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.