Second base has traditionally been the place where the Jays system would turn out mildly competent role-players but not All-Stars. Aaron Hill may prove to be the best 2B to ever come out of the Jays system. In that tradition, there is no potential star lurking at the position this year either, insofar as we can tell at the moment. But there are a couple of guys who look to be better than the Nelson Liranos of the world, too.
1. Scott Campbell - 24 / 5'11", 190 / 10th round 2006
If you pay any attention at all to the Jays farm system, you must surely be aware that Campbell is trying to be the first native of New Zealand to play in the major leagues. While that is a low-grade “nice” story (somewhat better than John Hattig being the first native of Guam for sure, but still) the more interesting question is - “Is he any good?” Early indications are that the answer to that is “Yes, yes he is.”
Campbell spent all of 2008 at AA and that in only his second full professional season. He has an excellent idea of the strike zone (more walks than strikeouts at every level) and doubles power. He hits for a high average and is an on-base machine. On offense, he was ready for AAA pitching by mid-season. So why wasn’t he called up?
Defense. Reportedly he’s got relatively sure hands but the idiosyncrasies of playing 2B, particularly turning the double play, are coming slower to him. For a guy who played almost no organized ball before the college level, that’s not especially bad news.
It's notable that he had a lost August at the plate, after returning from a stint on the DL. Given the quality of the rest of his season we can give him a pass on that, I think. He's been assigned to the Jays squad going to the Arizona Fall League, so he'll get a chance to recover a bit of offensive momentum out there.
If you are one of those fans who loves a good player comparison, here’s the best one you will find in the Jays system - Campbell looks like nothing so much as a young Frank Catalanotto. I’m not 100% sure that there is a starting role for him on the Jays, though they could do worse for a utility guy off the bench, but there’s little doubt this guy is going to see his bat translate to the majors.
at AA: .302 - .398 - .427 - .825
2. Brad Emaus - 22 / 6'0", 190 / 11th round 2007
On April 30, few outside the Jays organization gave a second glance at Brad Emaus. He had posted an OPS of .614 in short-season Auburn in 2007, and in the first month at Dunedin, it was an unimpressive .620. But the last four months has put Emaus squarely in the conversation when you talk about future Jays middle infielders. Since May 1, Emaus has an OPS of .883 and in fact, might be in a position now to make a case for being #1 on this list.
His advantage over Campbell is this - he was selected by managers and coaches surveyed by Baseball America as the best defensive 2B in the Florida State League. He also seems to have a bit more power in his bat, having put up 34 doubles and 12 HR in a park and a league said to suppress power totals. When he was drafted, the scouting reports said he “lacked a true position” while observing he had the arm for third base, but not the power. But maybe he’s opened some eyes with both the bat and the glove. If there’s one guy you didn’t know six months ago that you need to keep your eye on, Emaus might just be that guy.
ETA: late 2010, early 2011
At High A: 300 - .378 - .461 - .839
3. John Tolisano - 20 / 5'11" 190 / 2nd round 2007
Many thought Tolisano was great value in the second round of the 2007 draft. So long have scouts been watching Tolisano that he was named the best 14 year old in the the nation in Baseball America’s annual article on the subject. Tolisano lived up to that billing his first two years in high school and then slacked off some and many felt the Jays had a steal. The switch-hitting Tolisano, who has been compared to former Cub Todd Walker, impressed scouts with his bat speed and mechanics at the plate, but less so with his hands and footwork around second base. He seems destined for left field, but such a move then provokes questions of whether he’ll hit enough for that job.
One thing we can say - his season at the plate this year has disappointed his supporters. Since an impressive May, his monthly totals have been in steady decline. The assumption had been that he would take the natural step to Dunedin next year but that has to be in some doubt as Tolisano stumbles down the stretch.
ETA: 2012 at the earliest.
at Low A: ..229 - .315 - .354 - .669
4. Russ Adams - 28 / 6'1", 178 / 1st round 2004
At the All-Star break, there would have been no real reason to mention the player who most personifies so many of the things that JP-bashers are unhappy about, but a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion - Adams figured out where his bat went. In 161 at bats since the AAA All-Star game, Adams has an OPS of .930 and that is a result of putting the bat on the ball. His walk rate has dipped some, and his HR rate is somewhat better. But his batting average went up in a huge way and he hit considerably more doubles per at bat.
Is it a mirage? Quite probably. At his age the likelihood that his abilities have improved that much all at once is very remote. That said, I would like to see a team with an already weak bat and no options at 2B (like the Cardinals for instance) give him one last shot at proving himself. He does have 12 errors, but he's played a lot of outfield and there's no telling how many came at which position, but it's not a massive total for 127 games played, regardless.
One things for sure - that last chance is not going to come in a Blue Jay uniform. It will be a mild surprise if he’s still in the organization next spring.
at AAA: .259 - .341 - .417 - .759
5. Jonathan Del Campo - 19 / 6'2", 185 / 20th round 2006
Del Campo rocked the GCL last year but in less than 100 at bats. The one time "best SS prospect in Arizona" was considered a good catch for such a low pick and the Jays gave him a nice bonus to sign. Alas, Del Campo has not entirely lived up to expectations in 2008. In short season Auburn, Del Campo has been just average, posting a .268 average and a .750 OPS. He’s played good defense (inasmuch as you can judge by the low total of only 10 errors) and he has the arm to play SS or third (there was some suspicion among scouts he would develop the power to play 3B). Certainly at his age Del Campo has a couple of years to put himself on the map.
ETA - 2013
at short-season: .268 - .342 - .408 - .750
Next time - shortstops.