JaysProspects http://jaysprospects.com A Blog of Toronto Blue Jays Prospects Interviews, Evaluations and News Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:13:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Kendall Graveman Close to Making Historyhttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/19/kendall-graveman-lansing-no-hitter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kendall-graveman-lansing-no-hitter http://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/19/kendall-graveman-lansing-no-hitter/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 15:51:07 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=9365 Lansing Lugnuts starter Kendall Graveman came close to making history Friday night. In Lansing’s  5-0 victory over the Beloit Snappers, Graveman pitched 8 1/3 hitless innings. The no-hitter was broken up by Snappers’ catcher Jose Chavez who hit a 1-out infield single. The ball took a tricky bounce that was tough for shortstop Dawel Lugo [...]

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Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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Kendall Graveman took a no-hitter into the 9th inning

Kendall Graveman took a no-hitter into the 9th inning

Lansing Lugnuts starter Kendall Graveman came close to making history Friday night. In Lansing’s  5-0 victory over the Beloit Snappers, Graveman pitched 8 1/3 hitless innings. The no-hitter was broken up by Snappers’ catcher Jose Chavez who hit a 1-out infield single. The ball took a tricky bounce that was tough for shortstop Dawel Lugo to play cleanly. After the hit, Graveman came out of the game before left-handed pitcher Griffin Murphy collected the final two outs of the contest to secure the win.

The great game comes as little surprise as Graveman has been the Lugnuts most consistent starter all season. The right hander is currently 1-0 with 18 strikeouts, sporting a sparkling 0.44 ERA through his first 20 1/3 inning in Michigan’s capital this season.

“I like Lansing a lot,” stated the 23-year old after his great game. “Last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect here. It’s been nice to come back and recognize some faces. The city is really nice.”

“It’s funny though, because we stick out like a sore thumb in Lansing. I’ve already had three people come up to Griffin Murphy and I and ask if we play baseball for the Lugnuts. The conversations go on from there, but everybody is friendly. It’s great.”

Currently, Graveman is the oldest member of the Lugnuts rotation and he’s embracing the opportunity to work with the Lugnuts talented young staff.

I think the younger guys look up to me from an experience standpoint…

“I think the younger guys look up to me from an experience standpoint,” explained Graveman. “We’re all a little family in the clubhouse, but personally for me I’ve experienced a little bit more on the pitching side of things. I’m not saying I’m better than them, but you can’t teach experience. I have experienced a lot in the game, maybe not in a professional role yet, but through other experiences and I try to learn things from them as well.”

The great season began for Graveman in spring training. While in Florida, Graveman only allowed one run this spring and was able to develop his breaking ball more. The great pitching in Dunedin was great to see, and should be expected to be witnessed again soon as Graveman should have a promotion to the Florida State League in his near future.

“Spring training went well,” Graveman explained. “It’s all new to me being my first one, but I came in feeling good. My body was rested. It felt good getting out there and competing again. I missed that in the off-season. It felt great facing hitters and playing some innings before coming back to Lansing. I only gave up one run in spring training. It went really well. I was working with Vince Horsman and Darold Knowles on my breaking ball trying to sharpen up my game. I feel my fastball command got better. Just a bunch of small things I worked on in spring which I took to a game setting and executed.”

Watch for Kendall Graveman as he continues to have great outings all season.

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Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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Kevin Nolan Starts 2014 In His Home Statehttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/09/kevin-nolan-fisher-cats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kevin-nolan-fisher-cats http://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/09/kevin-nolan-fisher-cats/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:27:32 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=9257 The 2014 Minor League Baseball season is underway, and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats opened up their season on the road Thursday night in Trenton, New Jersey. The 51 degree temperature in Trenton may have had some of the players  bundled in coats, vests, and winter hats, but for Kevin Nolan, the cold weather made [...]

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Patrick Cavanaugh

Patrick Cavanaugh

Patrick Cavanaugh is a 15-year-old sports journalist, covering the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for Jays Prospects. He is also the Voice of the Laconia Muskrats, one of the twelve teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He spends his summer traveling all over New England to call the 42 game schedule. Patrick has covered the Fisher Cats for various outlets since 2010. Follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Nolan, Kevin

Kevin Nolan

The 2014 Minor League Baseball season is underway, and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats opened up their season on the road Thursday night in Trenton, New Jersey. The 51 degree temperature in Trenton may have had some of the players  bundled in coats, vests, and winter hats, but for Kevin Nolan, the cold weather made him feel right at home.

“It’s pretty cold outside right now,” said Nolan, who grew accustomed to the beautiful Florida weather during Spring Training. “It’s great to be back.”

Nolan, 26, grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire and his name is well-known across the state. In his senior year at Nashua High School South, he was recognized as Gatorade’s New Hampshire Baseball Player of the Year. After his graduation in 2006, he moved on to Winthrop University, where he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays (20th round of Amateur Draft) during his junior year.

He started his climb through the Blue Jays organization in Lansing back in 2010. He moved on to play with Dunedin in 2012, and played in 120 games with the Fisher Cats in 2013. At the end of last season, Nolan was proud of his performance, as he racked up 118 hits, 60 RBI, and carried an average .262.

“I grew up here and have a lot of memories here,” said Nolan. “I am biased to New Hampshire. It is nice to play in front of my family and some friends.”

So far in his career, Nolan has been named as an all-star three times (once in the Eastern League and twice in the Florida State League). Nolan has not seen any time in the Major Leagues yet. He spent some of his spring playing with the Blue Jays at their camp and was able to showcase his talents in front of some of his possible future teammates. Another person he got to play in front of for the first time was Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham.

“I’m very, very impressed,” said Meacham. “He’s a natural shortstop, he makes tough plays look easy.”

After arriving in Manchester last weekend, Kevin Nolan took some time to talk with JaysProspects while the team waited for their bags to be unloaded from the plane.

“We have a great group of guys this year and everyone is getting along,” said Nolan. “Right now, we are excited. We have a lot of great baseball players and we are anxious to get the season going.”

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats kicked off their season in New Jersey on Thursday with a 6-0 victory. After three more games with the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees AA affiliate), the team will travel to Pennsylvania for three games against the Reading Fightin Phils (Philadelphia Phillies AA affiliate). The Fisher Cats home opener will be on Thursday, April 10 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium against the Binghamton Mets. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM.

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Patrick Cavanaugh
Patrick Cavanaugh
Patrick Cavanaugh is a 15-year-old sports journalist, covering the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for Jays Prospects. He is also the Voice of the Laconia Muskrats, one of the twelve teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He spends his summer traveling all over New England to call the 42 game schedule. Patrick has covered the Fisher Cats for various outlets since 2010. Follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Ybarra Poised For Big Year With Fisher Catshttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/02/tyler-ybarra-fisher-cats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tyler-ybarra-fisher-cats http://jaysprospects.com/2014/04/02/tyler-ybarra-fisher-cats/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 20:18:52 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=9120 One of the last remaining products of the 2008 draft still in the Blue Jays organization, Ybarra is a left-handed reliever that’s seen an increase in his prospect stock in recent years. After putting himself on the map with Lansing in 2012, he racked up a 29-inning scoreless streak in Dunedin last year and is ready to dominate with New Hampshire.

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Jared Macdonald

Jared Macdonald

Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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Tyler Ybarra

Ybarra owns a career 2.67 ERA in 165 career minor league innings.  (Jim Goins)

One of the few Toronto draft picks from 2008 still with the organization today, Tyler Ybarra is a left-handed reliever that’s seen a pleasant increase in his prospect stock in recent years.

Selected by the Blue Jays in the 43rd round with the 1,299th overall selection, Ybarra made his pro debut the following year in 2009 with mixed results in the Gulf Coast League before taking the entire 2010 season off due to personal reasons. The time off appeared to work for him, as he reported to Bluefield in 2011 and allowed just 34 hits in 46 innings, with 54 strikeouts to 16 walks.

It wasn’t until Ybarra donned a Lansing Lugnuts uniform, however, that he really started to get noticed. At the start of the season, he was throwing his fastball in the 88-90 mph range. By the end of the year and after some mechanical changes, though, he was being clocked as high as 96; impressive enough as a southpaw but even more so given such a big increase. With scouts flocking to Lansing that year to see the infamous starting pitching trio of Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino, Ybarra was quietly generating press box chatter among evaluators as an unexpected find and major league arm.

“When I signed I was still a young man, not quite developed into my body yet,” Ybarra said. “I was doing some things wrong but I’ve tightened up my delivery and it has produced stronger velocity.”

Ybarra short arms the ball in his delivery with great deception before fiercely whipping his arm through a low three-quarter slot to get the zip he needs on his pitches. Unsurprisingly, he’s had mild injury concerns because of this, so the Blue Jays are managing his workload and days off rather closely, but there’s no denying the quality of Ybarra’s stuff and that he’s no longer that far away from the majors.

Complementing his fastball with a surprisingly deep secondary arsenal of slider, curveball and changeup, Ybarra was practically unhittable in 2013 while pitching for Dunedin. Managing a crisp 1.95 ERA/2.64 FIP in a career-high 55 innings, the Kansas native only gave up 30 hits and didn’t hit a batter or surrender a home run all season. After managing reverse splits against lefties and righties in 2012 with Lansing, Ybarra turned things around and limited left-handed hitters to a mere .387 OPS last season.

More impressively, Ybarra put together a streak of nearly 29 scoreless innings from May 21 to July 7, when he limited opposing batters to just seven hits (.080 average) and a .322 OPS. 15 of his 16 appearances during the streak lasted more than one inning, and nine of them were for six outs or more.

“I stuck with my routine that I figured out,” the 24-year-old said. “I started out rough but I really put my nose to the grindstone and was hoping to get out of the funk that I was in. I finally found a routine that worked and I tried to ride it as long as I could.”

Having just turned 24 in December, Ybarra has successfully made up for lost time and will slot in nicely into the Fisher Cats’ bullpen, where all signs point to him having another solid year.

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Jared Macdonald
Jared Macdonald
Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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Sanchez Ready to Leave 2013 Season Behindhttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/aaron-sanchez-dunedin-shoulder-blister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aaron-sanchez-dunedin-shoulder-blister http://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/aaron-sanchez-dunedin-shoulder-blister/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 19:42:02 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=9255 With all eyes on him, No. 1 prospect Aaron Sanchez was limited to just 86 innings last season. In Part 2 of our series, the right-hander talks about the adversity he was forced to deal with in 2013.

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Jared Macdonald

Jared Macdonald

Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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aaron sanchez blue jays

Sanchez will open the 2014 season in New Hampshire. (Will Hennessy/Hennessy Imagery)

After blockbuster trades with the Marlins and Mets following the 2012 season vaulted Aaron Sanchez to the top of Blue Jays prospect lists, all eyes were on him as he kicked off his 2013 campaign in Florida.
This second installment of our series looks at the adversity the California native was forced to deal with this past season.

Part 1 – On Trades, Being Untouchable, and Command Issues

At the beginning of last season, it was so easy for people to envision in their minds. Aaron Sanchez, the long and lean top prospect with front-of-the-rotation stuff, would dominate the Advanced-A level much like he did the year before in the Midwest League and pitch under the lights in New Hampshire by season’s end.

Instead, two unexpected injuries and bouts of inclement weather wreaked havoc on the right-hander’s pitching routine and limited him to just 86 1/3 regular season innings in Dunedin.

First, discomfort up near Sanchez’s right collarbone halted his season in the middle of May. As the crown jewel of Toronto’s minor league system, he was shut down by the Blue Jays and wound up missing a month of action.

“I think the shoulder issue wasn’t a big deal,” Sanchez told JaysProspects. “It was just shoulder tightness and I went out, I sat down and then I went out again and my velo dropped and it just felt like I didn’t have anything behind it.

“It wasn’t anything serious—if I was low 80’s or something like that I would have been scared—but I was still in the 90’s, I still had life, but being with the shoulder and something I use every day, [the Blue Jays] were taking caution with me.”

Adding insult to, well, injury was that not long after Sanchez came off the disabled list, his pitching pals from Lansing in 2012, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard, were both promoted to Double-A by their new organizations. Nicolino would go on to earn Florida State League Pitcher of the Year honors while Syndergaard wound up dominating the opposition at both levels he pitched at.

When my time comes, I’m going to be ready

Since Sanchez hadn’t pitched in over a month and was being handled with extreme care, he had to slowly work his way back after coming off the disabled list. After averaging close to five innings per start before hitting the DL, over a month went by following his return before he could pitch into the fifth inning again.

“You get to the field and you can’t do anything but run, when you know you’re fine and you want to get going,” Sanchez said of his time on the disabled list. “Then when I came back off the DL, it was like hey, three innings, four innings, until I got stretched out. Then once I got stretched out, I missed a start for rain, or I got pushed back a start because I hadn’t pitched in six or seven days.

“My first start [back from the DL] it was just a relief just being out there competing. It’s what I love to do.”

After finally logging a five-inning outing since returning from the DL, Sanchez’s very next start on July 28 was his worst of the season. Unable to make it out of the first inning, he retired only two batters and was tagged with five earned runs on two hits with four walks.

When the news of the early exit broke on Twitter, an uneasiness emerged from some Blue Jays fans and comparisons to Nicolino and Syndergaard reared their ugly heads again. The thing that no one knew, though, is that Sanchez had been given something specific to work on in that game, regardless of the result.

“I remember it was against Jupiter and I went like two thirds of an inning and I walked four guys,” Sanchez recalls. “It was just like hey, let’s throw all sinkers, and that’s not my game. My game is attack with the four seam, strike people out, and not give up that many hits.”

Two starts later, there was more cause for concern when Sanchez recorded his shortest outing of the season on August 7. Facing just his third batter of the game after issuing a leadoff walk and getting a ground out, the California native called for a trainer and walked off the field. After his sinker had reportedly caused inflammation in his fingers, Sanchez wound up developing a blister on his throwing hand.

Once again, he downplayed the incident.

“I don’t think the blister was a big thing. It was more, ‘hey, it’s getting close to playoffs, we really want you to pitch in playoffs’,” Sanchez said. “It was more of a skin that was coming off the top. It wasn’t anything deep or crazy, but enough for [the team] to want me to be able to be ready for the playoffs when they came.”

As if the shoulder issue and blister weren’t enough, Sanchez ran into some unexpected trouble with the elements near the tail end of the season, which messed up his routine even further.

raining

Trouble with the elements at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin.

Slated to start August 20 against Daytona, Sanchez was pushed back a day after a torrential downpour hit the Gulf Coast and the game was postponed. Then the following day, he was scheduled to follow rehabbing Blue Jays reliever Luis Perez only to have that game cancelled as well. When a third consecutive game—which Sanchez was ready to pitch in—was rained out after that, the right-hander wound up getting pushed back two more days to the 24th.

On 10 days rest and after a 35-minute rain delay, Sanchez finally began his scheduled start on that stormy night of August 24. It was not worth the wait, however, as it was one of his worst outings of the season.

After breezing through the first two innings, a pivotal at-bat started off the third inning. Facing Manatees center fielder D’Vontrey Richardson first, Sanchez clawed his way back to a full count after falling behind early. Two foul balls and a high, 94-mile-per-hour fastball later, and Richardson was aboard with a leadoff walk. After a well-executed hit and run put runners on the corners, a surefire double play ball went under the glove of Dunedin third baseman Gustavo Pierre and prolonged what became a six-run inning.

Sanchez departed the game charged with six runs (three earned) on five hits in 2 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts and tying a season high with four walks.

All in all, the top prospect has taken all of the adversity he endured last season in stride and certainly learned from the experiences.

“I think it makes you mentally stronger, I think for me it did,” Sanchez said. “Obviously wanting to be out there competing with your teammates, and they have your back every fifth day and you want to have their back every fifth day. It’s tough, you just feel like you’re a lost cause because you can’t really do anything.

“It’s something I can’t control. I’m just going to go out there and work hard every day and get better and when my time comes, I’m going to be ready. There’s not much more I can do but just go out there and be myself, compete, and get better.”

Author information

Jared Macdonald
Jared Macdonald
Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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Kramer Champlin: Primed for Promotionhttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/kramer-champlin-lugnuts-2013/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kramer-champlin-lugnuts-2013 http://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/kramer-champlin-lugnuts-2013/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 13:01:42 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=8854 Returning to the Lansing Lugnuts in 2013, right-handed reliever Kramer Champlin talks about his successful season.

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Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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kramer champlin blue jays

After two seasons in Lansing, Champlin looks bound for Dunedin this season. (Scott Mapes/Lansing Lugnuts)

After two successful seasons in the Midwest League, right-handed pitcher Kramer Champlin seems poised for a promotion in 2014. The Washington native made tremendous strides with his fastball command in 2013, an area the Blue Jays organization wanted to see him improve upon over 2012.

Champlin has been a model of consistency in Lansing over the past two seasons. While a member of the Lugnuts, the 24-year old pitcher spent time as both a long reliever and a starter. Last season, Champlin pitched 81 innings, registering 73 strikeouts to just 16 walks.

“I feel I had a really good season in 2013.” he said. “I had a couple games I wish I could erase, but for the most part I feel I improved on a lot of things and it showed throughout the year.”

The right-hander had the opportunity to make two starts in 2013 and his start on June 8 at West Michigan was the best start by a Lugnuts pitcher all season. One out away from a seven-inning perfect game in Game 2 of a doubleheader, Whitecaps infielder Devon Travis squeaked a single through the infield to break up the milestone. Champlin still finished with a one-hit complete game, and it’s one of his favorite moments of his career to date.

“My game on June 8 was the highlight of my season,” Champlin said. “Coming close to a perfect game was a really cool thing to do, especially at this level. I will remember that game forever.”

Prior to the game, Champlin joked with his catcher Seth Conner that he was going to throw a perfect game. Conner remembers the game fondly and states that catching a game like that was a huge thrill for him and gave him confidence as a catcher.

“Catching Kramer’s big game was a lot of fun,” Conner told JaysProspects with a smile. “Kramer had everything working that day. He was throwing a lot of strikes, which as a catcher makes my job easy. I sat back there and set up a target and he kept hitting my glove. As a catcher that is one of the fun things to do, having a pitcher on their game like that and knowing he has a chance to make history. It was nice to be a little piece of it.

“I remember my last at-bat I lined out to right-field and I wasn’t even mad about it. I just wanted to get back out there and help him reach that goal.”

Excited for Champlin’s development as a pitcher, Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman has enjoyed the opportunity to work with the the right-hander for two seasons and is happy with the fastball command he showed throughout the 2013 season.

“Kramer has done everything to warrant a promotion,” explained Horsman. “[In 2012], Kramer was a good pitcher, but his fastball command wasn’t great, and he was able to get his outs because he has a great breaking ball that he can throw for strikes. In 2013, Kramer commanded his fastball a lot better and he gave us a lot of innings out of the bullpen and he deserves a promotion.

“I wish him all the best in the future.”

In August, Champlin got a brief taste of the Florida State League, pitching 6 1/3 innings with the Dunedin Blue Jays following a promotion in the summer. After throwing a scoreless inning in his debut, he unfortunately allowed a combined 14 runs (eight earned) in his next two appearances. Champlin would’ve preferred better numbers, but he enjoyed the experience and he took away the knowledge of what he needed to improve on for the future.

“I liked pitching in Dunedin a lot and I hope to be back there this year,” he said. “I didn’t pitch as well as I would’ve liked there so they sent me back down in 2013, but it was nice to get a taste of it and I know what I need to work on for 2014.”

After going to Cabo for three weeks, Champlin completed a busy off-season where he split his training between Arizona and California to get ready for the season. Watch for him to take the next step in 2014.

Author information

Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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Jorge Flores Willing to Play Anywherehttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/jorge-flores-lugnuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jorge-flores-lugnuts http://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/31/jorge-flores-lugnuts/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:31:35 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=8788 At 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, Blue Jays infield prospect Jorge Flores is determined to show everybody that determination and hard work can prevail over anything.

Author information

Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford

Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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jorge flores blue jays

After 58 games in Lansing, Flores earned a promotion to Dunedin last season. (Scott Mapes/Lansing Lugnuts)

There’s a major emphasis on size in sports today, but that doesn’t faze Dunedin Blue Jays infielder Jorge Flores one bit. At 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, he is determined to show everybody that determination and hard work can pay off.

Known as a grinder within the Blue Jays organization, Flores has the ability to play solid defense at either shortstop and second base. The Arizona native takes pride in the defensive side of his game and is always working at improving in the field.

“Shortstop is where I’m most comfortable but I’m decent at second, too. Anywhere the coaches want me to play I’m going to play,” he said. “I feel my defense improved throughout the 2013 season, but I’m always trying to get better at it for sure.

“You can never be too good at defense.”

At the plate, Flores can hit the ball to the gaps surprisingly well given his frame and has a patient approach at the plate. In the end, rather than try and go for a big hit, the 22-year-old is just focused on not recording an out and helping his team.

“At the plate I’m focused at hitting the ball to every field and getting on base to help my teammates,” he said. “I’m not focused at hitting the ball out of the park, but I have decent power for my size. I’m looking to get on base and help any way I can. I’m a grinder player.”

This determination is something Kenny Graham, Flores’s hitting coach in Lansing last season, spoke highly of,  stating every team could use a player like him.

“You look at him initially and you want to judge him right out of the chute because of his size, but he’s a competitor,” stated Graham. “Flores shows up every day and plays very hard. He’s the kind of player you want on your team. Flores grinds at-bats out, helps his teammates in the field, and has a lot of power in his bat for his size. We just want to help him with his consistency and help him become an even better hitter.”

In Lansing, Flores batted .247 with 17 doubles and 18 RBI in 194 at-bats. Earning a promotion to Dunedin in late July, he hit .193 with five doubles and a triple in 57 at-bats. Perhaps the most noticeable stats, though, were his 29 walks to 36 strikeouts in 77 combined games between the two levels.

After staying in shape this past off-season by working out and playing with a team in Mexico over the winter, look for Flores to pick up where he left off in Dunedin this coming season.

Author information

Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford
Brian Crawford has covered the Lansing Lugnuts for the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) and will continue to bring all the latest Lugnuts news to you in the future.

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Untouchable Aaron Sanchez: Always Improvinghttp://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/30/aaron-sanchez-untouchable-command/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aaron-sanchez-untouchable-command http://jaysprospects.com/2014/03/30/aaron-sanchez-untouchable-command/#comments Sun, 30 Mar 2014 15:03:14 +0000 http://jaysprospects.com/?p=9209 After two blockbuster trades prior to the 2013 season, Aaron Sanchez became the Blue Jays' top prospect. We caught up with him to talk about the trades, being untouchable, and the command issues that he's long been criticized for.

Author information

Jared Macdonald

Jared Macdonald

Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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aaron sanchez lugnuts

After two big off-season trades, all eyes were on Aaron Sanchez in 2013. (Jared Macdonald photo)

After an impressive big league spring training, there will be even more eyes on top Blue Jays prospect Aaron Sanchez as he gets set to kick off the 2014 season.
This is the first of a three-part series with the right-hander, on being untouchable and command issues. The next installments will delve into why he was limited to just 96 regular season innings last year and his quest for more in 2014.

When Aaron Sanchez threw his final pitch as a member of the Lansing Lugnuts in August of 2012, little did he know that his personal life and the entire makeup of the Blue Jays’ minor league system would change very soon.

That November, the Blue Jays and Marlins finalized their blockbuster deal that had been in the works since the summer. Toronto shipped seven players to Florida — a package that included Sanchez’s closest friend in the minor leagues, left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino. One month after that, Lansing teammate Noah Syndergaard was sent packing to the Mets along with catcher Travis d’Arnaud in the trade that netted the Blue Jays R.A. Dickey.

“It was so hidden for me, I had no clue what was going on,” Sanchez said of the trades. “It was just like, wow. Then all of a sudden the rumbles come up that they’re getting R.A. in the deal with New York and it’s down to Gose, me, and Noah and they want d’Arnaud, d’Arnaud’s the centerpiece of this trade, and I get a text like ‘hey are you getting traded?”

Sanchez, Nicolino, and Syndergaard were, of course, the infamous Lugnuts trio that caused droves of scouts to flock to Lansing in 2012. Drafted in the same year and roommates as they worked their way up the minor league ladder together, the threesome, while dominant on the field, had become incredibly close off of it.

While opinions on who the best member was varied between scouts and front office staff alike, Sanchez turned out to be the one that Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos just couldn’t let go of.

“It does give you a reassuring sense of feel that hey man, these guys really do like what they see or what you’ve got,” Sanchez said of being the last man standing of the group. “It just kind of gives you that extra boost of confidence to getting to where you want to be, and that’s Toronto.”

I’m going to walk a few guys, and that’s just my game. It’s not like I’m made up to be this, wild thing.

While a case could be made for any of three, Sanchez was deemed untouchable for good reason.

Touted as a tall, projectable right-hander with effortless velocity out of high school, Sanchez found that a more intense change to his off-season workouts following his 2011 season resulted in more velocity on his fastball. So by the time he had worked his way into his first full season as a pro, Sanchez found his fastball eventually sitting in plus-plus (94-96 mph) territory and, on occasion, touching even higher.

Sanchez, however, also had a changeup in his arsenal; a seldom-used offering given his ability to overpower inexperienced hitters with the fastball early in his pro career. Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman knew that mindset wouldn’t fly in the Midwest League, so he worked diligently with Sanchez on throwing his changeup more often and in counts he never imagined before, such as 0-2 or 3-2.

All in all, Sanchez was dominant for the Lugnuts that season. Being used in a piggybacking system for the first part of the year, he didn’t allow a run until early May during his seventh outing of the season. He finished the year with a tidy 2.49 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings, while limiting opposing hitters to a .204 batting average.

While Sanchez is perhaps the only untouchable prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, it’s certainly not going to affect the way the right-hander goes about his business.

“It’s kind of cool, but I’m not going to change my mindset, I’m not going to change my work ethic because of that,” the right-hander told JaysProspects. “I’m not going to be a person that tries to take advantage of an organization to getting out of things because of where I might stand. I’m never, ever going to be that way and I won’t ever be that way.”

In one off-season, the ‘Lansing Three’ had been whittled down to one. With a combination of pitching and position player prospects having been sent packing, that meant that Sanchez was not only considered the top Blue Jays pitching prospect now, but also the No. 1 prospect in Toronto’s entire minor league system. If the California native thought he had garnered a lot of attention while playing for Lansing, that was going to be nothing compared to the number of people that would be following him in 2013.

“Maybe I’m being looked at a little bit more because of the trades that happened and we let go a lot of talent, but I don’t think there’s more pressure on myself,” Sanchez said.

Early on in his time with Dunedin, it looked like Sanchez hadn’t missed a beat since making the jump from the Midwest League to the Florida State League. In his first month with the D-Jays, the right-hander managed a 2.60 ERA in seven starts, had limited opposing hitters to a paltry .163 average, and tallied 34 strikeouts to 10 walks in almost 35 innings.

aaron sanchez lansing

Nicolino (left) and Syndergaard (center) have since been traded away. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

Much like when he arrived in Lansing, though, Sanchez had been seeing results from using his fastball the majority of the time, which prompted some discussions with Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles and other members of the Jays’ brass.

“I think the toughest part for me was the beginning of the year, I was attacking guys with my fastball and I wasn’t getting hit around,” Sanchez said. “Then they kind of sat me down and said ‘hey, look, you need to throw your off-speed stuff, for the development side we need to get your off-speed stuff going’.

“So if I would give up four or five hits in a game, three would be off either a curveball or a changeup. It sucks because I know I can go out there and dominate with my fastball, but then again I have to look at the big picture and where I want to be. So that was a little difficult to grasp, with being so stubborn with getting away with my best stuff. And that’s my game plan, if you’re going to hit me, you’re going to beat me with my best stuff.

While it’s hard to argue that Sanchez’s stuff is some of the best in all of the minor leagues, the main criticism against him since turning pro has been inconsistent command and a high walk rate as a result.

“I know the big issue [with me] is ‘oh he walks too many guys’, but it’s competitive walks,” he said. “There’s been times where umpires have been fooled, there’s been times where there’s been 12-pitch at-bats and it’s just miss here, miss there.”

Those that saw Sanchez pitch last season know he has a point. He finished the season with 40 walks in 86 1/3 regular season innings, but not every single one was a free pass on four pitches; there were full counts and foul ball battles lost. There was also that fact that, in addition to adding a sinker to his repertoire, the Blue Jays tinkered with mechanical changes to Sanchez’s delivery during the season, which would likely require an adjustment period as well.

Nevertheless, the sheer numbers speak loudly, and it’s something the 21-year-old is well aware of.

“That’s my fault, I’m the one that’s out there doing it,” Sanchez said of his walk rate. “But I think if [people] were here to watch and see, it would be a little bit of a different story because I’m around the zone and I attack hitters.”

In his first two seasons as a pro from 2010-11, Sanchez issued 43 walks in 79 1/3 innings for an average of nearly five per nine frames. In 2012, Sanchez led his Lugnuts team in walks (51) and hit batsmen (7), and finished with a walk rate that was 51 percent above the Midwest League average. Last season, Sanchez finished with a career-best 4.2 walks per nine innings, but his walk rate was still 31% above the average for the Florida State League.

While the mechanical adjustments Sanchez made this past season—specifically shortening his stride and remaining more upright in his delivery to pitch on more of a downhill plane to avoid consistently missing high and arm side—should help bring his walk rate further down this coming season, the reality is that given his power-pitcher stuff and the amount of movement he has on all of his pitches, some walks are inevitable.

“Everything moves with Sanchez, and that’s the issue. If it moves too much, he’s going to get balls called and walk a few hitters,” former pro scout Bernie Pleskoff told MLB.com.

For those that haven’t had the luxury of seeing Sanchez pitch in person, the data, albeit a small sample, backs up the amount of movement he has on his pitches. As Kyle Matte pointed out over at Drunk Jays Fans using limited Pitch F/X data from the Arizona Fall League, there are few pitches from major league hurlers that can match the movement Sanchez’s offerings have.

“It’s not like I’m made up to be this, wild thing,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “I’m going to walk a few guys, and that’s just my game.”

Author information

Jared Macdonald
Jared Macdonald
Jared is the editor-in-chief of JaysProspects. A credentialed media member with each affiliate in Toronto's minor league system, he has seen nearly every Blue Jays prospect in person, using information from coaches, scouts, and players to add to his content on the site. His work has been featured in the Toronto Star and on MLB Trade Rumors, among others. Email him anytime at jared@jaysprospects.com.

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