The core of the Dunedin Blue Jays was a group of players with full-season experience. At the start of the season, there was actually a mix of players who had been in Dunedin last year with some new faces although the most successful new face was shipped up to New Hampshire (and eventually Toronto) before long. As usual, we start behind the plate.
Leading the club in games behind the plate is the outstanding 26-year-old catcher Derrick Chung. Chung’s strong performance last year in Dunedin and in the Arizona Fall League put him on many people’s radar and he followed it up hitting .320/.395/.438 in 49 games with the D-Jays in the first half, throwing out 38% of potential base stealers. He earned his promotion to New Hampshire where his numbers fell off to .240/.275/.275 in 47 games but his caught-stealing percentage actually improved to 44%. Chung doesn’t strike out much and usually takes quite a few walks (although that didn’t translate to the New Hampshire call up) but his real value to any team is his defense and leadership. For an organizational catcher, Chung will probably provide excellent value in the high minor leagues and will likely return to New Hampshire next year.
K.C. Hobson had the most time at first base, playing 52 games there and DHing in nine more. Over 262 plate appearances, he hit .238/.317/.388 with 13 doubles and seven homers. After his promotion to New Hampshire, Hobson regressed despite a small boost to his BABIP and he hit .215/.276/.345 with another five home runs. In his Age-23 season, Hobson (who could win a Jack Murphy look-a-like contest), Hobson took a step back to where he was in the two prior seasons in his walk rate and his strikeout rate fell precipitously in Dunedin (although it shot back up to 21.4% in New Hampshire). I wrote a long article at Jays Journal this offseason that said that because of such a low BABIP in 2013, I thought Hobson would be a great candidate for a breakout season. I was left wanting. I saw his power first hand in New Hampshire but his inability to translate his power and good contact into OBP over the past two seasons is troubling. Still, Hobson is only 24 and should be back in New Hampshire next year.
2011 seventh rounder Christian Lopes just turned 22 yesterday and he had an interesting season with the Dunedin Blue Jays. Lopes had an up-and-down year and while he had a solid May, Lopes hit just .230/.315/.331 over the first three months of the season. There were certainly concerns with the young second baseman, mainly because he faded last year with Lansing in his first full season as a pro. Lopes put those concerns to rest, however, hitting .254/.342/.367 over the last two months of the season, allowing him to finish with better numbers overall than last year (a .321 wOBA and a 98 wRC+). Lopes is heading to the Australian Baseball League to get some extra time in and should be either in New Hampshire or back in Dunedin in 2015.
Gustavo Pierre was the third baseman for most of the season for Dunedin in 2014. The 22-year-old Dominican, who had a walk rate of under 1% last year, saw some big improvements in that category while also cutting down on his strikeouts. In 437 plate appearances between Dunedin and New Hampshire (only 30 PAs in NH), Pierre went from four walks and 128 strikeouts in 439 plate appearances last year to 13 walks and 112 strikeouts this year. Additionally, Pierre, who was known for his poor defense in Lansing from 2011-2013 cut his error total down from 34 in 2013 to 26 (although one was made at shortstop) in 2014 showing progress on the defensive side of the ball. With a solid bat, Pierre had a pretty good season with Dunedin, hitting .263/.285/.390 over 107 games but I’ll see the season as a positive one. EDIT: Pierre won’t be back next season as he was traded to the Phillies for John Mayberry Jr. Thanks to Steve02 for commenting here and to @LeafsJaysFan on Twitter for reminding me.
Another player from whom I was hoping for a breakout season was Emilio Guerrero. The lanky, 22-year-old Dominican shortstop saw a little bit of regression from his numbers last year, mostly attributed to a significantly lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate. Guerrero’s walk rate was cut in half as he was promoted to Dunedin, going from 10% with the Lansing Lugnuts last year to 5% with Dunedin this year. His strikeout rate also jumped from 14.8% in Lansing to 25.2%. Guerrero was definitely continuing to hit with some pop in his bat, hitting nine home runs and 21 doubles over 105 games. Guerrero is probably the first player that the Blue Jays are moving around the ball diamond to accommodate the hard-charging shortstops coming up through the organization. With Dawel Lugo, Franklin Barreto and Richard Urena coming off good (or better) seasons, something will have to give and Guerrero saw some time in center field (20 games) as well as third base. I can see Guerrero back in Dunedin, particularly if the move to the outfield is going to be permanent in 2015.
I’ve already discussed Dwight Smith, Jr.’s excellent season when I awarded him the Player of the Year for the Dunedin Blue Jays. He hit .284/.363/.453, showing off an increase in power that saw his ISO jump 65 points from last year. With good speed and baserunning skills to go along with his developing power, the 21-year-old outfielder who was a supplemental-round pick in 2011 is really going to be increasing his prospect potential despite staying in Dunedin all season (unlike another player we’ll get to shortly). I think we can all see Smith moving up to New Hampshire next year where, in a more hitter-friendly league, he could really get people talking.
Toronto-born Marcus Knecht returned to Dunedin for the third time as a 24 year old in 2014 and was one of the most solid contributors to the club even though his .250/.328/.388 slash line isn’t the most impressive. He did improve over his two previous seasons and, most impressively, cut down his strikeouts considerably from 28.3% in 2012, to 23.1% last year to 19.3% this year. His walk rate was also back up to 9.1% after dipping to a career low 5.9% in 2013. With a wOBA of .333 and a wRC+ of 106, Knecht was finally an above-average offensive contributor after his huge 2011 season in Lansing. Knecht could finally get a chance to show what he can do in Double-A New Hampshire next season.
A happy birthday goes out to Nick Baligod who turned 27 four days ago. The elder statesman for the Dunedin Blue Jays played 95 games for the club and hit .249/.317/.339, a significant step back from his very solid .733-OPS season a year ago. A 40th-round draftee in 2011, Baligod has been a solid contributor making excellent contact: he has only struck out 59 times in 695 plate appearances over two years with Dunedin. While Baligod set a new career high for home runs in 2014 (six), he also hit nine fewer doubles, leading to an ISO that was actually lower than in 2013.
Rising like a rocket through the Blue Jays’ organization in 2014 was Mississauga-born center fielder Dalton Pompey. Pompey’s 70-game first half added considerable flash and honours to his already exciting young career. Pompey was named a mid-season All-Star as well as named to the Futures Game. Pompey hit .319/.397/.471 over the first half of the season with Dunedin, stealing 29 bases and getting caught twice. He lowered his strikeout rate from Lansing last year while maintaining a high (11%) walk rate. Pompey has also started to show power, hitting 12 doubles to go with six triples and six home runs in just the first 70 games of the season (matching his 2013 home run total in the first half-year). Slowed down a bit with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats due to an injury, he hit only .295/.378/.473 with five doubles, three triples and three home runs over 127 plate appearances, earning his penultimate call up to the Buffalo Bisons where he went on a tear, hitting .358 over 12 games. Getting to the Show in September (he would have had to go on the 40-man roster anyways at the end of the year in order to protect him in the Rule 5 draft), he held his own with the big boys, hitting .231/.302/.436 with a double, two triples and a home run in 43 plate appearances and impressing with his outstanding defense. While Pompey is headed to the Arizona Fall League, he could very well get himself into the conversation to be in the Blue Jays’ outfield next season, particularly if Melky Cabrera doesn’t return.
The two other first basemen who split time in the second half of the season were L.B. Dantzler and Kevin Patterson. As a 25-year-old in Dunedin, Kevin Patterson did very similar things to what he did last year in Lansing. He hit .196/.293/.368 with 11 home runs and 14 doubles in 328 plate appearances. Dantzler missed quite a bit of time due to injury, played on 91 games including 48 with Dunedin. He wasn’t very impressive and it’s likely that his oblique injury is what really sucked the life out of his bat. He hit only .245/.328/.361 combined, showing similar numbers between the two levels although Dantzler’s walk and strikeout rates worsened in Dunedin. I’m looking forward to seeing Dantzler healthy in 2014 and he could return to Lansing to start 2014 and split time with Matt Dean at first base/DH after a stint in the Australian Baseball League this winter. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dantzler in New Hampshire, particularly if he comes to camp healthy and hitting the ball hard in March.
At 22, Shane Opitz didn’t have the best year, missing all but 32 games of the season thanks to injuries. Opitz hit when he had the chance, hitting .305/.342/.333 in 111 plate appearances for Dunedin. Considered a utility infielder, Opitz will be in Dunedin or New Hampshire next year. Peter Mooney, another shortstop/utility infielder played in 54 games with Dunedin (and another nine with New Hampshire), hitting .234/.336/.277 in High-A ball. After missing all of 2012 due to injury, it’s good to see Mooney back and he’ll likely be another guy like Opitz who goes where needed in 2015.
Unfortunately, 2014 was the end of Kellen Sweeney‘s career with the Blue Jays’ organization. Drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Sweeney’s .222/.282/.333 line after 10 games didn’t impress the brass enough to keep him around after two consecutive years of poor showings.
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