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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mulliniks’ Moustache #12 – Pitch Talks #1

On Monday night, I had the opportunity to attend an interesting event, called Pitch Talks. It was, in essence, a baseball panel program where baseball fans have the chance to listen to people in the baseball industry talk about…baseball, and more specifically, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Pitch Talks #1 was hosted by comedian Jordan Strofolino, who even got a dig in against my patron saint, ‘ol Rance Mulliniks, claiming that he got a bunt base hit by hitting the ball off his Adam’s Apple, but it was unconfirmed because it was long time ago and stats weren’t kept back then.

First out of the gate was a comedian – Dylan Gott, who warmed the crowd up for a couple of minutes. Is a baseball forum the ideal place for a comedian? Probably not, but Gott at least focused on a subject that was near and dear to his rotund heart: the oddly-shaped baseball stars we all know and love. From David Wells to Rod Beck to Prince Fielder, and his father Cecil Fielder, then finishing with the obvious target: Babe Ruth. Gott held his own and elicited a couple of laughs.

Soon enough, though, the focus was on one of the first of the main attractions: Jared Macdonald from JaysProspects.com, who is an expert on Blue Jays prospects and claims to have seen every one in person.

Macdonald had a lot to say, of which I will not repeat verbatim because I didn’t take a single note. A Coles’ Notes version:
  1. When prodded by an attendee to identify “the one that got away” in regards to the prospects Alex Anthopoulous included in the Big 3 trades over the past two years (to Houston; to Miami; and finally to New York). Macdonald tried desperately not to, but like the rest of us, he maligned the loss of Thor himself, Noah Syndergaard.
    Jared Macdonald
  2. He also outlined the basic “20-80” scale for rating prospects where 50 is an average major league player.
  3. He described the “Seven Levels of AHL” (basically a joke about trying to describe the baseball minor leagues versus hockey minor leagues). AAA, AA, High A, Low A, Rookie Ball etc
  4. On at least three occasions, Macdonald espoused the virtues of the Lansing Lugnuts, the Blue Jays A-level affiliate. He seemed to really love the starting rotation, but mentioned that they’re “stacked on both sides of the ball.”
  5. There was even a quiz on the five “tools”? What are they? Hitting, Hitting for Power (they’re different!), Defence/Fielding, Arm Strength and Speed.
  6. Speed and arm strength are two “unteachable” skills.
  7. One particular prospect, a diamond in the rough if you will, that Macdonald recommended we keep our eyes on was RHP Alberto Tirado.
He discussed much more and went into detail on a number of topics, primarily based on a far-reaching Q&A session. Overall, Macdonald was engaging and comfortable and imparted significant knowledge on all of us.

Next up should be well-known to any reasonably-savvy Toronto baseball fans, the co-authors of Great Expectations, which outlined the disaster of the Toronto Blue Jays 2103 season, John Lott from the National Post and Shi Davidi from Sportsnet.

Before I get started on the Lott/Davidi portion, I have two pieces of full disclosure:

  1. I haven’t read Great Expectations. Even I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment. I lived through last season, I don’t know if I want to read a book explaining why it was such an epic failure.
  2. John Lott was my teacher at Centennial College, during much of my formative writing years. When he opened his mouth on Monday night, it was like I was instantly transformed right back to my scrawny 19-year-old self. I was at least partially mentally preparing myself for him to rip a piece of my writing to literal shreds in front of everyone. But suffice it to say, he was an incredible teacher: gruff and acerbic at times, but fully prepared to call anyone on anything. Most of all, though, he knew his stuff like no other.
Now, back to business:
Both Lott and Davidi covered a wide, wide range of topics, of which I will touch on only a few here. Sorry! I was too busy listening to remember everything. They played off each really well and started their portion of the evening by giving their thoughts on the Blue Jays/Ervin Santana/Deferment story, which we all know by now is a downright bonkers situation. (As an aside Ken Rosenthal even reported early on Monday that the Major League Baseball Players Association had ALREADY APPROVED the move.

Shi Davidi & John Lott
Lott made a point of saying that the combination of a new Rogers CEO – Guy Laurence – and the Rogers massive investment of $5.2 billion, (yup, that’s with a “b”) over 12 years for the NHL broadcast rights has to have played a part in the fact that Alex Anthopoulous couldn’t get +/- $14-million to sign Ervin Santana. Davidi mentioned that it seemed a no brainer to spend $14-million to justify the $135-million they already have invested in the coming season. It was a very good point. They both agreed that Santana would be a clear upgrade on the other options the Blue Jays have/had, but he’s not necessarily enough to lift them out of last place, let alone to a playoff berth.

Next was a very sobering part where Lott and Davidi broke our collective hearts. For the first time that I can remember, a person “in the know” – in this case Lott – said that the Blue Jays being in Canada is absolutely a detriment to signing free agents and it would cost a premium to get them to come up to the frozen tundra we slog through every summer (that’s my editorialization there, not his). Davidi didn’t directly comment on this, but nodded approvingly during Lott’s speech.

Further to those points, it was depressing for some, and eye-opening for others, to hear that players (namely Matt Garza and the aforementioned Santana) didn’t want to sign with the Blue Jays because they're in the AL East. To wit: why would they choose to play in the toughest division in baseball?

They commented on the embarrassment the Blue Jays must have felt when they DFA’d Jeremy Jeffress and tried to recall Chad Jenkins, despite the fact that that was against the rules because they had to wait 10 days from the start of the season. The result, of course, was that they were forced to recall a clearly-not-ready-for-primetime player in Marcus Walden. They both, at least partially, attributed this gaffe to the fact that past Blue Jays executive Jay Satori left for a position at Apple. He was the Jays Collective Bargaining Agreement guru, whom they both thought would’ve known that rule.

Both were VERY high on Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays two most highly-touted pitching prospects who they thought may be seen at the major league level this season. Davidi even commented that Stroman is the Jays most highly-touted prospect since Roy Halladay.

It was nice to hear Lott mention his "sentimental" feelings toward wanting to see Dustin McGowan do well this year after all he's been through. (John, forgive me for committing a Cardinal Sin of Journalism, but I’m going to approximate one of your quotes here: “We all know there’s no rooting in the press box, but everyone in the press box is rooting for that guy.”) Oh John, you’re such a softy. Please don’t tell him I said that.

They talked about the Jays not willing to give contracts longer than five years, and how that affects them getting (or not getting) a lot of talent. They policy makes sense, to a degree, because the Jays won’t have any terrible 10-year contracts for 40-year old players, but it also ensures they’ll have a harder time signing players.

Davidi said that the Blue Jays went hard after Anibal Sanchez last year and were willing to go to a six year contract for him. Also with noting that Lott though Sanchez was the piece the Jays should have gotten (which, I should add, would have negated the trade for RA Dickey, and thus would have kept Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnault on the team, and subsequent dominoes wouldn’t have fallen…blah blah blah. I’ll stop now. I’m playing a fool’s game here.)

Regarding Ricky Romero: Amazingly, Davidi said that he still thinks it's possible for him to come back one day and do well, while Lott commented how things might’ve been different if Romero had been up-front about his arm/knee injuries from 2012 in the first place.

In the end, though, it was like our host said at the start of the evening: Pitch Talks was simply a place for like-minded baseball fans to get together, talk and listen. Overall, a great night.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for Pitch Talks #2 on April 21st, featuring Dan Shulman (ESPN, Sunday Night Baseball), Dave Bidini (National Post, Author: Baseballissimo), Mike Wilner (Sportsnet the Fan 590) and Meredith Rogers (H+K Canada).

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