Thursday, September 26, 2013

7 Bluefield Jays Make BA's Top 20 Appy League Prospects list

   And astounding 7 members of this year's edition of the Bluefield Blue Jays were named to Baseball America's annual Top 20 Appalachian League Prospects today, including 5 of the top 10.
   Outfielder DJ Davis was the highest-ranked Jay on the list, coming in at #2.  This despite the fact that Davis may not have advanced as much at the plate as we would have liked, hitting .240/.323/.418.   A late August slump that seemed to effect much of the team dropped his numbers somewhat, but obviously he had built up enough of a body of work for BA to be impressed.

   Mitch Nay was the next Jay on the list at #4.  The 3rd baseman capped off a great pro debut season by winning MVP honours for the Northwest League playoffs after his promotion to Vancouver in late August.
Nay hit .300/.364/.426 for Bluefield, then hit .381 with a home run and 4 RBI in 5 playoff games for the NWL champ Canadians.

   Shortstop Dawel Lugo followed Nay at #5.  Lugo joined Nay in Vancouver, after hitting .297/.327/.469 for Bluefield.  There is doubt that he will stay at short as he progresses through the minors, but his bat will likely propel him to the majors one day.

   Chase DeJong was #6 on BA's list.  The second year righthander, a 2nd round pick in 2012, struck out 66 Appy League batters in 56 innings. He has the long, athletic frame that the Jays covet in a pitcher.

   DeJong's rotation mate Alberto Tirado came in as the 8th ranked prospect.  Tirado was 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA.  Appy hitters batted only .228 against him.  Tirado is yet another power arm in the lower rungs of the system.

   Lefthander Jairo Labourt followed at #12.  Labourt struck out 45 and walked only 14 hitters in 51 innings, compiling a 1.92 ERA.

   A bit of an eye-raiser was Adonys Cardona, who was ranked as the 16th prospect. Cardona, who made some analysts' top 10 list of Jays prospects prior to the season, was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA.  Cardona was shut down in early August and sent back to Florida.  Still, there must be plenty of room for projection for BA to include him in the top 20.

  The Bluefield Jays had an impressive season, finishing second in the Appy League's east division, before falling to eventual league champ Pulaski in the semi-finals.

Monday, September 23, 2013

AFL Update

  So, after our post about the 7 Blue Jays prospects headed to the Arizona Fall League in October was made, some roster changes have taken place.
   A.J. Jimenez was placed on the temporary inactive list by AAA Buffalo in late August due to nerve irritation in his throwing elbow.  This would be the elbow, of course, that Jimenez had Tommy John surgery upon in May of 2012, and cost him a full calendar year.  Jimenez had a good season at three levels, and seemed poised for a promotion to the big club when major league rosters expanded on September 1st.  The assignment to the AFL was a good idea in our eyes, because it would extend his season a bit, and give him a taste of high level competition.  Now he's been shut down, and likely won't pick up a baseball again for at least another three-four weeks, if not longer.  Jimenez' place on the Salt River Rafters roster will be taken by Derrick Chung, who caught at High A Dunedin this season.
   Lefthanded starter Sean Nolin also won't be making the trip Southwest. Nolin appears headed to winter ball in the Caribbean, which is something of a surprise.  MLB teams prefer the AFL because they can monitor their prospects' more closely, and play under better conditions.  Righty Drew Hutchison, who has had an up-and-down recovery from Tommy John, will take his place, and get some extra innings in.
   Southpaw reliever Tyler Ybarra, who was lights out in the High A Dunedin pen this year, also won't be making the trip to Arizona now.  No reason was given, but Ybarra did work a career-high number of appearances and innings this season, so he may be shut down.  Righthander John Stilson, who had a solid year after being transitioned to the pen for Buffalo, will take his place.
   Righthander Marcus Stroman, who had a great year for AA New Hampshire, is high among the list of prospects's Jonathan Mayo is looking forward to seeing:

   Stroman is still starting, and it looks like he should stick there, proving to everyone that an undersized right-hander can fill that role. He had a tremendous year in the Double-A Eastern League in his first full season (10.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, .234 BAA, 3.30 ERA), so even though he missed a chunk of the year, he's really not behind the development curve at all. Stroman threw 111 2/3 innings, so he should still have plenty left in the tank.
That doesn't bode well for the AFL hitters, but it works out just fine for those of us who can't wait to see Stroman's electric stuff on the mound.

 Righthanded SP Aaron Sanchez, 3B Andy Burns, and OF Kenny Wilson will be joining Hutchison, Chung, Stilson, and Nolan on the Rafters' roster.
   No one likes to see summer come to an end, of course, but these guys almost make one look forward to October.

   This is big in Salt River, apparently....


System Watch: Up the Middle

Dawel Lugo
Vancouver Province photo

   For our next installment of our position-by-position look at the Blue Jays minor league prospects, we thought that we would combine 2nd Base and Shortstop.  The positions are fairly similar in terms of their defensive requirements, and a study of the players at those places on the diamond reveal that many spend a fair amount of time at both.
   Starting from top to bottom in the system, let's look at Ryan Goins and Jim Negrych, who handled the majority of games at short and second at AAA Buffalo, respectively.  Goins was something of a power hitter in college, but has turned into more of a line drive hitter since turning pro.  He was called up in late August after the parent club put Maicer Izturis on the DL, and after a hot start, he has cooled off with the bat.  It's Goins' glove that will ultimately get him to the majors to stay, and he has provided solid defense at second in his September audition.  His ceiling is likely as a utilityman at the major league level.
   Jim Negrych had a sizzling first half at the plate, and there were calls to have him promoted.  His second half was another matter, as the career minor leaguer hit .212/.308/.253 from mid-June on.  While he was a useful player for Buffalo, Negrych is an org guy at this point.
   John Tolisano and Ryan Schimpf split most of the second base duties at New Hampshire, while local boy Kevin Nolan played 116 games at short.  Tolisano was limited by injuries to only 64 games, but has hit .238/.322/.395 in 7 minor league seasons.  Schimpf hit a career-high 23 Home Runs, but hit only .210, with 138 K's.  He did manage a .338 OBA.  At 25, he's hit his ceiling.  Nolan hit .262, his lowest average since his first pro season.  Nolan has progressed slowly up the minor league ladder, and at 26 should no longer be considered a prospect.
   Jon Berti played the overwhelming majority of games at 2nd for High A Dunedin.  He was named the FSL's All-Star 2nd baseman, but that may have been more of a reflection of the talent pool.  He's hit.254/.352/.323 in 4 milb seasons.  The undersized Berti racked up 56 steals this season.  He should continue to advance up the ladder next season to New Hampshire, where we'll get a better idea of his long-term prospect status.
  Short at Dunedin was manned by the trio of Peter Mooney, Shane Opitz, and late season call-up Jorge Flores.  Mooney is undersized as well at 5'6".  He hit .244/.365/.321.  Opitz, an early season promotee from Lansing, split his time between 2nd, 3rd, and Short.  The 11th round choice in 2010 out of Colorado HS hit .309/.362/.399 in 60 games with Dunedin.  The athletic Opitz should also get a promotion to New Hampshire at some point next year. The diminutive (5'5") Flores (what is it with this organization and all the Altuves ?)  was promoted from Lansing part way through the year, and was lauded for his defensive skills.  His bat doesn't profile as major league, however.
  As with some of the other positions in the system, it's not until you get to the lower levels of the system that you find the higher-ceiling prospects.  Emilio Guerrero tops that list.  Guerrero is not your typical International signee.  For one, he signed at the relatively old (for an International prospect) age of 18, and just finished his first season of full-season ball at Lansing.  The other oddity is that he's 6'4" - tall for a shortstop.
   Marc Hulet of Fangraphs said, "His actions at shortstop are clunky at times and he lacks fluidity."
So, his body and physical abilities may not project well at short, but all indications are that he just grew into the position over the course of the season, hitting .277/.355/.402, and earning a promotion to playoff-bound Dunedin late in the season.  Guerrero has good bat speed, and uses the whole field.  His future probably lies as a corner infielder, although there's doubt he'll hit enough.  Second base at Lansing was manned by Christian Lopes.  Lopes got off to a flying start in his first full season, hitting .319/.347/. 425 through the first seven weeks of the season.  The Bluefield 2012 team MVP struggled the rest of the way, along with most of his young Lansing teammates, hitting .216/.289/.299 over the second half of the season.  At 21, there's still plenty of room for growth and projection for Lopes.
   Dickie Thon played the bulk of the shortstop action for short season Vancouver.  The namesake of the former major leaguer continued his steady, if not rapid, progress this season. After struggling at the bat for his first two pro seasons, things came together for Thon this season, hitting .280/.370/.378.   Opinions about Thon's ceiling are still varied, but he was an integral part of the league-champion 
Canadians' lineup, even though he missed much of August due to injury.  David Harris played most of the Canadians' games at second, and even though he is likely only an org guy, he came along with 
the bat as the season wore on, and he impressed us with the glove during our visit to B.C.  in July.  
Early in the game, he ranged far to his left to nab a dying quail of a pop-up to short right field. Later, he deftly fielded a slow roller hit to the first base side of second, avoiding the runner headed to second, and threw across his body to get the batter at first.
  Thon was felled by an ankle inury in late August, and was replaced for the playoffs in the Vancouver by Dawel Lugo, who played short for rookie-level Bluefield. Even though he too isn't likely to remain at the position, Lugo is a potential future impact offensive player.  Multiple reports claim the ball explodes off his bat.  Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospect Nation had this to say about Lugo:

   "Summation: Love what he brings to the table. The natural hitting ability smacks you in the face. 
Really impressed with the feel for the strike zone, ability to recognize and track pitches at a young 
age, even though he prefers to swing a lot. You can see it working in his head. Plus hit projection is 
very attainable and he could blow that out of the water. Potential .290+ hitter. Power is in there and will manifest with additional physical maturation and development of his offensive approach. Has lift in the swing and bat speed for 20+ home runs, backed up by piles of doubles. Potential impact middle-of-the-order hitter with average and power. Defensive profile is an open question but has the reactions, hands and solid arm strength to support a shift to third base instead of shortstop. If body comes up short of projections, then he could survive at shortstop in a fringe-average sort of way, particularly with his bat. The development is likely to be slow, but there’s an impact big leaguer in there."

   Sounds like a power-hitting 3rd baseman of the future to us. 

And things get better the deeper you progress.  The possible jewel of the system is Franklin Barreto, who doesn't turn 18 until February.  Barreto was labelled the top international signing in 2012, and his first pro season in 2013 did nothing to diminish that status. You can just about have your pick of the online analyses of Barreto's potential.  Here's one of my favourites from Baseball America's Ben Badler:

   Several teams have Barreto as the top player on their boards. A 16-year-old from Miranda, Barreto has two standout tools in his hitting and his speed. Some scouts project Barreto as a future plus hitter. He has quick hands, a short swing, recognizes pitches well and hits the ball to all fields. With his hitting acumen and plus-plus speed, he could become a potential .300 hitter. Barreto is small and is already a strong, physically mature player, so there are questions about projection, but he hits hard line drives and has shown he can hit the ball out of the park in games, with 15-20 homer potential.

   Barreto hit .299/.368/.529 in his first season of pro ball in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, and then was promoted to Bluefield in August, as part of the moves that saw Lugo go to Vancouver.  After a flashy start, Barreto did struggle against the tougher pitching, but that the Blue Jays brass felt comfortable sending him there tells a great deal how they feel about his character, and his ability to handle a challenge.  Of course, most scouting reports suggest that Barreto profiles more as a 2nd baseman or an outfielder, but he's an exciting offensive player, whose bat will take him to the majors.
   Tim Locastro and Alexis Maldonado split the 2nd base chores at Bluefield.  The former was a low bonus 13th round pick in June, and the latter was a free agent out of Holy Cross. Both played short stop in their senior college seasons.  Locastro had a decent season with the bat (.283/.367/.384), but the sample sizes for both are barely large enough to make a decent judgement on.
  The same could be said for Will Dupont and Rolando Segovia, who shared most of the 2nd base duties opposite Barreto in the GCL.
   One last prospect who shows tremendous upside is Richard Urena.  Urena hit .333/.400./.407 in a brief GCL trial as Barreto's replacement, after hitting .296/.381/.403 in the Dominican Summer League. Urena hits from the left side, and unlike Barreto, Lugo, and Guerrero, is projected to stay at short. Urena attended the Perfect Game showcase in June of last year, and they noted him as:

   Slender young athletic build, wiry strength. 6.96 runner, very light on his feet defensively, quick actions, circles the ball very well, quick release, outstanding arm strength, has all the defensive tools you would look for. Left handed hitter, simple swing mechanics, loose swing with quick hands, stays inside the ball well, aggressive approach, pull contact, projects with the bat.

    Barreto's older brother Deiferson played 2nd for the DSL Jays this summer.  He hit .300/.404/.383, but it was his second tour of the DSL.  It's a bit surprising that he hasn't made it to the GCL yet.  
   So, we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands, mainly because two of the top prospects in this group aren't expected to stay at their current positions.  Just the same, that the club has yet to move them suggests that they will at least let them play themselves out of that position.

Top 10 Blue Jays Middle Infield Prospects

1. F. Barreto
2. Lugo
3. Guerrero
4. Urena
5. Thon
6. Opitz
7. Lopes
8. Berti
9. Schimpf
10. Tolisano

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blue Jays Instructional League Roster & Thoughts

2010 Blue Jays Instructional League
Rocket Entertainment photo

    The Blue Jays have sent an impressive list of prospects to Florida for the 2013 Instructional League season:

Jake Brentz                                          
Miguel Castro
Jimmy Cordero
Chase DeJong
Tyler Gonzales
Conner Greene
Alberto Guzman
Clinton Hollon
Justin Jackson
Jairo Labourt
Daniel Lietz
Daniel Norris
Angel Perdomo
Tom Robson
Evan Smith
Matt Smoral
Jesus Tinoco
Alberto Tirado
Zan Wasilewski

    Thoughts:   This is a mix of some established top prospects (Norris/Robson/DeJong), some rapid up-and-comers (Labourt/Castro/Tirado), some first-year pros who struggled (Smoral/Greene/Brentz), some June draft picks (Brentz/Lietz/Hollon), an intriguing Dominican prospect (the 6'6" Perdomo), and a continuation of the Justin Jackson Conversion Project.  It's a group that inspires a lot of optimism for the future.

Gabriel Cenas
Danny Jansen
Mike Reeves
Jorge Saez
John Silviano
Santiago Nessy
   Thoughts:  Nessy is obviously there to make up for some missed playing time.  It will be interesting to see how Reeves fares against a brief taste of higher competition.  Jansen showed enough in the GCL to warrant the advanced instruction he'll be getting.

Justin Atkinson
Frankie Barreto
Matt Dean
Yeltsin Gudino
Emilio Guerrero
Christian Lopes
Dawel Lugo
Mitch Nay
Gustavo Pierre
Rowdy Tellez
Dickie Thon
Richard Urena
   Thoughts:   The Jays are apparently not ready to give up on Barreto at short.  Guerrero came a long way this year, although there are suggestions that his size (6'4") will ultimately lead to a position switch, too.  Lopes needs to rediscover himself after a bit of a disappointing year at the plate.  It's great to see Dean, Lugo, and Thon get rewarded for great seasons - the same for Mitch Nay, who had a monster first pro season.  Pierre made huge strides, but everyone knows he needs to work on pitch selection.  It's exciting to think that the club considers Urena and Tellez advanced enough to be included in this group.

Josh Almonte
D. J. Davis
Jonathan Davis
Jesus Gonzalez
Derrick Loveless
Dalton Pompey
Freddy Rodriguez
Dwight Smith
   Thoughts:  No huge surprises here.  Davis needs the added experience.  We're happy to see Mississauga native Pompey there.  It's a bit surprising that Vancouver's Chaz Frank wasn't included, but maybe after lengthy pro and college seasons, he's due for a rest (same might be said for LB Dantzler, too).  Still, we'd like to see Frank get some further baserunning instruction.  He sure can get on base, but might need to learn how to read pitchers and learn to pick his spots better.  Smith had a solid season at Lansing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

System Watch: First Base

  When my brother and I were younger, we would misspend much of our youth by playing Best of Seven series with Strat-O-Matic baseball.
   We would pile the cards into a bowl, and then pick 35 or so, then make 10 "cuts" to get down to our final roster. I would whittle my positional players down by their defensive skills.  I took great pride in fielding a team of Bill Russells, Aurelio Rodriguezes, and Garry Maddoxes.  My brother would go for offense, fielding a team of Dave Kingmans, Greg Luzinskis, and Willie Stargells, and hide them at first or dh.  And he would beat me almost every single time.
  Which brings us to our analysis of the Blue Jays first base prospects.  Now, a true first baseman should have some skills beyond his bat, because it is a demanding position.  Just the same, maybe because the mobility requirements aren't the same as they are for other positions, and because you're big makes you a nice target for throws, many players who only have that hit tool wind up at first.  Even when Stargell, in his later years, had all the agility of a phone booth, he still made a substantial contribution to the Pirates' offense.  Being able to hit the ball a long way makes up for a number of other shortcomings.
   Which is why although our Top 10 list for this position looks a little thin, it can change perhaps more than any other position, as players are converted to the position mainly because of their defensive struggles elsewhere, or as new players come into the organization.
   As in our look at the state of the Catcher position in the Jays system, we'll look at the players level by level, then come up with our Top 10.
   Buffalo's 1st base duties this year were shared by a trio of lead-footed sluggers: Mauro Gomez, Luis Jimenez, and Clint Robinson, all of whom fit the profile mentioned above.
   Gomez, the 2012 International League MVP, seemed to have a shot at sticking with the Red Sox last year, but they ultimately decided that David Ortiz still had a few good years left, and let Gomez go.  He signed on with the Jays, his fourth organization.  And he continued to hit, posting .249/.322/.521, to go along with 29 home runs (some of them moon shots) and 73 RBI. Gomez has hit 155 homeruns over his last 5 milb seasons. That the Jays Designated him for Assignment days after the season tells you much of what you need to know about their long-term hopes for Gomez.  The Nationals picked him up, but at 29, he has passed the line from prospect to suspect.
   At 31, Jimenez has made a similar journey into Wily Mo Pena Quad-A land.  He has made the tour of 8 organizations, and has spent time in Japan.  For the Bisons this year, he hit .285/.351/.494, and was an important cog in the Buffalo offence, but he obviously doesn't fit into the Jays' plans.  Nor does Clint Robinson, who won the Texas League triple crown in 2010, but was stuck behind Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Kila Ka'aihue in the Royals' system.  Robinson went to training camp with the Pirates, but was DFA'd at the end of spring training.  The Jays picked him up, and sent him to New Hampshire.  Between AA and AAA, he hit .254/.353/.421.  He similarly doesn't fit into the Jays' plans.
   At AA, the prospect outlook isn't much brighter.  Robinson played the bulk of the Fisher Cats games at 1st, with Kevin Ahrens and Gabe Jacobo playing the remainder.  The former is a 2007 1st round pick, who has hit . 237/.316/.354 over 7 minor league seasons, while the latter has shown some pop, but at 26 has a rapidly closing window.
   It's not until you reach the lower levels of the system that the picture brightens somewhat. K.C. Hobson, a 2009 6th round pick, showed some pop in the humid air and big ballparks of the Florida State League, but hasn't advanced past A ball in his first four pro seasons.  1B at Lansing was split between several players, with Kevin Patterson, Jordan Leyland, and Kellen Sweeney getting the majority of the starts.  Patterson was one of the few home run threats in the Lugnuts lineup, but hit only .212/.301/.424, and at 25, was a little old for Low A ball.  Leyland started the season by repeating at Vancouver, but was leading the Northwest League in hitting when he was promoted to Lansing, where he struggled at the plate. Sweeney split time between first and third, but hit only .185, and has put up a line of .198/.305/.299 over 4 minor league seasons.
   It's not until you get to short season and rookie ball that the brightest lights at the end of the system tunnel appear.  LB Dantzler went from the campus of the University of South Carolina to Vancouver, and was the Northwest League's MVP, as he led the Canadians to their third straight league title.  Dantzler hit .302/.385/.504, with 9 Home Runs (in a tough park) and 35 RBI.  Dantzler was more of a line-drive hitter through his first three seasons for the Gamecocks, but became a huge power threat in his senior year.  Raw power is the term that was common in many scouting reports about him. We'll know more about him when he's finished his first year of full season ball a year from now.
   Matt Dean probably wasn't thrilled at repeating at rookie level Bluefield, but his disappointment faded quickly.  Dean led the Appy League in hitting, and was an all-star at DH (even though he led the loof in fielding percentage).  Dean and Dantzler will probably present a bit of a quandry next spring for the club, because they likely will both need to skip a level in order to play full season ball.
   And maybe the best prospect of all could be found at the lowest level.  Rowdy Tellez was labelled the best left handed high school bat in the draft, but fell to the Jays in the 30th round when he wouldn't back down from his bonus demands.  It took a little while for Tellez to adjust to pro ball when he was sent to the Gulf Coast League, but he finished the season with a flourish.  It will be very interesting to see where he starts the year next year.
  Juan Kelly and Michael De La Cruz split 1st chores for the DSL Jays. It's hard to project either one at the moment.

Top 10 Prospects
1. LB Dantzler
2. Matt Dean
3. Rowdy Tellez
4. Kevin Patterson
5. Gabe Jacobo
6. K.C. Hobson
7. Jordan Leyland
8. Clint Robinson
9.  Michael De La Cruz
10. Kellen Sweeney

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

System Watch: Catchers

   Many Blue Jays fans were disappointed with the play of J.P. Arencibia this season, as he struggled on both sides of the ball for much of the year.  With two of the system's top catching prospects dealt away last off-season, there isn't a lot of depth left to push him.
   A.J. Jimenez is the top prospect at the position.  Jimenez missed much of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and returned to play in May.  After a hot start with the bat at Dunedin and New Hampshire, Jimenez not surprisingly struggled a bit after an August promotion to Buffalo.  His line for the year was a respectable .287/.332/.406.
   Jimenez' receiving and throwing skills are his biggest assets.  His arm and footwork are likely major league ready. A converted outfielder, he is very agile behind the plate. Jimenez' defence is what will get him to the majors, but it's still questionable if his bat will keep him there.
   And there's not a lot of talent immediately behind Jimenez. Jack Murphy and Sean Ochinko would likely be next in line on the depth chart, but the former struggled with the bat backing up Jimenez at AA, and the latter was suspended late in the season for amphetamine use. Murphy is strictly an org guy, while Ochinko, who seems to have settled behind the plate after spending time at 1st and 3rd in previous seasons, did show some promise with the bat prior to this season.
   Below Murphy and Ochinko this season were Derrick Chung and Pierce Rankin at High A.  Chung is a utility-type player who did the majority of the catching for Dunedin.  Chung played at Vancouver last year, but was skipped a level to play in the Florida State League this season. He had a decent year at the plate, hitting .287/.341/.336 - with little pop.  Given his age (25) and size (5'11"), Chung has likely reached his ceiling. Rankin managed only a line of .154/.246/.215 at Dunedin this year.
  Santiago Nessy ranked much higher at the start of the year, and the organization skipped him a level to Low A Lansing. Nessy sufferred a concussion sliding into 2nd on April 24th, and was out of the lineup for over a month.  When he returned, Nessy had some hamstring issues that combined with the rust caused him to struggle both at the plate and behind it.  He finished strong in August, with a .280/.302/.342 line, to boost his season totals to .241/.293/.375.
  Nessy played the whole season at 20 years of age, and was one of the youngest players on the Lansing roster.  He's 6'2", 230, and has the size and physique you look for in a catcher.  Nessy is given high marks for his attitude, work ethic, and handling of a pitching staff.  He will be headed to Instructs later this month to make up for some lost time, and get some further tutelage under Jays catching instructor Sal Fasano.  Nessy could easily rocket through the system with a strong season next year, likely starting at High A.
   Below Nessy in the pecking order is Vancouver's Mike Reeves.  The Peterborough, ON, native formed an all-Canadian battery with Ladner, BC's Tom Robson to get the victory in the deciding game of the Northwest League final.  Reeves was a 21st round pick in June's draft out of Florida Gulf Coast (who had a remarkable run in the NCAA Men's March Madness tourney), and by all accounts was a pleasant surprise, hitting .275/.374/.321 totals in short season ball.  Reeves still has some work to do defensively.  He is tall, lean, and athletic, and pops out of his crouch quickly to release throws to 2nd, but accuracy is still developing, as is his game-calling ability.  We'll have a better read on Reeves next year, when he likely will advance to full season Lansing.
   Daniel Klein probably figures somewhere just below Reeves.  Klein repeated Vancouver to open the season, but was promoted to Lansing in July.  He hit .218/.273/.419 between the two levels. Klein has good defensive skills, but hasn't done much offensively since being drafted in the 28th round out of Kansas State in June of 2012.  The promotion may have been more of a fresh start type of advancement.  He backed up Nessy at Lansing, but did show a little more with the bat.
   Bluefield had a trio of catchers split the work between them this season.  Jorge Saez, a 2012 32 round pick from Lee University, had the bulk of the load, and showed the most in terms of offence (.247/.311/.348), and was acknowledged as one of the leaders on a team that made the playoffs, and had the 2nd-best team ERA in the league. John Silviano hit a monster home run earlier in the season, but is strictly an org guy.  Garret Custons, drafted out of the Air Force Academy in the 10th round, signed for $1000, and appeared in 17 Appy League games before heading off to honour his service committment.
   At the bottom of the list would be the GCL and DCL catchers.  Of these, only Andres Sotillo and Daniel Jansen would be the only ones who provided enough of a sample size to pass any judgements on.  Sotillo started with the GCL Jays, and was promoted to Bluefield in August, where he spelled Saez.  Between the two levels, Sotillo hit .273/.350/.330.  Jansen, a 16th round draft choice out of Wisconsin high school in June, was the youngest of the trio, and while he struggled a bit with the bat, especially in the heat of August in Florida, he is considered a prospect. Jim Callis, formerly of Baseball America, labelled Jansen a "sleeper," and termed him a "a physical player with arm strength and power potential."
 One intriguing prospect is Javier Hernandez, who hit only .223/.295/.255 in the DSL, but he only turned 17 part way through the season.

Our final rankings

1. Jimenez
2. Nessy
3. Reeves
4. Ochinko
5. Jansen
6. Klein
7. Saez
8. Chung
9. Murphy
10. Sotillo

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One Last Look at the Top 10

 With the Minor League regular season having drawn to a close, we thought we would take one last look at our pre-season Top 10 list of Blue Jays prospects, and see how they fared over the course of the season.

1.  Aaron Sanchez
   There's a famous baseball saying: "baseball doesn't develop character; it exposes it."
If such is the case, Aaron Sanchez should be fairly dripping with character after this season.
With a nasty curve ball that Sanchez' Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles termed major league ready in April, Sanchez was shut down in May because of shoulder tightness.  After missing a month, Sanchez returned in June, but then developed blister problems in July.  In August, rain played havoc with the D-Jays schedule, and he went 9 days between starts at one point.  On top of that, former piggyback teammates Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino claimed significant media attention, the former starting the Futures Game at Citi Field as part of MLB's All-Star festivities, the latter being named the Florida State League's top pitcher.
  Sanchez persevered through it all, and his last regular season start was a gem - a career high 7 scoreless innings.  That Syndergaard and Nicolino were promoted to AA might reflect as much on their current organiations' development philosophies as it does Sanchez' progress this year.  The Blue Jays prefer to have their pitchers advance one level per season, so unless he was lights-out dominatingly brilliant, Sanchez was unlikely to be promoted this year.  He was tabbed for the Arizona Fall League just this past week.  And Syndergaard, who was successful at AA, was rocked in his final start, as was Nicolino, who mostly struggled after his promotion.

#2 Marcus Stroman
  While there were calls for a late summer call-up as injuries and inconsistency plagued the big league rotation, the plan all along was likely for Stroman to build arm strength and refine his craft (particularly his change-up) in a starting role this season, especially because it didn't get under way until mid-May as he sat out the remainder of his PED suspension from the previous season.
   Stroman was dominant at times this season, punctuating his year with 8 innings of 2-hit ball, with 1 run, no walks and 11 strikeouts in his final start.  On the season, Stroman was 9-5, with a 3.30 ERA, and 129 K's over 111 innings.  If not for the suspension, Stroman may have been among the minor league leaders in punchouts.
  A little troubling was the 13 home runs he gave up, which gave fuel to doubters who commented on his size and subsequent lack of downward plane on his pitches.  Just the same, Stroman should be considered a strong candidate to win a job in the starting rotation with the Jays next spring. Or be all but a lock for a spot in the back end of the bullpen. He has had doubters for most of his college and pro career, but he has shown a knack for proving them wrong.
   Stroman will be joining Sanchez in the AFL.

3. Roberto Osuna
   Much was expected of the righthanded pitcher, who was the Midwest League's youngest player on Opening Day.
   And over three of his first four starts, Osuna was brilliant as advertised.  He came out of his April 30th start with elbow soreness, and an MRI revealed a torn UCL.  Osuna was shut down and sent to Florida for rehab. Upon his return in early June, the rest seemed to have worked, as he gave up only one run in his next two starts.  He struggled after that, and after getting shelled for 7 runs in an inning and a third (in front of several senior Blue Jays executives, no less) on July 3rd, Osuna was sent back to Florida for Tommy John surgery.
   Osuna won't begin throwing until after the New Year, and won't likely return to competition until next August, if the recovery goes well.

4.  Daniel Norris
 Probably no Jays farmhand made as many strides in their development as the lefthander Norris did.
After posting inflationary numbers in his pro debut last year, Norris found himself at Low A Lansing this season.
 Norris did have a rough spring, and after his first seven starts, was 0-3 with a 10.75 ERA, and Baseball America was wondering how someone with such electric stuff could get hit so hard and so often. The 2012 2nd round pick was starting to look like a bust.
  Norris had a long talk with Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman after a disastrous
May start. Horsman encouraged Norris to be aggressive and attack hitters.  The chat worked, because Norris was lights out after that, posting a 2.14 ERA, and striking out 71 batters in 63 innings.
  Norris learned to harness his 95 mph fastball, and developed his secondary pitches (slider/curve/change) to complement it, culminating in a late-season promotion to Dunedin, to bolster their playoff rotation.
   Norris made the highlight reels in August with a life-saving snare of a hard line drive hit right back at him.

5.  Sean Nolin
   Nolin had another solid season - not as dominant as last year, when he went 11-0 at two levels, but one that has put him on the cusp of earning a spot in the big league rotation just the same.
  As has been well documented, Nolin was shelled when he was summoned to the Jays for an emergency start at the end of May, but went back to AA and continued dealing, earning a late August promotion to Buffalo to help with their playoff push.
  Between his two minor league stops, Nolin was 9-4 with a tidy 2.77 ERA.  The lefthander struck out 116 in 110 innings.  He will join Sanchez and Stroman in Arizona in October.  Nolin projects as a middle of the rotation innings-eater, and all indications are that he's on the verge of fulfilling that projection.  A strong spring could see him break camp with the Blue Jays.
6.  D.J. Davis
   After a decent Gulf Coast League debut last year following his selection in the 1st round of the 2012 draft, the thinking was that Davis would open the season with short-season Vancouver after extended spring training.
   The Jays opted to send him to rookie ball in Bluefield instead, and that's looking more and more like a wise decision.  After a solid season leading off for the Appy League Jays, Davis stumbled down the stretch, hitting .154/.250/.154 in his last 10 games, dropping his line for the season to .240/.323/.418.  Davis showed some surprising pop, with 6 homeruns.
   That Davis took a bit of a step back shouldn't come as a huge surprise - he didn't turn 19 until halfway through the season, and the consensus all along was that he is a long-term project.  Still, it would've been nice to see him put up better numbers so that he could have joined several of his Bluefield teammates who were promoted to Vancouver for the playoffs.

7.  Matt Smoral
   Smoral was injured prior to last year's draft, but the Jays took him in the sandwich round, knowing that his entire 2012 season would be a wash.
  Maybe the inaction was more difficult for Smoral to shake off than was origingally thought, as he struggled in the GCL, sporting an 0-2 7.71 ERA, which isn't huge cause for concern on its own in such a relatively small sample size, but the 26 walks in as many innings were. Simply put, the 6'8" lefthander had a difficult time commanding his fastball.
  All wasn't bad, however.  Smoral did strike out 27, and put together back-to-back solid outings in late August.  Lefthanders take time to mature, and one who lost a season of development to injury likely takes longer. Other pitching prospects have likely passed Smoral in the system rankings, but he still has plenty of time, and the Jays likely aren't worried.

8. Adonys Cardona
  Admittedly, Cardona was a bit of a reach for our Top 10, and while it's still early in his career, we may have jumped the gun on this one.  In two previous seasons in the GCL, Cardona showed an ability to miss bats.  He struggled at the Appy League however, and was shuffled back to the GCL late in the season as Bluefield bolstered their playoff roster.  Cardona was 0-2, 6.75 in 8 Appy appearances totalling 25 innings.  Cardona's 1.92 WHIP meant that he was pitching from the stretch much of the time.  He did strike out 27 batters, and allowed 13 walks.
   Cardona was passed by a number of fellow Bluefield pitching prospects this year.

9.  John Stilson
   Moved to the bullpen this year, Stilson was lost a little bit in the shuffle, but he had a lights out year with AAA Buffalo.  Given that the bullpen was a major strength of the parent club for much of the season, Stilson was a victim of the numbers game, but if the club deals some of that bullpen depth in the off season, a spot will likely open up for him.  Stilson was 6-2, with a 2.09 ERA in 33 appearances, striking out 47 batters in the same number of innings.
   Stilson proejcts as yet another power arm in the front of the Jays bullpen.  Or he may be dealt himself in the offseason as part of a package to upgrade the starting rotation.

10. Santiago Nessy
   On the surface, Nessy appears to have taken a step back, and while injuries played a part, he had a mostly decent season.
  The Jays challenged Nessy by having him skip a level this year and sending him to full-season Lansing.  A concussion suffered early in the season, and the lingering effects of post-concussion syndrome limited him to 61 games, where he posted a line of .241/.293/..375.
   Nessy received some notoriety for the wrong reason - for failing to touch 2nd base on an apparent walk-off hit
  The Jays still laud Nessy's leadership and game-calling skills, so at the age of 20, a repeat of Low A ball may be in the works for him next season.

   We will be posting our revised list of Top Blue Jays prospects later this fall, after Instructional League and Arizona Fall League action has ended.