Players are asked to sign a lot of autographs, and most of these requests do not present declining as an option. (Fortunately for many of them, their names aren’t often 22 letters long like mine. Signing “Carl Wise” is accomplished quicker than “Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.”) After a while, I do not blame a person for scrawling an illegible signature after a while, or for ducking out of whatever autograph requests are presented to them.
In a moment, I’m going to write about two Lugnuts left-handers, Ryan Borucki and Dan Lietz, and why they’re both deserving of notice.
First, though, here’s what important tonight:
- The Lugnuts go for a 6th straight win, and an 8th straight win against archrival West Michigan. The wild card cushion has grown to 4.5 games, thanks to Lake County’s ridiculous loss to Great Lakes yesterday.
- Josh DeGraaf gets his third start. In each of the first two, DeGraaf tossed four innings and allowed two runs. His goal is five innings tonight.
- Tayler Saucedo follows DeGraaf to the mound, and he’s won each of his last three relief appearances. Four games, four wins for Saucedo?
- Jackson Lowery Time! The Arkansas right-hander has been untouchable recently, setting down 15 straight batters in the Fort Wayne series. Will he stay perfect?
- Andrew Guillotte goes for six straight two-hit games. This has been darn awesome for Guillotte, with five straight games featuring exactly two hits, increasing his hitting streak to nine games.
- Lane Thomas is an X-Factor. He just is, man. He made a heck of a sliding catch in center field to rob Cam Gibson yesterday, he drilled three hard singles, he works the count, and he’s a threat on the bases. I love watching the CF Thomas/RF Guillotte combination chasing down fly balls.
A mere five more scoreless innings from Ryan Borucki last night, his second straight start with five scoreless innings. Are we taking him for granted yet? Since June 15th, Borucki is 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 starts: 63.0 IP, 12 R (11 ER), 9 BB, 58 K, .229 opp. avg.
Let’s go a little crazy here: Ryan Borucki is 2012 Lugnuts left-hander Justin Nicolino.
They’re both smart, big lefties – Borucki is 6-foot-4, Nicolino is 6-foot-3. They both work in the low 90s with exceptional changeups and a secondary breaking ball (slider for Borucki, curve for Nicolino). They were both drafted out of high school – Ohio for Borucki, Florida for Nicolino.
Now, Nicolino was only 20 years old in 2012. He would subsequently be traded to the Miami Marlins, and now, at the ripe old age of 24, he currently is cruising through Triple-A and awaiting a regular role in the Marlins’ rotation come 2017.
Borucki is 22 years old, having had a professional season robbed from him due to surgery last year. You could consider him a bit behind because of this, in addition to a professional setback at the start of the year that saw him get roughed up in A-Advanced Dunedin. I’m not so worried by either of this.
An educated guess at Borucki’s coming seasons: age 23 in Florida State League/Eastern League, age 24 in Eastern League/International League, age 25 in International League/Major League Baseball, age 26 in MLB. He’s polished, so he could easily skip a level next year.
Another key difference between Borucki and Nicolino before we move on: Until recently, Justin Nicolino was far more effective against right-handed batters than lefties, a statement on how much better his change was than his curve. Ryan Borucki is eating up left-handed batters with his improving slider. If you’ll excuse the pun, that might well put him ahead of the curve.
I heard from another scout yesterday the growing belief that Sean Reid-Foley is going to be great. Just put that in your back pocket and smile.
Let’s talk Dan Lietz.
In 2013, he was drafted in the 5th round and made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, allowing 63 base runners in 36 innings — 47 hits, 11 walks and 5 HBPs.
In 2014, Lietz made his first appearance in Vancouver, allowing 61 base runners in 33 innings. That was 37 hits, 22 walks and 2 HBPs.
In 2015, he was back in Vancouver and gave up 27 more base runners in 12 innings before he was sent down to Bluefield. With the Blue Jays, Lietz tossed 25.2 innings and walked 23, struck out 11, and gave up 42 total base runners. Not great.
He opens 2016 in Lansing. Pitching coach Jeff Ware told me not to look at Lietz’s stats, that this would be a new Dan Lietz this year. Lietz himself told me the same thing. So what happens? In his first 18 appearances, he pitches to a 5.46 ERA in 29.2 IP, allowing 51 runners: 34 hits, 15 walks, 2 HBPs.
The Blue Jays transfer Lietz down to Short-Season A Vancouver. He makes three appearances for the Canadians. He jumps right back to Lansing.
He gets awesome.
In 11 appearances since returning from the Northwest League, here are Dan Lietz’s numbers in black and white: 11 appearances, 1.54 ERA, 23.1 IP, 18 strikeouts, 18 base runners: 12 hits, 5 walks, 1 HBP.
Before: 1.69 groundout/airout ratio. After: 2.50
Before: .288 average against. After: .154.
The stuff has always been good enough. His fastball is heavy and works in the low 90s with great sinking movement. His slider can put batters away. Now he’s getting the tilt, working down in the zone, and helping himself with fewer walks. Note too that the league’s left-handed batters are hitting a mere .208 against Dan (while right-handers are batting .252), a statistic that takes the entire season into account.
He’s a 22-year-old 6-foot-2 left-hander who is getting grounders, strikeouts, and retiring left-handed hitters. If he keeps that up, Dan Lietz will be on his way to the Major Leagues.
It’s Day 1 of a four-game commuter trip to West Michigan.
Today’s game notes.
What’s important tonight:
- Keep the momentum going from a four-game home sweep of Fort Wayne.
- Extend a six-game winning streak against West Michigan.
- Receive another strong outing from Ryan Borucki in a series of them.
- Watch Dan Lietz continue his own forward progress.
- Continue the offensive resurgence from Andrew Guillotte, Ryan Hissey and Carl Wise that started at home.
You’re the Lugnuts. You entered last series with your lead down to 1/2 a game over Great Lakes and down to one game over Fort Wayne. You then swept Fort Wayne in four games all the while Great Lakes was getting swept in South Bend. Your lead is now up to 3.5 on Lake County, 4.5 games on Great Lakes, and 5.0 games on Fort Wayne. You’re feeling good… and now you’re about to take on your archrival, a scrappy, intense sort of team with strong pitching, in a four-game series on their home soil. Best case: 3 or 4 wins, and the momentum stays strong. Realistic case: 2 wins. Worst case: You get swept, and suddenly the Captains, Loons, and TinCaps are breathing down your neck again.
Note: The Lugnuts are 8-3 against the West Michigan Whitecaps, with wins in back-to-back games to end the first half (denying the Whitecaps the first-half Eastern Division title) and four straight triumphs at home to begin the second half. Andrew Graham’s squad won’t need much motivation to get up for these games, even with a playoff ticket in its back pocket.
Ryan Borucki is on the mound tonight, fresh off five scoreless innings against the explosive Bowling Green Hot Rods in his last start. Ryan has faced West Michigan twice before, once in Fifth Third Ballpark and once at home at Cooley Law School Stadium… and these were two very different starts. At West Michigan on June 10th, Borucki gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks. Not good. Then in Lansing on June 23rd, he turned around and fired a career-high eight innings, allowing five hits, one run, zero walks and striking out eight. Really good. I’ve become accustomed recently to businesslike efforts from Borucki – not many strikeouts, but not many hits or runs either. He’s been making it look easy.
West Michigan counters with RHP Sandy Baez, a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic with a 6-8, 3.43 record. Just like Borucki, Baez has faced the Lugnuts once at home (where he fared reasonably well: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K) and once on the road (where he fared poorly: 4.1 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 3 K).
I’m starting to take a major interest in Lansing’s first reliever out of the bullpen, particularly since starters are only working 5-6 innings these days, putting increased pressure on that initial reliever. With that in mind, I’m expecting LHP Dan Lietz today, with the equally likely presence of LHP Tayler Saucedo and/or RHP Starlyn Suriel.
Speaking of the bullpen, why did the Lugnuts win on Tuesday afternoon? Give major credit to the efforts of Jackson Lowery and Tayler Saucedo, who held the TinCaps to a perfect 0-for-12 at the plate in the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th innings.
The hottest hitters as of late… OF Andrew Guillotte collected exactly two hits each game against Fort Wayne and is now riding an eight-game hitting streak (13-for-36, .361). C Ryan Hissey notched five hits and five walks (two intentional!) in the four games against Fort Wayne. And 3B Carl Wise returned from the DL with the Lugnuts’ very first four-hit game of the season (by anyone), capped by his 13th-inning walkoff single.
Coming off a cold homestand… CF Lane Thomas was 2-for-15 in his return from the DL, LF Jake Thomas was 3-for-17, LF/RF Connor Panas went 3-for-27, and C Justin Atkinson was 5-for-26.
Lastly, the Lugnuts have exactly one walk-off win in each month of the season, occurring April 19th, May 24th, June 19th, July 9th, and now August 9th. Next dramatic moment, September?
Former Lugnuts RHP Jon Harris, a Midwest League All-Star, tossed a seven-inning complete game yesterday for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Harris’s current stats in Dunedin: 1-1, 3.66, 3 true starts, 19.2 IP, 7 BB, 11 K. He was blasted in his FSL debut, but has been excellent in two games since.
Let’s expect Harris to wind down from here, but he could well open up next year in New Hampshire (or in Dunedin with a chance to jump to NH after a few months a la Conner Greene), right on schedule.
The past few days have featured several special broadcasts. On Friday, Kevin Gehl and I pulled off my annual tribute re-creation broadcast with sound effects; he messaged me and I re-created the plays that were occurring, and vice versa. (Here’s the game, if you’d like to hear the result of our efforts.)
The image above is from Saturday, Stand Up To Cancer presented by Fifth Third Bank. Kevin and I stood for the entire game while we broadcasted. (The game lasted nearly three hours.)
Yesterday was more normal, a 1-0 Lugnuts win behind the efforts of Justin Maese, Dan Lietz and Andrew Case and a 6th-inning RBI single from Ryan Hissey. As Kevin would call it, it was a typical 2016 Lugnuts win, carried by the pitching with just enough offense.
Today is six of a seven-day homestand, the third game of a four-game series against Fort Wayne. It is Monday. Mondays in baseball provide a nice breather, an evening game after a day game. All of my responsibilities were finished up nice and early today, and my scorecard was filled out a remarkably early 3:30 p.m.
What’s important tonight:
- Isn’t it amazing how a couple of wins provide breathing space? Two days ago, the Lugnuts’ playoff lead was half a game over Great Lakes. Two wins later, that lead is a cozier 2.5 games. The Loons are having major troubles with the tough South Bend Cubs. It’s not out of the question to consider a third straight Lugnuts win over Fort Wayne and a third straight Loons loss to the Cubs.
- Jordan Romano is on the mound, looking to build on his six-inning stint last time out. The pitch counts are diminishing for Lansing’s starters, making it tougher to go deep and putting greater strain on the bullpen.
- Speaking of that bullpen: If not for Lietz and Case, the Lugnuts don’t win yesterday. Today would appear to be a Starlyn Suriel and Kirby Snead day. If either one — let alone both — are ineffective, it sabotages the Lugs’ chances. Both are capable of easy innings; both may also be hitting the wall, Suriel after another long MiLB season that saw him tantalized with a brief promotion, and Snead after a college baseball season followed by his professional debut.
- Continuing with Suriel: Last time we saw him against Fort Wayne, he faced five batters and all five scored. Get ready for Round 2. Yes, the Lugnuts need solid starts, but the anonymous support — the backbone of this team — is the daily middle relief rotation from Suriel, Lietz, Tayler Saucedo and Tom Robson. Their performance is winning/losing games for the Lugnuts as much as anyone else.
- Andrew Guillotte is 8-for-10 in 1st inning at-bats in his last ten games. Does he make it 9-for-11 and spark another early rally?
- It’s easy to see how players have been recently by simply taking a look at the August stats through seven games. Notables: Ryan Hissey is hitting .450 (9-20), Juan Kelly is hitting .381 (8-21), John La Prise is hitting .357 (10-28) and Andrew Guillotte is hitting .300 (9-30). Can they continue it today against the challenge presented by Fort Wayne’s Jacob Nix?
- With the Lugnuts’ recent two-game resurgence has come an increase in base-running aggressiveness, particularly with runners at 1st/3rd. Will we see more of the same?
- 27 games remain in the 2nd half. There is an increase of yawns… and there’s an off day on the horizon to recharge. At the very least, the Lugs want a split of today/tomorrow’s games. It starts tonight.
I recommend this piece by John Lott for BlueJaysNation, talking about the Jays’ top prospects with Toronto Director of Player Development Gil Kim, with key quotes on Max Pentecost, Anthony Alford and Richard Urena, among others.
Austin Davis and Tim Raines warm up for today’s game.
It’s Day 2 of a 7-game homestand!
Tonight’s game notes.
- Hot Rods 7, Lugnuts 2. Bowling Green starter Blake Bivens struck out nine batters in seven innings, and the Hot Rods scored seven unanswered runs. That’s inconsequential, though, because:
- Max Pentecost was injured (left shoulder) sliding into home plate in the first inning. The good word from manager John Schneider is that it’s not serious. Expect Max to be placed on the 7-day DL tomorrow, but not stay there long. To answer the question that everyone was mentally asking: His season isn’t over.
- Dan Lietz and John Schneider were ejected in the ninth inning. Lietz threw a fastball in on Michael Russell, and home plate umpire Nick Susie tossed him. The benches emptied onto the field, and Schneider was subsequently ejected by Susie. Things were heated last night. Which brings us to…
What’s important tonight:
- Quite frankly, I expect a quieter night tonight. New day, new game, new pitchers… everyone has had a chance to refocus. (That said, it’s a Labatt Thirsty Thursday Gone Wild, so expect a rowdy crowd that won’t need too much riling up to get involved.)
- The Lugnuts received a much needed six innings from Jordan Romano yesterday. Today they require command from Angel Perdomo. The big lefty was a huge surprise throughout the first half, but hasn’t been as sharp in the second half. Is he grinding down in his first full season, or is this a matter of Perdomo attempting to work on his secondary stuff to the detriment of his overall performance? Whatever the case may be, the Lugs want to see his Midwest League All-Star form return. Unfortunately it’s coming against the most prodigious offense in the MWL, so you might have to lower your standards. 6 innings, 3 runs allowed would be just fine. (I’d also take 5 1/3 innings with 1-2 runs allowed.)
- Max Pentecost is on the shelf. Lane Thomas hasn’t been activated yet. Who steps up in the starting lineup? The Lugnuts need offense, no matter the source. Can they get it against a Bowling Green starter in Genesis Cabrera who has been susceptible as of late? John La Prise and Connor Panas are key cogs in the attack, but they’re a combined 0-for-27 with 17 strikeouts in the last four games with the Hot Rods.
Lastly, Colton Turner was promoted to Class-AA New Hampshire today, and it’s well deserved. Turner began the season in the Lugnuts’ bullpen, posting 12.0 scoreless innings and notching five quick saves. In A-Advanced Dunedin, he remained impressive, allowing only two runs in 31.2 innings, striking out 47 batters compared to just nine walks. Add it together and you have a 0.41 ERA in 35 relief appearances.
Beyond this, consider: Turner first pitched for the Lugnuts in 2013. Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2014 season. At age 24, he returned to the Lugs last year and put up a 4.02 ERA in 31 appearances. At age 25, he was back in Lansing this year. In black and white, it sounds like a pitcher spinning his wheels, right?
What that information doesn’t tell you is that Turner’s velocity has come back in a major way — and with it, his confidence. At last check, he’s throwing 93-95 mph and he’s shutting down all manner of batters. At the age of 25, Colton Turner is suddenly one of the hottest left-handed relief prospects in the Blue Jays’ organization (behind only Matt Dermody in my estimation). If he continues to excel, my bet is that he makes the Major Leagues in 2017/2018.
And that’s even awesomer than watching a future Major Leaguer play ping-pong.
Back home again, Day 1 of a seven-game homestand.
Today’s game notes.
- TinCaps 6, Lugnuts 3
- Max Pentecost continued his hot hitting with an RBI triple in the 1st inning and an RBI double in the 3rd inning.
- Justin Maese left a few pitches up, though, and one of them was parked beyond the left field wall by Nick Vilter, a two-run go-ahead homer in the 4th inning. Austin Allen rifled a two-run single off Tom Robson, and the Lugnuts did not manage any offense after an RBI double by John La Prise in the 6th inning.
What’s important today:
- The Lugnuts still lead the final playoff slot by 2.5 games over the Great Lakes Loons, but that lead’s not going to last if this team doesn’t start playing .500 ball (at the least). To that end, this is a huge seven-game homestand against Bowling Green and Fort Wayne. Anything less than 3-4 wins could prove troublesome. Optimally you want to win two of three vs. the Hot Rods and, at least, split the four-game set with the TinCaps.
- Jordan Romano gets the start tonight. Last time out against Bowling Green, he gave up six hits and two runs in four innings. The Lugnuts’ bullpen would love at least five frames, which starts with fastball command.
- Expect southpaw Dan Lietz in relief. He was money vs. Bowling Green in Kentucky (5 IP, 0 R, 5 K).
Danny Barnes made his Major League debut last night for the Toronto Blue Jays, becoming the 116th former Lugnuts to reach The Show. Barnes was a 35th-round draft pick in 2010 out of Princeton University. He was slight, threw majority fastballs, and pitched for the Lugnuts at the end of 2010 and through the majority of 2011. This was a huge accomplishment for Barnes to reach the Majors, overcoming numerous injuries. For all Minor Leaguers working their way forward, he serves as a heck of an inspirational figure.
Game 4 of 4 from Parkview Field, the final game of a seven-game road trip.
Today’s game notes.
- Lugnuts 10, TinCaps 9
- Josh DeGraaf gave the Lugnuts four good innings yesterday, but the story early on was the offense, led by Connor Panas (2 HRs, 5 RBIs), Ryan Hissey (3 hits) and Max Pentecost (2B, 3B, 2 RBIs). 10 runs on 13 hits got the job done, although the TinCaps sure made things interesting at the end.
- Full credit to Jackson Lowery, recording all three outs in the 8th, and Andrew Case, who tossed a boring 1-2-3 9th inning. Perfect 9th innings cannot be taken for granted. One base runner gets the TinCaps’ crowd back into the game. Case made sure that didn’t happen. He and Lowery are a combined 6-for-6 in save chances.
What’s important today:
- The Lugs’ win last night rebuilt the team’s playoff lead to 2.5 games over Great Lakes. Another victory today could solidify that cushion. Plus – hey, it would split this four-game series at Fort Wayne, against a team that had won five straight games before yesterday.
- The last time we saw him, Justin Maese was throwing six scoreless innings (with six strikeouts) to supply Lansing’s sole victory in the three-game series at Bowling Green. In a postgame interview with Kevin Gehl, he credited his 89-mph slider, offsetting his fine low-90s sinker. Maese starts tonight. How does he follow up that gem?
- Expect to see either RHP Tom Robson and/or LHP Dan Lietz relieve Maese, likely in that order. Robson has pitched three innings in each of his last three relief appearances, allowing only two runs. Lietz, meanwhile, gave up only one run in all of July, spanning 16 innings. He was dynamite three days ago, tossing five scoreless innings with five strikeouts.
- Lane Thomas homered, singled, stole two bases, and scored two runs in his latest rehab appearance in the Gulf Coast League. Expect to see the talented CF/2B rejoin the Lugnuts during the upcoming homestand. His injury and lack of early production knocked him off the Top 30 prospect list, but I still believe he’s one of the top position players in the entire organization.
- Toronto native Connor Panas was 0-for-9 with six strikeouts at Bowling Green in the first leg of the road trip. Things have turned in Fort Wayne: 6-for-14, a triple, three home runs and six RBIs. In the second half, Panas is batting .288 with a .382 OBP and a .584 slugging percentage, outstanding production from the Blue Jays’ 9th-round pick last year.
The consensus from Lansing is a satisfied smile about the Blue Jays’ deadline-dealing, particularly sending Drew Hutchison to Pittsburgh for LHP Francisco Liriano and a pair of minor league prospects, OF Harold Ramirez and C Reese McGuire. Altoona Curve broadcaster Trey Wilson called games with me in Lansing in 2014. Summing up his thoughts: Ramirez can legit hit and McGuire is a heck of a defensive catcher.
Hello from Fort Wayne!
Today’s game notes.
What’s important today:
- The Lugnuts were 14-5 on July 11th. Since July 14th, they are 4-13, returning their record to .500. They have scored four runs or fewer in the last nine games, and they have allowed double-digit hits in nine of the last ten games.
- And yet the Lugnuts currently hold the second Eastern Division playoff spot by 1.5 games over the Great Lakes Loons. It’s rather remarkable — they have not played their best baseball, but they are in position to return to the postseason with a fine August.
- After striking out seven batters in four shutout innings in Bowling Green, Josh DeGraaf receives his first start of the season following a team-leading 28 relief appearances. He replaces Tayler Saucedo in the starting rotation on a game-by-game basis. If he pitches well, I expect we’ll see him get another start after this.
- Andrew Guillotte led off three days ago with a home run. He led off two days ago with a triple. He opened yesterday’s game with a double. Today? Stay tuned.
Lastly, as we wait to see if any current members of the Lugnuts are swapped to aid the Blue Jays’ playoff push, a pair of former Lugs were traded today: Rich Hill was packaged to the Dodgers, while Carlos Beltran was sent to the Rangers. Hill struck out 50 batters in 29.1 innings for the 2003 Lugnuts; Beltran was a part of the inaugural 1996 Lansing Opening Day lineup.
Andrew “G” Guillotte is 5 feet, 8 inches tall. He leads off. He hustles, gets his uniform dirty, steals bases, draws walks, fights through tough at-bats, strikes out rarely, plays multiple positions, is awesome in the clubhouse, and is described in terms of being a “baseball rat” or a “dirtbag” or, at the very least, as someone who utterly loves the game.
This is a baseball archetype, the undersized, scrappy, grinding ballplayer who gets every possible ounce of production out of his talent, playing through injury, doing everything he can to help his team win. He’s a media darling and a fan favorite. He isn’t Mark McGwire, he’s Super Joe McEwing. He isn’t Carlos Correa, he’s Jose Altuve. (There’s often a racial component accused — that white media members or white fans will marshal themselves around a white overachiever whom they can better identify with, rather than the minority superstar with unattainable talents.)
Ah, but Jose Altuve is a purposefully bad example. He was boxed into overachiever land because of his height (5-foot-5), even though he possesses above-average tools elsewhere, such as hitting, speed and defense. Jose Altuve is not normal. He’s a Major League All-Star. He should be nowhere near a box; there’s no one in baseball like him.
It is easy to put Andrew Guillotte into a box, too. He came out of Lake Charles, Louisiana… and did not go far from home in landing with the McNeese State Cowboys. He played through his senior year, which allowed him both to grow as a ballplayer and set all sorts of school records. He is the latest-round pick on the Lansing Lugnuts’ roster, drafted in the 32nd round last year. The Lugnuts have a regular center fielder in Lane Thomas and a regular right fielder in Josh Almonte, and so Guillotte patrols left, except when Thomas or Almonte require a day off, in which he case he takes over their spot. He’s good like that.
Forget archetypes for a second. My stereotype of this grinding, hustling, overachieving player is of one without an above-average tool. Indeed, the epitome of the dirtbag probably has only below-average tools, but he’s doing the best with what he’s got. Heck, maybe he’s a little faster than the average player, but that’s only because he runs harder more often.
Andrew Guillotte is fast. He also has more power than you’d expect — someone commented that he might make the All-Star Team without hitting a home run, and then he goes out and crashes a two-run jack to Home Run Hill last Sunday. It was his fifth professional home run, more than Ryan Hissey and Carl Wise combined and one behind guys like Josh Almonte and Connor Panas and Jake Anderson and Gunnar Heidt. Guillotte has regularly swatted the ball over the head of outfielders this year, helping him amass eight extra-base hits, one behind team-leading Juan Kelly. He’s no singles hitter. And his throwing arm is far better than you might expect, sending beelines in to the infield, with an assist at home plate in a crucial spot a week or so ago. From his defense to his throwing arm to his speed to hitting for average, I don’t count one below-average tool.
And those other things he does, the ones that fit into that dismissed box of the Baseball Overachiever type, let’s not overlook them. He does grind out at-bats, he does make it difficult on a pitcher to put him away, he does hustle, he does steal bases, and he does fire up his teammates.
17 games into the season, Andrew Guillotte is batting a team-leading .328 with a team-leading 14 runs scored, a team-leading 21 base hits, a team-leading 14 runs batted in. Nearly three weeks into the season, he has been the offensive player on the Lugnuts, and he’s put himself on a course to play in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
An interview with Andrew:
The Lansing 3 referred to young prospects Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino of the 2012 Lansing Lugnuts. (I do not remember how the moniker originated — and you would think that I would be among the few to know, since I was right in the thick of things. Did it come from Toronto? An excited fan? A reporter?)
It was understood that the three would be coming to Lansing to start the season, that they were all brilliant talents, and that they would comprise perhaps the most scrutinized Minor League rotation in baseball.
Now, four years later, Syndergaard is making a case as the most unhittable pitcher in baseball as the ace of the New York Mets; Sanchez is doing fine things in the Blue Jays rotation; and Nicolino just returned to the Majors with the Marlins, delivering an excellent outing in a win against the L.A. Dodgers. I am getting many requests for the 2012 team picture and for individual action shots of the players, and I expect more will come.
(For trivia purposes, their catcher, Carlos Perez, was traded away midseason to the Astros and has since made the Majors with the Angels. The other members of the starting rotation were David Rollins, who has since made the Show with Seattle, and Marcus Walden, and Jesse Hernandez.)
(Oh, and Anthony “Disco” DeSclafani, who was certainly considered a prospect worth watching entering the season as a college 6th-round pick out of Florida, and shortly became the first of the group to make the Major Leagues. It really was a Lansing 3 plus 1.)
After watching what Francisco Rios and Angel Perdomo just did to the Beloit Snappers this past week, it’s easy to consider a bit of deja vu. Rios is leading the league in highest strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio and Perdomo is leading the league in lowest opposition batting average.
That leaves Sean Reid-Foley and Jon Harris (with great respect to Tayler Saucedo and Ryan Cook, who I’m leaving out for the moment — I’ll write more about both as the summer goes onward). Reid-Foley is a monster, a 6’3, 230-pound bulldog who struck out five Beloit Snappers in three innings on Thursday. (Of all of the Lugnuts’ starters, I expect him to be promoted to Dunedin first.) Harris is the 2015 1st-round selection with the fewest professional starts under his belt. They are the top prospects on the team, rated by MLB.com as the Blue Jays’ #3 and #4 prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization.
The current numbers for Rios, Perdomo, Reid-Foley:
- Francisco Rios: 20 years old, turning 21 in May; 4 starts, 18.1 innings, 4 runs, 5 walks, 28 strikeouts, 15 hits allowed in 68 at-bats (.221 avg.).
- Angel Perdomo: 21 years old, turning 22 in May; 4 games, 3 starts, 17.2 innings, 4 runs, 7 walks, 24 strikeouts, 8 hits allowed in 56 at-bats (.143 avg.).
- Sean Reid-Foley: 20 years old, turning 21 in August; 4 starts, 18.2 innings, 7 runs, 10 walks, 20 strikeouts, 11 hits allowed in 62 at-bats (.177 avg.).
They combined to whiff 21 Beloit Snappers in 13.2 innings, allowing only one run. It was wicked.
Add in a dominant Jon Harris, as I expect we’ll see in the coming months, and we’re talking about a pretty darn awesome Lansing 3 plus 1.
Let me play a bit of devil’s advocate to dampen my own enthusiasm.
None of these current pitchers is Noah Syndergaard, who throws 99-100 mph even before you take the rest of his arsenal into account. None of them is Aaron Sanchez, whose fastball is only a touch softer and comes with wicked sink, complemented by special secondary stuff. They were forecasted to be aces while they were still teenagers, with scouts dreaming on the potential to come and trying to figure who would become the better of the duo (and whether they were better than the other big-time phenom in the Midwest League, South Bend’s Archie Bradley). There is a hope that Reid-Foley and/or Harris becomes a #2-type starter, but I have also heard #3 or #4. Consider: Syndergaard is a #1, Sanchez is currently a #2 or so. There are very few true #1s.
That’s the extent of my dampening.
File away that none of these pitchers is Thor or Sanchez (or even the mythical two-headed hurler known only as Sanchelino), and proceed forward.
This is better than the 2015 Lansing rotation, which may well have included five future Major Leaguers in Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, Chase De Jong, Jesus Tinoco and Shane Dawson, but — with exceptions — did not produce gem after gem on a consistent basis.
I’m watching domination right now on a nightly basis. Three games in a row, from Rios to Perdomo to Reid-Foley, where the opponent is helpless, and this has been two straight times through the rotation that I’ve seen this dominance. I’m getting out early on this, understandably. If this keeps up even as teams start getting a second and third look at the trio, this summer could become pretty darn exciting around Mid Michigan and Blue Jays MiLB water coolers.
I’d like to conclude by illuminating a laser trip-wire.
Prospects, in general, are invisible to casual fans. Prospect hunters know about them, root for them, follow them, and have their hope rise and fall with every hot streak and slump. Casual fans know only the very top of the heap, and even then, only shallowly. This offseason, casual Blue Jays fans grew to hear the name of Anthony Alford — and Anthony, with a sudden heavy spotlight burning down upon him, was promptly injured on Opening Day. Panic! Consternation!
That’s the trap: how to shine a light without heat; how to let fans understand that there are talents who are growing on the farm, even if they are years away (and still have quite a few more lumps to take).
The players you’ll read about here won’t make Major League impacts this year, and likely not next year either. But they’re doing things worth talking about and writing about, and I’m going to talk about them on the air and write about them here, the better to credit the work they and their coaches are putting in.
I thank you for reading.
Let’s begin in the middle…
We’re 16 games into the season, and here are some early observations:
- Andrew Guillotte is a wonderful sparkplug. He plays every outfield position, he gets on base, he steals bases, he hits line drives, he has more power (“juice” if you were listening to last night’s baseball lingo) than you might expect, and he scores runs. Even when he’s not hitting, he’s contributing. Today’s baseball lingo, in advance, is “baseball rat.” That’s Andrew, and it’s a compliment of the highest order.
- Francisco Rios can pitch. Angel Perdomo can pitch. Sean Reid-Foley can pitch. It is of no interest to me to rank them in terms of Major League potential; my job isn’t to scout, it’s only to observe. All three of those young men — ages 20, 21 and 20 respectively — are dominant, attacking with the fastball and using their secondary stuff to flummox further. It’s beautiful to watch. I expect Reid-Foley to move up to Dunedin at some point, since he was with the Lugnuts for the majority of last year. It would not surprise me if Rios and Perdomo spent the majority or totality of this season in Lansing. On the other hand, if they keep on like this, why wouldn’t you promote them to Dunedin in July or August? (Answer: To help the Lugnuts win the MWL title in September!)
- Jon Harris is back with the team and should be activated again shortly. Get ready for good stuff from the first-rounder, if not yet in the Rios/Perdomo/Reid-Foley category.
- It cannot be overstated how important it is to have relievers who come in, throw strikes, and get outs. That’s Josh DeGraaf, Starlyn Suriel, Dusty Isaacs, and Colton Turner. There’s no messing around, only quick innings. All four combined this season: 5 runs (2 from DeGraaf, 3 from Suriel) in 36.2 innings, a 1.23 ERA, allowing a .133 batting average (17 hits in 128 at-bats). That’s ridiculously effective.
A pic from the road, Carl Wise receiving batting practice:
Let me close by writing about the big occurrence of the early season, the incident of Jordan Paroubeck’s foul ball and my computer.
This is not a one-time only occurrence. This has happened to other media members, from the Major Leagues to the MWL. In 2013, Dayton’s Seth Mejias-Brean took out Slavko Bekovic’s computer, sitting directly to my right in the visitor’s broadcast booth at Fifth Third Field. That same season, Brian Boesch of Winston-Salem was taken out, as was Tyler Murray in Dunedin. All of this is to say, it’s not unexpected. Foul balls come back, and you have to be ready in the booth. When I was broadcasting in Montgomery, Alabama, a Reid Brignac foul hit me in the hands. I’ve seen lasers bruise other broadcasters and dent walls inside the booth.
This was in the bottom of the 7th inning at Dow Diamond. I was going through the out-of-town scoreboard… and Paroubeck fouled it back.
I froze for a millisecond, then pushed back from the counter. My chair, outfitted with wheels, took me safely backward and out of harm’s way. Another millisecond, and I realized that I had left my computer wide open in front of me. Did it happen in slow-motion? No. It happened at full speed: me rolling backward, reaching forward, and the baseball crashing into the top right corner of the laptop screen. It slammed with such force that the computer was forced closed and a corner piece of black plastic of the laptop cracked off and flew past me. I discovered it the next morning on the floor, about eight feet from the counter.
It all sounded like this:
I was shaken. I flashed thumbs-up to the Lugnuts in the dugout beneath — that was my “We’re okay, we’re okay!” — but I immediately got the count wrong two pitches later, I talked too loudly, and I had no idea what I was going to do once the game was over. How would I send out a game recap? How would I update the website? I spent the pauses between play-by-play texting my bosses the news. Their immediate concern was that the broadcast had been affected. No worries there, except for my lack of focus due to consternation. The reaction afterward from friends and co-workers was a consensus sharing of how good it was that the computer was hit, not me. I remained chagrined that I had not put the screen down before pushing back from the counter. Rookie move, I thought. Or a deer in headlights move, which felt even worse.
I now have a fixed computer; it took 10 days, which was shorter than I expected. I still have that baseball, and I still have the story.
I’m hoping something tops it — in a more positive sense — before the year is out.