Monday, 21 July 2008

J-Jack is back! (And the rest of the Farm Report)

The minor league season being now roughly 2/3 over (and me being too impatient to wait until the end of the month to brag about it) I figured I'd give you a quick review of my current top 12 prospects. These are my own personal rankings of course.

1. Travis Snider (OF) - The Jays consensus best prospect has, as many of you know, been struggling in July after having been very good in May and June. The power stroke is still there, but the average and on-base precentage have waned considerably. There's no reason at all to worry about him, but maybe it's a good thing as it should dampen any enthusiasm for the idea among some broadcasters and fans for bringing him to the majors. For a 20 year old in AA, he's still one of the best prospects in the game. Even so, don't look for him to be a regular in the majors before 2010 unless there's a major injury next season.

2. Brett Cecil (LHP) - The 22 year old LHP is also in AA already in his second season in the Jays' system. Going back to the end of May, Cecil has an ERA of 1.80 in his last 10 starts. He has a 4.17 K/BB ratio and more than a K per inning. I rank him ahead of Purcey only because of their relative ages. It seems likely to me that if Purcey gets the call to the majors for an extended stay, that Cecil will get a chance at AAA in his place. One caution - He's still averaging less than 5 innings a game and if he is going to be a starter for the Jays (as opposed to the successor to BJ Ryan) then he's going to have to have some endurance built up. As a reliever, he might make the majors in the middle of 2009, as a starter, not before 2010 unless there's an emergency.

3. David Purcey (LHP) - Purcey has - as you know if you are a loyal reader of this blog - done about all he can do at AAA and, like Adam Lind before him, merely awaits an extended opportunity to prove he belongs in the majors. His control issues are a thing of the past, his ERA this year is a sterling 2.76 - take away one bad game and it's 2.38 - and his K rate is just what you want from a top prospect. It's true he is 26 now but it's not unusual for a lefty to take longer (something to remember if you are writing off Rickey Romero as a bust). If AJ is traded, or McGowan is shelved for the year (which I doubt either of those happening) then Purcey gets an extended look this season. If not, he's the presumptive candidate to replace AJ next year.

4. JP Arencebia (C) - No hitter in the Jays' system has done more to improve his standing this season than JPA. His defense, seen as sub-par coming into the season has gotten good reviews but it's his bat that has really opened some eyes. He's hammered 21 homers this year, 8 of those in 111 AA at bats. Some have pointed to his lack of walks as a concern, and logically that does point to a potential weakness against higher level pitchers, the counter argument is that as long as AA pitchers are not striking him out long as they are not making him be selective...he has little incentive to. When you are raking - you rake. Best case? JPA begins to nudge Barajas or Diaz aside somewhere after the break next season...but I'm going to guess 2010 is more realistic.

5. Justin Jackson (SS) - J-Jack (yes I'm going to harp on that nickname until it sticks) has had a season that defies easy analysis but being the optimist that I am, I'm going to cast it in a positive light. Jackson burned through April with a .941 OPS, then, late in the month, he got hurt. Now, the nature of the minors being what it is, I don't know what was wrong with him but he missed something around 7-10 games. When he returned, his hot bat didn't. He was bad in May, disastrous in June, and in danger of wasting the promising start. Then came July. Don't ask me why these things happen, it makes no sense, but after posting an OPS of .453 in June, Jackson is currently sitting on 1.002 for July. Not only is he hitting for average (.356) but he has more homers in 17 July games than in the rest of his season before July.

I've been making the Tony Fernandez comparison because of the obvious physical similarities and the age and defensive ability being similar but, the big difference here, Tony had a wonderful BB/K ration at this level. J-Jack has one more typical of a raw young hitter. It will be a skill he needs to develop as he progresses. That said, it's hard to see the Jays rushing Jackson through the minors the way Fernandez was - I'll cautiously suggest that you are looking at 2012 before you see a lot of J-Jack at the RC.

6. David Cooper (1B) - The Jays may not have gotten their first or second choice in this June's draft, but so far the man they got is acquitting himself very very well. First baseman David Cooper, while not an intimidating physical presence, has done nothing but punish pitching since beginning pro ball. Any questions about his ability to hit with a wood bat are long in the past. Cooper is crushing Lo-A pitching and barring a big slump will jump to Dunedin, I predict, sometime in the first week of August.

Mike Wilner rightly cautions enthusiastic prospect watchers (i.e. me) to remember the cautionary tale of Vito Chiaravalloti who annihilated rookie level pitching at 22 but never could solve AA pitching and is a big star in the Indy leagues now. That taken under advisement, it's hard not to like the path Coop is on. If this keeps up a 2011 arrival (on the heels of the departing Lyle Overbay) would not be an outrageous projection.

7. Kevin Aherns (3B) - The first pick in the 2007 draft, Ahrens is another man who seems to enjoy playing baseball in July. Over his first 70 games, Aherns was having a pretty pedestrian year (a .706 OPS) and, were it not for the 3B prospect taken in this years draft, might have been in real danger of repeating Lo-A ball. So far in July he's hitting much better, posting an .870 OPS for the month. Hopefully the 19 year old has turned a corner and this is not just a blip (it is only 17 games after all). Still, he may well need as much as four more minor league seasons before he contends for a job in the majors (which is why I contend that no later than the winter of 2009 the Jays ought to get Scott Rolen's name on a two year extension).

8. Scott Campbell (2B) - Perhaps the best story in the Jays' minor league system, Campbell is trying to be the first native of New Zealand to make the majors - and doing a damned fine job of it too. By all rights Campbell has earned a promotion to AAA but the Jays - apparently in a move to let him work more on his work-in-progress defensive abilities, are content to leave his prodigious bat in AA probably for the rest of this season. Campbell doesn't strike out much, knows how to take a walk, and has been a model of consistency at the plate.

But due to his lack of on-field experience in his native land, some of the mechanics of the position (notably turning the deuce) are still not where the Jays want them. That being the case, his progression will be deliberate. In the majors, unless he makes great strides on defense, he looks very much like the next Frank Catalanotto - and that's not at all a bad thing to be. A good manager will find plenty of at-bats for a hitter like the Kiwi.

9. Eric Eiland (CF) - Speaking of a work in progress, take a look at EE. This guy, so the scouts say, has as many tools as anyone drafted in his class but due to an injury in his senior year he fell into the lap of the Blue Jays. But tools or not, Eiland is having some difficulty at Lansing. Each month has been worse than the one before, and in his last 10 he's hitting .100 with only his perfect record in stolen bases (15 for 15) as a saving grace. But based on talent, keep an eye on him. If he takes a long time coming that's fine because Vernon Wells is not going anywhere for at least three years and maybe six. If Eiland pans out, he'll be ready before the Jays have a place for him to play.

10. Brian Jeroloman (C) - Jeroloman is a different sort of guy, he's a guy who has perhaps the best defensive skills in all of the minor leagues but who had always had questions about his offense. But last season Jeroloman served notice that he's not necessarily the next Brad Ausmus by drawing 85 walks. This year he's kept that batting eye and added some power. He's already matched his total of doubles from last year and doubled his HR total. He's hitting an incredible 1.237 (OPS) in his last 10 games and his season OPS is .807 so far.

Jeroloman faces the difficulty of having Arencebia passing him by (through no fault of his own) and the potential that a much deserved promotion might be delayed. I, for one, think that if/when the Jays trade Zaun, that they either take Diaz straight to the majors and promote Jeroloman to AAA, or, if they feel Diaz isn't right yet, they bypass AAA and bring Jeroloman to the majors. For all the pleas for Snider or Arencibia to be called up, this kid is the one that is most likely to not embarrass himself if he's recalled.

11. Marc Rzepczynski (LHP) - Here's another guy in need of a promotion. He's got 14 starts at Lo-A as a 22 year old, a college pitcher can move rapidly (see Cecil) and hopefully the Jays will find a way to get him half a dozen starts or so at Dunedin. The Jays can afford to let him take as many as three more years in the minors (as far as we know now!) but he may not need that long.

12. John Tolisino (2B) - H was having a good little productive year on July 1 and has gone into a slump that's the opposite number to Ahren's surge. He has a .514 OPS so far this month and it's driven down his season OPS to .711 which is nothing to be pleased with. He needs to pick it up soon or he's going to fall down this list.

Others to watch:

Robert Sobolewski (3B) - Widely regarded as a first round talent stolen in the fourth round by the Jays this year, Sobo's college year was extended into the College World Series and he may be exhausted. In the pros he's struggling to get going, hitting only .176 so far.

Robinzon Diaz (C) - A severely sprained ankle has washed out the bulk of Diaz's year and maybe fundamentally altered his career as he now hears the deafening footfalls of APA and Jeroloman.

Brad Mills (LHP) - The only differences in Mills and Zep is that Mills is about half a year older, and Zep started the season injured. Mills followed 15 great starts in Lansing with four even better ones in Dunedin.

Rickey Romero (LHP) - Everyone's favorite whipping boy, not without reason. But as I mentioned above, one should tread lightly before writing off a 23 year old LHP. With only one really bad start in his last eight (going back to his first in June), Rickey-Ro is attempting to pull this season, and his prospect status, out of the ditch. Over that period, his ERA is 4.03 and in his last six, it's 3.18 - is that a blip, or has he really figured out what his issue was? Time will tell.


Jon Jaspe (C) - Hot hitting Venezaulean catcher at Lansing isn't slowing down; Luis Sanchez (SS) - under the radar, this AA shortstop has been quite good since May 1; Brian Dorpiak (1B) - former highly regarded Cub prospect, brought in as organizational filler - the Vito rule applies but he needs a promotion; Adam Amar (1B) - undrafted out of college, the man is destroying rookie ball. Again, you gotta invoke the Vito Rule but....just the same, Dorpiak to NH, Cooper to Dunedin, and Amar to Lansing wouldn't hurt anything.

The strength of the system is clearly catchers, and left handed pitchers. Those two things have a lot of value around the league. Maybe we haven't as bad a system as some experts claim.


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