Preparing for the playoffs. A look at the Vancouver Canadians

It’s hard to call a minor league affiliate that is a few thousand miles from its MLB parent a natural fit, but that is the best description I can think of about Toronto’s relationship with Vancouver.  The Blue Jays have an advantage that no other team in Major League baseball has.  They can have a national brand rather than a regional one, and this relationship only strengthens that growth.

The success of the Canadians has been unprecedented.  They are the two time defending Northwest League champions and have recently qualified for the 2013 playoffs with a chance for a three peat.  I have heard plenty of players rave about Vancouver and since I haven’t had a chance to get out there, I decided to ask a few questions of a guy that I feel knows this team inside and out better than anybody.  I’m of course talking about Charlie Caskey.

If you’re not familiar with Charlie’s work, you should be.  He is a staff prospect writer for jaysjournal.com and also runs his own blog about the Vancouver Canadians called yourvancs.com.  He also has appeared on Jay Blue’s podcast (which I really enjoy) on Bluejaysfromaway.com. You can also follow him on twitter at @CharlieCaskey.

Here is what you need to know about the Canadians and who to keep an eye on as these guys move from their draft year into their full season careers.

OKB:  My first question is around the catching position and particularly Michael Reeves.  His offensive numbers look good, but how is his receiving and catching ability?  I think Santiago Nessy may be someone that could possibly repeat Lansing, so is he someone in your opinion that could be in a position to start next season in Dunedin?

CC: As you well know, Clayton (McCullough Vancouver manager) is an ex-catcher so I figured he would be best to ask.  He likes the defensive work from all 3 of the catchers here.  You’ve probably seen (Seth) Conner more than I have, and Matt Hitt really hasn’t played all that much.  Reeves looks pretty good.  His CS% is only 21% but I reckon most stolen bases at this level are off the pitcher.  His pitch calling is good, and they do call games themselves, although they will go over the ‘plan’ with the pitching coach prior to the game.

At the plate he as struggled mightily of late.  They are trying to get him to drive the ball a bit more whereas at the beginning of his season he was getting very lucky with ground balls finding holes, etc. (think his BABIP for a time was over .500).  Not only are those balls now not finding holes, but they are trying to get him to clear his hips more and find gaps, which also brings about more swings and misses.

My initial thoughts were that he’d end up in Dunedin next season as he’s an advanced hitter and, with 4 years of college ball catching experience, able to work with the younger pitchers (who I hope to see in Dunedin next season).  With his recent struggles though, am not sure.  I definitely don’t think he’ll pass Nessy on prospect charts.

OKB: Dickie Thon is a guy that has been in the system for awhile.  I know he has spent a lot of time on the disabled list.  How would you rate his development from what you have seen?

CC: Thon was very streaky this season, both at the plate and defensively.  You’d see a game where he made all the plays, including some real tough ones, then he wouldn’t be able to make a basic throw.  It’s odd.  At the plate, he was one of the few C’s that was consistently driving the ball.  The flip side of that, is that he went through periods where he couldn’t make contact at all, which shows up in his 28% K rate, which is too high for a guy in his third season of pro ball and who was once deemed a prospect.

Clayton was pretty positive on him, saying he desperately wanted to get back into the lineup to help the team which is why they put him in last week where his ankle was re-injured.

Tough to say really, but if he is done for the year (which Clayton seemed to think) he may need to repeat here which would be disappointing for him, especially considering the strides made by Lugo and Barreto.

OKB: LB Dantzler is an intriguing prospect.  He has good power numbers and his K/BB rate looks pretty solid.  I have to ask how his defense is though.  Is he a bat with a developing glove, or is he a really good and true 1B prospect on both sides of the ball?

CC: After a slowish start, L.B. has been great.  As you mentioned, he doesn’t mind taking a walk  and doesn’t strike out a ton.  That being said, he is predominantly a pull hitter.  Hitting coach Dave Pano loves him, and reminded me that his power didn’t really develop until his sophomore season in college, so he thinks there is even more to go.  He played quite a bit of third in college as well so defensively he is ok.  Pano thinks he has gotten a lot better since arriving here and has better footwork than you’d think for a guy with his body type (think Jeff Bagwell).

OKB:  I saw you tweet something that implies Dantzler had only 1 home HR, which means he’s doing a lot of damage on the road.  How does the ball carry in Vancouver?

CC:     The Nat has to be one of the toughest ballparks in minor league baseball to get it out of.  Remember this used to be a triple-A park and they have not moved the fences since.  It’s 375ft in the power alleys with an 18-20 foot high wall. We’re at sea level so ball does ball does not carry well at all.  I’ve seen many a shot, which I thought was out, die at the warning track.

OKB:  Ian Parmley is someone that I thought we would see in Lansing at some point this season.  Do you know what held him back?  Was it just a numbers game? 

CC:    Parmley repeating was strictly a numbers game.  The Jays have quite a few of his ilk between Lansing, Vancouver, and Bluefield so hard to get them all at bats. I chatted with Dave Pano about him and he believes that with Dwight Smith, Dalton Pompey, and Carlos Ramirez ahead of him, he just got squeezed down.  I was surprised with the Ramirez comment as thought Parmley was ahead of him, but Pano said the Jays are high on him.  He’s very toolsy, and has only played proper ball for a few years so they think they have something in Ramirez.

Parmley is a 4th outfielder type of player.  He has unbelievable speed on the base paths and in the field.  He can field all three outfield spots, but won’t ever hit a ton, and has a very average arm.  He’s most likely org filler, but a valuable one at that.

OKB:  From an arm standpoint, how have the guys that have been sent from Lansing looked?  I’m particularly asking about Alonzo Gonzalez and Colton Turner.

CC:     Alonzo Gonzalez is still struggling.  The mechanical problems that plagued him in Lansing are still there.  He leaves himself open in his delivery so he is missing with his changeup to the arm side and compensating with his fastball by using an exaggerated crossfire delivery.  He needs to get himself more north/south.  That’s easy enough to say.  He started in the pen, then made a couple of starts which didn’t go so well, so looks like he’s back to the bullpen to be a long man for rest of the season.

Colton Turner has been poor on his return.  Admittedly, I was surprised by his demotion considering he didn’t pitch all that poorly in Lansing in a very small sample size.  He’s a bit of a ‘meh’ pitcher so too be perfectly honest, the game I watched him, I was more scouting the hitters.  Kyle Anderson and Colton are very similar in that they seemingly use their fastball simply as a show me pitch to make their change more effective.  In my opinion that’s not really a recipe for success as they move up the ladder.

OKB:  What are your thoughts on this team as a whole?  You guys have been spoiled with two straight championships, how does this one compare?

CC:      This team is a bit blah compared to the last two (bearing in mind I didn’t get to see much of the 2011 edition).  There are very few genuine prospects on the team.  I do like some of the pitchers.  Like Robson and Dawson, but they do not compare in the slightest to Osuna, Taylor Cole, Avendano of last year, etc.  On the hitting side, there is very little extra base pop.  Aside from L.B. and the now departed Leblebijian, there hasn’t been much.

OKB:  Who is the one position player that sticks out in your mind that people aren’t talking about but should be watching?  Who will we be talking about in Lansing next season?

CC:  I’ve taken so long that Dawel Lugo probably wasn’t even promoted when you sent me original mail.  Obviously he’s the one and only genuine positional prospect.  I am guessing the current SS triumvirate of Lugo/Barreto/Ureno will all move up a level. I Need to come up with a nickname for them.  Other than that, I’d keep an eye on utility infielder David Harris and outfielder Chaz Frank next year.  Harris has some pop for his size, can play multiple positions around infield (sometimes not rather well), and can steal you a base.  Frank has made some sensational catches in center, has a 1:1 K/BB ratio, and will hit you the odd double.  Both are gamers and fun to watch.  Clayton made a good point regarding the first players out of college saying that he thinks next year will be when you see how good they can be.  They will have the winter off to recuperate, get in the gym, etc etc.

OKB:  Same question about the pitching staff?

CC:  Pitching wise, Tom Robson is the one to keep an eye on.  If he can learn to consistently command his curveball I think he’ll do very well in the Midwest Lg.  The other two to watch out for are the big left handers out of the ‘pen (although one or both may start next year) Matt Dermody and Scott Silverstein.  Dermody’s numbers speak for themselves.  Silverstein has an Aaron Loup style crossfire delivery and can hit mid-90s so may very well have a future as a LOOGY.

OKB:  If anyone is in the Vancouver area and has a chance to take in a game at Nat Bailey, what can fans expect?

CC:     The Nat is an absolutely fantastic place to watch baseball.  From the setting, to the stadium (it’s old, but has charm and the staff are amazing), to the in game experience, I think it’s unbelievable.  The weather has been great this year which has helped them set another attendance record.  I think they are averaging only 200 under their capacity which is pretty sensational.  They have a kids area, a bbq area, micro-brews (for excessive prices, but hey, can’t have everything) and all sorts of between inning entertainment which keeps people involved.  Add in all the ‘celebrity’ appearances they have had this year, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, Joe Carter, etc etc  and it’s pretty amazing

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