PIGGY Backing in Lansing


‘Tis the off-season and all through the land, ‘experts’ are prospecting, with their top 15/20/30 lists to hand.  Now, I highlight expert, because really, scouting is an inexact science, that is very open to interpretation.  That being said, there are a few prospecters out there that I both enjoy reading and believe know what they are talking about.  Of those writers, Marc Hulet and John Sickels have both released their off-season Blue Jay lists, while my Jays Journal colleague, Kyle Matte, is currently working through his top 30 one name at a time.

While I’m not going to try and predict which order Kyle will have the names, but the theme, so far, has Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard as the two top arms in the system, Roberto Osuna making the largest jump (to fourth on both the tagged lists above), and Daniel Norris highly rated despite his ugly 2012 counting stats.

Sanchez and Syndergaard were part of the much ballyhooed piggy backing system put in place for the first half of Lansing’s season in an effort to manage their innings.  With both moving to Dunedin (and hopefully eventually New Hampshire) in 2013, I thought it was worth a post attempting to predict who would take the Lansing 3’s place next season.

(as an aside, I haven’t written anything on The Trade, because I can’t make up my mind how I feel about it.  One thing I am quite sure of though, is the fact that Justin Nicolino, the third member of the Lasing 3,  will be the most valuable major leaguer of the four prospects given up in the deal.  I don’t think Blue Jays fans will have to wait long, 2014 maybe, before we get to see what we’re missing)

Below is a table of last year’s piggy backers and their innings jump from 2011:

* Missed time through injury, limiting his 2012 innings somewhat

** From University of Florida

*** Traded to Miami Marlins

I was admittedly surprised by the big 3’s lack of movement last year, but it is obviously an organizational philosophy for the Jays to build up the arm strength of their teenage pitchers at one level.  As the first stop for full season ball, Lansing are the beneficiaries of this thinking.  Now that Sanchez and Syndergaard (we’ll disregard the two new Miami Marlins) are both in their twenties, there is a very real chance we see them pitch over at least two levels, possibly even three, in 2013.

So, with the Jays theory of arm preservation (let’s hope it works out better in the future) in mind, who is destined for a full season with the Lugnuts in 2013?

I think, with a fair amount of confidence, the first name we can put on the list is Roberto Osuna.  In 2011, over two levels, Osuna

Roberto Osuna winds and fires for the C’s. Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun vancouversun.com

struck out more than 25% of the hitters he faced while maintaining a WHIP close to 1.  He is ready for the challenge that the Midwest League will present.  Osuna could possibly test the rigidity of Toronto’s development curve if he pitches well in 2013.  As he will only be eighteen in February, if he were a North American high school player, this is technically his draft year.  Meaning he would probably be starting out with the Gulf Coast Jays.  Instead, he is entering his third season of pro ball.  If he dominates at A ball, the Jays would be hard pressed to keep him there until he turns twenty.  I’ve written about this before, so won’t delve too deeply into it again, but as both Hulet and Sickels agree, Osuna is physically very mature for his age.  Provided there are no arm issues next season, I think the Jays will stray from their comfort zone and look to have him begin in Dunedin during his aged nineteen season.

The second name I have on Lansing’s team sheet is Daniel Norris.  A highly regarded prep arm, some even suggested that Norris should begin his first year of pro ball in Lansing.  That didn’t happen.  And, unfortunately, the expected dominance of rookie ball didn’t materialize either.  Despite the unpleasantness of the 2012 statistics, Norris did flash a plus fastball.  Listening to one of his Vancouver starts, it was the control of his breaking pitches that let him down.  Hitters were able to sit fastball and even at the lower levels, they generally won’t miss if they know what is coming.  Obviously, this issue becomes more pronounced the further up the ladder you climb, but if he shows a better feel for his changeup and curve in spring training I believe he’ll be given the chance at full season ball.

As my further picks are a bit conservative, we’ll begin with the table:

Taylor Cole looks out of place age wise but after taking two years out of baseball to complete a church mission, he is effectively 21 in ‘baseball years’.  Next season will be his third in pro ball and after jumping innings from 33.2 in ’11 to 66.1 as per above, he falls into the category of someone that should piggy back to ensure he completes a full season.  His peripherals in Vancouver were excellent last season, putting up a .80 WHIP, 0.0 HR/9, and 3.35 SO/BB.  After touching the low 90s with his fastball in high school, he now sits in the upper 80s.  Something that will need to improve as he moves up the ladder.  Right now, he relies on pinpoint control.

Deivy Estrada is probably the one I’m the least confident about and I could have easily slotted in Jeremy Gabryszwski here but I went for the experience factor.  Estrada is about half a year older than JG and will be entering his fifth year of pro ball.  Averaging right around 50 innings per year it is time for him to step up to the 80 to 90 range to see if a starting role is his future.  He did get knocked around a bit in the Appalachian league last year, but his FIP was below his ERA and BABIP was high-ish so Jays management may look past the stats to see what he can do.

Javier Avendano is a bit of a wild card in that he threw over one hundred innings last season.  He could go one of two ways next season.  Either be a starter right off that bat, without a piggy backing partner.  Or, he could piggy back with either Osuna or Norris.  He would effectively be the long man in that relationship, throwing five or six innings to his partners three.  Either way, his 2012 season with Vancouver has earned him a shot at A ball in 2013.

I would have loved to include highly rated prospects such as Alberto Tirado and Matt Smoral on this list, but I think the Jays inherent protectiveness of their younger arms ensures that these guys begin the year in Bluefield.  Tirado, like Osuna, is a 17 year old international free agent.  Unlink Osuna, however, he still has a lot of growing to do, so he will be wrapped in cotton wool while his physical development continues.

Smoral probably has the physical tools to start in Lansing, but after having missed all of 2012 to a foot injury, his innings will be capped in the upcoming season.  I do believe he will move up a level or two, provided he pitches well of course, but it won’t be until 2014 when we see him in full season ball.  As he will be only twenty in two years, he has the time to recover from the injury at his own pace.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe I’ve ever predicted with 100% accuracy what the Jays management are going to, but any way you slice it, a small town in central Michigan is, once again, going to be privy to some exciting pitching prospects.