The Dunedin Blue Jays’ crop of hitters wasn’t as old as their pitchers but still ranked among the older teams in the Florida State League.
Kicking things off for the D-Jays is 25-year-old Derrick Chung. Chung came to the Blue Jays as a 31st round draft pick from 2012 and really came out of nowhere this year to be the club’s primary receiver. Despite 2013 being Chung’s first full season of professional ball as a catcher, he was excellent on defense, throwing out an outstanding 43% of potential base stealers and committing only seven passed balls in 64 games behind the plate. Chung also showed some solid prowess with the bat, hitting .287/.341/.336. While Chung appears to have very little power (he hit only 12 doubles in 270 plate appearances), his solid contact abilities (a very low 11.1% strikeout rate) will keep him in the lineup. Chung could end up back in Dunedin but with a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League this year, he could get a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire.
At first base was power-hitting prospect K.C. Hobson. Hobson, 23, was a streaky hitter who easily showed the most power potential of anyone on the club, hitting 19 home runs on the season. The major problem that Hobson encountered was his ability to get on base, hitting only .215/.258/.414 in 431 plate appearances this season. His low walk rate (6.0%) combined with an incredibly low .208 BABIP indicates that he will probably be able to rebound in 2014. I picked Hobson as a breakout candidate last season after he improved his power numbers repeating the year in Lansing. I predict that Hobson will have a better batting average and OBP in 2014 where he will probably start the season in Dunedin.
At 26 years old, 1B Gabe Jacobo was one of the more veteran presences on the club (at least until his promotion to New Hampshire). He definitely earned that promotion after a .278/.346/.438 line with 13 doubles, a triple and four home runs in 191 plate appearances with Dunedin. He went bonkers when he went up north to New Hampshire, however, hitting .366/.422/.602 with eight doubles and seven home runs in just 135 plate appearances. Selected in the minor league portion of the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, Jacobo is also known for his solid defense, making only two errors all season long at first base. I see Jacobo in the New Hampshire lineup in 2014. He’s definitely paid his dues at A-ball and has nothing left to prove.
Second base for Dunedin was held down by the Blue Jays’ Webster Award winner Jon Berti. Berti, 23, was an 18th round pick in 2011 by the Blue Jays out of Bowling Green State University (in Ohio). The Florida State League leader in stolen bases with 56, Berti had a very solid season but saw a fairly significant drop in both batting average and on-base percentage from his two seasons at lower levels. In 576 plate appearances, Berti hit .250/.338/.323 with only 18 doubles, five triples and three home runs. Lack of power notwithstanding, Berti has shown that he can handle the better pitching and could either return to Dunedin or get some playing time in New Hampshire next season.
Peter Mooney split a lot of the time at shortstop (especially in the first half of the season) and showed an excellent ability to get on base. Mooney, 23, finally got a chance to play after a torn labrum in his shoulder kept him out of the entire 2012 season. The 5’6″ shortstop, drafted out of the University of South Carolina in the 21st round of the 2011 draft, hit .244/.365/.321 in 316 plate appearances. Impressively, Mooney walked 14.9% of the time and only struck out at a 12% rate. Mooney, like many of the Dunedin club’s infielders, had very limited extra base power, hitting eight doubles, three triples and two home runs for an ISO of .076. Mooney will likely return to Dunedin, particularly with the glut of young Latin players that the Jays want to play at shortstop (Emilio Guerrero, Dawel Lugo, Franklin Barreto, etc.), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the New Hampshire roster to serve as a utility man.
Shane Opitz was an 11th round draftee out of high school for the Blue Jays in 2010 and has really moved through the organization quickly, despite 2013 being the first year in which he’s really hit. Opitz, 21, started the season in Lansing and earned a promotion after hitting .370/.424/.500 in just 59 plate appearances. Getting significant playing time in Dunedin, he continued to hit .307/.362/.399 over 209 plate appearances, showing that the great numbers weren’t a fluke. Opitz doesn’t have much power, hitting just 11 doubles and two home runs in Dunedin but he did steal ten bases. With seven errors in 30 games, Opitz probably needs some work but he’s better off than some of the other infielders who have come through this season. As one of the younger players, I can see Opitz returning to Dunedin next season (at least to begin with).
If you’ve noticed, I’m not writing about any of the Dunedin third basemen. The two primary players at that position, Gustavo Pierre and Andy Burns, both had more playing time with other teams. If you check out the post on the Lansing Lugnut hitters, you’ll find the season report for Pierre. I’ll have Burns’s report with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
To the outfield we go, where we have the reunification of two Canadian-born players who were part of a group of three outfielders that drove the offensive engine in Lansing in 2011.
Toronto’s own Marcus Knecht, 23, had a similar season to what he did last year with Dunedin. In 458 plate appearances, Knecht hit .239/.297/.382, actually regressing 13 OPS points despite a batting average that was 29 points higher. With 21 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs and 27 walks this season, there was a big step back for Knecht in the doubles and walks categories. On the positive side, Knecht did bring his strikeout rate down 5% to 23.1%, which is actually in line with what he did in his strong 2011 season. The 2010 3rd rounder is still looking to find his groove and will need to show improvement in 2014, either in Dunedin or New Hampshire.
25-year-old Matt Newman was one of the biggest surprises in Dunedin in 2013. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2011, Newman not only jumped a level to Dunedin (from playing in Vancouver last year) but he put up better offensive numbers than anyone might have thought he could have. In 385 plate appearances Newman hit .290/.346/.431 with 25 doubles, three triples and six home runs. Newman’s strong wrists help him produce the extra base hits and a solid .141 ISO despite standing in at only 5’10”. I see a promotion to Double-A in the cards for Newman next season.
Michael Crouse is probably the outfielder on the club with the most potential going forward. The 22 year old from Port Moody, B.C. is a strapping 6’4″ beast with speed and power. Crouse also displayed the biggest improvement, particularly after a disappointing 2012 that saw him demoted from Dunedin to finish the season in Lansing. Fighting injuries, Crouse had 347 plate appearances and had a solid .250/.343/.403 line. He started to really show his power late in the season, hitting five doubles, a triple and four home runs in August alone, contributing to 18 doubles, two triples and eight home runs overall. Playing center field, Crouse also showed off his speed, stealing 21 bases, tied for second on the team. He still strikes out too much (26.5% this year) but I can see Crouse easily breaking camp with New Hampshire, particularly if Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra stick with the major league club coming out of Spring Training in 2014.
In 83 games, Nick Baligod, 26, was another player who demonstrated the ability to put the ball in play and get on base, but without much power. A 40th round draft pick from 2010, Baligod hit .283/.351/.382 with 19 doubles, a triple and two home runs this season. While the walk rate was a little low (8.9%), his strikeout rate was miniscule (7.6%) and Baligod was a key contributor, particularly in the first half of the season. However, without much power or speed, Baligod may have already reached his ceiling. I see him returning to Dunedin to start 2014.
24 year old Jonathan Jones spent most of the season injured for Dunedin and despite flashing serious tools, the speedy outfielder hasn’t shown that he can hit for either average or power (107 PAs, .227/.299/.299, 8 SBs, 0 CS with Dunedin).
Pierce Rankin and Chris Schaeffer backed up Chung behind the plate and neither really showed much pop with the bat. Rankin, 24, hit .159/.246/.232 in 183 plate appearances (between Dunedin and New Hampshire) and Schaeffer, 25, didn’t do any better, hitting .149/.237/.164 in 76 plate appearances (also between Dunedin and New Hampshire). Brian Compton, signed at the end of the season to a minor league deal, played just one game for the Dunedin Blue Jays, going one for four with a double. 24-year-old utility infielder Oliver Dominguez hit .218/.281/.338 in 146 plate appearances.