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Taking Wing Retrospective

MLB: MAR 07 Spring Training - Blue Jays at Pirates Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re about two thirds of the way through the minor league season, with a little more than three months behind us and a little less than two to go (except for AAA, which now plays until the end of September). We’re also at the point where the system will receive its annual infusion of talent, as the new draftees enter the picture.

Given that, I wanted to pause and look back at the player profiled over the course of the season and see how they’ve been doing since I wrote them up. I try to highlight impressive performers in this column, so it tends to be all good news. This week, we’ll see whether the happy story continued. Today is part one, covering players discussed between May 30th and the end of June. Tomorrow I’ll cover the players I discussed earlier in the season.

June 20:

  • Leo Jimenez: When I wrote Jimenez up, he was on a month long tear, posting a .900 OPS. He’s cooled off since, but is still producing very well. Over his last 76 PA, he’s hitting .250/.368/.422, with 11 walks to 15 strikeouts and six extra base hits. The strikeouts are up a bit, but so are the walks, and he continues to demonstrate a little pop. His overall performance this year solidifies his future projection as at least a quality utility man and maybe and OBP and defence driven everyday infielder.
  • Alex de Jesus: After an awful first month (and an awful second half of 2022 after being acquired from the Dodgers), De Jesus finally caught fire in late May and was riding a 1.000 OPS over the past month. Since... he’s been exactly the same. In the past month, he’s again held his strikeouts to 25%, walked almost 15% of the time, and added ten extra base hits (3 homers) in 84 PA, good for a .992 OPS. He still swings and misses, but the improvement on that front has held and he has more than enough power and patience to overcome a high K rate. If he finishes the season even close to this level he’ll be one of the offensive breakout players of the year in the Jays system.

June 7

  • Bowden Francis: I profiled Francis on the occasion of his call-up to partly fill in for Alek Manoah while the later went down to the complex to work on his delivery. The key point at the time was that Francis’ velocity had improved, giving him the stuff to profile a little more easily in a Major League role. That’s pretty much how it worked out. Francis pitched 13.2 innings with the big league club in 6 games, mostly as a long reliever following a multi-inning appearance from Trevor Richards. Francis sat 94.4 with his fastball and touched 98 a few times. The pitch also showed above average life, making it a real potential weapon in combination with his big curveball. While Francis wasn’t as good as his 2.63 ERA suggests, he struck out about 22% of the batters he faced while walking 7%. Those are solid results, and suggest that he might be a real major leaguer after all.
  • Hayden Juenger: back in June, I pointed to strong strikeout and walk rates to suggest that his 5.70 ERA was an aberration. The results since haven’t backed me up. In 12 innings, Juenger has racked up 15 more Ks, but also walked 6 and surrendered 4 more home runs, with a 6.00 ERA to show for his troubles. The stuff is still real, but Juenger’s shaky command and propensity to give up the long ball will need to improve if he’s going to have an MLB role.
  • Jaden Rudd: Another one that hasn’t held up. Rudd still walks a lot, and has also managed to get himself hit by 10 pitches in 123 PA since June 7th, so he’s maintained a .350 OBP in spite of a .183 average. Unfortunately, the little bit of power he showed early in the season has dried up, with just two doubles in the past 27 games. He’s still sealing bases (9 for his last 10). It’s not that Rudd has collapsed or anything, but he’ll need some power to survive as he moves up the ladder, and in the past six weeks what little he was producing has vanished.

May 30

  • Orelvis Martinez: I highlighted Martinez in May because in spite of horrible luck with balls finding gloves, there were real signs that he’d turned a corner with his plate discipline and possibly turned his stock around. The results since have borne that out and then some. In 131 PA between May 30th and July 14th, Martinez, struck out just 23 times (17.6%) and walked 21 (16%). That’s an exceptional transformation compared to his results last year. His power cooled down just a little, with 4 home runs and 7 doubles over the stretch compared to 13 homers and 2 doubles in the preceding 161 PA, but his overall .294/.413/.480 line was 47% better than league average. All that performance earned him a promotion to AAA Buffalo this week, where he’s already hit a double and a homer in two games while striking out only once in 10 PAs. Baseball America jumped Martinez back onto their top 100 prospects list in the midseason update (at #67), and if he makes the most of is next two and a half months as a Bison, he could be a factor in Toronto by next year.
  • Rafael Lantigua: Unfortunately, Lantigua’s hot early performance hasn’t kept up. He’s still walking a lot (15.4% in his past 143 PA), but his strikeout rate has jumped back up to 24% over that span and he’s managed just eight extra base hits (7 doubles and one homer) in almost two months. If his contact ability isn’t going to stand out and he can’t get to non-negligible power, Lantigua doesn’t profile as an MLB player. Hopefully he can recapture his early season form, but it’s looking more like a blip than a real change.
  • Kendry Rojas: Rojas broke out early in the season on the strength of increased velocity, jumping from the low 90s to 92-96mph with the fastball. That improvement hit a speed bump shortly thereafter. Over the course of June, Rojas’ velocity tailed off, until he was only 90-94 in his outing on June 23rd and 89-93 on July 1st. He didn’t appear in a game between the 1st and last night. He never hit the IL, so it may have just been a precautionary rest. In his return, he worked only 43 pitches but was back up to 91-95mph and recorded 8 swinging strikes. Hopefully his issues over the past two months are a blip, as Rojas has been one of the best stories on the pitching side in the Jays’ system this season.