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Taking Wing

Arizona Diamondbacks v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The minor league season is coming to a close. The Florida Complex League shut down two weeks ago, the A ball Florida State League wraps up on Sunday, the AA Eastern League has one more week left, and the AAA International League has two. I’ll try to briefly note some interesting performances next week and the one after, but this is probably the last full version of Taking Wing this season. It’s been a fun exercise and helped me to keep current on doings in the Jays’ farm system this year. Thanks for all the positive comments over the past few months, I think I’ll try to keep the series going with a bit better organization next season.

Adam Macko, LHP, A+ Vancouver

The second piece in the Teoscar Hernandez trade this past off-season, Macko’s Blue Jays system debut has been uneven. He has a 4.81 ERA on the season, with a career best but still elevated 10.8% walk rate and a career low 28.5% strikeout rate. His recent performances, however, suggest that some things might be starting to click for the 22 year old lefty. Dividing Macko’s season thus far into thirds, it looks like this:

  • April/May: 7 GS, 31.2 IP, 25.9% K, 7.9% BB, 5.68 ERA
  • June - July 19th: 6 GS, 22.0 IP, 18.7% K, 13.1% BB, 6.95 ERA
  • July 26th - September 5th: 7 GS, 32.1 IP, 39.7% K, 11.9% BB, 2.51 ERA

His command remains imprecise, and it seems likely to stay that way, but all four of his pitches have the potential to be above average to plus, and lately he’s been showing that that raw stuff is too much for high A hitters. StatCast data isn’t available for the Northwest League, so I can’t see how his pitch mix and stuff have shifted over the course of the season, but it’s very encouraging that he’s finally starting to dominate hitters the way he did in lower levels in the Mariners’ system.

The other encouraging thing is just the fact that he’s made 20 appearances so far. After totaling 95 innings pitched in 26 appearances across two and a half pro seasons between when he was drafted and the trade, he’s already managed 86.0 innings in 20 starts in 2023. He’s only likely to get one more start this season (the NWL regular season ends on Sunday, but Vancouver is locked into a spot in the championship series next week), so he won’t quite tie his previous career innings total, but the fact that he’s stood up to more than doubling his innings total from last season (38.1) and is finishing strong bodes really well for his potential to stick in the rotation long term.

Macko is rule 5 draft eligible this winter, so this season was critical to his future with the organization. After the rough start, it might have been possible that they’d risk leaving him exposed and run the risk that he was poached. His recent results would seem to make that less likely, though. His stuff profiles in a major league bullpen, so there’s a real risk that a team could take him.

Arjun Nimmala, RHB SS, Rookie Dunedin

Nimmala’s season has actually been over for two weeks now, but I missed writing about him while the complex league was still playing and didn’t want to miss the chance to discuss him. The Jays’ first round pick this season slipped late in the draft process because of concerns about his hit tool. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he’ll grow into at least plus power (and already has a surprising amount of thump for a lanky 17 year old). Most public scouting reports also expect that he’ll stick at shortstop. He swung and missed a lot on the showcase circuit this spring, though, and that raised questions about whether he’d be able to regularly deploy his immense physical gifts in games against good pitching.

Although it’s only a small sample against other mostly very young pitching, his performance in the FCL since being drafted provides a little bit of early hope. Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes watched some of his games back in August and was impressed with his hitting ability, especially in terms of catching up to good fastballs, as well as his strong sense of the strike zone. Results wise, he struck out only 8 times in 40 PA while walking 13 times. Publicly available contact data is wonky at the complex level, but Nimmala’s reported swinging strike rate was in the 95th percentile among hitters with 40+ PA at that level this season. I wouldn’t expect him to be anywhere near that level as he gets into full season ball with a bigger sample and better quality data, but the numbers we have confirm the scouting opinion that his hitting looked better than expected in his brief cameo in pro ball. The result become even more impressive when you remember that he was one of just 5 players to get 40 PA in US pro ball and finish the season as a 17 year old.

Drafting Nimmala was a swing for the fences move. If his hit tool plays as even fringe average with strong plate discipline and his power and defence develop as expected, he has All Star potential. On the other hand, if those concerns about his contact ability prove out, he might stall out in the minors. 40 PA can only mean so much, but what little we’ve seen pushes the dial just a little towards the former possibility.