Perhaps lost in the excitement over opening day was that this year, minor league opening day was on the same day as the major league equivalent. The Jays' affiliates saw action in the three most advanced leagues, as the low-A Lansing Lugnuts had to wait one more day to start their season. Of course, Bluebird Banter will keep you up to date on proceedings down in the minors, as the Jays have plenty of interesting prospects to watch this season.
Dunedin (high-A) wins 6-3
As alluded to in the horribly punny title, Marcus Knecht had a good start to his season, hitting a two-run bomb in his very first at bat of the season. It was his only hit of the day, but it was a big one. The other two of the exciting outfield trio that the high-A affiliate boosts this year didn't do nearly as well. Jake Marisnick started off with an 0-for-5 performance* and two strikeouts, while Michael Crouse was 0-for-4 with three Ks and a lineout. The best hitter of the day has to be Kevin Nolan, a utility infielder who hit .281/.375/.413 for Dunedin last year, and started this year 2-for-3 with a double, a triple and a walk. The Dunedin team features mostly players who are old for the league, with the exception of the outfield trio, so it's probably best not to get excited about those guys, even if they hit well.
Starting pitcher for Dunedin was John Stilson, last year's third round pick out of Texas A&M. For those who do not yet know, Stilson was considered a first-round talent who feel due to serious injury problems. The fact Stilson is pitching in games is good news by itself, but the three innings he gave the D-Jays were of great quality, as well. Stilson recorded three strikouts on one walk, with five grounders induced and one popup. That means he's started the season with a K% of 33.3 and a GB% of 83.3. The likelihood of Stilson getting results that good for the rest of year are near zero, but it's a great start no matter how you slice it. Promising reliever Daniel Barnes got his first save, strikeout and scoreless inning to close out Dunedin's first victory.
*: I consider sacrifice flies to be outs.
New Hampshire (double-A) wins 5-3
With Gose, d'Arnaud, Hechavarria and Sierra up to triple-A, New Hampshire has got few hitting prospects left to be excited about. One of them is A.J. Jimenez, and he definitely had a good start. The catcher, who is highly rated for his defense, hit three line drives for hits in five at bats and also stole a base. To further increase his repuation as a god defender, he also threw out two baserunners. The only other decent prospect, Mike McDade, had a walk and two strikeouts with no hits. No Fisher Cats recorded extra base hits in the win.
Highly regarded pitching prospect Drew Hutchison got lots of praise from me in last year's recaps, and should challenge for the number one "recap darling" this year, with Nestor Molina now elsewhere (*sniff*). 'Hutch' didn't start off too hot with consecutive doubles followed by a walk, which ended up as two runs scored, but Drew settled in after that. He wouldn't allow any more baserunners after the first inning, and he struck out 6 of the 19 batters he faced (31.6%) while limiting the opponent to just the three hits and one walk they got in the first inning. The only worry was that only 4 out of 11** balls were hit on the ground against Hutchison. Small sample yes, but Hutchison 15 innings in Double-A last year were littered with flyballs and line drives (and strikeouts, that too) so there's some cause to watch this closely.
**: I do not count bunted balls for groundball ratio. There was one bunted ball against Hutchison yesterday.
Las Vegas (triple-A) loses 6-11
Aaron Laffey got a warm welcome to Vegas, as he was greeted by 7 runs on 11 hits, 3 of which were home runs. He lasted 4 2/3 innings with 5 Ks and 1 walk. Roberto Coello pitched a scoreless inning as a reliever, which was the only good pitching performance on a team full of uninspiring pitchers in a league that's downright cruel for pitchers.
So as unexciting as Vegas' collection of pitchers is, there's a whole lot of exciting position players over there. The problem is, how do we know if they are doing well, or if they're just profiting from the profitable conditions in the
Pacific Coast Batting Practice League. Well, to start off the season, they didn't do much. PCL veteran David Cooper had 3 hits in 5 at bats, but perhaps the most inspiring performance was by defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria, who smacked two line drive doubles to go 2-for-5. Travis Snider had two singles, one of which was a line drive, while the other Travis, number one prospect Travis d'Arnaud, had two walks but no hits on two grounders and a strikeout. Anthony Gose went hitless as well, while Moises Sierra had a groundball single and a walk. Spring sensation Yan Gomes was 4-for-5 with a double. No, I do not think he's "for real".
Later today, the Lansing Lugnuts will start their season with Noah Syndergaard on the mound. The Lugnuts feature a very talented rotation with the aforementioned Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez, Anthony DeSclafani and underdog Tyler Ybarra (who was very good for Bluefield). They also have some interesting position players in Chris Hawkins, Kellen Sweeney, Jorge Vega-Rosado, Andrew Burns (sleeper!) and Carlos Perez. The 2012 Lugnuts are where AA's deep drafts can really begin to show just how successful the new scouting apparatus can be.