We turn to the hitters of the Lansing Lugnuts to see who did what in 2018. We’ll start with the catchers and go around the horn to the infield and then to the outfield.
24-year-old Venezuelan catcher Andres Sotillo caught 37 games for the Lansing Lugnuts, leading the team in that category and he played 38 games for the Lugnuts, hitting .261/.324/.358 with seven doubles and two home runs, adding a home run among two hits in four games for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Sotillo only walked in 4.7% of his plate appearances and struck out in 22.7%, and threw out 32% of potential base stealers. Sotillo finished his seventh season with the Blue Jays and he should be eligible to be a free agent after the World Series and his return might be questionable.
21-year-old Ryan Gold made it to Lansing in his third professional season, getting into 56 games and hitting .264/.308/.346 with nine doubles, a triple and two home runs. Gold’s walk rate took a dive to 4.8% this year, down from 9.6% last year while his strikeout rate hovered at the same level at 20.3%. Gold struggled a bit with throwing out runners, only gunning down 21%. Gold will likely return to Lansing in 2019.
Matt Morgan had a strong season defensively, throwing out 33% of batters but the 22-year-old catcher couldn’t forestall getting cut after he hit .150/.265/.204 with three doubles and a home run, striking out 33.1% of the time and walking 12.8%. Morgan was released on June 28 after playing 35 games.
Venezuelan Javier Hernandez, a 22-year-old catcher played in 14 games for the Lugnuts, hitting .093/.241/.093, going 4/43 with six walks and 10 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances. Hernandez was great at throwing out runners, though, shutting down 39% of the runners trying to steal.
Canadian Owen Spiwak played most of his games for the Lansing Lugnuts, getting into 14 games for the Lugs, hitting .150/.227/.225 and hitting three doubles. He threw out 58% of potential base stealers with the Lugnuts and went 1/13 in five games combined with the Vancouver Canadians and Dunedin Blue Jays.
Ridge Smith, in his Age-23 season played four games, going 4/14 with a home run and three RBI but retired on June 23.
Ryan Noda played 60 of his 124 games at first base, posting a stellar .421 OBP with a .256 batting average and a .484 slugging percentage, hitting 24 doubles, four triples and 20 doubles while stealing 14 bases in 18 attempts. Noda’s incredible 20.7% walk rate made him one of the most valuable players on the club and his strikeout rate, at 25.6%, was almost 4% higher than last year. Adding 56 games in the outfield, Noda will take his versatility to Dunedin next year.
Samad Taylor made his full-season debut at just 19 years old (he’s 20 now), playing 121 games for the Lugnuts including 114 at second base and hitting .228/.319/.387 with 32 doubles, seven triples and nine home runs and adding 44 stolen bases in 60 attempts. For such a young player, Taylor had a strong walk rate (10.8%) with a solid strikeout rate at 18.7%, which was just 0.2% higher than in his 28 games at short-season-A ball in Cleveland’s organization last year. Like many young players, Taylor was streaky at times, but posted his best OPS in August at .805, getting 10 doubles, a triple and two home runs in 25 games. Look for Taylor to be in Dunedin next year, moving a rung up the ladder.
Brandon Grudzielanek, 23, didn’t get his season with the Lansing Lugnuts started until the beginning of May, playing one game on the fifth and then waiting until the 19th before getting back into action. Still, he led the club with 42 games at third base among his 88 games total and he hit .245/.322/.354 with 12 doubles, four triples and five home runs, adding nine stolen bases in 11 attempts. Grudzielanek had some good patience, walking in 9.6% of his plate appearances and struck out in 23.0%. Look for him in Lansing or Dunedin next year.
Kevin Vicuna, 20, jumped to Lansing in his fourth professional season, getting into 89 games with the Lugnuts (68 at shortstop, 12 at second, two at third and seven at DH), impressing a lot of people with his bat-to-ball skills. He hit .266/.307/.358 with 16 doubles, six triples and two home runs, stealing 10 bases in 18 tries. Vicuna walking in just 4.6% of his plate appearances but had a very low strikeout rate at 14.2%. He also hit a lot of ground balls (53.8%) and could return to Lansing to start next year or move up to Dunedin depending on where a spot opens up.
Another 20-year-old, Jesus Navarro, played 54 games with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting .288/.355/.359 with 10 doubles and a home run with a 9.5% walk rate and a 15.6% strikeout rate. Navarro is another slight, young infielder who probably needs to get the ball in the air more (46.4% ground ball rate) but will also need to add strength. Look for Navarro back in Lansing next year.
Cullen Large, 22, was just getting into a groove over 27 games when his season was cut short due to injury. With a short, compact, but powerful stroke who hits from both sides of the plate, Large was putting up some stellar numbers, hitting .316/.411/.568 with nine doubles and five home runs in just 112 plate appearances, walking in 11.6% of them and striking out in only 16.1%. Judging from the small sample size, Large will need to address his hitting from the right side as he hit just .143/.333/.190 against lefties with just one extra-base hit but he hit .365/.435/.676 from the left side of the plate with all five of his home runs. Hopefully Large will return and resume hit torrid start with the Lugnuts.
Christian Williams, 23, was off to a strong start to his season, hitting .285/.341/.463 in 32 games, going down to injury and missing the rest of the season after his May 17 game. He hit 10 doubles and four home runs and walked in 7.4% and struck out in 25.2% of plate appearances. Williams will look to recover and get in a groove to start out 2019.
Left-handed hitting left fielder Norberto Obeso graduated to Lansing in his fourth season with the Blue Jays but struggled to reclaim the shine that he had while playing in Rookie ball. He hit .227/.318/.296 with 11 doubles, two triples and three home runs over 98 games but showed off his arm, picking up nine assists from left field. Obeso maintained a high walk rate, taking a free pass in 11.2% of his plate appearances and struck out in only 13.7%, bettering his rate from 2017 in Vancouver. Still, Obeso is now 23 and will need to hit the ball with more authority and in the air more (with a 50.5% ground ball rate).
Reggie Pruitt, coming off a strong finish in Vancouver in 2017, made the jump to Lansing in 2018, his Age-21 season. Pruitt, a speedy defensive whiz had some time injured and hit .211/.300/.304 with 13 doubles, three triples, three home runs and 37 stolen bases in 46 attempts, with nine outfield assists from center field. Pruitt’s speed and defensive ability are without question but his bat will need to start playing at an age-appropriate level for him to continue to move up the organization’s depth charts. He did see an increase in power, hitting all three home runs in August, but his 29.8% strikeout rate overall was four percent worse than 2017 while his 9.5% walk rate was a career high.
The everyday right fielder (and occasional center fielder) was Bahamian Chavez Young, now 21. Young continued to hit as he has throughout his minor league career, putting up OPSs within 30 points of each other year after year. In 2018 in his first full season, Young hit .285/.363/.445 with 33 doubles, nine triples and eight home runs, stealing 44 bases in 57 attempts and showing off some tremendous defense. Young showed maturity at the plate, walking in 10.8% of his plate appearances (a career high, leading to a career-high .363 OBP) while improving his strikeout rate to 18.6%. Young has been mentioned by the team’s brass as an unheralded minor leaguer who should move up to Dunedin next year.
22-year-old Brock Lundquist made an impression in his first full year of professional baseball after being drafted in the 6th round in 2017. Lundquist’s season ended early in 2017 with a wrist injury but he found his groove in Lansing, posting an .817 OPS in 70 games, hitting .249/.356/.461 with 11 doubles, a triple and 13 home runs before moving up to Dunedin where he caught fire, hitting .337/.401/.483 with 11 doubles and five home runs, giving him 18 dingers on the season. Lundquist didn’t hit for as much power in Dunedin (a .146 ISO compared to a .212 ISO in Lansing) but he did reduce his strikeout rate by six percent (17.3% in Dunedin and 23.3% in Lansing) while his walk rate dropped from 11.3% in Lansing to 7.9% in Dunedin, possibly because he was making such good contact, he was possibly more aggressive at the plate. I can see Lundquist, who already has the strength and and swing path to hit mammoth home runs, back in Dunedin to start 2019 before a promotion to New Hampshire at some point.
Freddy Rodriguez, after four years with the Blue Jays’ minor league system, finally broke out of short-season ball in his Age-21 year. The Venezuelan outfielder hit .205/.273/.252 with the Lugnuts, hitting four doubles and a triple posting a solid 23.0% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate. He also hit .107/.107/.107 in eight games in Vancouver. Rodriguez will likely come back to Lansing in 2018 to work on getting some more reps.
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