2020 Envisioning: The Lugnuts' Next Infield

The Blue Jays' top position-player prospect played in Lansing in 2019. Will he be back in 2020? (Miguel Arcaute / Lansing Lugnuts)

By Jesse Goldberg-Strassler / Lansing Lugnuts | September 19, 2019 10:08 AM

In Part I - check it out here - we examined which of the Blue Jays' current Top 30 prospects might play in Lansing in 2020, the 25th season of Lugnuts baseball.

Let's get more specific.

Let's talk catchers and infielders.

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Catchers

The Nuts' 2019 catchers comprised Alejandro Kirk, who likely begins 2020 in Double-A New Hampshire; Gabriel Moreno and Ryan Gold, who likely move up to A-Advanced Dunedin; 2017 second-rounder Hagen Danner, who hit 12 homers in 80 games; and Jesus Lopez, who played in three games at the very end of the year. With that in mind...

  • It would be unsurprising to see Danner, age 21 next year, back for a second go-round in Lansing, whether at catcher or at first base (a position he began to play increasingly as the year went on). The more surprising event: If Danner, a two-way pitching/hitting threat in high school, converted back to pitching.
     
  • Lopez was acquired via trade with Oakland in March 2019 for Kendrys Morales with the intention of moving him to catcher. He's a wild card, having played in the Midwest League in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, the first three of those years with Beloit. Could he play in the Midwest League for a fifth straight season? Has anyone played in the Midwest League for five straight seasons? (The highlight of Lopez playing with the Lugnuts was the forming of an all-Nicaraguan battery with Randy Pondler, clearly special to both of them.)

The two Blue Jays selected two pertinent catchers in the 2019 draft:

  • The top catching pick was Philip Clarke, nicknamed "The Hitman," taken in the ninth round from national champion Vanderbilt (sorry, Michigan!) and signed for $500,000. He opened red hot with Vancouver, was named a Northwest League All-Star, and then finished the year hitting .257 with 21 walks and 22 strikeouts in 37 games. If he's a Lugnut next year - which feels probable but isn't 100% certain, since 2018 fifth-rounder Chris Bec jumped from 2018 Vancouver to 2019 Dunedin - he's hitting in the middle of the order.
     
  • The last catching pick taken by Toronto in June was 38th-rounder Ryan Sloniger, a Penn State product from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Sloniger came out of high school as the No. 28 catcher in the country and the second-ranked catcher in the Keystone State (read this profile of him for more). He inked with the Blue Jays as a senior sign, opened his pro career with Bluefield, moved to Vancouver six days later, came back to Bluefield in July and crushed it: nine homers, a .327 batting average and a 1.031 OPS in 30 games. He finished the year with Vancouver, which would seem to suggest he comes to Lansing next year.

Coincidentally, both Clarke and Sloniger bat from the left side.

  • The primary catcher in Vancouver was Brett Wright, a 26th-rounder from Auburn in 2018 who caught more games than any other Canadian and was likely reading this and wondering when he was going to be mentioned. War Eagle! Wright played in 30 games behind the plate for Vancouver (plus seven games at first base) and hit .192 with two homers and a .333 OBP.
     
  • Bluefield's two other catchers were Andres Guerra, who hit .215 in 30 games but was invited up for the Crosstown Showdown pres. by Auto-Owners Insurance in September, which would seem to bode well for him, and Anthony Morales, who hit .153 in 21 games and would be an unlikely candidate to jump up the ladder.

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Infielders

The potential 2020 Lugnuts infield feels crowded. If healthy, SS Jordan Groshans could be back and would be a priority. SS Leonardo Jimenez and 2B/3B Miguel Hiraldo were sent up to the Lugnuts at season's end as seemingly a taste for the future. SS/3B Orelvis Martinez is a top prospect who's knocking on the door. SS/2B/OF Tanner Morris should be moving upward from Vancouver.

But what about, in no particular order...

  • LJ Talley, the Lugnuts' 2019 second baseman, taken in the seventh round in June from Georgia, who struggled early but recovered late to hit six home runs though his batting average finished at .191. Surely Talley will return for another season in the Midwest League, right?
     
  • PK Morris, no relation to Tanner Morris, the 2019 Crosstown Showdown Home Run Derby Champion, who then lined an RBI single in his first at-bat and reached on a three-base error his second at-bat. Morris spent each of the last two years as the starting first baseman in Bluefield. Does he get the regular first-base slot in Lansing? His production this past year in Bluefield (.253/.370/.416, eight home runs) would seem deserving.
     
  • Trevor Schwecke, drafted in 2019 in the 13th round from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and was a Northwest League All-Star with Vancouver. He played first base, second base, shortstop and third base, and was hitting .289 with a .384 on-base percentage on August 3rd before finishing in a slump.
     
  • Spencer Horwitz, taken in the 24th round in 2019 from Radford, played first base and outfield and even two games at second base in his professional debut. More importantly, he hit. He slashed .330/.395/.471 in 51 games in Bluefield to earn a late-season promotion to Vancouver. If he hits in spring training, he's coming to Lansing, if not Dunedin.
     
  • Davis Schneider, who first played in Lansing in the 2017 Crosstown Showdown, competing in the pre-game Home Run Derby. A second baseman/shortstop, Schneider had a rough start to 2019, hitting just 8-for-55 (.145) in 17 games with Vancouver before he was sent back to Bluefield. But he rediscovered himself in the Appalachian League and had his best professional season: .313/.380/.550 with 13 doubles and six home runs.
     
  • Ronny Brito, a shortstop/third baseman acquired from the Dodgers for Russell Martin in January 2019, and sent up to Lansing for five games at the end of the year. Brito didn't hit - .220/.293/.321 in 65 combined games along three stops on the Blue Jays' ladder this past year - but his defense is respected and his power is raw.
     
  • Luis De Los Santos, another shortstop/third baseman who played a few games (6) for the Lugnuts in 2017, and then played some more games in 2019 (25) before being moved to Vancouver, where he played in 59 games and hit .215/.255/.294. Just like Brito, De Los Santos's defense is liked and his bat is being waited on, with the Blue Jays hoping it will blossom over time.

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In Conclusion

Tough decisions will have to be made, which is a good thing: Competition, you would hope, brings out the most in these players, leading the Lugnuts to have the best of all possible infields starting next year, with depth ready when promotions come.

Here's a big statement, but defensible considering the potential presences of Groshans, Hiraldo, Jimenez, Clarke, Morris, Morris, Horwitz, and onward: The infield is going to provide the backbone of the 2020 Lansing Lugnuts offense.

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Up next...
Part III: The Outfielders
Part IV: The Pitchers

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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