Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's In the System: Corner Infield

  This is our second in a series of articles which examines the depths of prospects in the Blue Jays minor league system.

   This year, we've decided to combine first and third base for a couple of reasons.  For starters, as is much the case with many minor league organizations, first base is a bit of a black hole for prospects.  First base, generally speaking, is where you play when your bat is your most outstanding tool relative to the other aspects of your toolkit, and if you have any aspirations to making it to the big leagues, it needs to be overwhelming.  First base prospects can often be blocked by major leaguers whose bat keeps them there, but their glove limits their defensive prospects (see Encarnacion, Edwin), necessitating a move to first.  And when players are moved to first, it's often been from across the corner at third.

  First at Buffalo for the past two years has been a holding place for injury insurance replacement vets like Mauro Gomez and Dan Johnson, with Andy LaRoche and late-season acquisition Matt Hague across from them.  New Hampshire has also seen its fair share of minor league journeymen like Mike McDade.  The organization seemed to be grooming Andy Burns for a super-utility role last year, but he settled in at third for the Fisher Cats this year, and after a rough start finished with decent numbers.

  It's not until we reach the lower levels of the system that we begin to see some promise.  Mitch Nay did not show a great deal of power in the Midwest League, but neither did many of his Lugnuts teammates,  as Lansing was last in the league with 57 Home Runs.  Nay's 34 doubles may be more of an indication of future power, though.  At one point earlier this year, he was being termed the Blue Jays best position prospect, until the rise of Dalton Pompey. Across the diamond from Nay, Matt Dean had a solid season at the plate, and actually played decent defence at third in the limited opportunities we had to see him play following Nay's promotion to Dunedin.  B.C. native Justin Atkinson re-tooled his stance and approach at the plate, and had a decent year with the bat, and played 34 games at first.
   Rowdy Tellez may one day turn out to be the best of this group.  The Blue Jays counted their pennies by signing college seniors for meagre bonuses in rounds 4-10 in 2013 in order to dissuade Tellez from a college commitment, and he struggled until the final week of his pro debut season in the GCL, and then got off to another slow start at Bluefield this year, going 0-26 at one stretch.  The bat finally woke up, however, and Tellez skipped two levels in mid-August to finish the season with Lansing.  It will be interesting to see where the Blue Jays send Tellez next season - this may be a breakthrough year for him.  Despite his numbers this year, we've had to restrain ourselves in our praise of him because he still is far away, and his bat will have to more than compensate for his limited defensive abilities.  It's looking more and more that such may be the case, though.
   The Blue Jays have a pair of first basemen below that who have a number of similarities.  LB Dantzler was a 14th round pick out of South Carolina in 2013, while Ryan McBroom was taken in the 15th round this year out of West Virginia.  Dantzler had an outstanding pro debut season, taking home Northwest League MVP honours as he led Vancouver to their third straight league title, while McBroom put up similar numbers this year, as the C's just missed making it a four-peat.  Dantzler struggled at full season ball this year at both Lansing and Dunedin, and there's a feeling that he may have reached his ceiling, or is close to it.  It will be interesting to see if the same development occurs with McBroom, who in all likelihood will open the season with Lansing.
   Below full season ball, the Blue Jays have a mix of roster filler-type college draftees like Lydell Moseby, Alexis Maldonado and Ryan Metzler, and intriguing younger prospects like Lane Thomas, and Gabriel Cenas.
  Many players in short season ball play a variety of positions as the organization tries to get a fix on where their talents are best suited, and Thomas was no exception.  He split time at Bluefield between third, left, and centrefields, and he could be considered a prospect at both this position and the outfield.  Cenas signed for a huge bonus out of Venezuela in 2010, and has split time between both corner infield positions, but the power that was predicted for him has yet to materialize.
   Juan Kelly played 37 games at first for the GCL Jays, and was their player of the year.  It's hard to see the undersized 20 year old developing much in the way of power, however.
Our ranking:

1.  Mitch Nay
2.  Andy Burns
3.  Rowdy Tellez
4.  Lane Thomas
5.  LB Dantzler
6.  Matt Dean
7.  Ryan McBroom
8.  Justin Atkinson
9.  Gabriel Cenas
10. Juan Kelly

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