'Tis the season and all that rubbish, eh?
Anyone who spends their time writing about baseball teams marks as one of their high holy days that time of the year when you get to make your own list of top prospects. I realize I'm not unique in doing that (I tried to be original with the positional reports) but it's a given that I had to do it. It's not the first or the last. Batters' Box had theirs up over three days in early October, Bluebird Banter posted their top 30 just this week, and the grandaddy of them all, Baseball America gets around to the Jays next Friday. So it's as good a time as any for me to put my spin on the subject.
I'll spare you the gimmick of a reverse order listing since I've already given you a pretty good idea of what I think of most of these guys. What I'm taking into account here mainly is two factors - first, how good a player will be at his ceiling, and second, mainly as a tie-breaker between two similar guys, how close he is to helping the major league squad. With just a couple of exceptions, I tried to stay away from young players new to the organization that had low-level playing time. Preliminaries out of the way then:
1. Travis Snider - RF: I can't wait to see where Snider ranks on BA's top 100. He could possibly be a top 10 player, the Jays first since Vernon Wells was #4 in 2000.
2. Brett Cecil - LHP: Given the fact that he matched potential #1 overall prospect David Price stat for stat this year, it will be interesting to see how much recognition Cecil gets. He might be a step behind Price in pure stuff but he has gotten results.
3. JP Arencebia - C: JPA is still pounding the ball in the AFL and he's drawn almost as many walks in his 80 Arizona plate appearances (5) as he did in 269 PA in New Hampshire (7). There is almost as much excitement among Jays fans to see him in the majors as their is Snider.
4. David Cooper - 1B: The 2008 first round pick sailed through the minors all the way to Hi-A Dunedin this year and looked to be the "advanced bat" JP described him as. His glove work is below-average, but he looks like he's going to be an impressive hitter, albeit there's some uncertainty whether he'll have mid-range power (say in the mid-20's) or exceptional (30+) power.
5. Justin Jackson - SS: It's difficult for some people to grasp why Jackson turns up so high on so many lists. Jackson is still a bundle of raw skills which don't always translate into pretty stats at 19. But there's a lot about Jackson that reminds you of Alex Gonzalez - that would be Gonzalez the one time #4 prospect in baseball (in '94, Delgado was #5 that year), not the Gonzo who thought he was a power hitter and pissed away a promising career swinging for the fences. Hopefully Jackson avoids the same mistakes.
6. Ricky Romero - LHP: Keith law said this week that he could see Romero breaking camp with the Jays and that he liked Romero's future better than Purcey's.
7. Brad Mills - LHP: Could this guy finally be the next Jimmy Key?
8. Kevin Aherns - 3B: Like Jackson, the overall stat line did not impress, but Jays personnel say he's right on track for a 19-year-old in A ball. Jays fans would love to start seeing a hint of what justified the Chipper Jones comparisons, though.
9. Scott Campbell - 2B: Said to be a work in progress with the glove, his bat is probably major league ready now and his bating eye certainly is. He was getting some appearances at 3B in the AFL, which he might have the tools for, but he doesn't have the power that is traditionally associated with the hot corner. If he were a SS he'd be maybe #5 on the list but I assume if the Jays thought he'd work there it would have been tried already.
10. Marc Rzepczynski - LHP: An early season injury and a bit of a traffic jam held him in Lansing all season while others got promoted. Should move quickly in '09.
11. Eric Eiland - CF: Like Jackson, the casual observer has to wonder at this ranking. But as I've pointed out before, Alex Rios didn't impress anyone statistically until he hit AA at age 22. Eiland has mad tools, don't write him off.
12. Brad Emaus - 2B/3B: Emaus improved month to month all season long and hasn't stopped yet. During the regular season he had more walks that strikeouts . . . in Hawaii he has a ratio of 13:5. In 59 at-bats in the HWL he has an OPS of .986. He has more power than Campbell, and is a better baserunner. My guess is that this is the man who takes over for Scott Rolen unless the Jays bring in someone from outside the organization before 2011.
13. Brian Jeroloman - C: He's never going to be an exciting hitter. But guys like Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, and Brian Schneider stay in the majors for 10 years or more with defense like Jeroloman's.
14. John Tolisino - 2B: One of the Jays "great eight" 2007 draftees, Tolisino was mostly a disappointment this year, but Jays player development people still think highly of his bat. He is going to have to hit though, because his future is probably in LF.
15. Balbino Fuenmayor - 3B: as an 18-year-old the international signing found his bat and lived up to his clippings. He may have just scratched the surface. JP mentioned on JaysTalk late in the season something about moving him to 1B next year. The reviews of his defense have not been that bad (though he is raw) and the move might have something to do with crowing at 3B in the low minors (2008 draftee Rob Sobolewski is three years older and normal progression for both players would have them at Lansing in '09. Hopefully the Jays don't write off the idea of Balbino playing third this early.
16. Adam Loewen - OF/1B: A recent report on Loewen's joining the Hawaiian Winter League mentioned Loewen at 1B, but a look at the system depth chart would one to believe he has a clearer path to a major league job in the outfield. Nevertheless, Loewen is a legitimate prospect as a hitter and towards the middle of 2010 we should have an idea just how promising.
17. Kyle Ginley - RHP: The hard-throwing starter battled through a series of nagging injuries which slowed his progression this year but he's got plus stuff when he's right.
18. Robert Ray - RHP: Blossomed in 2008 for his best minor league season yet, Ray has a plus fastball and good overall stuff, but given the Jays pitching depth, his best bet to make the majors as a starter is a trade. Still, he could be a fine set-up reliever for the Jays when he arrives.
19. Tim Collins - LHP: Plenty has been written already about the Little Giant and a lot of it implies his future is as a SP. I confess I'm pretty skeptical that a guy this size is going to hold up as a major league starter. But he sure looks like he has the stuff to make an impressive reliever. We'll have to see how it translates to higher levels.
20. Robert Sobolewski - 3B: Still a bit rough around the edges at 3B but said to have the raw ability. At his age, he needs to play full season ball which prompts a bit of crowding at the position in A ball. Has the potential to skip over Aherns with a strong performance.
21. Davis Romero - LHP: A victim of the numbers game, in some systems it would be a given that D-Ro would be penciled into the major league staff, but between the wealth of potential LH starters around him, and the surprise emergence of Jesse Carlson, the opportunities are less obvious. One hopes that Romero would have some good value as a second or third players in a package trade.
22. Johemyn Chavez - LF: Had a "write off" year with pretty much nothing good to say for it, the guy still has a ton of tools and can't be totally dismissed yet. But he needs to break out in '09.
23. Tyler Pastornicky - SS: Like many of the Jays prospects, Pastornicky is said to have intangibles that are off the chart. Great baseball instincts and a passion to succeed. He also displayed a pretty good bat for his first taste of pro ball and he's said to be a talented defender.
24. Andrew Leibel - RHP: Taking this one mostly on faith and draft position. We'll know more about his future a year from now.
25. Kenny Rodriguez - RHP: This is probably the only top prospect list you'll see with the Cuban refugee on it. A year from now this ranking will either look stupid or genius.
Honorable mention: Three players who are older or have a spottier history but who could turn heads further this season...
Scott Richmond - RHP: May get a notable number of innings for the Jays in '09
Brian Dopirak - 1B: If he shows he has figured out higher minors pitching, he could regain legitimate prospect status
Bryan Bullington - RHP: Old to be called a prospect, but it's the second year back from surgery so he'll impress this year or be completely regulated to bust status.
Other names to watch for potential inclusion next year: Eric Thames (CF), Kenny Wilson (CF), Jon Talley (C/1B), Joel Collins (C), Joel Cerrano (RHP), Robert Bell (RHP), Jon Del Campo (2B), Alan Farina (RHP), Luis Perez (LHP), Zach Dials (RHP)
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A shoutout this week to the re-booted Mopupduty blog. Not only did Mathias go great lengths to provide profound insight into the history of the Jays' best manes, but he created a video illustration to drive home the point. You just can't find analysis like that anymore!