The Lugnuts haven’t gotten off to a good start this season, opening up with a poor 7-15 record. The ‘Nuts offense has been the primary reason for their rough start, but they have faced the four top offensive teams in the Midwest League in this early season. Hopefully some weaker competition in the next month will result in a turnaround. Lansing’s runs per game is ranked the worst in the league, averaging only 3.78 runs per game while the pitching is around the middle of the pack, giving up 4.91 runs per game. The team’s defense hasn’t been good but it’s hard to get a gauge on overall defense without being able to watch the team game-in, game-out or being able to see any advanced metrics.
Individually, there have been some exciting young players and some disappointments. At the beginning of the season, I wrote that the Lansing Lugnuts have the greatest number of top prospects of any of the full-season teams. Players like Dalton Pompey, Christian Lopes, Santiago Nessy, Roberto Osuna and Daniel Norris could very well become the future of the Blue Jays and of these five players, Pompey, Lopes and Osuna have impressed.
Pompey, 20, started the season slowly, but has really turned it on in the last couple of weeks. I hope to be able to ask him what changed when I get down to Lansing this weekend, but there was definitely something that is different between the hitter he was for the first week of the season and the one that he has become. In his last 10 games, Pompey has not only gotten on base at a .477 rate, but he’s hit .361 and has started to show some more power, hitting six of his seven extra-base-hits in that time. He has only failed to get a hit twice in those ten games, and he has walked almost as much as he’s struck out. A great example of his transformation is his walk to strikeout ratio: Pompey has 8 BBs and 9 Ks in the past 10 games, but 0 BBs and 13 Ks in the first 10 games. It’s great to see Pompey swinging the bat (and being selective) so well. Not only is he a young Canadian prospect, but he’s really the next guy down in the “Anthony Gose” mold, despite the tools not being as mind-boggling as Gose’s. (Note: This was written on April 30th, before the team’s game.)
Christian Lopes is leading the team in batting (.310), but hasn’t really seen his power start to come despite his solid contact (.381 SLG). The other issue with Lopes is that he’s not walking a lot yet, posting an OBP that is only .322 (whereas Pompey’s is .370 despite a lower batting average). While Lopes is a solid 2B prospect, he does need to start playing better in A ball, but at the age of 20, he has some time to improve. He doesn’t strike out a lot, demonstrating solid contact ability, but he needs to show more power and develop his eye.
Injured catcher Santiago Nessy is another of the young prospects playing in Lansing. Also 20 years old, “Loch” Nessy is struggling with the bat, holding only a .652 OPS through his first twelve games. In an email to me, the radio voice for the Lugnuts, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler noted that he seems to be uncomfortable behind the plate, as can be seen by his seven passed balls and his 14% caught stealing percentage. Still, Nessy is young and catchers do tend to take longer to develop than other position players.
18-year-old starting pitcher Roberto Osuna has had some ups and down in his starts. In his last one, he gave up 4 runs (3 earned) in 4 innings, but only gave up 3 hits (2 home runs) and one walk against a very good Cedar Rapids team (that leads the league in offense). As of today, he has an entirely respectable 3.63 ERA and has give up only 15 hits and 4 walks in 22 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 31(!). While the ERA is good, it’s the peripherals – a 0.851 WHIP, a 35.2 K%, a 4.6 BB% and a 3.29 FIP – that really make the eye pop. He’s on a strict pitch limit which is why you’ll only see him throw four or five innings in a game, but needless to say, he’s pitching extraordinarily well as the YOUNGEST PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE.
Lefty Daniel Norris has been one of the biggest disappointments so far for the Lugnuts. He’s got an ERA over 9, a WHIP over 2 and has walked almost as many batters as he’s struck out (13 K, 11 BB in 16 innings). Are there any positives to be taken from his season so far? Well, from what Lansing radio voice Jesse Goldberg-Strassler has said, Norris tends to run into a bad inning in every appearance. Is his poor showing simply an inability to harness his (by all reports) great stuff and maintain focus for an entire outing? We’ll see how this 20 year old does as the season progresses and if he even stays in Lansing once the short-season begins in June.
1B/3B Kellen Sweeney is another candidate to head back to Vancouver if his hitting doesn’t turn itself around soon. While he has only had 65 at bats, Sweeney is putting up remarkably similar numbers to his performance in Lansing in the first part of last season before being demoted to Vancouver. He is hitting .169/.260/.246 with a single home run. The only bright side is the fact that he is willing to take a walk, but without actually hitting the ball, he is not going to get far.
The early returns on Dwight Smith Jr., who has only played in four games in Lansing, are very inconclusive. I’ll be in Lansing on the weekend to actually be able to see what he’s got on the diamond, but with a .231 average (3 for 13) and four strikeouts and no walks, he’s doing what’s to be expected from a guy with a reputation as being athletic and raw.
The rest of the pitching staff has been a mixed bag. The starters have been okay but nothing more, as Javier Avendano, Alonzo Gonzalez and Taylor Cole have all been inconsistent. Avendano and Cole have the better K rates (than Gonzalez) but all three have struggled with control. In the bullpen, Wil Browning has been dominant, giving up only one earned run all season and striking out 19 over 12 2/3 innings (although the 7 walks are a bit high). Arik Sikula and Ben White have also been excellent while Griffin Murphy, Tucker Donahue, Chuck Ghysels and Matthew Johnson have seen struggles.
Carlos Ramirez has been a nice surprise on the offense. The right fielder is getting loads of extra-base-hits (9 of his 18 hits)and he leads the team with an .804 OPS. SS Shane Opitz has been a nice surprise since being activated from the DL. He is hitting .333 in his 21 ABs but hasn’t shown much power. 3B Gustavo Pierre leads the team in HRs (3) and also has some outstanding extra-base numbers but has not walked all season and leads the team in strikeouts (27). 21 year old Chris Hawkins is riding a 12-game hit streak, but still has worse numbers overall than he did last year, particularly in his OBP. The rest of the team really isn’t doing anything offensively with no one else having an OPS over .650. The Lugnuts are one of the worst offensive teams in the Midwest League and there doesn’t look like there’s going to be a lot of help coming. Any improvement will have to be internal.