With the season having now come to a close for all of the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates, it’s a perfect time to start churning out reports on the various clubs that I was able to watch in person over the summer, from Double-A New Hampshire all the way down to the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. Kicking things off is part one on the Bluefield Blue Jays, using a combination of my personal notes and game results to make up the report. I’ve also included quotes from Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg, pitching coach Antonio Caceres and hitting coach Paul Elliott whenever possible.
Near the end of August, I made the 10-hour drive from Toronto to Bowen Field in Bluefield, West Virginia to watch the rookie level Blue Jays in action. The club’s offense put on a show for the most part during my stay, scoring 22 runs in the first three games that I was there, and the four-game set overall let me see a lot of the arms on their roster, including every member of the bullpen.
In his first outing since being called up from the Gulf Coast League, 20-year-old left-hander Alonzo Gonzalez got the start in Bluefield’s 10-2 drubbing of the Pulaski Mariners in the first game of my trip. Gonzalez, the Blue Jays’ 18th round selection in this year’s draft, was impressive, as he allowed only two hits in six shutout innings with two walks and five strikeouts.
After issuing a leadoff walk to Mariners first baseman Gilmer Lampe in first inning, Gonzalez wound up retiring the rest of Pulaski’s lineup in order until the third, when he walked Lampe once again. Gonzalez served up a ground-rule double after that, but managed to escape the inning unscathed and strand a pair of runners in scoring position. After giving up a one-out double to Pulaski center fielder Jabari Henry in the fourth, Gonzalez cruised the rest of the way and retired eight Mariners in a row.
The 6-foot-5, wide-hipped Gonzalez has a clean delivery with not much to iron out and showed a feel for three pitches. He sat 86-89 mph with his fastball, an offering he worked inside to right-handed hitters, and incorporated a 79-81 mph changeup that he used as an out pitch but also early in the count deeper into his outing. He showed a curveball in the 77 mph range but didn’t use it much in game action, and when he missed with any pitch it was low in the zone — always a positive sign for a young pitcher.
His Appalachian League debut left quite the first impression on his pitching coach, Antonio Caceres.
“He threw a side here before his start, and he was okay in the side but was better in the game,” Caceres said. “He did a great job. I was impressed, not with the velocity but with the way he threw and the way he handled himself.
“Usually young kids, they get moved up and come here and they try to do too much. They think they’ve got to be even better and have to do more and I don’t think he did that. He stayed within himself, trusted his stuff and changed speeds when he needed to. It was nice to see.”
Offensively, Bluefield got on the board with a bang in the first inning, when Jorge Vega-Rosado and D.J. Davis pulled off a delayed double steal of second and home, respectively, to put Bluefield up 1-0. The score stayed that way until the fifth when, after Davis was caught stealing second base, back-to-back walks loaded the bases for slugging catcher Santiago Nessy, who roped the first pitch he saw to left field for a two-run single.
Bluefield really broke things open in the sixth, though. After left fielder Nico Taylor pulled his hands in on a first-pitch fastball to lead the inning off with a single to center, Emilio Guerrero helped execute a perfect hit and run with a ground ball single to right field. This put runners on the corners with one out for Davis, who put together an impressive at-bat, one that spoke volumes about his approach at the plate for his age.
After getting behind 0-2 with a pair of outside strikes, Davis fouled off a pitch before laying off a curveball, changeup and fastball to work the count full. Then, on the next pitch, he skied an outside fastball deep to the opposite field corner beyond the reach of Pulaski left fielder Phillips Castillo for a two-run standup triple. Though he’ll certainly look to add weight to his slender frame as he continues his career, Davis definitely has some pop in his bat and more than you think.
After Davis scored on a Vega-Rosado sacrifice fly, Bluefield kept coming with a furious two-out attack. After a walk and a pair of singles plated another run, Eric Arce battled back from an 0-2 count to muscle an outside curveball over the wall in right center for a towering three-run home run.
Right-handed reliever Colby Broussard came in to pitch in the seventh, and though his line read that he gave up two earned runs on four hits in three innings of work, he pitched better than that.
After falling behind 3-0 to lead off the seventh on three pitches low and outside, Broussard left a 3-1 fastball up and in to Henry, who promptly deposited the pitch into the trees with a towering home run to left field. After that, however, Broussard was dialed in, as he induced a first-pitch groundout before getting back-to-back swinging strikeouts on a pair of fastballs to end the inning.
After giving up a leadoff single in the eighth, Broussard uncorked a wild pitch in the next at-bat that advanced the runner to second and eventually to third on a groundout. Broussard made quick work of Mariners catcher Franklin Diaz after that, striking him out looking on three fastballs, which set up a two-out showdown with then-Pulaski slugger Dario Pizzano. Broussard started him off with back-to-back changeups before throwing a 1-1 fastball, which Pizzano roped to left field for a RBI single. What wasn’t mentioned in the box score, though, was that Pizzano didn’t actually single on a fly ball to left field, but on a potential inning-ending grounder instead that rolled right under the glove of Bluefield third baseman Emilio Guerrero. Broussard made things even more interesting when pitching to Jordy Lara after that, as a pair of wild pitches let Pizzano advance to third but another swinging strikeout ended the threat.
Broussard gave up another leadoff hit in the ninth, but retired the next three batters he faced to close out the game and earn his third save of the season. A tall right-hander that short-arms his delivery, Broussard sat 86-88 mph with his fastball and touched 89, while also mixing in a 75-78 mph changeup. He showed a low-70s curveball as well but never used the pitch a lot. Not only were Broussard’s five strikeouts on the night (four swinging, one looking) a season high, but his three-inning outing was one of his longest of the year as well.
Overall, Bluefield pounded out 10 runs on 13 hits, primarily due to a seven-run sixth inning. The contest was initially supposed to be the first game of a doubleheader, but with Bluefield having already played three doubleheaders in the previous four days and a rule from Minor League Baseball forbidding any team from playing more than three in a seven day period, the second game of the doubleheader was cancelled.
The game also turned out to be the final Appalachian League appearance for two Bluefield players, as second baseman Christian Lopes and catcher Santiago Nessy, along with pitcher Daniel Norris, were called up to Vancouver the following day.