Managing the Farm, Blue Jays new Philosophy

Jays From the Couch explains the lack of early prospect movement within the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, with a look at management’s new Philosophy of managing the farm

 

Heading into Spring Training there was talk was a ‘New Philosophy’ would be implemented how the Toronto Blue Jays Minor League system would handle it’s prospects. The philosophy would be one with a renewed commitment to developing/strengthening the Toronto Blue Jays farm system through a patient approach. Apparently, Mark Shapiro focuses on developing his prospects slowly, allowing them to marinate at each level. This is in stark contrast to what Blue Jays fans began to expect during the last 2-3 years under former GM, Alex Anthopoulos.

Many of us took this chatter with a grain of salt. Too often do we see player/farm development take a back seat to winning now.

Under Anthopoulos prospects were challenged with promotions if they showed an ability to put up good numbers at a lower level, with little focus on playing the game the ‘right way’ or being a well rounded player. For the fans and media, this approach was great. It gave fan, bloggers and Blue Jays Minor League enthusiasts something to write and something to anticipate.

Will prospect X be able to handle the jump from Florida State League to Eastern League?

Prospect X is mowing down the competition at level X, when will he get promoted?

These were some of the fun debates we could have while AA was at the helm.

Eight weeks into the first minor league season with Shapiro and Ross Atkins running the show and it’s been obvious that player movement will be at a different, slower pace. Players are going to need to prove that they are indeed ready to take the next step, rather than just putting up numbers.

So in a nutshell, every promotion will be earned. A prospect’s performance will dictate when they will take the next step, be it during the season or repeating a level next year.

This philosophy will slow down the development for low-level and high level prospects alike and will allow the Blue Jays to fill their system back up. It will also allow the Blue Jays to have prospects that have worked on more than just putting up numbers.

Look at how Dalton Pompey and Anthony Gose, considered high-level prospects, were rushed and mishandled, versus how Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins, not considered prospects at all, were allowed time to develop more slowly without the pressure of being rushed…..okay maybe Pillar was rushed a little.

What we’ve seen so far this season is that players are being given every opportunity to work through their issues to correct their struggles. Ryan Borucki made six uneventful starts with the Dunedin Blue Jays, despite not pitching an inning above Lo-A. In 20 innings, Borucki amassed a 1-4 record with a 14.40ERA while allowing opponents to hit .421 off him. Since his demotion to Lansing, Borucki has looked much better, going 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA in 3 starts. Opponents are hitting just .242.

In the past, management would’ve quickly dispatched a struggling pitcher/hitter to a lower level after just a few weeks. Jacob Anderson is another example of a struggling prospect who continues to get at-bats despite being over-matched. The 23-yr-old outfielder has struggled to stay on the field since being drafted in 2011, playing 88 games between the Gulf Coast League and Bluefield. Instead of starting Anderson in Vancouver, management decided to start him in A-Ball with the Lugnuts. In 25 games, Anderson is hitting .135 with 3 doubles, a triple and a home run.

Anderson and Borucki aren’t alone, many Toronto prospects have struggled to start the season. Despite these struggles, management has shown confidence and patience that they can work things out rather than having a quick hook.

We also have seen a cautious approach at promoting players who started the season off with a bang. Some have continued to excel while other have slowed. After hitting .333 in April, Andrew Guillotte looked like he was ready for the Florida State League. Rather than being rushed, Guillotte remained at top the Lugnuts lineup into May, where he’s hit just .236 in 24 games.

Pitchers Colton Turner and Francisco Rios performed well in April and were rewarded. Turner has responded. The 25 yr-old reliever has not allowed a run in 21.2 innings to start the year, adding 9.2 scoreless inning with Dunedin to his already impressive 12 scoreless innings in Lansing. Rios dominated Midwest hitters to a tune of 2-0 and 1.20 ERA in 6 starts. Since his promotion to Dunedin, Rios is 2-2 with a 2.54 ERA.

It seems that management won’t be promoting prospects unless they feel certain that they’ll succeed.

This management team appears set on building a winning organization with an emphasis on player development and not just numbers; therefore, the performance of Toronto’s prospects must be consistent and predictable. This patient approach should allow Blue Jay prospects time to develop the fundamentals and a work ethic to succeed not just in the level they are at but at every level. This will allow prospects to truly to build up their confidence which is conducive for long-term success.

The trouble with taking the patient approach is that fans are fickle creatures, they want immediate results. If they see a prospect tearing up Double-A, they want to see them moved to Triple-A, regardless if that player started the year in Advanced-A.

So a word of warning Blue Jays fans. If you see Anthony Alford or any other high level prospect repeat a level, don’t despair. It could just mean that there is more for him to learn at that level before he meets his goal. Meeting your goals is a true indication of success.

 

 

 

 

*Feature Image Photo Credit: Larry Koester under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

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Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn’t cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I’m more right.

Ryan Mueller

Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn’t cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I’m more right.

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  • Arjonn

    Taking more time to moveMoving prospects through the farm system

    • shaun doyle

      The flip side of that would be rushing them up to be ready to fill in for the exodus. Promoting them before they’re ready.

      I’m sure you’re not saying that. But, moving them quicker because of potential free agents could be risky. When it comes to prospects, perhaps, you have to look at them in isolation.

      • Arjonn

        My main thought is that it seems like a much broader matter than applying a blanket-like philosophy. For one thing, assessing MLB readiness is basically a question of how ready any given prospect is. It’s not exactly rare to see prospects, even highly-rated ones, fail to stick in MLB the first time they’re called up.

        In the Jays’ case, the situation appears more problematic than average. Considering the players who may not be back next year, the big-contract ones who will be and the dearth of prospects we can be confident about as contributors at the MLB level in 2017 or even 2018, it’s not too difficult to wonder about the Jays’ chances of being a serious contender in at least the next couple of seasons while the farm system is presumably being strengthened.

        • RyanMueller

          The Rays have done it for years with their pitchers, where they are expected to throw x amount pitches before moving on to the majors.
          I don’t think that this management team will hold a player back just for the sake of holding them back, but I also hope that they wouldn’t rush them just to fill a void left by departing FA’s, as Shaun stated above about prospects not being ready.
          If Jose Bautista leaves, he will be replaced by another. Maybe Pompey will be given a chance. Maybe Saunders gets another contract that keeps him in Blue Jays uniform til the farm can produce enough fruit.
          We get hung up on what we have now and loss site of what can happen in the off-season. Will Jose’s or EE replace replace their production. Probably not, but that doesn’t mean this team will be fighting for last place either.
          thanks for the comment/discussion Arjonn.

          • Arjonn

            In general, I favor giving prospects more time in the minors to improve the odds they’ll be ready when they are promoted. However, in specific situations, the pros and cons aren’t always the same. So in practice, the question is where the balance point lies, and the answer can vary depending on situational variables.

            You’re right to point out that losing a player doesn’t mean the production from his roster spot drops to 0. That said, it’s difficult to project losing JB, for example, and being able to replace him with a player who can be expected to be as productive. So, it seems likely the Jays will get less out of RF in 2017. What’s more, the thin FA class makes it fairly hard to see making up the difference through an upgrade at another position.

            I’m not saying this is a good reason for the team to rush their prospects. But rushing isn’t binary; it’s a matter of degree. So, in the long-term view, I’d certainly prefer to see the Jays become a team that tends a bit slower developing its prospects so they’re more ready when they arrive in MLB. But in the shorter 2017-18 time frame, part of me wouldn’t object to moving some faster than I would if I were only looking longer-term. It’s a matter of which prospects and how much faster.

          • RyanMueller

            All fair points; unfortunately, at the moment there don’t seem to many prospects in the system that warrant this accelerated treatment. I’d love to see Alford placed on an accelerated timeline as to replace JB in RF but after suffering a knee injury in th first game he is just starting to show signs of the player he was last year, hitting around 300 and striking out as much.
            Smith Jr. and Fields shouldn’t be considered in the same replacement capacity and Pompey has lost his power stroke since reaching Triple-A.

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  • Jason Smith

    I think too often players stagnate because they feel powerless and stuck at a level when they have proved they are good enough for a promotion. There is a fine line between rushing guys and hurting their development and promoting them so that they continue to be challenged and improve.

    • shaun doyle

      It’s a tricky game, for sure. I think it’s been said, but having a hard and fast rule about prospects may not be the way to go. Treat them all on an individual basis

    • RyanMueller

      This is not going to come out right, please don’t take offense. I could careless if a prospects feelings are hurt because they ‘feel’ it’s their time to move up to the next level. Every prospect should feel that way, they should be confident in their ability to excel and exceed exceptions at every level. If management feels that a prospect isn’t ready because he isn’t throwing enough change ups, but he owns a 5-0 record and 1.54 ERA and is leading his league in K’s, then throw more change ups.
      There’s a reason why coaching ask players to work on certain aspects of their game. Thinking that remaining at one level for an entire year while dominating the league, as Ryan McBroom did last season, is going to stall the development of prospect, isn’t not true IMO. I think rushing them is more detrimental than being over cautious, but there are exceptions of course; hence, why there are 21-yr-olds and 27-yr-olds making their major league debuts. Development is never linear.

  • John

    It’s such a tough and sensitive topic. I agree don’t advance a player if they aren’t ready but at the same time, it’s tough to see a Major League bull pen struggle and throw away saves. I think it’s time for minor league pitching and player coordinators to crack down and hone in on what specific skills players are lacking. Communication is key, and after countless interviews of our young talent, they are still starting each day blind and without guidance on where the “front office” wants them to be. If we want our team to succeed we have to provide the extra attention.

    Also, WE HAVE ZERO LEFTIES. Our triple A are old balls and we continue to let guys rack up their ERA when others have proven to be worthy and should be considered for advancement.