Off Daze: An ugly loss, an exciting call-up, a new Blue Jays Happy Hour, and a weekend in Detroit!
On Yusei Kikuchi, Trevor Richards, Gabriel Moreno, Alek Manoah, Charlie Montoyo, Bud Black?, Tim Mayza, Nate Pearson, Rob Manfred, Tanner Morris, a brand new Blue Jays Happy Hour, and more!
The less we talk about the finale of that series in Kansas City the better, I think. But I suppose I should say at least a little about it. Plus some other newsworthy thing that happened on Wednesday.
So let’s talk about it!
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So… about Wednesday’s game…
“You can’t blame him for the pop up that dropped in, and you can’t blame him for the ground ball that found a hole, but the walks are what has really made this a lot worse than this needed to be.” — Dan Shulman
Those words from Dan Shulman pretty much perfectly sum up the atrocious outing that Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi had on Wednesday. Kikuchi faced just eight batters, and managed only two outs. Two of the other six batters hit their way on base. The other four walked.
The hits, as Dan points out, weren’t even that bad. One was a 90 mph ground ball (.220 xBA) that found a hole. The other was a 66 mph blooper than went for a double. On their own they would have been mildly unfortunate non-events. Unfortunately, Kikuchi absolutely could not find the zone in this one — particularly with his fastball, though it's not like he had any of his other pitches working either. Every time he got a batter to two strikes he went to the heater, and every time he failed to locate the pitch just as badly as the ones he threw in other counts — save for a 3-0 called strike to Bobby Witt Jr., and the following pitch, which Witt fouled off.
There are maybe two well-located fastballs there out of the entire group of 23 he threw? Not good!
So what do we make of this?
While it would be easy to dismiss this as just a bad outing, walks have been a very clear problem for Kikuchi this season, as he's compiled 28 of them in just 46 2/3 innings (5.4 BB/9). Only four times in 11 starts has he managed to walk fewer than three batters — though it's worth noting that, for all the other problems he had in his previous two starts, he had walked just one batter over his previous 9 2/3 innings heading into this one. His ERA over his last four starts is is 6.75. Over his previous three it was 5.14.
Bad as Wednesday’s outing felt, things hardly catastrophic here. Kikuchi has never been especially below average when it comes to issuing walks (his BB/9 last year was just 3.55), so he should be able to work his way out of this. But for right now it's a problem.
And it's especially a problem when it means that the Jays have to get a bunch of innings from their top-heavy bullpen. Kikuchi pitched into the sixth inning in his first three starts of May, but hasn't done so in any of his others. Also not good!
When Tim Mayza and Nate Pearson and some trade deadline acquisition arrive this may be less of a problem, but on Wendesday, Charlie Montoyo and Pete Walker were forced to turn to Trent Thornton to stop the bleeding — and he actually did so admirably for 2 1/3 innings, but after that they were in a bit of a bind.
With Thornton's day done at the end of the third, and assuming that Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, David Phelps, and Jordan Romano were slated for innings 6/7/8/9, the Jays needed to choose one or two of Trevor Richards, Julian Merryweather, Matt Gage, and Andrew Vasquez to get them through the fourth and fifth.
Richards was the first name called upon from that group — I think understandably, considering he's shown he can pitch multiple innings, and occasionally doesn't suck. This, unfortunately, was not one of those times.
Over 1 1/3 innings, Richards allowed three runs on four hits and a walk. His ERA on the season now sits at 5.68. He has somehow given up walks (4.62 per nine innings) and home runs (2.13 per nine) at an even higher rates than he did last year, and while the state of the Jays’ bullpen last year obviously necessitated brining in a guy like him, I can’t help but look at the year Rowdy Tellez is having — a 118 wRC+ from the left side for the Brewers, and an even better expected statistics than that, with his .383 xwOBA ranking 28th among 263 qualified batters, placing him directly between Tim Anderson and José Ramírez — and wonder what might have been if Kirby Yates and David Phelps hadn’t got hurt last year, and if Rafael Dolis and Tyler Chatwood hadn’t sucked.
And woof to Raimel Tapia and his extremely accurate-feeling ninth percentile Outs Above Average ranking while we're at it!
Gabbo is coming!
Have you heard? Gabriel Moreno, the number four prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, has been called up to the big leagues and will be joining the Blue Jays in Detroit this weekend. The move isn’t official yet, so we don’t know which of the current Jays will be losing his job in order to make way for him, but whatever! Gabbo is coming!
And that — in addition to a whole lot of other things — was what we talked about on Tuesday morning when Nick and I welcomed the Zubes to a special off-day edition of Blue Jays Happy Hour!
Have a listen on Callin and as an added bonus you’ll be able to listen in on Nick and I the next time we go live (tentatively scheduled for after the conclusion of Monday’s game against the Orioles!). You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or right click on this link to copy an RSS link that should work in any podcast app.
OK, enough about us! Gabriel Moreno is the highest-ranked position player prospect the Jays have graduated since Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and one of the rare few top-10 guys they’ve had over the last couple of decades. Exciting stuff.
There has been a ton written about him already, but naturally the hype machine has gone into overdrive with Thursday’s off-day and the fact that we’ve been given such advance warning. One of the best things I’ve seen on him so far is from my friend and former colleague, Kaitlyn McGrath of the Athletic, who put some recent quotes from Jays player development director Joe Sclafani to excellent use.
Moreno, Sclafani tells her, has "gotten drastically better" offensively since the season began. “It’s no surprise that the offensive production was what it was in May considering the swing decision points that we tracked and ball-in-play points that we track," he added. "He had a fantastic May all the way around.”
Moreno, of course, had a visa issue back in February and March that delayed the start of his spring training, and relegated him to just a few days in big league camp. Over 50 April plate appearances he slashed just .255/.300/.340 (70 wRC+). He has looked much more like the player the Jays expected since the start of May, slashing .360/.420/.438 (136 wRC+). The power is still not really showing up just yet — he hasn’t produced an extra base hit since May 21 — but obviously the Jays feel like he's ready for the next challenge. And, as Sclafani's comments indicate, they're clearly judging that based on more than just the numbers on his FanGraphs page.
Moreno's visa issue in the winter kept him away from the United States, and back in his home country of Venezuela, where he slashed .279/.397/.361 over 73 winter league plate appearances. That made him one of the OBP leaders on his team, Cardenales de Lara, despite being more than seven years younger than the average player in the league. Cardenales featured big leaguers, and former big leaguers, such as red hot Braves catcher William Contreras, Jermaine Palacios of the Twins, Gorkys Hernández, José Tabata, and Alberto Callaspo.
The story of Moreno's Venezuelan roots, and his journey to the big leagues, is excellently told in a long feature from MLB.com writers Keegan Matheson and Julia Kreuz in a piece from Wednesday.
They speak to José Mejia, who ran a baseball academy in Barquisimeto and took Moreno under his wing, despite some of his family's financial difficulties, because he saw the promise in him as a player. "He couldn't stay hidden," Mejia remarks.
Jays scout Francisco Plasencia was one of the first to take notice, the piece tells us, recognizing the talent in Moreno's bat, and returning to see him in secret — a move designed to see him on a day where it wasn't expected that a big league scout was in attendance, when young players know to be at their best.
“I saw this kid cleaning the field, helping to bring in all of the balls from BP to the pitcher. I never see that. I was a player for 10 years and I’d never seen a player do that,” Plasencia relates. “If he knew I was there? Sure. But I’d been there a couple of times without telling anybody. I saw this kid doing the same thing every day for three or four days. I talked to the groundskeeper there, and he said, ‘Yes. This kid has done this every day since he got to this academy.’”
The Jays, as we've often heard them say, place a real premium on the kind of teammate a player is, and here we have it in practice. But, of course, Moreno's athleticism and bat-to-ball skills played a major role, too.
The athleticism comes especially into play on the defensive side of the ball. The mini scouting report on Moreno’s FanGraphs player page calls him “the most athletic catcher to come along since J.T. Realmuto”
MLB.com’s Sam Dykstra gives us an up-to-date scouting report on those abilities.
“Moreno should be able to contribute immediately on the defensive side. He was an infielder when he first signed with the Jays for $25,000 in August 2016, and while Toronto officials quickly moved him from the dirt to behind the plate, he still possesses the athleticism to be a quality receiver and blocker at the dish. His arm is just as effective, if not more so. Moreno leads all Triple-A catchers in both raw caught-stealings (15) and caught-stealing rate (53.6 percent) at the time of his promotion. He is one of only two qualified catchers in all of Minor League Baseball to have thrown out more than 50 percent of attempted basestealers in 2022.”
While the Jays can be nothing but thrilled with the work Alejandro Kirk has done for them behind the plate this season, having someone even better back there works too! And with the lineup producing the way that they have been of late, Moreno isn’t going to be asked to do too much here offensively besides get his feet wet. He’ll hit low in the lineup, he’ll spend a decent amount of time on the bench or at DH — though not so much as to stunt his development — and we’ll see how it goes from there. (Particularly when Danny Jansen returns, though I think there’s a way that they manage to keep all three in catchers on the roster, especially since the Jays will need to drop a pitcher once the 13-pitcher maximum finally comes into force on June 20th.)
In the aforementioned Blue Jays Happy Hour episode I think Zubes made a great point when he said that bringing in elite prospects when the team is playing well is something that you see the best organizations in the sport do — the Dodgers, constantly, the Rays with Wander Franco, etc. We’re not exactly used to that in Toronto, as our top prospects have tended to be shiny baubles to distract from the woes of the eras they’ve arrived in. If a prospect as good as Moreno had been called up in another year it might have been all we talked about for a week. We might have been on Moreno Watch for a month. Now we’re all so wrapped up in the All-Star candidacy of Kirky, the brilliance of Manoah and Gausman, the surges from Bo and Chapman, and everything else going on with this playoff-bound team that Moreno is, as much as he can be, a little bit under the radar.
I suspect the Blue Jays like it that way. In that it is an extremely good sign for the health of the organization, I know I certainly do.
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• Speaking of Alek Manoah, and my Blue Jays Happy Hour co-host Nick, he’s got a fresh one up at Sportsnet here on Thursday, looking into where the big right-hander’s strikeouts have gone this season, and why he’s struggled getting swing-and-miss from left-handed hitters. (Lefties, as I noted in a recent post, have slashed .295/.355/.411 against him this year.)
In short, Nick sees it as a command issue, with Manoah having trouble finding the sweet spot where he generated most of his swing-and-miss against lefties with both his sinker (which is really more of a cutter that runs away from lefties to Manoah's arm side), and his slider (which he was able to get lefties to swing over last year by locating just below or just in from the inside corner).
"While the platoon disadvantage baked into his horizontally-oriented repertoire has been pronounced in 2022, there are answers to be found in what he accomplished in his rookie year," he concludes. "All he has to do is establish competency against left-handers, and he can cushion himself against any future regression against right-handed hitters — and become truly matchup-proof."
There is, of course, all kinds of evidence and visuals in Nick’s piece to convince you. Very much worth a read.
• Here's something that seems completely insane, per a piece on managers on the hot seat from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
“Colorado ownership is known as among the majors’ most loyal, so Bud Black is not in huge peril. But follow this bouncing ball: The Blue Jays awarded Charlie Montoyo a one-year extension through next season in spring and Toronto is currently in playoff position. But if the Blue Jays were to stumble, a few executives mentioned the possibility of Black (who has strong ties to Toronto team president Mark Shapiro dating to their time in Cleveland in the 1990s) perhaps being next offseason’s Bob Melvin — Melvin left the eternally penny-pinching A’s for the talented, but underachieving Padres last offseason.”
Whichever executives are mentioning that possibility, the Blue Jays need to be calling them to make some trades right now, because they don’t have a clue about the Jays’ organization. Not only do the Jays seem eternally thrilled by the job that Charlie does — sorry not sorry Montoyo haters — but everything I remember about the managerial search that produced Montoyo was that it was GM Ross Atkins, not Shapiro, who drove that bus. At least publicly.
• The Buffalo Bisons played two on Wednesday, and a couple of players who will hopefully be back to help the Jays’ bullpen soon each saw action. One was excellent, the other stumbled pretty badly, and you’re probably not going to guess which was which!
Tim Mayza got the start in the first game of the twin bill, which was a make-up game for a rainout on Tuesday. He recorded just a single out, needing 24 pitches to get through three batters. Lead-off hitter Yolmer Sanchez of the Worcester Red Sox struck out after an eight pitch battle that saw him foul Mayza off five times (before going down on a foul tip). Catcher Connor Wong then doubled on the sixth pitch he saw (two called strikes, two balls, one foul), before Ryan Fitzgerald worked a 10 pitch walk, fouling off five in his own right. Not a single swing-and-miss from Mayza to any of them, and that was the end of his night.
Not sure I like this thing where he can’t seem to put guys away. Sounds like he’s no more ready than he was a week ago, when this happened.
Meanwhile, Nate Pearson got two innings of work in during the second game of the two, with just one walk the only blemish on his night. If the MiLB.com pitch location data can be trusted — and usually it can’t! — he did a good job of filling up the strike zone on the night. We can more reliably say that he generated swing-and-miss on 30% of the swings taken at his offerings (I counted myself). That isn’t a huge number, but he also froze Woo Sox hitters 13 times for called strikes on just 36 pitches, giving him a CSW rate of 46%.
For context, the current major league leader in CSW% is Edwin Diaz of the Mets at 36.7%. So if Pearson could approximate performances like this regularly at the next level, that would be swell! I mean, he almost certainly can't, but that's still a great sign (as far as scouting the stat line goes).
• Rob Manfred really needs to get his balls in order.
Brett Taylor @Brett_A_TaylorWrite the saddest baseball story you can in six words.
• Sucks to suck, Orioles!
• An intriguing left-handed hitter emerges:
In their scouting write-up FanGraphs calls Morris "a poor man's Josh Rojas," but I'm confident was written before Rojas's great start to the season in Arizona (.286/.368/.473, 131 wRC+, 2.3 BB%, 19.8 K%). But that means it was certainly written before Morris did similar things for the Fisher Cats, too. In Double-A he walked 30 times to 30 strikeouts in 186 PA (16.1% for each!), while slashing .312/.430/.468 (154 wRC+). Yes, it's Double-A, but he's added power and taken his plate discipline to a new level this year despite playing against more advanced pitching. Is he realistically a bat the Jays could call on at some point in 2022? I mean, I doubt it. The trade deadline is approaching and they'll be looking outside the organization for the lefty bat they need, I'm sure. But a name worth keeping our eyes on at least a little bit.
• Lastly, I mentioned the other week that I'd had a moment of weakness and thought for a minute about maybe starting to put the odd piece behind the paywall in order to drive some of those who are on the fence — or who had subscribed previously only to have their credit cards expire — toward becoming paid subscribers, and a bunch of folks kindly stepped up and did just that. I don't want to hit anybody over the head with this stuff (y’know, more than I already do), but I just wanted to say thanks. And that if anyone else wants follow suit I would be eternally grateful to you for that as well.
Oh, and feel free to say hi if you see me at Comerica on Saturday!
Friday, 7:10 PM ET: Jays @ Tigers (José Berríos vs. Elvin Rodriguez), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
Saturday, 4:10 PM ET: Jays @ Tigers (Kevin Gausman vs. Beau Brieske), TV: Sportsnet One, Radio: Sportsnet 590
Sunday, 1:40 PM ET: Jays @ Tigers (Ross Stripling vs. Tarik Skubal), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 590
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