Friday, 11 December 2009

Farm Report 2009: The First Basemen

It's time once again (past time probably) for me to run down the Annual Farm Reports. For those who were not readers last year, I do this by positions, mostly, in an effort to bring something to the table that you don't routinely find elsewhere. As I disclaimed last year, you should understand that these are VERY inclusive lists and as such might mention guys who are very long shots or really, not prospects at all in the normal sense of the word. That said, there may yet be omissions, generally on the rookie level simply because there's not enough data yet to get a good read on them.

Before I start the actual list, Let me comment on Randy Ruiz. He is still technically a rookie and thus, in the broadest sense, qualifies for a prospect list. But he's 32 and has been all over the minors on the AAA level. He is, barring being waived, under the Jays control for years just like any other rookie. But I have no idea where to try to fit him in on a list like this. IF the Jays strip down for the next couple of years he'll probably get a chance to show he can stick. But you don't get to be 32 without ever having had that shot unless you have flaws, at least in theory.

Last year's list can be found here. As you can see this is an inexact science.

Instead of ages this year, I'll be listing birthdays.

1. David Cooper - 2-12-1987 / 6'1", 210 / 1st Round 2008

Cooper presents an interesting case when it comes to ranking prospects. One that will come up over and over in the Jays' system this year. which is - to what extent does draft position and scouts opinions balance off against a disappointing statistical performance? Cooper had an outstanding August which helped his final stat line, though it was still not impressive. but outside August he was a non-factor.
It's true that it was his first full season in the pros, and that he might perhaps be a bit rushed, but only a bit. Cooper maintained a solid walk rate this year, but his slugging dropped off to unacceptable levels for a 1B - especially one who has a poor reputation as a defender, as Cooper does. I've given him the benefit of the doubt this year, both on this list and the top 25, but if he repeats such an unimpressive performance he'll surely not receive such generous treatment next year.

2. Brian Dopirak - 12-20-1983 / 6'4", 235 / 2nd Round, 2002

The obvious caveat on Dopirak is his age relative to the normal prospect trajectory, but that alone wouldn't have cost him the top spot on this list for me. The reason I ranked him second again has to do with the murmurs out of Toronto that the Jays are not yet convinced. It's one of those situations where the non-professional observer is at a loss.
Statistically, Dopirak has done pretty much everything he can to put himself on the map, so whatever it is that fails to impress has to be on a more direct-scouting level. Does he have a long swing? Does he have a particular sort of pitch he can't touch? I don't know. I seldom see anything specific to explain the lack of enthusiasm. One wonders if he's not going to get stuck on the Randy Ruiz career path.
Dopirak posted a .951 OPS in AA, and upon his (too late, IMO) promotion to AAA, he hardly slowed down. His OPS in Vegas was .876 and his adjustment period was short which is notable because his previous track record was that he took too long to adjust to each new level. I certainly hope that, if the new-look Jays are indeed going to eschew the free agent route and re-tool, that Dopirak will have a chance to prove his doubters wrong. Particularly if Ruiz gets his shot in the majors, Dopirak would logically be the stand by guy to step up if Ruiz fails to impress. Like Ruiz, and Cooper, Dopirak brings nothing remarkable to the table on defense. but he could be a capable major league DH if his abilities transfer to the majors.

3. K.C. Hobson - 8-22-1990 / 6'3", 210 / 6th round 2009
Virtually overlooked in all the controversy over the Jays failure to sign three high round choices was the fact that they made a couple of excellent high value picks in later rounds and spent the extra cash to sign them. One of those was 1B KC Hobson. While he's listed in some sources as "1B/OF" the reports indicate to me that his future is probably at 1B. Hobson was #66 among high school prospects by Baseball America this summer. Some sources suggested he could creep into the end of the first round and that he would certainly not be overdrafted in the second or third at that time. The Jays got him in the sixth, buying him out of a commitment to Texas A&M.
The son of former Red Sox player and manager Butch Hobson has baseball in his blood and in his brain. He regales his high school teammates with stories of Yaz and Ted Williams arguing in his dad's office about hitting. He works every year at his father's baseball camp. He has learned all his life what it is to be in a baseball clubhouse. He has plus power and a good approach at the plate, and unlike others on this list, is a reasonably skilled defender, though not very fast.
Keep your eye on this kid, he's one of the under-the-radar guys who might step up the prospect list very quickly over the next 2-3 years.

4. Michael McDade - 5-8-1989 / 6'1", 260 / 6th round 2007
I ranked McDade #3 last year as well, based strictly on potential (and lack of depth at this position in the system) and he had something of a mild breakout in 2009 to justify that praise. He posted an .801 OPS at Lansing this year after posting weak numbers the year before. He strikes out about once per game but his walk rate is ok and the power potential is beginning to turn into results.
The flip side is that he's listed at 10 pounds heavier than he was last year. While one would like to cite Cecil Fielder when discussing his physique, it's all too easy to think of Calvin Pickering instead (and if you don't know who that is, there's a good reason). It's impossible for us to tell how much of that weight is simply fat, but the young man would no doubt help his prospects tremendously if he'd get a trainer now to help him deal with it while he still has upside.

Not listed here but worth a mention are some players who are not now playing at 1B but still are considered potential 1B at some point down the road. 2009 Draftee Sean Ochinko, who was the MVP of the Auburn Rookie team is a catcher, at present, though he played a lot of first base in his senior year at LSU. Another catcher who might shift positions is big Jon Talley, who's said to have great power but who struggled offensively for Lansing this year while concentrating on developing his defense. There's also been talk for over a year that 3B Balbino Fuenmayor might eventually end up at 1B.

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