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Saturday Bantering: Minor league transactions, old draft notes

It’s funny how things sometimes work out much differently than expected...

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not much going on in the baseball world, Yoenis Cespedes’s expensive run-ins with wild boars aside, and even little involving the Blue Jays. Baseball America did publish minor league transactions yesterday for the six weeks through mid-December, which is useful since MLB/MiLB have been very tardy and sporadic in updating transactions (in addition to taking multiple days to enter minor league free agents, they still haven’t added some others, mostly releases, from October).

There were a few nuggets in there that (at least to my knowledge) are new. Most notably, the Jays released Ryan Dull on November 20th, bringing an end to a short but transactions heavy tenure. They acquired him off waivers from the Yankees and DFA’d him two days later, outright him on the 24th. Then after burning through eight (8!) pitchers in a 11-4 loss to Baltimore, they added him back the next day for his lone appearance.

So it wasn’t surprising when he was DFA’d and sent outright on October 29/30th as the Jays did roster clean-up as the offseason began, especially as he would have been subject to Rule 55(f) outright restrictions after November 4th. Which is where it gets weird, because he didn’t become a minor league free agent on that date despite being eligible to do so — for reasons that were and remain unclear to me. Especially since it appears the Jays didn’t really want him anyway, which sort of makes sense considering there’s a abundance of pitchers who will be fighting for upper level roster spots comes the Spring.

In other developments, they re-signed RHP Willy Ortiz, who spent 2019 at New Hampshire in a swingman role. He’s actually got interesting stuff, with big fastball velocity in the mid- to upper-90s and a decent slider. Just not much in the way of command, which is why the stat line doesn’t look great, but I’d be intrigued if they made him a full-time short reliever (he’ll only turn 25 this summer).

Finally, RHP Kyle Weatherly and C Troy Squires retired. Weatherly was drafted in the 8th round of the 2016 draft out of a Texas juco, signing for an above slot $250,000 as a player ranked as high as 149th. He was inconsistent, both in terms of stuff and results, but was used exclusively out of the pen in 2019 with Dunedin, which solid results and it seemed like better and more consistent velocity. So it’s a little surprising that in that respecting that he’s walking away now.

Over the holidays, I was gathering some data on the draft that involved going through Perfect Game’s state-by-state draft rankings going back to the early part of what’s now the last decade. In the course of doing so, I stumbled upon a few interesting things relating to current or former Blue Jays that caught my eye and thought would be interesting in hindsight to share. I’ll start with a note from the 2012 Kentucky list:

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: LUKE MAILE, c/1b, University of Kentucky. Maile topped Kentucky in homers as a sophomore with nine, but it barely registered with scouts as he was generally viewed as a player without a position. No player has fueled Kentucky’s electric 2012 season more than Maile, though, and he not only leads the Wildcats with 11 homers and 46 RBIs, but he has done a lot to change the perception scouts had of him. He has been a better defender behind the plate, and such a force to reckon at the plate that he has emerged as a legitimate prospect.

Other than looking at stat lines, I didn’t know much about Maile from before the Jays claimed him off waivers from Tampa in April 2017, so it was pretty stunning to read that he was a bat-first type of prospect (to the point that PG rated him as having the top hit and power tools in the state) but unremarkable behind the plate. And in fairness, he posted decent offensive production in the minors, but his calling card has been being an absolute rock behind the plate defensively (+23 runs per BP in 1600 innings).

Elsewhere on that list, a what-if:

A year from now, Kentucky could produce the best prep talent in state history in Woodford County High’s fireballing righthander Clinton Hollon, who could conceivably challenge former Morehead State lefthander Drew Hall’s 28-year-old state record as the highest draft pick ever in the state.

That didn’t come to pass, as Hollon suffered an elbow injury that dropped him down draft boards. This was not something that scared off the Jays’ draft brass of the era from an early selection, as they took Patrick Murphy the year before and would take Jeff Hoffman the next year. So in the second round, they took Hollon and eventually signed him to a well-below slot $467,300 bonus (I believe after medical issues prompted a renegotiation from a higher initial figure).

After a brief debut in 2013, he ended up having Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2014 season. He was back for 2015, and was very good in nine starts for Vancouve before a late-season promotion to Vancouver. But after three starts, he received a 50 game suspension for amphetamines, and then in May 2016 another one for a “drug of abuse”. The Jays released him in early 2017.

The other reason seeing his name stood out is because of that second suspension, which was likely for marijuana use. Major League players were never tested for it, but minor league players lacking a union were subject to the vicissitudes of whatever MLB imposed. However last month they and the MLBPA agreed to an updated Joint Drug Policy that removed testing for minor leaguers. Too late for Hollon, but one wonders how his career might have turned out differently without that second test. Whatever one thinks of marijuana, I fail to see how how pretty draconian penalties for players accomplished anything positive.

Next, the 2013 Texas list:

In outfielder Billy McKinney and third baseman Cavan Biggio, Texas also has a pair of left handed hitters who rank among the top high school bats in the country.

Though he was a prominent draft prospect out of high school, I suppose because he was drafted out of college from a Big Ten/northern school I was surprised to see Biggio mentioned alongside McKinney (and maybe because Biggio doesn’t scream Texas to me). But it’s interesting how they had similar profiles as bat-first lefty hitters, and indeed Perfect Game ultimately had them 21st and 22nd in their final high school rankings.

Now six and half years later they find themselves on the same MLB team, though Biggio at seemingly having having a flourishing outlook. But it’s interesting to juxtapose their careers over time. Biggio had a solid if generally unspectacular career at Notre Dame (though improving every year) whereas McKinney moved quickly through full season ball. He had a down 2016 in AA, but rebounded in 2017 making to AAA while Biggio was quite mediocre in Dunedin. Then Biggio started elevating the ball and his career took off, whereas McKinney has stagnated and is probably ticketed for Buffalo in 2020 (having a last option year with a crowded outfield mix).

The 2012 Texas list:

Two more righthanders, Mitchell Traver and Tyler Gonzales, will now likely vie for the honor of being the first prep pitcher drafted. The 6-foot-7 Traver has flashed considerable potential with his combination of size and velocity, while Gonzales has a devastating fastball/slider combination.

A reminder of how risky high school pitching is. Traver had some standout years at Texas Christian, but was a 20th round pick in 2017 and out of baseball after 2018. GOnzales was the highest picked high school pitcher from Texas, but that “devastating fastball/slider combination” never showed up in pro ball.

Finally, a trip to Mississippi in 2012:

The two high-school outfielders earning high-round grades are Petal High’s Anthony Alford and Stone County High’s D.J. Davis, and they rank as two of the more-intriguing athletes in the nation’s entire prep class. Alford’s draft status is somewhat tentative as he is heavily-committed to playing football at Southern Mississippi, and he could fall right out of consideration as a result.

As it turned out the Jays got both, which is interesting considering that one think I remember reading was the poor track record of Mississippi high school draftees hitting in pro ball.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: D.J. Davis, of, Stone County HS, Wiggins. It is difficult to find a review of Davis’ performance this spring that isn’t glowing. A little-known prospect before last summer’s East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, Davis ran an event-best 6.38 seconds in the 60. He then showcased his blinding speed and reckless abandon on the bases by hitting .375 with a tournament-leading five stolen bases at the World Wood Bat Association fall championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October. From all reports, he has only continued to get better in all phases of his game this spring, and gave a graphic demonstration of his evolving power potential when he slammed a pair of long home runs in a game before the watchful eyes of some 50 scouts, including several scouting directors and prominent front-office officials.

WILD CARD: Anthony Alford, of, Petal HS. While Davis’ name was virtually unknown until last summer/fall, both baseball scouts and football recruiters have been familiar with Alford for years. He led Petal High to Mississippi 6-A state baseball titles as both a sophomore and junior, and is even better-known as one of the top dual-threat quarterback prospects in the country. His football commitment to Southern Mississippi significantly complicates his chances of being an early-round selection in the baseball draft in June, and big-league clubs may ultimately determine he is too high a risk to warrant spending a premium pick. Alford’s chances of passing up football are considered all the more unlikely because his former football coach at Petal High is now an assistant at USM, and he’s also a close friend of the son of Golden Eagles baseball coach Scott Berry.

One never made it to AA, and 2020 may be a make or break year for Alford.