Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator. Dane has joined us here on Da Box many times over the years and I recently caught up with him for a mid-season update on some of the minor league pitchers.
BB: I wanted to start by asking about some of the kids in short season ball. Shane Dawson is Canadian and has been pitching well. How hard is his fastball?
DJ: He is 87-92. We have seen a lot of life out of his arm, we like what he is doing so far, we put him in the rotation. He really competes on the mound, his demeanor, his tempo, the confidence he brings to the mound is impressive for a kid his age. He is a go-getter, always willing to learn and work hard. He has made adjustments, not just this year but from last year into this, and he is a good athlete too by the way.
BB: He has a lot of strikeouts and reportedly has a good breaking ball.
DJ: He has a curveball, its a little soft, its a 12-6'er and we think that will tighten up as he goes along. There is the possibility of adding another breaking ball, he is a good candidate for that.
BB: Alberto Tirado this year versus last, has much changed?
DJ: We just want Tirado to calm down and repeat his delivery. When he got to Bluefield this year he was a little over-excited, started overthrowing, he needs to stay within himself. In his last few games he has been better than that, showing how good he can be. He has made some strides maturity wise, physical maturity wise. Repeatability is what we are looking for from him, throwing strikes, being able to command the fastball. Secondary pitches are coming, he has better feel for his change-up. He has a little 2 seamer we are working on too. We are going to go as fast as he can go, obviously a very exciting young arm.
BB: Is his fastball still in the 94 range?
BB: Chase DeJong looks like he has gotten off to a slow start in Bluefield, he has given up a lot of hits. What's up with him?
DJ: Oh no, we are happy with what he is doing. I think he is throwing the ball great, he did a great job in extended spring. He is incorporating all three pitches in his game. He sometimes gets up in the zone and thats where they get the hits. When you see the types of hits they are getting and how he attacks the zone, you would see he is doing a nice job. We are happy with his progress, he has made some leaps and bounds from last year with his command and being down in the zone and throwing more strikes. Again, the quality of strikes, could that improve? Absolutely. But I am happy with where Chase is right now.
BB: Matt Smoral has had trouble throwing strikes, is that due to his size or some other issues?
DJ: He has had injury issues including blister problems and he has been up and down and not able to get into any kind of a groove, he hasn't been able to get consistent work in, from throwing on the side to throwing programs. He is just starting to get back, he has struggled some right now but his last two innings were much better, he punched out 4 guys in 2 innings. We are still looking for consistency in his delivery. He is a big bodied guy and being 6' 7" or 6' 8" with long arms and long legs and putting all that together is going to take a little bit and a lot of repetition. His confidence needs to pick up a bit but once he sees success the confidence will pick up along with it.
BB: Tell me about Jesus Tinoco.
DJ: Tinoco is a power righthander, a very interesting kid. Nice delivery, smooth arm action, another guy at 93-95, sometimes 96, has hit 97. Comes out good, the lanes on his fastball are good. Again ne needs to corral the command, which has taken a nice turn for the positive since spring training. Back then he just got to North America, trying to figure out what's it all about. His curveball is 12-6, its going to be plus, and he has a good feel for the change-up. Again it's about consistency and going out there and getting the reps every 5 days, 60 pitches every 5 days and we are seeing progress every time out. He has a nice body, big physical looking kid.
BB: Is there anything new on Osuna?
DJ: I do not know other than they are trying to figure out what, when and where will be happening with him. But that is a medical decision, not mine.
BB: What is the difference in Daniel Norris, this year versus last?
DJ: I just got back from Lansing and I was very pleased with how Danny threw the ball this last time out. He repeated his delivery, threw strikes, challenged hitters, had three pitches going, went through four innings, had a little hiccup along the way, got through it, which is important and he has made progress as far as that goes. He will stay there in Lansing and continue to get the reps he needs.
BB: So he is throwing mid 90's?
DJ: He's 92-93 and pop a 94 or 95 here or there. His change-up and slider have come a long way and he is using them effectively within his game plan. He has a fourth pitch, a curveball, that he throws here and there and all are getting cleaned up better and better as far as being around the plate and being useful to him.
BB: And similarly, how has Aaron Sanchez improved this year versus last?
DJ: He is a more mature physical kid, better able to pound the zone. His misses are better this year than last, his delivery is cleaned up and he understands his keys. He understands his strengths and weaknesses and we just need to give him the ball every fifth day and let him compete. We just need to finish polishing him up.
BB: Let's talk about Marcus Walden. He throws hard, gets good results except his strikeout numbers are not great, at AA do you not need to see more strikeouts?
DJ: No we like the groundballs Gerry.
BB: But in the major leagues some of those ground balls go through, right?
DJ: Yes but he will roll another one and get the 6-4-3 or the 5-4-3. He is not a big strikeout guy, he doesn't have that big strikeout pitch. He has incorporated a curveball, he calls it a curveball but its more like a slider. He has a nice cutter and a great 2 seamer that saws off the barrel. This year he has incorporated his change-up a ton more than he ever has and he is going 6-8 innings all the time. He started slow, like he did last year, but he threw well the last half of last year in Dunedin and he is doing the same this year. I am not worried, he will continue to throw that sinker in there, one pitch, two outs.
BB: Another sinker/slider guy in AA is Ryan Tepera. But he has upped his strikeout numbers this year.
DJ: Ryan's stuff has gotten a little firmer, a little sharper too, he is a 92-94 guy. If Ryan is throwing strikes, if he is throwing his quality pitches, its going to be a real good night. He can put you away with his slider, he also has incorporated his change-up more after we really encouraged him to do it and forced him.
BB: Sean Nolin had his major league adventure where he was punished for poor command. Is it all about command with him now?
DJ: Yeah, Nolin has always been able to command the ball pretty good. We always want to get our game better as far as command goes. I wouldn't say he was affected by his major league experience, was he embarrassed, I don't know. I was there when he went up and when he came back. He came in with a grin and said I don't remember anything. It went real fast for him, like anyone called up for the first time and no matter how much you tell a guy they just have to go up and experience it for themselves. Sean will be a better pitcher for what he went through. He and Stroman are part of a great AA rotation.
BB: So on Stroman, the knock on him is that he is a short righthander with a straight fastball. What does he have to do to work at the major league level?
DJ: Getting him to throw out, over and down and getting downhill plane on his pitches which creates more life, more sink on his two seamer and his change-up. It makes all of his pitches more effective when they get on a downhill plane. When he starts getting out of it and leaking and getting under the ball, his stuff stays flat and is more hittable no matter how hard he throws. Can he still get guys out like that? Yeah, but at the level you and I want to see him get outs he needs to stay over the ball and get as much plane as he possibly can. He understands that, he understands his keys, he just needs to do it.
BB: And finally, this new weighted ball program, are you rolling it out to every level to whoever wants to do it?
DJ: Its on an experimental basis right now with certain guys that we are implementing it on. First with guys who need help bouncing back better. The weighted ball program is a two headed monster, are we looking for more velocity? Its not something we are looking for. Do we have guys on it that it might help velocity wise, absolutely. We have guys on it who need help with shoulder maintenance and shoulder routines. It has been implemented at certain levels with certain guys and we are still looking at feedback from that. We think its going to work, we are in, at the end of the year we will sit back and assess. We have already had some nice feedback on it.
Batters Box would like to thank Dane, as usual, for his time.