Friday, November 28, 2014

Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects: 11-20


11.  Devon Travis 2B
     Travis is the latecomer to this list, and while what we've read about him has mostly been positive, we don't know enough about him yet to bump him further up the list.
  Travis reminds us a bit of Kevin Pillar.  Not highly rated in his draft year and the owner of average to slightly above average tools, all Travis has done in three minor league seasons is hit, posting a .323/.388/.487 line.  Baseball America is firmly in the Travis camp, noting that he has hit at every level.  Here's more from their latest report on him:
 
   He has superb hand-eye coordination, good balance at the plate and strong bat control, which allows him to make consistent contact and use the whole field. He’s a smart player who’s been able to make adjustments as he’s moved up the ladder

   Keith Law, on the other hand, is less than sold:

   Had a great year but....... he's old for where he played, and he's an undersized guy without tools. Not a prospect for me, nor for any of the scouts I talked to who'd seen him.

   The true evaluation of Travis probably lies somewhere in between.  The Tigers, faced with a thin market for outfielders, felt that Anthony Gose could develop into at least a league average player, and act as insurance if Steven Moya proves to be not quite ready for MLB action.  They also felt that they could live with several more years of Ian Kinsler, even with his production due to start to decline, at second base, ahead of Travis.
   You're not getting an all star with Travis.  You're not getting a gold glover or much of a base stealing threat, either.  What you are getting is a guy who consistently barrels up the ball, who may hit 10 to 15 home runs a year, and a guy who has made the necessary adjustments at every level he has played at.  And with second being a bit of a black hole in the Jays lineup for several years, the club will take that.

Travis' Milb Page

ETA: late 2015/early 2016
Projection: everyday 2nd baseman, bottom third of the order bate
Worst Case Scenario:  utility infielder

12.  Sean Nolin  LHP
   Nolin has been the forgotten man in the Blue Jays plans, but he showed this fall in Arizona that when he's healthy, he can very much be in the picture.
   Leg injuries have limited Nolin to 20 starts in each of the last two years.  In 2013, he matched Marcus Stroman strikeout for strikeout with New Hampshire.  At 6"4"/230, Nolin is projected as a back of the rotation innings eater.
   Nolin commands all four of his pitches well.  His fastball grades as average, but he can touch 95 on occasion.  His size allows him to create a downhill plane on his pitches, and his delivery can make it tough for hitters to pick up the ball.  Nolin gave up a fair number of fly balls earlier in his minor league career, but he induced much more groundball contact this year.
   The biggest challenge Nolin has faced the past two years is staying healthy.  Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and possibly even Kendall Graveman have passed him.  The lefthander went to Arizona this fall to make up for lost innings, and after a couple of rough outings early in the schedule, he was back to his old form over the last half.
   It's hard to say where Nolin fits in the Blue Jays plans.  Called up in 2013 for an emergency start, he caught too much of the strike zone and was pummeled by the Orioles.  Even though he missed almost a month this year, he pitched well down the stretch for Buffalo, and was called up when MLB rosters expanded at the end of August, but pitched all of one inning in September.
 With the the starting rotation beginning to become a bit crowded,  Nolin's greatest value to the club may be as trade bait.

Nolin's Milb Page

ETA:   2015
Projection:  Back of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Front of the bullpen guy



13.  Max Pentecost  C
 The Blue Jays nabbed Pentecost with their second first round pick in June, 11th overall.
All indications were that he was a hit-first, defence-second receiver, but was at least adequate behind the plate.  Jason Kendall comps were made.
  After he signed,  Pentecost spent the obligatory week in the Gulf Coast League, then was off to Vancouver, for what was presumed to be the real start of a brief apprenticeship in the minors, which would see him in the majors leagues as early as next summer.
   Pentecost arrived in the Pacific Northwest in rough shape however, likely from the rigors of an extended collegiate season on a frame that scouts felt could use some bulking up to begin with.  Pentecost was behind the plate for only 6 games for the C's, and was limited to 87 Plate Appearances before being shut down and sent back to Florida for rest and rehab in August. Reports we had about his catching skills in that small sample size were less than glowing, but we'll give Pentecost a pass for now.
   Pentecost turned out to have a shoulder injury which didn't respond to treatment, and underwent what we presume is surgery to repair a torn labrum on October 8th.  Recovery from the procedure, of course, depends on the extent of the damage, but it's typically 9 months to a year for a full recovery. Which means that 2015 isn't necessarily a write off for him, but it does move the projection back, and the signing of Russell Martin takes away the urgency.
   Pentecost has above-average speed for a catcher, and has a line drive swing that isn't projected to produce great power, but should generate plenty of singles and doubles.  There is every indication that he is a premium athlete - he was the MVP of the summer collegiate Cape Cod League in 2013, and won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top college catcher in 2014.  There is every indication that he will be a solid contributor to the lineup.  The injury issue which has stalled his timetable is the only thing keeping him out of the Top 10.

Pentecost's Milb Page

ETA:  Late 2016
Projection: hit first, defence second catcher
Worst Case Scenario: platoon catcher

14.  Mitch Nay  3B
  Nay may have been surpassed by Pompey, Barreto, and maybe Alford as the best position player prospect in the system, but he still figures highly in the Blue Jays future plans.
  Nay missed a season of development in 2012 due to a broken foot, but had a breakout year in short season play in 2013, raking at Bluefield before being promoted to Vancouver in time for the NWL playoffs, in which he was named the MVP.  This season at Lansing, the power wasn't in present in as much quantity as had been hoped, but his 34 doubles were tied for third in the league.  The Midwest League is not a home run hitters paradise, particularly the Lugnuts' home Cooley Law School Stadium.  Power is often the last took in a hitter's kit to develop, so the thinking that some of those doubles will turn into homers in more favourable environments.
  Nay has an advanced approach at the plate, and makes consistently hard, up the middle contact.  He still projects as a middle of the order of the bat.  The concern about Nay has always been about his range, which can take away from his plus arm.  With Brett Lawrie ensconced at third for the foreseeable future, a move across the diamond may be in store for Nay.
  Other top prospects list have ranked Nay higher than we have, and while we're still high on him, his presence on this secondary tier is more of a reflection on the rate of his development relative to other players in the system.

Nay's Milb Page

ETA:  Late 2017
Projection:  Middle of the order, starting 3rd Baseman
Worst Case Scenario:  IB/DH platoon player

15.  Matt Smoral  LHP
   Smoral was yet another gem the Blue Jays drafted who other scouts shied away from because of a broken foot in his senior year of high school and a college commitment.  Toronto took him as a comp pick in 2012 and gave him a $2 million bonus, and were prepared to wait on the 6'8" lefthander.
   Smoral didn't make his pro debut until the GCL started in June of 2013, and missed a fair number of bats.  And when he wasn't missing bats, he was missing the strike zone.
   The Blue Jays moved him up the ladder to the Appalachian League in 2014,  Smoral's  Appy debut was a sizzling one, striking out 8 and walking 3 in 3 innings.  Named the league's 7th prospect by BA, Smoral was promoted to Vancouver in August, and wasn't overmatched against older hitters, although a meltdown in the NWL finals by Smoral cost the C's a chance at a four-peat.
   Smoral touches 96 with his fastball, with late life.  His slider was one of the best in short season ball, and projects as a plus pitch.  While he made strides with his delivery this season, Smoral still must improve on his command (5.7K/9 this year).
   Smoral projects as a front of the rotation starter if he can harness his command.  Tall lefthanders who missed a year of development tend to take longer to reach their ceiling, so the Blue Jays may not be as aggressive with their promotion of him as they were with other pitchers this year.

Smoral's Milb Page

ETA:  2017
Projection: #2/#3 starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Brett Cecil or Aaron Loup's replacement

16.  Dwight Smith
   If Mitch Nay flew under the radar this year in the shadow of more high profile position players in the system, the son of the former Major Leaguer by the same name was barely a blip on the screen.
Playing in the Florida State League in front of dozens of spectators every night, all Smith did was post an OPS of .816 with virtually no protection in the lineup, in cavernous FSL stadiums, and in the flyball-killing Florida heat.
   A sandwich pick in 2011, Smith has made steady, if unspectacular progress.  Smith lacks the power of a corner outfielder, and the Blue Jays may have plans to try to turn him into a multi-position utility player, as evidenced by the brief trial he had at second base in the Arizona Fall League. It will be interesting to see if the club has him play several positions at New Hampshire next year.
   We find that when we talk about prospects who are in this tier, we tend to talk about what they can't do.  What Smith can do is get on base consistently, and use his line drive stroke to find the gaps.  He has average speed, which all but rules out centrefield, except in an emergency.
   It doesn't hurt that Smith hits from the left side, too.

Smith's Milb Page

ETA: Late 2016/early 2017
Projection:  Platoon Corner OF
Worst Case Scenario:  Utility Player

17.  Rowdy Tellez
   The legend of Rowdy Tellez is growing.
A hitter of prodigious BP and Home Run Derby blasts in various Showcase events as a High Schooler, MLB teams were scared off by his USC commitment prior to last year's draft, but the Blue Jays used savings gained elsewhere in the draft to convince him to sign after taking him in the 28th round.
   Tellez struggled in the first weeks of his pro debut season in the GCL last year, but found his groove in the closing week, when he hit everything hard.  Sent to Bluefield this season, Tellez got off to another slow start, including an 0-33 stretch, but caught fire and hit .293/.358/.424.  The club skipped Tellez over Vancouver to Lansing, where he acquitted himself well in two weeks of play.
  There is no disguising Tellez's role.  He is a bat first player, period.  Yet his is not necessarily a hit or miss approach.  Tellez has shown patience at the plate, walking almost as much as he struck out this year.  He has above average bat speed, and can drive balls to the opposite field.
   At 6"5"/230, Tellez is a below average runner who will have to pay attention to his conditioning, and work hard to be even an average first baseman.  He should return to Lansing this year, and will likely split time at first and DH with the presence of Ryan McBroom, who had a great debut season at Vancouver.  We are excited about his future, but he is still far away, and if he doesn't hit, he won't provide any value to the club.

Tellez's Milb Page

ETA:  2017/18
Projection:  Middle of the Order 1B/DH
Worst Case Scenario:  AAAA Player

18.  Jairo Labourt
   There's a temptation to label Labourt as a disappointment this year.
The tall Dominican lefty started the year with Lansing, where he was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, and he struggled mightily, walking 20 batters in 14 innings. To be fair, he was not the only prospect on the team who had difficulty with the challenge the organization presented him with.
   Sent back to extended spring training, Labourt rediscovered his command, and was sent off to Vancouver when short season play started, where he became the C's ace, and was named the NWL's third best prospect by BA.
   Labourt challenges hitters with his mid 90s fastball, and was very successful against right handed hitters, who hit .171/.286/.202.  Labourt demonstrated much better command with Vancouver, striking out 82 and walking 37 in 71 innings. He did hit 8 batters, showing a willingness to pitch inside.
   If not for his Lansing experience, we would no doubt be looking at Labourt's season through a different lens.  His is a live arm that should perform well in another stint at Lansing.  The organization has to make a 40 man roster decision on Labourt after next season, so his timeline may be moved up.

Labourt's Milb Page

ETA:  2017
Projection:  Middle of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Front of the bullpen guy

19.  Sean Reid-Foley

   When a prospect drops in the draft due to concerns either about signability or durability, you can bet that the Blue Jays will be in the running to scoop him up.  They covet impact players.
   Such was the case with righthander Reid-Foley, who fell to the Blue Jays in the second round last June.  Some teams were scared off by his delivery, while others felt that he was committed to Florida State. The Blue Jays felt that they scored another first rounder.
   Reid-Foley caught a heavy dose of helium last spring with added velocity on his fastball.  At 6'3"/215, and with a fastball that touched 97, he was a man among boys in Florida high school competition.  He pounds the strike zone, and shows an advanced feel for pitching.
  There are concerns about his delivery.   He throws across his body, and the inverted W in his delivery is a tell-tale sign of future elbow/shoulder issues to some.  You can't really see the W here, but what you can see is a compact delivery, a nasty slider, and hit and miss stuff:




ETA: 2018
Projection:   Front of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Hard to determine - he's very far away

   
20.  Ryan Borucki

   This was the hardest of all our prospect picks to make.  We had to choose from a variety of players at different stages of development.  There were some we considered who had disappointing seasons but still have high ceilings (DJ Davis), some who surprised, but are too far away (Lane Thomas),  and some who we're still high on, but have to wonder about their earlier projections (Dawel Lugo/Alberto Tirado).
   Ultimately, we've decided to go with Borucki.  In his high school senior year, he played mostly first base, due to an elbow injury that he chose to rehab.  The Blue Jays took a flyer on the tall, athletic Illinoisan, and took him in the 15th round in 2012.
   The injury didn't respond to treatment, and Borucki opted for Tommy John surgery in March the following season, which cost him all of 2013.  Borucki teamed up with Smoral in the Bluefield rotation this year, and followed him to Vancouver late in the season.  He had the lowest walk/9 ratio (1.6), and the best K-BB ratio (5.0) of any lefthander in the Appy League.  He pitched even better in the Northwest League.  On the year, Borucki gave up just 39 hits in 57 IP this year, walking  only 9, while striking out 52.
   Borucki sat between 92-94 early in the season, but lost a touch of velocity as the season wore on, which isn't a surprise.  He pitches off his fastball, and the best of his secondary pitches at this point is his change, which shows plus potential.  His curveball will need an upgrade if he is to repeat his success at higher levels.
  At 6'4", Borucki still has plenty of room for projection.

Borucki's Milb Page

ETA:  Late 2017/Early 2018
Projection: Middle to end of the rotation starter
Worst Case Scenario:  Front end of the bullpen guy
 
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