We’re entering a transitional period in the minor league season. The Florida State League All Star game was this past weekend, so Dunedin players received only three games this week, making it impossible for position players to rank. The Midwest League All Star game is in the first half of this coming week, so it’s doubtful many Lansing players will appear on next week’s hot sheet. Thankfully, short season leagues get underway this week, and with 15 noteworthy players on the Bluefield roster and another dozen or so in the Gulf Coast League, the talent pool in the system just exploded. The standards for placement amongst the hottest five prospects in the Blue Jays system just went up. From June 11th through 17th, here are the five hottest players from the four full season affiliates.
1. C Travis d’Arnaud (LAS): 25 AB, .360/.385/.800 (1.185 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 0 SB, 1/4 BB/K
We’ve honestly reached the point where I’m a little bored to rank d’Arnaud as the hottest prospect in the system, because over the past two months it’s become a bit redundant. He is absolutely killing it right now, and only two things can save Pacific Coast League pitching: an injury or a promotion. I’m hoping for the latter. He finished off the week with back to back 0-for-4’s, but his season line is still an otherworldly .335/.385/.602. When you look at those numbers, keep in mind he’s a catcher who has played in 60 of Las Vegas’ 70 games this year, very few of which have been DH appearances. I spent three weeks in Las Vegas / Nevada during the spring of 2011, and that heat can be brutal. I’m truly amazed he has played this well, and the Blue Jays are running out of excuses to hold back his promotion.
2. LHP Sean Nolin (DUN): 0-0, 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
John Stilson earned a promotion to Double-A this week, and for a while I was wondering why Sean Nolin didn’t get the call. He had yet another dominating start this week, shutting down Clearwater for 6 innings, with the only run he allowed coming on a solo home run. He’s second in the Florida State League in ERA and WHIP, and third in strikeouts –- a step or two ahead of the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole, in all categories. The reason behind the lack of promotion appears to be an injury, as on June 17th Nolin was placed on the minor league disabled list, retroactive to June 15th. I haven’t been able to find any details on the injury, but here’s hoping it’s nothing major and he’ll be able to get back on the mound quickly following the All Star break.
3. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (LAS): 27 AB, .407/.429/.556 (.985 OPS), 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, 1/2 BB/K
Hechavarria had hits in each of his six games this week –- including three multi hit efforts –- extending his current hitting streak to 10 games. Without a doubt the PCL and Cashman Field are helping, but it would be foolish to say improvements to his swing haven’t played a part in the offensive surge. Between this year and last, Hechavarria has played 89 games for Las Vegas. He’s hit 348 in those games. Sample size is no longer at play here. Interestingly, the Blue Jays have had Hechavarria play some second base, with journeyman infielder Jonathan Diaz covering shortstop. One has to wonder if the team is preparing for life without Kelly Johnson, and if so, we could see the Cuban shortstop in Toronto as early as next month.
4. C Carlos Perez (LAN): 21 AB, .286/.423/.429 (.852 OPS), 3 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB, 5/2 BB/K
The Carlos Perez that Blue Jays fans came to love in 2010 has finally resurfaced. After a down year across the board with Lansing in 2011, Perez has come on strong in his second go-around of the Midwest League. This week’s hot performance boosted his season line to .271/.353/.433 (.787 OPS), with a very Carlos Perez-like walk rate of 10.9%. Despite failing to receiving a nod for the All Star game, it could be argued he has been Lansing’s best hitter this season after Chris Hawkins has failed to live up to expectations. Perez could be in line for a second half promotion to High-A Dunedin, though it’s possible the team likes how he is working with the talented Lansing staff and will hold him back until they’re ready to move up. Regardless, it’s great to see the real Carlos Perez back swinging the bat.
5. LHP Justin Nicolino (LAN): 0-0, 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 9 K
Nicolino is the first of the four Lansing piggybackers to make two starts in a week, as after making a 4 inning appearance ahead of Aaron Sanchez on June 11th, he received his first five inning start on June 16th against Great Lakes. He wasn’t his best on the 11th, as despite striking out a season-high six and allowing no runs, he walked a season-high four batters. Things were normalized a bit in his second game of the week, as he walked only one while striking out three. Nicolino has been a huge part of Lansing’s first half success, as after a victory on Sunday afternoon, the team moved to 47-22, 9.5 games ahead of the second place team in the Eastern Division. The Lugnuts are now guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Whether or not Nicolino will be around to pitch in the postseason is a different story.