There are a variety of reasons why people go to minor-league baseball games. If watching prospects is the reason why you go, the Lansing Lugnuts are a must-see team this year. Ten of Baseball America‘s top 30 Toronto Blue Jays prospects are on the Lugnuts roster to start the season: OF D.J. Davis (No. 3), 3B Mitch Nay (No. 4), RHP Roberto Osuna (No. 7), RHP Alberto Tirado (No. 8), SS Dawel Lugo (No. 9), RHP Chase De Jong (No. 11), LHP Jairo Labourt (No. 12), RHP Tom Robson (No. 16), C Santiago Nessy (No. 23) and 1B Matt Dean (No. 25).
In recent years, the Lugnuts seem to always have at least a few notable pitching prospects on their staff at any time. That’s a testament to the ability of Blue Jays scouts to identify and convince the front office to get such talent on a regular basis. Well, this year is no different with this starting rotation: Tirado and Labourt piggybacking, De Jong and RHP Adonys Cardona piggybacking, Robson and RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski. (Osuna will start the season on the disabled list.)
This season, the Lugnuts have plenty of hitting prospects, too.
The Baseball America Prospect Handbook says speedy Davis is very much a work in progress, but has lots of potential: “Davis has the highest ceiling of any position player in the system, offering impact potential at a premium position.”
Baseball America projects that Nay could be an above-average, middle-of-the-order hitter with power and on-base ability. He also has a good arm with only adequate range at third base.
Baseball America heaped praise on Lansing’s new shortstop. “An above-average athlete, Lugo is a natural, pure hitter with supreme hand-eye coordination, feel for the barrel and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He had the third-lowest strikeout rate of any Appalachian League teenager (13.9) in 2013, which leads scouts to project him to be an above-average hitter. Lugo has surprising power that could enable him to hit more than 20 home runs annually.”
Dean had a poor showing in rookie ball in 2012, but rebounded nicely by leading the Appalachian League in batting in 2013. He hit .338 with 6 HR and 35 RBI in 63 games with the Bluefield Blue Jays last year.
Lansing’s second baseman has a name that 1980s baseball fans should recognize: Dickie Thon. Yes, he’s the son of the Dickie Thon who played in the major leagues from 1979 to 1993. The elder Thon also played in the Midwest League, hitting .276 with 1 HR, 32 RBI and 19 SB in 69 games with the 1976 Quad City Angels. His teammates include Carney Lansford (.287, 14 HR, 86 RBI, 26 SB in 121 games) and current Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (.294, 22 RBI in 50 games).
The Dayton Dragons have seven players ranked by Baseball America among the top 30 prospects in the Reds organization, including Cincinnati’s last two first-round draft picks. The Reds’ 2012 No. 1 draft pick, RHP Nick Travieso, is ranked No. 8, and the team’s 2013 No. 1 draft pick, OF Phillip Ervin, is ranked No. 3.
Both No. 1 draft picks played in Dayton last year. Travieso pitched for the Dragons all season, going 7-4 with a 4.63 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 82 IP. Ervin played 12 games with the Dragons, batting .349; he also played 34 games in the rookie Pioneer League, batting .326 with 8 HR, 29 RBI and 17 walks.
The other five Dragons players ranked by Baseball America are LHP Ismael Guillon (No. 12), LHP Amir Garrett (No. 18), RHP Sal Romano (No. 25), OF Sebastian Elizalde (No. 26) and 3B Tanner Rahier (No. 27). Four of those players — Elizalde is the exception — played at least part of the 2013 season with the Dragons. Guillon led the Midwest League with 134 strikeouts.
Altogether there are 15 Dragons players returning from last year’s team. A notable one not mentioned already is OF Beau Amaral, who stole 40 bases in addition to posting a .258 batting average with 3 HR and 38 RBI in 125 games.