A Look at Some Vancouver Canadians

cobi johnson.jpeg
Cobi Johnson – Vancouver Province photo

A couple of days spent watching video of Vancouver’s series at Hillsboro and Eugene from this past summer have revealed some insights, first of which is that it would be nice if the C’s games were streamed on milb.com as well.  Vancouver had an agreement With Shaw, a western cable giant, to telecast several live games for Canadian viewers west of Sault Ste Marie, ON (and on YouTube for the rest of us) over the past few years, but that partnership appears to have dissolved – Sportsnet bought the rights this fall, and six C’s games will air on their Pacific channel next year.  Lansing came on board last year, joining the other Blue Jays full season affiliates.  It’s your turn, Vancouver.

Some observations on several players:

Otto Lopez

If you like three true outcomes guys, then Lopez is not for you.  If you do have a preference, however, for a guy who can play multiple positions, get on base, and show a high baseball IQ on both sides of the ball, the Dominican 2016 late sign is for you.

Scroll down to read more in a previous post.  He needs to get stronger and add some loft to his swing, but he does a lot of little things really well.

Jake Brodt

Don’t judge college players by their first year in pro ball; for most it’s a grind.

And for this 9th round pick out of Santa Clara, that’s incredibly true.  He hit .154 over his last ten games, and fanned in almost half of his ABs.  Even though the Blue Jays are very conscious about their prospect’s workloads at the lower levels, Brodt was clearly gassed by season’s end.

Brodt fanned on pitches at a rate at(18.6%) which one would expect from a player of his bat-first (.338/.375/.532) profile in his final college season (as a 4th year Senior with little bargaining power, Brodt signed for a $5K bonus), but he did not show an ability to work the count.  Brodt posted a 35% K rate, and walked only at a 2% clip.

Those numbers would not be good indicators of future success, but there are some silver linings to the Brodt cloud.  He collected 15 Doubles despite playing in only 47 games – his swing appeared a little flat (a 40% FB rate would back that up), and it’s easy to project some increased power with some adjustments, because the bat speed is definitely there.  Brodt hunts the fastball, and is vulnerable at this point to off speed pitches.  Brodt is not the lumbering type of 1st Basemen – he runs reasonably well for his 6’4″/220 size, and is a decent fielder.

Lansing will be his destination next year.  With several players of his type (Ryan Noda, Chad Spanberger, Kacy Clemens) ahead of him, he likely will spend the season there.

McGregory Contreras

The toolsy-but-raw label has stuck with Contreras since he signed with the Blue Jays in 2015.  The team has brought him along slowly for his first three pro seasons, although Baseball America saw enough of him to rank Contreras their 19th top prospect, citing what Managers in the Appy League called “sneaky power.”

His numbers at Vancouver were not as eye-popping (he did lead the C’s with 8 Home Runs), as the pitching at the higher level exposed him somewhat.   Contreras uses a toe gather as his timing mechanism, but then descends into a swing that can get long, with his bat getting into prime barrel zone late. His pitch recognition (9 walks vs 69 strikeouts) has to improve for him to advance. Described as a fringy outfielder, he showed good range and reactions to flyballs in a limited sample of viewing.

We’ll see Contreras at Lansing next year, where playing every day in full season may help accelerate his development.

Jose Espada

Much has been expected of the RHP, who the Blue Jays took in the 6th round of the 2015 out of Puerto Rico.  A solid pro debut in the GCL seemed to prophesize a quick trip up the ladder for Espada.

Such has not been the case.  Espada repeated Vancouver this year, and despite some promising signs (a 10.7 K/9, which led all NWL Pitchers, and a 14% whiff rate), Espada fell short of expectations in his third pro season.

On the surface, it’s hard to understand why.  Espada has a smooth, clean delivery, and is usually around the strike zone.  In one of the streamed starts I saw, he may have shown his issues in the first inning.  After giving up three successive walks to start the game (missing the strike zone badly), C’s Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski came out to calm Espada down.  Big Jim’s pep talk appeared to walk, as Espada induced a weak one-hopper to the next hitter, which he promptly jumped on and threw home to force the runner from 3rd, then C Yorman Rodriguez fired to 1st to complete the DP (on which Brodt made a nice scoop).  With Espada an out away from getting out of the jam, he threw the next pitch down the middle to a hitter who swung and missed at a 23.5% rate – Hillsboro 1B Francis Martinez – who smacked it into RF for a two-run Double.  Yes, this was only one inning, but it suggests maybe some focus issues, and the fact that when Espada misses, it was usually in the strike zone (a 45% FB rate adds to this possibility).  Espada does get tremendous movement on his two-seamer, but perhaps he’s yet to command it.

It’s possible to see Espada being next year in Lansing, but he may be passed by one of the Pitchers from the lower levels next spring, and start the year in Extended.

Tanner Kirwer

It’s always great to see a Canadian moving up the ladder in the Jays system.

A 20th round pick last year, Kirwer’s pro debut season ended after 25 games when he was hit in the face with a pitch, breaking three bones.

Kirwer has plus speed, which shows in the field and on the bases.  He tied for the NWL lead in steals with 28, was a mid-season All- Star, and he may be one of the fastest players in the organization.  Kirwer also has a swing-and-miss (14.1%) element to his game, and has more of a ground ball swing.  And a 6.5% walk rate doesn’t allow Kirwer to take advantage of that speed.  Working the count (Kirwer saw 3.5 pitchers per AB last year), along with making harder and more consistent contact will be what he needs to focus on to continue to progress.

On defence, Kirwer covers a great deal of territory.  It should be fun watching him cover the CF expanse in Lansing next year.

Griffin Conine

Conine injured himself crashing into the RF fence at Hillsboro in the first game, and didn’t appear the rest of the series.  He missed 8 games, and struggled for the rest of the month of August (.211/.265/.342).

His bona fides are clear:  son of a Major Leaguer, former Cape Cod League top prospect.  So we’re not going to read too much into a first pro season that was underwhelming.  His .873 OPS July is probably a closer approximation of his ultimate value.

The dark cloud on Conine’s horizon is the 50 game suspension he will have to serve as a result of testing positive for Ritalin, a banned substance under MLB protocols.  To his credit, Conine owned this ban, and pledged to make amends for it.

His 2019 season will begin in late May, likely in Dunedin.  We will have a better estimation of his future by this time next year.  2018 has been a write-off for him.

Nick Podkul

His numbers (.222/.347/.364) may not have told an impressive story, but there are some parallels that could be drawn between this 7th round pick from Notre Dame and a guy from the same school who went in the 5th round in 2016 by the name of Cavan Biggio.

Podkul hit .323 over his last ten games, and showed some bat speed in the process.  Like Biggio, it may be a matter of adjusting the swing to produce some more loft.  Podkul can get on base, and he can play 2nd and 3rd.  It’s a stretch to put Podkul in the same class as Biggio, but he hit some rockets in the Hillsboro series.

Podkul should start next season in Lansing.

Randy Pondler 

The gangly southpaw from Nicaragua was the Appy Pitcher of the Year in 2017.   Moving up to Vancouver this year, though, his lack of one outstanding pitch became apparent.  He still posted decent numbers (2.90 ERA, 47% GB rate), but he pitched to contact, and did not miss a lot of bats.

Pondler does not light up the radar gun, but he commands the strike zone.  In the start he made against Hillsboro, hitters seemed to know he was going to throw strikes, and were aggressive early in the count, racking up some hard contact.  He pairs his fastball with a curve with decent shape, but it’s a pitch he seemed to leave up in the zone.  His change-up is somewhere between dependable and show-me.  At 22, there’s not a lot of room left for projecting that fastball.

Pondler shoud start next season in Lansing.

Cobi Johnson

Low level minor league relievers are truly the forgotten men of baseball.  Only a handful progress to the bigs, and that’s why I’ll save writing about some of the decent bullpen arms Vancouver had like Joeys Pulido and Murray until another time.

The C’s did feature a Closer who very much profiles like a back of the pen power arm in the future in Cobi Johnson, son of the now former Blue Jays Coach.

Johnson was lights out for Vancouver, going a perfect 10-10 in Saves, fanning 35 in 26 innings.  The only question about Johnson would seem to be how he lasted until the 30th round of the draft last June.  Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of 2017, and a shutdown for the final three weeks of his final college season may have been the culprit.

Johnson sits 93-94 with his fastball, and has a 12-6 hammer of a curve.  He also adds a mid-80s slider and decent change to go with it.  At 6’4″/230, he has the build of a fireballing reliever.  NWL hitters really didn’t much of a chance against him.

Johnson should skip Lansing for Dunedin next season.

2018 Vancouver Canadians Pitches Per Plate Appearance

PA Pitches Pitches/PA
Brett Wright 83 367 4.42
Vinny Capra 163 660 4.05
Griffin Conine 230 924 4.02
Hunter Steinmetz 93 368 3.96
Nick Podkul 197 773 3.92
Brandon Polizzi 157 608 3.87
Christopher Bec 191 736 3.85
Jake Brodt 176 674 3.83
Reilly Johnson 61 229 3.75
Sterling Guzman 190 694 3.65
Otto Lopez 206 748 3.63
Mc Gregory Contreras 233 829 3.56
Bryan Lizardo 144 500 3.47
Tanner Kirwer 247 843 3.41
Jesus Navarro 30 102 3.40
Jesus Severino 161 521 3.24
Yorman Rodriguez 184 567 3.08
Freddy Rodriguez 28 86 3.07
Owen Spiwak 13 36 2.77

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