Five players ranked by Baseball America among the top 30 Toronto Blue Jays prospects are on the Lansing Lugnuts roster, including the organization’s top shortstop prospect, Richard Urena.
This is the first full-season club assignment for Urena, who played all but nine of his 133 professional games the past two years at rookie level. He hits for average but not for power; he is a natural lefty but started switch-hitting in the past year. He needs some improvement defensively — he had a .917 fielding percentage last year — but has some time to hone his skills, having turned 19 in late February.
Baseball America, which ranks Urena as the No. 8 Blue Jays prospect, says the Dominican Republic native “has the physical ability necessary to remain at shortstop with an arm that is at least plus and has a quick release that can throw from any angle, in addition to loose, athletic actions, soft hands and above-average lateral range to both sides.”
The top pitching prospect assigned to Lansing is RHP Chase DeJong, who is the No. 17 Blue Jays prospect according to Baseball America. DeJong spent the 2014 season with the Lugnuts, going 1-6 with a 4.82 ERA, 73 strikeouts and 22 walks in 97 IP. He gave up 12 home runs; as BA notes, DeJong is “an extremely flyball-oriented pitcher who will probably be homer-prone.” The 2012 2nd-round draft pick turned 21 in late December.
Baseball America ranks catcher Dan Jansen No. 20 among Blue Jays prospects, saying he “is a strong, physical and powerful presence. He offers plus bat speed from the right side along with the physical strength and leverage in his swing to hit at least 15 home runs annually. His bat-to-ball ability and knowledge of the strike zone have produced more walks than strikeouts. … His defensive ability has improved and gives him the potential to remain behind the plate.”
Jansen batted .282 with 5 HR, 17 RBI, 16 walks and 17 strikeouts in 38 games for the Bluefield Blue Jays of the rookie-level Appalachian League last year. Fun fact: He is a native of Appleton, Wis., home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
Centerfielder D.J. Davis (No. 21 Blue Jays prospect) returns to Lansing after batting .213 with 8 HR, 52 RBI, 36 walks and 167 strikeouts in 121 games with the Lugnuts last year. Baseball America says he has “the ability to be an impact two-way centerfielder, though feel for the game, ability to make adjustments, and swing-and-miss tendencies hold him back.”
First baseman Rowdy Tellez (No. 30 Blue Jays prospect) also returns to Lansing, though he played only briefly with the Lugnuts last year. He spent most of his 2014 season in the Appalachian League, batting .293 with 4 HR and 36 RBI in 53 games, but shined during his short stint in the Midwest League (.357 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 12 games). Baseball America says his bat “has the potential to make him a middle-of-the-order presence, if he hits enough to allow his plus-plus raw power to play.”
Other players returning to Lansing include starting pitchers Shane Dawson and Starlyn Suriel, relievers Alonzo Gonzalez, Francisco Gracesqui, Phil Kish, Colton Turner and Chase Wellbrock, catcher Justin Atkinson, and infielder Dickie Joe Thon.
Castro, Travis make MLB debuts
Early last month Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler wrote a blog post looking at 15 former Lansing players who could make it to the big leagues this year. The 15th player on his list, RHP Miguel Castro, made his major-league debut Monday.
Castro pitched 1.1 scoreless innings for the Blue Jays, getting them out of a jam in the 8th inning and throwing a 1-2-3 9th inning to lock down Toronto’s 6-1 win over the New York Yankees.
Former West Michigan Whitecaps 2B Devon Travis also made his MLB debut for the Blue Jays in that game, going 1-for-2 with a solo homer, two walks and a strikeout.
Castro started four games for the 2014 Lugnuts, going 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21.1 IP. Travis batted .352 with 6 HR, 42 RBI and 14 SB in 77 games with the 2013 Whitecaps.