The Lansing Lugnuts’ hitters were a powerful force in 2017, particularly in the first half of the year when two of the Jays’ top prospects were filling out the left side of the infield.
Ridge Smith didn’t arrive in Lansing until the end of April and then only played four games until the beginning of June, but the 22-year-old catcher led the Lugnuts in games caught. Smith hit .247/.337/.386 over 51 games with 15 doubles, a triple and two home runs. Smith struck out 19.4% of the time and walked in 11.7% of his plate appearances. Smith threw out 34% of potential base stealers, showing off a quick release and a strong arm. Smith played in two games for Dunedin in early July, going 0/4 with a strikeout. Smith, the Jays’ 12th-round draft pick in 2016, could be back in Lansing in 2018 but could also move up to Dunedin.
Javier Hernandez got a late start to the season, starting with five games in Vancouver where he hit .316/.350/.579 before moving up to the Lansing Lugnuts. In 35 games with Lansing, Hernandez, a 21-year-old Venezuelan, hit .224/.273/.306 with five doubles and two home runs while throwing out 20% of runners trying to steal. Hernandez will be in the sixth year with the Blue Jays and he could be back in Lansing or up with Dunedin.
Ryan Hissey, 23, started his season in Lansing and played 33 games with the Lugnuts but Hissey had a rough season with injuries, playing in only 52 games overall. With the Lugnuts, Hissey hit .254/.313/.356 with four doubles, a triple and two home runs, a 7.5% walk rate and 15.7% strikeout rate around a promotion for one game to New Hampshire. At the end of May, Hissey moved up to the Florida State League, bouncing back and forth between Dunedin and Lansing before going down to injury at the beginning of July. After a two-game rehab assignment in the GCL, he managed to get into three games in Dunedin before finishing his season with two games in New Hampshire. Hissey had a .171/.286/.220 slash line in 41 at bats with Dunedin and was 1/10 in Double-A. Hissey only threw out 16% of runners with Lansing and 12% with Dunedin and didn’t throw out any of the four runners who tried to steal in New Hampshire. I can see Hissey starting 2018 in Dunedin.
Andres Sotillo, 23, finished his sixth year in the Blue Jays’ minor league system and reached the full-season leagues for the first time in 2017. The Venezuelan catcher played with the Lugnuts from May until July, getting into 22 games as a backup, hitting .261/.378/.290 with two doubles, walking 12.0% of the time and striking out 25.3% of the time. Sotillo played 13 games with Dunedin, hitting .250/.375/.281 and three games with New Hampshire, going 2/6 with a double and a home run. Sotillo threw 26% of potential base stealers in Lansing, 56% of the nine attempted stealers in Dunedin and 17% of the six attempts in New Hampshire. As a backup, Sotillo could be assigned anywhere from Lansing to New Hampshire.
Leading the charge at first base was Christian Williams. Williams, a 23-year-old 16th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2015. Williams continually improved his numbers throughout the season, peaking in June with a .307/.369/.493 month before he sat out the rest of the season with an injury. Overall, Williams hit .263/.342/.367 with 14 doubles, a triple and three home runs. Williams struck out 28.7% of the time, a number that will need to come down in the future, while walking a healthy 9.6% of the time. Williams might start the season back in Lansing next year, after some time in the Fall Instructional League.
Yeltsin Gudino, a 20-year-old Venezuelan infielder, spent the whole season playing shortstop and second base in Lansing. He hit .259/.330/.317, his best offensive season of his career, hitting 14 doubles, two triples and two home runs. Gudino’s walk rate was down a bit from last year in Vancouver at 7.5% but he also struck out only 13.5% of the time. Gudino could be in Dunedin next year but may also stick around in Lansing.
18-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the Lugnuts with 61 games played at third base where he hit .316/.409/.480, hitting 21 doubles, a triple and seven home runs. Guerrero, one of the game’s top prospects, didn’t just walk more than he struck out (12.6% BB% and 10.7% K%), but he hit even better as he moved up to the Dunedin Blue Jays when he hit .333/.450/.494 with another seven doubles, a triple and six home runs in 209 plate appearances. In Dunedin, he was able to maintain his positive walk to strikeout rate, with a 17.2% walk rate and a 13.4% strikeouts rate. Guerrero might start in Dunedin but his rise is going to be swift and I’d be surprised if he didn’t play in Double-A for a large point in the season.
Along with Vlad, everyone is also talking about shortstop Bo Bichette. Bichette, 19, not only won the Midwest League MVP award, but he won the league batting championship (even after having numerous hitless at bats added to his stats in order to give him enough to qualify). His triple slash line of .384/.448/.623 with 32 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs was a thing of beauty and he had a solid 8.8% walk rate to go with a 17.4% strikeout rate. Promoted to Dunedin, he played another 40 games, hitting .323/.379/.463 with nine doubles, a triple and four more home runs to give him a tremendous first full season. In Dunedin, he even struck out less (at 14.3%) while walking 7.7% of the time. Bichette, like Guerrero, will probably start back in Dunedin but time in Double-A is almost a certainty in 2018.
After missing almost all of 2016 due to injury, Mitch Nay returned to action, rediscovering his power while not really getting on base at a high rate. Nay hit .222/.265/.393 with nine doubles, two triples and 10 home runs in 252 at bats, walking in 5.5% of the time and striking out in 20.7%. Nay started up his season in June and really came into his own in July, hitting .295/.327/.495 before tailing off in August and September. Nay should move up to Dunedin next year, his sixth in the Jays’ system.
Bradley Jones got into 49 games with Lansing in 2017, dominating after being the home run leader in the Appalachian League last year. To start 2017, he hit .326/.394/.560 with 10 doubles, three triples and nine home runs in 184 at bats. In that time, he walked in 10.1% of his plate appearances and struck out in 22.6% before he was promoted to Dunedin, falling off and hitting .156/.206/.219, walking in only 5.9% of his plate appearances and striking out in a whopping 44.1% of his 68 PAs. Jones was injured and missed the rest of the year and I think he’ll start 2018 in Dunedin.
The Blue Jays signed Luis Silva after he was released by the Texas Rangers and had him in Lansing where he hit .196/.240/.239 in 38 games with six doubles. He was 1/10 in three games in Dunedin but otherwise was a utility player for the Lugnuts. Silva could be in Lansing or Dunedin next year.
Canadian Mattingly Romanin, a Burlington, Ontario native played 31 games with the Lansing Lugnuts, starting his season in mid-June. With the Lugnuts, Romanin hit .204/.261/.296 with 10 doubles before moving down to Vancouver to play the champion Vancouver Canadians and hitting .200/.378/.243, walking an amazing 14.4% of the time but striking out 26.7%. Romanin could be back with Lansing in 2018 as a 25 year old.
23-year-old Nick Sinay set an unusual record for the Lugnuts, getting hit by a pitch 38 times to set a MWL record. Despite a .215 batting average, the HBPs and a 10.9% walk rate gave him a .405 OBP to go with his .256 slugging percentage. Sinay also added 23 stolen bases in 33 attempts. Sinay could be back in Lansing next year or he could be in Dunedin.
While he got a late start to the season, starting on April 17, Joshua Palacios started off slowly but really got going in July and August. The final numbers were flattering with a .280/.360/.361 slash line, walking in 10.0% of his plate appearances and striking out 18.6%. The 22 year old turned things on in the last couple of months of the season, hitting .348/.422/.438 with 13 doubles, a triple and a home run from July 1. Palacios played mostly in center field but has the ability to play anywhere in the outfield. He should be in Dunedin in 2018.
Edward Olivares spent the whole season in Lansing and, playing in the shadow of Vlad and Bo, quietly put together a very strong season. Olivares hit .277/.330/.500 with 26 doubles, nine triples and 17 home runs, stealing 18 bases in 25 attempts. Olivares’s walk rate of 4.7% leaves something to be desired but his 17.7% strikeout rate is pretty solid. Olivares got a late-season promotion to Dunedin where he hit .221/.312/.265 with a 10.4% walk rate and 22.1% strikeout rate. I think he’ll start 2018 in Dunedin in his Age-22 season.
Lefthanded hitting outfielder J.B. Woodman didn’t quite have the season he did in 2016 when he was a second-round draft pick of the Blue Jays. Woodman’s first full season of professional baseball was somewhat sobering as the 22 year old hit .240/.320/.378 in 96 games with the Lansing Lugnuts. When he hit the ball, he hit the ball hard, hitting 19 doubles, five triples and seven home runs for a solid, .138 ISO and an outstanding .394 BABIP but he also struck out a ton, K’ing in 37.9% of his plate appearances while walking in 9.7%. Woodman will likely move up to Dunedin next year and will work hard to cut down the strikeouts in order to take advantage of the pop in his bat.
Rodrigo Orozco joined the Lugnuts at the beginning of June and was a very solid contributor to the club down the stretch, hitting .282/.367/.373 with 19 doubles, two triples and a home run. For Orozco, it was his ability to get on base that was his most valuable asset, walking in 11.8% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 15.8%. A switch hitter, Orozco had better numbers from the right side of the plate last year, particularly in his batting average and slugging percentage. Orozco, 22, may return to Lansing next year or could be in Dunedin, depending on how the rosters start to shake out.
Finally, on-base machine Jake Thomas, 24, spent the first two months of the season in Lansing, hitting .275/.457/.358 with an uncanny 24.4% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate. At the beginning of June, Thomas moved up to New Hampshire and bounced between Double-A and Advanced-A Dunedin for the remainder of the season. In Dunedin, he hit .255/.374/.327 with a 15.9% walk rate and 26.5% strikeout rate and he hit .182/.357/.342 with a 21.4% walk rate and 19.0% strikeout rate in New Hampshire. At each level, Thomas saw his ISO decline slightly from .083 in Lansing to .073 in Dunedin to .061 in New Hampshire. Thomas hits mostly for doubles if he hits for extra bases, with 13 doubles, two triples and one home run over 263 at bats. Thomas will likely be a fourth outfielder in Dunedin or New Hampshire next year.
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