Before I get started, let me remind you again that these lists are designed to be as inclusive as possible. There are legitimate prospects on each and also fringe players with little chance. If a player is not listed it is because that players was so old for his level that his results prove nothing, or because he is on the short-season level and not highly drafted and is thus too difficult to get a proper read on. Trust me, you have plenty of time to learn about any promising member of the Auburn Doubledays or the GCL Blue Jays.
We begin our survey of the Jays minor league system, as promised, with first base. This is a position which, before 2008, was perhaps the most barren wasteland of the Jays system. It is still by no means deep, but at least one can actually make a list, which would have been tough to do last year at this time. As with all these positional lists, I will rank the players (based on my judgment alone) and give you a brief idea of what you can expect from the player.
Ages listed are as of April 1, 2009.
1. David Cooper - Age - 22 / 6'1", 210 / 1st Round 2008
The Jays selected the sweet-swinging 1B with the 17th overall pick of the 2008 draft after missing out on two other players they were thought to be interested in. Cooper has not disappointed and the 21-year-old left-handed hitter obliterated pitching at Auburn and Lansing before receiving an early August promotion to Dunedin. The book on Coop coming out of the draft was that he had an “advanced bat” and speculation was that he would move rapidly. He has. His bat was said to hold the promise of 30 HR power by some and there’s been no reason to doubt that assessment. In addition, he’s displayed a very good eye at the plate with an impressive BB:K ratio.
Cooper’s production, especially in terms of power, has slowed a bit with his latest promotion but August fades are not uncommon during a player's first pro season; Cooper has played some 70 games more than he has previously played in one season. His defense is said to be just average, but not a liability. Cooper has the potential to advance so quickly as to join Travis Snider in forcing the Jays’ hand about 1B by the end of next season, but with Overbay signed for two more years they have the luxury of promoting him more slowly. At this point, it’s hard not to be excited about the young man’s potential but it’s not unreasonable that higher level pitching might give him some difficulty, either.
Still, it’s impossible not to envision a Jays offense built around Lind, Snider, and Cooper in the early part of the next decade. Cooper will no doubt be a consensus Top 5 prospect for the Jays when the spring lists come out.
In Dunedin: .304 - .373 - ..435 - .807 (92 ab)
Composite : .333 - .389 - .502 - .901
ETA: late 2010 / Spring 2011
2. Brian Dopirak - Age - 25 / 6'4", 235 / 2nd Round, 2002
Six months ago things looked pretty bleak for a guy who was ranked #21 on Baseball America’s 2005 Top 100 list. The 2nd round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2002 had, up to that listing, met with unbroken success. In 2004 he had hit 39 homers and driven in 120 runs in 137 games at low-A Lansing (then a Cubs affiliate). But in 2005 while at Hi-A Daytona the right-hander’s slugging percentage crashed by over 200 points. Promoted anyway to AA in 2006, Dopirak suffered a foot injury and played only 53, undistinguished, games and hitting only ONE home run.. Back at Daytona in 2007 he recovered some of his past ability and was promoted mid-season to AA where he again failed miserably. At the end of spring training 2008, Dopirak was unceremoniously dumped.
It’s still unclear if the Jays spotted something they liked, or if Dopirak’s agent approached the team about signing him since Dunedin is the player’s hometown. I have yet to find any evidence that suggests that the signing was done for anything more than organizational filler, though.
Boy, some filler.
Dopirak regained his former power this year (in a league with a reputation for suppressing power numbers) and pounded high-A pitching for 27 home runs before his belated promotion to AA in August. Both his power, and his plate discipline are back where they were in 2004. Now, it is true that Dopirak was on his third pass through the FSL, and it’s true he’s older than the league average (but by only six months). It’s also true that he has yet to provide extensive proof that he can handle AA (and higher) pitching. But he’s no Vito, or Josh Kreuzer. He has a record of success that has to be considered. Dopirak is, if I am not mistaken, going to be a minor league free agent and the Jays will have to take steps to retain him, but I cannot believe that even if skeptical, they will let him walk away. He should begin 2009 in AA and advance as far and as fast as his bat will take him. Odds are Cooper will pass him by next season, but there won’t be a conflict because Dopirak is said to be a less than competent 1B and if he makes the majors it will be as a DH.
In N.H.: .287 - .297 - .425 - .722 (87 ab)
Comp. : .304 - .368 - .550 - .919
3. Michael McDade - Age - 19 / 6'2", 250 / 6th round 2007
The former catcher who was moved out to 1B because of his “Fielder-esque” body is reported to have prodigious power potential but real trouble staying in playing shape. The comparison that comes to mind is a shorter Calvin Pickering. But the expected power production is not evident in the stats as yet. The Jays started him at Lansing this year but he was struggling when the short-season team at Auburn started up, so the big switch-hitter was backed up to the lower level. In 176 at-bats there, he’s only managed a .375 slugging percentage. Indications are strong at this point that the only way he’s going to tap his power potential and get his career on track is to get serious about conditioning. Odds are better than even he won’t make it.
at Auburn: .267 - .328 - .375 - .703
ETA: likely never, certainly not before 2013
4. Adam Amar - 23 / 6'4", 240 / Undrafted, signed in spring 2008
Despite holding several offensive records at the University of Memphis, and being an All-American selection during his collegiate career, a less than impressive senior season left Amar without a call on draft day 2007. Convinced by former big-leaguer Frank Viola that he could play at the next level, Amar spent time in two different Indy leagues in 2007 before catching the eye of the Jays and the Phillies. Amar signed with the Jays before the start of the 2008 season and was assigned to short-season Auburn. For much of the season Amar led the NYP league in the triple crown categories but all three seem out of reach at this point. Still, his .927 OPS is second in the league. McDade has been getting the starts at 1B while Amar serves as the DH. It’s unclear if that is because it’s McDade who needs to work on defense, or because Amar has even less skill there.
The Vito Factor definitly applies here. A player of Amar’s age SHOULD excel in short season ball. He will need to be in Lansing next year and advance quickly to prove he has a promising future. Right now, it would be foolish of any fan to have high expectations that Amar is going to contribute to the Jays in the future.
In Auburn: .319 - .377 - .509 - .886
ETA: if you are optimistic enough to think he’ll make it, 2013 maybe.
5. Chip Cannon - 27 / 6'5', 215 / 8th round, 2004
This former two-way player was once a prodigious slugger (he posted an incredible .830 slugging percentage in 112 at bats at Dunedin in 2005) but the last three years have seen his HR output drop from 27, to 17, to 5. The guy is a great story, making it that far in pro-baseball with club feet is highly admirable. But unless he figures out upper level pitching, or goes back to the mound (he had a nice line in the Appy league in his first pro season before giving up pitching), he looks very unlikely to ever stick in the major leagues.
So, there you have it. It’s still not a deep position, but three of those guys were not even with the Jays a year ago and one of the other two was a catcher. Look for Cooper’s development to set the agenda for the system. He’ll probably open the season at Dunedin and move to AA early in the season. Dopirak will probably start at AA New Hampshire and hope to hit well enough to advance to AAA when Cooper moves up, if not he’ll simply shift to DH.
Amar will face competition at Lansing if we can put stock in JP’s recent comments about Balbino Fuenmayor (whom he inferred would move across the diamond from 3B at some point), but will certainly be at Lansing either as a 1B or DH. McDade hasn’t earned a promotion and likely has to turn on the jets next year or find himself in the unemployment line. Cannon will be blessed if the Jays continue to employ him in AAA.
Next list - Second Basemen.