This is a position that has markedly improved in terms of both quantity and quality from a year ago.
With Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose no longer eligible to be considered as prospects, several players took huge steps forward in their development to fill the void.
A note about Pillar first: the guy takes a beating on Twitter, for reasons we don't completely understand. He would not be the first prospect to struggle with the huge jump between major league and AAA pitching. It's true that he could've walked more and shown more patience at the plate in this his second year of MLB play, but given the demotion he had earned as a result of a June temper tantrum over being pinch hit for late in a game, the kid was likely determined to prove himself at all costs when he was brought back. Pillar has absolutely nothing left to prove in AAA, and just needs time to establish himself. If you see him not as an All Star and more of a Reed Johnson type, you'll ultimately come to appreciate him. He plays all three outfield positions well, and can run the bases. Sadly, we think the banishment to Buffalo this past summer speaks volumes about how the club feels about Pillar. We were surprised to see him survive past the July 31 trade deadline, and will be even more surprised if he's part of the organization by spring training.
Dalton Pompey, of course, got all of the headlines this summer, and deservedly so. Coming into his fifth pro season, he had never played above Low A ball, although he began making noise and showing some signs of busting out in his last month at Lansing in 2013. This year, his full array of talents blossomed, and all of baseball took notice. Pompey bashed Florida State League pitching, and after an initial struggle at New Hampshire returned to his hard-hitting ways, earning a promotion to Buffalo, and a September call-up to the big club, the highlight of which was a 3-4, one double, two triples performance against the Orioles in the season's last week.
Pompey's long season is wrapping up in the Arizona Fall League, and while he struggled a bit at first, has again showed the power-speed combo that has left scouts drooling. A .317/.392/.469 line, with 43 steals in 50 attempts portends very well for the future. Even though Pompey might benefit from a bit more seasoning in Buffalo, with Colby Rasmus all but gone and Melky Cabrera about to explore the free agent market, the future may be sooner rather than later for Pompey.
Drafted in the 16th round in 2010, the Blue Jays were prepared to be patient with Pompey, and their patience has been rewarded. A 16th round Canadian high school pick from 2008, Michael Crouse, has yet to blossom. Crouse reached AA this year, but hit .243/.321/.405 in 109 games. A third Canadian, Marcus Knecht, put together a solid 2011 at Lansing, but has repeated 3 straight years at Dunedin.
Dwight Smith Jr had a very underrated year in the Florida State League. Without much protection behind him in the D-Jays lineup, Smith put up decent numbers . Perhaps feeling he lacks a corner outfield-type bat, the Blue Jays have experimented with Smith at 2nd Base in the Arizona Fall League. We say 12 home runs in the vastness of most FSL parks is evidence of some pop. With the huge jump that comes from going to A+ to AA, we're looking forward to seeing how well Smith adjusts.
As is the case with some other positions, the true depth of prospects starts to broaden as you reach the lower levels of the system. With a stable full of young pitchers, Lansing was thought to be one of the minor league teams to watch this season, but injuries and inconsistency forced the Lugnuts to go with a patch work rotation for the second half. An exciting young outfield was one of Lansing's strengths this season. DJ Davis, the club's first round pick in 2012, played highlight reel defense, but did not put up the numbers many thought he might in his first year of full season ball. Pitch recognition (167Ks in 530 PAs) is still a concern, and Davis' vaunted speed did not show up on the base paths, as he was thrown out 20 times in 39 attempts. All that being said, we point out that Pompey didn't begin to show signs of promise until near the end of his fourth season. Davis may have fallen off the radar, but there's no reason to give up on him yet.
Anthony Alford was Davis' teammate for all of a week before heading off to resume his now aborted college football career, but that was more than enough for the baseball world to take notice. "The Freak," as he was known in high school is easily the best athlete in the organization, and now that he has committed fully to baseball, his development may take off. Sent to Australia for the winter to gain more reps and experience, we're beyond excited to see what's in store for him.
Derrick Loveless did not show enough in terms of numbers through two short season campaigns, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the 2011 27th round pick elevated to Lansing this year, but he actually produced enough to be considered added outfield depth, if not an MLB prospect. Chaz Frank was a 2013 20th rounder who contributed to Vancouver's third straight NWL title last year, but showed at 24 he may have hit his ceiling at Lansing this year.
Roemon Fields was one of the best stories in the organization this year, and proof of the fact that despite a seemingly exhaustive scouting system, MLB sometimes misses players. Fields was out of baseball after finishing his collegiate career at tiny Bethany College in Kansas, and was working for the US Postal Service in Seattle. Fields was spotted by a Blue Jay scout at an amateur tournament in British Columbia in 2013, and was signed by Toronto. Batting leadoff for Vancouver, Fields smashed the NWL stolen base record, and was an end of season all star. At 23, it's hard to see a lot more room for projection for Fields, but it will be interesting to see how he fares in full season ball next year.
Josh Almonte struggled through his first two years of complex ball in the GCL, but the Long Island product blossomed this year at Bluefield. He had what Clint Longenecker of Baseball America termed an unsustainable BABIP of 413, and had a poor BB-K ration, but he may be a late bloomer because of his northern upbringing. It will be interesting to see where he plays next year.
Lane Thomas was a 5th round pick in June who quickly progressed from the GCL to Bluefield. He played a variety of positions, splitting the majority of his time between 3rd Base and Centrefield. He is described as a plus runner, although not necessarily owning CF speed. Thomas barreled up a lot of balls this summer.
The GCL Jays had a mix of interesting outfield prospects, but because they are all so far away it's hard to consider many of them as top prospects. One who did catch our eye early in the season was Juan Tejada, who showed some pop, but cooled off as the summer progressed.