While in the first post of this series, I was talking about players who were struggling to begin the season, I want to talk about players who are neither struggling nor dominating. This installment will deal with the Lansing Lugnuts. The biggest thing to keep in mind with the players discussed here is that they’re all young and they’re playing at a level that is considered to be a developmental one. If they were doing what they’re doing in Double-A or Triple-A, there would be more cause for concern but in A-ball, especially for this group of players, it’s not as much about their early results but how they deal with it and how they improve going forward. You’ll notice that there are a few players omitted from this list but I’ll get to them in due time; this post was already running long.
Yes, everyone talks about Davis as a raw, toolsy player who has so much upside if he can put it all together. The rawness and the tools have been on full display for 19-year-old as he’s started his season in Class-A Lansing. The Mississippi native has shown tremendous range in center field but has also been prone to mental lapses on the defensive side of the ball and has made nine errors already which is a very high number for an outfielder; just as a point of comparison, Dalton Pompey, who is ahead of Davis on the depth chart at CF, has made four errors in his entire minor league career. At the plate, Davis can be infuriating. I’ve seen him in five regular season games this season with the Lugnuts (as well as several at bats in spring training and five games last year in Bluefield) and I’ve seen the good and the bad. Davis has the bat speed to handle any fastball, crushing a 97 mph offering from Jandel Gustave off the wall, 404 feet away, in Lansing’s Cooley Law School Stadium but I’ve yet to see him hit anything offspeed up to this point. If a pitcher gets his offspeed pitches over, Davis isn’t able to get anything going as can be seen by his 66 strikeouts in only 194 plate appearances. Another issue with Davis is that, despite his elite level speed, his is still a very poor base stealer and has been successful on only five of 14 attempts so far this season.
If I was going to be a Negative Nancy, I would say that the parts of the game in which D.J. struggles are only going to get tougher as he climbs in the system. Pitchers will be able to locate their offspeed pitches better, giving him even fewer opportunities to attack a fastball. On the plus side, Davis is still very young (he turns 20 in July) and will get a full season of in-game at bats to help him adjust to better pitching. I can see him spending the full season in Lansing this year to keep him in a consistent, stable environment to work with hitting coach Ken Huckaby.
De Jong is another player on the Lugnuts that I’ve seen over a couple of seasons. He’s doing fairly well this season, adjusting to his new level but there are some things that I’ve seen that show me that he’s still got a way to go. The first thing is that he hasn’t been nearly as dominant against better competition as he was last year. I don’t think he’s using his best weapon, his devastating 12-6 curveball, nearly as much as he did last year. Whether it’s because he’s not getting himself into “strikeout counts” as much or whether it’s by design to have him keep working on his improving changeup is something that I haven’t been able to figure out yet. With that information in mind, it’s easy to see how his strikeout numbers are way down from last season but the good thing is that his walks are only slightly up from his excellent rates last year and are still well below average.
What I’ve taken away from seeing De Jong a couple of times this season (once in spring training and once in Lansing) is that he really needs to keep his fastball down. In appearances that I’ve seen, De Jong has been hit hard when he gets the ball up and it’s tougher for him to use his curveball in those situations. I have seen him really lock in on the lower half of the zone and when he does that, he’s been very good and very tough to hit. Also on the plus side is that the Blue Jays (and their staff) love his competitiveness and fire and see him making the necessary adjustments in order to keep moving up through the system.
While his ERA and K/9 (3.48 and 9.4 respectively) are pretty decent overall, the more advanced numbers reveal big cracks in this 19 year old’s puzzle. Tirado has a bloated 18.1% walk rate go to with a 21.9% strikeout rate; that strikeout rate is up slightly from last year but not nearly as as good what you might expect from his excellent K/9. The reason for the discrepancy is the fact that he faces so many batters per inning thanks to the high number of walks and hits he’s allowing. His hits against (8.6 H/9) isn’t bad but it can’t be explained away by BABIP (his .315 BABIP is only slightly above average). If we’re looking at advanced stats, his FIP, at 5.38, isn’t good.
I’ve seen Tirado twice this season (once in spring training and once in Lansing) and he hasn’t looked like the pitcher that scouts and prospect writers have raved about. His velocity barely touched 93 mph (both times) and his control was way off while his offspeed pitches weren’t nearly as sharp as I’ve heard about. There has been an interesting relationship this season between hits and walks for Tirado. In games that he doesn’t walk many, he gives up a lot of hits but seems to be untouchable on days that he walks a bunch of batters. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this.
I’m optimistic about Tirado. I’ve heard reports, even from some of his teammates, that the cold weather in Michigan this spring has been particularly tough on the Latin American players and, while it’s not an excuse, it certainly could be a factor in Tirado not being able to find his feel just yet. I’m looking forward to seeing him again in a month or two and see what he’s working with then.
First thing, let’s all remember that Dawel Lugo is still just 19 (and won’t be 20 until the offseason). He’s been characterized as a “puppy” to me (you can also hear what hitting coach Ken Huckaby had to say about him on Podcast 26) and, for all his talent and ability, still has a lot to learn, particularly how to rein in his youthful enthusiasm. He’s probably one of the most raw players on this team (second to D.J. Davis) but has been getting hot lately, putting up a .303 average (although with only two extra-base hits) in May after a .224 April.
A free swinger, Lugo tends to be more aggressive when he’s hitting well which, to me, indicates a confidence that he’s able to hit everything and he’s not far off. Lugo has a below average 15.5% strikeout rate but he’s not patient at all and that may be one of the things that he really has to learn this year in Lansing. Lugo is one of the guys to really keep an eye on because he is so young but has tremendous raw power as well as contact ability.
Nessy is the only player on this list who is repeating the level. He started to get hot at the end of 2013 but had a very rough time that can partially be attributed to a concussion and other injuries. Healthy in 2014, Nessy got off to a rocky start, hitting .245 in April (with limited power) but he’s come on lately, hitting .333/.382/.490 for May so far. Despite the poor 2013, Nessy shouldn’t be written off. He’s still just 21 but a lot of people are saying that the defense just hasn’t come along as quickly as his bat has. Nessy has thrown out 29% of would-be base stealers (a respectable number) but his 8 passed balls already represent an area in which Nessy needs considerable improvement.
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