Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Baseball Prospectus Farm System Rankings

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Master talent evaluator Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has released his 2014 farm system rankings, and it's not a major surprise that the Jays are ranked near the middle of the pack at 13th.
   The Top 10 contains teams that one would expect to see there because of their haul of top picks thanks to their lousy finishes of the last several years, like the Twins (1st), Cubs (2nd), Pirates (3rd), and Astros (7th, and about to make a quantum leap when they choose Carlos Rodon in the June draft), as well as perennial shrewd developers of domestic and international talent like the Red Sox (4th), Cards (7th), and Rangers (9th).
  In assessing the state of the Blue Jays system, Parks astutely observes:

       Despite a recent penchant for using prospects as currency to acquire major-league talent, the Jays system remains thick with high-ceiling players on both sides of the ball.

      It's hard to argue with that logic, of course.  
GM Alex Anthopolous emptied the system of much of its upper-level talent over the last half on 2012 in deals with the Astros, Marlins, and Mets. This fit with AA's "roll the dice" strategy of drafting high-risk, high-reward prospects.  Dealing top prospects was likely a calculated gamble that the wellspring of talent drafted that year and in 2011 would quickly bubble up to the surface to eventually replace them.

   Parks stated that the Jays have "some of the best young prospect depth in baseball," and that as this talent base progresses to full season ball this year and next, the system should easily find its way into the top 10.
So, why not rank the Jays' system higher, given this plethora of prospects at the lower levels ?

  As Keith Law observed, lower level talent is great, but it's just that, and isn't valued as much as higher level talent is.  Players in rookie ball are that much further away from the majors, and it's tough to get a read on most short season players and their relatively small sample sizes against sometimes uneven competition.  Full season ball is where players get exposed, or face adversity and learn how to deal with it (Law has the Jays system ranked 24th for this reason - he too likes the young talent, but can't place a high value on it).  

   Just the same, Parks is enthused, as is the Star's Richard Griffin.  Griffin, in reporting on the camp the Jays are holding right now for their elite prospects, noted that 22 of the top 30 Baseball America Blue Jays prospects are 22 or younger, the highest total in the majors.  AA started on a total reboot of the system, starting with that deadline deal with the Astros in 2012, and we're just starting to see the fruits of that rebuild beginning to make their way up the rungs of the minor league ladder.

   Parks is very high on the potential Lansing Lugnuts roster this season, and terms them the Jays' "must-see" affiliate.  We more than concur, and have studied the Lugnuts schedule at length in planning a lengthy road trip to take in a few games this summer.  Lansing could feature top talent like Alberto Tirado, DJ Davis, Chase DeJong, Jairo Labourt, Mitch Nay, Matt Dean, and possibly even Rowdy Tellez.  Parks labels Nay and righthander Miguel Cairo as breakout candidates for 2014.  

   Nice to think about a summer trip to Michigan during yet another lengthy Southern Ontario cold snap in the seemingly endless winter of 2014.

   Parks' article can be found here, while Griffin's can be accessed here.  Check out the Lugnuts schedule here

   Lansing is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from the GTA. No doubt there will be more than a few Ontario license plates there this summer.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beede-Eyed Watch of Tyler

 Righthander rapper and sometimes Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede, who the Blue Jays could not talk out of his commitment to the school after taking him in the first round, 21st overall, in the 2011 MLB draft, has done little to diminish talk of him being a top 10 pick in this year's draft through his first two starts of the NCAA season.
  The opposition has not been nationally ranked, but Beede opened the year with a five inning victory for the Commodores over the Long Beach State Dirtbags (no, we did not make that name up) in the opening series of the season.  Beede allowed but one bunt single and an unearned run, struck out 7, and walked only 1.
   This weekend, Beede helped Vandy get off to a 6-0 start by blanking lowly Illinois-Chicago over 6 innings, striking out 11, while allowing one hit and one walk.  
   Critics pointed to Beede's 63 walks last year, but he seems to be showing better command so far in this young collegiate season, giving up only two free passes in 11 innings.
   Beede was a 2nd team All-American as a sophomore last year, and set a school record with 14 wins.  Baseball America named him a pre-season All-American first teamer, joining fellow former 2011 Blue Jays draftees Luke Weaver of Florida State, and second teamer Aaron Nola of LSU (the Jays also drafted but failed to sign Florida prep leftie Andrew Suarez, who is turning heads at Miami in this early college season) .  Some pre-draft lists have Beede as the second ranked college righthander after Carlos Rodon.  Others, citing his control issues with Vandy and Team USA last summer, have him ranked lower in the first round.
   Beede was one of the top-ranked prep righthanders in the 2011 draft, but his stock fell slightly due to his commitment to Vanderbilt (Beede had contacted all New England-based scouts and asked them not to draft him - that may or may not have been a ploy to wind up getting drafted by a certain team).  His reported $3.5 million asking price also scared off some teams.  The Blue Jays reportedly upped their offer to $2.5 million minutes before the then-August signing deadline.  Whether or not he was worth the extra million, and even though the club turned Beede's comp pick into Marcus Stroman the following year, there is a hole in the mid to upper levels of the system as a result of failing to come to terms with Beede.  Outside of John Stilson, there are no picks from that draft who are anywhere near major-league ready, with lefthander Daniel Norris, taken in the 2nd round, the best of the group, and he will likely be spending the year at High A at that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top Prospect Best & Worst Case Scenarios

   The arrival of pitchers and catchers across Arizona and Florida heralds another year of spring training. And from this point on until the start of the season, news about top prospects can be pretty minimal, depending on their major league readiness.  We will scour the news services for mentions of top Blue Jays prospects for the next six weeks, but in the meantime, we thought we would take a look at the best and worst case scenarios for this group, based on past performance, scouting reports, and plain old hunches. photo

1.  Aaron Sanchez

    Best Case Scenario:   Sanchez builds on his fine work in the Arizona Fall League, develops a consistent and repeatable delivery, refining his control, and bringing a lot more evaluators back onto the bandwagon as a result.  After a dominant season at AA, Sanchez is promoted to AAA Buffalo to help with their playoff run.
   Worst Case Scenario:  Control problems continue to plague the righthander, and he struggles against more advanced bats in AA.  Sanchez tumbles further in most top 100 prospects list as a result. Former teammate Noah Syndergaard advances to the majors as a result of the Mets' thin minor league system. This isn't necessarily a make or break season for Sanchez, but he does have some ground to make up.

2.  Marcus Stroman    
   Best Case Scenario:  Stroman lands a spot in the back of the starting
rotation, or at least is among the last cuts as camp breaks.  That the photo
Blue Jays have expressed only lukewarm interest over the remaining
free agent starters still on the market as spring training approaches may
be evidence of the fact that the Jays view him as a strong candidate for a starting job.
  Worst Case Scenario:  Stroman makes the club, but gets pounded,
and winds up back in Buffalo, and cries to move him to the bullpen grow.
Or, he spends most of his season with the Bisons, which actually might be
a good thing, because it would indicate that the big league club has had
effective starting pitching.  Just the same, he has nothing left to prove in the minors.

3.  Daniel Norris photo
Best Case Scenario:  Norris picks up right where he left off at the end of last season, and dominates Florida State League hitters, leaving evaluators to stop talking about him as a mid to back of the rotation starter.  A promotion to New Hampshire late in the season to replace Sanchez and a trip to the Arizona Fall League puts a cap on his season.
Worst Case Scenario:  Playing with pretty much the same team mates as he had in Lansing, Norris gets minimal support, and his control issues of 2012 and early 2013 make a return visit.  He struggles against High A hitters, and the thinking about him returns to middle of the bullpen thoughts.

4.  Sean Nolin

Toronto Sun photo
   Best Case Scenario:  Nolin beats out Stroman and several others
for the 5th starters' job after a lights out spring.  Or, is among the last
cuts, but dominates AAA hitters, and is called up to stay after the All-
Star break.
Worst Case Scenario:  Fails to make the big league club, and spends the whole season in Buffalo, where he understandably arrives in a bit of a funk, and struggles to find his form for several months.

5.  Kevin Pillar
Toronto Star photo
Best Case Scenario:   After spending the spring locked in a battle for the
fourth outfielder spot with Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra, the club
likes Pillar's versatility and bat, and he heads north with the team to open the season.
Worst Case Scenario:  With Sierra out of options and Gose likely
a bit ahead of him on the organization's depth chart, Pillar has a poor
spring, and starts the season in Buffalo.  Melky Cabrera makes a full
return to health in Toronto, and there just isn't enough playing time for
Pillar, who spends the whole year in AAA.

6.  Roberto Osuna photo
Best Case Scenario:  Osuna makes a full recovery from Tommy John
surgery, and pitches well in a few GCL starts in late August, with his
pitches and innings closely monitored.  
Worst Case Scenario:  recovery doesn't go as well as had been hoped,
and Osuna is shut down for the year in mid-summer.  Really, nothing should be expected from the young righthander this year.  A return
to competition would be a huge bonus.

7.  D.J. Davis
Toronto Observer photo
Best Case Scenario:  Challenged by the organization by an assign-
ment to full-season Lansing at the beginning of the season, Davis begins to live up to the considerable promise that led the Jays to chose him in the  first round of the 2012 draft.  After a slow start, Davis shows that he has started to polish some of his immense, but raw skills, and makes a huge leap up most top prospects lists.
Worst Case Scenario:  A poor spring causes the Jays to leave Davis behind in extended spring training, after which he is sent to short season Vancouver, where he distinguishes himself, but falls short of what the club  had planned for him this season. The toolsy-but-raw tag still applies, but there are whispers.  This is a big year for Davis.

8.  Andy Burns
Best Case Scenario:   Burns builds on his hot August and solid
AFL play by breaking camp with Buffalo.  His versatility helps the Bisons
to the International League title, and a spot on the 40-man roster after 
the season ends, along with a shot at earning a big leauge job in 2015.
Worst Case Scenario:  As a non-roster invitee to spring training,
Burns, a notoriously slow starter, is overmatched at the plate in the spring, and opens the season in AA.

9.  Frankie Barreto
MLB Prospect Portal photo
 Best Case Scenario:  Barreto starts the season at Vancouver,
and leads the C's to their 4th straight Northwest League crown.
He spends the whole year at shortstop, and develops the footwork
that detractors say he's missing. Quite an accomplishment for
an 18 year old playing against mostly college grads. A 
promotion to Lansing would be nice, but there's no rush.
 Worst Case Scenario: Barreto repeats Bluefield after a so-so
spring, and his supposed defensive shortcomings result in struggles
at the plate, amid calls for a position change. With the prospects
that follow in the system, the sample size is still small enough
that projecting scenarios for them from afar is difficult at best.

10. Alberto Tirado photo
Best Case Scenario:  Tirado is held behind in extended
spring training until the midwest weather warms up, and heads to
full season ball in Lansing, where he continues to dominate with his 96 fastball, and gains a rapidly growing following among evaluators.
Worst Case Scenario:  Command issues which
cropped up last year continue. He struggles with
the many and varied adjustments that come with
playing full season ball against higher calibre competition,
however, and loses lustre as a prospect.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Non-Roster Prospect Invitees - When Can We See Them?

   Among the 20 non-roster spring training invitees the Blue Jays will be bringing to spring training include top prospects Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin, A.J. Jimenez, and Andy Burns.
   For Stroman and Nolin, there's an outside chance to land a spot in the back of the starting rotation.
For the other three, it's an opportunity to soak up spring training in a big league atmosphere, where hopefully they'll fall under the influence and example of hard-working major league veterans, learning how to live and prepare themselves as professionals.
   Stroman was not invited to spring training last year, but was brought along for a pair of exhibition games against the Phillies in Philadelphia, and he was lights out before serving out the remainder of his 2012 suspension for a positive PED test. He and Nolin, of course, will likely be locked in a battle with several other candidates for the 5th starter's job.
    Here  is a link to the Blue Jays 2014 spring training schedule, which inlcudes the dates of televised games by the Sportsnet gang.  There is no guarantee, of course, but there should be an opportunity for some of us to get our first looks at Sanchez, Jimenez, and Burns. We did get a chance to watch Sanchez in the AFL All-Star game, and we're anxious to see more.  Jimenez is a longshot to win a backup job this spring, and will likely be only a short hop on the QEW away in Buffalo.  Burns is likely destined for a return to New Hampshire, where Sanchez will join him after spending last season in Dunedin, although we won't be entirely shocked if Burns spends time in Buffalo at some point this season.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ricky Romero - What the Heck??

   Heading into the 2012 season, the sky appeared to be the limit for Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Romero.
Romero had posted a 15-11 record in 2011, with a 2.92 ERA.  His Wins had increased every year since his debut in 2009, and his ERA, WHIP, and BABIP had all decreased over that time, and the Jays rewarded with 6th pick of the 2005 draft with a 5 year, $30 million contract.
   And then it all fell apart......
   2012 was an unmitigated disaster for the Californian, who was a 2011 All-Star. His 5.77 ERA was the worst among all qualifed starters, as was his 5.22/9 BB rate.  He went three months between wins at one point. Romero may have pitched over his head in 2011, but it's hard to see how his 2012 season was representative of his abilities.
   No matter how you look at it, his 2012, in comparison to his first three MLB seasons, was ugly:
Courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

   No matter how you slice it, Romero has lost precious velocity off of all of his pitches, as seen in the top chart, and has generated a declining number of missed bats, as shown in the second, although his fastball received a higher swing rate in 2012.  
    2013 was no better, of course.  Healthy after an elbow scope and minor surgery to both knees in the offseason, the hope that Romero was ready to at least claim a spot in the back of the rotation.  Spring training did not see and end to his control issues.  He was left behind in Florida while the rest of the team broke camp, and worked on some changes to his delivery the club had ordered.  After one successful start in the Florida State League, Romero was recalled to the big leagues, but was sent down to AAA after two starts.  His numbers with Buffalo were uninspiring, but he was recalled again when rosters expanded on September 1st.  He made two unimpressive relief appearances to close the season. Romero was outrighted to Buffalo in October, removing him from the 40 man roster.  
   How do we explain the sudden loss of velocity ?  How did Romero go from 2011 Opening Day starter and an All Star game appearance to 5th starter in AAA?   Was he healthy, or was it more of a mental thing?
Did he lose confidence?
   The answer, while complicated, is all of the above.
While not unhealthy, Romero was obviously pitching in some pain in 2012.  Maybe the 613 innings he had thrown from 2009-11 had taken their toll.  This may have caused him to alter his delivery, even impreceptibly, to compensate, which in turn may have impacted his velocity.  One thing that is certain that his changeup suddenly gained incredible movement in 2012:

  Unfortunately, American League hitters caught on to the movement, which often took the pitch out of the bottom of the strike zone, and Romero went from throwing the pitch for a ball 36% of the time from 2009-11, to over 42% in 2012.  Since hitters were laying off that pitch more frequently, Romero was forced to try to paint the corners with his other pitches, which were declining in velocity.  This led to the huge increase in walks in 2012, and also led to his sub-par fastball getting hammered when it caught too much of the strike zone. 
  So, while there may have been some physical explanation to his ineffectivness in 2012, the trend continued when he was supposedly healthy in 2013.  Which brings us to the so-called "mental" part.  Did Romero lose confidence in his stuff ?  Did he develop Steve Blass Disease ?  Again, all of the above appears to be the answer. And just as self-confidence can breed more of itself, so can a lack of it.  
   Few athletes dominate the opposition over the majority of their careers.  Almost all pitchers go through periods where their arms are dead, or they can't find the plate, or the hitters make adjustments. The successful pitchers learn to compensate, or make adjustments of their own.  Romero has failed to do so over the last two seasons, at least consistently.  Which is why we better get used to thinking of Romero as a minor leaguer for at least the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Blue Jays to Kiss & Make Up With Dunedin?

   The Blue Jays, who had been hopeful of relocating their Spring Training and Florida State League franchise site to Florida's Atlantic Coast,  may have to approach the City of Dunedin with hats in hand after Palm Beach Gardens Council rejected a stadium proposal in that community submitted by the Jays and Astros, citing concerns from residents near the proposed site about increased noise and traffic congestion. 
   Blue Jays President Paul Beeston has stated his preference for not conducting negotiations with Dunedin City officials in the media, but according to Keyonna Summers of the Tampa Bay Times, the two sides have finally agreed to hold talks at the end of the month about extending the team's lease with the City, which expires in 2017.
   The Blue Jays have expressed concerns with what they view as inadequate facilities at Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, and the fact that their training site and the stadium are not part of the same complex, forcing team officials and players to commute for about 10 minutes (depending on traffic) between their two spring sites.  The Jays' bottom line, presumably, is that no one else has to commute, so why should we?  Dunedin's bottom line appears to be doing whatever it takes to keep the team, short of building a new stadium site.
   The two sides have not talked for months, but this is how we imagined their last conversation in the fall went:

Blue Jays:  "Hey, we love the area and the significant economic impact six weeks of our spring presence   
                   brings to it, but moving forward, we need to look at an integrated and full-facilities site for the   
                   benefit of our players and fans. They have needs. Seriously.  It's not you, it's us."

City of Dunedin: "That's ok.  We get it.  No worries.  You don't like to travel, and land is at a premium
                           around here.  We should get together and talk when our busy schedules permit. Hey, did
                           you know we have Milwaukee stopping by this weekend ? Apparently, their
                           lease is up soon."

   This is how these things tend to go.  Beeston made it known to The Globe and Mail last fall that the four-mile distance between the two spring sites is less than ideal, followed by Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers responding that the city wanted to hire a professional sports negotiator, and commission an economic survey to determine the Blue Jays true financial impact on the area.  Both sides pledged to meet, then "scheduling conflicts" got in the way, and the next thing you know, the Jays are said to be in talks with the Astros, while Dunedin officials start courting other major league teams with expiring leases. And around and around they go.....
   The bottom line is that the Jays are in Dunedin until at least 2017, and likely beyond.  Each side will try to continue to gain some leverage on the other until that time.  It will be interesting to see if any progress is made at this month's meeting (assuming that schedules, the stars, and the planets align), or if it's more game-playing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who Lands Where? Possible Destinations for Blue Jays Top Prospects

   With Pitchers and Catchers set to report to various Spring Training sites across Florida and Arizona next week, we thought we would take a look at where we think the Blue Jays top prospects will be spending the summer. 
  Keeping in mind that much can happen between now and the end of March, and that we aren't privy to scouting and injury reports that the Jays keep on their top hopefuls, here's where we think the Top 20 should land once spring training breaks:

1.  Aaron Sanchez
   Ticketed for AA New Hampshire, after a successful Arizona Fall League. 
The Blue Jays have shown a preference for having their top prospects advance one level at a time, but there also have been suggestions that there's been some internal debate about that approach, and that the club could be more aggressive in challenging their top prospects more.
Just the same, Sanchez still needs to consistently repeat his delivery, which was tweaked last year, and improve his command, although there are numerous MiLB pitchers who struggled with control, and were able to straighten them out upon reaching the majors.
If he shows a mastery of AA hitters, it's not beyond the realm of possibility to see Sanchez promoted to AAA Buffalo by mid-season, especially if any of the Buffalo starters are summoned to Toronto. A full season at AA is a more likely scenario.

2. Marcus Stroman
   Stroman has a legitimate shot to win a job in the major league rotation this spring, depending on the health of the rest of the staff, and any last-minute additions management makes.
   Otherwise, it's off to Buffalo for at least half of the season, to delay his arbitration clock.
He should finish the season in the majors.  All indications are that he's ready.

3.  Daniel Norris
   Few Blue Jays farmhands made as much progress as Norris did last season.  Ticketed for High A Dunedin, he likely will spend the whole season in the Florida State League.

4.  Sean Nolin
   Similar to Stroman, Nolin has a chance to win a big league job, but will likely need a lights-out spring in order to do so.  Buffalo seems a more probable April destination.  From there, his promotion will be dependent on performance, and the health of the starters ahead of him.  Nolin should see time in Toronto this year.

5.  Kevin Pillar
   With the departure of Rajai Davis through free agency, there should be intense competition between Pillar, Anthony Gose, and Moises Sierra for the fourth outfield job this spring.  Pillar was overmatched by big league pitching in the first half of his debut last fall, but showed signs that he was making adjustments by the end of the season.  Pillar can play all three outfield positions.  His versatility should win him a big league job come the end of March.  If not, it's back to Buffalo, but likely not for long.  He has nothing left to prove in the minors.

6.  Roberto Osuna
   Osuna has recently only started throwing after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July.  His progress will be closely guarded, but he should be ready for some limited game action by August, likely in the GCL. Osuna turns 19 this month, so nothing should really be expected from him this year.

7.  D.J. Davis
   Davis is highly regarded by the scouting community, but after two years of short season ball, is still raw.
This should be the year that the Blue Jays challenge him by sending him to Low A Lansing.  If he has a disastrous spring, and/or is still struggling by June, he could be sent to Vancouver.  He will likely have difficulties playing every day at first, but the experience should accelerate his development.  We might be looking at a completely different player by season's end. All of the tools are present for a breakthrough season.

8.  Andy Burns
   Where Burns starts and finishes the year depends largely on a couple of factors.  His April destination will likely be influenced by the club's plan for him.  Burns was drafted as a shortstop, and spent time at short and third at two levels last year.  In the Arizona Fall League, Burns played those positions, plus spent time at first and the corner outfield positions.  There has even been talk of trying him at second.  If the club sees him as the latter, it's conceivable that he returns to New Hampshire.  If they see him as more of a super utility player, he could start with Buffalo.  It also wouldn't surprise us that if he gets off to a good start with the bat at either location, he could see time in Toronto before the end of the season, if a need arises.

9.  Frankie Barreto
   Barreto quickly mastered the Gulf Coast League in his pro debut last year, but after a hot start following a late-season promotion to Bluefield, he struggled with the bat, making it highly likely that he'll repeat there, with a possible mid-season promotion to Vancouver. Even at his young age, we think Barreto will advance quickly through the system after this year.

10.  Alberto Tirado
  Tirado was dominant at times at Bluefield this year, and no longer flies under the scouting radar.  He will likely be kept behind with Barreto for extended spring training after full season leagues begin play.  Depending on his progress, he may be challenged with an assignment to Lansing once the weather warms up, or he may be ticketed for Vancouver.  Tirado is a very intriguing prospect who may catch a heavy dose of helium next year.

   We didn't rank prospects from 11 to 20, but we'll list them (in no particular order) and their likely 2014 destinations here:

Jairo Labourt
   Likely will follow right behind Tirado.  Should be an anchor of the Vancouver rotation this year.
Dawel Lugo
   May see a position switch to third, likely ticketed for Vancouver, who he joined for the playoffs last year.
Mitch Nay
   If he has a strong spring, Nay should be headed for the challenge of full-season ball at Lansing. We like Nay, and if other top prospect lists are any indication, we may have undervalued him.  There are concerns about his ultimate position, but his bat will play.
Chase DeJong
   If we follow the one-step-at-a-time path of development, DeJong should start at Vancouver.  We can see a mid-summer promotion to Lansing.
A. J. Jimenez
   According to a recent article, Jimenez claims to be fully healthy after some lingering effects of Tommy John recovery last year.  If such is the case, he could challenge for a back-up spot with the big club.
Failing that, Buffalo is where he will start the year.
Tom Robson
   The BC native was dominant at two levels in 2013, and should start the season at Lansing.
L.B. Dantzler
   The Northwest League MVP will start the season at Lansing.  He could see a mid-season promotion to Dunedin.
Rowdy Tellez
   After struggling in his pro debut in the GCL, he caught fire at the end of the season, and carried that hot bat through Instructs.  Bluefield would be the next step, but we can easily see him starting the year at Vancouver after extended spring training.
Adonys Cardona
   Still highly regarded, Cardona struggled at Bluefield, and was shut down in August.  He should be repeating that level to start the season.
Matt Smoral
   The tall lefty struggled with command in his pro debut in the GCL, but some of that was to be expected after missing all of 2012 with a foot injury.  Showed signs of putting things together.  Smoral should start the year at Bluefield.  High school southpaws tend to take longer to develop, and he likely will be no exception.