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Welcome back to another edition of our Questions Answered, where we do our best to answer your questions about the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league system.
Jeff asked us a question back in early April about whether Eric Pardinho would play in Vancouver this year. He then followed up with the following question(s):
What are the top 5 players you expect to be assigned to Canadians out of Ext Spring Training or otherwise? What returnees do you expect?
First of all, I’ll preface my answer with the thought that it’s really hard to predict the rosters of the short season teams. My top guys are probably ones that just missed making a full-season club out of spring training, but that said, it’s more than possible that they go straight to Lansing before extended spring training is over (or once it’s finished). I will be wrong about at least two players on this list of five.
The first of the “Top 5” players that I expect to be with Vancouver when they open their season is Randy Pondler. Pondler was the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year with Bluefield last year and there’s no question that he’ll be moved up. Since he didn’t open with Lansing, it’s my best guess that he’ll start 2018 with Vancouver.
Another player who I thought would start the year in Lansing is outfielder Mc Gregory Contreras who had some solid numbers in Bluefield and was only 18 last year. His age makes him a good candidate to move up one level rather than two.
Ryan Gold is another guy who I think will start in Vancouver. Gold has been one of the quietest of the Blue Jays’ catching prospects but he .302/.382/.482 in Bluefield at the age of 19 last year.
Another pitcher to expect in Vancouver is Josh Winckowski who put up some solid numbers in Bluefield.
I’ll give you two picks to round things out, both players will likely come up from the GCL last year. The first is outfielder Dom Abbadessa and the second is pitcher Emerson Jimenez. Jimenez may skip Vancouver altogether and he is listed as being injured on the Lansing roster. Consider that a Top 5 with one bonus dark horse possibility.
As for returnees to Vancouver? In a perfect world, everyone would move up a level and not come back (at least perfect for the players). But I can see Jose Espada, Angel Alicea, Yonardo Herdenez, Juan Nunez, Marcus Reyes, Bryan Lizardo, Norberto Obeso, Brandon Polizzi, Yorman Rodriguez, Jesus Severino and Owen Spiwak returning. Of those, I think Obeso and Nunez are the ones with the most upside.
Lance wants to know about one of the more unheralded players on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats:
Gunnar Heidt– overshadowed by Biggio, Bichette and Vlad?
— Lance (@lkuntzman) April 25, 2018
Well, yes. I was happy about the promotion of Gurriel, mainly because it will free up playing time for Gunnar Heidt and Juan Kelly, both of whom have been getting much more sporadic playing time this year. In fact, I believe I talk about it on a podcast that I’ve yet to edit and post, so stay tuned for that.
But here’s the thing. Heidt’s got much more limited upside, evidenced by his .229/.303/.370 slash line last year in Double-A. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of positive that Heidt brings to the table. He works opposing pitchers hard and grinds out at bats. He has a solid, line-drive swing. He has good speed and can steal a base. He plays solid defense at a number of positions. All of those things are desirable in a ball player, particularly at the upper levels of the minors. The down side is that he’s 25, and hasn’t shown enough with the bat in Double-A to warrant a promotion to Triple-A or the majors. We may be seeing Heidt’s peak at Double-A.
Let me say that Heidt’s still younger than Jason Leblebijian, who turned his career around after a few years of being a light-hitting defensive specialist. But the likelihood of that is relatively low and major league organizations will always rob players like Heidt of playing time for their younger, shinier prospects. It’s the name of the game. So Gunnar is going to have to be patient, be a team player, do whatever manager John Schneider asks of him and be ready so that when playing time is available, he can take advantage of it and try to leverage it into more playing time.
Connor Panas is a perfect example of that. The guy was a fourth outfielder for two years in a row but when he got playing time, particularly as the season dragged on, he got more and more productive and, after making a tweak in his mechanics last year, ended up hitting 14 home runs after July 1 and wound up winning the Florida State League home run title. Two years of turning it on when he got the playing time got him a promotion to Double-A and at least a shot to play every day as long as he shows he deserves it. Gunnar can do the same thing but he’ll have to do more with the bat than his .129/.229/.161 slash line suggests (even if his walk rate is up so far, his strikeout rate is also up).
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