The Arizona Fall League is always a great opportunity for young players to fine tune their craft, build on a season where they otherwise didn’t get enough work in, and potentially gain experience in some tense moments. This year, four Blue Jay prospects got all of this and a celebration as they helped the Peoria Javelinas defeat the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL Championship game.
T.J. Zeuch got the start in this one and battled through 5.2 of work in which he limited the damage to just two runs; which is quite impressive when you consider that both of those runs were on the board with only one out recorded in the first inning. Zeuch wasn’t his sharpest today, but he was able to induce the ground ball double play - his favorite weapon - when he needed it most. That play helped him escape the first inning without any more damage and then also deflated potential rallies in both the fourth and sixth innings.
In some ways, this type of performance in a winner take all game is almost more encouraging going forward than a start where Zeuch had his best stuff and just breezed right along. That’s because with a game unfolding in this manner, Zeuch took a step toward becoming a pitcher you can trust to work through a high stakes outing even when he’s not at his best. These are the little things a player can start to grasp in the AFL, and Zeuch used the opportunity as a nice building block today.
The heavy ground ball performance isn’t anything new for Zeuch either. While pitching for Dunedin this summer, he generated a remarkable ground ball rate of 61.5 percent.
Andrew Case came in to relieve Zeuch and retired all four batters he faced. This marked a strong finish to great year for the Canadian kid who was signed as an undrafted free agent but has now started to become a series threat to crack the majors leagues as a back end of the bullpen arm. If he’s going to continue his ascent though, he’s going to need to do what he did at New Hampshire this year, and that’s allow home runs at a freakishly low rate.
On the offensive side of the ball, Peoria got all the runs they needed from their leadoff hitter Jonathan Davis, who scored three times stemming from a hit and two hit by pitches. Davis, who was taken in the 15th round of the 2013 draft out of central Arkansas has quietly improved his on base skill to the point where he has the chance to become a useful fourth outfielder. He made a couple of nice catches in center during today’s championship, but he has experience at all three outfielder positions. He also used his speed to stretch his eighth inning hit into a triple. Actually seeing him play in game makes me think he’s going to be a more useful player than his stat line indicates.
The Jays were also represented at the bottom of the lineup in Lourdes Gurriel, who just missed a home run by a couple of feet in the fifth inning but instead had to settle for a double. He also drew a walk in the bottom of the previous frame. Hopefully a solid showing here in the AFL will help vault Gurriel into a productive 2018 after a year marred by injury and ineffectiveness. One thing Gurriel showed throughout this tournament is his ability to play all over the diamond. That versatility will prove extremely valuable over the long haul if he’s able to get his bat going.
All in all, this was about as encouraging of a showing as Toronto fans could have asked for today, and it was fun seeing guys in Blue Jay uniforms celebrate after the game; even if it was just for an Arizona Fall League championship.
Of the four Blue Jays prospects to contribute to today’s AFL Championship win, which one are you most excited about going forward?
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