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The baseball season is gearing up and Batter’s Box is excited to offer bigger and better coverage of the Blue Jays minor league system than ever before. Welcome to the first installment of our minor league team previews. We begin with the newest member of Toronto’s minor league kin, the Lansing Lugnuts, and will work our way up the ladder to the Syracuse Skychiefs over the next two weeks. Look for our previews of the short-season teams in June once the draft is wrapped up.

Toronto, meet Lansing. Lansing, this is Toronto.

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, what can we expect from the city of Lansing, Michigan? Well, if recent history is any indication, then the answer would be: nothing but a first class single-A affiliate. Lansing is best known for its role in the Michigan auto industry, primarily producing General Motors’ now defunct Oldsmobile line. Sadly, GM will close its Lansing plant this May. The town history served as the inspiration behind the Lugnut name and the ballpark still bears the Oldsmobile label.

Oldsmobile park itself is a big upgrade over the outdated and broken down facilities at Charleston, Toronto’s former low-A affiliate. I attended a game in Lansing several years ago and while I have trouble recalling specifics about the park itself, I will never forget the atmosphere. The place was surprisingly full for a mid-week game and the entire crowd was engrossed in the game. During every important play the crowd stomped and cheered with enthusiasm that the Jays’ own Cheer Club would be proud of. In 1996, the franchise’s first season in Lansing, the team set a new attendance record by becoming the first Class-A club to draw over half a million fans in a season. Now entering their tenth season, the Lugnuts don’t have the novelty value they once did but the franchise still drew over 400,000 last year. Again this represents a big improvement for the players, up from the 125,000 that showed up in Charleston last year.

So what can Lansing expect from Toronto? Well, let’s just start by saying that expectations are high. The Lugnuts first nine seasons have seen 7 playoff berths and 2 league championships. Dozens of future major leaguers have passed through Oldsmobile park including Carlos Zambrano, Jeremy Affeldt, Hee Seop Choi and Los Dos Carlos (Remember that pair? That’s a whole other story by itself). Former Blue Jays rule 5 picks Corey Thurman and Jason Dubois and reliever Dan Reichert have also seen time in the Lugnuts lineup. Last year, Lansing fans saw top-prospect Brian Dopirak break the team’s home run and RBI records.

If there is a minor league system that can live up to standards like that, it just might be the Blue Jays. A new draft strategy tied with an organizational emphasis on winning at every level has caused resurgence within the Jays minor league system. There may not be the same star quality that’s found in some organizations at the moment but the Blue Jays depth is about as good as it gets. 4 of 6 Blue Jays minor league teams made the playoffs last year including the Charleston Alley Cats and the Auburn Doubledays. Players from those two rosters figure to compose most of the new Lugnuts lineup.

Minor league rosters haven’t been set yet, so it’s hard to say how this team will stack up, but here’s a rough look at how things should look.

2005 Position players:

Curtis Thigpen, a second round pick in the 2004 draft, figures to get the majority of playing time behind the plate. He was a bit of a surprise on draft day to some Bauxites but by the end of the season he had impressed virtually everyone with his power bat and a solid arm behind the plate. If the Jays feel Thigpen is too advanced for this level they may fast-track him to Dunedin and hold back Robinson Diaz.

Two of the best “names” from last year’s draft should fill out the power slots. Toronto’s 8th and 9th picks, Rhame “Chip” Cannon and Joey Metropoulos “Prime” should split the DH/1B roles. Cannon is a little more polished but the younger Metropoulos has as much power potential as anyone in the system.

A few more college players should round out the infield. Ryan Klosterman, Brian Hall and Vinny Esposito are all polished players that will need to move fast to hit the majors but are more than capable of being impact players in the Midwest League this year.

The outfield should feature Yuber Rodriguez, a young Venezuelan with all the tools, and the powerful Cory Patton who slipped to the 6th round in the draft and signed late due to a stress fracture in his foot. Jarad Mangioni, Eric Neilsen, and Aaron Mathews could also see time in the ‘Nuts outfield.

Player         	Age	Draft	Level	AB	HR	BB	K	AVG	OBP	SLG
Aaron Mathews	23	19th-04	Low A	283	0	33	47	.265	.349	.343
Brian Hall	23	10th-04	Low A	211	10	24	49	.294	.367	.512
Chip Cannon	23	8th-04	Low A	210	10	22	55	.271	.338	.495
Curtis Thigpen	22	2nd-04	Low A	166	7	23	32	.301	.390	.518
Eric Nielsen	23	12th-04	Low A	231	7	35	45	.264	.383	.437
Jarad Mangioni	21	AmFA-01	Low A	122	3	14	34	.262	.348	.410
Joe Metropoulos	21	9th-04	Low A	152	6	18	48	.257	.362	.480
Robinson Diaz	21	AmFA-00	A	407	2	27	31	.287	.341	.361
Ryan Klosterman	23	5th-04	Low A	269	5	22	55	.275	.343	.409
Vinny Esposito	24	22nd-03	Low A	198	3	29	65	.253	.364	.399
Yuber Rodriquez	21	AmFA-00	Rookie	245	8	28	70	.306	.394	.506
Age is 2005 baseball age, Draft indicates round and year drafted (or year signed as an amateur freee agent), Level and stats are for the 2004 season.

2005 Pitching staff:

Pitching is definitely the strength of the system, and the backlog should keep some solid arms in Lansing this year. Michael MacDonald, Casey Janssen, Chris Leonard, Juan Perez and Kurt Isenberg look like top candidates for the rotation. It’s not a young bunch. But it’s a talented bunch with a chance to depress the hitting stats in the Midwest League this year.

Eric Rico, Randy Dicken, Kyle Yates, Casey McKenzie and Brad Mumma should also help keep the team’s average age up and the ERA’s down.

Player       	Age	Draft	Level	IP	BB	K	HR	% KBF	ERA
Brad Mumma	24	32nd-03	A	49.3	15	47	2	21.8	3.83
Casey Janssen	23	4th-04	Low A	51.7	10	45	2	21.4	3.48
Casey McKenzie	22	27th-04	Low A	69.0	20	62	4	20.5	3.78
Chris Leonard	24	8th-02	Low A	60.7	22	62	5	23.0	4.45
Erik Rico	25	22nd-02	A	25.7	8	14	1	13.3	1.75
            	      	      	Low A	28.3	4	22	2	19.6	1.27
Juan Perez	23	AmFA-00	Low A	58.7	10	40	2	16.3	2.76
Kurt Isenberg	23	4th-03	High A	61.0	20	40	6	14.5	5.61
            	      	      	Low A	51.0	15	34	5	15.7	3.88
Kyle Yates	22	13th-04	Low A	9.3	5	11	0	26.6	6.75
Mike MacDonald	23	15th-04	A	32.7	9	23	2	17.1	1.93
            	      	      	Low A	46.3	6	30	2	17.2	1.55
Randy Dicken	22	7th-04	Low A	16.7	13	20	0	24.2	4.86
Age is 2005 baseball age, Draft indicates round and year drafted (or year signed as an amateur freee agent), Level and stats are for the 2004 season. - Thanks to Jonny German for compiling the stats

2005 Outlook:

The Midwest League is traditionally filled with more college players than the Sally league, so the Jays shouldn’t be afraid to keep some of their college players back this year. The Alley Cats made the playoffs after a hot first half and Lansing fans should expect no less from this team.

So Bauxites, there are only two words to sum it up: Go Nuts!

Minor League Preview: Lansing Lugnuts | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gerry - Thursday, March 17 2005 @ 11:01 AM EST (#106461) #
The Jays did not get a good look at many of their higher draft picks from last year, Purcey and Jackson signed late, Cory Patton was injured and did not play at all and Randy Dicken and Danny Hill were also injured and saw limited playing time. That makes five of the top eight picks who we did not get a good long look at.

Purcey and Jackson are headed for Dunedin but the other three should be part of the Lugnuts lineup. It will be fun to see if one or two of them can get on the fast track.
Mike Green - Thursday, March 17 2005 @ 11:10 AM EST (#106462) #
Nicely done, Ryan.

One side benefit of the move to Lansing is more BBRadio. Lansing has internet radio coverage, and we will be tuning in (as much as we can).
Ryan01 - Thursday, March 17 2005 @ 11:35 AM EST (#106464) #
I'm really interested to see how Patton does. Hopefully he has a little more luck than previous 6th rounders Perry and Snavely have had so far.

More BBRadio will be nice, Mike. We may be the ones that benefit most from the move to Lansing. The move to New Hampshire couldn't have been more succesful for the Box. The radio team, print media and fans were fantastic and hopefully we'll find similar enthusiasm in Lansing.
Jordan - Thursday, March 17 2005 @ 01:44 PM EST (#106480) #
Excellent work, Ryan!

The Jays are sending some real bashers to Lansing this year. Assuming Thigpen gets kicked upstairs to Dunedin, I'd send this lineup out there:

Matthews LF
Diaz C
Cannon 1B
Metropoulous DH
Hall 2B
Patton RF
Rodriquez CF
Esposito 3B
Klosterman SS

That's about as much raw power in the middle of the lineup as the Jays have anywhere in their system. But since the organization often sends its best pitchers up to Dunedin, the Lansing staff probably will not be as impressive. I wouldn't be surprised to a see a lot of 9-7 scores coming out of Oldsmobile Park -- hopefully, in favour of the home side.

Sleepers: Rodriquez has an explosive package of tools, but this is his first year in full-season ball, so he may start slowly. Klosterman was considered something of a steal as a 5th-rounder: scouts really like him, but he'll be old for this league. And this should be the year we see whether Chris Leonard was a bargain draft pick or a flameout.
Craig B - Thursday, March 17 2005 @ 06:52 PM EST (#106538) #
Like Ryan, I was happy (in fact overjoyed) to hear - through the good offices of Dr. Prison Fence, as always - that Cory Patton's recovery had been successful and that he had been signed.

For a little more on Cory Patton, you should check out an article from last year written by Texas A&M fan and blogger Ryan Levy. Levy spoke very highly of this young man - a ballplayer's ballplayer who gets the job done. As Baseball America said about him, he ain't gonna win any beauty contests, but he swung one of the meanest bats in Texas.

That's the kind of ballplayer I like.

C. Oliver - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 07:39 AM EST (#106570) #
Is Yesson Berroa going to get a chance to play with Lansing this season? It seems like he has been in rookie ball a long time. Is he, at all, a prospect?
Ryan01 - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 09:28 AM EST (#106578) #
I think Berroa would really have to impress someone this spring to get a shot at Lansing. He had a real tough time last year. He's still 22 with pretty decent stuff, so he's not a total non-prospect, but I don't know how long the Jays will wait for him. If he's healthy and throwing well in extended spring training he may head to Lansing as an injury replacement at some point. There's bound to be a lot of turnover at the lowest (full-season) level.

I'm a little more optimistic about the pitchers than Jordan, at least for the first half. They're not top prospects or flame-throwers but they are guys that know how to pitch. But like I said, there's probably going to be a lot of turnover and the younger guys will have to step up. That's something that every team has to deal with though.
Lugnut Fan - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 12:42 PM EST (#106609) #
I for one am looking forward to seeing the Jays system this year. I will be curious to notice the draft philosophy differences between the Cubs and the Jays organizations. The Cubs built their system (at least in Lansing) around pitching and speed. They always had speedy, talented players from Felix Pie to Corey Patterson, From Zambrano to Wellemeyer. It sounds like the Jays may be more power oriented and if last year with Dopirak is any indication, I think the Cubs are looking for some thumpers in the OF for the future as well with Ryan Harvey a probable for Peoria.

The GM plant shutting down in May will probably hurt attendance a little this year, but I don't see a drastic fall off in that category. There is going to be a new GM plant opening later this year and there was neither a spike or decline in team attendance with the affiliate change from the Royals to the Cubs.
Mike Green - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 01:52 PM EST (#106620) #
Lugnut fan, we're looking forward to your first-hand observations this year. Can you tell us something about the home park- dimensions, foul territory etc.? I know that a number of us will make the drive to Lansing at some point in the summer.
Lugnut Fan - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 02:25 PM EST (#106621) #
Mike, Olds park is 330' down the lines, 420' to straight away center, 365' in the alleys. Like most minor league ball parks, there are some nooks and crannies around the outfield wall that make the ball bounce funny. The right field wall is about 20' high, while every place else is 10' high. There isn't alot of foul territory. The seats come out even with the front of the dugout. The guys in the on deck circle are only four or five feet away from the stands.

The field itself is 20 or 30 feet below street level. It is right down the street from the Michigan capital building. The roads surrounding the stadium are quite busy.

There is one quirky ground rule that Olds Park has that I haven't seen anywhere else. There is a guard rail around the top of the outfield wall. In order for it to be a home run, the ball has to be hit over the guard rail. If it goes between the pipes of the railing, it is a ground rule double. It doesn't come into play much, but a couple of years ago, it came into play twice in the same game hit by the same player. It was the second round of the playoffs, so there were four umpires instead of the standard two in the MWL, but both calls were pretty sketchy on both counts from what I saw.

Mrs. Lugnut fan and myself are planning a trip to Skydome, oops Rogers Centre this year as well. Right now, I think we are coming the last weekend in April. We are going to try to catch one of the Yankee games as well as stay for the Oriole series.
Jordan - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 02:29 PM EST (#106622) #
The right field wall is about 20' high, while every place else is 10' high.

Something to keep in mind when reviewing the home run and doubles total of lefty-hitting Lugnuts. Thanks for the virtual tour, LF!

Mike Green - Friday, March 18 2005 @ 02:54 PM EST (#106623) #
LF, that was great. 420 to center, eh? Your new centerfielder, Yuber Rodriguez, is apparently very fast (but not quite in Pie's class, reading between the lines of various reports), and is supposed to be a first-rate defender. He will have room to maneuver...

When you know for sure which games you'll be in town for, please let us know.
Minor League Preview: Lansing Lugnuts | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.