The Lansing Lugnuts’ hitters generally had a down season with only one “Blue Chip” prospect with the club for a large part of the season. But how did they do? Who were they? Read on!
Incredibly, only two players caught for the Lansing Lugnuts all year with Ryan Hissey leading the way. Last year’s Webster Award winner for the MVP of the Vancouver Canadians, Hissey, 22, saw some of his production drop at the higher level, hitting .246/.310/.337, slamming 19 doubles, three triples and four home runs with a solid 7.9% walk rate and a slightly-above-average 21.2% strikeout rate (which was better than his rate in Vancouver last year). Hissey was average behind the plate, throwing out 27% of base runners but also committing 12 passed balls and seven errors. While he might move up to Dunedin next year, there’s a good chance that he repeats part of the season in Lansing in his Age-23 season.
B.C. native Justin Atkinson spent his Age-22 season in Lansing again but this time, he showed some big improvement in a number of areas, primarily defensively. Gaining his manager’s trust behind the plate, Atkinson caught 47 games, throwing out 28% of runners but committed 13 passed balls with four errors. Not limited to duties behind the dish, Atkinson also played a significant amount of time at first base with five games at third. On the offensive side, Atkinson improved across the board over his time in Lansing last year, with a .094 ISO, 7.1% walk rate and 22.4% strikeout rate but his .234 BABIP led him to hitting just .190/.248/.284 on the season with 19 doubles, a triple and a career-high five home runs in 424 plate appearances. Atkinson shows solid power in batting practice sessions but has yet to be able to put it all together in games. Still, due to his record low BABIP, I can see Atkinson regressing upwards in 2017, likely with Dunedin.
Despite not being built like your typical first baseman (listed at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds), Dominican infielder Juan Kelly spent the season in Lansing, having a very solidly productive season and earning our Player of the Year award. Kelly came to the plate 548 times and hit .274/.356/.448 with a team-leading 35 doubles, six triples and 12 home runs, also stealing 11 bases without getting caught. Kelly posted a very good 10.4% walk rate to go along with a 20.6% strikeout rate. Kelly has nothing left to prove in Lansing and should be in Dunedin next year where he’ll have to find playing time at either first or third base.
In his Age-22 season, John La Prise made a much bigger impression than he was able to in his first professional stint last year when he was recovering from April hip surgery. La Prise joined the Lugnuts in mid-June and made an impression, hitting .300 for the month of June before tailing off in July and rebounding somewhat in August. La Prise finished with a .255/.332/.314 with 12 doubles and a triple, stealing four bases and getting caught three times. With a compact left-handed swing, La Prise will probably need to make more hard contact, indicated by his low, .059 ISO and will need to bring his 27.7% strikeout rate down, even if his 9.1% walk rate was very good. In six games with the Dunedin Blue Jays at the end of the year, La Prise hit .318/.375/.365 with a double in 25 plate appearances. La Prise probably returns to Dunedin next year to play second base and while his makeup and skill set have been praised, he’ll need to take big steps in 2017.
22-year-old third baseman Carl Wise spent his second professional season in Lansing, getting into 84 games thanks to a stint on the DL. With 330 plate appearances, Wise hit .240/.291/.329 with 15 doubles and four home runs. His strikeout rate of 21.8% was generally ok (if a tad high), but his walk rate, while an improvement over his Vancouver numbers from last year, is a bit low at 6.4%. I didn’t see much of his play this year, so I don’t really have a good idea of what his approach and swing are like but he may need some more time in Lansing in 2017.
Another 22-year-old, Cuban-born J.C. Cardenas, manned shortstop for much of the 2016 season. Cardenas played 78 games with a .206/.279/.294 slash line in 291 plate appearances and hit 14 doubles and three home runs. Cardenas also struck out a bit too much at 24.4% while walking a healthy 9.3% rate. Cardenas has some pop but it’s been a struggle to show it consistently in games. He could also benefit from some more time in Lansing but could reach Dunedin next year if he starts strongly.
Gunnar Heidt made sure that his return to Lansing was brief, but he still played more there than in Dunedin. Heidt came into the season determined to move up and was one of the club’s leading hitters in the first half of the season. Heidt hit .270/.351/.427 with 15 doubles, three triples and four home runs over 241 plate appearances for the Lugnuts, more than doubling his power output (with a .156 ISO) while increasing his walk rate to 9.1% and striking out 1.1% more than his time in Lansing in 2015 (at 23.2%). After his promotion to Dunedin, he kept hitting, despite an almost 40-point drop in BABIP. He hit .256/.337/.411 with a 10.2% walk rate, 21.8% strikeout rate with five more home runs (and 13 doubles) in 206 plate appearances. While the strikeouts are a bit high, this is the Gunnar Heidt I’ve been waiting to see. He’s a player who works the count, grinds at bats and has some pop thanks to a quick, compact swing. He should start out in Dunedin but with success could be tested in New Hampshire by the end of 2017.
Ryan Metzler spent most of the second half of 2016 with the Lansing Lugnuts after a brief three-game stint in Dunedin in April (with far better weather than it was in Lansing at the time). Going 2/11 with Dunedin and adding two walks, Metzler joined the Lugnuts in June and hit .163/.257/.250 in 212 plate appearances, hitting seven doubles, three triples and a home run, stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts. Metzler is a classic utility man, playing second, third and short, but particularly playing shortstop for Lansing in 43 games. As with most backup/utility types, he could land anywhere from Lansing to New Hampshire next year, depending on where his glove is needed.
Infielder Alex Maldonado spent his first year as a coach in the Blue Jays’ organization, working with players and coaching first base for the Lansing Lugnuts. He did get into three games as a player and the 25-year-old was 1/8 with two walks, one strikeout and a double.
We’ll start in left field where Toronto-born Connor Panas got into the most games. With 44 games in left field, another 26 in right, seven at first, the Lugnuts were trying to get Panas’s bat into the lineup however they could. In 98 games and 383 plate appearances, Panas hit .231/.343/.430 with 10 doubles, three triples and a club-leading 16 home runs while driving in 50 runs. Not bad for a player who spent most of his time on the bench at the beginning of the season. Panas’s healthy 11.7% walk rate was somewhat canceled out by a high 25.3% strikeout rate but that was still an improvement on his K% with Vancouver in 2015. Panas has a quirky swing that generates a lot of loft and power but may be exploited as he faces better pitching. It’s hard to tell until he’s tested and he’ll likely be tested in Dunedin next year.
Despite missing time due to another injury, Lane Thomas, 21, had a mixed season after a very rough 2015. Thomas hit .216/.330/.348 with 14 doubles, a triple and seven home runs in just 332 plate appearances with Lansing (and additional five doubles and a home run in 23 dominant plate appearances on a rehab stint in the GCL). Thomas also swiped 17 bases in 22 attempts for the Lugnuts. Back to playing the outfield, Thomas improved his walk rate immensely to 13.6% but was still striking out far too much at 32.2%. Thomas is still young enough that he can show the upside that exhibited in his draft year in 2014 but might have to spend the beginning of 2017 back in Lansing.
Blessed with physical tools galore, Josh Almonte has struggled to make the most of them. After finishing strongly with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2015, he regressed in 2016, hitting just .221/.266/.308 in 211 plate appearances this year before a promotion to Dunedin. Almonte’s low walk rate rose a bit to 4.3% and he cut his strikeout rate four percent to 25.1% but his power fell off as fewer balls in play were falling in. In Dunedin, his progression regressed as his BABIP dropped to .234 over 121 plate appearances. He walked in ony 3.3% of plate appearances and struck out in 28.9% with an ISO of .054 and a slash line of .162/.210/.216. Look for Almonte, now 22, to be under more pressure to produce in his sixth professional season in 2017.
Andrew Guillotte, 23, didn’t play the most at any position for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2016 but he was one of the club’s leaders with 508 plate appearances, hitting .253/.322/.352 and was one of the Lugnuts’ key players all season. Guillotte had hustle to spare, stealing 20 bases but was caught 10 times and hit 27 doubles, three triples and four home runs, a solid number of extra-base hits for someone listed at 5-foot-8. Guillotte didn’t strike out much, going down on strikes 15.2% of the time and walking 7.7%. In a 14-game promotion to Dunedin, Guillotte wasn’t quite as successful, hitting .152/.250/.196 with a 9.6% walk rate and 17.3% strikeout rate. Guillotte could very well return to Dunedin for 2017 but, depending on where he sits on the depth chart, his playing time might increase on another club.
In his Age-22 season, 5-foot-10 Jake Thomas got into 57 games for the Lansing Lugnuts as a scrappy utliity player. He hit .244/.325/.315 with seven doubles and four triples, walking in 10.0% of his 241 plate appearances and striking out in 20.3%. It was a solid season for Thomas who was showing a reduced amount of power (his ISO was down to .070 after his .103 showing in the GCL last year). Thomas can play all three outfield positions and will be a good utility player next year whether it be back in Lansing or in Dunedin.
22-year-old Juan Tejada struggled to find playing time this season between Vancouver and Lansing. Starting his season in Vancouver, Tejada had four hits in five games before getting moved up to Lansing where he hit .154/.202/.231 in 25 games and 84 plate appearances with a 27.4% strikeout rate and 4.8% walk rate before being sent back to Canada where he got into seven more games before the season closed. He was better in those seven games, hitting .259/.333/.593 with four doubles, three triples and a home run in 31 plate appearances but it was, for Tejada, just a tease at the end of a rough season. With plenty of raw power, he’ll get another chance to show what he can do in 2017, likely back in Lansing, in his sixth season in the Blue Jays’ system.
Usually in the minor leagues, the designated hitters have a defensive position. For much of the Lansing Lugnuts’ season, however, that position was filled by Max Pentecost, the Jays’ first-round pick (11th overall) in the 2014 draft. Pentecost, a catcher by trade, has been slowly rehabbing his (twice) surgically repaired right shoulder and has been held out of defensive action in games. That said, he had a fantastic time with the bat in 62 games with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting .314/.375/.490 and using his tremendous line-drive stroke to hit 15 doubles, three triples and seven home runs in just 267 plate appearances. Pentecost had a decent eye, walking in 7.9% of plate appearances and struck out in an average, 19.1% of them. After his promotion to Dunedin, however, those numbers took a bit of a dive, despite the fact that he increased his power production. In 52 plate appearances, Pentecost hit .245/.288/.469 with two doubles and three home runs but struck out in 32.7% of his PAs and walking in 5.8%. It’s probably safe to say that, knock on wood, Pentecost will have recovered enough to catch next season and will start the year in Dunedin at the age of 24, trying to get his career on track after finally racking up some at bats in 2016.
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