Friday, May 9, 2014

Checking Up on Our Top 10

  With the minor league season heading into its sixth week, we thought it was time to take a look to see how our pre-season Top 10 Blue Jays prospects have fared so far.

1.  Aaron Sanchez
   Marcus Stroman may have reached the majors ahead of Sanchez, but he's still right on schedule, with solid numbers at AA New Hampshire.  His stats as of May 7th:


   Control has been a bit of an issue, with 4.84 per 9 innings, but over a small sample size that's been influenced by two outings where he walked 4 batters.  On the year so far, he's 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA.  Still on a pitch count, Sanchez has pitched beyond the 6th inning only once.  His last start was unimpressive, and he lasted only 3 innings, but at 21, we should remember that he's still one of the youngest players in AA, and will be be prone to ups and downs.
   With the Blue Jays starting rotation going through a rough stretch over the last half of April, there were calls from many fans to put Sanchez on the next plane to Toronto.  Even though the starters seem to have settled themselves, the club would likely have resisted the call to put Sanchez into the rotation, because he's simply not ready.  He wasn't ready at the start of the year, and he likely won't be ready until some point next year.  Which is not a disappointment, because his ceiling still remains high.
  Here is all you need to know about Aaron Sanchez:  he has induced plenty of weak contact:

2.  Marcus Stroman
   Stroman was labelled by some the most major-league ready of all 2012 draftees.  A 50 game suspension that carried over into 2013 put a stop to that, but Stroman has been as advertised so far this season, and earned a promotion to the Blue Jays.

   His numbers are indeed impressive.  His last start at AAA was a six inning hitless gem.  Put on an 80 pitch limit in case he was needed to fill Dustin McGowan's turn in the rotation, Stroman walked one and struck out 10.
   Blue Jays fans, of course, were expecting him to be a saviour, but Manager John Gibbons wisely decided to start him in the bullpen.  While there was some talk of Stroman being better suited to the back end of the bullpen, the Jays have stretched him out as a starter over the last two seasons, and some fans were wondering why he wasn't immediately inserted into the rotation.  This tact is not a new one, and was designed to protect the Blue Jays investment in Stroman.  Roy Halladay and Jimmy Key both started their big league careers pitching out of the bullpen, getting comfortable with the environment and making whatever adjustments needed to be made.  Gibbons even used Stroman in a high-leverage situation in Philadelphia, and Stroman came out of it with his first big league W.  Stroman has pitched beyond the start of the 7th inning only a handful of times, and he's a better stablizing presence for the bullpen than he would be for the rotation at the moment. Stroman is only a J.A. Happ meltdown away from joining the rotation just the same. 

3.  Daniel Norris
   Like Sanchez and Stroman, Norris has been as advertised, and had a lights-out April:


   Norris has dominated  Florida State League hitters this year, striking out 10 in 4 2/3 innings in his latest start.  The only thing that is keeping Norris from joining former teammate Matt Boyd in AA is his pitch count, which given his high strikeout totals means that Norris has worked beyond the start of the 6th in only one of his 6 starts so far.
   Norris' turnaround is quite remarkable.  After having considerable difficulty finding the strike zone in his first pro season two years ago, Norris continued to be hit hard last April, causing Baseball America to wonder why someone with such electric stuff could be hit so hard.  Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman helped turn things around for Norris (as he seems to have done with this year's huge crop of talented pitching prospects) by telling him to forget about his mechanics (which the club had overhauled in his first season), and trust his stuff.  The results have been telling.  Not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, Norris has used his fastball early in the count to set up his change up, which has led to a lot of missed bats so far in 2014.  He has struck out an amazing 32% of the hitters he has faced so far, and few have squared him up:

   Many evaluators had Norris ranked lower than we did on their list of top Blue Jay prospects, and there still is a long way to go before he reaches the majors, but we're feeling pretty justified about having him ranked so high.

4.  Sean Nolin
   Out of the spotlight compared to the three prospects above him, Nolin has put together a solid April:

   Nolin's numbers are even better than the ones he posted between New Hampshire and Buffalo last year.  He had the one disastrous start with the Jays at the end of May last year, but if lightning strikes the big club's rotation, he would likely get some serious consideration (along with Buffalo teammate Liam Hendriks) for a call.
   He has recorded more outs by flyballs than have Sanchez and Stroman, and that's always a concern  for a one-day Rogers Centre pitcher. The Jays appear to be keeping Nolin under the 100 pitch limit at Buffalo, but he still profiles as a between #3 and #5 starter who will one day eat up a lot of innings.
5.  Kevin Pillar
   Pillar got the call last August, but was overmatched at the plate in his September audition.  Sent back to Buffalo after a disappointing spring, Pillar got off to a poor start, but then reeled off an 18 game hitting streak, over which he hit .405.

   His poor start likely cost him a promotion to Toronto after Moises Sierra was DFA'd, but his torrid second half of April has to put him back in line for a shot at the fourth outfielder spot, along with Anthony Gose.  
   Pillar has used the whole field this year in AAA:

   Pillar is what he is:  a fourth outfielder type, whose basepaths smarts, bat, and versatility should eventually win him a big league job. We also wouldn't count him out of earning either a platoon or everyday job one day, either. 

6. Roberto Osuna
  Osuna underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of July last year, and will not pitch in a game again for at least another 8 weeks at least.
  Osuna seems to have embraced the fact that he will need to pay attention to his conditioning if he hopes to have a career in pro ball.  There were many concerns about his high maintenance body prior to the surgery.
The difficult thing about predicting success after TJ surgery is that the recovery timeline is very dependent on the individual.  Drew Htuchison and Kyle Drabek underwent the procedure within a few days of each other in 2012, but while Hutch has made a complete recovery and is a mainstay in the Blue Jays rotation, Drabek is still struggling to regain his velocity and command at Buffalo.   
   Osuna threw his first bullpen session off of a mound in late March, and is likely close to the point of being able to pitch in simulated games in extended spring training.  We're not expecting much of anything from him this year, which is not a huge issue, because if had grown up in Canada or the US instead of Mexico, he would be in extended spring training, waiting for an assignment to a short season club.  

7. D.J. Davis
   In his first full season, DJ Davis has had an up and down first month, which as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League is not completely unexpected.


  Those numbers don't tell the story as well as those from his last 10 games do:

Apr 29@DAY.40051200120200.4001.0001.400
Apr 30@DAY.00040000000100.000.000.000
May 01@DAY.00041000000300.200.000.200
May 02WM.00040000001001.200.000.200
May 03WM.00040000000300.000.000.000
May 04WM.50040200000100.500.5001.000
May 05FW.50041210001101.600.7501.350
May 06FW.00040000000200.000.000.000
May 07FW.40051210010301.400.6001.000
May 08@WM.00020000002.000.000.000

  Feast or famine.  As we write this, he's been 0-5 with 4 strikeouts in the West Michigan game.
Davis' toolkit has been lauded wherever he's played.   He was ranked the 2nd best prospect in the rookie level Appalachian League by Baseball America last year.  As the above chart shows, he alternates great nights at the plate with ones where he can't put a ball in play - Davis has struck out in 41% of his plate appearances.  Davis still needs to be more selective, and improve his pitch recognition.  His somewhat long swing generates more misses than a leadoff hitter with his kind of speed should.  
   There is still tremendous upside with Davis, and while the first month numbers are concerning, he's still growing and learning. He may be on the verge of being passed by Dwight Smith Jr and/or Dalton Pompey as the Jays top outfield prospect, but we are still willing to be patient with him.  He is an obvious athlete, who still yet may figure things out at the plate.

8. Andy Burns
   Burns tore through two levels last year, and after a slow start following his promotion to AA, hit .288/.346/.470 for the season, and earned a trip to the Arizona Fall League.  Originally a shortstop, Burns played short and third last year, and then played a variety of positions in the AFL, as the club seemed to envision him as a super utility player.


   Burns just recently climbed over .200 after a very slow start.  His .256 BABIP seems to indicate that he's not making solid contact, which has not happened with as much regularity as it did last year.  Eight months ago, we were considering him one of the best position players in the system.  It's still early, but it's hard to think of him in those terms any more.
9. Frankie Barreto
    There were thoughts that Barreto might have been challenged with an assignment to full-season ball at Lansing, but with older middle infielders like Dicki Joe Thon, Dawel Lugo, and Jason Lebleblijian ahead of him, the Jays opted to keep Barreto in extended spring training.  Having just turned 18 at the end of February, there's really no need to rush him.  He would have been the youngest player in the MWL otherwise:

Midwest League (A) Glossary - CSV
1Jake Bauers18.67Fort WayneSDP
2Willy Adames18.75West MichiganDET
3Iolana Akau18.83BeloitOAK
4Franmil Reyes18.92Fort WayneSDP
5Tyler O'Neill19.00ClintonSEA
6Jamie Westbrook19.00South BendARI
7Ivan Castillo19.08Lake CountyCLE
8Javier Betancourt19.08West MichiganDET
9Jose Chavez19.08BeloitOAK
10Ronald Herrera19.08BeloitOAK
11Kean Wong19.17Bowling GreenTBR
12Adrian De Horta19.25Fort WayneSDP
13Josh VanMeter19.25Fort WayneSDP
14German Marquez19.33Bowling GreenTBR
15Roberto Osuna19.33LansingTOR
16Victor Arano19.33Great LakesLAD
17David Denson19.42WisconsinMIL
18Jose Urena19.42Fort WayneSDP
19Dawel Lugo19.50LansingTOR
20Alberto Tirado19.50LansingTOR

   An assignment to short season Vancouver seems the most likely destination for the young short stop.  If The C's are not in the playoff picture (hard to envision) in late August but Lansing is, we could see a promotion at that point.

10. Alberto Tirado
   Another one of the organization's prized young arms in his first year of full season ball at Lansing, Tirado too has been everything the club hoped he would be:


   Tirado was called "a beast in the making," by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, and he added that this was the year that Tirado would no longer be flying under the scouting radar.
   It would appear that's becoming  the case.
   The organization has been very protective of Tirado's arm - he averages just over 37 pitches per outing, with his longest being 72 and his shortest just 16.  If Tirado gets in trouble in an inning, the bullpen promptly springs into action.  He has shown good composure on the mound in those situations, striking out the side after loading the bases in one instance.
   At 6', 180, Tirado may not have the long, lean body type that the Jays prefer in a pitcher, but he has the ahtleticsm that shows itself in a clean, easy delivery which he repeats consistently.
   It's only a matter of time before Tirado vaults up this list.  The Jays have something special with this young Venezuelan.

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