Each year, the Toronto Blue Jays organization, with consultation from their minor league teams’ coaches, bestow the R. Howard Webster Awards to the MVPs of each club. And, in a Blue Jays from Away tradition, I try to predict who will receive the award for each team (with mixed success).
There are a few trends that I’ve noticed that run through these awards. The first one is that a player generally needs to spend most of a season with one particular team in order to be recognized as the MVP. Obviously if a player blows the doors off, they will get more consideration but usually, it’s a guy who’s stayed with a team for most of a season. The second trend is that the Blue Jays will almost always honour a homegrown player over someone who may be more deserving but came to the organization later on as a free agent or via a trade. Last year, Matt Hague, the International League MVP, was a particularly notable exception to this. The third trend is that the Webster winner tends to be a hitter far more often than a pitcher but again, last year’s recipient for the Dunedin Blue Jays, reliever Wil Browning, was a notable exception. Another factor is clearly a player’s clubhouse presence, which, for the most part, I’m not privy to. I can have some idea of what a guy is like for the teams I’ve visited but it’s tough for others, so this wildcard could easily upset my predictions.
Dominican Summer League Blue Jays
Since the awards are more often given to hitters, I’ll look at them first and we have three strong candidates at the top of the OPS rankings with Mc Gregory Contreras and Yhordegny Kelly separated by just one point (Contreras had an .820 OPS and Kelly had an .819 OPS). Yorman Rodriguez was a little behind at .797 but also had fewer games due to a promotion to the GCL. Contreras had a slightly lower batting average and OBP (.273/.408) than Kelly (.283/.424) but Contreras’s speed gave him seven triples, leading to an edge in SLG (.412 for Contreras and .395 for Kelly) and had 10 stolen bases. Due to Contreras’s young age (he just turned 18), I would give him a slight edge for hitters.
On the pitchers’ side, Elio Silva, our Pitcher of the Year, has a strong case of his own. Leading the club in innings (61 1/3), he had a stellar 2.05 ERA and 0.99 WHIP at the age of 20. Adams Cuevas, who was a reliever in most of his appearances, is probably the only other pitcher who can rival Silva, thanks to a 0.55 ERA and 0.78 WHIP.
In this instance, pitching dominance does it for me, leading me to predict Adams Cuevas for the award.
2016 Prediction: Adams Cuevas
Gulf Coast League Blue Jays
For me, the dominant GCL Blue Jays have only one name on the list for the Webster Award. Bo Bichette had a stellar season despite losing a big chunk of time thanks to an appendicitis scare. Bichette hit .427/.451/.732 with nine doubles, two triples and four home runs, coming out of high school, in just 22 games! Bichette’s sheer destruction of the league makes it difficult to look any further despite the fact that Wilfri Aleton and Yonardo Herdenez both had very good seasons on the mound.
2016 Prediction: Bo Bichette
Bluefield Blue Jays
Having visited the Bluefield Blue Jays this year, the scuttlebutt I heard about the club was that it was a great group of guys who all pulled together. While I haven’t run the numbers, the club came back from behind on several occasions to make a playoff push in the latter half of the season and got contributions from up and down the lineup.
I’m two for two in my predictions over the past two years and I have a feeling that I’ll have my record maintained this year. Despite all of the attention surrounding 17-year-old phenom Vladimir Guerrero (who acquitted himself very well, posting an OPS of .808), it was corner infielder Bradley Jones who won the home run title for the Appalachian League and blasted 18 doubles, a triple and 16 home runs to go with a .291/.336/.578 slash line. Nash Knight merits some consideration, particularly since he was hitting .402 at the time of his promotion to Vancouver but with about 40% of the plate appearances that Jones had, his contribution to the overall success of the team was quite a bit less than the South Carolinian slugger (I mean Jones).
None of the pitchers were particularly dominant in the same way that Jones was but Angel Alicea had some excellent strikeout numbers as a reliever (45 in 32 2/3 innings) and B.C.-born Brayden Bouchey struck out 32 in 21 innings.
2016 Prediction: Bradley Jones
Last year, my prediction went astray. I chose the player I felt was the best player but Sean Hurley found himself released after the season. The pitcher who would be most likely to garner this award is Patrick Murphy who received the Canadians’ Pitcher of the Year award from the club and was named a Northwest League Post-season All-Star. With a 2.84 ERA and a team-leading 69 2/3 innings, Murphy is the model of perseverance, having only pitched four professional innings from the time he was selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft and the beginning of this year thanks to numerous injuries. While his numbers (outside of his ERA) are not particularly eye-popping, Murphy winning this award would be a great story for a young man who has had to overcome a great deal of injury woes.
Leading the charge on the offensive side is 2016 fourth-round pick Joshua Palacios who hit .355/.437/.473 before a promotion to Lansing. The only downside with Palacios is the fact that he only played in 28 games with Vancouver but Palacios was named the Canadians’ Offensive Player of the Year by the club. Going down the OPS list, the next (and most likely) candidate is J.B. Woodman, a second-round pick of the Jays who hit .272/.375/.421 with 18 doubles (most on the team), one triple and three home runs. Woodman also stole 10 bases (most on the team) and performed very well upon a late-season promotion to Lansing (as did Palacios). Finally, Cavan Biggio, the club’s Most Valuable Player (as named by the team), had a very solid first season in the pros, hitting .282/.382/.366 with nine stolen bases, 11 doubles and three triples.
I can see the organization debating the merits of all three position players and splitting the vote to arrive at Patrick Murphy as the 2016 Webster Award winner.
2016 Prediction: Patrick Murphy
Last year, there was a leak that 2015 Midwest League MVP Ryan McBroom was going to win the Webster Award, and, having won the league’s MVP award, it was logical that he’d also win the team’s MVP award. In 2016, the situation is a little murkier with only a couple of players sticking with the club for the full season. On the offensive side, we have Max Pentecost who was the DH for most of his time in Lansing and hit .314/.375/.490 with seven home runs in less than half a season (62 games). Juan Kelly had the next best OPS (of qualified players) with a .274/.356/.448 slash line in 131 games, playing mostly first and third base and hitting 35 doubles, six triples and 12 home runs while also stealing 11 bases (without getting caught). Finally, Canadian slugger Connor Panas played his way into an everyday role thanks to the thunder in his bat and he hit .231/.342/.430 with 10 doubles, three triples and 16 home runs.
The Blue Jays could sidestep the offensive debate by going with a pitcher and there are two candidates who stand out. The first is 22-year-old Angel Perdomo who led the club with 127 innings and a whopping 156 strikeouts. He also had a 3.19 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, proving that he could be dominant at times. Ryan Borucki is another comeback story similar to Patrick Murphy. Borucki was third on the club with 115 2/3 innings but started the season in Dunedin before a demotion back to Lansing. Borucki had a 2.41 ERA and 1.13 WHIP while walking far fewer than Perdomo despite fewer strikeouts (107).
The Lugnuts’ debate could go on for a while. All five of the above-mentioned players have their merits. Jordan Romano‘s success is another feel-good story, as is 2015 first-rounder Jon Harris‘s. But in the end, I think it’s going to be another pitcher, Ryan Borucki. If a hitter gets the award, I can see it being Juan Kelly.
2016 Prediction: Ryan Borucki
Dunedin Blue Jays
Wow. The 2015 winner of the Dunedin Blue Jays’ R. Howard Webster Award surprised everyone. Not that Wil Browning wasn’t deserving, it’s just that the club rarely selects pitchers and the relief pitcher winner is even more rare. Ryan McBroom certainly made a case for a repeat award thanks to his 21 home runs and .274/.323/.468 slash line. Jonathan Davis, however, had an edge in the OPS category, hitting .252/.376/.441 with 21 doubles, eight triples, 14 home runs and 33 stolen bases. I’ve been a fan of Davis over the course of his career since I saw him in his draft year of 2013. I’ll advocate for Davis as an everyday player who really drove the club by being able to do everything well. Richard Urena was very strong for the Blue Jays, hitting .305/.351/.447 but it was only in 97 games. Anthony Alford had a tough season and could be rewarded for his strong finish after suffering a knee injury and a concussion, finishing with a .236/.344/.378 slash line, showing more power than he has in his career thus far (17 doubles, two triples and nine doubles).
On the pitching side, Chris Rowley had strong season in his comeback from his military service, throwing a team-leading 123 2/3 innings with a 3.49 ERA and 1.28 WHIP while leading the club with 86 strikeouts. Sean Reid-Foley was absolutely dominant in his 10 starts in just his Age-20 season, with a 2.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 71 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. Conor Fisk was a stallwart, pitching in whichever role the club needed and finishing with 105 2/3 innings.
Still, I’m going to go with my heart on this one and predict Jonathan “J.D.” Davis
2016 Prediction: Jonathan Davis
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I think the 2016 R. Howard Webster winner for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats is as “no-brainer” as it gets. In fact, I heard Mark Shapiro on the radio this morning extolling the virtues of one Rowdy Tellez. At just 21 and in his first (and possibly only) season in Double-A, Tellez blasted away at veteran and prospect pitchers alike, hitting .297/.387/.530 with 29 doubles, two triples and 23 home runs, leading the club in OPS by over 100 points over his next competitor (Jason Leblebijian, for those of you keeping track).
None of the Fisher Cats’ starting pitchers were really dominant despite an excellent bullpen that featured Murphy Smith, Chris Smith, Wil Browning and, for part of the year, Matt Dermody and Danny Barnes. The top pitching prospect on the club, Conner Greene, had sterling moments but his inconsistency isn’t enough to really get him into the conversation.
2016 Prediction: Rowdy Tellez
Finally, we come to the Buffalo Bisons, the Jays’ Triple-A club that is constructed with minor league free agents and players meant to provide depth for the big league club. The hitting side was decidedly mediocre and the crop was led by former top propsect for the Yankees (and Mariners) Jesus Montero. The formerly fearsome slugger has become more of a gap-to-gap hitter who hit .317/.349/.438 with 24 doubles, a triple and 11 home runs. Darrell Ceciliani was second in OPS thanks to a little more pop than Montero, hitting 17 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs in almost 200 fewer plate appearances while Matt Dominguez led the Bisons in home runs, hitting .269/.315/.421 with 18 doubles and 18 home runs.
On the pitching side, now traded Wade LeBlanc could have won the award had he remained in the organization thanks to a 1.71 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 89 2/3 innings. Aside from LeBlanc, Ryan Tepera could be considered thanks to a 2.58 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 45 1/3 innings acting as the club’s closer while he was around. To award the Webster to Tepera would be a nice gesture from a club that had him on the QEW express all year, getting five call ups to the Jays over the course of the season.
Still, I’m going with my gut on this one. I think it’s going to be Dominguez but Tepera could be a nice surprise.
2016 Prediction: Matt Dominguez
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