Jays with a look at the hitters. We start behind the plate and go around the horn and then to the outfield.
20-year-old Venezuelan Manuel Herazo was the club’s everyday catcher, getting into 48 games, all as a receiver. He showed some improvement over his 2014 stats defensively, committing only 15 passed balls (with 16 last year, in fewer than half the number of games). He threw out 25% of base runners in a much larger sample size. At the plate was where Herazo really shone, hitting .282/.409/.329 with a 12.5% walk rate and a 17.4% strikeout rate. I could see Herazo jumping to North America in 2016.
Powerhouse Francisco Rodriguez played first base in 41 of his 61 games, hitting .251/.406/.437 with a team leading nine home runs (placing third in the league). Rodriguez, 20, is already physically mature at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds and his 2015 season showed a huge improvement in power while also seeing improvements in walk rate (17.7%) and strikeout rate (20.5%). He’s another player who could very well jump to the GCL or even the Appalachian League in 2016.
Jesus Navarro had the most playing time at second base and the 17-year-old posted some very solid numbers, especially considering his young age. He hit .250/.346/.286 and will definitely need to put some muscle on his 5-foot-11, 160 pound frame in order to hit the ball with more authority, after a season with just seven extra-base hits (five doubles and two triples). Navarro made 17 errors in 67 games, not a bad total for such a young player. Navarro also played 16 games at shortstop in addition to 47 games at second and eight at third base. While his signing bonus wasn’t as high as some of the other players, he could make the jump in 2016 but could also benefit from another year of physical development. We’ll have to see what happens.
A new name showed up this year in the Blue Jays’ camp as a third baseman and that was Sterling Guzman who played 55 games at the hot corner. Despite being only 17 years old, Guzman showed maturity at the plate as well as some pop, hitting .285/.383/.395 with eight doubles, seven triples and two home runs, striking out in only 15.3% of appearances and walking in 12.3%. Guzman could also be solid defensively with 15 errors in 65 games. He played nine games at second base, making only one error there. Guzman’s youth might allow the Jays to keep him in the DR in 2016 but his performance on the field makes a promotion a good possibility too.
Another 17-year-old Venezuelan, Kevin Vicuna, was the everyday shortstop for the DSL Blue Jays. Vicuna took home a signing bonus of $350,000 in 2014 and has looked a little more rough around the edges, particularly defensively, making 28 errors this season. Vicuna hit respectably, slashing .268/.354/.304 in 62 games, but had only six extra-base hits with three doubles and three triples, adding 10 stolen bases (in 14 attempts). Vicuna didn’t strike out much (10.0%) but neither did he walk a lot (5.8%). At 6-foot and 140 pounds, there’s obviously a lot of physical development that needs to take place before Vicuna can handle some of the elite pitchers that he’ll see at higher levels.
Blue Jays from Away’s Player of the Year and Player of the Game Champion Norberto Obeso played 70 games in left field. The 20-year-old Mexican showed himself to be more advanced than most players in the league, finishing fifth in the league with a .351 batting average and second with a .470 OBP. Obeso also hit for a .427 slugging percentage, getting 12 doubles and four triples as part of his 92 hits (first in the DSL). The rookie to affiliated ball struck out in only 6.0% of his plate appearances while waking almost three times as much (17.3% of the time) and will probably leave the Dominican Republic behind him in 2016.
19-year-old Cristian Peguero played the most in center field and hit .277/.372/.361 with five doubles, three triples and a home run. He doesn’t appear to be extremely fast with only six stolen bases (in 11 attempts) but he had some solid numbers with a 10.3% walk rate and 21.6% strikeout rate.
Venezuelan right fielder Antony Fuentes played a lot more in his second season with the DSL Blue Jays than in his first but, although his rate statistics regressed, he only had 38 plate appearances in his first season. The 19 year old had a very solid season, hitting .294/.343/.396 with 11 doubles, five triples and one home run while stealing 15 bases in 17 attempts. Impressively, he only struck out in 6.7% of plate appearances but walked in only 6.3%.
Catcher and first baseman Yorman Rodriguez had a tremendous rookie season in the DSL, starting the year at the age of 17 (turning 18 in late July). He hit .335/.413/.455 in 61 games with nine doubles, five triples and two home runs while also stealing 12 bases in 16 attempts. He had an overall strong season with the bat but may fall into the category of a “positionless” player soon. He played mostly at first but, as a right-handed thrower, and standing just 5-foot-10, is not built to be a protoypical first baseman. As a catcher, he threw out just 4% of runners attempting to steal, leading me to believe that his arm strength is lacking (particularly since he was never tried at third base, a popular positional shift for a catcher with a strong arm but limited range on the infield). Is a transition to left field in the cards for Rodriguez who may fall into a defensive “no-man’s-land” while still a teenager? He’s still far too young to categorize yet and could hit a growth spurt causing all of this speculation to go out the window.
Last year Enmanuel Moreta had a good season as a 19 year old and I thought that he’d be moving up to the GCL. He stayed in the Dominican and had significant power regression, hitting .260/.371/.370 as a 20 year old in his second year in the league. Playing in only 44 games in 2015, I wonder if there was an injury that sapped Moreta’s power (he hit 21 doubles and seven triples in 2014 but just three doubles, two triples and three home runs in 2015). He also saw an increase in strikeout rate (from 20.3% to 26.7% in 2015) but an increase in walk rate too (from 7.3% to 9.1%). With so little information coming out of the Dominican Summer League, it’s hard to know what to make of Moreta’s season.
Sam Buelens is a favourite of many fans (and us) out there as one of the only Belgian players in affiliated baseball. The 19 year old made his debut in 2015 with the DSL Jays, putting together a solid season, hitting .232/.347/.253 with a team-leading 20 stolen bases (and was caught just twice). Buelens had an 18.0% strikeout rate and a very good 10.7% walk rate over 122 plate appearances. It appears that the Blue Jays were really working Buelens into games slowly, appearing late in games as a pinch runner early in the season, and it’s always tough to tell how someone who comes from a country where baseball is not played as much will develop. Still, Buelens could come to Florida in 2016 or he could end up with another year in the Dominican.
Backup catcher Antonio Concepcion had 81 plate appearances for the DSL Jays in his rookie season as an 18-year-old. The Panamanian threw out 27% of runners trying to steal (three of 11) but it’s tough to tell much in only 53 innings of work behind the plate. He hit respectably, with a .290/.395/.435 slash line, hitting five doubles, a triple and a home run and his 11.1% walk rate and 14.8% strikeout rate bode well for the future. Still, he’s very young and will need to get a year with more playing time before we can speculate more.
Of the players with 55 or fewer plate appearances, only Jean Almanzar was older than 18 at the start of the season. 2015 was Almanzar’s third season with the DSL Blue Jays and in each year, he he played in 16 or fewer games. Is he injury prone? This year, he actually hit the ball, slashing .250/.357/.292 in 28 plate appearances. Victor Figuereo, 18, had just 55 plate appearances and hit .146/.255/.271. Venezuelan 18-year-old Andres Guerra threw out 22% of potential base stealers from behind the plate while hitting .146/.314/.195 in just 51 plate appearances. Anderson Green, an 18-year-old Dominican played eight games and hit .333/.391/.333 and Ronald Concepcion played two games at second base as an 18-year-old and didn’t get a hit in five plate apperances, walking three times but striking out twice.
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