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.