The Dunedin Blue Jays hitters are the subject of part four of my annual series that tries to prognosticate the opening day rosters of the Jays’ minor league affiliates.
Many of these players saw time in Dunedin last year, either as a taste of a higher level at some point in the year, or were around for the full year. Some other players have proven themselves at Dunedin but, by my estimation, there just isn’t enough room for them up a level in Double-A New Hampshire. Still others need to show a little bit more before they move up.
One position that is really confounding me this year is the catching position. In addition to adding Reese McGuire last August, the Blue Jays have signed or claimed no fewer than four other catchers to play at the higher levels of the system. While they released A.J. Jimenez and and lost Jorge Saez in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, the players whom they added make things very sticky for players coming up through the system to find playing time. Which catchers make the rosters of the full-season minor league squads will really depend on how the battles for the spots at the top of the organization shake out.
Another interesting position is at shortstop. The Blue Jays have a big question mark with the signing of Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. and have said that they’re going to play him at shortstop and I’ve also read other writers say that they’ve heard that the Blue Jays will start him in New Hampshire. The other key piece of information to creating this puzzle is where the Blue Jays put Richard Urena. Urena plays everyday at shortstop wherever he goes, meaning that Gurriel can’t start on the same team. If you keep reading the subsequent articles, you’ll see where I think Urena ends up and that piece of the puzzle is vital to deciding where Gurriel goes.
I think the everyday catcher for the Dunedin Blue Jays will be Danny Jansen. Jansen is coming into his Age-22 season and has struggled to hit over the past couple of years since his breakout in Bluefield in 2014. Still, Jansen has had a big dose of the injury bug so he needs to stay healthy and get a full season under his belt to really show what he can do.
I actually really liked what I saw from Atkinson at the plate last year in Lansing despite his poor numbers. The 23-year-old Canadian catcher is entering his third full year behind the plate and is making good progress. Despite the sub-.200 batting average last year, I saw Atkinson making very solid contact and he showed more power than he had before. Despite this being Atkinson’s seventh year in the Jays’ system, he has never played above the Class-A level and I think this year he gets a shot. He also adds versatility, having been an infielder before moving behind the plate.
Hissey was the Blue Jays’ Webster Award winner for the Vancouver Canadians in his draft year of 2015. 23 in April, Hissey put up some solid numbers in Lansing last year and could be moved up to Dunedin. There’s also a chance that he returns to Lansing if things get too clogged up in Dunedin.
This is where things are a little clearer in my mind. Kelly, 22, was one of the most consistent Lansing Lugnuts with the bat and has some defensive flexibility, being able to play both first and third.
La Prise had a solid season in Lansing last year in his first full professional season. La Prise, 23, got a taste of Dunedin last year and is a very good defender at second base. I’d like to see a little more power production this year though.
Wise has struggled in two seasons since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. A power-hitting third baseman (and catcher) in college, Wise only hit .240/.291/.329 last year in Lansing but has been beset by injuries.
Nay was one of the Jays’ top power-hitting prospects until a couple of years ago when he struggled in Dunedin, hitting just five home runs in 109 games with the Blue Jays, after he hit six home runs in 64 games in Bluefield in his first pro year in 2013. Nay missed almost all of 2016 with a knee injury and he needs a good 2017 to restore the shine on his star.
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
As I explained above, I think Richard Urena starts in New Hampshire. That means that, if the Blue Jays want their Cuban import to play shortstop, he’s either in Buffalo or Dunedin. Without any pro experience beyond the Cuban League, I think he’s in Dunedin to start to see how he reacts to this level. He could be gone in a month if he proves he’s beyond it.
Heidt played some shortstop last year and is a versatile infielder. A former college teammate of Wise’s, Heidt finally showed some offensive consistency at the Advanced-A level in his Age-23 season last year.
Versatility is key for both of these players. Attaway saw time in Dunedin last year, playing second for Dunedin but second, third and short for Lansing. Metzler had more time in Lansing but struggled with the bat for both clubs (.164/.260/.246 combined).
Almonte, 23, got his first shot in Dunedin last year but didn’t make the most of it, hitting .162/.210/.216 in 39 games there. He’ll likely play right field, a great place to show off his plus-plus arm in Dunedin and try to find his groove at the plate.
The shine has certainly come off of Davis’s prospect status but, despite being in the Jays’ system for five years already, he’s just 22 years old. After repeating the level in Lansing with far better results in 2015, it was time for Davis to move up to Dunedin where he struggled again. With so many tools, he gets another shot and the Blue Jays are hoping that he returns to the form he found two years ago.
Panas, a Toronto boy, emerged from a reserve roll in his first full season last year to blast his way to the top of the Lansing Lugnuts’ home run chart. Built like a linebacker, he went on to play every day for the back half of the season and could very well play regularly in Dunedin.
Guillotte was one of Lansing’s more consistent hitters and spent the full year there, mostly at the top of the order, using his good eye and ability to grind out at bats to get on base and use his speed. He also showed some solid gap power and will likely be a fourth outfielder who can rack up a lot of at bats spelling regulars at all three positions.
On the Bubble
Reeves, a catcher, has shown an increase in power towards the end of the season last year and into his time in the Australian Baseball League over the winter. The Peterborough-born 26-year-old is probably ready to serve a backup role in Double-A but there a lot of catchers ahead of him on the depth chart.
“De La” is younger than Reeves but, after a solid season in Dunedin, mostly as a backup catcher, he could be in a similar role in Double-A. I think Cruz is more likely to stay in Dunedin than Reeves, who has three years of age on him.
Harris has experience both at third base and the outfield but a suspension last year cut into his playing time and he didn’t seem to get into a groove after dominating the Australian league in the winter of 2015/16. He’s 25 but will be pressed to find playing time.
Cardenas could return to Lansing or head up to Dunedin, depending on where his glove is needed most.
Jake Thomas impressed me in spring training last year with the quality of contact he was making and was a solid outfield backup for the Lugnuts in 2016. I think he could be back in Lansing to back up but wouldn’t be surprised he was in Dunedin.
I think Pentecost is going to be in Double-A but the potential logjam of catchers means that he might return to Dunedin, playing defensively this year.
Thomas has struggled with the bat in Lansing, but with a good showing in spring training, he could very well make the jump to Dunedin to start the year.
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