Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kevin Pillar Will Be Making His MLB Debut

Kevin Pillar, selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, will be added to the MLB roster and will make his MLB soon, perhaps tonight versus the Red Sox.

To clear room on the roster, both 40-man and active roster, the Blue Jays have traded former fan favourite Emilio Bonifacio to the Kansas City Royals for PTBN or cash.

Pillar, 24, is 6' OF capable of playing all 3 spots effectively, is perhaps best served as a LF in the mold of Reed Johnson.

Kevin Pillar, throughout his minor league career, has had a bit of a split in favour of left-handed pitching. He has a .302 average with 29% of hits going for extra bases versus righties (878 AB) and a .367 average with 33% going for extra bases versus lefties (362 AB).

Pillar has never been a highly thought of prospect, but has whizzed through the minor leagues playing just 311 games while working his way up to AAA Buffalo this season.

The Scouting Book had this to say about Pillar in February 2013:

"A tough, gritty outfielder who's always outplayed scouting evaluations, Blue Jay prospect Kevin Pillar will probably grind and hustle all the way to MLB very soon. While old-school scouts still scoff at his mediocre tools, results don't lie: Pillar shoved doubters aside by slashing .328/.378/.439 and swiping 59 bags at high-A Dunedin last season. His on-base skills look legit, as his walk rate is good and seems to be getting even better as he matures. Look for him as an injury fill-in candidate in 2013, and a fourth outfield option for the year after."

Kind of spot on with their call there. He will be making his debut due to the injuries of Melky Cabrera and now Colby Rasmus. 

John Sickels at Minor League Ball had this to say about Pillar in the Blue Jays top 20 prospect list:

"15) Kevin Pillar, OF, Grade C+: Hit .328/.378/.439 with 59 steals despite a mediocre toolset. Great instincts for the game. If you could stick his head on Jake Marisnick's body, you'd have a superstar. Pillar is probably a fourth outfielder but an interesting player."

Another fourth OF comp, but some nice remarks on his ability.

Batter's Box, a Blue Jays based blog focusing on Minor League action had this to say about Pillar during their 2012 prospect rankings:

"Pillar’s claim to fame before being drafted by the Blue Jays was a 54 game hitting streak he compiled during his senior season at Division II California State University-Dominguez Hills.  Selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, the 6-foot, 200 pound right-handed hitter has continued to make his presence felt with the bat.  He endured such a rough start to his pro career in Bluefield last year that he asked to have his batting average removed from the scoreboard.  Pillar rebounded quite nicely to finish the year with a .347 batting average which landed him a berth to the Appalachian League All-Star team.  His season was not done yet as he was called up to Vancouver for its playoff run.  All he did was record at least one hit in the five games he played, batting .391 with a homer to help the C’s win the league title.

Pillar continued his hitting exploits with Lansing in 2012, highlighted by a 6-for-6 game in May that was capped off by a grand slam.  It was performances like those that convinced the Midwest League to hand him its Most Valuable Player award, even though he was called up to Dunedin in July.  He continued to hit for a high average in the Florida State League but he drew six percent fewer walks than he did in Lansing.  On the flip side, he struck out four percent less from Lansing to Dunedin.  One area that Pillar needs to improve with the bat is his power.  Last season, he posted an isolated power average of .187 with Bluefield.  That evaporated this season to .128 in Lansing and .091 in Dunedin.
Pillar’s running game took a quantum leap forward.  After stealing just eight bases last year, he swiped 51 bags this season – 35 of them with Lansing.  That speed has served him well in the outfield as he has played all three positions but is expected to settle into a corner. 

Named the best hitting prospect in the Midwest League by Baseball America, Pillar has a .331 career minor league average to date.  He emulates his game after Pete Rose and Cal Ripken Jr.   Turning 24 on January 4, Pillar is on target to join New Hampshire to start the 2013 season.  A good showing there could lead to a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo, and perhaps a trip to Toronto before the season is out. Currently, he is playing in the Arizona Fall League."

They nailed the promotion to Buffalo and a little bad luck due to injuries in the OF, a promotion to Toronto. Also, some nice back story stuff.

Baseball America had this to say about Pillar, their 21st rank prospect, in their 2013 Prospect Handbook:

"Pillar set an NCAA Division II record with a 54-game hit streak as a Junior in 2010 and a Cal State Dominguez Hills mark with a .367 career average. After four seasons with the Toros, he signed for $1,000 and kept hitting as a pro. He batted .347 in his pro debut and a system-best .323 last season, when he won the Midwest League MVP award. Pillar easily makes contact at the plate, thanks to a short swing and quiet approach with few moving parts. He has good feel for the barrel and provides gap power. Pillar used solid speed and keen instincts to steal 51 bases in 60 tries in 2012. His quickness and savvy also serve him well in the outfield, where he can play all three positions. He has average arm strength and accuracy. Pillar is already 24 and will have to keep proving himself, but he looks like he can serve as at least a fourth outfielder in the big leagues. He's ready for Double-A and could get to Toronto by season's end is he continues to produce."

Some more back story, including his signing bonus ($1,000!!), along some more spot on predictions of his continued quick rise to the MLB.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Farm Report: New Hampshire Fisher Cats

I felt like taking a look at some AA players that were knocking on the door to Buffalo and could play a role on the Bisons this season or next.

Marcus Stroman
2.99 ERA - 10.3 K/9 - 2.5 BB/9 - 69.1 IP (13 starts)

ESPN Insider still thinks Stroman is best suited for the bullpen due to his height, which creates a lack of "plane" not allowing Stroman to get on top of his fastball and flattens it out. He throws a good slider/cutter which project out to be above average and a change-up that flashes solid. He could be in Toronto at some point in 2014 as a starter, or any time as a reliever.

Sean Nolin
2.77 ERA - 9.6 K/9 - 2.6 BB/9 - 74.2 IP (14 starts)

Nolin is a fastball/change-up type with potential for average curveball and slider. He has slid under that radar a little the past 2 seasons with the presence of the former "big 3" of Sanchez, Syndergaard, and Nicolino. That all chaged when 2 of the 3 were dealt in the offseason and Nolin finally started getting the recognition he deserved.

A.J. Jimenez
.429/.448/.643 (28 AB) - 3 2B - 1 HR - 3 SO
New Hampshire:
.314/.364/.414 (140 AB) - 11 2B - 1 HR - 24 SO

Fresh off receiving Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, Jimenez is back at it and says his throwing has never felt better, which is pretty impressive when he has thrown out 43% of attempted runners pre-surgery. Known as a defensive-minded catcher, Jimenez has taken a step forward on offence this season and may be in line for AAA Buffalo at some point this season or next.

Ryan Schimpf
.216/.349/.438 (401 PA) - 17 2B - 3 3B - 17 HR - 61 BB - 97 SO

Schimpf is a favourite of mine (don't ask why) and has turned himself into a 3-true-outcome utility player. This season, Ryan had played 3B and 2B along with a couple games in LF. Schimpf should be up in Buffalo later in 2013 or in 2014 and could play a role as a utility guy for the Blue Jays as a Joe Inglett type (another player I adored).

Kevin Ahrens
.247/.331/.380 (179 PA) - 13 2B - 2 HR - 20 BB - 38 SO

Ahrens was the first pick of many high picks for the Blue Jays in 2007 (the year Arencibia, Cecil, Justin Jackson, and Jon Tolisano were selected), he has been a bit of a disappointment so far with his development. Now 24, Ahrens is finally getting a taste of AA after 6 minor league seasons and is having one of his best seasons. He is playing 1B to go along with his customary 3B to give him potential versatility down the road. At this point, his ceiling would have to be a replacement player utility player.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Randomness

We are over a week since the All-Star game and a couple Bisons were involved. Jim Negrych was the starting 2B and went 0-3 with a strikeout. Mauro Gomez started at DH and also went 0-3.

The Bisons have completed 2 series since the break and have gone 4-4.

Here is how some of the key players have done:

Mauro Gomez:

The IL leader in HR has hit 8-30 with 4 walks to give him a .267/.353/.533 line. He has 2 doubles and 2 HR with 7 RBI. He has struck out 8 times.

Anthony Gose:

Gose has been the biggest disappointment this season. Gose is 6-25 with 3 walks for a .240/.310/.240 line since the break. He is also 1-3 in SB attempts and 7 strikeouts. Since his demotion from the Blue Jays, Gose has a .226/.274/.271 line in 170 PA and is 7-14 in SB with 55 strikeouts.

Ryan Goins:
My favourite Bison has come out swinging a nice stick after the break. Goins is 8-25 with a walk for a .320/.346/.520 line with 2 doubles and a HR. This season, he has had a decent sized platoon split. He has a .277/.338/.390 line vs RHP and just a .238/.262/.363 line vs LHP. 

Moises Sierra:

Coming off an injury and a rehab assignment for the GCL Blue Jays, Sierra only played against the Clippers. He was 6-16 with a double for a .375/.353/.438 line.This season, Sierra has actually had a reverse platoon split. He has hit .289/.331/.436 vs RHP and .225/.308/.363 vs LHP. 

Kevin Pillar:

Pillar has hit the ground running since his promotion to Buffalo. He now has a .344/.385/.592 line in 135 PA with 13 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 HR. Since the break, he has hit 11-33 with a walk for a .333/.343/.545 line with 3 doubles and 2 triples. He has destroyed LHP this season with a .390/.427/.575 in 157 PA accross both Buffalo and New Hampshire.

Munenori Kawasaki:

Last, but certainly not least, is fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki. He has only 4 hits in 18 AB, but has 5 walks to give him a solid .391 OBP. 

The Bisons roster has taken many different shapes this season, thanks in large part to injuries that Blue Jays have suffered. Currently the Bisons have a pair of Blue Jays pitchers on rehab assignments in J.A. Happ and Sergio Santos. Happ has made a start and Santos has 4 appearances so far.

Currently on the DL for Buffalo are pitchers Chad Beck, Dave Bush, Chad Jenkins, and Michael Schwimer and fielders Jim Negrych, Ricardo Nanita, and Lance Zawadski.

The Bisons also recently released P Claudio Vargas and UTL Eugenio Velez. The Velez move was surprising given his solid .270/.372/.437 line with 21 SB while playing 2B, 3B, and LF. 

Recent additions to the active roster are Neil Wagner (back from an impressive MLB stint, but forced off the roster when Melky returned) and Jeremy Jeffress (finally healthy).

Thad Weber has been a really bright surprise for the Bisons since his claim from the Padres. He has a 2.49 ERA and 1.043 WHIP in 61.1 IP. He has made 9 starts for the Herd and 3 relief appearances. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Justin Jackson: How Is He Doing It?

One of my favourite Minor Leaguers, for some reason, was Justin Jackson. 

I had high hopes for the 1st round pick at the time and thought the Blue Jays had just drafted Jimmy Rollins, only better. 

Sure, I was a delusional noob. I knew nothing about amateur players and I had put these completely unrealistic expectations on a kid who didn't have the raw tools to reach them. 

When the Jays decided to give up on Jackson and convert him to a pitcher after the 2012 season, I assumed it was over. 

Despite peripheral stats that are haunting, Jackson has kept a very good ERA alive in 32 innings in low A ball. 

Don't let his shiny 2.25 ERA fool you. His 6.8 BB/9 is not pretty and is higher than his K rate. He's also seen 6 unearned runs score behind him and it's tough to tell how he would do with stronger defense. 

Jackson has recently said goodbye to Lansing (which is sad as I've just recently discovered how close Lansing is London and was hoping to come see him in person) and is being promoted to Dunedin. 

Hopefully I will be able to get more of a scouting report than "mid 90s fastball" once more people get some eyes on him. 

We might have created our very own Sergio Santos. 

Either way, I'm still pulling for him and hope to see him in Toronto one day. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The All-Star Game Is Upon Us

Some notable Triple A All-Stars

Mauro Gomez - starting DH

Jim Negrych - starting 2B

Canadian Jordan Lennerton - IL Bench 1B
Detroit Tigers Minor Leaguer

Canadian Andrew Albers - IL Pitcher
Minnesota Twins Minor Leaguer

Former Blue Jay Brad Mills - PCL Pitcher
Texas Rangers Minor Leaguer

2012 Draft Pick Michael Wacha - PCL Pitcher
St. Louis Cardinals Prospect

RailRiding Into The All-Star Break

The Bisons finish their unofficial first half 7-3 in their last 10 thank in large part to the 4 or 5 they won from the Chiefs and their 1 game win against the IronPigs.

Onto the recaps.

IronPigs game: W 4-1

Thad Weber was good again in his start, going 6 and allowing just 1 run. The bullpen threw 4 shutout innings and Joel Carreno was the pitcher of record, throwing 2 innings and striking out 4.

Multi-hit games from Kevin Pillar (2-4), Andy LaRoche (2-4), and Sean Ochinko (2-4).

An ugly 10th inning pitching performance from the Pigs led to the Bisons win. The inning went like this:

Pillar singled and was bunted to 2nd by Goins. Lawrie walked and Velez grounded out. LaRoche was intentionally walked and then shit got real. Negrych was walked to bring in the go-ahead run, followed by a McCoy walk to make it 3-1. A wild pitch brought in run 4 before Gose lined out.

RailRiders Series:

Game 1: L 2-1

Chien-Ming Wang started and game up 2 in 6 innings for the hard luck loss.

The Bisons run came in on a Sean Ochinko HR.

The Herd only managed 4 hits.

Game 2: L 5-0

Dave Bush gave up 4 in 4.1 IP on 9 hits and 2 walks. Jeremy Jeffress made his return with a shutout inning in relief.

Mike McCoy was 2-2 with a walk and a stolen base as the lone offensive stand out.

Game 3: W 7-1

Ricky Romero was in ace-mode with 8 innings of 4 hit/1 walk baseball giving up just 1 run.

The offense was not sharp, but capitalized on some mistakes. They scored on a 2nd inning wild pitch and 3 runs came in to score on a Dan Johnson error in the 5th.

Muninori Kawasaki came back to Buffalo and made an immediate impact. He walked in the 1st inning and stole 2nd before scoring on a Negrych single.

Sean Ochinko added a 7th inning HR, which was his 2nd of the series.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bison Stampede The Chiefs

Needing victories badly after going through a tough stretch, the Bisons beat up on the Chiefs and won 4 of 5. Beat up might be a tad incorrect, as all games were pretty close. Still, 4 of 5 is a great outcome and brought the Herd back above .500 and back into the heat of the race.

Game 1: L 4-3

Will Rhymes

Thad Weber started and threw 7 innings of 4 run ball. 2 of the runs were driven in by former Tiger Will Rhymes on 2 separate hits. Mickey Storey pitched 2 innings of shutout ball in relief.

Multi-hit games from Mike McCoy (2-4) and Sean Ochinko (2-4). Andy LaRoche hit his 9th HR of the season.

For the Chiefs, 2B Danny Espinosa was 3-4 with a triple, bringing his average to .181 since being demoted.

Game 2: W 6-2

The winning began with game 1 of a double header with both games being 7 innings in length. Dave Bush pitched all 7 innings and gave up his 2 runs on a Will Rhymes HR. Bush struck out 8.

Multi-hit games from Kevin Pillar (2-3, HR, 2B, 2 RBI) and Andy LaRoche (3-3).

We had a Brian Jeroloman sighting for the Chiefs. He was 0-2 with a patented walk and he scored on the Rhymes HR.

Game 3: W 4-1

Chien-Ming Wang got the nod in the night game of the double header. He followed up with a 7 inning complete game allowing just 1 run on 3 hits.

Ryan Goins had the only multi-hit game, going 2-3 with a double. Sean Ochinko hit a 3-run HR.

Game 4: W 6-2

Ricky Romero started and was good. He went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. He struck out 7. John Stilson threw 2 perfect innings to close it out.

Multi-hit games from Kevin Pillar (3-4, 3B) and the rehabbing Brett Lawrie, who played 2B ICYMI (2-4, HR, 3 RBI).

For the Chiefs, Will Rhymes hit another HR. Both his HR this season have been off the Bisons.

Game 5: W 4-3

Justin Germano got the start and gave up 3 in 6.2 innings. Brad Lincoln got the win with 2 innings of shutout relief.

Multi-hit games from Andy LaRoche (2-4, HR) and Anthony Gose (2-4). Mauro Gomez hit his 25th HR of the season.

Brett Lawrie was 0-4 with 2 K in his 2nd rehab game.