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Taking Wing

MiLB: MAY 04 Buffalo Bisons at Worcester Red Sox - Game 1 Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Davis Schneider, RHB IF, AAA Buffalo

I’ve been a little reluctant to write about Schneider. He’s hit well all year for the Bisons, but he’s also a 24 year old former 28th round pick who’s never really received any prospect attention, so I was hesitant to buy in. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on, though, and his absurd July has forced my hand. For the month, he hit .348/.540/.725 with a 26% walk rate, a 16% strikeout rate, 6 homers, 6 doubles and a triple. Those are “first round pick hitting with a metal bat in the Sunbelt Conference” numbers.

There’s no one factor driving Schneider’s improvement, he just seems to have gotten better across the board. His 22% season K rate is his best since rookie ball way back in 2017, powered by a 9.5% swinging strike rate that’s roughly in the top third among AAA hitters this year. The automated strike zone in AAA has lead to a lot of goofy walk totals (20 batters in the International League are walking at least 15% of the time compared to 7 in both major leagues combined), but Davis’ 18.8% rate is second among qualified hitters even in that extreme environment. His .287 isolated power is also a career best, by 42 points.

In their write-up placing him at #15 on their mid-season Blue Jays top 30 prospects (his first appearance on the list), Baseball America noted that his average exit velocity this year is up to 91mph from 88 last year. That jump is the difference between roughly the 26th and 77th percentile in MLB terms. Listed at 5’9” and 190lbs, Schneider doesn’t have huge raw strength. The hardest he hit a ball in July was 106.9mph, which would be in the bottom 10% among MLB hitters if it ended up being his best mark of the season. There are hitters who produce big power numbers without high end exit velocities, by making tons of ‘good enough’ contact in the air. Alex Bregman, who topped out at 107mph in the season in which he hit 41 home runs, is the extreme example. Schneider isn’t remotely on Bregman’s level, of course, but his batted ball data shows the ingredients to attempt a credible impersonation. his 13.8% infield fly rate is in the 83rd percentile among IL hitters, even though his 27.9% ground ball rate is in the 97th. Essentially, he’s been maximizing fly ball contact while mostly avoiding the bad kind of fly balls, leaving mostly the kind that can get to (or beyond) the wall. Combine that with consistent hard contact in the upper 90s and low 100s mph, and you have a recipe for extra base hits.

How Schneider ultimately fits in the big leagues remains to be seen. He’s played significant amounts of first, second and third base this season, as well as some left field, and he should be OK at those spots, but not better than OK. With his limited physical tools, he’s going to need to keep keep maximizing his contact to produce enough to hold a job. That it seems likely that he’ll fit somehow, however, is remarkable given the lack of attention he’s attracted prior to this season, and represents a significant achievement for Schneider himself and for the Blue Jays’ player development program.

Edward Duran, RHB C, A Dunedin

From the cusp of the major leagues to the bottom rungs of the minor league ladder. Duran was the player to be named later acquired in the Anthony Bass trade and has attracted almost no notice thus far. He spent two years in the DSL with the Marlins organization, but the Blue Jays brought him over to the US complex this year and recently promoted him to Dunedin just a few weeks after his 19th birthday.

What makes Duran interesting, beyond his youth, is the knack he’s shown for making contact. His 11.5% strikeout rate in the Florida Complex League was ninth among 171 batters who’ve taken at least 50 PA there this season. So far, that contact has translated to A ball, as his 14.3% strikeout rate would be in the 90th percentile among hitters with at least 50 PA in the Florida State League (although he only has 28 so far).

He also seems to have something of a plan at the plate, as he walked 18 percent of the time at the complex (though it’s down to 7% in the early going at the higher level). He has at least a little ability to impact the ball, as well. He’s hit two home runs and five doubles in 89 PA across the two levels this season. Since his promotion, he’s put several balls in play over 95mph. It’s not much raw power yet, which isn’t surprising for a teenager, but at least he has the ability to get the ball over the fence.

There’s really not a lot to say about Duran yet, except that holding your own in A ball at 19 is typically a very good sign and making that much contact is always a plus. I bring him up mostly because he’s of an archetype the Jays clearly love in their international free agent targets: small-ish players with baseball IQ, feel for contact and the ability to play useful defensive positions. They’ve targeted those types repeatedly as IFA signings (Leo Jimenez, Alejandro Kirk, and Gabriel Moreno, plus lower level guys like Manuel Beltre all fit the mold) and in trade acquisitions (Adrian Pinto, acquired from Colorado in the Grichuk deal, comes to mind). I keep an eye out for these guys because there have been enough of them in the past few years to conclude that it’s a strategy, and I’m curious how it pans out.