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:
Likely will follow right behind Tirado. Should be an anchor of the Vancouver rotation this year.
May see a position switch to third, likely ticketed for Vancouver, who he joined for the playoffs last year.
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.
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 milb.com 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.
The BC native was dominant at two levels in 2013, and should start the season at Lansing.
The Northwest League MVP will start the season at Lansing. He could see a mid-season promotion to Dunedin.
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.
Still highly regarded, Cardona struggled at Bluefield, and was shut down in August. He should be repeating that level to start the season.
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.