Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays Minor League Pitching Coordinator. He has been a regular visitor to Da Box, you can check his previous interviews by clicking on the interview button on the left side. I caught up with Dane last Friday while he was in New Hampshire. I hope you enjoy his comments.
BB: Last year at this time you had Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino getting ready to go to Lansing and Aaron Sanchez readying for Vancouver. This year the pitchers don't seem as ready for that.
DJ: Pitchers are at different levels and they have different amounts of ability. You see what they have and if it will work at the next level and if it benefits the kid, if we can give someone a taste of the higher level in preparation for the next season that is something we want to do. We are contemplating giving some pushes to guys this year as we usually do if it's right for them. If we decide not to promote a guy that doesn't mean a lot, their learning curve might be slower but we might still give a quick peek to a guy here or there.
BB: Vancouver plays in the Northwest League, a college heavy league, like the Midwest League and the standard in vancouver is closer to Lansing than the Appy league. So if a young pitcher can handle the Northwest League, does that mean he could handle Lansing the next year?
DJ: Absolutely. We have some kids in that category today, that we feel can handle the Lansing level. Right now we love all five of the arms we have starting in Lansing it's pretty hard to move from Vancouver to Lansing. You have kids like Avendano and Osuna who are throwing the ball well in Vancouver and Vancouver are in the playoff hunt so there is something to be said for that, playing in front of 4000-5000 people, you get as much out of that in that league as you do in Lansing.
BB: What about Daniel Norris, he has had an up and down year. what are you doing now to get him back on track?
DJ: It's consistency. We call him the rainman, we joke about it, because every time he pitches it seems to rain, or he gets pushed back. His pitching schedule has been very volatile and we have also had to push him back for other reasons. It has been inconsistent trying to schedule Danny and his outings have been inconsistent too. I was in Bluefield a week ago and I saw him continuing a rain game that he had pitched in before and he got rained out of that game. But when he was in there for his two plus innings he was as good as I have ever seen him and then he turned around and the inconsistency showed up again and he didn't get through the first inning. We are seeing flashes of stuff that are very attractive to what we do and where we want him. Everyone's learning curve is a little bit different. Danny is going through that. he knows the adjustments he needs to make, he understands them, applying them is a different story and when he applies them he is very good. Sometimes that application does not hold over to the games. But I am very excited about what I have seen from him this year even though you can look at the numbers, I am not a numbers guy, I don't even know what his numbers are. I do know that what comes out (of his hand) when he does it good is very attractive.
BB: What do you see in Jeremy Gabryszewski?
DJ: Gabby has had a nice second half of the season here, he battled some injuries in the first half. We had to back him off in the extended program a little bit. He has put some of the mechanical things in place in the last three or four weeks and done a nice job in the games. His pitchability has really improved, he is commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate and his breaking ball is much improved.
BB: What is his best pitch?
DJ: I would say his best attribute is his pitchability, the ability to command the strike zone with his fastball, and then throw his breaking stuff behind it and change speeds.
BB: A couple of months ago you said Tirado was a guy to watch for and he has had a very good season in the GCL and you have promoted him to the Appy league, I assume that means he has progressed a lot this season?
DJ: Yeah, the promotion will set him up for next year. Anytime you get a 17 year old coming in to your organization you want him to get off to a real good start, to set the foundation and probably spend a year in the GCL doing it. But he has made such strides we are comfortable moving him up at this point.
BB: Can you see a 17 year old, like Tirado, adding velocity or does velocity only increase with an improvement in mechanics?
DJ: I think his velocity can get even greater and that's part of the excitement with this guy. We are seeing a 17 year old with a teenagers body and he will grow and develop and we have seen him keep his velocity. He has done some nice things mechanically to help himself out, and he has pitchability as well as velocity. We think there is more upside there and if there is not it's pretty good right now.
BB: How hard does he throw right now?
DJ: He sits 92-94 and can touch 95 or 96. He has seen a little uptick in that as the season has gone on and that's nice to see, when he got here was 90-92 and would flash a 94 here and there It has gotten better during the season, that's for sure.
BB: One guy who had been a little disappointing coming into this year was Griffin Murphy. He seems to have come a long way this year, have you seen that in his pitches?
DJ: Yes we have, Griff has really responded well out of the bullpen. We tried to put him in a role where he would get innings out of the bullpen, where he could throw and be ready to go 2-3 days later and he has responded to that. That's not to say he can't start because we think he can, in fact he will have a couple of spot starts coming up here, that will get him through four or five innings and add to what he is doing there. The pitchability with Griff is nice, he holds runners well, he has a fantastic change-up and his breaking stuff is coming and his fastball command is coming, he is staying over the ball and driving it down. He is a savvy kid and we are happy with his progress this year.
BB: Matt Smoral was injured when he was drafted but I see his is pitching in bullpens now, will he see some game action this year?
DJ: We are hoping to do that down the stretch, he has been on a conditioning program also. We are cautiously optimistic, he will be in instructional league and he should see the bulk of his innings there.
BB: I wanted to ask about three guys coming back from serious injury, Trystan Magnuson, Alan Farina and Randy Boone. Are they all coming back to their previous abilities after the surgery?
DJ: I think Trystan is back, I think if you look at Trystan's velocity and how his stuff is playing right now he is very, very close to being right back to where he was. He knows it, he feels it, he has made tremendous strides this year in the rebuilding process. He had to take time off between games, that is not the case any more, he is bouncing back better. He is excited, we are excited and he is finishing the season strong. Alan's coming back well too, I saw him a week or so ago and the fastball looked a bit better, his breaking ball was better. It has been slower with him but Tommy John is a serious injury to come off of and you have your good days and bad days but to get through that first year of pitching is crucial. Guys handle it differently and you see different levels of progression. Randy had some setbacks early in his recovery from Tommy John and we had to back off on him, get him more rest, take a couple of weeks off. He is back up to 89-91 again and his slider is getting better all the time, it's still a little bit big but right now we are happy for him to get through this year.
BB: John Stilson went on the DL and now he is back he is in the bullpen, is that where he will stay for the rest of the season?
DJ: He will be a bullpen guy here for the last month. That was by design, it was going to happen anyway. It was an innings thing, it doesn't mean he won't be a starter next year but we track innings and pitch counts and it was time for John to head to the bullpen to finish the innings he has left.
BB: Earlier in the year you said Sean Nolin was a pitchability guy who needed to have all of his four pitches working. Coming off his ten strikeout game is that still the case or has his stuff improved?
DJ: Yes and yes. He had a sore shoulder, no big deal we just had to back him off a bit. Now he is back and fresh again and he is popping 93-94 now and his fastball is playing real good. His curve was good the other night too, his curve was (major league) average, his change was average and the slider is right there too although the curve is better than the slider. The other night he had a great fastball, he competed, he attacked the zone and he feels good which is the most important thing. He punched out 12 or 13 earlier in the year and when he gets on a roll he can carve some people up.
BB: Last time we spoke you said Deck McGuire had an execution issue, is that still the case?
DJ: Yes, I am in New Hampshire now and the last game he pitched here he didn't execute, he was up in the zone. We have a side session and we are going to look at some things to get the pitches down in the zone where they need to be. Again he is a four pitch guy, like Sean Nolin, and he needs to have all his pitches going. It's been a learning expoerience for Deck and we will be on that learning curve the rest of the year.
BB: I think I know the answer to this question before I ask, but have you been surprised by Chad Jenkins success in the majors?
DJ: No, and I will tell you why. He has always been on the attack and he has always been a strike thrower. He is in a role now at the major league level and he can handle the pressure real well, he could always do that, it was never about the pressure it was always execution. He seems pretty locked in at the major league level and the sinker is working well, whether it's the atmosphere he is in, but he is getting a good angle on the ball, down the bottom half of the zone and the sinker is working for him. The outings I did see he was getting some sliders in there too. It could be a combination of him cutting down his toolbox of what he throws out there and being more aggressive in the shorter outings. I am not surprised, am I pleasantly surprised? Absolutely, but he has been through a lot and deserves all the success he can get. I am sure the adjustments will come when more people see him and Chad will have to figure that out also.
BB: Danny Barnes was successful last year in Lansing but had the reputation of being a one pitch pitcher. This year he has built on that success in Dunedin, is he still a one pitch pitcher or has he built on it?
DJ: He is commanding the fastball well and he does have a slider going. The slider has been on and off but it has been more on than off and it gives him another pitch to go to. He gets outs with both of those pitches, he gets guys to chase up in the zone, the hitters don't see him well and he has been aggressive and around the zone. He tried a curveball earlier in the year but he has put that away now.
Thanks to Dane Johnson for spending some time with us.