We conclude our in-depth look at the Dunedin Blue Jays by looking at the hitters. If a player split his season by playing for more than one team, keep in mind he’ll be considered with the team for which he had the most plate appearances.
The Midwest League couldn’t contain the 5-foot-9, 220-pound catcher Alejandro Kirk. The 20-year-old Mexican started his season in Lansing, hitting an incredible .299/.427/.519 with six doubles, a triple and three home runs over 21 games before he was moved up to Dunedin. Most impressive was that he walked 18 times and struck out just eight in his full-season debut, having posted a 1.001 OPS in Bluefield in 2018. Kirk then moved up to Dunedin for 71 more games, hitting a solid .288/.395/.446 and, while his power game didn’t show up in the form of home runs, he did hit 25 doubles and four homers with 38 walks and 31 strikeouts in just 276 plate appearances. While Kirk’s numbers took a dive in June after a strong start to his Dunedin tenure, he went from a .671 OPS in June to a .780 OPS in July to an .869 OPS in August, a month in which he hit all four of his Florida State League home runs. Kirk was no slouch behind the plate. Throwing out 33% of potential base stealers in Lansing (without having any passed balls) and throwing out 39% of potential base stealers in Dunedin. Kirk gets consistently good reviews for his backstopping abilities and, from what I’ve seen, is very smooth behind the plate. The biggest concern for most is going to be his weight as he gets older. He’ll need to trim down to be able to maintain a high workload behind the plate but the bat remains very promising. I can see Kirk starting 2019 back in Dunedin for a month or two before moving up to Double-A.
Joining Kirk behind the plate in Dunedin was 2018 college draftee Christopher Bec. The fifth rounder from last year’s draft held his own after getting bumped up from Vancouver last year, hitting .232/.343/.333 with nine doubles, a triple and two home runs in 54 games and 199 plate appearances. Bec’s specialty continues to be getting on base, as he walked in 14.1% of his plate appearances, exactly the same percentage as last year, and his strikeout rate went up 3.3%, up to 21.1% despite skipping a level. The other interesting thing about Bec is his speed and ability to steal bases as he stole 16 bases in 2019 and was caught just three times. Bec threw out 21.1% of potential base stealers with seven passed balls. I have a hard time seeing Bec move up to New Hampshire but it might be that I haven’t done a complete tally of where I think which players will start 2020 just yet, but he’ll either back in Dunedin or in New Hampshire.
Catcher Javier Hernandez was the D-Jays’ third-string catcher but didn’t play much all season, possible due to injury (I’m more likely to think that his frequent trips to the IL were more because of the “Phantom IL”). Hernandez played in just five games, going 1/2 with a walk and five strikeouts.
In some wishful thinking by the Blue Jays, Kacy Clemens was sent to New Hampshire to start the 2019 season but the former Texas Longhorn (and son of Roger Clemens) hit just .145/.247/.169 with two doubles, and had an 11.3% walk rate and 29.9% strikeout rate before he was moved down to Dunedin in mid-May. Clemens was still in a funk for the rest of May, but he hit five home runs in June (with a .749 OPS) before slumping again in July (.432 OPS) before coming out of it with an excellent August (.260/.366/.448). Overall, Clemens hit .204/.294/.350 with nine doubles, two triples and 10 home runs, stealing five bases (without getting caught) while posting an 11.6% walk rate and a 28.2% strikeout rate. The key for Clemens to his strong August was a strikeout rate that was significantly lower than for the rest of the season (21.4%). If he can continue to put the ball in play more with the kind of solid production he had in August, He’ll be much more of a prospect going forward. I think he’ll get another chance to prove himself in Double-A next year.
21-year-old Samad Taylor showed a lot of growth in his 2018 season in Lansing but he struggled when he moved up to Dunedin in 2019. The second baseman had a .216/.325/.364 slash line, walking in a healthy 12.8% of plate appearances but striking out in 27.9%, 9.2% more often than he did in 2018. Taylor’s season was up and down as he had a .726 OPS in April but a truly terrible .374 OPS in May. In June it was .781 while he had a stellar July with four of his seven home runs and an .895 OPS. That fell to .693 in August as he struck out 31.0% of the time despite seven doubles, a triple and two home runs. Despite the struggles putting the ball in play, Taylor’s extra-base hit numbers are very solid for a player of his size and age (his pop reminds me a bit of Jonathan Davis) while he showed off his speed, stealing 26 bases in 36 attempts. I think Taylor will probably get another couple of months in Dunedin to start 2020.
23-year-old Cullen Large stayed on the field for most of 2019 (although he did miss a big chunk of June) after losing almost all of 2018 because of an injury. Large played 84 games with Dunedin, mostly at third base, and had a .269/.360/.408 slash line, hitting 23 doubles, three triples and four home runs with an 11.3% walk rate and a 26.5% strikeout rate. He finished with 24 games in Double-A New Hampshire where he didn’t really take many walks, just one in 99 plate appearances while he struck out 31 times. He had a .234/.273/.330 slash line with three doubles and three triples. Large has gotten into the Arizona Fall League and is playing fairly well at the time of this writing. I think Large will be back in New Hampshire in 2020.
Kevin Vicuna, 21, was the most prolific shortstop for the Dunedin Blue Jays, playing 94 games at that position with another 13 at second base and five at third. In all (including DH games), he played 112 games for Dunedin and hit .250/.314/.326 with 19 doubles, four triples and a home run, stealing 19 bases in 28 tries. Vicuna doesn’t strike out much (relatively) but he still whiffed at an 18.6% and walked at a 6.8% rate, a career high for him. Vicuna played in three games with the Buffalo Bisons in August and hit .429/.500/.714, going 3/7 with a home run and just one strikeout. I can see Vicuna either in Dunedin or New Hampshire next year, depending on where the chips fall with other infielders.
21-year-old Jesus Navarro was off and on the IL all season, playing in just 41 games for the Dunedin Blue Jays after spending 2018 in Lansing and Vancouver. In 138 plate appearances, Navarro hit just .198/.277/.231 with two doubles and a triple, stealing two bases in three attempts. Navarro had a healthy 9.4% walk rate while his strikeout rate of 21.0% was near his career high. I can see Navarro back in Dunedin next year to hopefully get more playing time.
Leading the Dunedin Blue Jays in games in the outfield was Chavez Young, who played 111 games for Dunedin this year. Young, the lone Bahamian in the Jays’ organization spent his Age-21 season having a solid season, posting a .247/.315/.354 slash line with 17 doubles, four triples and six home runs, stealing 24 bases in 35 tries. Young struggled to generate a lot of power but his second half of the year (well, July and August) had him hitting for a much better average than the early part of the year. Young’s walk rate was down 3.0% from his strong 2018 in Lansing, to 7.8% while his strikeout rate was up 4.2% to 22.8%. That said, Young, now 22, could either repeat Dunedin to start the year, or he could move up to New Hampshire in 2020. A lot depends on the players around him and his performance in spring training.
Some were skeptical when Cal Stevenson was sent to Dunedin to start 2019 after playing in Bluefield in 2018, skipping completely over two levels. The worst seemed to come true as Stevenson had just a .587 OPS in April, but he quickly turned things around, posting an .832 OPS in May, a .742 OPS in June an a .920 OPS in July before he was traded to the Houston Astros in the deal that sent Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini away for Derek Fisher. Overall, in 90 games with Dunedin, Stevenson had a .298/.388/.393 slash line, hitting nine doubles, four triples and five home runs while posting another stellar 12.8% walk rate while striking out in just 13.3% of plate appearances. He boosted his walk rate to 19.0% after the trade, hitting .247/.390/.346 with the Fayetteville Woodpeckers of the Carolina League in 23 games. Stevenson’s eye, bat and arm (19 outfield assists for Dunedin) will be missed in the Blue Jays organization.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in the Ottawa area, Demi Orimoloye played his first season in the Jays’ organization with some mixed success. Always considered to have huge tools, Orimoloye’s contact ability has been a work in progress when he was with the Brewers’ organization, but he showed flashes of what he might yet become in 2019 with the Dunedin Blue Jays. Orimoloye had just a .583 OPS in April and a .439 OPS in May, leading many to question the return for Curtis Granderson at the August trade deadline last year. But Orimoloye had a monster June in him, hitting .342/.407/.644 for the month with five home runs and a Florida State League Player of the Month award. Orimoloye’s performance slunk backwards in July (.634 OPS) and August (.690 OPS) for a more consistent but still weaker end to the season. Overall, Demi hit .240/.291/.386 with 18 doubles, three triples and 12 home runs but only walked in 5.6% of his 446 plate appearances and struck out a career-high 28.0% of the time. Orimoloye is going to need to figure out what he did in June in order to recapture his mojo going into 2020. I think he’ll start back in Dunedin as a 23 year old but could be moved up within a couple of months if he shows that he can be more consistent in capitalizing on his tremendous raw power.
Ryan Noda, 23, is also looking for more consistency in his season as he has been known to be prone to hot streaks. Noda had a solid season, hitting .238/.372/.418 for the D-Jays, hitting 27 doubles, a triple and 13 home runs while stealing 14 bases in 16 attempts. While his walk rate dropped from his incredible 2018 rate (down to 15.8% from 20.7%), his strikeout rate rose to 29.4%, giving him some contact issues. There’s a lot to like about Noda’s game as he showed some versatility on the diamond, playing both outfield corner positions as well as first base. He bookended his season with strong months, posting an .815 OPS in April and .856 in July and August combined. Like many others, if he can maintain consistency throughout a full season as he moves up, Noda will be a player to watch.
Norberto Obeso, a 24-year-old, lefthanded-hitting Mexican outfielder played 82 games with the Blue Jays and hit a respectable .262/.341/.354 after poorer numbers in Lansing in 2018. He hit 14 doubles, four triples and a home run, walking in 10.4% of plate appearances and striking out in 17.3%. I think he could move up to New Hampshire but he’s likely to be a fourth outfielder going forward.
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