It’s that time of year when spring training has begun. The big league players have returned to Florida, taken their pictures and have even done some baseball related activities. This is when my mind drifts to the season to come and projects the rosters for the Blue Jays’ minor league teams as we look to open the season. As usual, I’m going to start with the Jays’ lowest-level team, the Lansing Lugnuts, and work my way up the ladder to the Buffalo Bisons.
This year, I’m breaking up the rosters into pitchers and position players. That will give me a little bit more space to talk about some of my choices and decisions because coming up with rosters and, particularly for the Lugnuts, it was very hard to pare things down. There are a lot of pitchers projected to be hanging around Class-A with several who could start in Lansing or Dunedin while several are on the bubble and could either make the squad or either head to extended spring training or get released by the time the season opens. The latter possibility is very real for these minor league players and I don’t bring it up lightly. In an ideal world, my Lansing roster has about 40 players but when do they all play? This exercise also gives you an idea of what the Blue Jays management goes through in cutting down their rosters heading into April. When making my projections, I’m looking at what the club has done in the past and try to see the future. I’m still getting a feel on how the new regime is going about their decision making, therefore, I’m bound to be wrong about some players. Probably more than I have been wrong about in the past.
In just his Age-20 season, Maese will return to Lansing for about half the year. This regime has been more conservative (for the most part), particularly with younger pitchers and Maese threw a combined 82 2/3 innings last year between Lansing and Vancouver. He’ll probably anchor a strong rotation to start the year and will probably be on a 70-pitch limit for the first month or so.
Last year’s first-round draft pick had a solid season in Vancouver but struggled in Lansing in two starts. That’s nothing to worry about. One of last year’s top pitchers in the system, Jon Harris also struggled in his draft year but found himself in year two. I think Zeuch will do that too. Like Maese, he probably won’t stay in Lansing the whole year if he’s doing well.
Murphy was getting a lot of attention as the backbone of the Vancouver rotation after many years of injury woes. He was a horse last year but the Blue Jays will likely limit his workload a little bit but he’ll take a regular turn in Lansing.
Here’s my first “who?” of the list. Weatherly is a college pitcher (although he went to a junior college) and, while his Bluefield numbers from last year don’t exactly scream “domination,” the were very good. Weatherly is 22 and has the stuff to pitch well in Lansing.
On the Bubble
Why are these two guys lumped together? Because they piggybacked last year in Vancouver coming out of the draft and neither really distinguished himself. That said, they’re both 22 and will probably need to find a spot in Lansing.
I’ll lump these two guys together because, while Ravel and Ellenbest both pitched in Vancouver, both Espada and Gutierrez pitched in Bluefield. Gutierrez, 22, was excellent and is the older of the two, meaning that he’s more likely to start the year in Lansing. Espada is only 20, however and could be held back a little bit to start the year and bide his time until a roster spot opens.
Lowery had a solid time in Lansing last year after moving up from Vancouver showing good control. I think the Dunedin bullpen is too crowded for him to move up but he’ll probably be back.
Young has struggled with his control since being drafted in 2015, but the lefty is 23 and probably needs to be in Lansing.
Another lefty, Saucedo started 2016 in the Lansing rotation but his lack of consistency got him bumped to the ‘pen. Still, he has shown the potential to be a dominant pitcher and will get a chance in relief in 2017.
A 23-year-old right-handed reliever, Eller dominated in Bluefield and, thanks to his age, will probably move up to Lansing.
McClelland, 22, had strong numbers in Vancouver and while “the other Jackson,” Lowery, moved up to Lansing, McClelland stayed in Vancouver. His time as a Lugnut will be this year.
Bergen was highly touted coming out of the draft in 2015. He hasn’t pitched much due to injury but could very well be in Lansing’s bullpen if he’s not held down in Florida to start either in extended or Dunedin.
On the Bubble
In my mind, I’ve got Jackson, who was a very strong pitcher for the Vancouver Canadians, either in Lansing or Dunedin. He’s been talked about as having a fantastic curveball and, as a reliever, could move quickly through the organization. If he shows well in the spring, finding his command, he could be in Dunedin to start the year. If not, he might be in Lansing.
Wandling didn’t pitch last year due to injury but is another pitcher who could move up to Dunedin.
Both Cook and Smith spent time in Lansing last year but it wasn’t smooth sailing for either. Cook had an ERA over 5.00, walking 34 in 69 2/3 innings while Smith got hit hard in a brief stint in Lansing and then again in Vancouver where his ERA was over 7.00.
Glaude was a non-drafted free agent who has done nothing but pitch well. In Vancouver, he struck out 40 batters in 34 1/3 innings but walked 17. His small stature (5-foot-9), more advanced age (25 on April 6) and the fact that he’s a non-drafted free agent makes his position more precarious than some other players.
[EDIT] Ok, we missed Grayson Huffman despite the fact that I had him on my list. Huffman will be 22 this year and, despite a rough time in Vancouver in 2016, he could make it with a good spring training that shows improvement in his control and ability to limit damage.
What do you think? Who are we missing?
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