Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blue Jays Dominate BA's Short Season Top Prospects List

    There quite simply is no publication that does a better job of keeping readers up to date about prospects and trends across college and minor league baseball than Baseball America.
   Even though the minor league season has drawn to a close, BA still keeps fans interested by publishing their Top 20 Prospects for every minor league, starting about mid-September.
   Since information for lower level prospects can be hard to find unless you're willing to go behind a pay wall, these lists are gold for a prospect hound.  We've mined some Blue Jays-related nuggets from the chats BA held after publishing their Top 20 Gulf Coast, Appalachian, and Northwest Leagues lists, featuring BA staffers Ben Badler, Clint Longenecker, and John Manuel, who are three of the best in the business.
  Some might think it's a bit lazy of us to just list these conversation snippets, but we would rather present them in full and then offer our comments about them.  And it saves you, dear reader, from having to go to BA's website and look them up for yourself.  Which you're more than welcome to do, of course.

Josh (Windsor, ONT): Beyond the four players that made the top 20, are there any sleeper prospects from the Bluefield club? Further, do the Jays have anything with Jesus Tinoco?
Clint Longenecker: Yes, the Blue Jays lower minor league teams always have talent, a tribute to their international and domestic scouting departments. Jesus Tinoco has a real chance to emerge with continue development, both physically and mentally. He has youth (19), a great body, the fastball (velo and life) as a foundation for his prospect status. He can really sink the baseball. His combination of fastball velocity and heavy sink reminded some of former Blue Jay farmhand Henderson Alvarez, who has the 7th highest GB rate among MLB starters. His changeup is presently his best secondary offering and his curveball shows 12-6 tilt at its best, though it is inconsistent. Tinoco will need to improve his lower half in his delivery because he often collapses his front leg and falls off to the first base side, causing him to not get on top of his pitches. But he has the raw materials to emerge. Keep your eye on Tinoco.

   We feel the same way about Tinoco.  He did not pitch as badly as his numbers would suggest this year.  We asked Bluefield Catcher Danny Jansen about Tinoco, who said he had, "Dominant stuff. He throws hard and when he got his sinker working, he was really hard to hit."
   His numbers (4.95 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .270 BA) were obviously influenced by the times when he didn't have that sinker working.  Tinoco pitched 6 innings in 4 of his starts, which is a lengthy outing by lower minors standards, and gave up a total of only four earned runs over those starts, adding more credence to the notion that when he was on, he was really on.

   We should also point out that Jansen, who was having a great season (.283/.390/.484) before being sidelined with a knee injury in early August, was named the Appy's 16th best prospect, and may have been ranked higher if not for the injury.

   We admit to having overlooked Josh Almonte and his success at Bluefield this year,  mainly because it was his third season of rookie ball.  The organization may need to accelerate him next year to get a truer sense of what they have.
Gerry (Toronto): Josh Almonte had a breakout season, hitting over 300. Was he close to the list?
Clint Longenecker: Almonte absolutely had a case from a tools-based perspective. A late-round Northeast prep player, Almonte really blossomed this year after struggling to make contact in the GCL for 2 years. He has tools with his plus speed and arm, as well as above-average raw power he shows in batting practice. Although he hit .300 this year, Almonte’s line was propped up by an unsustainable BABIP (.413) that was among the highest in the league and unlikely to continue going forward. His breaking ball recognition will need to continue to improve. His upward trajectory is very encouraging and he will be one to monitor going forward.

Here are some thoughts about Lane Thomas, a 5th round pick in June, who was promoted from the GCL to the Appy League:
Ben (DC): How close did Lane Thomas come to making the list? Seems like he had a good yr in GCL for Blue Jays. Thanks.
Ben Badler: Another close call. He’s an explosive athlete with plus speed and squared up a lot of balls for hard contact, although the over-the-fence pop didn’t show up this year. He’s intriguing, and I still like Yeltsin Gudino and Freddy Rodriguez, even if their numbers didn’t do much to inspire confidence next year. They can’t all be Franklin Barreto.
Ben (DC): Any feedback on Lane Thomas from his brief time in Bluefield? Seems like he was a very interesting pick this year who did well this year. Did Rowdy Tellez come close? Thanks.
Clint Longenecker: Lane Thomas is an exciting player that the Bluefield staff praised. He got time at third base this summer, an interesting development because he has an above-average arm. He ran well but was not a true burner in center field, where he played most as an amateur. He plays the game hard and has natural aptitude for the game. He will likely see some time at Bluefield or Vancouver next summer, given the Blue Jays history with recent high school draftees, and will absolutely be someone who could factor onto the list.
   So, Thomas is a long way away, but there's a lot to be optimistic about.  Interesting how Badler said he has plus speed, but not enough to play CF, according to Longenecker.

 Tommy G (Milwaukee): I really liked Matt Smoral coming out of H.S. seemed to put it together this year for the first time. What kind of ceiling does he have if he puts it all together?
Clint Longenecker: He did. It was a strong year and he got innings, which is what he needed most this year. He could be a No. 2 starter if everything clicks because of his fastball-slider combo (because he can get out RHH with his slider) and very high strikeout rates. Like most prospects, however, the odds of him reaching that ceiling are low, so lets revise expectations because his control is unlikely to ever be good enough to be a No. 2. He would have to exceed expectations to do throw that many strikes, but old baseball adages are that lefties and tall pitchers develop late. He is a rarity who fits both of those descriptors. The key for him next year will be getting innings, again, and seeing how he holds up in full season ball.
   This is something we've been saying about Smoral for over a year.  We can't really close the book on his ability to reach his ceiling just yet for the reasons Longenecker outlined, and because he missed his senior year of high school, and may still be a bit behind on the developmental curve relative to his peers.
  About Smoral and Ryan Borucki, who were also rotation-mates in Vancouver, Jansen told us:
     Smoral and Borucki are both outstanding pitchers, they both have dominant stuff and can both control their pitches. They always bring confidence and compete everyday, which is the biggest reason I love catching them

   And things would not be complete with a Rowdy Tellez update:

  Feng (New York): I was wondering what the feedbacks were on Rowdy Tellez and Josh Almonte. Was a little surprised that Tellez didn't make the top 20.
Clint Longenecker: Almonte was covered. Tellez was a strong consideration for the list. He made strides with his hitting approach this year and its tough not be be intrigued by a potential power bat. Scouts wanted to see Tellez hit for more power in games this year (.131 ISO) but his long-term power projection is still there. He is capable of putting on a show in BP. He controlled the zone well in the Appy League. It was a good developmental season for Tellez, whose body looked good because of the hard work he put in.
   That, to us, is a surprisingly lukewarm assessment of Tellez.  The Blue Jays saw more, apparently, and skipped him over Vancouver for a few weeks of play at Lansing, where he demonstrated some of that power, putting up a .949 OPS in 49 PA's.  His excruciatingly slow start (he went through a 0-26 dry spell - although was hitting the ball hard, according to reports - and was hitting .103/.191/.121 in early July) likely didn't help him. 

  The crowning jewel to these lower level reports for Blue Jays fans had to be the Northwest League list and chat, featuring 5 Vancouver Canadians, led by Frankie Barreto, who BA earlier had named Short Season Player of the Year. Barreto followed that up by being named the best NWL prospect. 

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, John. Is it a safe assumption that Schwarber would have topped this list had he qualified? In addition, what was the consensus opinion of his skillset during his limited time in Boise?
John Manuel: He hit 4 HR in 5 games. One league manager Brian talked to said he was “Mickey Mantle against us,” and another said, “You will live with the passed balls if he hits like I think he’ll hit.” Weighing that against Barreto would have been a fun exercise. I can see arguments for both of them.

  Barreto no doubt benefited from having Ryan McBroom hit behind him in the C's lineup.  McBroom was one of those middle round picks that may not have high ceilings, but are a perfect fit for the Northwest League:

Jon (Florida): Do you have any info on Ryan Mcbroom 1b with Vancouver? Is he a prospect for the bluejays?
John Manuel: McBroom definitely had his supporters. He has present power, with a pretty aggressive approach that allowed him to succeed in his debut. He hit some long home runs that impressed managers as well as fans. He needs to shorten his swing some, and his bats-right, throws-left profile is worth mentioning because it’s fairly rare. He might have had a chance to try third base is he threw righthanded. Some managers knocked him as a below-average defender at first. L.B. Dantzler put up similar numbers in the league last year and wasn’t able to follow up this year. McBroom will see if he’s up to the challenge.

  We all know the position change is coming for Barreto, but everything he has shown this season suggests the bat will play:

Brian (Denver): Which #1 league prospect has a higher ceiling as a SS, Northwest league Franklin Barretto or Appalachian league Ozhaino Albies?
John Manuel: Albies sounds super exciting and more likely to be a shortstop, but Barretto for me because of the bat. He may not be a shortstop long-term, but that dude can hit. Barretto’s defense gets knocked by the managers we talked to, who obviously value reliability and making the routine play, but we have good reports on Barretto’s infield actions. He has a shot to stay in the infield if not at shortstop, so I’d go with him. Albies is 5-foot-7 and we have mixed reports on just how much offensive upside he has in terms of how much he’ll impact the baseball. No such questions exist for Barretto. Both exciting players though.
Feng (New York): Hi, I was wondering if Barreto is a top 100 player? And if he is, would anyone else from this league make it on the top 100 list?
John Manuel: I think he probably is, and he’s likely the only person from this Top 20 to merit such consideration. The other possibility may be Miguel Castro, who has the big arm and athleticism but whose secondary stuff is probably too raw for top 100 right now. He could have been No. 2 or No. 3. I thought Barretto was a clear No. 1, but 2-3-4 were tough for me and Brian to rank. They could have gone in any order really.
  Max Pentecost also fell off of our radar a little bit due to his abbreviated season.  And it looks like BA didn't get the greatest read on him, either:
Zach (San Diego): Why did Max Pentecost rank #8 in the paper thin Northwest League Top 20? And if you can tell us what's a reasonable ceiling and/or comp for this kid?
John Manuel: Managers and scouts in the league saw Pentecost catch all of six games. We were asking them to weigh in essentially on a DH. So we dinged him a bit for that, ranking him behind two potential starting corner bats who are younger than him. Baez and Cordero are much riskier bets for sure, so we could have ranked him higher. I thought the top 12 guys were a fairly clear top 12; after that, there was not much differentiation.

 Baseball Prospectus is one of BA's biggest competitors, at least on the web side of the publishing business.  BP has produced a couple of print compilations of their writers' best work, including an essay by Jason Parks entitled, "From the Buscones to the Big Leagues,"  in Extra Innings. For anyone who follows prospects, this treatise on the pros and cons of the international market, as well as the ups and downs international players often go through when they play stateside is must reading.
   In this piece, Parks takes us through the highs and lows of a fictional Dominican pitching prospect named Jose, who pitches for the equally fictional Greens over his first five pro seasons, and makes for really entertaining and informative reading.  We sometimes forget that the transition to a new country, culture, climate, and language can be huge for some players, and they understandably can take a step backwards in their development, especially in their first full season.  Such seems to be the case for Tirado, who started the year at Lansing, but was sent back to Extended Spring Training after he had difficulties repeating his delivery and finding the strike zone.
Steve (Vancouver): How come Alberto Tirado didn't make the list?
John Manuel: He just did not throw enough strikes. Managers knocked both his command and lack of secondary stuff, but he was one of the livelier arms in the league and is just 19. More than likely 2014 will be a bump in the road for him because the arm can be electric. But he’s clearly behind Labourt and Castro, who throw more strikes, have big arms and are bigger-bodied guys.
   And we finish with a question that we ourselves had after our first glance at the list:
Roy (Indiana): Why is Labourt ranked ahead of Castro? From what I've seen of both Castro seems more a finished pitcher but with more or less equally high ceilings.
John Manuel: Lefty vs. a righty, but I had those guys flipped several times. Just having a lefthander who can dominate often older competition essentially with one pitch, plus the fact that Labourt’s arm is pretty clean and works easy enough to believe he’ll command the ball better down the line, gave him the edge. Both those guys are exciting for having easy gas as starting pitchers, which separated them from the pack. Looking at the league overall, pitching prospects were probably the weakest spot. I’m not sure how many future big league rotation members will come from the NWL. If someone were taking odds, I would take zero and let you have the field, and I’d like my chances. Castro and Labourt obviously were the exceptions, as the only pitchers in the top 10.
   Catcher Mike Reeves, who played at three levels this year (but in reverse) caught both this year, and he acknowledged on the excellent "Your Van C's" podcast with Greg Balloch and Charlie Caskey that while Castro is the better prospect at this point, Labourt was the C's best pitcher this year.  That he didn't follow Castro up the ladder may be due to his earlier struggles at Lansing, and the organization may have wanted to let him stay where he was having some success.  
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