The Northwest League got its season started this past weekend, with the Vancouver Canadians opening their season at home against Spokane. Saturday night was the first of six games broadcast on Sportsnet Pacific, and while there were some pretty significant technical issues, both audio and video, it was still a nice opportunity to see a number of prospects for the first time (or at least in 2019 in some cases). Below are some notes on Blue Jays prospects, as well as more limited ones from Friday and Sunday since they weren’t televised so there’s only radio accounts to go from.
Adam Kloffenstein made his much awaited 2019 debut (and essentially professional affiliated debut if we set aside a couple of GCL innings last year). Vancouver got badly hammered, but Kloffenstein acquitted himself pretty well in his 3 innings, up to 94 on his fastball with a low/mid 80s breaking ball that I assume was his slider.
The overall line is a little underwhelming, allowing 4 runs — though only two earned — on 2 hits with a walk and 5 strikeouts.He threw 59 pitches, 43 for strikes with 12 whiffs on 38 swings, a stingy 68% contact rate. Of eight balls in play, two were hit hard, four weakly, two routine fly balls. So he was able to throw strikes and miss bats, while mostly managing contact.
The C’s were pretty sloppy in the field throughout, and he was a victim of that with two errors in the third, though one was of his own doing. On top of that was the first inning, when he struck out the first two batters before giving up a line drive single. The next pitch was a fastball hit out of left field, that hit off Mc Gregory Contreras’s glove and over the fence for the home run he allowed. It wasn’t apparent that it was a ball that should have been caught, but in any event should have been just a RBI double instead of two run home run, which would further improve the overall line. Nonetheless, a nice debut.
Vancouver pitching combined to strikeout 19 batters, which was actually a slight majority of the 37 hitters to step to the plate (including one left at the plate with an 0-2 count on a caught stealing with two out). Only 10 balls were put in play, with seven free passes in addition to three hits. It was even more lopsided until later in the game: until the #9 hitter singled in the 7th, there had been only five balls in play (of 26 batters) with no ball having left the infield since the first.
- Grant Townsend started, going 2.2 innings and allowing a run on one hit with 6 strikeouts though four free passes. He cruised through the first two innings, up to 95 with a good slider that was piling up swings and misses, occasionally mixing in a changeup against a mostly righty lineup that got a few whiffs too. He sort of fell apart in the 3rd, issuing a pair of walks to start, getting two outs but then balking home a run on an inexplicable fake to third play that was so blatant a balk even I knew it in real time. 62 pitches, 41 strikes despite the control implosition in his last inning, 12 whiffs on 32 swings (62% contact).
- Townsend left the bases loaded, leaving Luke Gillingham to clean up the mess on dribbler in front of the plate before striking out the side in order in the 4th inning. The 37th round pick in 2016 dominated his last two years at Navy, but missed the last two seasons fulfilling his duty requirements so it great to get a look at him. His fastball was only in the low-80s, but he able to spot his curveball in the zone and got two strikeouts on a change-up that had beautiful late fade. He piled up seven swings-and-misses on just 11 swings.
- 2014 6th rounder Grayson Huffman was making his first appearance after Tommy John surgery. He was 92-94, with four strikeouts and two walks after getting the leadoff batter to groundout.
- 2018 22nd rounder Gage Burland followed, again someone I’d never seen. It was very much a power approach, fastball/slider, apparently touched 93-97 but otherwise more 93 MPH. He struck out five over 2.1 innings, with 9 whiffs on 18 swings, and was might have had another but for the runner thrown out to end his outing. He allowed two hits but the best contact was a lineout to 2B.
- Converted outfielder Josh Almonte came out for the 9th, apparently designated the closer which surprised me given his struggles to consistently stay in the zone last year. Once again the strike throwing was tenuous with just 6/12 pitches for strike, but he worked aroud a walk to preserve a 3-1 win.
William Gaston, a 23 year old signee from Cuba last winter, got the ball Sunday and also had a pretty successful pro debut in allowing 2 runs on 3 hits over his 5 innings, with 3 free passes against 7 strikeouts. He was 92-93 in the early going, touched a 97 on the stadium gun, though down to 89-91 in the second half of his outing. He was using offspeed effectively too, sounded like a slider and changeup (but this is less reliably reported, and having not seen him myself to know what his arsenal looks like).
For the most part he too threw strikes, with 47 of 69 pitches for strikes, though a few got away from him with two HBP. Most impressive was 15 swinging strikes on 35 swings (57% contact rate), which he piled up especially in the early going. Contact wise, all three hits were hard, though the other seven were weak or routine except for a line drive hit right at 2B that was fortuitously turned into a DP.
Offensively, there was not much to write home about, with only eight runs scored across the three game series. The exception was Yorman Rodriguez, who went 7-for-13 with three doubles. None of the 2018 draftees did much to distinguish themselves, but it’s really early of course.