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In the On-Deck Circle: 16 candidates to become the next Major League Lugnuts

March 11, 2022

Seven former Lansing Lugnuts made their MLB debut in 2021 — Josh Palacios, Ty Tice, Tayler Saucedo, Conner Greene, Kirby Snead, Otto Lopez and Kevin Smith — bringing the total to 161 all-time Major League Lugnuts alumni since the Nuts first arrived in Lansing 26 years ago. Which brings us

Seven former Lansing Lugnuts made their MLB debut in 2021 — Josh Palacios, Ty Tice, Tayler Saucedo, Conner Greene, Kirby Snead, Otto Lopez and Kevin Smith — bringing the total to 161 all-time Major League Lugnuts alumni since the Nuts first arrived in Lansing 26 years ago.

Which brings us to 2022. The lockout is over, there is labor peace, and there will be Major League games sooner rather than later. Who will be the next Lugnuts to arrive? We submit the following candidates:


Gabriel Moreno was warmly regarded when he joined the Nuts in 2019, replacing the promoted Alejandro Kirk. He was not, however, considered one of the truly great prospects in baseball. Things have changed. Moreno dominated Double-A New Hampshire last year to the tune of a .373 batting average and a 1.092 OPS, was shut down due to injury, then recovered well enough to play in the Arizona Fall League and prove himself once more. He enters 2022 as the best prospect in the Toronto system as well as one of the top handful of catching prospects in all of baseball. He'll start this year in Triple-A Buffalo with a path to becoming Toronto's No. 1 catcher just around the corner.

The 2021 Lansing Lugnuts starting rotation was filled with great talent, only to see each ace disappear: Jeff Criswell, Brady Basso, Rafael Kelly, Stevie Emanuels, and then later Jorge Juan fell victim to injury, and Seth Shuman and Richard Guasch were traded to Washington. The two stalwarts through the summer were Reid Birlingmair and a bearded redhead from Delaware, Colin Peluse, who began the year piggybacking in relief and ended it as arguably the top pitching prospect in the Athletics' organization. A September promotion to Double-A Midland brought superb results, with Peluse firing 11 scoreless innings in his first two starts. Should the A's need starting depth during this season, Peluse's name is sure to come up.

Jordans Near and Far

The best hitting prospect on the 2019 Lugnuts was 19-year-old Jordan Groshans. The best hitting prospect on the 2021 Lugnuts was 20-year-old Jordan Díaz. (There were no 2020 Lugnuts.)

Groshans (rhymes with "oceans"), the Blue Jays' 2018 first-round selection, needs a spell of good health. He was limited to 23 games with Lansing three years ago, and then played in an injury-shortened 75 games with Double-A New Hampshire last year. Still, he has continued to exceed above his age and experience level, setting himself up for great things this year.

Díaz made a fine first impression in Lansing, homering in his first at-bat of 2021. It was the start of a 13-homer, 38-XBH season coupled with a mere 58 strikeouts in 365 plate appearances. He finished the year with a .288 average and .484 OPS and was placed on the Athletics' 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. (There was no Rule 5 Draft due to the lockout, so carry on.) 2022 sees Díaz arrive in Midland, ready to build up steam for an upcoming MLB charge. A more significant question moving forward: what's Jordan's position? He opened 2021 at third base for the Lugnuts, then tried out first base, and finished the year in left field.

Speed and Utility

Quick, who holds the Lugnuts' single-game stolen base record? For years, it was in the possession of a slew of players, each with three steals in one game. Then in 2018, Samad Taylor nabbed four to set the new record, broken in 2021 by Max Schuemann's five-steal game on June 16.

Taylor and Schuemann have more than steals in common; they entered 2021 as scouting afterthoughts compared to their highly ranked teammates and concluded the year as candidates to be plucked in the Rule 5 Draft. Taylor, only 19 years old when he spent 2018 with the Lugnuts, slugged 16 homers and stole 30 bases for Double-A New Hampshire last summer. Schuemann, the first Eastern Michigan Eagle to ever play for the Lugnuts, finished the year with 52 steals, batting .320 in Double-A Midland after a midseason promotion. In addition to their speed and hitting ability, the two players present defensive versatility, able to play everywhere they're needed in the outfield and infield. Both get their first taste of Triple-A in 2022.

Don't forget, too, about Taylor's 2018 Lugnuts teammate Chavez Young, who ascends to Triple-A this year and presents defensive expertise in the outfield, a strong arm and great speed.

Arms in Reserve

Competition in spring training could bring any of a number of former Lugnuts their first Major League opportunity sooner rather than later, beginning with Zach Jackson, who was masterful in Lansing in 2017, reached Triple-A Buffalo in 2019, was plucked from Toronto's system by Oakland in the Rule 5 MiLB draft, recorded a 0.55 ERA in 14 relief appearances with Double-A Midland last year (34 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings!), and finished the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.

In 2018, southpaw Zach Logue turned in nine splendid starts for the Lugnuts. Last year, he was one of the best pitchers on a terrific Triple-A Buffalo squad, finishing 9-3 with 93 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings. Logue figures to return to the Bisons' rotation with a promotion to Toronto just a phone call away.

Graham Spraker pitched effectively for the Lugnuts in 2018, posting a sparkling 3.26 ERA. He was even better in 2019 with Dunedin (2.90 ERA in 108 2/3 innings), though his reputation as a pitch-to-contact guy took a hit last season. 65 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A has that effect. Spraker was honored as Reliever of the Year in the 2021 Arizona Fall League, and rightfully so: 11 1/3 scoreless innings, with just six base runners allowed.

The tallest Lugnut in team history was 6-foot-9 Fitz Stadler, who converted from college reliever to Nuts starter in 2019 with flashes of dominance over his 106 innings. That dominance turned into a regular occurrence in 2021, when Stadler struck out 52 in 35 2/3 innings with New Hampshire, then whiffed 17 in 13 innings at Buffalo. Command will be the key as Fitz returns to Buffalo in 2022.

Stadler's parallel in the Athletics' system might be former Michigan Wolverine Jack Weisenburger, boasting a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and monster slider, who came out of the gates blazing for the Lugnuts in 2021 with 26 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings and finished the year in Double-A Midland. Triple-A Las Vegas, a pitcher's nightmare, looms ahead.

Keep an eye out for Danny Young, a lefty from the 2016 Lugnuts pen who landed with the Seattle Mariners this offseason after spending 2021 with Triple-A Columbus; converted catcher-turned pitcher Hagen Danner, who swatted 12 home runs for the Nuts in 2019, then notched 42 K's with a 2.02 ERA for Vancouver in 2021 and landed on the Jays' 40-man roster; and Illinois legend Garrett Acton, who struck out 34 batters in 17 1/3 innings for the Lugnuts after a promotion from Low-A Stockton. One would figure that Acton's on his way to Double-A Midland to begin the summer, but he might have the highest MLB ceiling of any A's Minor League reliever.

Coda: Noda

He owns the Lansing franchise record for most walks in one season, 109, achieved in 2018. He was a Double-A All-Star last year, playing for Tulsa in the Dodgers' system, leading the Double-A Central in both home runs (29) and walks (74). This year, Ryan Noda brings his power and patience to Triple-A, and then, perhaps, The Show.

Any names we omitted? Let us know with an email.