Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday Notebook - One Last Look at the Top 10

   With the minor league season winding down, we decided to take one last look at how our pre-season Top 10 Blue Jays prospects have fared.
   We will re-rank our list in the fall, after play in the Arizona Fall League winds down.

1.  Aaron Sanchez
   We had predicted great things for the young righthander - in 2015.
With the Blue Jays' bullpen in tatters, the club promoted Sanchez to Buffalo in June, and then sent him to the bullpen in July for a couple of appearances, before bringing him to the majors.
 Pitching in the middle of a playoff race, Sanchez has bolstered the club's relief corps.
 He had some command issues at both minor league stops this season, but his control has been excellent as a big league reliever, walking only two hitters in 15 innings.  Sanchez has thrown his four-seamer the majority (80%) of the time, and is averaging 97.1 mph with it.
   Moving Sanchez to the bullpen has both served as a good introduction to the major leagues, and has also allowed the club to still be able to use him, without having to worry about his innings total.

2.  Marcus Stroman
   It has been a tale of two seasons for the righthander.
Summoned to the big club at the end of April, he too pitched out of the bullpen, but not effectively, and was sent back to AAA to get stretched out.
   Since his return at the end of May, Stroman has pitched so well that he has quickly become a mainstay of the Toronto rotation.  He took a no-hitter into the 7th against the Red Sox, and matched Max Scherzer pitch for pitch in another start.  He has been rocked a few times, and may have been tipping his pitches against the White Sox in his most recent start, but it's hard to see the Blue Jays in playoff contention without his contributions.

3.  Daniel Norris
   Norris, a dedicated surfer, has ridden a huge wave of helium for the past calendar year, to the point where he could join Sanchez in the Blue Jays bullpen in September.
  Norris started the year in High A, and was Milb's pitcher of the month for April.  Promoted to AA, he had minor struggles with control and economizing his pitch count, but appeared to iron things out enough to merit a promotion to AAA, where he has been dominant in his first two starts, striking out a career-high 13 in his last start.
   Hitting 96 with his fastball and keeping hitters off balance with his change, Norris has struck out 148 batters in 113 minor league innings, and threw a scoreless inning at the Futures Game.  Quite a turnaround for a prospect who seemed to be on the verge of being a bust 16 months ago.  We're very excited about a rotation that will likely include Sanchez, Stroman, and Norris a year from now.

4.  Sean Nolin
  The forgotten man of our top 10 list, Nolin has been bitten by the injury bug this year with ongoing groin issues, but appears to have bounced back.  He likely won't see a September call-up, but he still likely figures into the club's plans, depending on whether or not Mark Buehrle and/or RA Dickey return next year.  Nolin profiles as a back of the rotation innings eater.

5.  Kevin Pillar
   Overmatched in the first weeks of his second promotion to the bigs, Pillar appeared on the verge of putting things together until cameras caught a bit of a dugout temper tantrum after he was pinch hit for, and Pillar was exiled to Buffalo, where he's been for the summer.
   And all he has done since his return to the minors is hit:  .323/366/.476 for the AAA season, with 27 steals in 33 attempts.  We were mildly surprised that Pillar was still a Blue Jay after the July trade deadline, and while we think he'll be a September call-up, his future with the club may be cloudy.
   In order to improve his pitch recognition and stop chasing breaking balls out of the strike zone, Pillar needs to play.  We still believe his ceiling is as a versatile fourth outfielder, but in this day and age of multiple man bullpens, there's a premium on that type of player.  He may reach that ceiling with another organization, though.  With the club's struggles against left-handed pitching this summer, we've struggled to understand why Pillar wasn't called back up.

6.  Roberto Osuna
   The 19 year old underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of July last year, and made his first start less than a year later in the GCL.
   A few weeks later, he made his Florida State League debut, where he became the league's youngest pitcher, and showed why he is so highly regarded.
   Osuna is regularly hitting 95 with his fastball, and is flashing his plus curve and change, and an advanced feel for pitching that is seldom seen in a pitcher his age.  As most players post TJ surgery do, he has struggled with his command.
   In a way, the surgery may have been a bit of a blessing, because there had been many concerns about his high maintenance body.  Osuna appears to have taken the need for proper conditioning seriously, which is vital, as he works his way up the ladder.
7.  D.J. Davis
   It's been a long summer for the outfielder, which was not wholly unexpected.
Davis has shown flashes, and has been brilliant defensively, but he has struggled mightily at the plate (.210/.262/.305), and on the bases (15-33). He has had trouble with pitch recognition, as his 151 strikeouts (although only 2 in his last 10 games) demonstrates.
   While he has taken a bit of a step back in his first year of full season ball, he is still a premium talent.  He may repeat at least a half season of Low A ball next year.  We have to remember that he came from a state (Mississippi) where the high school schedule is all of 20 games long, and Davis just turned 20.  To be honest, we had expected more, but time is still firmly on Davis' side.  Sometimes you have to be patient for a little bit longer.

8.  Andy Burns
   After a great 2013, followed by solid performances in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, we thought that Burns might see a late-season promotion to the big club.
  A slow start (.200 in April, and .223 in May), may have taken care of that.  Burns had a sizzling July, and has cooled off a bit of late, but has brought his line up to a respectable .256/.319/.419, with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases.
   Burns has played most of the year at 3rd, although he has been moved around a bit in the second half of the season.  We still envision a super utility role for Burns - like Pillar, his versatility could be his ticket to a big league job.

9.  Franklin Barreto
   The youngest position player in the Northwest League has been exactly as advertised this season.  Hitting third in the Vancouver batting order, he barrels up plenty of balls, leading to a line of .318/.394/.508, with 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts thrown in.  Playing against players 3 years older, he leads the NWL in doubles, rbi, total bases, and runs, and is in the top 10 in just about every offensive category in the loop.
   Barreto's defence remains a work in progress.  It's almost a given that he will end up in the outfield, or perhaps at second.  And we're not all that worried.  Richard Urena, playing behind Barreto at Bluefield, is projected to stay at shortstop, and if his bat in the Appy League this year is any indication, his hit tool is plus.
Both are a long way away from the bigs, but Barreto looms as an impact bat.

10.  Alberto Tirado
   At start of the season, many eyes were focused on the young pitching staff that the Blue Jays had assembled.  One by one, most have fallen to injury (Cardona, Robson, Dawson), or inconsistency, with Tirado and Jairo Labourt falling in that category.
   Labelled a beast in the making by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, Tirado struggled to find the plate in the Midwest League, and was sent back to extended spring training in early June after putting up a 6.30 ERA in 40 innings, which included 40Ks, but an unsightly 39 walks.
   Sent to Vancouver when short season play began, Tirado has still had command issues, but has pitched well in his last few outings in relief.
   Tirado has taken a bit of a step back this year, but at 19, there's not great cause for concern, and he would not be the first Latin player to struggle in his first year of full season ball.


  A bit more news....
Joining Max Pentecost and Jake Paterson in injury rehab in Florida was catcher Dan Jansen.  A 16th round pick last year, Jansen was showing signs of putting things together in Bluefield this year, hitting .282/.390/.484 before being sidelined by a knee injury in early August.  The news is not all bad on the injury front, however, as New Hampshire OF Dalton Pompey, who we were originally told would be out for much of the rest of the year with a quad injury, is back in the Fisher Cats' lineup tonight.

   Norris and Barreto both made the latest edition of Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet, Norris at #7, and Barreto at #13.  After few Blue Jays prospects have made the sheet this summer, we're up to 5 in 2 weeks.  Labourt made the "Team Photo."
   Lansing SS Dawel Lugo made the list, but for the wrong reasons.  After hitting .155/.152/.178 this month, he made the Not-So-Hot section.  After a .298/.324/.423 July, Lugo, one of the youngest everyday players in the Midwest League, appears to have hit the wall.  Lugo doesn't turn 20 until December, so we shouldn't be raising the alarm just yet.  Like Barreto, Lugo doesn't project to stay at short, but his bat is still considered to be of the potential impact variety.

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