Thursday was ostensibly Opening Day for minor league baseball, but across the Blue Jays system the anticipation was mostly for not as Buffalo was rained out in Pawtucket, New Hampshire rained out in Binghamton, and Lansing was snowed out at home. There's a certain irony that after the mildest winter in a long time, baseball is being plagued by wintery weather across the northeast a week into April.
Conner Greene got the start for Dunedin and turned in a solid five inning start allowing two runs, though he not close to his sharpest. He allowed 6 hits, including one home run, while walking one and striking out a pair. Just 7 out 19 balls in play were kept on the ground, plus one popout. In the early going Greene used mostly fastballs, mixing in his curveball a fair bit the second time through and adding the odd change-up. There weren't many velocity readings, but he did hit 96 twice to the last batter he faced, his 76th and 80th pitches of the outing.
After a quick, clean seven pitch first inning, the second inning was a study in contrasts. Greene bookended the inning with swinging strikeouts, which turned out to be his only ones of the night. In between, he gave up some hard contact, a solo home run, as well as a double to the wall in centrefield which was stranded. Of the six hits Greene yielded, four were hard hit, but there were some pretty loud outs as well. Greene was constantly working around trouble. as in each inning after the first, two batters reached base.
At the pitch level, Greene only induced 7 swinging strikes on 41 swings (83% contract rate), which is well below his usual rate (from last year). Part of the reason for that is that he struggled to get ahead of batters, falling behind 12 of 20 batters (60%). Of the 40 pitches taken, just 9 were called strikes (23%), though it sounded like the strike zone was not terribly consistent.
The other notable pitching performance was from sleeper prospect Tim Mayza, a lefty drafted in the 12th round of the 2013 draft who broke out late last year in Lansing. He was quite sharp as finished the game, pitching a clean 2 innings on 24 pitches (18 strikes) while generating two strikeouts and three routine ground balls. He worked at 92-94, got ahead of four of the six batters, and also got four batters in two strikes holes while ahead in the count. Great process, great results.
Offensively, the Dunedin hitters were quite quiet in the early going, before breaking out later against the bullpen. Perhaps that was to be expected, as most of Dunedin's better hitting prospects are pretty raw, and they were opposed by an experienced and advanced pitching prospect in Thomas Eshelman, aka Mr. Command. Eshelman was a second round draft pick last year by Houston out of Cal State Fullerton (Ricky Romero's alma mater), where he was their ace for three years and walked a grand total of 18 batters in 376 innings. That's not a typo. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he pounds the zone and hits his spots.
Having said all that, of course the first thing he did was walk Anthony Alford on four pitches to start the game, who had an eventful day. Alford scored Dunedin's first two runs despite being held hitless (he also reached on an error). He also misjudged a two out fliner in the 5th inning, and failed to recover with the ball going off his glove for a two base error. He left the game after scoring that second run in the 6th, as he slid feet first into home and was down for a couple minutes, though walked off under his own power. The Clearwater broadcast thought he may have been spiked by the catcher.
Dunedin only have five hits on the night, and the only extra base hit came from Richard Urena's bat, who hit a two run home run in the 7th. It was off either a fastball (Dunedin broadcast) or a hanging breaking ball (Clearwater broadcast), so you can pick your own narrative I guess.
Finally, a few notes on some minor league roster moves. A.J. Jimenez cleared waivers and was sent outright to Buffalo, who now have three catchers and 26 active players, so presumably there will be some more domino effects to come. New Hampshire doesn't have a terribly strong catching tandem, so I'm guessing one catcher gets bumped to get significant playing time, and it'll be interesting to see see whom. Beyond that, Robinzon Diaz is also not assigned to an affiliate, officially listed as in extended spring training (as is Brad Penny in what is either a mistake in the transactions or the Jays formally reserving his rights)
Beyond that, the Jays did some other shuffling yesterday, which is odd if only because the minor league roster assignments were just announced on Monday. Most notably, Max Pentecost is now on Dunedin's disabled list rather than Lansing's, though it's unclear what it anything it actually means especially since it doesn't seem he's particularly close to game action. Theoretically, there'd be a potential logjam for playing time with Danny Jansen and would make sense for one to be the primary catcher in Lansing and the other in Dunedin. Also, RHP Travis Bergen was reassigned from Lansing's roster to extended spring training, with LHP Evan Smith assigned his place. Finally, catcher Martin Medina was assigned from New Hampshire's disabled list to Vancouver, which effectively means extended spring training too.