The Next Major League Lugnuts
The compelling thing about Lansing Lugnuts baseball is the feeling that when you attend a game at Cooley Law School Stadium, you're watching future Major Leaguers in action. If you came to a game five years ago, chances were that you saw future aces Aaron Sanchez or Noah Syndergaard on the mound. Four years ago, you saw Toronto closer Roberto Osuna or Tigers southpaw Daniel Norris. Three years ago, there was Oakland Athletics 2017 Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman. And onward.
Last year, six former Nuts made their MLB debut: four Blue Jays pitchers (Dustin Antolin, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody and Chad Girodo), one Blue Jay infielder (Andy Burns, now playing in Korea), and one Padres infielder (Ryan Schimpf).
Let's talk about who's next.
- Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Toronto: Barring injury, you'll see the 2015 Lugnuts first baseman in the Major Leagues sometime this year. He's the Blue Jays' first baseman of the future, whether as soon as June/July or as a September callup.
- The Great Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B, Atlanta: Balbino played for the Lugnuts in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. Then he was released by Toronto, signed to play independent baseball, and was named Baseball America's 2014 Independent League Player of the Year. He crushed it in the Kansas City Royals' organization at Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, played serviceably in 2016, and signed a free agent contract with the Braves this offseason. Petition to Atlanta: Bring The Great Balbino to The Show.
- Casey Lawrence, RHP, Toronto: Casey is a heck of a story. He was throwing about 85 to 87 miles-per-hour as a nondrafted free agent with the Lugnuts in 2010 and 2011, and would give of his time freely whenever we needed anything from him. Now, with his control finer than ever and his velocity into the 90s, he's on the cusp of cracking the Blue Jays' bullpen.
- Chase De Jong, RHP, Seattle: Traded to the Dodgers in order to allow the Blue Jays to sign Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. for a decreased penalty, and then traded to the Mariners during spring training, Chase is on the verge of joining the M's rotation. He's starting the year in Triple-A, I'd wager. If he puts together a successful stint in Tacoma, he's making it to Seattle as soon as this summer.
- Anthony Alford, OF, Toronto: Every year, Anthony takes another gigantic leap forward, which makes sense considering the still-minimal baseball that he's played in his life compared to baseball players his age. If he stays healthy -- and there were two significant fluke injuries last year -- he remains a game-breaking talent, capable of taking over the game in multiple ways.
- Conner Greene, RHP, Toronto: Last year's command issues in Double-A New Hampshire took Conner from the track of can't-miss star and put him nicely below the radar. A repeat of Double-A before his first taste of Triple-A wouldn't be so bad.
- Richard Ureña, SS, Toronto: Ureña continues to make believers every Spring. He's more powerful than you'd think, he's better defensively than you'd think, and he's more mature than you'd think. Double-A first, Buffalo to follow, and Toronto in September.
- Dawel Lugo, SS, Arizona: While he was in Lansing, a rival team's coach once asked me about Dawel, "Is it true that if you threw the rosin bag at him, he'd still swing?" Then the light bulb flashed on and Lugo crushed it in both A-Adv. and Double-A last year, earning a ticket to both the Arizona Fall League and the Arizona 40-man roster. He's playing in Triple-A at the very least.
- Jon Berti, UT, Toronto: The Berti family is from Troy, Mich., allowing Jon's brother to work in the Cooley Law School Stadium box office while he was playing in Lansing in 2012. After spending last year in New Hampshire, the speedy super utilityman moves up to Buffalo this year.
- Tim Mayza, LHP, Toronto: The Blue Jays, just like every team, need effective left-handed pitchers. Enter Mayza, whose velocity registers in the high-90s and is paired with a wipeout slider. I expect he'll be in Buffalo to open the year, and perhaps Toronto for an audition sometime mid summer.
- Brady Dragmire, RHP, Texas: Brady, who grew up down the street from Rowdy Tellez, was a converted shortstop out of the Sacramento suburbs. His stock appeared strong with the Blue Jays, but then he hit a rough patch last year and was dropped from the 40-man. Now he's with the Rangers, heading to Triple-A and looking to command his two-seamer.
- Wil Browning, RHP, Toronto: The submariner from Sallis, Mississippi, allowed just a .215 batting average last year, posting a 1.94 ERA in 46 relief appearances for Double-A New Hampshire. Someone, somewhere, somehow, is going to see if he can dominate right-handed batters in the Majors the same way that he dominates them in the Minors.
- Jimmy Cordero, RHP, Washington: Jimmy had pitched exactly one game above the Gulf Coast League before joining the Lugnuts in 2014. In an interview, he told me that he could throw the ball 100 mph. Since then, he's been traded to the Phillies, then the Nationals, and at last check, he was still throwing anywhere from 98 to 102. He's on the Nats' 40-man roster, too, and they're a team that could use some bullpen help.
Did I miss anyone? Email me at jgoldstrass at lansinglugnuts.com or catch me on Twitter @jgoldstrass.
Next week: The Opening Day roster is revealed!