Monday, March 2, 2015

The 2015 Lugnuts Visual Schedule

Links:* The Lugnuts' Job Fair was held on Saturday! Here's WILX's Joy Wang, on the scene.
* Indiana Pacers broadcaster Mark Boyle will be broadcasting Cape Cod Baseball this summer.
* The National Post's John Lott profiles outfielder (and likely 2015 Lugnut) Anthony Alford.
* And Blue Jays From Away takes an educated guess at the Lugnuts' 2015 pitching corps.
Baseball is back! In a way... the Toronto Blue Jays' first intrasquad game is today at 11 a.m., followed by their first exhibition game tomorrow. (Also, the Phillies have already lost.) The Blue Jays' Spring Training roster, split in half:
I'll be paying close attention to the following players:
  • P Aaron Sanchez, 2011-2012 Lug, potential starter/back-end reliever
  • P Daniel Norris, 2013 Lug, Blue Jays' #1 prospect
  • OF Kevin Pillar, 2012 Lug, 2012 Midwest League MVP, potential starting outfielder
  • OF Dalton Pompey, 2012-2013 Lug, potential starting center fielder
  • OF Anthony Alford, 2014 Lug, likely starting in Single-A
  • P Miguel Castro, 2014 Lug, likely starting in A-Advanced
  • 3B Mitch Nay, 2014 Lug, likely starting in A-Advanced
  • P Roberto Osuna, 2013 Lug, likely starting in Double-A
  • OF Dwight Smith, Jr., 2013 Lug,  likely starting in Double-A
*

The 2015 Lugnuts Visual Schedule

2015 Visual Schedule
Click to enlarge
 
Guide -- BEL: Beloit; BG: Bowling Green; BUR: Burlington; CLI: Clinton; CR: Cedar Rapids; DAY: Dayton; FW: Fort Wayne; GL: Great Lakes; KC: Kane County; LC: Lake County; PEO: Peoria; QC: Quad Cities; SB: South Bend; WIS: Wisconsin; WM: West Michigan.
I put this together to see a different perspective of the schedule -- you never know if something jumps out at you. In this case, certain things certainly do:
  1. 12 games against the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the first two months. If either the Lugnuts or the TinCaps is dominant in the first half, the other team is buried.
  2. Eight games against South Bend in the month of May... heck, eight games in the span of 11 days, from May 11-21! We'll be well acquainted by the time things are done.
  3. I'm used to not seeing a team for months at a time, like playing Lake County six times in April, avoiding them in May and June, and getting back together for seven meetings in July. It's much more unusual to have a Bowling Green situation, where we see the Hot Rods for exactly one series in each of the first five months. (Three road trips to Bowling Green, Kentucky -- that's a long drive. Worse, though, is the drive back from Cedar Rapids in mid-June, take my word for it.)
  4. June features nine different opponents.
  5. July is chock-full of Great Lakes Loons and Lake County Captains games: fully half of the 28 contests are against Lake-based opposition. That said, there are five home series in July, each one against a different MWL Eastern division foe.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Syndergaard, Graveman, and the top Lugnuts prospects who are elsewhere

With regards to "the dress," here's XKCD:
Source: XKCD
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Yesterday's post was about the Toronto Blue Jays' Top 30 prospects according to Baseball America (a list that included 18 former Lansing Lugnuts).
Today, we'll focus on those former Lugnuts who are top prospects in other organization:
RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets' #1 prospect: 8-5, 2.60 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings for the Lugs in 2012, dealt with Travis d'Arnaud for R.A. Dickey in the offseason, and now on the cusp of the Majors after spending all of last year in Triple-A. He won't begin the season in New York, but he'll get there sooner rather than later. Reading material: "Mets' Noah Syndergaard looks to build on disappointing season."
LHP Justin Nicolino, Miami Marlins' #3 prospect: 10-4, 2.46 ERA with the Lugnuts as part of that terrific 2012 rotation, traded to Miami in the offseason as part of the Jays' massive deal for Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others. Last year, he was named the Double-A Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher. Projected by BA's Juan Rodriguez to start the season in Triple-A with a likely 2015 MLB debut. Reading material: "Marlins prospect Nicolino excelling in spite of modest strikeout numbers."
RHP Kendall Graveman, Oakland Athletics' #7 prospect: Cinderella story, went from Lansing on Opening Day 2014 to the Major Leagues by September; traded in the offseason for All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson. At the least, he's a starter for the Nashville Sounds on Opening Day this year, with a ticket to the Majors not far away from his grasp. At the most, he's an Athletic in April. Reading material (including the key, correct description of Kendall as a "Southern gentleman"): "A's newcomer Kendall Graveman has team intrigued."
LHP Sean Nolin, Oakland Athletics' #8 prospect: After joining the Blue Jays' organization out of shape, worked hard to improve his conditioning and stuff, earning a (disastrous, unfortunately) Major League start in 2013. Traded with Graveman to the A's and much better suited for pitcher-friendly Oakland rather than hitter-friendly Toronto. Reading material: "Sean Nolin eager to help new team after surgery."
C Carlos Perez, Los Angeles Angels' #25 prospect: Played for Lansing in 2011 and 2012, whereupon he was traded to Houston in midseason; traded from the Astros to the Angels in November 2014 and now has the chance to be L.A.'s #2 catcher on Opening Day. No pertinent reading material yet.
Others, unranked but not forgotten: SS Gustavo Pierre, traded to the Philadelphia Phillies; LHP David Rollins, Rule 5 draftee of the Seattle Mariners; LHP Tyler Ybarra, traded to the Colorado Rockies.

Categorizing Baseball America's Top 30 Jays Prospects

Worth reading:
* The Toronto Blue Jays, who have been hamstrung by injury troubles in the past, just saw another key player suffer a significant ailment - outfielder Michael Saunders was done in by a sprinkler and is expected to be out till July at least. Brendan Kennedy offers a list of possible candidates to replace Saunders, including 2012 Lugnut Kevin Pillar.
* The Frisco RoughRiders have a new Teddy Roosevelt-ian image, and it's Minor League Baseball at its MiLBiest.
This arrived in the mail today:
BA
What, they didn't think Daniel Norris was a worthy cover model?
The BA Prospect Handbook is a bible during the season, ranking and profiling every prospect that we'll see. My copy, pictured above, just arrived in the mail. Let's break down the Blue Jays' Top 30 rankings, numbered by Clint Longenecker and divided into categories of my choosing.
*
Major League Impacts This Season
1. Daniel Norris, LHP
2. Aaron Sanchez, RHP
4. Dalton Pompey, CF
6. Devon Travis, 2B/OF
23. A.J. Jimenez, C
Commentary: Norris, Sanchez and Pompey all made their MLB debuts this year. Sanchez is the likeliest to open the season on the Opening Day roster (whether in the rotation or the bullpen), followed by Pompey (starting in center field). Barring unforeseen events, Norris opens the season in the Buffalo starting rotation and gets a call-up to Toronto in May or June. Travis was acquired from Detroit for Anthony Gose in the offseason. He too likely starts in Buffalo before receiving a midseason promotion. Catcher Jimenez, who beat me with ease in ping pong in 2010, has long been on the verge of the Bigs before getting felled by a slew of injuries. Surely 2015 will at last see him in Toronto.
Keep an eye on: Unranked second baseman Jon Berti, who probably makes his MLB debut this year. He's a sensational defender with a way about getting on base and making things happen. Also, his brother used to work in the Lugnuts' box office.
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A Year or Two Away... Or Less?
7. Roberto Osuna, RHP
9. Miguel Castro, RHP
14. Dwight Smith, Jr., OF
24. Andy Burns, 3B
29. Matt Boyd, LHP
Commentary: Andy Burns is the closest from this group, playing 133 games in Double-A New Hampshire last year. That tickets him for Triple-A Buffalo this year; a successful campaign earns him a promotion upward, where he'll provide pop, speed and defense at whatever position the Jays need him. The consistently productive Smith moves up to the New Hampshire outfield. If he keeps on keeping on, he'll be a Big Leaguer by 2016. Boyd dominated Dunedin last year but ran into a wall in Double-A; this year challenges him to break through that wall. (Keep an eye out for his rotation mate Taylor Cole, a big-time strikeout artist in 2014.) 20-year-olds Castro and Osuna have brilliant amounts of talent, but their experience is wanting. ETA for both is likely 2016.
Keep an eye on: Unranked infielder Christian Lopes, who batted .371 in the Australian Baseball League. The 22-year-old will likely be tested in Double-A New Hampshire.
*
Lansing Dropped Their Stock
15. Dawel Lugo, SS
16. Mitch Nay, 3B
17. Chase De Jong (not DeJong), RHP
21. D.J. Davis, OF
22. Alberto Tirado, RHP
25. Tom Robson, RHP
Commentary: Davis was #3 last year, Nay was #4, Tirado was #8, Lugo was #9, De Jong was #11 and Robson was #16. Additionally, #25 prospect Matt Dean fell out of the Top 30 this year entirely. What happened? Well, injury (Robson); discovering flaws that needed to be ironed out (Davis, Nay, De Jong, Dean); and playing against better/older players in a tough league (Davis, Lugo and Tirado). Combine that with a tremendously deep farm system, and down they fell in the rankings. Davis, Tirado and Robson likely return to Lansing, while Lugo, Nay and De Jong likely move to Dunedin. On the bright side, the talent remains as bright as ever for this group. Going about their business under the radar could well lead to another startling Daniel Norris-esque breakthrough for one or more.
Keep an eye on: Outfielder Derrick Loveless. He has speed, plate discipline and power, and his confidence is increasing by the year. Perhaps starting pitcher Jeremy Gabryszwski, too, who wouldn't surprise me if he increased his velocity while continuing to coax grounder after grounder.
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Providing Lower-Level Intrigue
5. Max Pentecost, C
8. Richard Urena, SS
10. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP
11. Matt Smoral, LHP
12. Ryan Borucki, LHP
13. Jairo Labourt, LHP
18. Anthony Alford, OF
19. Lane Thomas, 3B/OF
20. Dan Jansen, C
26. Jesus Tinoco, RHP
28. Nick Wells, LHP
30. Rowdy Tellez, 1B
Commentary: It's likeliest that this list is the longest each year, with a probability of 3-5 guys distancing themselves, 3-5 guys remaining stagnant, and the rest falling off entirely. These are the high draft picks and the touted international signees, each with terrific talent but a lack of games for us to draw any true conclusions from. (Jairo Labourt stopped by Lansing briefly at the start of last season before getting reassigned to Vancouver.) Heck, who knows? Anthony Alford might be a superstar outfielder, Dan Jansen might be an impact catcher, Jesus Tinoco might be a future ace. It's all up in the air -- and it's glorious to dream about. As the Jays' top pick last year, Max Pentecost has the spotlight shining brightest upon him. I'm hoping we see at least nine of these prospects in Lansing in 2015.
Keep an eye on: Unranked 19-year-old lefty Evan Smith, a 4th-round draft pick who stands 6'5. He'll probably spend the season with Vancouver.
*
Rehabbing
3. Jeff Hoffman, RHP
Commentary: Recovering from Tommy John surgery, blessed with great ability, projected to return to action around July. He's a huge question mark with a sky-high ceiling. Works for me.
*
Really Young
27. Juan Meza, RHP
Commentary: Signed for $1.6 million, 17 years of age (birthday - 2/4/98). He's a long way away, but heck, we might as well learn his name sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What do you want from a spring training article?

Reading Material:
Andrew Stoeten's storylines of Blue Jays spring training, Vol. 1, from AA through L.
* John Lott takes a closer look at Miguel Castro, who impressed last year.
* Alexis Brudnicki profiles former Lugnut Christian Lopes, who had a terrific winter.
*
On this same subject, I asked Alexis Brudnicki, who covers Canadian baseball players like no one's business and also happens to be my good friend, the following question:
What are the most helpful stories or angles that a media member can report on from Spring Training?
Alexis: 
From Spring Training, most often fans, insiders, media members, and even some of the players themselves are looking to get caught up. The most important stories often revolve around what people have missed out on over the last several months. More important than which player got married, or who got a selfie stick for Christmas, or how many deer Chad Jenkins managed to take down during his hunting expeditions over the course of the winter should be storylines revolving around players traded to the organization, injury updates, what holes are being filled, where there are still voids, what the team is doing to address them, and other similar housekeeping issues.
Once those issues are hanging out on the clothesline to air out - because more often than not they won't be completely resolved until much later than the updates are first reported - introductions to new players are at the forefront. Everyone wants to know who the new faces are, how they can help, and what makes them likeable. Why should the organization rally around them? Obviously every player is at spring training for a reason - they've done something along the way to impress someone, or perhaps several someones - so what is the reason.
My personal interest in this category lies more with the 'fringe' players. I know that there will be no shortage of stories on Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin and Michael Saunders, but I want to know more about guys like Chris Colabello and Liam Hendricks, and of course other Canadian players like Andrew Albers and Jeff Francis. Often times the focus is on the players who are projected to be on the Opening Day roster, but how often are those players the ones who stay with the squad over all 162 games? I want to know more about the guys who might not start in Toronto, but will be up there at some point. It's never too early to get a beat on them. And chances are that at least one of those guys considered to be on the outside looking in will have a fantastic spring and earn a surprising spot on the roster that heads to Yankee Stadium to open the season.
My response:
I agree about focusing attention on the role/fringe players and giving fans a reason to care. Once the exhibition games start, I love having guys to look forward to. A fine piece on Chris Colabello, relating his story and telling what he has to accomplish in Spring Training in order to make the team, helps me to appreciate his March at-bats with more insight and significance. I want to know about who has a chance to make the team and why; what are they like and why are they in camp? Position competitions don’t get old for me. Figure out which spots are up for grabs and which spots are locked down, and let’s go from there – but keep me updated if a spot that seemed to be locked down suddenly looks iffy, or presents an opening to an aspiring player.
Lastly, give me the joy of spring. It’s bitterly cold where I am. The more I hear about how much fun everyone is having, the more it brings me warmth and anticipation for the coming spring.
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And now, let me ask you: What is it that you're looking for to learn from spring training stories?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2014 Lugnuts pitchers, looking ahead

Worth reading:
* My most recent column for Ballpark Digest: "Managers are the faces of MiLB"* This Twitter conversation between reporter Molly Knight and pitcher Brandon McCarthy, simultaneously interviewing each other.
Lugnuts vs MSU_36w
Tom Robson. He wasn't healthy last year. When he is, watch out.
Yesterday I worked through the 2014 Lugnuts position players, all 21 of them, with their likely 2015 destinations. Today, let's go through the 27 Lugs pitchers from last season.
Brad Allen: bulldog right-hander resigned by the Blue Jays in the offseason and a terrific teammate for any ballclub, move him up to Dunedin (and hopefully New Hampshire down the road)
Adonys Cardona: required rehab after broken elbow last year, could be back in Lansing when healthy
Miguel Castro: young phenom with helium invited to Blue Jays spring training, ready to soar up the system, should cautiously start in Dunedin with potential to end the season in Double-A... or beyond.
Jimmy Cordero: fireballer should be in the Dunedin bullpen
Shane Dawson: last two seasons abbreviated by injury; chance he'll be in Lansing again, but ready for Dunedin
Chase De Jong: Dunedin Blue Jays starting pitcher
Yeyfry Del Rosario: could very well be a part of the Lugnuts' bullpen after making nine appearances in Lansing last year
Matt Dermody: Dunedin bound
Roberto Espinosa: I believe he has been traded to a Mexican League team, but I'm not finding corroboration
Jeremy Gabryszwski: Dunedin Blue Jays starting pitcher
Alonzo Gonzalez: Dunedin Blue Jays relief pitcher and sleeper prospect
Francisco Gracesqui: Dunedin Blue Jays relief pitcher and sleeper prospect
Kendall Graveman: Oakland Athletics! Perhaps Triple-A to start off, but the Majors shouldn't be too far away. What a story!
Adaric Kelly: released by the Blue Jays in the offseason; superb person from a great family whom I wish nothing but the best
Phil Kish: reliable with the Lugnuts and lights out with Vancouver last year, moving up to Dunedin this year
Jairo Labourt: big southpaw prospect only lasted six games with Lansing at the start of last year, but regained his form in Vancouver; Lugnuts starting pitcher in 2015
Jason Leblebijian: 
Yes, the beloved position player made two appearances on the mound; Hopefully Dunedin won't require any more mop-up spots from him this year.
Joe Lovecchio: 
released by the Blue Jays in the offseason; another fascinating guy and a terrific musician whom I wish only the best
Griffin Murphy: All-Star Lugnuts closer was promoted to Dunedin last year and could well return there, but I'm hoping that he'll be in New Hampshire sooner rather than later.
Brent Powers: I am uncertain if the Blue Jays picked up his option; another top-notch human being. This is a continuing theme with the Jays' organization.
Scott Silverstein: Dunedin Blue Jays relief pitcher
Starlyn Suriel: Lansing Lugnuts starting pitcher? He's young, he's inexperienced, and he's entirely under the radar -- very much a sleeper prospect.
Alberto Tirado: like Jairo Labourt, began last season with Lugnuts, was transferred to Vancouver, should be back with Lansing this season. I'm hoping for great things.
Frank Viola III: I'll never forget you, you idiosyncratic knuckleballer. Vaya con Dios.
Chase Wellbrock: The only 2014 draft pick to make it to the Lugnuts roster, could well return to the Lugs' bullpen this Spring.
*
Nonroster invitees to Blue Jays spring training this year include Lugnuts alumni Anthony Alford, Miguel Castro, Mitch Nay, Sean Ochinko, and this man, who could well be the next big Blue Jays sensation:

Monday, February 23, 2015

2014 Lugnuts hitters, looking ahead

day 1
Courtesy: @BlueJays
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Leblebijian
The one and only Jason Leblebijian
Going through the 2014 Lansing Lugnuts position players with 2015 forecasts/guesses:
Anthony Alford: impressed in five games with the Lugnuts before heading to the SEC to play college football; decided to play baseball full-time and spent the winter in Australia; would not be surprising to see a return to Lansing this season.
Justin Atkinson: utility infielder has transitioned to catcher, could very well return to Lansing
Seth Conner: catcher/nicest human alive, could well return to Lansing
L.B. Dantzler: likely bound for Dunedin with potential promotion to New Hampshire
D.J. Davis: top prospect struggled with the Lugnuts, could well return to Lansing
Matt Dean: on his way to Dunedin to start (and slug) at first base
Chaz Frank: hustle outfielder could land in either Lansing or Dunedin
David Harris: potential breakthrough player with speed and surprising power, Lansing or Dunedin
Daniel Klein: likely bound to catch in Dunedin
Jason Leblebijian: by the end of last year, he was the heart of the Lugnuts; send him to Dunedin
Derrick Loveless: Dunedin's starting corner outfielder, hopefully continuing last year's breakout showing
Dawel Lugo: Dunedin's starting shortstop, with huge offensive potential if he keeps maturing
Mitch Nay: Dunedin's starting third baseman, and ready to crush it
Santiago Nessy: traded to Kansas City, and likely a starting role with the A-Adv. Wilmington Blue Rocks
Ian Parmley: outfielder in Dunedin
Carlos Ramirez: converted to pitching, could well see action on Lansing mound
Mike Reeves: catcher in Dunedin/New Hampshire
Jorge Saez: catcher in Double-A New Hampshire... and potential 2016/2017 Major Leaguer? It couldn't happen to a better guy.
Chris Schaeffer: outstanding organizational guy, should have whatever role he wants with Blue Jays; New Hampshire catcher?
Rowdy Tellez: Lugnuts starting first baseman / power hitter
Dickie Joe Thon: starter in Dunedin
*
I present to you this box score, in which future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan collected zero hits and still scored five runs.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2015, here we come

Construction is continuing.  The rebuild of Cooley Law School Stadium is persevering through the cold. The 2015 season will see enormous changes within the ballpark. With the addition of The Outfield development in 2016, things should be terrific.
Credit: Ben Owen, Lansing Lugnuts
Credit: Ben Owen, Lansing Lugnuts
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I'm back! I work seasonally for the Lansing Lugnuts; yesterday was my first day officially back in the office. This will be my seventh year as voice of the team --- and there will be plenty to discuss on Around the Nest. Baseball Essentials' Brian Crawford interviewed me about the position and other matters.
I'll have a new #2 voice at my side, with Trey Wilson jumping up deservingly to Double-A as the new #2 voice of the Altoona Curve. (I'm sure my new broadcast assistant will be Fine.)
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Interested in working for the Lugnuts? The Lugs' Job Fair will be held at the Lansing Center from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, February 28th. Click here for more information.
Job Fair 480x270
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The temperature in Lansing is 5° (and feeling much colder), but Blue Jays pitchers and catchers are 3 days away from reporting to spring training.
Courtesy of the Blue Jays' official Twitter feed:
Courtesy of @BlueJays
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Major League Baseball is committed to speeding up the game. To wit, they've introduced a list of pace of game directives. Bring on the pitch clock!
Time Remaining
Activity
40 Seconds
PA announces batter and begins to play walk-up music
30 Seconds
Pitcher throws final warm-up pitch
25 Seconds
Batter's walk-up music ends
20 Seconds-5 Seconds
Batter enters the batter's box
20 Seconds-0 Seconds
Pitcher begins motion to deliver pitch
Minor League Baseball tried the same thing several years ago, which led to this game-ending result, ranked #1 on Chris Mehring's list of dramatic finishes.
Count me in favor of the change, but don't judge it too soon. Give it the chance to get off the ground and let players and managers get accustomed to it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poetry and Baseball: Mighty Casey is BSOHL

Every now and then I'm inspired to write something different, like this pastiche of "Casey at the Bat" for Ben Hill of MiLB.com:
Mighty Casey is in the Best Shape of His Life
The skies were grim in Mudville, snow blanketing the ground.
The wind was fierce and wicked and the flu was going 'round.
Read the full poem here

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Q & A with VORG's Diane Firstman

I have been absent during the offseason due to concentrating on various projects, but life is still keeping me busy.

Here's a Q & A with ESPN Sweet Spot's Diane Firstman, writing at her Value Over Replacement Grit website.