This season was a fun one for the members of the Blue Jays minor-league affiliates, and thankfully, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Minor Leaguer, myself, and all of you were around the listen to some great stories and pieces of analysis from all of the voices of the affiliates.
Though the teams did not fare exceedingly well in terms of wins and losses, player development—which ultimately is one of the main goals of minor-league baseball—was front and centre this season, with every team boasting stand-out talents that stunned fans and opponents alike.
In this season’s final episode of Around The Nest, we asked the voices of the Blue Jays minor-league affiliates to name a pitcher and a position player of the year to highlight. Here is a complete list of the 2019 Around the Nest End-of-Year Award Winners.
Bluefield (Rookie): Zach Helton
Pitcher of the Year: Jol Concepcion
Though the 20-year-old Concepcion has a lot of room for improvement, Helton predicts that he’ll climb the minor-league ladder pretty quickly, thanks chiefly to a 3.18 ERA across 34.0 innings this season for the Bluefield Blue Jays. Adding 31 strikeouts and just nine walks, Concepcion finished with one of the Appalachian League’s best WHIP figures at 1.29.
Position Player of the Year: Spencer Horwitz
Horwitz, 21, “did not slack off from college,’’ says Helton. In 51 games for Bluefield, the local(ish) Radford product slashed .330/.395/.471 and added 49 RBI to lead the Appy League, playing some tremendous defense, and eventually earning himself a short promotion to Vancouver.
Lansing (Low-A): Adam Jaksa
Pitcher of the Year: Marcus Reyes
Despite initial struggles, Reyes, 24, was outstanding down the stretch for Lansing, tossing 77.1 innings to an ERA of 2.56, appearing “effortless” at most times. He struck out 56 and notched seven victories, the second most of any member of the Lugnuts. Per Jaksa, he worked quickly, and grew tremendously over the course of the season.
Honourable Mention: Joey Murray
Position Player of the Year: Otto Lopez
One of the most versatile offensive forces in the organization, Lopez, 20, slashed .324/.371/.425 in 108 games for the Lugs and won the Midwest League batting title. On Lopez, Jaksa said that he was “electric and [displayed] a smooth, easy swing with great hand-eye coordination.”
Vancouver (Short Season-A): Rob Fai
Pitcher of the Year: Adam Kloffenstein
Unsurprisingly, Kloffenstein, 19, is Fai’s pick for the team’s top arm this season. Having been named the affiliate’s MVP earlier this month, the 2018 third-round pick tossed 64.1 frames to an ERA of 2.24, striking out a whopping 64, and, per Fai, was a “leader in the clubhouse” all season long.
Honourable Mentions: Alek Manoah, Luis Quinones
Position Player of the Year: Yorman Rodriguez
Despite spending a third of the season with Lansing, Fai still picks Rodriguez, 22, as the team’s best offensive player this season. Having led the team in average (.369) and OPS (.915), Fai says that he “re-jigged his swing” this season, which helped him produce “extraordinary” results.
Dunedin (A-Advanced): Jim Tarabocchia
Pitcher of the Year: Maximo Castillo
Castillo, 20, rocked the Florida State League this year, pitching to a stellar 2.69 ERA in 130.1 frames, striking out 114 and winning 11 games for the Dunedin Blue Jays. On the young righty, Tarabocchia said that, in addition to picking up the D-Jays’ only immaculate inning this season, the native of Caracas, Venezuela was “virtually unhittable”, adding that he “is a sure-fire major leaguer” in the near future.
Position Players of the Year: Cullen Large, Alejandro Kirk, Ryan Noda, Cal Stevenson
Though he finished off the year in double-A, Large, 23, was outstanding for the D-Jays, slashing .269/.360/.408, adding 23 doubles and four homers to go along 51 runs scored.
Kirk, 20, mashed in Dunedin as well, posting an .841 OPS after a brief stint in Lansing to begin his season. A sure-handed catcher with excellent plate discipline, Kirk walked more than he struck out, stole a pair of bags and finished near the top of the FSL leaderboard in slugging percentage.
A former Lugnut, Noda, 23, “showed his value analytically” this year, per Tarabocchia, drawing a league-leading 74 walks, and scoring 62 runs in 117 games. On the cusp of being listed on the Blue Jays’ top 30 prospect list, Noda also led the team in RBI, home runs, doubles, and games played.
Now a member of the Carolina League’s Fayetteville Woodpeckers (HOU), Stevenson, 22, built off of a fantastic 2018 season in Bluefield and slashed .298/.388/.393 with Dunedin, stealing 11 bases and driving in 50, all while leading the team in hits.
New Hampshire (Double-A): Tyler Murray
Pitcher of the Year: Nate Pearson
In another unsurprising selection, Pearson, now 23, was lights out for New Hampshire. In 16 starts, he struck out 69 batters in 62.2 innings, posting an ERA of 2.59 and holding opponents to a measly .186 average. Perpetually dominant upon his promotion to Buffalo, Pearson was easily the most promising arm to pitch at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium this season.
Position Player of the Year: Santiago Espinal
New Hampshire’s only full-season all-star, Espinal, 24, was quietly tremendous for the Fisher Cats, slashing .287/.343/.381 in 94 games and easily working his way into the major-league club’s 2020 infield picture, says Murray. Acquired in last July’s Steve Pearce trade, Espinal was “a top position player in the Eastern League” this season.
Buffalo (Triple-A): Pat Malacaro
Pitcher of the Year: Zach Jackson
Malacaro’s obvious choice, the 24-year-old Jackson, who was drafted in 2016, put up some stellar numbers. Leading the team in wins (9) and appearances (46), Jackson improved his stock dramatically thanks to a 3.97 ERA in 68.0 frames for the Herd.
Position Players of the Year: Sócrates Brito, Patrick Kivlehan
One of the major-league team’s most disappointing performers (.077/.163/.128, 17 SO in 43 PAs) early on, Brito, 27, was a massively influential leader in the Herd’s clubhouse, says Malacaro. He also slashed .282/.328/.510 and smashed 16 home runs, becoming part of the “core nucleus” of veterans in Buffalo that helped the younger players adapt to the lifestyle of playing in the upper minors.
Kivlehan, 29, slashed .247/.336/.534 in 144 games, and led the team with 25 home runs. Like Brito, Kivlehan “provided an offensive spark that the Bisons needed” this season, despite underperforming during his stint with the Pirates’ organization.
On behalf of Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Minor Leaguer, and all of the voices of the Blue Jays minor-league affiliates, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and attention over the course of this season!
You can listen to the season finale of Around the Nest here or can catch up on the whole season here.
For any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to myself (@haydengodfreyy), Minor Leaguer (@Minor_Leaguer), or Jesse (@jgoldstrass) on Twitter and be sure to follow Around The Nest (@AroundNest).
Have a great off-season,
The Around the Nest team