After back-to-back season with big boppers like L.B. Dantzler and Ryan McBroom and speedsters like Roemon Fields, Tim Locastro and Franklin Barreto on the club, the Vancouver Canadians had to reimagine their offense in 2015 with a lot of newly drafted players and other ones trying to put themselves on the prospect map.
We start behind the plate with Ryan Hissey, who shared the load with Kevin Garcia. Hissey won the R. Howard Webster Award for the Cs this year as the MVP of the club (as awarded by the Blue Jays) thanks to some excellent work both behind the plate and at it. Hissey showed some strong defensive instincts in his initial assignment in Bluefield, catching two of three potential base stealers while hitting .355/.462/.548 with three doubles and a home run in 39 plate appearances. After moving up to Vancouver, Hissey hit .269/.363/.372 over 179 plate appearances, hitting 11 doubles, a triple and a home run while throwing out 30% of potential base thieves. Hissey made a good case to be headed to Lansing in 2016 to catch in a full-season assignment.
2014 30th-round draft pick Kevin Garcia was the Vancouver Canadians’ other main catcher, catching 34 games. The 5-foot-9 left-handed hitter continued to put up some decent numbers but his lack of power and success throwing out runners at a high rate will probably work against him as he moves up the organization. Still, Garcia hit .255/.346/.300, hitting five doubles in 129 plate appearances. He walked more than he struck out, walking 12.2% of the time and striking out in 11.3% of plate appearances.
Infielder Justin Atkinson actually played the most games at first base for the Vancouver Canadians but the versatile (actual) Canadian can play anywhere on the infield. Atkinson started the season with the Lansing Lugnuts, ostensibly as a catcher, but he spent much more time at third than behind the plate. Atkinson, who hit .291 with Lansing in 2014, hit only .212, losing most of June to the DL, before heading back down to Vancouver. In Vancouver, he regained his stroke, hitting .294/.327/.402 but benefited from a .357 BABIP. He walked in only 3.5% of his plate appearances but kept his strikeouts much lower than they were in Lansing, at 19.5%. Atkinson is a curious player. He was looking like he was hitting the ball with much more authority when I saw him at the end of the season in Lansing but he still hasn’t been able to put a full season with very much power. He’ll probably get another shot at Lansing in 2016, his Age 22 season, and he’ll hope that the third time is the charm.
After an outstanding 2014 season, the Blue Jays were going to send Lane Thomas to Lansing for his second professional year at the age of 19 but a wrist injury kept him from joining the club and he ended up in Vancouver, working things out after a transition to second base. The 2014 fifth-rounder didn’t do much with the bat in 183 plate appearances in Vancouver (and even less in nine games with the Lugnuts before getting shut down for the season) but when he did get hits, he hit the ball with some authority, smashing 13 doubles and five home runs. He didn’t walk much (just 4.4% of the time) but didn’t strike out a ton either (18.6%). Thomas will almost certainly be playing second base for the Lugnuts in 2014 at a still young 20 years old.
21-year-old Carl Wise joined the Vancouver Canadians after just seven games with Bluefield in his draft year. The Blue Jays’ fourth-round pick of 2015, Wise played 45 games at third base for the Vancouver Canadians (after six games there for Bluefield) while also playing a game at shortstop. Wise’s offensive numbers weren’t bad but they weren’t great either. He hit .231/.268/.308 for Vancouver (with modestly higher numbers in Bluefield), walking just 4.1% of the time and striking out 22.2%. For wise, it could just be a case of the draft year funk that many draftee go through and he’ll have plenty of time at fall instructs and in spring training to get up to speed. I’m sure the Jays want to see him in Lansing in 2016.
Another player who succumbed to the draft-funk was the Jays’ sixth rounder, shortstop J.C. Cardenas. Cardenas, 21, showed a good eye, walking in 16.3% of plate appearances while striking out in 20.9% but only hit .179/.316/.257 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. Cardenas was fairly sure handed, making 11 errors in 42 games at short but could also see some improvement there. With the shortstop position in Lansing likely open next year (with Richard Urena moving up to Dunedin), Cardenas has as good of a shot as any and will look to find a groove in professional baseball there.
Ninth-round pick Connor Panas added some Canadian content to the Vancouver Canadians, coming out of Toronto and had a very smooth transition to the professional game from Canisius College in Buffalo. Panas, 22, played six games in the Gulf Coast League, terrorizing the pitchers, before getting a promotion to Vancouver where he hit .252/.341/.413 with nine doubles, two triples and four home runs. The only question mark about Panas’s game is whether he can cut down on his strikeout rate which reached 26.7% with the Canadians in 176 plate appearances. Panas played mostly left field and first base with Vancouver and could easily move up to Lansing next year.
Vancouver’s everyday center fielder was Andrew Guillotte, a 32nd-round pick in 2015 out of McNeese State University in Louisiana. Guillotte made a 13-game stop in Bluefield, hitting .229/.339/.333 before moving up to Vancouver, showing an interesting combination of patience, power and speed. Guillotte hit .251/.345/.351 with eight doubles, a triple and three home runs but, most importantly, he walked in 9.4% of plate appearances and struck out in only 11.2%, stealing 17 bases and getting caught only four times. Significantly, Guillotte also showed a good arm, throwing out 11 batters on the bases at the two levels. With most of the outfielders in Lansing slated to move up, Guillotte could be manning center field in Cooley Law School Stadium in 2016.
Our 2015 Player of the Year, Sean Hurley, was the breakout hitter of the Vancouver Canadians. Leading the club in home runs (nine), Hurley hit .253/.363/.441 with 11 doubles and four triples over 289 plate appearances. His .188 ISO was excellent, as was his 13.5% walk rate while only his 27.0% strikeout rate gives cause for worry. After three seasons in rookie ball and Short-Season-A ball, it’s time for Hurley to break out and play in April. The Midwest League will be a tough assignment for a player who struck out as much as he did but, going into his Age-24 season, Hurley is going to have to perform there to keep moving.
Gunnar Heidt had the second most plate appearances for the Vancouver Canadians and, despite the relatively weak numbers, did appear to turn things around towards the end of the season. Heidt started his second professional season with the Lansing Lugnuts, hitting just .170/.213/.231 over 50 games. Sent to Vancouver, he hit just .233/.301/.312 but walked much more (8.6%) and cut down on his strikeout rate (to 19.3%). Heidt got hot at the end of August, hitting four doubles and three home runs in just over two weeks and he went to Lansing for the playoffs where he had three hits in the final two games of the regular season and went six-for-17 in five playoff games, hitting five doubles and driving in a pair of runs. At 23, Heidt could easily return to Lansing where he can play third and short (and probably second too in a pinch) but an impressive spring could land him in Dunedin with some other players looking to suck up playing time in Lansing at those positions.
Ryan Metzler also got a lot of playing time for the Canadians, getting into 46 games, mostly at second base. Metzler was sure-handed, only making three errors at second and one at third while vastly improving his numbers from 2014, also in Vancouver. Metzler hit .283/.341/.365 with seven doubles and a pair of home runs while walking in 6.9% of plate appearances and striking out in only 13.8%. Metzler is very likely to be in Lansing as a 23-year-old in 2016 and should be a solid utility man for the Lugnuts.
The Blue Jays’ 30th-round pick in the 2015 draft got out to a fantastic start to his 2015 campaign. The man with the best name in the system, Earl Burl III with 2/4 with two doubles, three RBI and three runs in his first game as a pro but came back to earth, hitting .216/.310/.284 the rest of the way. He showed a good eye, walking in 10.7% of his at bats but struck out in 24.9%. I’d bet that Burl heads back to Vancouver for another go-round at the Northwest League to see if he can’t get that strikeout rate down and make more hard contact.
In his Age-20 season, catcher and first-baseman Juan Kelly made an impression in 17 games with the Lansing Lugnuts but his numbers weren’t nearly as good overall as they were in 2014 with the GCL Blue Jays. Moved somewhat aggressively, Kelly hit .230/.331/.286 with the Canadians, playing catcher and first base. He started hitting for more power in 17 games in Lansing with a .286/.366/.540 slash line, hitting seven doubles and three home runs in just 71 plate appearances. This begs the question as to which is the real Juan Kelly? Is the time in Lansing just too small a sample size to get a handle on his true self? Or was he just bored in Vancouver and didn’t perform up to his potential? The 21-year-old showed that he wasn’t overwhelmed in Lansing and only saw a modest drop in walk rate (from 13.0% to 11.3%) and rise in strikeout rate (from 19.9% to 21.1%) when moving to the higher level. 2016 is going to be an interesting year for Kelly who will likely be back in Lansing.
Playing mostly outfield, Rolando Segovia got into 24 games with the Canadians, hitting .203/.253/.304 with only three walks and 22 strikeouts. Only 20, the Venezuelan will need more playing time and better rate stats to move up.
Gabriel Cenas broke out a little bit in 2013 but he’s been stymied by better pitching in Vancouver, hitting just .171/.227/.314 in 23 games in 2015. Cenas is still 21 (until October 16) but needs to start hitting after five season with the Blue Jays.
23-year-old James Lynch hit .203/.250/.219 which was still an improvement over his 2014 numbers in Bluefield. In only 68 plate appearances, however, he walked just three times and struck out 29 (42.6%) which is not what you want to see from a young player.
2015 38th-round pick Josh Reavis hit very well when he was in the lineup (just 73 plate appearances total), hitting .302/.375/.349 but only two of his hits went for extra bases. He had a good walk rate both in the Appalachian League and the Northwest League but his throwing from behind the plate was far better at the lower level. He’ll need to get in the lineup more to know what he can do.
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