Blue Jays' top prospects stay hot in Vegas

Blue Jays' top prospects stay hot in Vegas

Blue Jays' top prospects stay hot in Vegas
TORONTO -- It's not easy going from a middle-of-the-order bat on a big league club to a place you haven't been in years -- the Minor Leagues -- but that's what Adam Lind is experiencing.

Luckily for him, he has the support of Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Chad Mottola, who knows all about the ups and downs of the game.

Mottola was drafted ahead of Derek Jeter in 1992 and went from being one of baseball's biggest prospects to a player who struggled to stay in the Major Leagues. He battled through the same experiences as Lind, and he's fully confident that Lind will get back to the highest level and become the successful hitter who clubbed 35 homers, drove in 114 runs, and batted .305 en route to a Silver Slugger Award in 2009.

"I told him he needed to be himself again," Mottola said. "He needed to get that slow, natural rhythm back, get his hands there early. It has been good to watch because he has a smile on the baseball field again. Knowing Adam, that is a big step for him. If he just laughs and has fun and makes the game a game again -- which is hard to do -- he will be fine."

Lind was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas and then placed on outright waivers after hitting .186 with a .586 OPS over 118 at-bats with the Blue Jays to start this season.

It wasn't just Lind's numbers that prompted the demotion, however, according to Blue Jays manager John Farrell. Toronto saw limitations to Lind's range at first base and wondered whether his conditioning played a factor in that.

To Lind's credit, he has gone on a tear in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Through his first 24 games, Lind sports a .421 average, six home runs, 25 RBIs and a 1.181 OPS. Lind declined an interview request through a team spokesperson, but Mottola said Lind has handled the transition quite fine, and his adjustments are evident.

"He's been great from Day 1," Mottola said. "He came down ready to work on things. He's such a natural hitter. He got mechanical up there [in the big leagues] and then he got to a place he had never been in his career and didn't really have anywhere to turn."

Lind isn't the only 51s player that has caught the attention of Mottola. Two of Toronto's Top 20 prospects -- Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Gose -- have made tremendous strides and are enjoying strong 2012 campaigns.

d'Arnaud

d'Arnaud got off to a slow start at Vegas, but Mottola was never overly concerned about it.

Mottola said the 51s were experimenting with d'Arnaud at the plate earlier in the year and were letting him test different batting stances. They felt d'Arnaud was so advanced as a hitter that it wouldn't hinder his development.

"He's a freak, he could stand one way and a completely other way the next time up," Mottola said. "There's nothing that holds him back. It comes so easy for him."

d'Arnaud has put that slow start behind him and is enjoying an exceptional year at Vegas. Through 57 games, the backstop is batting at a .346 clip to accompany 15 home runs, 46 RBIs and a 1.014 OPS.

Mottola doesn't believe those numbers are simply a product of the PCL.

"These days, it's rare to see anyone hit .300 with power," Mottola said. "The fact that he can do it as a catcher is the icing on the cake."

As far as the defensive side of the game, d'Arnaud's throws from home to second base have been clocked as low as 1.84 seconds, and he has recently started taking grounders at first. d'Arnaud is not changing positions, but he's athletic enough and would be ready to do so if an opening was created at the Major League level, according to Mottola.

Gose

The speedster, who led the Eastern League with 70 stolen bases in 2011 and is the league leader in the PCL this year with 24 thus far, got off to a slow start that prompted a change in his batting stance. Mottola got him to spread out more at the plate, and says he has seen a major difference since.

Gose was hitting .216 after the first month but has raised his average to .295. What impresses Mottola the most, though, is Gose's defense.

"As a center fielder, he has thrown a couple guys out at home that I want to tell him to not even make the throw," Mottola said. "It's definitely a plus-plus arm. The thing that makes it good is that he gets rid of it so fast and he's so accurate."

Mottola said Gose has the ability to take over a series with his skill set.

"He disrupts the whole game," Mottola said. "He creates errors. There should be a stat called errors created, because he does that with his game-changing speed."

The 51s team is stellar up the middle of the diamond, and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is no exception to that.

"It's kind of crazy to sit back and watch those guys defensively," Mottola said. "The Blue Jays got something special coming up."

The biggest question surrounding Hechavarria's ability has been his bat, but Mottola said he's silencing a lot of the skeptics.

Hechavarria has been going up the middle and pulling the ball with more power and consistency. The biggest thing he still needs to work on, according to Mottola, is his ability to recognize and hit breaking balls. Mottola has seen improvements in those areas, however, and believes Hechavarria's bat -- which has driven in 42 runs -- is almost Major League ready.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.