Join Jays From the Couch, as we review four middle infielders which didn’t make this year’s Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospect List
Every year baseball fanatics put their heads together in an attempt to separate Top Prospects from Organizational Fillers. What should be an easy task, quickly turns into an internal struggle, especially for me. You see I am very very biased when it comes to prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays system. I think they should all be on they should all be on Top Prospect Lists, therefore, I spend more time moving names up and down lists than I should.
It’s due to this internal struggle, I feel obligated to fully inform/introduce the Jays From the Couch readers of potential prospects which don’t show up on our Jays From the Couch 2017 Top Prospect List (link). I can’t list every prospect, that’s crazy. The prospects I’ll cover, either had good years, have appeared on other Top Prospect Lists, or quite simply I think they are worth recognizing.
In part 1 we have a look at a guy with a pair of MVP awards to his credit, a form childhood prodigy, his brother, and lastly, a guy with solid 2016 numbers.
Christian joined the Blue Jays system through the draft in 2011. A 7th round pick, Christian Lopes is a 5-year minor league veteran. Lopes spent the last 2 seasons splitting time between Advance-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.
He was promoted to the Fisher Cats on April 28th after starting 2016 with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League. He played 108 games with the Fisher Cats setting career highs in runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, BB, K, and SB.
Lopes appeared to gain confidence as the season wore on, hitting .343 with 6 doubles, a triple and 2 HR in August. He hit .309 with 11 doubles, a triple and 2 HR Post All-Star break versus .282, 19 doubles, a triple and HR Pre All-Star break.
Lopes provided the Fisher Cats with a consistent OBP presence at the top of the order batting .309 and posting a .369 OBP out of the leadoff spot.
.283BA, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 6 HR, 56 RBI, 44/83 BB/K and 10 SB
The next step for Christian Lopes appears to be Triple-A. The current Bisons roster would also indicate that Lopes will be joining Buffalo. Another solid season out of Lopes could shift him out of organizational infielder over to potential Major Leaguer. He has struggled when taking on each new level, 2017 won’t be any different; however, Christian’s baseball IQ will allow him to make the proper adjustment at Triple-A and should finish the year at this level. Look for him to be added to the 40-man roster next off-season.
First on the list is MiLB veteran, Jon Berti. Drafted in 2011 Berti moved quickly through the system before hovering between Buffalo and New Hampshire for the past 3 seasons.
Berti has seen the most time at 2nd (448GP) over his minor league career but turned himself into a very versatile player over the years. He has played CF, LF, SS, 3B, and 2B in 2016 which has allowed him to get his legs into the lineup. Despite losing time to symptoms related to a concussion suffered at the beginning of the year, the speedy utility player stole 36 bases in 2016.
The Michigan native started the year off in New Hampshire with a .309 batting average with 10 SB in April and looked poised to for a strong season. He was promoted to Buffalo on April 27th for a 7 game spell, before being returned to NH. Berti didn’t miss a beat after he demotion hitting .276 with 10 SB in May. Unfortunately, Berti was hit in the head by a pitch on June 3rd causing him to miss most of June and July.
After a brief rehab stint in Bluefield, Berti returned to New Hampshire in August. He really struggled upon his return, hitting just .235 with 8 SB. In 45 Pre All-Star games, he hit .282 but managed just a .204 in 28 post All-Star games.
2016 Stats (3 Levels)
.256BA, 11 doubles, 7 triples, 4 HR, 33 RBI, and 39/60 BB/K with 36 SB
One of my favorite players in the Blue Jays system, the 27-yr-old Jon Berti should start the season with the Buffalo Bisons. I’d love to see him on the Blue Jays bench, but I think that he will continue to fill the MiLB organization filler. Berti received an invite to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, so we will get to see him in some Grapefruit League games. With all of Devon Travis‘ injuries the past 2 season, Jon Berti could find himself sitting beside Ryan Goins on the Blue Jays in 2017. Until that time Berti gives the Bisons a low batting average, 20-ish doubles, 30-40 SB super utility player.
Tim Lopes, brother to Christian Lopes, came to the Blue Jays system as a PTBN (Player to be named) to finalize the Wade LeBlanc trade to the Seattle Mariners.
Tim was a 6th round pick of Seattle back in 2012. He shows a good baseball IQ with a good eye at the plate. There are a lot of similarities in the brothers’ game, but the younger Lopes definitely has more speed in his game.
The 22-yr-old 2nd baseman spent 2016 with the Mariners Double-A Jackson Generals setting career highs in games played, runs scored, hits, total bases, walks and GO/AO. The last stat may explain the low HR total or the slight decrease in extra base hits, but Lopes will never be known as a power hitter.
He doesn’t have any noticeable splits. He spent the majority of the year batting in the 2-hole, while also hitting 5th, 6th and 7th with varying degrees of success. Tim Lopes showed great consistency in his game in 2016 batting .274 with 12 doubles, 3 triples, and a HR Pre All-Star break versus .294 with 11 doubles, and 2 triples Post All-Star.
Very durable, Tim Lopes hasn’t been on the DL since 2013 when he missed time with an ankle injury. Durability and consistency have allowed Tim to earn the honor of being named 2015 MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and 2016 Post-Season All-Star.
.284BA, 23 doubles, 5 triples, an HR, 49 RBI, with 54/88 BB/K and 26 stolen bases.
In my opinion, Christian Lopes and Jon Berti are ahead of the younger Lopes. Therefore, I expect Tim Lopes to begin the year in New Hampshire. This will also allow him to adjust to a new system and give the Blue Jays minor league team a chance to evaluate the young man. I worry with the Lopes brothers playing the same position, one will need to be traded or play out of position to provide adequate at-bats to continue their development.
Drafted in the middle rounds (13th) of the 2014 draft out of Charleston College, the 24-yr-old Heidt started 2016 with the Lansing Lugnuts. Gunnar was promoted to Dunedin on June 13th after hitting .276 in May and .283 in June.
With the D-Jays Gunnar displayed the ability to hit throughout the batting order, hitting anywhere from 3rd to 9th in the order.
Unfortunately, Gunnar Heidt played his final game of the 2016 season on August 10th. A game that saw the 6-foot-0 infielder go 2-for-3 with a double and a RBI. Gunnar would be placed on the DL the next day.
Heidt split 2016 playing 2B, SS, and 3B, mainly playing SS during his time in Dunedin. While splitting his time evenly between Lansing (57GP) and Dunedin (50GP), Heidt set career highs in runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, HR, RBI, BB and strikeouts.
.263BA, 28 doubles, 3 triples, 9 HR, 45 RBI, 43/101 BB/K and 22SB
Heidt’s versatility will play an important role for him in 2017. Is Carl Wise ready for a promotion, assuming the D-Jays 3rd base job? Will Mitch Nay come back healthy and remain in Dunedin? Will the Blue Jays push JC Cardenas up the ladder despite weak offensive numbers last season in Lansing? Will the Blue Jays challenge Cavan Biggio and/or Bo Bichette pushing the up the ladder faster than anyone expected?
I expect Heidt to assume the D-Jays starting shortstop job, but should continue to see time all over the infield. While Gunnar Heidt is talented and plays hard, he appears to be a utility infielder and org guy.
*Featured Image Credit: Wade Black- JFtC
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