Thursday, November 28, 2013

Out in Leftfield - And Beyond

   When we think of the top Blue Jays outfield prospects, we really don't think about Anthony Gose or Moises Sierra, which is probably a good thing, because they have 342 and 279 major league plate appearances, respectivley.  Gose's potential seems to always just be beyond his grasp; his mediocre minor league numbers this year diminished what was left of his prospect status, but he performed well enough in his late season audition that the club has to be thinking about him as an eventual replacement for Colby Rasmus.  Sierra, for his part, is immensely physically talented, but his baseball IQ is limited, and his performance may never match his toolkit.
   The Blue Jays have focussed on pitching in the Alex Anthopolous draft era, and it shows in the following list, to be frank. The highest-ranked outfield prospect the Jays have drafted since 2009 is Jake Marisnick, who was drafted in the 3rd round in 2009, and made his MLB debut with the Marlins this summer after being dealt in the Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrele/Emilio Bonafacio trade last off-season.
  That the Blue Jays have opted to focus on pitchers in the top rounds is not new, nor is it surprising.  Many other organizations (see Baltimore and Tampa Bay, to name two),  have a "grow the arms and buy the bats" philosophy.  Scouting a college or even a high school pitcher is an easier process than evaluating a position player.  If you reach 95 with your fastball, you reach 95. If your curve has a big enough bite and a large enough differential from your fastball, you'll do that anywhere.  You hit .455 in high school competition in, say, Oregon, and you may not hit that in California.  Pitchers have exemplars that are easier to measure and evaluate.  Drafting a top prep hurler represents less risk, in most cases, than drafting a high ranking high school outfielder not named Byron Buxton.

1.  Kevin Pillar
   Pillar has overachieved from his pro debut, and his rapid rise culminated with a month-plus in the bigs this fall.
  His struggles at the plate in the majors were well-documented.  That shouldn't take away from the fact that he can hit, and will likely continue to do so, although maybe not at the level he did in the minors.
  Pillar can play all three outfield positions well.  He can run, although his speed isn't blazing.
  He has had the "fourth outfielder" label applied, but if he gets 350 at bats, he won't hurt this team.

2.  DJ Davis
  Davis was called the best Mississippi prep product since Charlie Hayes, and while maybe that's more of a reflection on the state where football is king, many scouts drool over Davis' toolkit.
   The Jays have started him very slowly, with  2012 1st round pick Davis having spent most of his first two pro seasons in rookie ball.
  Davis anchored the outfield and lead off for a strong Bluefield team this year, and showed some surprising pop.  He got off to a strong start, but sagged late in the season, to finish .240/.355/.386.  Davis has struck out 146 times in 453 at bats over his two milb seasons.  He is considered one of the fastest players in minor league ball after Kenny Hamilton, but that still hasn't translated into high stolen base totals.
  Davis was one of the youngest players in his draft class, and didn't turn 19 until mid-season.  His performance didn't deter Baseball America, which named him the 2nd best prospect in the Appalachian League.  Scouts are still very high on Davis.  We still see the odd Kenny Lofton reference, and we'll take it.  Davis is still a few years away (2017, by our best guess), but he may prove to be well worth the wait.

3.  Kenny Wilson
  Injuries limited Wilson to 60 games this season.  Sent to Arizona this fall to make up for some lost at bats, Wilson acquitted himself reasonably well.  Speed is a huge part of Wilson's game, as his 55 steals in a breakout 2012 season at Lansing proved.  Even though he hasn't advanced past AA in 6 milb seasons, the Jays thought enough of the 2008 2nd round pick to place him on the 40 man roster this month.  With his speed and athleticism, he may have been scooped up in the Rule 5 draft.  Wilson is only a .231 hitter through his time in the minors to date, but at 23, there's still some time for his bat to come around.

4.  Dwight Smith, Jr
   The 2012 sandwich pick struggled in his first pro year in 2012, but responded well to the challenge of playing full season ball at Lansing.  Smith hit a solid .284/..365/.388 at Lansing, with 25 steals in 30 attempts.  Smith caught fire as the season ended, hitting .322/.393/.438 in August.  He is a line-drive hitter, who hits to all fields.  Smith has no one tool that jumps out, but has an advanced feel for the game.
   Like his father, Smith should make a contribution to a major league team as at least a fourth outfielder.

5.  Dalton Pompey
   The Mississauga native made huge strides in his fourth minor league season, playing as a 20 year old in full season ball at Lansing.
   Pompey hit .261/.358/.394, and was 38-48 in steals, and played a solid centre field.  The switch hitter is still a bit behind American prospects his age, but Pompey is making up for lost time quickly.  Like Smith, he had a hot August - at one point, he scored nine consecutive times when reaching base.

6.  Chaz Frank
The 22nd round pick out of North Carolina was slotted into the lead off slot for Vancouver, and helped lead them to their third straight Northwest League title.  Not blessed with burning speed, Frank is very aggressive on the basepaths.  We watched him make the third out at third base one inning in July, then scored on a passed ball that barely eluded the catcher's grasp later in the game.  Apparently, that wasn't out of character for Frank.  He hit .282/.412/.365 for the Canadians.  At 23, he's likely close to reaching his ceiling.   It's hard to ignore that on-base percentage, though.

7.  Mike Crouse
The physically gifted Crouse, like his fellow Canadian Pompey, is still a bit behind other prospects his age.
Things came together for him somewhat this summer in Dunedin, where he hit .250/.343./.403.  Scouts like his tools, but BC native Crouse, who made his pro debut in 2008, has yet to advance beyond A ball.  At 23, there's still time, but not an abundance of it.

8.  Jacob Anderson
 Anderson was a  supplemental first round pick in 2011 (from a California draft class that wasn't considered deep in outfielders), and had an impressive pro debut with the GCL Jays after signing close to the deadline in August of that year.  Expectations were high, but he had a dismal 2012 in the Appy League, where he had a difficult time making contact.
   Anderson missed all of 2013 after ungoing surgery to correct a rib problem.  Did this injury effect his swing in 2012 ?  There isn't much information to go on, but that seems a possibility.
  Anderson is described as having the kind of power-speed combination that scouts covet.  Having just turned 21, time may be Anderson's biggest asset.  In an organization with more outfield depth, it's hard to see Anderson making most top prospects list.  Just the same, scouts had to see something in his tools to warrant drafting him so high in 2011.  He's still a bit of a reach, and has lost a year of development.

9.  Anthony Alford
  Alford is one of our favourite prospects, but the chances of him ever donning a Jays uniform again at any level are slim.
   Alford was drafted out of Mississippi HS in the 3rd round of 2012.  Most teams shied away from him because of his committment to Southern Miss to play football, but the Jays gave him $750 000 to give being a two-sport athlete a try.  Alford signed, and had a brief stint in the GCL that year, before heading off to school to play quarterback.  He led Southern Miss in total offence in his freshman year, but the team was awful, and Alford ran into problems off the playing field, and left the campus in November.
   Alford transferred to Mississippi, but had to sit out this season as a transfer.  He had another brief tour with the GCL Jays, then headed off to school once again. In two minor league seasons, Alford has accumulated all of 40 at bats.  And with his transfer, he will be 23 when his college football days are over in 4 years.
   Alford probably has the best toolkit in the Jays organization, but with his intent to try to forge a football career, it's unlikely that he will ever make it to the big leagues, unless he gives up on that dream.  JJ Cooper of Baseball America observed:
   With such limited exposure to pro ball, it’s hard to make any sort of assessment of Alford’s chances to be a big leaguer. He’s one of the best athletes in the minors and is a plus defender in center field. But as long as his pro baseball experience consists of a few weeks in the summer around classes and football, it’s going to be very hard for him to develop into a polished hitter.


10. Thomas Collins
   It's hard not to include this guy on our list.
More commonly known as Boomer, Collins put up great numbers in the CGL this summer, and was named a GCL All-Star.
 The reason he doesn't rank higher is because he's 24.  Collins started his collegiate career at Nebraska, but transferred after his freshman year to Dallas Baptist, and had to sit out a year as well, in accordance with NCAA rules.
  By all accounts, Collins is the ultimate team player.  Even while redshirted, however, Collins quickly developed a reputation as a leader and hard worker - so much so that even faced with a limited travel budget,  Dallas Baptist took him to the NCAA Super Regional just to have him in the dugout.
  Collins played summer ball in Alaska, and there are glowing reports about his time there as well.  He is active as a volunteer both at his school and his Texas hometown of Waxahachie.
  Despite his success in the Florida complex, the Jays obviously didn't think his future is bright enough to have taken away playing time from the trio of outfield prospects playing at the next level in Bluefield.  The non-drafted free agent is the ultimate org guy. Sounds like he's a character guy as well.
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