This Friday on our Around The Nest Blue Jays minor league podcast, host Jesse Goldberg-Strassler brought on three guest broadcasters to give their insight on the Blue Jays’ newest acquisitions. Adam Marco, voice of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders spoke about Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney, the prospects the Blue Jays received for J.A. Happ. The two prospects acquired for Seunghwan Oh were profiled by Doug Maurer of the Asheville Tourists who talked to us about Chad Spanberger, and Jeff Dooley from the Hartford Yard Goats, who called in about Forrest Wall.
You can listen to the episode here.
Before talking about Chad Spanberger’s on-field skills, Doug Maurer wanted to highlight Spanberger’s high character and the type of man he is. He is a hardworker and somewhat softspoken and was a great teammate and a great clubhouse guy.
Maurer said that Spanberger’s trade really affected the Tourists, saying that the team as a whole was very sad when they found out that Spanberger was no longer a teammate.
“It was definitely a tough day for many of our players. Chad had been our leader this year—more so leading by example. They were sad, and I think the result of [Thursday’s] game had to do with that: we were beaten 11-0 at home. The guys didn’t necessarily have their minds 100% on the game.”
Spanberger is a left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing first baseman. Maurer wouldn’t call him an excellent defensive first baseman, but Spanberger is good and works hard on improving his craft. At 6’3, 230 lbs, he’s also not the type of first baseman who can’t move—he can run too, having recorded 16 stolen bases so far this season. However, hitting for power is his primary tool.
“As far as his tools go, if you sit back and watch him take batting practice you’ll know why exactly the Blue Jays targeted Chad,” Maurer said. “He can hit the ball farther than anyone in the South Atlantic League, and probably farther than anyone in the Midwest League. He won the home run derby at the [SAL] All-Star Game this year—he hit 29 home runs and had another two minutes on the clock when he called it quits after he won the crown.
“In addition to the power, Chad hits for average as well. He hit .315 with us at Asheville. A lot of people say McCormick Field is a hitter-friendly ballpark, especially for lefties, and Chad definitely took advantage of that but he also produced on the road.”
Spanberger is a pull hitter and even in low-A he has had to deal with teams shifting on him. Maurer noted that Spanberger has been batting with three infielders on the right side, with the second baseman 20 or 30 feet into right field. However, Spanberger is able to hit it the other way into left-centrefield as well. He also doesn’t typically hit the ball on the ground, so he was still able to keep his average up despite the dramatic shifts. He also has a good enough eye to work himself into some hitter-friendly counts.
“You definitely don’t want to groove him a fastball when he’s expecting it because he’ll hit it a very long way.
“He’s a very strong individual, and overall a great person to have in your organization. I think certainly the Blue Jays scouted well when they targeted Chad in this trade.”
“You’re getting a pretty good athlete who had a very nice debut in the Blue Jays organization,” Jeff Dooley told us as his Yard Goats were facing the Fisher Cats in Hartford. “He comes up and makes two very nice catches and then he comes up in his second at bat and hits a home run off of Jesus Tinoco. That Fisher Cats dugout looked pretty excited. I really think the Blue Jays got a really good one in Forrest Wall.”
Wall was a first-round pick and a speedy outfielder and arrived at double-A with “some pretty good hype,” according to Dooley. Like many players, Wall struggled through the transition from high-A to double-A and going from California League to Eastern League pitching. But after a couple weeks he settled down a little bit and was started to pop balls over the fence. Despite his earlier struggles at the plate, Wall kept playing good defense.
“His mom flew up from Florida [the morning of the trade] and when she arrived she found out that she was sitting in the visiting section as opposed to the Yard Goats’ section. It was a whirlwind day for him. The Rockies had talked to him about his services and that he was being moved in a deal. The cool thing for him is that he got traded for a major league pitcher.”
This was the second trade Brandon Drury was involved in this year, first arriving to the Yankees organization from Arizona in a three-team trade during spring training.
“Drury is a quiet guy, which is kind of unusual for a New York market, and I think he will do very well up in Toronto,” Adam Marco said.
He started the year as the Yankees’ opening day third baseman but then found himself playing over 60 games in the minor leagues. It turned out that Drury had been suffering with migraines and blurred vision his entire career, but did not tell anyone about the symptoms until he joined the Yankees.
“They put him on the DL and he rehabbed with the RailRiders and some time in Trenton before he was optioned [back to the RailRiders] and turned that into an All-Star season at the triple-A level,” Adam Marco said. “At the big league side he hasn’t really found a spot. When he went on the disabled list that forced the Yankees to bring up Miguel Andújar and he’s been lights out as a rookie so Drury lost his spot.
“I think Drury-for-Happ would’ve been a reasonable swap because Brandon is controllable and could be a starting third baseman every day in the majors. I don’t know if he solves the shortstop problem in Toronto but he can help out in the infield in a couple of different spots. He’s played the outfield before, and we’ve had him at first base a few times. He is a .275, 20-25 home run guy if they can get him healthy and get him right. I think he can become a star if given that opportunity. He didn’t get that chance with Arizona, he didn’t have that opportunity with the Yankees.”
This then allowed us to segue to the other player that came from the Yankees organization.
Marco, like many Yankees pundits and fans, think that New York overpaid for Happ.
“The kicker to me was Billy McKinney in that deal. I loved Billy McKinney. Maybe the batting average wasn’t there (.220s-.230s) but he’s a power left handed bat and I think that plays in a lot of ballparks in the American League. I think McKinney was the part the Yankees may have overpaid a bit.”
McKinney was chosen in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Oakland A’s then was traded to the Cubs in 2014 along with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal, then was packaged with Gleyber Torres and Adam Warren to the Yankees in exchange for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. He made his major league debut in that opening series against the Jays but got hurt in the first inning of his second game running into the Rogers Centre wall, missing the next month-and-a-half of the season.
“I just love his personality,” Marco told us. “He’s a guy who doesn’t necessarily lead—which you need a lot of those, I get that—but he finds the right people to follow. Any number of guys can be disillusioned going up and down, traded as many time as he has been. But he has such a positive outlook on getting that big league chance and getting back up to the majors that I think if he latches on to the right guy, you’ll have a very good hitter. Maybe not a .300 hitter but I do believe that Billy McKinney is a .260, could be 25-30 home run guy when given that opportunity.
“This year, people are going to see Brandon Drury, but down the line Billy McKinney is the one who can play a lot of dividends across that outfield for the Toronto Blue Jays.”