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Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator. Dane has joined us many times on Da Box over the years. Today I caught up with Dane as he was on the road and we discussed some of the pitchers in the system. I have lost my voice recorder so I just took notes of our conversation, reproduced below. Any errors are mine. I asked mainly about the lower levels of the system as we tend to know a lot more about the pitchers in AAA and AA.

I started by asking about the weighted ball program. This was the first off-season that a number of pitchers used the program and the Jays were waiting to see what impact it had this spring. Dane said they were very happy with the program and he mentioned Taylor Cole as one pitcher who had benefitted. In Dane's opinion the weighted ball program gave pitchers more crispness to their pitches, it helped with the spin on breaking balls and gave them more life and action on their pitches. These were not off the chart improvements but small incremental improvements. The Jays will continue with the program.

We then moved on to discuss some injured pitchers. Adonys Cardona has started to throw again and he could be in games before the end of the season. Roberto Osuna is throwing on the side and in batting practice, he should be back around the end of July. Patrick Murphy, the Jays third round pick from last season, had TJ surgery in 2013. As he rehabbed he developed another injury that set him back. He did not pitch in extended spring this year. He is throwing again now and should pitch in a game in the first or second week of July. Tom Robson elected for rest and rehab on his elbow rather than surgery and he could also be back in July.

One pitcher who is not on a roster is Tyler Gonzales who was a supplementary first round pick in 2012. Gonzales is still in Dunedin trying to find a delivery that works for him. In extended he continued to be plagued by walks.

I asked Dane about some of the 2013 draftees who are in their first full seasons. Jacob Brentz is a converted outfielder who is still raw. Dane described him as a hard worker with three pitches. Connor Greene (7th round) is a tall skinny RHP who needs to grow into his body and develop strength. Evan Smith (4th round) is a taller, 6'6", lefty who is also coming along with a three pitch mix. Smith, like Greene, needs to develop strength which will help with pitch consistency, durability and in getting more zip on his pitches.

Ryan Borucki is a 2012 draftee who needed TJ surgery and missed all of 2013. Dane described Borucki as a long loose lefty who throws 90-92 with room to grow and who has a three pitch mix, FB, change, slider. Matt Smoral was also drafted in 2012, 50th overall, and is a 6'8" lefty. Smoral had a good first start in Bluefield this week. Smoral struggles with FB command and had a tough end to 2013 and a tough start to 2014. But Dane has seen improvements although the command is still a work in process. Smoral can throw 94-95 but he is throwing 90-92 at the moment to help his command. Smoral gets good extention out front so that his fastball seems faster as it is delivered closer to the plate. Dane mentioned that Smoral's slider helps him get his FB back on track when it gets loose. In a story on Bluefields web page Smoral said that all of his strikeouts this week were on sliders.

Carlos Ramirez has just started pitching last month after ending his outfield career. Ramirez is throwing 92-93 MPH with a change and a slurvy breaking ball he is working on.

Jairo Labourt and Alberto Tirado struggled with FB command in Lansing this season. They are both now in Vancouver. Although the caliber of hitters in Vancouver is not too far from Lansing, the fact that Vancouver is a short season league is less stressful for the pitchers and the Jays hope they can better develop there before trying Lansing again next spring. Tirado is currently dealing with a sore shoulder but he should be back in a week or so.

Miguel Castro is a late bloomer who, when Dane first saw him in the Dominican, was a 150 pound, 6'5" pitcher who was all arms and legs. He put on some weight, learned to control his body but is still described as raw. He is in Vancouver to experience pitching before crowds and under the lights and this season is looked at as a development year with his first time away from the complex.

I asked Dane what Chase De Jong needs to do in the second half. He said keep the ball down. He said De Jong doesn't have great movement on his FB so he needs it to be down in the zone to make it less hittable. This is what he did in his start last week.

I asked about the Dunedin pitchers who are waiting to go to AA. Dane said that Taylor Cole is ready and just needs an opportunity. Matt Boyd needs to sharpen his FB command. He said he got away from that earlier in the season and was exposed when he was briefly promoted to AA. Boyd is working on that now. Dane also volunteered that Kendall Graveman is getting close to being ready for AA too.

Briefly Dane mentioned that Starlyn Suriel has pitched well and earned his Vancouver starting job but he is short for a starting pitcher so it will be interesting to see how he develops. Suriel is listed at 5' 11" which means he is probably 5'9" or 5'10". Jesus Tinoco has a big fastball but he can get out of his delivery and is working on that.

Thanks Dane.

A Discussion with Dane Johnson | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
tercet - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 11:31 AM EDT (#289021) #
Osuna being back by July means he will be seeing GCL around then?  Or possibly he will be seeing some games in Dunedin?
Gerry - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 11:34 AM EDT (#289023) #
I could see a couple of GCL starts first then maybe Lansing or Dunedin. Depending on how rehab goes they might get him to Dunedin so he could extend his season by pitching in the playoffs.
bpoz - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 11:49 AM EDT (#289025) #
Thanks Gerry. That is a long & impressive list of pitchers in A+ and lower.
I guess the recruiting people should be applauded. Hopefully their string of good results continues this year via the recent draft & the Int'l recruits.
Mike Green - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 12:32 PM EDT (#289027) #
Thanks, Gerry.  This is very informative, as usual.
christaylor - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 02:14 PM EDT (#289029) #
This post was great.

I wonder about this comment though:

"In Dane's opinion the weighted ball program gave pitchers more crispness to their pitches, it helped with the spin on breaking balls and gave them more life and action on their pitches. These were not off the chart improvements but small incremental improvements. "

If this is opinion formed from evaluations done by someone who knows which pitchers received the treatment (i.e., the weighted ball program) and which did not. It the scouts doing the evaluations know if the pitcher received the treatment then their opinion is likely influenced by confirmation bias. I know it is unlikely to hope that a baseball team use a double-blind method and a random sample for treatment and control groups, but boy o' boy I'd really into it if the Jays were doing things way. Baseball in general has caught on to statistics, but doing actual well-grounded experiments on the effects of certain type(s) of training, rather than just tinkering, that'd be nice to see.
Beyonder - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 02:21 PM EDT (#289031) #
How could you even do a double blind study?
Gerry - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 02:23 PM EDT (#289032) #
I think it was Dane's own opinion and yes, it would be subject to confirmation bias. It would also be subject to "the boss thinks this is a good idea so I think it is too" bias.

But the Jays do have a lot of pitching coaches so it would be interesting to know if they all agree with Dane. You also get feedback from the pitchers who used the program. The program is best for older pitchers with more mileage on their arms. Those older pitchers tend to know what they want and usually aren't shy with their opinions. If a pitcher thinks it did nothing for him he would discontinue the program. And to be clear I don't know how many pitchers are on the program or if any have stopped the program.
soupman - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 04:27 PM EDT (#289037) #
Another big thanks, Gerry. Great stuff as always.

Wow - are there ever a lot of tall pitchers on the farm this year.
christaylor - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 04:32 PM EDT (#289038) #
Good point. Brain freeze. All I was thinking about there was the use of blind rater. One could compare two treatments and keep the information about which treatment the team believes will work. A treatment and a "placebo" training method.
Gerry - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 04:45 PM EDT (#289039) #
Baseball America has a story about a pitcher who went on the weighted ball program. He gained 10 mph on his FB, got stronger, sharpened his delivery and his curveball. It sounds like what Dane said about the Jays program.
uglyone - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 06:21 PM EDT (#289044) #
To be honest Dane's weighted balk quotes sounds to me like he's not seeing any tangible results but is towing the party line anyways.

And i don't get the Cole thing. There's plenty of room for opportunity in that AA rotation.
John Northey - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 09:39 PM EDT (#289054) #
Who is in each rotation now?  With all the recent promotions it gets hard to keep track.
AA I think is...
Radhames Liz, Daniel Norris, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Scott Copeland, Casey Lawrence of those Norris is the only one sub 26 (thus a real prospect) while Liz is a project that the Jays hope to call up thus needs innings (0.47 ERA in AA so far).  Lawrence and Copeland are 26 thus very marginal prospects and Dirkx is organizational depth.  Any of them outside of Liz and Norris could be shuffled in any way (AAA, bullpen, released) without a strong negative effect on the club.  Thus, yeah, Cole should be in AA if the Jays feel he is ready for it as should anyone else in A+ who is ready (Boyd and/or Graveman).  Given Cole is 24 it really is a make or break year for him so I'd push him to AA ASAP while keeping an eye on Graveman and Boyd to see if they have learned what is needed for them to succeed in AA.

AAA I think is...
Liam Hendriks, Sean Nolin (no games since June 17th), Deck McGuire, Esmil Rogers, Aaron Sanchez, (Ricky Romero has only started but hasn't since June 1st).  They've had P.J. Walters and Raul Valdes start recently - not sure what is wrong with Nolin and Romero (well, we all know what is wrong with Romero but not why he isn't playing).  Drabek is in the pen.  I suspect Liz will get another AAA shot soon and Norris might as well before the year is out with both having real shots at August or September call-ups to the majors if needed.
jayBlue - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 10:16 PM EDT (#289060) #
I think an issue with promotions is not whether there is a spot in AA, which I agree there is, but who fills the spots from low A. None of the starters there seem to deserve a promotion.
CeeBee - Thursday, June 26 2014 @ 10:25 PM EDT (#289062) #
Romero had knee surgery several weeks ago and is out for the rest of the year.
John Northey - Friday, June 27 2014 @ 12:10 AM EDT (#289064) #
Thanks CeeBee - totally forgot (I think I'm forgetting anything about Romero on purpose now).  The 'nice' thing about Dunedin is having a horrid team wouldn't hurt the fan base or ownership as the team is owned by the Jays and 'fan support' is more via mechanical fans cooling players off than fans in the stands given their average of 768 fans per game last year which was worst in all of minor league baseball.  Ick.  So they could have me pitch and I doubt it would hurt that fan base (might hurt a few people outside the outfield fence with all the home runs given up though).
A Discussion with Dane Johnson | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.