Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Top 10 Prospects


The Top 10
   Ranking the Jays’ top 10 prospects is a little bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark.
There are bits and pieces of research available on the web.  Some are fabulous, others are a waste of time.  Some are simply cut and paste jobs from other sites.  Some sites are in bad need of an update.
Some are free and chalk full of information, while others reveal nothing until you break out your wallet..
And then there’s the fact that other than some shaky, hidden camera-like quality videos to watch on MLB Prospect Portal, the reports that are available to compile this list from are second-hand.  At best.
  Then there’s the whole methodology and rationale on how to go about evaluating and compiling the prospects on this list.  Do you go for ceiling, or close to major league readiness ? Or a combination of both ?  Working with young people and trying to project them four to five years down the road is an inexact and risky science.  At the same time, we love potential:  those that are, in the words of General Manager Joanne Gerace in Roger Kahn’s book of the same name, “Good Enough to Dream.”

  Given the above issues, I have endeavoured to put together a list that is the best that I can cobble together from the various sources, and tried to balance both the questions of projection and preparedness.  I am not a major league scout; I have spent a lifetime working with and coaching young people in a variety of sports, including baseball, and I think I can tell an athlete from a non-athlete (that’s a post for another time).
  I have including rankings from the 4 sources I respect the most: Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Keith Law.  Probably in that order.  Note:  some rankings had not been updated since December.  Top 100 rankings, where applicable, are included in brackets.


 #1  Aaron Sanchez
7/1/92             6’4” 190 lbs               BR/TR      Acquired:  1st Round (34th), 2010
Rankings:
Baseball America:  1 (65th )            Baseball Prospectus:  1 (32nd)
Fangraphs:  1 (23rd)                         Keith Law:   1 (19th)

  As the final details of the R.A. Dickey trade were being finalized, I was “Klaw’ed” on Twitter:
   

  Keith Law was not terribly impressed with the above comparison.  Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, among others, came to my defence moments later.  The Halladay comp came from a pretty credible source - Jays’ pitching co-ordinator Pat Hentgen, who apparently came away quite impressed after a visit to low Class A Lansing to visit the club’s trio of prized arms (Sanchez, Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino). 
   That Sanchez was viewed as the pick of the crop in the mids of the Jays’ braintrust  became apparent as the other two young arms were dealt in Alex Anthopolous’ overhaul of the parent club.  And while one can argue the relative merits of the three,  in the aftermath of the wheeling and dealing, Sanchez became the consensus pick as the organization’s top prospect.
   Pitching in low class A at the age of 19, Sanchez’ innings were closely monitored.  While he had some command issues, most scouts seem to feel that it was more a product of his youth and the movement on his fastball.
  If he can harness his control difficulties, most agree that Sanchez projects as a future top of the rotation pitcher. 

Upside
-throws 3 pitches (Fastball/Change/Curve), all of which grade above average;
-fastball clocks in the mid-90’s, with natural life, down in the zone;
-12-6 curveball;
-loose, easy delivery;


Downside
-control problems at times
-difficulty finding a consistent release point
-still more of a “thrower” in some scouts’ eyes.




#2 Marcus Stroman
5/1/91           5’9” 185lbs       BR/TR              Acquired: 1st round (22nd overall) 2012
Rankings:
Baseball America:   3rd                                   Baseball Prospectus:  6th
Fangraphs:  7th                                                Keith Law:  3rd

    One day, the 2012 draft may be seen as the tipping point for the Blue Jays.  While the details represent a post for another time, it changed the club’s drafting strategy immensely.  The club opted to roll the dice, and took a number of high-risk/high reward picks.
  Like Marcus Stroman.
  While many detractors were concerned about his size, Stroman was labeled among the most major-league ready of all the draft prospects.  And with a rash of injuries to the major league staff, Stroman appeared on his way to a September call up, after stops in short season and AA ball…..
   Until a positive drug test in late August resulted in a 50 game suspension.
  Never mind that the steroid in question isn’t prohibited in the major leages (he wasn’t on the 40 man roster at that point).  Apparently, it was a supplement he bought from a GNC-type store (he now wisely allows the Jays training staff to program his dietary regimen).  Now, some may doubt, but as the parent of two high level athletes, I’m amazed at the products they add to their smoothies – legally, it seems, because they have to be tested throughout their seasons – yet I could see how they could easily purchase and ingest something that was on the banned substances list without knowing it.  As a result, I’m prepared to give Stroman the benefit of the doubt.  In an interview with Griffin this spring, he seemed genuinely contrite for his actions.
  Despite concerns about his size, Stroman throws a plus fastball, and his slider has been tagged as his out pitch.  The question is what his role will be.  There are those who feel his fastest path to the bigs is via the bullpen.
  Pleased with his progress, the Jays allowed him to pitch in a game toward the end of spring training against the Pirates, where he threw two hitless innings, and impressed many.

Upside
-fastball that sits in the 92-93 range
-slider in the low 80s with “nasty movement” to both sides of the plate

Downside
-lack of downward plane on the fastball due to height
-lack of movement on fastball


#3 Roberto Osuna
2/7/1995         6’2” 230 lbs                 BR/TR              Acquired:  FA 2010 ($1.5m)
Baseball America: 2nd                         Baseball Prospectus: 4th
Fangraphs:  2nd                                   Keith Law:  2nd (87th overall)

   A year from now, I may kick myself for not ranking Osuna first or second on this list, but his age, coupled with Stroman’s apparent major-league readiness, have him in the 3 spot.
   There’s a lot to like with this kid:  a plus fastball (92 – touches 94), that he can cut, giving him  movement, an advanced change-up for his age, and a slider that from all accounts has improved dramatically.
   And then there are the gems he twirled last season:  in his short-season debut with Vancouver, he struck out 13 of 17 hitters he faced (many of them college players), and gave up only one hit over 5 innings – at the age of 17.  He was similarly dominant in two playoff starts, and got the victory for Lansing in front of 12 000 fans in an exhibition game against Michigan State.
    So….what’s not to like ?  Well, his size, for starters.  Already a big boy, scouts have expressed concerns about his conditioning as he matures.  He has reportedly worked hard to stay in shape, however. 
 And some have expressed concerns about his mechanics.  The start of Osuna’s delivery is smooth and compact, but he finishes with a somewhat violent motion, and there are those who worry about the stress that torque might put on his shoulder.
  Still, there’s so much to like.  He’s just (hopefully) quite a few years away.  If he were American, Osuna wouldn’t even be draft eligible until 2014.  There’s plenty of projection with this kid, but as with all youngsters, he’s bound to have some downs with his ups along the way.

Upside:
-throws three plus pitches
-advanced command and feel, especially with his changeup
Downside:
-conditioning
-mechanics – stress on shoulder

#4 Daniel Norris
4/25/1993       6’2” 180 lbs                 BL/TL               Acquired:  2nd Rd 2011 Draft
Rankings:
Baseball America:  NR (pre-trade rankings)            Baseball Prospectus:  7th
Fangraphs:  6th                                                  Keith Law:  NR

  Yet another roll of the dice for the Jays’ scouting staff.
Widely considered to be among the top prep lefthanders in the 2011 draft, signability concerns led Norris to slip the the 2nd round, where the Blue Jays gave him 2 million reasons to forego his commitment to Clemson (and helped the club get over the inability to strike a deal with top pick Tyler Beede).
   Because he signed only hours before the mid-August deadline, Norris’ professional debut was delayed until to 2012.  And the results were decidedly mixed.
   Norris throws three pitches that can be considered plus.  His fastball touches 96, his changeup sits mid 80s with some movement, and his curve (when it’s on), features a sharp bite.
  He had trouble, at times, commanding his curve last year, and some inconsistency with his delivery may have led to a whopping 8.44 ERA (albeit in just 42 innings).  Some scouts suggest that his overall performance was solid (as his peripheral numbers would suggest), and that he was victimized by a few big innings.
   Norris is ranked by many as a potential front of the rotation starter if he can iron out the command and release point issues.  He still is a considerable distance away from the majors.

Upside:
-electric fastball;
-already features 3 plus pitches;
Downside:
-hitters sit on his fastball when he can’t command his curve;
-still working on consistently repeating his delivery;


#5 Sean Nolin
12/26/1989     6’5” 235 lbs        BL/TL            Acquired: 6th Rd, 2010 Draft
Rankings:
Baseball America: NR*                      Baseball Prospectus:  2nd  (97th)
Fangraphs:  7th                                    Keith Law: 5th

    No other pitcher, perhaps no other player period, made as much progress over the course of the 2012 minor league season as Nolin did. He dominated High A ball with Dunedin, with a 9-0 record and a 2.19 ERA, and didn’t miss a beat when promoted to AA New Hampshire in August, posting a win and 2 no-decisions in 3 starts.  If the injury bug rears its ugly head again with the major league staff, Nolin may be among the first call-ups.
   At the same time, at the age of 23, there’s a feeling that Nolin may have come close to reaching his ceiling.  His fastball grades as average, as does his curve and slider, and Nolin has a  changeup that KLaw terms “fringy.”  In fact, Law sees more value for Nolin in a relief role.  Most
rankings have him as a fourth starter. Just the same, he missed a lot of bats last year.
   Besides Stroman, Nolin may be the most major-league ready prospect in the organization.

Upside:
-could likely step into a major league bullpen with little difficulty;
-could see a higher ceiling if he can better develop his secondary pitches;

Downside:
-average fastball; lack of secondary pitches at the moment;
-not much more room for projection;


#6 D.J. Davis
7/24/1994       6’ 180 lbs        BL/TR                          Acquired: 1st Rd (17th overall) 2012 draft
Rankings:
Baseball America: 9th                                     Baseball Prospectus: 5th
Fangraphs: 5th                                                 Keith Law: 7th

   Most scouts would agree that Davis is a premium athlete, and he may have been the fastest player in the 2012 draft.  He was labeled as the best Mississippi high school draftee since Charlie Hayes.  Davis progressed through three leagues, ending the season in the short season Northwest League. 
    He’s the highest-ranked position player in the organization. So why don’t I have him ranked higher ? 
     Again, I call on the genius of KLaw:

   This is not to say that I’m not a believer; Davis may be the least major-league ready position player prospect on this list.  Most lists have him ahead of Nolin; I would have him behind Matt Smoral if not for the fact that he hasn’t thrown a minor league inning yet.
   Why am I hesitant to be higher on Davis, then?  Despite his speed, there have been more than a few suggestions that he doesn’t get good reads or take effective routes to flyballs, and his arm doesn’t grade out high enough to overcome those misjudgements.  Others have suggested that he still has much to learn as a base stealer, as well.  And his bat is projected to be more of a line-drive type, with limited power.
   At the same time, many comparisons have been made with Kenny Lofton.  Of course, Lofton played only a handful of college games, and didn’t make his major league debut until he was 24 years old.  All of which means that there’s still plenty of time for Davis.  He’s just very raw at the moment.

Upside:
-speed to burn; could become an impact player offensively and defensively;
-elite athlete; lots of projection;

Downside
-incredibly raw – will need plenty of development time;
-power and arm grade out as average, at best, at the moment;

#7 Matt Smoral
3/18/1994       6’8” 230 lbs                 BL/TL               Acquired: Ist Rd (Comp) (50th) 2012 draft
Rankings:
Baseball America:  NR*                                 Baseball Prospectus:  7th
Fangraphs:  9th                                                Keith Law:  4th

   Not even Marcus Stroman symbolized the Jays’ 2012 high risk/high reward draft philosophy more than Ohio prep lefty Matt Smoral.  Ranked among the top high school southpaws heading into the draft, a freak accident during a spring trip to South Carolina with his High School team led to a stress fracture in his foot, and subsequent surgery, which ended his senior year after only one start.
   As a result, Smoral fell to the Compensation Round of the draft, where the Blue Jays were able to persuade him from playing college ball for North Carolina, thanks to a $2 million bonus.
   Smoral’s fastball touches 95, and his slider hits the mid 80s, with plenty of sink to right-handers.  Opinions about his changeup vary; some call it a work in progress, while others call it an above-average pitch. 
   Madison Bumgarner is the comp most frequently made to Smoral.  While his path to the majors may not be as rapid as Bumgarner’s was, Smoral has plenty of room for projection.  Many scouts view him as a front of the rotation, power type of pitcher.  He, too, is a number of years away.

Upside:
-plus fastball already;
-potential power pitcher;

Downside:
-command/control issues
-hasn’t pitched in over a year


#8 Adonys Cardona
1/16/1994       6’1” 170 lbs                 BR/TR              Acquired: FA 2010 ($2 mill)
Rankings:
Baseball America: NR                                    Baseball Prospectus: NR
Fangraphs: NR                                    Keith Law: 8th

 So, it’s my turn to go out on a limb.
Cardona was widely considered the top hurler in the 2010 International Free Agent class.The Blue Jays signed him to a $2.8 million bonus, the highest ever for a Venezuelan Free Agent.  Higher than Felix Hernandez, or Jesus Montero, to name a few.
   To date, the results don’t seem to have borne out this bonus prophesized, through through a combination of arm soreness and the Jays’ cautious approach.
   Cardona was only 16 years old when he was signed, so the slow path of development is understandable.  After being kept in Florida for extended spring training for a second year, Cardona was sent to Bluefield of short season ball, where he pitched only 15 innings before arm soreness shut him down for the season.  In his less than 50 IP of pro ball, he has demonstrated some command issues.
  Given that he hasn’t demonstrated a lot beyond a lack of arm strength to this point, it is not easy to defend his inclusion in this list.  Just the same, he oozes projection.  Cardona already touches 95 mph with his fastball, and several sources describe his 12-6 curve as a “hammer.” Cardona has an easy delivery and sound mechanics, and his overhead arm slot creates a good downward plane on his pitches.  His changeup is not at the same level of development, but there is hope, given his age, that it will come.  Watching video of Cardona, the ball seems to explode out of his hand.
  With the plan for Cardona to continue to build his arm strength this year, his innings will again likely be limited and closely monitored.  He still projects as a front end of the rotation starter.

Upside:
-plenty of projection; still growing and maturing;
-fastball already can hit 95;

Downside:
-still needs to develop arm strength; hasn’t thrown many innings yet;
-control issues;

#9  John Stilson
7/28/90           6’3” 200 lbs                 BR/TR              Acquired: 3rd Rd 2011 draft
Rankings:
Baseball America:  5th                        Baseball Prospectus: NR
Fangraphs:  11th                                  Keith Law:  NR

   In early 2011, Stilson was projected as a possible first-round pick.  The Texas A&M product had led NCAA Division 1 pitchers with a microscopic 0.80 ERA in 2010.  A torn labrum in May caused him to slip to the 3rd round.  Surgery was initially prescribed, but a regimen of rest and rehab was later ordered, postponing Stilson’s pro debut until 2012.
  Stilson progressed through two levels last season, ending his year with AA New Hampshire.  His numbers would suggest that he tired as the season wore on, which wouldn’t be a surprise.
  He throws two pitches which have been graded as plus.  Stilson’s fastball sits between 93 and 96 mph, and his changeup (which BA described as “wipeout”) has great sink to righthanders.  He also throws a slurvy type of breaking ball, which he can change speeds on to be a curve or slider.
   While the Blue Jays have cleaned up Stilson’s mechanics, there is still concern that his delivery, with a cross body action, is quite violent, and could lead to further injury down the road.
   His quickest path to the major leagues could be as a reliever.  He has the type of batt-missing power arm the Jays covet in the bullpen.

Upside:
-potential power arm, with plus fastball
-devastating changeup

Downside:
-injury history; mechanics concerns
-some control issues last year

   #10 Santiago Nessy
8/12/1992       6’2” 230 lbs                 BR/TR              Acquired:  FA (2009)
Rankings:
Baseball America:  NR                       Baseball Prospectus:  NR
Fangraphs:  8th                                    Keith Law:  10th  

    Baseball is a game of timing.  With the trade of a pair of catchers ahead of him on the depth chart (D’Arnaud and Perez), and the injury (Jimenez – may be limited to DH duty at New Hampshire for the first part of the season due to Tommy John surgery), Nessy’s path to the major leagues may be a lot clearer and quicker. He might soon be in the right place at the right time.
  Nessy, the 10th ranked prospect in the rookie level Appalachian League with Bluefield, will likely reach the majors because of his bat, although his defence has come a relatively long way.  Despite his size, reports suggest that he has improved greatly at blocking balls in the dirt.  Working with the legendary Sal Fasano, Nessy’s game-calling ability has drawn rave reviews.  His arm grades out as plus, and he threw out 33% of baserunners last year.
  Nessy’s swing can be a little long, and selectivity at the plate appears to be a concern. He shows an ability to drive the ball, just the same.
   Nessy is still quite young for a catcher, and still very raw.  His development will likely take a very slow and gradual progression, despite the openings above him.

Upside:
-offensive abilities;
-leadership qualities; level of effort to improve
Downside:
-despite improvement, offence still ahead of defence;
-despite pop in bat, a better approach at the plate is needed;

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