The 2013 Vancouver Canadians won their league championships (for the third consecutive year) with a team that consisted mostly of singles hitters with speed. Like the pitching staff, the hitters were a group of players who were mostly drafted or signed out of college.
We’ll go around the horn and look at the starters at each of the positions first before talking about the backups.
Peterborough-born catcher Mike Reeves came to the Canadians as the Blue Jays’ 21st round pick in the 2013 draft. Touted as a solid-hitting, defense-first catcher, Reeves arrived in Vancouver and performed as advertised. Reeves earned himself an all-star berth with an outstanding first half but came back down to earth with a poor August (that actually showed more power potential than the first couple of months). The 22 year old hit .275/.374/.321 overall with just six doubles and one home run in 227 plate appearances although four of the doubles and the home run came in August. The word from Vancouver-based blogger (and contributor to the Vancouver Sun) Charlie Caskey is that coaches have been working with Reeves in order to tap into some more power. Reeves definitely seems to have a lot of tools to work with. His ratio of 28 walks to 36 strikeouts is outstanding and if he can add some power to his excellent contact numbers, Reeves could turn into more than just an organizational catcher. I didn’t see him in person behind the plate but his statistics appear solid although his 25% caught stealing percentage does leave something to be desired at this point. I see Reeves starting next season in Dunedin, mainly because I think the organization will want him to get every day at bats and I think Santiago Nessy will be back in Lansing to start next year.
First base was held down by our Player of the Year, L.B. Dantzler. Dantzler was drafted in the 14th round this year out of the University of South Carolina, a very strong NCAA Division I school. Dantzler, who has a list of both academic and baseball-related awards to his name, added another this season, winning the MVP award for the Northwest League on the heels of a .302/.385/.504 season that saw him lead the league in home runs with nine. Dantzler, playing in his age-22 season, was one of the only real power bats in the Vancouver lineup (at least until Mitch Nay was called up from Bluefield for the playoffs). In addition to his nine home runs, Dantzler hit 20 doubles and walked 30 times in 265 plate appearances. Dantzler has great power despite not having the biggest frame (5’11”) and there are a number of players ahead of him at his position in the Blue Jays system. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dantzler in Lansing next year, serving as the DH with Matt Dean playing first base.
Also playing first base for the Canadians, at least until his promotion to Lansing, was Jordan Leyland. Leyland, who has turned 24 since the end of the season, was a hitting machine in Vancouver, hitting .341/.435/.467 in 161 plate appearances and posted an outstanding ratio of 24 walks and 34 strikeouts. Leyland struggled in Lansing after his promotion, hitting just .231/.320/.308 in 150 plate appearances. He still walked a fair bit but also struck out at a 22% clip while playing in the Midwest League. I think that the Blue Jays are going to look to Leyland to hit with more authority as he moves through the organization; for a guy who’s 6’4″, he hit only four home runs all season between Vancouver and Lansing. I have a feeling that he’ll begin 2014 in Lansing but could, with a good spring, wind up in Dunedin.
For second base, the Canadians seemed to have a kind of revolving door with no one getting the nod on an every day basis. Leading the pack with the most games at second is 2013 36th-round draftee David Harris. Harris, drafted out of Southern Arkansas University, had solid defensive stats at second base (if you want to trust the kind of basic fielding stats that are available for minor league players) and showed some potential with his bat, hitting .263/.296/.362 in 162 plate appearances. He showed some extra-base pop with nine doubles and two home runs but the lack of walks is troubling, taking only four free passes the entire season. I can see Harris returning to Vancouver for his Age-23 season next year if he doesn’t get a promotion to be a utility infielder in Lansing.
Also playing a fair amount at second base (but mostly used at third) was Andy Fermin. Fermin has been in the Jays’ system since being drafted out of junior college in 2010 (32nd round). Now 24, Fermin has always hit at a decent rate and has been pretty flexible, playing second and third base. He spent last season in Lansing and didn’t seem to have much trouble with the Northwest League, hitting .274/.350/.358 in 241 plate appearances to post the team’s fifth-highest OPS this season. Fermin also had a the same number of walks and strikeouts (25) allowing him to put the ball in play and be a productive member of the team. Fermin seems to be a classic “under-the-radar” kind of player that exists in every organization. He doesn’t stand out in any one category but his defensive versatility and solid skills with the bat will keep him around. My (highly cloudy) crystal ball shows Andy Fermin back in Lansing in 2014.
Dickie Thon was putting together his best season before an injury cut it short. The 21 year old from Puerto Rico has had a tough time in professional baseball due to illness and injury but was really starting to put things together this season. In 193 plate appearances, the 2010 fifth rounder hit .280/.370/.378 with some decent extra-base hit numbers (seven doubles, three triples and a home run) but he still needs to cut down on his 28% strikeout rate. His age makes him a strong candidate to return to Vancouver (especially since I think Dawel Lugo will be in Lansing to start 2014).
My gut feeling is that the Blue Jays have a lot of faith in Surrey, B.C. native Justin Atkinson. At the age of 20, Atkinson was one of the youngest position players on the Canadians and he got the playing time of a high level prospect, playing in 64 games, mostly at third or first base. The 2011 26th-round draftee didn’t hit like a high level prospect, however, showing that he needs more development time with the bat, hitting .230/.322/.289 in 274 plate appearances (second on the team) and leading the club with 74 strikeouts despite walking a very respectable 31 times. At this point, the sub-.300 slugging percentage is a pretty big red flag for Atkinson, especially if he’s going to be a corner infielder. With several other infielders expected (at least by me) to make the jump to Lansing ahead of Atkinson, I can see him repeating the year in Vancouver which, given his age, is not any real career setback.
The outfield was led by a group of speedy players who all played some good defense in the expanses of Nat Bailey Stadium. Ian Parmley led the club in plate appearances with 287 and stolen bases with 23 (he was caught stealing only twice) but, like much of the Canadians’ lineup, he couldn’t provide much in the way of power, hitting .257/.323/.284 mostly out of the number nine slot in the order. He had seven outfield assists playing at all three positions. Parmley is 24 already and was drafted only last year in the seventh round as one of the below-slot signees that the Blue Jays drafted to be able to go over-slot to sign their picks from the first three rounds. Due to his age and versatility, I could see him starting the season as a backup outfielder in either Lansing or Dunedin but could get more playing time if he hits well as the season goes on.
Leading the club in outfield assists was Brenden Kalfus, a college batting champ who was selected in the 23rd round of this year’s draft. Kalfus, 22, had a very solid first professional campaign, hitting .268/.349/.346 in 263 plate appearances and playing both corner outfield positions. Obviously Kalfus hasn’t shown the power that teams might expect out of the corner outfield spots with just 11 doubles, two triples and one home run to go with nine stolen bases this season. He’s another guy similar to Parmley who will probably play full-season ball next year but, because he’s a bit younger, could remain in Vancouver another year.
The last every day outfielder for Vancouver this season was Chaz Frank who had the best statistical season of the bunch. Frank, also 22, was the Blue Jays’ 20th-round selection this year out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went on play better as the season went on. With a .282/.412/.365 triple slash line over 222 plate appearances, Frank showed a very mature sense of the strike zone, walking as many times as he struck out (36) and got on base more than anyone else on the team. Frank will likely play in Lansing although, depending on how things shake out in Spring Training, he could end up in Dunedin.
The backup catchers were a group made up of Daniel Klein, Seth Conner and Matt Hitt. Conner and Klein each spent time in Lansing with Conner performing poorly at the higher level and getting a demotion to Vancouver and Klein not having a lot of success in Vancouver before hitting better in Lansing. Conner, 21, didn’t break .200 in Lansing and hit just .208/.283/.250 in Vancouver while Klein, 23, had similar numbers to Conner in Vancouver (albeit with more power) but really took off with a .250/.286/.500 line with seven doubles and three home runs in 71 plate appearances in the Midwest League. Matt Hitt, 24, only had 37 plate appearances with Vancouver, getting just one single in his 30 at bats with four walks.
Daniel Arcila, Christian Vazquez, Shaun Valeriote and Jorge Vega-Rosada all filled in on the infield. Arcila, a 23-year-old Venezuelan, hit .212/.339/.327 in 63 plate appearances for the year while Vazquez, a 24-year-old 2013 draftee (19th round), hit .203/.259/.219 in 141 plate appearances. Jorge Vega-Rosado was released by the club after getting only five hits (all singles) in 51 plate appearances while Valeriote, a 23 year old from Guelph, Ontario, had just one hit and eight walks in 34 plate appearances.
In the outfield, Melvin Garcia, who turns 22 tomorrow (September 17), got a promotion from Bluefield and hit .231/.330/.308 in 110 plate appearances. Ronnie Melendez, 23, wasn’t able to hit anywhere (either in Lansing or Vancouver) and was released after getting only eight hits at the two levels combined in 78 plate appearances.
Note: All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission.
Coming soon: To full-season ball we go with the Lansing Lugnuts, a team that I got a chance to see on a couple of occasions this season!