The Vancouver Canadians were the Northwest League champions in 2017 and the did that on the backs of some newly drafted college players who showed leadership as well as the ability to get the job done with the bat. They were also bolstered by a young outfielder who showed the first signs of being able to consistently tap into his plus tools. All in all, it was an exciting year for the Vancouver Canadians and their fans.
The go-to catcher for the Canadians was the Jays’ third round pick in 2017, 6-foot-4 Riley Adams out of San Diego University. Adams put up an impressive debut campaign with a .305/.374/.438 slash line that included 16 doubles, a triple and three home runs. Adams got under way with a 4/4 game in just his third of season and had another four-hit game in early July. He had a solid 7.9% walk rate and a 22.0% strikeout rate but may benefit from hitting the ball in the air more: he had a 17.2% line drive rate but a 49.7% ground ball rate and a .391 BABIP which allowed him to hit as well as he did. Adams did some impressive work behind the plate, throwing out 40% of potential base stealers and comitting just three passed balls in 34 games behind the plate. I can see some regression in Adams’s offensive game next year, unless he can get the ball in the air more often. The 21-year-old will be in Lansing in April.
Matt Morgan caught the next most games for the Canadians, getting into 29 games overall with Vancouver and one with Lansing. He was 1/4 in Lansing, playing in early June, before the short season got under way, and eventually hit .141/.255/.261 over 92 at bats with the Cs. Morgan, a perennial project since being drafted in the fourth round in 2014 hit three doubles, a triple and two home runs. The 21-year-old catcher continued to struggle with the strikeout, going down on strikes in 39.6% of his plate appearances while walking in 11.3%. He threw out 31% of runners trying to steal in Vancouver (and one out of two in Lansing) but it’s the strikeouts and lack of offensive production that are the biggest concern for Morgan.
22-year-old Mississauga native Owen Spiwak played in his first full year with Vancouver after spending 2015 and 2016 predominantly with the GCL Blue Jays. Spiwak put up better numbers than he did in 2016, getting into 28 games and hitting .211/.312/.295 in 110 plate appearances, hitting five doubles and a home run. Behind the plate, he acquitted himself well, throwing out 38% of potential base stealers and committing just two passed balls in 117 innings behind the plate. Spiwak benefitted from a high (.345) BABIP and struck out far too much (35.5% of the time) while walking in 11.8% of plate appearances. Spiwak is a useful backup catcher and he could move up to Lansing in that role next year, or he could remain in Vancouver with the hope of a little more playing time next year.
Finally, we get to Cam O’Brien who, after he had served his suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine, played in 11 games with Vancouver, coming to the plate 40 times, mostly as a DH, and hit .216/.275/.243. He did catch two games and allowed five runners to steal without throwing anyone out.
First baseman Kacy Clemens‘s name is familiar to most Blue Jays fans as he’s one of the sons of ace pitcher Roger. Clemens, drafted in the eighth round this season by the Jays out of Texas, turned 23 this summer and acquitted himself extremely well by hitting .274/.379/.413 with 14 doubles, three triples and four home runs while stealing four bases in four attempts. Clemens’s mature approach likely helped him to the strong season and he walked in 14.1% of his 269 plate appearances and struck out in 19.3% for a very strong walk-to-strikeout ratio. Like Riley Adams, Clemens probably hits the ball on the ground a little too often (54.9%) and his fly ball rate is pretty low (guys like Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit fly balls over 40% of the time). It wouldn’t surprise if the Jays tried to tinker with Clemens’s swing to get him to hit with a little more loft when they work with him in the Florida Instructional League. He’s likely to start in Lansing next year.
At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Cullen Large may not be as large as some of his teammates, but the 21-year-old infielder started off his career with a bang, racking up seven hits in his first five games with the Canadians. Large tailed off a bit but only played three games in August and, while he wasn’t put on the DL, I’m sure he wasn’t healthy in order to have missed that much time. Large hit .246/.356/.325 in 151 plate apearances, hitting eight doubles and a triple and stealing three bases in three tries. Large walked in 11.9% of his plate appearances and struck out in 18.5%, giving him very solid ratios in his professional debut. I’d look for him in Lansing next year too.
The Blue Jays acquired second baseman Samad Taylor from the Indians in the trade for Joe Smith and he impressed in his first exposure in Vancouver. The 19 year old righthanded hitter hit .300/.328/.467 with six doubles, a triple, and four home runs in 28 games with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the New York-Penn League while a member of the Cleveland organization and went to Bluefield after being traded. There he hit .250/.350/250 in five games before heading to Vancouver to finish the season with a .294/.342/.426 slash line, hitting three doubles and two home runs in 68 plate appearances. Taylor struck out in 23.1% of his plate appearances with Vancouver and, aside from his brief time in Bluefield, that was his highest figure for any portion of the 2017 season. It looks like he might want to improve his 6.4% walk rate as he moves forward. Taylor looks like he could be a very interesting young prospect with a combination of bat skills and power. He only stole seven bases in 11 attempts leading me to believe that his base stealing skills might benefit from the tutelage of Tim Raines. Despite being still being 19 when next season opens, Taylor could find himself manning second base for Lansing.
20-year-old Dominican third baseman Bryan Lizardo spent his second year in Vancouver, slightly regressing at the plate, hitting .212/.276/.276 in 222 plate appearances. While his walk rate (7.7%) was up 0.2% from 2016, his strikeout rate also rose to 29.3% (from 26.5%) while his ISO dropped from .114 in 2016 to .064 in 2017. I’m sure he started in Vancouver this year due to a couple of circumstances (the first being a rough 2016 and the second being the fact that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leaped over him in the depth chart at third base) but the Lizardo’s inability to get out of short-season ball has been due to his own performance. Without a clear third-baseman ready to take the reigns in Lansing next year, he could move up there to test him against better competition, but it may not be right away.
In six years since joining the Blue Jays’ organization, Venezuelan infielder Deiferson Barreto has only managed to spend a lot of time in Vancouver. Still, the 22 year old did play a game in Buffalo this year but 48 of his 67 games were with the Canadians where he hit .249/.280.306. He got his season under way with the Dunedin Blue Jays, playing 18 games (around a quick jump to Buffalo for an 0/2 game) hitting .211/.224/.228 with a double. In Vancouver, he added seven doubles and a triple but home runs eluded him. Barreto doesn’t strike out much (11.3% in Vancouver and 10.3% in Dunedin) but neither does he walk a lot (3.2% in Vancouver and 0.0% in Dunedin). That combined with his meagre other stats likely mean a rough road ahead for the Venezuelan.
One of the Vancouver Canadians’ best performers was the Blue Jays’ first-round pick in the 2017 draft, shortstop Logan Warmoth who came to the Jays out of the University of North Carolina. Warmoth played in six games in the GCL, hitting .273/.304/.409 with a home run over 22 at bats before getting into 39 games with Vancouver, improving those numbers with a .306/.356/.419 slash line, contributing 11 doubles, two triples and one home run. Warmoth didn’t walk much, just 4.0% of his Vancouver plate appearances and his 19.0% strikeout rate is ok, particularly for a professional debut. One statistical area that sets him apart from what Clemens and Adams were able to do was the fact that he had a 38.4% fly ball rate, indicating that, as (if) he gets stronger, more balls will fly further, improving his ISO and power potential. Look for Warmoth to man shortstop in Lansing or Dunedin as a 22-year-old in 2018.
Despite the fact that Warmoth is a first-round pick, Kevin Vicuna, a 19-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, accrued some A-ball experience in 2017, and where the two end up in 2018 will depend as much on each other as it does on themselves. Vicuna started making waves after notched three multi-hit games in his first week in Dunedin after being assigned there in late April. Between April 23 and June 1, Vicuna played in 26 games and had 92 plate appearances in Dunedin, hitting .202/.256/.238 overall with a double and a triple. Heading to Vancouver, Vicuna played with the Canadians from the beginning of the season to late-August, hitting .280/.333/.307 with three doubles and a triple. He played the final couple of weeks in Lansing, hitting .340/.389/.400 in a small sample of 50 at bats with a double and a triple. Vicuna also has some speed, stealing 17 bases but the fact that he was caught stealing nine times indicates that he probably needs some more work in that regard. Right now, it looks like Vicuna, who struck out 17.2% of the times in Vancouver and walked 5.3% of the time needs to figure out how to hit the ball with more authority as his tiny ISO of .034 indicates. Vicuna could start in Lansing next year, or he could move up to Dunedin. With a few quality shortstops in the organization, it will depend on where the Blue Jays send Richard Urena, Lourdes Gurriel and Bo Bichette before we know where Vicuana and Warmoth start the year.
David Jacob spend most of his time as a DH but still played nine games at first base for Vancouver. The slugger had a slash line of .267/.323/.433 with three doubles and four home runs in 99 plate appearances and also played in 18 games with Lansing, hitting .288/.358/.438 with two doubles and three more home runs. The 6-foot-4 lefthanded hitting first baseman also hit a home run in his only at bat in the GCL and went 0/4 in one game in Buffalo, giving him a solid eight home runs in 43 games. With time on the DL, Jacob is likely going to need to stay healthy and get into games next year to show what he can do with the bat. I think he’ll be in Lansing next year.
22-year-old Mexican outfielder Norberto Obeso was a solid everyday contributor to the Canadians, hitting .252/.364/.329 with eight doubles, a triple and two home runs in 250 plate appearances. His biggest asset at this point in his career is his ability to get on via the walk as the lefthanded hitter walked in 13.6% of his plate appearances and struck out in 15.2%. He’ll likely be in Lansing next year.
Looking over 20-year-old center fielder Reggie Pruitt‘s numbers, one would think that the young Georgian didn’t have the kind of season that he could hang his hat on with a .229/.297/.297 slash line, encompassing nine doubles, two triples and two home runs (including an inside-the-park homer). In the overall, Pruitt walked in 7.4% of his plate appearances, which is on the low side considering how fast he is, and struck out in a career-high 25.8%. Pruitt also stole 28 bases in 36 attempts, not a bad ratio. But the overall is deceiving because Pruitt probably showed the most improvement of any of the Vancouver Canadians over the course of the season. In his first 18 games, Pruitt hit .118/.211/.176 and .265/.326/.336 after that. In August, Pruitt struck out a little less (24.2%) and hit both of his home runs. Pruitt has always been considered a very raw talent after he was drafted out of high school and it might appear that he’s been able to polish some of those skills, giving us some hope for 2018, when he’ll probably start in Lansing.
The man with the moustache, Brock Lundquist, 21, had a very solid debut professional season after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 draft out of Long Beach State. He hit .251/.364/.377 with a strong 12.0% walk rate and an 18.0% strikeout rate. Ludquist really shone in the playoffs, however, going 7/21 in six games, hitting three doubles and two home runs and having a 1.153 OPS. Lundquist will likely ply his trade for Lansing next year.
Brandon Polizzi, the Jays’ 35th-round pick out of Cal State Dominguez Hills (Kevin Pillar‘s alma mater), played most of his pro debut in Vancouver, hitting .198/.270/.279 after hitting .357/.438/.571 in seven games in Bluefield, hitting four doubles and a triple in just 28 at bats. His struggles in Vancouver featured a 26.8% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate while his batted ball data indicates that he really is not a fly ball hitter, putting 60.5% of his batted balls on the ground in Vancouver. Lundquist, 21, could return to Vancouver next year after missing the end of the season with an injury.
Lance Jones played in eight games with Vancouver, hitting .423/.467/.500 in 26 at bats, with two doubles before he retired towards the end of June.
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