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Taking Wing

AZ Fall League: Peoria Javelinas at Salt River Rafters Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

# Hagen Danner, RHP, AAA Buffalo

Danner was promoted to Buffalo a month ago after a dominant 9 inning start to the season with AA New Hampshire. He got off to a rough start, posting a 13.50 ERA in his first 3 appearances. He gave up two home runs and walked 3 of the 18 batters he faced. In six appearances since, though, he’s gone 8.2 innings, fanning 9 of 31 batters while walking only two and allowing 5 hits, for a 1.04 ERA.

Danner entered the system as a catcher, but moved to the mound during the pandemic layoff. He’s moved quickly up the system since and looks ready to continue in Toronto whenever he’s called on.

In his most recent outings, Danner sat 96-98 with his fastball, which would be in about the 93rd percentile in MLB. The pitch also boasts an above average 8 inches of horizontal movement and solid vertical ride. It’s easily a plus pitch that could be a weapon in the middle of a major league bullpen.

He paired it with a hard slider at about 86mph with an above average 37 inches of drop, and a curve at 79mph. The slider is an above average pitch, and while the curve isn’t that impressive on its own it gives a potentially deceptive look when paired with the similar shaped but harder and shorter slider.

# Manuel Beltre, RHB SS, A Dunedin

The biggest name in the Blue Jays’ 2021 international signing class, Beltre has moved up consistently and is now in full season ball as a 19 year old. After a slow start, he’s been picking up steam lately and exploded in his last six games, lining six doubles and taking six walks against only four strikeouts in 27 PA, good for a .421/.593/.737 week.

Beltre is consistently described as exceptionally driven and dedicated to baseball, and possessed of both excellent instincts and surprisingly polished skills for a teenager. He makes good swing decisions and a lot of good line drive contact (his swinging strike rate is in the 58th percentile of all A ball hitters and his line drive rate is in the 93rd percentile). He should be able to get on base fairly consistently.

Listed at 5’10” and 155lbs, Beltre doesn’t currently have much power and probably never will. He’s going to have to max out his quality of contact to have enough impact to profile as an everyday player. During his recent hot streak, he put 5 of 15 balls in play at over 95mph, including touching 100 once. A 33% hard hit rate would be well below average in the majors, but for a teen in low A it’s not bad. If he can add a few more MPH as his body matures and he keep his quality of contact strong, he has a chance.

Beltre is likely to stick at shortstop, so the offensive bar he has to clear isn’t high. His physical tools aren’t impressive, but his mental approach might allow him to be more than the sum of his parts.

# Matt Svanson, RHP, A+ Vancouver

A 13th round pick in 2021 out of Lehigh University, the Blue Jays originally tried to develop him as a starter in Dunedin before converting him to the bullpen in the middle of last season and concurrently promoting him to Vancouver. After an injury delayed the start of his season, he’s back there this season and has been posting excellent results.

The last run Svanson allowed was more than a month ago, on May 23. Since, he’s gone 10.2 innings and allowed just two hits and four walks while striking out 13.

Svanson’s main pitch is a sinker. In his April 28th appearance with Dunedin (the most recent for which Statcast data is publicly available), he sat between 91 and 94mph. That’s below average velocity, especially for a reliever, but he got nearly 24 inches of drop and 16 inches of horizontal run. Both of those movement numbers are easily plus, and they help explain how Svanson has consistently posted elite ground ball rates so far as a pro. 64% of contact against him this year has been on the ground, the 7th best of 558 pitchers with at least 10 innings at high A this year. 10 innings is a very small sample size for batted ball data, but Svanson was above the 95th percentile in both of his stops last year too.

He pairs the sinker with a breaking ball that’s either a very slow cutter or a fairly straight slider that comes in at 83mph. It’s not a great pitch, and although Svanson has managed to rack up respectable strikeout rates so far missing bats probably won’t be a huge selling point for his game.

Extreme ground ball pitchers can sometimes carve out productive without huge bat missing stuff. Longtime Oriole and current Red Sox reliever Richard Bleier is an extreme example: he’s compiled an eight year MLB career with a 3.24 ERA in spite of a measly 14% strikeout rate because he keeps over 60% of contact against him on the ground. Svanson has a similar sinker/cutter arsenal, with better stuff but without Bleier’s pinpoint command. Success in the majors for Svanson probably looks something like Bleier.

At 24 years old, Svanson will have to move quickly to realize his potential with the Jays. If he keeps putting up shutout months, he might do it.