It's been a little while since I've done one of these, mostly because there's hasn't been much in the way of significant developments over the past couple months, with a spate of injuries at the end of May/beginning of June and most of rest of the system broadly in a holding pattern. But I am going to try and periodic highlight a few things over the last five weeks of the minor league season.
The headline news is Ryan Borucki, who on Friday in Binghamton turned in his second straight strong start following his promotion to AA New Hampshire. In a system that had a lot of promising arms in the upper-ish levels who have not stepped forward, gone backwards, been hurt or some combination thereof, Borucki has easily been the biggest positive this year.
Borucki's first start was 7 shutout innings in Trenton last Sunday on just 85 pitches, a team that had torched the Fisher Cats in recent series. It wasn't dominant int he traditional sense, in that Borucki only struck out 3 batters (two looking) and missing a decent 8 bats on 36 swings (an average 78% contact rate). But that might actually be counterproductive when a pitcher is piling up weak contact the way Borucki was. 13 of 17 balls in play were routine ground balls, with one popup that was also weak contact. He gave up only two well balls and four baserunners (two walks and two singles).
He followed that up with another 7 innings of one run ball on 90 pitches, with his fastball sitting 91-92 on the Binghampton stadium gun. That's a tick or two lower than he has been most of the year in Dunedin, but that could just be a slightly slow gun or his velocity being a little down. It certainly didn't hamper his effectiveness, as he struck out 7 while allowing just 3 hits and a walk.
Once again, there were 17 balls put in play, with 11 on the ground and two popups. Two of the hits were on ground balls, with the lone really hard hit ball being a double in the air. Borucki also missed a lot of bats, piling up 14 whiffs on 41 swings (66% contact rate).
All told, Borucki sports a 0.64 ERA over 14 innings in AA, with 5 hits and 3 walks against 11 strikeouts. He's managing contact like a boss, with a 70% ground rate on 34 balls in play, and 9% more being popups. Conversely, only three balls (9%) have been squared up and well struck. Meanwhile, he's sporting a strong 72.5% contract rate, so issing bats at a good rate as well.
Could Borucki get a look in September? A month ago I'd have said not, and I'd still think it's more unlikely than likely. But if he continues to do well in AA, and the Jays have open spots in the rotation as a result of moving veterans, it's not out of the question. He's already on the 40-man, so that's not an issue, and in fact since he only will have two option years after 2017, ideally you want him to get there sooner than later. Innings management will be a factor, they already throttled his workload back in May, and he's at 112 innings through four months compared to 135 last year. The rest of the minor league season could take him up near 150 innings.
The 28th overall pick in 2017, Nate Pearson, has finally made his way to Vancouver and has now made two appearances, both of two shutout innings. The first appearance, certainly the beginning, could best be described as effectively wild, as he struck out three but with two wild pitches. Overall, he's stuck out 5 with one single being the only blemish on his record. Of his 9 balls in play, all but two have been in the air (two popouts). Of 25 swings, 9 have been misses, a strong 64% contact rate.
In terms of the bigger picture, the velocity is legit. On Saturday in Vancouver, he (at least) thrice hit triple digits on the stadium gun, a pair of 100s and a 101. There were also multiple 98s and 99s, with one as low as 95. Granted, this is in short stints where he can air things out for 20-30 pitches, so we'll still have to see how it translates to longer outings, likely next year. With Vancouver having locked down a playoff spot, I'd expect him to stay there for the rest of the season, and then move into Lansing's rotation to start 2018.
More broadly, it's been a pretty strong start for the 2017 draft class. Logan Warmoth has now played 13 games in Vancouver, sporting a .364/.400/.582 line driven by lots of hard contact. The one knock would be few walks, but he's also limiting the strikeouts and when you're hitting the ball hard, not walking is not really an issue. It will be interesting to see his path. One could imagine the Cavan Biggio/T.J. Zeuch path, of starting in Vancouver, jumping to Lansing at the end of the year, then right to Dunedin to start 2018.
Riley Adams also started off swinging mashing at the plate, and though he's slowed down recently he still carries a strong .310/.355/.466 line. It's been more of a struggle defensively behind the plate, underlining the concerns about his ability to stick. Fortunately, if he hits the way he has, he would be fine moving to the outfield.
Dunedin hammered the Florida Fire Frogs 17-1 yesterday evening, but one batter had a particularly tough day. Bo Bichette came in having continued his hitting ways from Lansing (albeit with a lot of infield singles early), but went 0/6 with three popouts. He was robbed on one ball, a line drive right at the second baseman. He also dove for a ground ball in the late stages and seemed to have some issue with his hand, though stayed in the game and finished it.
One of four players to homer for Dunedin was Juan Kelly, an absolute bomb to right field. I note this mostly because of an interesting tidbit passed along on the broadcast, which is that Juan Kelly is related to Jimmy Kelly, the 13-year old signed in 1984 by the legendary Epy Guerrero that lead to a minimum signing age of 16 for international players.