Dane Johnson is the Blue Jays minor league pitching coordinator and a frequent guest here at Da Box. Dane talks to us about instructional league and how some of the younger prospects are doing.
BB: Taylor Cole and Matt Boyd both had mixed results in AA. What was the reason for that?
DJ: There were other factors that I am not going to get into that expedited their move back to Dunedin sooner than what we wanted to do where they could have stayed or maybe made more headway in the working-in period when someone moves from one level to the next. There is no reason why they can't pitch at AA. Boyd went back to AA a second time and pitched well there, although not all the time. I saw him pitch and his fastball command was not there, he was falling behind in the count, he had not done that in Dunedin and I attribute that to being at a new level. I also was there for Taylor's first start when he pitched against Binghamton I think and he didn't have a very good outing. Again he was behind in the count, had to come to the plate and they had some good swings on him. And his next one was a lot better. We knew his time up there might be cut short due to the shuffling of the rosters and I don't think (the demotion) was a reflection on Taylor's performance. He deserves and another shot and he will get it.
BB: Coming back to instructs, were you able to work with Chase De Jong?
DJ: We weren't. He is still sore and tender and he was here just to work with the trainers.
BB: What happened to Alberto Tirado this year and what does his performance out of the bullpen mean?
DJ: We wanted to take a look at Tirado out of the bullpen, not for a role change, but just to get his feet back under him for a few innings. We could get him ore appearances and we had him work exclusively out of the stretch position. He has continued that down here in the instructional league and had success with it so his last couple of outings have been real positive and real good. It looks like he is starting to turn the corner on some of the things we would like to see him do. We like the way the ball is coming out, we like his stuff and we like what is going on in his delivery. He was lights out his last time out, threw a bunch of strikes but that move from the rotation to a relief role was potentially just temporary. I look at him as a starter down the road.
BB: When he is pitching out of the stretch all the time, is that to work on his command or because that was a problem for him when he was starting?
DJ: The full wind-up seems to be an issue so when we are trying to put it together with him we want a simpler delivery to work on right now and just have one movement to the plate, get the ball out in front. Let him repeat that for a while, then jump into more of a leg kick before moving to a full wind-up.
BB: His teammate Jairo Labourt had success in Vancouver but what I hear is that he has a real good fastball but his secondary pitches need some work. I that a fair assessment?
DJ: I don't think so, I think we are going to be just fine with the other two pitches. We love his breaking ball, he has two breaking balls, both sliders, one is a little shorter than the other one. I would say that in his last four starts in Vancouver he started to have more success and get some swings and misses with his breaking stuff. The one breaking ball he was throwing at the start was short and tight and not getting the swing through's that we got when he started to get a little bit bigger with it. But he has kept them both and his change-up has always been good. We look at his arm action on the change, it is good, and he can turn to it when he gets off his fastball command. We like the whole package, he is not just a fastball guy, that's for sure.
BB: These days most pitchers throw in the nineties. Ryan Borucki has pitched well for you but he doesn't throw in the nineties, although he is a lefty. Does he have some major league pitches in his arsenal?
DJ: He has a major league change-up. He has the intangibles on the mound that you like to see, especially from a kid his age, that are far above what you would normally see from a kid that age. He competes, he works at a great tempo, he has a firm fastball. When he learns to pitch inside a little bit more, which is one of the things he was working on there in Vancouver and did a nice job with it. We have carped on the breaking ball a little bit, he got a little tired down here so we had to back off on him. We got some work in on the curve ball, he needs to tighten it a little bit more and start throwing it. Right now its an early in the count pitch more than anything, a get ahead kind of pitch. We have tightened it so now he can extend it down on top of home plate, get some swing through's. That will add to his ability to get punch outs with runners in scoring position. That's a nice addition to the two pitches he has already. In the future I am sure we will explore the slider and see if we can add to that. Then you would be looking at a guy with a four pitch mix and the intangibles he has on the mound, game management, holding runners and all that. That's a nice package obviously.
BB: On the other side of that, Jesus Tinoco throws hard but doesn't miss as many bats as you think he should.
DJ: Yeah, well put. Jesus has done a good job down here in the instructional league, those are some of the things we are working on with him. He did start throwing his two seamer more this year in Bluefield and that got him some ground ball outs. But we were looking at his hits per nine and I was talking with Tony his pitching coach and he thinks those numbers are a bit misconstrued, there were a lot of plays not made, but I am not making excuses for the guy, a lot of soft contact, everything seemed to fall badly for him at the time. We are working to get him over the ball a little bit more, he tends to collapse a little bit, he gets under the ball a bit. He needs to get over the ball and create more downward plane and with the two seamer we think he will be OK. He is also working on a slider here, he has taken to it immediately, he kind of lost his curveball in Bluefield and that left him without a true spinning breaking ball he could go to, every now and then it would show up. But the slider has been a nice surprise for him down here.
BB: Is Adonys Cardona down there?
DJ: No, he is on a rehab with his elbow.
BB: What about Patrick Murphy, he came back from TJ, pitched once or twice and then was gone?
DJ: He is not here, he had thoracic outlet syndrome, surgery and is at home resting.
BB: Jacob Brentz, what have you seen in him?
DJ: We are working on Jacob's arm action, shortening his arm action from glove to back swing, trying to get his hand and arm in a better position. We see him get under the ball a lot and leave it up in the zone, more than we would like and it continues to show up, so we are trying to get him more out front so he can get to the bottom half of the zone.
BB: Grayson Huffman, results-wise, did very well for you this year.
DJ: Yep, he is a JC kid, just turned 19. He has a good mound presence, not intimidated, not scared, just lets go. He is aggressive, wants to be in the zone. He needs to clean up his command. Both his secondary pitches need work, feel to the change-up and feel for the breaking ball and spin to the breaking ball. There are some things he needs to work on and he is down here doing that.
BB: If his secondary pitches need all that work and given his success this year, does that mean he has a pretty good fastball?
DJ: He has a good fastball especially when he is over it and getting it to the bottom of the zone, it has some natural movement and a little deception. If he develops his secondary pitches the fastball will be even more effective.
BB: Sean Reid-Foley, what have you seen in him?
DJ: Sean is a high school kid who throw 65-70 innings in high school and another 28-30 with us. We worked on some things early (in instructs) but then we backed off and now he is just playing catch and throwing on the side. We want to save some gas in the tank, I think he was pretty gassed at the end of the season. But we see a real firm fastball with a lot of life, he has made some adjustments to get it down at the bottom of the zone. When he gets it down, again with a lot of life, hitters don't get good swings on it. He has a change-up and a pretty good breaking ball that's in there, the consistency is just lacking at the moment.
BB: What makes Kendall Graveman different from other sinker, slider pitchers we have seen over the years?
DJ: Kendall can sink the ball to both sides of the plate extremely well and it's consistent command and it's consistent sink and he gets the same results when he stays down at the bottom half of the zone. He is just about as consistent as anyone who has come through here. He sinks to both sides of the plate and his misses are good misses. It all comes back to consistency and repeating his delivery, he has a great mind for the game and is able to repeat. He cuts the ball well, he has a slider to go with it and he has a decent change-up. He understands how to use those pitches, when to use those pitches, knows how to read a swing, knows he can attack the zone because of the movement he has. And he is a bulldog.
BB: Angel Perdomo seems to have made a lot of strides this year.
DJ: Yes he has and he has made more here in instructs. He is a big lefthander, he is a little bit limited in his movements, his agility, that type of thing. But he has big long arms. The slider is improving which is good to see, he is getting some swings and misses with it now, there is still a ways to go with it. There is a little more power on it now and the break is getting more consistent. He sees it and it gives him something to go along with his fastball. He has been working 91 to 93, he will touch 94 every once in a while and we think there is more in there when he learns to control his body because he is such a big guy that we don't think he will be able to master his physical tools for a few years. When the body starts catching up, balance wise, with his physical tools, there is some upside there still. He is a little bit herky-jerky too so there is some deception there, he gets a lot of swing through's on the fastball.
BB: Is anyone catching your eyes there in instructs?
DJ: well I think Perdomo is one of those guys, Carlos Ramirez has had a couple of good outings. Evan Smith, two outings ago had a dynamite outing, his sliders were outstanding, he was throwing it in the same lane as his fastball getting guys to swing over and punch them out. Jimmy Cordero has been good, you know he is 96-99, and the slider is improving. We are happy with his now commanding the bottom of the zone. Justin Schafer has done well, sinker, slider gets a lot of ground balls and swing overs on the slider. Miguel Castro, he has tightened his slider down, exciting arm, long lean body. Not everything we teach down here will stick but we are excited.
Batters Box thanks Dane Johnson for his time.