Tuesday, December 16, 2014

5 Sleeper Prospects

Amazon photo
   The term "Sleeper" as applied to a prospect is a bit of a misnomer, as it suggests that a player has latent talent that is just waiting to be woken up.  In our experience, prospects don't develop at the same rate, so when a player has a breakout season, it's often more because they have figured something out (new release point, repeating delivery consistently, a new grip on their four-seamer, how to recognize breaking pitches better, etc), or have seen a commitment to training (proper fitness, nutrition, sleep, and specific skill work) start to pay off.  The point is that the breakout came as a result of the player actively seeking to unlock their ability - the term "Sleeper," again suggests a passive process, when the result is anything but.

  In the spirit of our last post, which looked at five Blue Jays prospects who we considered, but ultimately decided against including in our Top 20 Prospect list, here are 5 more who we may have overlooked, but could make impressive gains next year if the stars align and all goes well for them. They may be "Sleepers," in the sense that they really haven't broken through into the spotlight yet, but their skill level and athleticism suggest they could:

BDT Photo
Lane Thomas IF/OF    
   The Blue Jays took the Tennessee HS product in the 5th round of last June's draft.  Thomas has the athleticism the team prefers in a draft pick, and has a skill set that is described as well rounded.  A plus runner, there were some thoughts that he could develop into a premium centrefielder, but reports on his work there are mixed.  There is thought that his agility and arm strength is better suited to SS or 3B.
   Thomas started the year in the GCL, and was elevated to Bluefield for the final month of the season.  Thomas' development took off in the Appy League, and he hit .323/.384/.431 at the higher level.  Here's what Baseball America's Clint Longenecker had to say about him:

    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 (top prospect)                                                                                                      list.

   In Thomas' case, it's mostly sample size that has kept him out of consideration for one of our top prospect slots.  That may not be the case after 2015.

Matt Boyd LHP
   Boyd was looking like a lock for our Top 20 in April, when he had a better month than Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman.
   The Jays' 6th round pick out of Oregon State last year, Boyd was promoted to AA after giving up only one earned run over his first 5 starts this year with Dunedin, covering 31 innings.  Over that time, he surrendered only 18 hits, walked 5, and struck out 37, including 12 in his final start.
Dunedin starter Matt Boyd carried a no hitter into the top of the six when Langley, BC native Wes Darvill hit a solo shot to right to bring the score to the 5-1 final.   (Eddie Michels photo)
   Things did not go as well for Boyd in AA.  Boyd hurt his foot shortly after the promotion, and he admits that he failed to repeat his delivery consistently after it had healed, and the more experienced Eastern League hitters barreled him up often in 2 of his first 3 starts.  Boyd seemed to be figuring things out when he was roughed up in a start at the end of May, and was sent back to Dunedin.
   He pitched reasonably well for Dunedin in June, and found himself back in AA by July as a result of some injury issues and roster moves higher in the organization, striking out 9 in his first start, but was back in Dunedin to finish the season.  Boyd was lit up in his last couple of starts with the D-Jays, and we have to wonder if the almost 280 innings (he helped OSU get to the College World Series in 2013) he has logged between his senior year of college and first two years of pro ball (a span of about 18 months) have taken their toll.
   Boyd was a reliever in his first three years of college, and with his low three quarters arm slot was tough on lefthanded hitters.  He raised his arm slot and was sent to the OSU starting rotation for his senior year, and had a fantastic season.  Boyd sits between 90 and 92 with his fastball, and has touched 94.  He doesn't have one outstanding pitch, but throws all four of his pitches well. He projects as a back of the rotation starter.
   If the club was to consider moving Boyd into a relief role, he might rocket through the system quickly.
Taylor Cole RHP
   It's hard not to be a fan of this guy.  At 25, he was old for High A ball this year.  A two-year missionary commitment during his days at Brigham Young (in Toronto, of all places) meant that the righthander didn't debut in pro ball until he was 22.

   Cole has a plus fastball, and he trusted it more this year, and led the minor leagues in strikeouts with 181, as a result. Paired with a solid change up and a vastly improved slider,  BA named him their top Fringe Prospect of the Year, and while that's something of a dubious honour (he wasn't named a Top 20 Florida State League prospect), it's evidence that the scouting community at least took notice of his year.
   Cole made a pair of starts for New Hampshire in early August, and had command issues in both.  Returned to Dunedin for the rest of the year. he seemed to wear down like Boyd did, and wasn't effective in the FSL playoffs.
   It's very hard to see Cole as a major league starter, but his 11.9K/9 this year is really hard to ignore.  He could become another one of those bullpen power arms with his fastball/change combo.  The graph below indicates a lot of swing and misses and weak contact:


Jesus Tinoco RHP
    He has yet to put up the numbers to match his talent, but Tinoco is dripping with potential.
Here's what BA's Longenecker had to say about him:

  Jesus Tinoco has a real chance to emerge with continued 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 talked to Danny Jansen, who caught Tinoco at Bluefield this year, and he said Tinoco was dominant at times, and could be tough to hit when his sinker was on.  When he's on, Tinoco induces twice as much groundball contact as he does the flyball variety.  When he's not, he tends to catch too much of the strike zone and gets hit.  Tinoco won't turn 20 until the first month of full season ball next year, but he's already a veteran of three minor league seasons, two of them stateside.  It still is hard to determine his ceiling, but he has the makings of                                                                                                 yet another power arm.

 Clinton Hollon, RHP
   We admittedly are going far, far out on a limb here, or maybe you haven't noticed our preference for projection.
  Hollon, a 2nd round pick in 2013, saw his draft stock slip after a drop in velo caused by elbow soreness before his senior year of high school.  He had regularly hit the mid-90s as a sophomore.  The Blue Jays knew of his elbow troubles, but couldn't ignore his potential.   Hollon has been limited to 17 innings as a pro, and underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
   Much has been made of Hollon's max effort delivery, and there's little doubt that the Blue Jays will work to correct that.  Prior to his injury, his slider was graded as a plus pitch, and his change was average.  If he can find his former velocity and improve his mechanics, Hollon could emerge as one of the steals of his draft year.  He would not be the first pitcher to undergo this sort of transformation with the Blue Jay organization.
   He won't be returning to game action until May, and even then that will be likely at Extended.  The good folks of Vancouver may get to see another electric arm in him this summer.

   We acknowledge that there are other names that could have been considered for this list.  LHPs Jake Brentz and Grayson Huffman are part of an impressive pool of arms in the lower levels of the system, and may move quickly with added experience.  And Andy Burns has dropped off of our radar a bit this season, but he had an impressive second half with New Hampshire, and could easily find himself in a super utility role with the big club later this year or next.  Josh Almonte had a banner year at Bluefield, and could press for a spot on Lansing's roster this spring.  The signing of Russell Martin has given the organization's catching prospects more time to develop, but it likely hurts AJ Jimenez's chances of a spot on the major league roster, which is unfortunate, because we really like his work behind the plate.  Shortstop Yeltsin Gudino made his stateside debut this summer, and was the 7th youngest player in the GCL, which showed in his struggles at the plate, but there is still plenty of upside to him.
   But we have to draw the line somewhere, or at least come up with a Top 50 Prospects list if we can't.
   Over half of its talent is below full season ball, but there is a lot to be optimistic about with this farm system.

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