Monday, November 24, 2014

Clutchlings Blue Jays Prospects: The Top 10



      We've given a great deal of thought to this year's top prospects list.
  We do like to take our time putting it together, assembling a fair amount of research from a number of credible sources, and our own observations of prospects we have seen in action. We also like for Fall Instructs, the Arizona Fall League, and the first wave of GM meetings to play themselves out before putting a list together.
  This year, unlike any other in recent memory, has been one of the more successful ones in Blue Jays minor league history.  The club's focus on drafting high risk, high reward players starting in 2010, along with a concentration on the international market and drafting players who may have been overlooked because of injury and/or college commitments, is starting to bear fruit.  For the first time, we won't be grasping for names when we compile our list of the 11th to 20th ranked prospects - we actually had a tough time not including some names, and found ourselves making up top 10 and top 20 lists, only to remake them a week later.
   For the first time in several years, the farm system actually graduated players to the major league club who made a more than limited contribution to the team.  Marcus Stroman came up in early May and struggled out of the bullpen.  Sent back to Buffalo to get stretched out as a starter, he came back to the club and quickly became a mainstay in the rotation, posting a record of 3-0, 1.71 ERA with an 0.95 WHIP and .193 Opponents BA in 5 July starts.
   Aaron Sanchez started the year at AA, and was promoted to AAA in June.  Called up to the big club and installed in the bullpen, Sanchez cut down his repertoire of pitches to his fourseamer and sinker and was lights out in relief, posting a tiny 1.09 ERA in 24 appearances.
  On September 1st, when major league rosters expanded, the Blue Jays promoted an incredible 8 minor leaguers.  Even though the club was out of contention, lefthander Daniel Norris and outfielder Dalton Pompey had an impact, and served notice that they were in the running for spots on the 25 man roster when spring training breaks next March.
   A note about qualification for this list before we begin.  A player with more than 90 at bats, or 45 innings pitched, or 45 days on a major league roster before September is no longer to be eligible for rookie of the year voting the following year.  Using that guideline, Marcus Stroman doesn't qualify as a rookie any more, but Aaron Sanchez does, and to us still merits consideration as a prospect.

1.  Daniel Norris
   This was a tough decision, as it came down to Norris or Sanchez.
While Sanchez had a scintillating MLB debut, Norris actually had a far better season as a starting pitcher.
Minor League Baseball's pitcher of the month for May, Norris started the year in High A, and finished it in the majors.  It's been some time since a Blue Jays prospect had as dominant a season.

  Promoted to New Hampshire in June after dominating Florida State League hitters, Norris actually struggled to economize his pitch count, but the Blue Jays brass had seen enough in his last AA start (6.2IP, 5H, 1 R/ER, 0BB, 8K) to challenge him further with a promotion to Buffalo.  And whatever adjustments he had made in that last AA start carried over to Buffalo, where he struck out 32 hitters in 16.2 innings over his first 3 starts.  At that point, having thrown 118 innings for the season (20 more than his career high), it was announced that Norris had made his last start.  With Buffalo in the midst of a playoff race, however, the organization had a change of heart, and let Norris make one last start against the Red Sox Pawtucket affiliate (who the Bisons were chasing for the final playoff spot).  We made the trip to Coca-Cola field to watch the start.  Norris breezed through his first two innings, but suffered a noticeable decline in his fastball velocity, and the Paw Sox hitters knocked him out of the game by the fourth.
  The decline in velocity, of course, was due to bone chips in his pitching elbow, which were removed at season's end.  Norris was part of the massive airlift of prospects who were called up when rosters were expanded on September 1st, and he made his MLB debut four days later.  Called upon to face the Red Sox David Ortiz in a LOOGY situation, Norris got a first pitch strike on a curve, and then five pitches later froze Papi on an inside curve.  The ironic part of this story is that there was a bit of a language barrier problem between Norris and Dionner Navarro.  In a quick chat before he started his warm up pitches, a pumped-up Norris told Navarro that he preferred to go with fastballs because he felt he didn't have the feel for a curve, only to have Navarro put two fingers down for his first pitch.
   Norris was the Blue Jays 2nd round pick in 2011, but signed for the 20th highest bonus, largely thanks to the club's inability to sign first round pick Tyler Beede.  Regarded by some as the best prep lefthander in the draft that year, he became the first high school lefty from his draft class to reach the majors.
   Norris' first year and a half in pro ball was a bit of a disaster, as the club had altered his delivery, and he showed a reluctance to rely on his fastball.  After getting pounded in an early May start at Lansing last year, Norris and pitching coach Vince Horsman had a heart-to-heart, and Norris began to use his fastball more, which only improved the effectiveness of his secondary pitches once his command improved.  Since June of last year, he has struck out 213 batters in 176 IP.
   Norris posted the highest strikeout rate in all of minor league baseball (11.8/9) this year - his K rate actually improved at every minor league step up the ladder this year:

 
Fangraphs

    Norris experienced an uptick in velocity this year, usually sitting between 91 and 95 with his fastball, touching 97.  His slider has plus potential, as does his change up.  Norris throws with an upright delivery, ha smooth mechanics toward the plate that gives him good downhill plane on his pitches, and usually leaves him in a good fielding position after he completes his windup.
   Norris, to some extent, came out of nowhere this year.  He went from being nowhere near anyone's top 100 Milb prospects to leaping into the top 10.  We've had our eye on him since his transformation mid-season last year, but even we didn't think he would make a leap of this significance this season.  He may start the season in Buffalo, but it's only a matter of time before Norris established himself at least in the middle of the Blue Jays rotation.

ETA:  2015 Mid Season
Projection: #2/#3 starter
Worst Case Scenario:  8th inning bullpen guy

2.  Aaron Sanchez
   There were some who thought the Blue Jays had made a huge mistake when they took Sanchez with the 34th pick of the 2010 draft.  A tall, lanky, and gangly specimen, there were some who thought that Sanchez would always be overvalued because of his size.  The Blue Jays brought Sanchez along slowly, putting him through two seasons of rookie and short season ball before his first full season with Lansing.  Command issues plagued him almost from the outset. Last year at Dunedin, the whispers about Sanchez having command issues and not being quite the sum of all his parts began to grow.  By the time the Arizona Fall League rolled around, the Sanchez bandwagon had become noticeably lighter.  Here's a comment we had from a reader a little over a year ago:

   Funny how tendencies have a habit of sticking around. I saw Sanchez pitch as a high school prospect in the 2009 Tournament of Stars in Cary, NC. While he had that easy delivery and good velo that earned him more than his share of excitement from the scouting community, I came away with a 'what the hell am I missing here' impression. His lack of command and inability to repeat pitches stood out like a sore thumb. His results weren't bad, given the unrefined tendencies of high school batters to swing at high-velo or high-movement pitches that aren't strikes. But still, I thought he was a project, and it raised my eyebrows when he went in the first round with an almost-$800K bonus. You never know when a player can blow up, but following my own son's progress to pro ball made it glaringly obvious that for a group of professionals whose sole job it is to evaluate talent, scouts just get it wrong with their projectability assessments way more often than they get it right (in both directions!). To me at the time, Sanchez should have been more like a 3rd-to-5th round sign. His lingering tendencies have produced results that have proven that so far. I do hope for his sake that he has a serendipitous encounter with some pitching coach who is able to spot that as-yet unknown little fault in his delivery and turn his fortunes around
 This did not deter the Blue Jays, nor Sanchez.  Some of his struggles may have been to the organization tinkering with his delivery, having him land in a more upright position, and due to his experimenting with a sinker.
   Fast forward to 2014.  Sanchez opened the season at AA, and even though the results were somewhat mixed (40BB in 66IP), the club challenged him, in what would become a system-wide trend,  with a promotion to Buffalo.  Sanchez demonstrated better control after a half dozen AAA starts, when they put him on the next path of his development, sending him to the bullpen.  Two relief outings later, Sanchez found himself in an MLB bullpen, tossing a pair of scoreless relief innings against the Red Sox.
   Sanchez was barely hittable for the rest of the season, filling a huge set-up role void in the Toronto bullpen, and posting a miniscule 1.09 ERA in 33 innings, with a ridiculous 0.70 WHIP.  The main reason for Sanchez's success was the club paring down his repertoire of pitches:

Brooks Baseball

   Not having to worry about getting hitters out a second time through the order, Sanchez could use his fastball, which seems to explode on batters from his easy-effort delivery to induce swings and misses, or weak, groundball contact.  He consistently sat between 93 and 95 with his fastball, and touched 97 with it.  Sanchez gets plenty of extension from his delivery,   His curve has been described as major league ready since he was in A ball, and his change improved this season.
   The Blue Jays appear to have a tough decision on their hands with Sanchez:  keep him in the bullpen, where he's been successful, or let him vie for a spot in the starting rotation, where he has not met with as much success.  For the time being, the club appears to be willing to let him compete for a starting job in spring training.  

ETA:  2015
Projection: #2/#3 starter
Worst Case Scenario:  late innings bullpen guy

3.  Dalton Pompey
  The Blue Jays took a flyer on Pompey in the 16th round of the 2010 draft.  The Mississauga HS product was described as toolsy, but incredibly raw.
   His development over the course of his first three pro seasons was very slow and unremarkable.  A hand injury limited his playing time in 2012, and his first year of full season ball at Lansing was fairly nondescript, until he caught fire in the final weeks of the season, 
   He carried that hot finish over to the 2014 season, hitting .319/.397/.491 with 29 stolen bases in a little over two months of play in the Florida State League.  Promoted to AA, where pitchers have a plan, and don't rely just on their ability to blow the ball by hitters, Pompey needed a week to figure things out, and began raking once more, earning a trip to the Futures Game.  His storybook season didn't end there, however, as he joined Buffalo in August and was a sparkplug at the top of their batting order during the Bisons' playoff push.  Pompey's season culminated in a call up to the Blue Jays on September 1st, and his 4-4 game with a pair of triples late in the season against Baltimore capped off his rise through four levels of play.  Likely a little worn out from his longest season, Pompey's numbers were a little less than expected against the elite caliber of competition in the Arizona Fall League, but he was named one of the loop's Top 10 Prospects after play ended last week.
   Pompey's breakout year was well worth the wait.  An Milb Gold Glove winner, Pompey has gap-closing speed in the outfield that profiles as a centrefielder, and a plus arm that could play right.  The switch-hitter likes to lay down drag bunts, especially on the left side, and is incredibly quick out of the box.  He has shown both power and patience, drawing walks at an above average rate.  He is also a smart baserunner who uses his speed effectively and wisely on the bases.
   He may start the season in Buffalo, but Pompey has the makings of a first division major leaguer.  He outperformed projections for him last year, and because he is still developing, he may outperform them again this year, even though that would be a tough act to follow.

ETA:  Mid 2015
Projection:  Lead Off Sparkplug Centrefielder
Worst Case Scenario:  Platoon corner outfielder

4.  Franklin Barreto
  Barreto was part of an impressive haul of international shortstops the Blue Jays signed in 2012 (along with Dawel Lugo, who played at Lansing this year, and Richard Urena).  A fabled youth player, all Barreto has done since his pro debut is hit.  Brought stateside for rookie ball last year, Barreto was dominant in the Northwest League this year, at the tender age of 18, in a league filled mostly with college grads.
  Hitting third in Vancouver's batting order, Barreto led the NWL in Games, Runs, Hits, Doubles, RBIs, and Total Bases, and was the league's MVP.  He was also named Baseball America's Short Season Player of the Year.
   Barreto barrels up balls to all fields:

MLBfarm.com

   At 5'9", Barreto has a strong, compact build.  He has plus speed, and profiles as a middle of the order, impact bat.  Like many young players, he still can chase breaking balls out of the strike zone, but there is every indication that a player of his athletic intelligence will ultimately figure that part of the game out.
   The only concerns about Barreto involve his defence.  He committed 26 errors at short for Vancouver, many of them on the back end of double play balls.  His footwork can be awkward, and he doesn't always show great arm strength on long throws from the hole.  Still, he has the type of fast-twitch skills that the Blue Jays covet, and while he may end up at second base or centrefield, the Blue Jays are content to let him stay at the position at Lansing next season, basically until he plays himself out of it.
  Wherever he winds up on the diamond, Barreto's bat will play.  The  It will be no surprise to us if he tops this list next season.  

ETA:  late 2017
Projection:  Middle of the lineup hitter, up the middle defender
Worst Case Scenario:  decent bat, corner outfielder

5.  Roberto Osuna
   The Blue Jays signed  Osuna out of Mexico for $1.5 million in 2011. Already something of a prodigy, the 15 year old Osuna was throwing in the 90s, and pitching in the Mexican League at the time.  He made his stateside debut in 2012, and is still talked about with reverence by Vancouverites for a start he made as a 17 year old in 2012 where he struck out 13 of the 19 hitters he faced.
   Osuna made his full season debut with Lansing last year, and was continuing his steady climb up the prospect charts until he was sidelined with a torn UCL in May, which required Tommy John to repair in July.
   He didn't make his return to competition until July of this year, and pitched for Dunedin in August.  The results, as one would expect, were less than stellar, as Osuna was struggling to regain his velocity and control (although he did have a 12.3K/9 rate in 30 IP).  
  Sent to Arizona to both get some extra work and face some tough competition, Osuna still has yet to post the numbers that he did prior to his surgery.  At 19, there's not a lot to worry about, however.  He did have his velocity back up to between 91 and 93, and touched 95.
  What keeps Osuna near the top of our list is what has been called his advanced feel for pitching.  His innings have been carefully monitored this year, but the bubble wrap will start to come off next year, when he likely will be pitching at New Hampshire.
   Osuna's top secondary pitch is a changeup, which is rated plus.  He caught too much of the strike zone at times in Arizona, and paid for it against hitters who can easily jump on such mistakes.  His fastball can lack movement at times, and the organization is working on altering his delivery to correct it.
   Prior to his surgery, Osuna's body was characterized as high maintenance.  Meaning, to put it blunty, he was chubby.  Both our observations of him in Arizona and reports we have read indicate that he has slimmed down, and appears to be paying more attention to his diet and conditioning.

ETA:  mid 2016
Projection:  #3/#4 starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Set up bullpen guy

6. Jeff Hoffman
   Hoffman has forced us to re-write our list numerous times.
The Blue Jays apparently have had their eye on Hoffman for some time.  Seen as talented but very undeveloped coming out of high school in upstate New York, Hoffman pitched for three years at East Carolina.
  Pitching out of the bullpen as a freshman, he hit 95 with his fastball.  He made what would be his last collegiate start on April 17th of last year, striking out 16.  A game in which he threw 117 pitches.  He felt some discomfort in his elbow late in the start, but told his pitching coach he was ok to continue.  The discomfort, of course didn't go away, and Hoffman underwent Tommy John in early May.
   The Blue Jays had followed Hoffman's every start this year, and were not put off by the surgery, and made Hoffman, who had been projected by many to be a top five, maybe even top three pick, the ninth pick overall, and signed him for a bonus of just over $3 million.
   Hoffman has been described as a premium athlete.  At 6'4", 190, he has the ideal body size and composition for the club - long, lean, and projectable.  His fastball sits 91-95 (his final inning this spring had him at 94-95), and touches 97, with arm side run  and heavy sinking action that generates plenty of weak contact.  He gets great extension with his delivery, and like Sanchez, the ball seems to explode out of his hand.  His curve is projected as plus, and his change and slider developed noticeably last year.  With his athleticism, Hoffman is a premium defender.
   Tommy John, of course, throws this all into question, even though it's becoming almost a rite of passage for young pitchers, and like any surgery that is repeated, the procedure is becoming increasingly successful.
All indications are that his recovery has gone well, and if it continues to do so, he should see game action sometime in May.  His pitch count will be strictly monitored, of course, which will also limit his progress this year.  Most pitchers (Osuna included) get most of their velocity back quickly after returning to competition, but command (see Kyle Drabek) can take longer to come back.
   Hoffman is projected as a front of the rotation starter, and if not for the surgery might have found himself in the major league rotation next year.  All indications are that the Blue Jays got a top three pick for a (comparatively) bargain price.  His progress now will be delayed.  We had difficulty including Hoffman on our original list as a result, but our research indicates his ceiling is so high that we couldn't relegate him to the second tier list.  The Blue Jays have once again rolled the dice.

ETA: mid 2016
Projection: front of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario: back of the rotation starter

7.  Richard Urena
 The 6"1" 170 Urena was part of that trio of talented international package of shortstops the Blue Jays signed in 2011, and he is the most likely to stick at the position.
   His defence has been labelled major league ready, although the 19 errors (many of the mental variety) he committed at Bluefield have us wondering if that's the case.
  Urena has those quick-twitch movements that create good reaction to batted balls, and has soft hands, a quick release, and a plus arm.   
   Urena is a natural lefthanded hitter, but took up switch-hitting this year, and reports are that he was successful at it.  He has above average bat speed, and is learning to barrel up the ball.  His power projects as below average, but he does profile as a gap hitter, with plenty of potential for doubles.
  At 18 (he's a day younger than Barreto), Urena spent most of last year in the Appy League, and was called up to Vancouver late in the season to help the C's playoff drive.  Interestingly, he did not supplant Barreto at short, playing second and third in his short NWL stint.  He's ready for a full season assignment, however, and the organization will have a huge decision on its hands this spring as the drama plays out on the back fields of Dunedin.  Will Urena play short at Lansing, with Barreto moving over to second?  The club appears determined to let the latter play himself out of the position, but the time may be right for the move.  Maybe the Blue Jays have their own Trammell-Whitaker combo in the making.

ETA:  late 2017/early 2018
Projection:  #2 hitter, everyday shortstop
Worst Case Scenario:  utility player

8.  Miguel Castro
   If you've read any posts on this blog (including this one), it's obvious that the Blue Jays have an overwhelming preference for a certain type of pitcher when they scout the high school, college, and international ranks. They like them tall (in order to create a downhill plane on their pitches, which can be harder for a hitter to track), lean (that is, not of a high-maintenance body type), and athletic (in order to be able to repeat their deliveries, especially if they have to have their mechanics altered).
   Sometimes the Blue Jays scouting staff colour outside the lines and draft a Marcus Stroman (who is all of the above, except for tall), but otherwise they have stayed rigidly with that guideline.
   And Miguel Castro fits that guideline to a tee 
Castro was a bargain ($180K) signing in 2011.  After dominating the Dominican Summer League in 2012, his stateside debut last year was delayed due to visa problems, limiting him to 30 innings.   He has more than made up for lost time this year, pitching at three levels, and finishing the year with Dunedin.
   Castro's fastball sits in the mid 90s, and touches 99.  His three quarters delivery gives his fastball plenty of arm side run, and a sinking action that generates plenty of groundball contact - essential for a player who may one day pitch in the Rogers Centre.  
   Secondary pitches are the issue for Castro.  His change is his best offering of that group at the moment, with his slider being more of a slurve.  When you throw as hard as he does, however, it makes the secondary pitches less important for now, although he will need more of an arsenal to throw at hitters as he makes his way up the ladder.
  We watched Castro's August 20th start for Lansing on milb.tv, when he threw a 7 inning, 3 hit, shutout gem, his longest stint as a pro.  He was never in trouble until his final inning, but worked his way out of a jam to cap off an impressive performance that proved to be his last at that level.
   BA has projected Castro to be a reliever at the major league level.  Developing a breaking pitch will likely be a priority for him this year.

ETA: late 2016
Projection: mid rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  late inning bullpen arm

9.  Kendall Graveman
   A year ago, Graveman, who the Jays took in the eighth round of 2013, was nowhere near anyone's top prospect list.  Lost somewhat in the shadow of Pompey and Norris, he had a season that was simply lights out.
   Graveman started the year at Lansing, and ended it in Toronto, pitching at five levels.  Drafted as a sinker control artist, Graveman added velocity this year as a result of the famed weighted ball program he used during the off-season.
   Promoted to Dunedin in May, Graveman began to experiment with a new grip on his fastball, which resulted in a four seamer that he could cut against right and left handed hitters.  The result was plenty of groundball contact:


   

   Graveman was promoted to New Hampshire in late July, and was elevated to Buffalo after only one start, and made a half dozen excellent starts as part of the Bisons' torrid stretch run.  On the year, Graveman was 14-6 with a 1.83 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in 27 starts.  Graveman repeats his delivery, and fields his position well.  He, too, caused a number of re-writes of this list.  Graveman may not have the ceiling of Daniel Norris, but he may the most major league-ready player on this list outside of Aaron Sanchez.  Graveman profiles as a back of the rotation innings eater whose path to the bigs may be blocked at the moment, but he would be in the running for a spot on the 25 man roster next spring if the Blue Jays make rumoured deals involving Mark Buerhle and/or JA Happ.

ETA:  2015
Projection:  Back of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  front of the bullpen guy
10.  Anthony Alford
   
  During the JP Ricciardi era, the Blue Jays deservedly gained a reputation as a club that was primarily interested in using their early picks to draft close to MLB-ready and signable college players.  The club viewed high school players as risky, and with college as an option, their bonus demands would not fit inside ownerships' tight salary demands.
   During the years JP was at the helm, the Blue Jays draftees amassed all of 89.8  WAR (over a third of it by Shaun Marcum and Aaron Hill), putting them in the lowest tier of all MLB clubs.  There are no guarantees in the draft, especially when selecting HS school players who may be years away, but here is a sample of prep players the Blue Jays passed on in the first round over the years.

2001   David Wright
2002   Matt Cain/Scott Kazmir/Cole Hamels
2004   Gio Gonzalez
2005   Andrew McCutchen
2007   Rick Porcello
2009   Mike Trout (in fairness, 24 other teams passed on him, too)

 The only HS grad the Blue Jays took during Ricciardi's reign was Kevin Ahrens in 2007, who has played only 73 games above High A in 8 minor league seasons, and is no longer with the organization.
   The result of this policy was a depth of prospects that doomed the franchise to second division status for most of the decade.
   In 2010, that draft strategy changed, under the new stewardship of scouting director Andrew Tinnish and GM Alex Anthopolous.  The club followed the new way of thinking that believed that college grads sometimes came to the pros with bad fundamentals, and/or as damaged goods, especially pitchers.  Tinnish and Anthopolous went further, looking specifically for high risk/high reward athletes that might take longer to develop, and the scouting community had shied away from.  They looked in places few scouts had bothered to spend much time in before, including Mississippi.
   Mississippi is hardly a hot bed of high school baseball.  Teams prefer to see how top prep players from the state fare against collegiate competition before making a commitment - Hunter Renfroe was a first round pick last year, but was taken in the 19th round as a HS senior.
   There are several reasons why the state is something of a scouting backwater.  First of all, football is king in the state.  Kids in Mississippi dream of growing up to play in the SEC, and many take the junior college route to get there.  Even if they show some promise on the diamond, most top two-sport players are under immense pressure to choose football.  Petal is a town of just over 10 000 in southern Mississippi, near Hattiesburg.  Take a look at Petal High's football stadium:

  
   


   Granted, the Americans place a higher priority on building athletic facilities than we do here in the land of free medical care for all, but Petal's stadium complex is bigger than many Canadian universities'.    
   The poverty rate in the state is the nation's highest, according to the last census.  Travel ball, select teams, and showcase events are out of the reach financially for all but a few kids.  Mississippi also has a highly rural population, with less competition between schools.  Most major cities in the country have more 5A schools than the entire state has.  In an article about high school prospects in the state by BA's John Manuel, one scout compared the obstacles Mississippi prospects face with the transition from a slow pace, rural lifestyle to the bus rides and grinder mentality with what young players from the Dominican are presented with.  
    The Blue Jays bucked the traditional views of scouting in the state in the spring of 2012, and came away with a pair of high schoolers who came with the toolsy-but-raw tag.  DJ Davis was touted as a potential five-tool player, and the Blue Jays took him with the 17th pick of the first round.  Named a top 20 league prospect in his first two short seasons, Davis struggled mightily at the plate in his first go at full season ball this year, striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances.
   With their third round pick that year, the Blue Jays chose Petal outfielder Anthony Alford, who was a two-time Gatorade state football player of the year.  As late as April that year, Alford was telling MLB teams not to bother drafting him, as he was intent on playing football and baseball at Southern Mississippi.
   And, again, if you have read other posts on this blog, you know how that worked out. He was described by many as a third round pick with first round talent.
   We won't recount the long and winding road that led Alford, after the Blue Jays had tried to extend his contract and convince him to give up football this summer, to suddenly quit the Ole Miss program and accept the Jays offer in late September (but we encourage you to look it up on our blog if you don't know the story).
   The long and short of it is that Alford, at the tender age of 20, has been through a great deal, and now finds himself and his young bride on the other side of the world, taking a crash course in pitch recognition in the Australian Baseball League.  
  Alford has caused us to rewrite this list more than any other prospect on it.  He is the best athlete in the system, as well as possibly the fastest, and in our viewing of him on ABL tv, has shown great instincts on the basepaths and in the outfield.  At the same time, he's shown how far away he truly is.  In his first few weeks of ABL play, he has shown developing patience, but has chased a lot of off speed pitches out of the zone.  In his early at bats, he appeared to be going up to the plate and hacking, but at least he's now seeing more pitches, and appears to have a plan.  Many of the pitchers in the ABL are the crafty veteran types many years his senior, and it's likely he hasn't seen breaking balls of this quality yet in his career.  Alford has a short, quick swing, and in his brief pro career has barreled up the ball to all fields.  His speed on the bases is a legitimate distraction for the opposition.  
   Alford will need time to mature.  Dreams of seeing him patrolling the Rogers Centre carpet next year have changed now to seeing him there in 2016 or even 2017.  He has played so little (less than 100 ABs in three seasons) that we have to give him time to make up for that lost development.  He just has so much talent that we couldn't leave him off of this list.

ETA:  2017
Projection:  lead off hitter, centrefielder, base stealing king
Worst Case Scenario:  fourth outfielder


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