With one of the best offenses in the Northwest League, the Vancouver Canadians got some great seasons from some young players including players who are considered among the Blue Jays’ top prospects. As usual, we start behind the plate and go around the diamond.
Pop quiz: Who played the most games at catcher for the 2014 Vancouver Canadians? It was Michael De La Cruz, a 21-year-old Dominican catcher in his second year with the Blue Jays’ organization. De La Cruz followed up his very good 2013 season (spent mostly in the Dominican Summer League) with a solid 2014 although when all the key players are healthy, he’ll never take away a starting spot from Max Pentecost. De La Cruz hit .232/.323/.310, showing very good patience at the plate but his defense, which saw him only throw out 18% of batters is probably just good enough.
At first base, the Canadians had another breakout performance. A year after providing the Northwest League with their MVP and home run champ (first baseman L.B. Dantzler), the C’s had another offensive fireworks display from their first bagger in Ryan McBroom. Ryan “McBoom,” as I called him, shared the NWL home run title, hitting 11 after being drafted by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the draft. His 59 RBI trailed only teammate Franklin Barreto and his overall slash line of .297/.339/.502 was excellent by any stretch of the imagination. There are a lot of positive comparisons between McBroom and Dantzler but McBroom, who stands 6-foot-3, probably has more raw power than Dantzler and could project a little better. At 22, McBroom is likely ready for his first full season in 2015 and will probably join the Lansing Lugnuts. Playing time at the 1B/DH position could become an issue for the Jays in the A-ball level next year, considering that Rowdy Tellez, Matt Dean, L.B. Dantzler and McBroom will all need to get into the lineup (and three of the four are left-handed hitters).
Pop quiz #2: Which Vancouver Canadians player lead the affiliated minor leagues in hit-by-pitches? Second baseman Timothy Locastro continued to show that he can get on base unlike anyone else. In fact, by getting hit by a pitch 32 times this season, he probably did get on base unlike just about anyone else, despite hitting .313. With a .407 OBP, the fearless Locastro is a great player to have at the top of your lineup. Locastro also took advantage of some very aggressive baserunning with Vancouver which saw the club lead the league in stolen bases with Locastro swiping 32 himself while only getting caught four times. The one criticism of his play could be that his walk rate dropped by almost half in 2014 but the fact is that because he got hit so many times, he didn’t really have the chance to take many walks! Going into his Age-22 season in 2015, Locastro will likely man second base for the Lansing Lugnuts and be a key contributor.
Playing the most games at third base in 2014 was Alexis Maldonado. This unheralded non-drafted free agent hit .303/.365/.382 with the Blue Jays but didn’t really have a lot of extra-base pop. He’s already 23 and should be a solid utility man higher up in the organization.
You’ve already read plenty of raving about Franklin Barreto by now. The 18-year-old Venezuelan shortstop improved on just about every part of his game in 2014 and tore the Northwest League apart. Barreto hit .311/.384/.481 increasing his walk rate and lowering his strikeout rate from his 2013 totals at lower levels. Despite being the youngest player in the league and standing at only 5-foot-9, Barreto had a .170 ISO that included 23 doubles, four triples and six home runs while he also stole 29 bases (with five caught stealing), demonstrating a rare combination of power and speed. Barreto also made 26 errors in 68 games leaving a lot of doubt about his ability to play shortstop at higher levels of baseball but if he continues to hit as he did this year, the organization will find a position for him. The Blue Jays like to have their prospects play a full year (or close to it) in Lansing although I could see an exception if he continues to demolish opposing pitching.
After being signed as a non-drafted free agent in August after playing a tournament in Canada, Roemon Fields went on to lead the Northwest League in stolen bases with 48 in his first pro season. Fields, who went to Bethany college, also hit .269/.338/.350 with 13 doubles, four triples and a home run while posting very solid strikeout and walk rates of 18.6% and 8.2% respectively. Fields can be expected to play in Lansing next year in his Age-24 season although if the club has a need, I could see him jumping up to Dunedin where his speed game would play very well.
The Vancouver Canadians got yet another tremendous debut season out of 23-year-old outfielder Chris Carlson who was selected in the 28th round of the 2014 draft. Carlson displayed tremendous bat skills in 2014, hitting .312/.409/.381 with 13 doubles and a triple. Significantly, he walked 36 times while only striking out 25 times, showing that he was more than game for Northwest League competition. Carlson is another player who will likely play where needed in full-season A-ball next year although Lansing is the more likely stop.
The third most utilized player in the Canadians’ outfield was 25-year-old Boomer Collins who was playing in his second season after signing as an undrafted free agent last year. Playing at a somewhat more age-appropriate level this season with Vancouver (after playing in the GCL last year), Collins showed a good eye, walking 10.2% of the time, but struck out more often and only hit .222/.311/.302 with 11 doubles and a pair of home runs. Given that next year will be Collins’ Age-26 season, it’s tough to see what the crystal ball will foretell.
After a long college season with Kennesaw State University, catcher Max Pentecost spent most of his professional time at DH, injured or collecting hits in bunches, putting up a .324/.330/.419 line over 25 games (with 19 of them in Vancouver). While the 2014 11th-overall pick didn’t hit any home runs, Pentecost hit four doubles and three triples with eight multi-hit games including a 5/5 game in the GCL and a 4/6 game with Vancouver. Because of the small sample size, we should consider Pentecost’s small sample sizes as an appetizer for his professional career to come. I can see him holding down the fort behind the plate with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2014 as a 22 year old.
Also performing backup catcher duties this season was Seth Conner. Conner, who has been in the Jays’ system since being a 41st-round selection in 2010, split his time between Vancouver and Lansing although he got much more playing time in Vancouver and hit .216/.296/.250 overall in 33 games.
Three additional players split time on the infield and two of them were 2014 draftees. Gunnar Heidt signed late but still got into 23 games with the Canadians (29 overall as he started off with the GCL Blue Jays). Heidt, a 13-round pick out of the College of Charleston, hit .262/.333/.429 in Vancouver (.264/.339/.425 overall). Metzler, drafted in the ninth round, struggled through his pro debut, hitting .239/.351/.265 in 35 games with Vancouver. The batting average and OBP were fairly decent but the slugging could use some additional thump as Metzler attempts to climb through the organization. With both Heidt and Locastro available as second basemen, the A-ball levels could get crowded in 2015 with all three gunning for playing time. Christian Vasquez, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican, played mostly at third base and had a poor year, hitting .160/.236/.185 in 29 games.
In the outfield, Brenden Kalfus made his return to Vancouver this year as a 22 year old and didn’t do nearly as well as he did last year in much more limited playing time. Getting only 63 plate appearances in 25 games, Kalfus must have been injured as he hit only .140/.222/.175. Jonathan Davis also had an injury-riddled season, hitting .216/.271/.386 in 27 games and 102 plate appearances. Davis, 22, was switch hitting for the first time in his professional career and it was clearly seen in his splits (although Baseball Reference isn’t listing him as a switch hitter yet). Davis hit .300/.364/.500 against left-handed pitching but only .164/.212/.311 against righties this year. Look for him to play a full season in Lansing next year.
Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!
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