Saturday, 30 October 2010

60 Names to Know for 2011

Wrapping up my pontifications on the Jays Farm System (for now) I conclude with The Massive overkill Top Prospect list. This will be a Top 60 List, but before I do it let me explain something – I KNOW that NO team ACTUALLY has 60 PROSPECTS. So I decided to call it “60 Names to Know” but for all intents and purposes, it's my Top Prospect list supplemented with a lot of other players I consider worthy of at least some degree of interest. 
I further remind you that after the top 10 or 15, relative positions are not that important – being 21 or 23 doesn't matter much . . . being 21 instead of 31 does. Also, I'm constantly adjusting my list at this time of year and if you find that a couple of guys are reversed from where they were on the positional list, that's not a mistake but a reflection of an updated opinion. Because I commented so extensively on the Positional Lists, I'll try to keep my remarks here brief. The parenthesis indicate a guess at ETA under an “all things being equal” assumption (i.e. assuming no injuries, trades, etc which might alter the timeline)

  1. Kyle Drabek - RHP - (2010 – ready now, may not arrive for good 'til mid-season) – Could very easily break camp with Jays, depth of choices might push that back. Ace potential.
  2. Zach Stewart – RHP - (2011) – results last year very similar to Drabek, maybe not quite the ceiling but a lot closer than many think.
  3. J.P. Arencibia – C - (2010) – nothing left to prove in AAA. Opening day starter, barring a trade or injury. Looks very much like Buck 2.0 though maybe not in first year.
  4. Carlos Perez – C – (2015) – Probably better than JPA, Jays have luxury of taking time. Might switch positions depending. Might be #1 on this list a year from now.
  5. Adeiny Hechevarria – SS – (mid/late-2012) – Escobar gives Jays chance to be patient. Might end up a similar player in the majors.
  6. Anthony Gose – CF – (2014) – conservative schedule since he's said to be raw. Crawford type?
  7. Henderson Alvarez – RHP – (mid-2014) - Rough season, still quite young. As above, depth gives him plenty of time, but he's the kind of guy who could “click” and come faster.
  8. Aaron Sanchez – RHP – (mid-2015) – A LOT of positive buzz about the kid.
  9. Jake Marisnick – CF – (2015) – Very positive reports, May slide to RF if Gose develops as projected.
  10. Deck McGuire – RHP – (2014) – seems to be somewhat better regarded than Jenkins.
  11. Travis d'Arnaud – C – (late 2013) – Dropped some, more because of the nature of the injury (back) than because of the on field results of being hurt.
  12. Eric Thames – LF – (late 2011) – last three could be in any order – I'm a believer in his offensive potential.
  13. Chad Jenkins – RHP – (2014) – I think the late season fade was fatigue, but scouting reports have an unenthusiastic tone sometimes.
  14. Asher Wojciechowski – RHP – (2015) – might come faster but a lot of bodies to sift through in front of him. Physically a clone of Jenkins.
  15. Antonio Jimenez – C – (2014) – I like him, not a level below the three catchers in front of him – higher potential to bust.
  16. Adonis Cardona – RHP – (2017) – Paid like a first rounder, I'll rank him like one for now.
  17. Dicke Joe Thon – SS – (2016) – similar thinking, first round talent and pay. Henceforth I shall call him “DJ” just because I wish it.
  18. Noah Syndergaard – RHP – (2016) – I'm kind of skeptical of the sudden senior explosion but open minded.
  19. Drew Hutchenson – RHP – (2015) – Under some radars, and a lot of higher profile folks on the depth chart, but has a chance.
  20. Brad Emaus – 2B/3B – (2011) – Emaus is this low only because the ceiling is lower. I have a lot of confidence he'll reach it.
  21. Gustavo Pierre – SS – (late 2015) – Still very raw, but excellent tools
  22. Mosies Sierra – RF – (2014) – Might develop faster, but depth allows caution.
  23. Darin Mastroianni – CF – (late 2011) – might be 2012 before a roster spot opens, Brett Gardner type.
  24. Kevin Ahrens – 3B – (2014) – One last benefit of the doubt, based on good results after he stopped switch hitting.
  25. Griffin Murphy – LHP – (mid 2015) – Well regarded draftee, ranking based on reports.
  26. Kellen Sweeney – 3B – (2015) – same as Murphy, good results in small pro sample
  27. Adam Loewen – RF – (2012) – Team execs still speak highly, some possibility of move to 1B.
  28. Joel Carreno – RHP – (late 2012) – might be reliever in the majors.
  29. Sam Dyson – RHP – (2015) – great stuff, fragile. Potential as late inning reliever, as well as starter.
  30. David Cooper – 1B – (mid/late 2012) – much better in second half – illusion?
  31. Daniel Webb – RHP – (2016) – good stuff, raw. Likely to move slowly.
  32. Brian Jeroloman – C – (2012) – would be higher if he projected to hit at all in the majors.
  33. Marcus Kenect – RF – (2015) – well regarded hitter
  34. Brad Mills – LHP – (2011) – trade bait? That or the bullpen.
  35. Danny Farquhar – RHP – (late 2011) – this low because of his position. He's good.
  36. Trystan Magnuson – RHP – (late 2011) – Same comment as Farquhar.
  37. Alan Farina – RHP – (2012) – Ditto. Just a half year or so behind those two.
  38. Mike McDade – 1B – (maybe 2014 if at all) – More likely Calvin Pickering than Cecil Fielder
  39. Michael Crouse – RF – (2016) – Might take big jump up list if results continue.
  40. KC Hobson – 1B – (mid 2015) – well regarded by scouts and team.
  41. Justin Jackson – SS/2B – (maybe never, not before 2015) – might be running out of chances.
  42. Justin Nicolino – LHP – (2016) based on draft reports.
  43. Chris Hawkins – 3B – (2016) – less strike zone control than Sweeney.
  44. John Tolisano – IF/OF – (never) – lack of defensive home hurts.
  45. Mark Sobolewski – 3B – hasn't lived up to post-draft praise, but not a failure either.
  46. Gabriel Cenas – 3B – too young to predict outcome, bonus babies often fail.
  47. Devy Estrada – RHP – results might be an illusion, doesn't come up when system is praised.
  48. Bobby Bell – RHP (2013) – eventually a reliever, even if he starts now for the innings.
  49. Scott Campbell – 2B – can he get his health back?
  50. Casey Lawrence – RHP – non-drafted steal, or mirage?
  51. Ryan Goins – SS – didn't handle promotion to Dunedin well.
  52. Santiago Nessey – C – another very young bonus baby.
  53. Egan Smith – LHP – a lot of good results but unheralded.
  54. Sean Ochinko – C/3B – versitility, organizational awards, not a high ceiling.
  55. Yan Gomes – C – fringy major league guy at best unless he takes a leap.
  56. Nestor Molina – RHP – sleeper
  57. Mitchell Taylor – LHP – considered good draft choice
  58. Sean Nolin – LHP – Ditto.
  59. Myles Jaye – RHP – a few reports considered him a good value where he was drafted.
  60. Luis Perez – LHP – fringy lefty might sneak into bullpen role.

Also worth notice: Bobby Ray, Frank Gailey, Kyle Ginley, Dustin Antolin, Lance Durham. Include all the non-rookies who might be on the major league roster at some point next year and you have almost 100 players who might be worthy of the interest of a die-hard Jays-junkie. Please forgive any names misspelled. It's too late for me to cross-reference and proof them all.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Options, we got options.

Not quite two weeks ago, The Man With the Golden Arm blogged his opinion (controversial in some quarters) over at 1Blue Jays Way that the Blue Jays needed to make it a top priority to sign a top shelf closer. He recommended either surrendering a first round pick to go after Rafiel Soriano (who IS very good) or trade for a similarly talented guy.

After having spent some time this fine evening looking over the list of free agent relief pitchers with a little help from Baseball Reference, I'm moved to argue that we can find a closer better than the one who is (hopefully) walking away and not do either of those things.

Let me give you a brief list of options, prefaced with Soriano's stat line for comparison.

Rafael Soriano: 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 62.1 IP, 36 H, 14 BB, 57 K (age 31 next year)

Pretty damn good, right? Consider these:

1. Joaquin Benoit: 1.34 / 0.68 / 60.1 / 30 / 11 / 75 (33) - How do you like them apples? Benoit outpitched Soriano in each and every one of those categories. He won't cost you a first round pick and he almost certainly won't cost as many dollars.

2. Koji Uehara: 2.86 / 0.96 / 44 / 37 / 5 / 55 (36) - Hands up everyone who, upon reading that name, said "Who the hell?" Hands up everyone who already knew about that 11:1 K:BB ratio. right. I didn't either until after the season ended. This guy is WAY below the radar and if you want to scoop a guy up on the cheap, you have to look at him. This is the sort of guys the Yankees will want to grap for set up men, but one of them should respond well to the chance to close.

3. Takashi Saito: 2.83 / 1.07 / 54 / 41 / 17 / 59 (41) Speaking of Japanese imports, here's a slightly bigger gamble. First, he's going to be 41. Second, he hasn't closed in a few years, and his walk rate went up a bit in the one year in the AL East. BUT on the other hand, John Farrell has coached him before and if they had a good relationship, and if Farrell thinks he can do the job . . . Keep an eye on this one.

4. JJ Putz: 2.83 / 1.04 / 54 / 41 / 15 / 65 (34) - Putz was, in terms of results, basically Duane Ward in Seattle in '06 and '07. then injuries slowed him in '08 and crippled him in '09. Unlike Ward, however, injuries didn't kill his career and he was back to quality work this last season. like Saito, he has the experience of having been a closer and a good one.

5. Frank Francisco: 3.76 / 1.27 / 52.2 / 49 / 18 / 60 (31) - The Rangers closer before the phenomenal Feliz arrived, Francisco didn't really do anything to lose the job except not be a freak of nature. He's probably never going to be on the level of someone like Soriano, but he's noticeably better than Kevin Gregg.

It's a buyers market for closers. The Yankees pretty much HAVE to bring back Rivera, and Soriano has the name to command the big contract - maybe a return to the Braves, since they have the Wagner money to spend?

Beyond that, for the record, the other guys who will want to find a closer's job and might reasonably get one include Gregg, Kerry Wood, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Grant Balfour, Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel, and maybe even Scott Downs. That's 14 options (assuming Rivera re-signs and Hoffman is done) in a market that has, at most, eight or nine closer openings.

Add to that, most of the well-heeled teams have no real opening for a closer. The Yanks will try to sell some of these guys on set-up roles perhaps, and a younger guy might take that with the idea of trying to be Rivera's eventual successor. Honestly,they might talk Soriano into that, but other than the Yankees, the lure will be the chance to close - that combined with the fact that the Jays HAVE money to spend means there's no reason we can't get the guy we want.

For my dollars, it'd be tempting to sign both Benoit and Saito - the former to a 3 year deal (probably can't get him for less) ad the latter with one and a series of options (kinda like how the
Red Sox have been working Wakefield the last several years).

Heck, maybe get Randy Choate in here too just so he can stop killing the Jays.

I say all that with the stipulation that I think the in-house crew isn't nearly as worrisome as many like to describe it, but none of them are reliably going to be remotely as good as Benoit so let's get THAT done at least. if you go whole hog, you have something like this for your bullpen depth chart:

Closer: Benoit
Set Up: Saito and Choate
Middle Camp, Janssen, Purcey (Carlson, Buchholz, Roenicke)
Long: Zep (Richmond, Mills, Ray, Tallet if he's tendered)

I'd go to war with that crew.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Say Hello to the New Boss . . .

NOT the same as the old boss.

I admit that I knew precious little about what the selling points were on John Farrell when word came out he was on Alex Anthopoulos' short list. Oh I knew that his name had come up for different teams in previous seasons, and that for various reasons things never got serious - but I really had no idea what his professional history was and until he became a candidate for the Jays, I had no reason to know.

When I started answering for myself the question "What do I think about Farrell?" (and by extension the other finalists) my bias was towards Brian Butterfield (Told y'all he wasn't gonna leave bitches!) and so my approach was "Is this guy good enough to overcome my bias?" and it was a slow process - but the first big factor was finding out about Farrell's front office experience. It seemed to me that Alex's style lent itself very well to having a manager who was more than a manager without being an egomaniac (Hiya Buck S!). The growing impression of Farrell was that he was a guy who'd contribute solid input on the entire system and that matched up very well with AA's stated and established philosophy of collecting as much good input as possible.

Part of my hesitation was the question of whether or not we'd lose Butterfield if he wasn't promoted but ultimately, if Alex thought he was getting the right guy then maybe that price was acceptable. More to the point, it seemed clear to me that Alex has to know how valuable Butter is and anyone he hired would share that view, so they would likely pull out every stop to retain him and that's all you can ask. Still, given the lack of willingness on Anthopoulos' part to have these decisions discussed in public, right up until word leaked out about who the choice was, I really couldn't decide between the two.

Now that the cone of silence has been lifted, I have to say - WOW.

It's hard to specifically define why, but the feel of today's discussion is that this guy is the manager version of all the things which have impressed me/us so far about Alex as a GM. And just so I'm clear, I can't imagine there's anything I'd have said about him that would be higher praise. I am more excited about the future now than I was a week ago by several orders of magnitude (and I was excited before). It's also very impressive that Farrell apparently not only was interested in this job but perused it.

One remark that I picked up on Twitter that I thought was perhaps the best one-sentence summary I've seen today was this:

AndrewStoeten If we needed a last year of Cito for this guy to become available, maybe it was worth it. Difference between the two is striking as hell.

The point there, if you missed it, is that Farrell was contractually forbidden from seeking a managerial job last winter. I'll do Stoeten one better and drop the maybe. If (knowing what I know now) you'd have said to me "You can have Farrell next winter but that means you'll have to watch Cito totally screw it up for a year" (to be clear, I'm NOT saying Cito screwed everything or even most things up in 2010 - just saying IF that was the price) I'd find that a tremendously cheap price to pay. At least, based on my perceptions from today.

Some related notes - the discussion today included confirmation that Bruce Walton and Brian Butterfield WILL return in 2011. I can't overstate the value of that, in my view. The other members of the staff, even Murphy, are fungible (although the indications were that Farrell was interested in and attempting to retain Murphy). It's widely reported that Farrell will probably want to bring good friend Torey Louvello (currently the Red Sox AAA manager) on board, which would presumably cost Nick Leyva his slot if the reports are true. Beyond that, it's so much speculation.

Second - Manny Ramirez wasted no time in speaking up and saying he'd love to play for the Jays and for Farrell. My impression is that if you can say to Manny "We're willing to pay X for your services, give me a shout if you want to play for that price" and not get caught in a bidding war (maybe one of those phantom bidding wars against a non-existent competitor which Scott Boras is famous for) then it's intriguing. Farrell was ask about the idea and his initial response was that he was very impressed with Manny on the field and in the clubhouse. He seemed not at all to feel any caution concerning the "troublemaker" image that has grown up around Manny. Also, they have to be convinced they can handle Adam Lind as the every day first baseman (or be willing to make the very bold move of trading him and signing or trading for a solid defensive 1B).

Third - I think most of my fellow bloggers have already noted this but I'll say it anyway: You old school baseball writers need to get the hell over wondering where team personnel live in the off season. Seriously. If Farrell delivers playoff baseball in Toronto, he can live in Samoa in the off-season and it won't matter. Get your gorram priorities straight.

Fourth - With all due respect to John Gibbons who I did and do like, here's another place where I give Alex credit as having done better than his predecessors. You couldn't possibly have had the sense of impending greatness regarding Gibbons, or Carlos Tosca, or Tim Johnson, or Buck Martinez (to name a few) that you get from Farrell.

There have been so many competing thoughts today that i might remember something later that I forgot to mention so don't be surprised if this one is edited and amended at some point.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

2010 Positional Review: Outfielders

As we wait for official confirmation on the Toronto Blue Jays new manager (and coaching staff), I come to the last of the positional rankings for this off-season. Before I begin, let me take a moment to mention that my rankings are constantly changing and you shouldn't be shocked if my Top Prospect List has, for instance, a reversal in the order of a couple of starting pitchers from the order they were in on the Starting Pitcher list. The further down a list you get, the more that the act of ranking player "a" ahead of player "b" is entirely subjective. One guy being 13 while another is 23 means something - one being 22 while another is 23 means almost nothing.

1. Anthony Gose (20) - When you are not a scout, or a professional in any way, and you presume to comment on your team's prospects, you are necessarily stuck with basing your views on the published opinions of those who are more in a position to know along with what you can infer from stats. This is most prominent with younger players who have less professional experience. With all that as a preface, I can tell you that by all accounts, Anthony Gose is a very talented player. Acquired by the Jays from the Astros (who had gotten him from the Phillies) for Bret Wallace, Gose split the season between the Phillies Hi-A affiliate in Clearwater and the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Gose was ranked 8th in the league in Baseball America's end of season rankings (higher than highly touted Jays' SS Adeiny Hechevarria) and, while sample size caveats apply, his numbers increased noticeably after coming over to the Jays organization. His OBP for Dunedin was .786 which, over a full season, would have ranked 3rd highest among hitters under the age of 23 (remember that he played almost the full season at 19). Gose is said to be an outstanding defender with excellent raw talent at all the offensive skills, but with emphasis on the "raw."

I have a longstanding habit on this blog of comparing the production of toolsy but raw young outfielders to Alex Rios at a similar stage. While not physically similar (Rios is 5 inches taller, and a RH hitter) there is still a sense in which one can be reminded not to assume that a lack of eye-popping production means a low ceiling. Rios didn't reach Dunedin until his age 21 season, and that year he posted both a lower OPS and a lower SLG than Gose did in 2010 with Gose being two years younger. At 19 Rios split the year between short season and Lo-A (the same level as another 2010 prospect, Jake Marisnick played this year) and posted a combined OPS of .631 so one should recognize that being raw at the lower levels doesn't necessarily tell us to be cautious about a player's ceiling. If Gose replicates Rios' peak production, as a CF, the Jays and their fans will be well pleased. There's plenty of reason to think he can do so.

2. Jake Marisnick (20) - Six months younger than Gose, Marisnick was more than a full level behind him, primarily because Gose signed quickly enough to get some games in during his draft year and Marisnick didn't. A rough comparison between the two players' history shows that Marisnick had better results (in about 3 times the reps) in the GCL, while Gose was marginally better (in about 4 times the work) in Lo-A. Statistically, it's easy to think they are pretty close in terms of talent and ceiling (except that Gose is MUCH faster).

Marisnick, by the way, is much more physically comparable to Rios, although he's listed 20 pounds heavier at almost the same height. He played at roughly the same levels in his age 19 season as Rios did and preformed marginally better. He's a center fielder, and a good one, by trade but one assumes he'll shift to RF when the time comes to share the field with Gose. I, for one, am excited about the potential they will do just that in Toronto around 2015 or so.

3. Eric Thames (24) - Thames would, at first blush, would seem just a bit old for the elite prospect list (and this may have contributed to his disrespect on BA's Top 20 list for the Eastern League) but to do so overlooks how many professional at-bats he's lost to injury. Regarded as perhaps fragile before 2010, having missed over half of 2009 and much of his last year in college to injury, Thames had only 216 pro at bats before making the big jump to AA to open this season. To have responded as he did is worthy of considerably more praise than he gets outside the Jays organization.

Thames was the best hitter in the Eastern League, and - laying aside a couple of older journeymen - led the league in OPS, as well as RBI (he set a team record for New Hampshire) and finishing tied for second in home runs. Offensively his biggest issue, like many sluggers his age, is plate discipline. He draws a healthy amount of walks (his OBP was .370) but he could stand to reduce the strikeouts some. He also was much better vs. RHP than vs. LHP but that seems to be inconsistent with his previous career and might be an outlier. It is a factor to watch though.

He's not a great defensive outfielder, but the reports are that he's more raw than untalented on that front. Here again, staying healthy and beuilding up repetitions will matter greatly. If he can bring his abilities there up to at least an average level for left field, he gives the Jays flexibility. Depending on how roster construction goes heading into next season (particularly in terms of who hits at the top of the order) it's not impossible that Thames could make his debut in Toronto as early as next August. in terms of a reasonable projection for his peak years . . . my guess would be something like what Nick Swisher does most years.

4. Moises Sierra (22) - A lot of prospect reviews seem to be punishing Sierra pretty hard for missing almost all of 2010 to injury. Part of that is the influx of new talent into the system - in my current prejected list, 8 of the 20+ players ahead of him were not in the system this time last year - but part of it seems to be that it's just easy to forget what impressed you about a guy before when he hasn't played much in so long. Seirra, who has a RF arm among the best scouts have ever seen, figured this time last year to be set to open the 2010 season in New Hampshire after having preformed solidly in Dunedin for most of the season and acquitting himself well in a eight game AA audition. That would have been an impressive accomplishment for a 21 year old player.

Sierra was, and is, a classic example of the raw Latin player who's tools are the engine which drives his promotions, even when the stats do not blow you away. That 2009 season in Dunedin was the first in which he began to consolidate his offensive skill set. He was (and is) still waiting for the projected power to develop, but he showed good plate discipline, solid doubles power, and fair-to-good speed on the basepaths to go with his defensive tools. An argument can be made for the Jays to, in their continued effort to reverse the over-aggressive promotion patter of the previous administration, let Sierra get his feet under him back in Dunedin as the 2011 season begins. But the door would also be open for him to convince the organization to go ahead with the advancement to AA. I suspect what they see over the winter and particularly at spring training will go a long way in that decision.

5. Darin Mastroianni (25) - With all the makings of a fan-favorite, Mastroianni continues to play himself into the conversation regarding the future of the Blue Jays outfield. A non-discript 16th round pick in the lauded 2007 draft class, you would have been forgiven for considering him nothing more than organizational filler. Most likely, Jays' brass did as well. After a solid debut at Auburn, Mastro regressed in 2008 at Lansing and while coaches and trainers might have recognized some reason for that, outsiders would have assumed it was a sign of mediocrity to come.
However, in 2009 he announced his presence with authority. In a season split between Dunedin and New Hampshire he accumulated 70 SB (against 15 caught) as well as an impressive .398 OBP combined (this despite a 50 point drop in BA after moving to the higher level). In 2010 he consolidated those gains, though his walk and steal rate both dropped marginally. Looking ahead, he still finds himself without an obvious open door in the Toronto outfield (as it stands, he looks to compete with Thames a year from now as the potential left fielder of the near future) but certainly with an opportunity to lay claim to the old Reed Johnson role of fiercely-competitive-fourth-outfielder-slash-fan-favorite. I have often made the comparison to Scott Podsednik and I still think that's solid but if you want a higher profile name - Mastorianni's potential ceiling probably looks a lot like the Yankees' Brett Gardner looks right now.

Look at how the third-rounder Gardner compares to Mastroianni at the same minor league levels:

BG - 21 - A- - .377 - .376 - 19
DM - 22 - A- - .302 - .311 - 30

BG - 22 - A+/AA - .395 - .370 - 58
DM - 23 - A+/AA - .398 - .364 - 70

BG - 23 - AA/AAA - .369 - .378 - 39
DM - 24 - AA - .390 - .398 - 46

BG - 24 - AAA - .414 - .422 - 37
DM - 25 - AAA - ???

While one should note that Gardner was one year younger at each level (he's almost exactly two years older than Mastroianni) there's enough similarity in production to make comparisons worth noting. Gardner is said to be an outstanding fielder, but I've heard nothing but good reports about Mastroianni's play in CF as well.

6. Adam Loewen (27) - When Adam Loewen was signed away from Baltimore, JP told us it would take at least 1,000 at bats before the team would have a clear idea what they had as a hitter. Loewen now has 794 and the impression is forming that there's something there. The third member of the NH outfield had an inconsistent season in 2010. I can't give you specific details thanks to MiLB's infuriating trait of only showing you the break downs on the players most recent level (which means that for player in the AFL like Loewen and Thames, all you see is their Arizona numbers) but in general terms, Loewen peaked around the All-Star break and slipped thereafter, particularly struggling through most of August. Still, his final results for 2010 are notably better than for 2009, particularly in the area of power hitting.

It was his longest season as an every-day player, and the first in which he was actively trying to refine his swing rather than just getting back the feel of being a hitter and a fielder, so perhaps fatigue was at issue. We know that he would have been a minor league free agent this off-season and the Jays have already re-signed him, and Jays' coaches and scouts who have gone on record give him lots of praise - so the team seems to think that despite the aberration of his age, there's value there. 2011 is, however, a year in which he'd do well to take another big step forward.

Also worth noting, his AFL assignment listed him as a first baseman. I've said since he signed that his fastest route to the majors might well be at first, despite there not being any bad reviews of his play in right field. I reached that conclusion because I thought Sierra was going to be in RF at AA in 2010 (obviously he wasn't) and I liked the idea of a 6'6" target for infielders to throw to. Obviously Sierra lost a year but I still think that with the departure of Wallace, Loewen has a cleaner path to starting in the majors at 1B than in the outfield.

7. Marcus Kenect (20) - Kenect, a native of the Toronto area, was a third round pick in the 2010 draft and was one of the first hitters that signed after the draft. The Jays challeneged him with an assignment to Auburn (as opposed to the GCL where most high school prospects start) and Kenect responded with a fine season and got better as the season wore on. He's said to have a RF skill set but he spent a lot of time at DH due to the lingering effects of an injury. Long term, as he potentially shares an outfield with Gose and Marisnick while climbing the ladder, he may well find himself in left field instead.

8. Michael Crouse (20) - Another lower round draft choice who's elevating his status with on-field results, the 2008 a6th rounder was, much like Mastroianni, a marginal player in the system early on, posting a .649 OPS in his first full season in the GCL. But in 2010 he took a quantum leap forward on his second tour of that league. Through 28 games in the GCL his OPS was a robust .998 and he earned himself an advancement to Lo-A Lansing with that performance where he held his own for another 28 games. Crouse is said to still be pretty raw, he has good power but strikes out way too much, he has good speed but not yet a lot of baseruning instincts. There is reason for caution, simply because players get taken in the 16th round for a reason, and because the sample size of professional work is still small. But his 2010 season compels us to pay attention. He may well join Marisnick and Kenect to for an impressive set of outfielders in Lansing next spring.

Beyond those, the quality level drops of precipitously. the only other players which might be mentioned are the handful of toolsy high schoolers drafted in the last few years who have so far done virtually nothing with those tools - Kenny Wilson, Eric Eiland, and Marcus Brisker. At this point, it would be remarkable if any of those turned their situation around and re-established prospect status.

Coming next week - My Top Prospect list which will include no less that 60 ranked players (just for the sheer verboseness of it donchaknow?)

Friday, 22 October 2010

And Then There Were Two?

There is a considerable amount of inconsistency in the underlying reports, but here seems to be a growing consensus that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has the inside track as we head into the home stretch of the Jays managerial search. At least one article suggests that Demario Hale and Sandy Alomar, Jr have been told they will not get the job and infers that Brian Butterfield is still not officially eliminated.

But that level of detail is by no means certain, because the report is not from one of the major sports journalists. Shi Davidi wrote last night that none of the four men had been told they were in or out but a lot can change in 24 hours.

Late this afternoon the Boston Globe confirmed a report from Sean McAdams that Hale had been eliminated, and in a separate tweet McAdams reported that Alomar had been eliminated. The Glode article offered the opinion that Farrell would get the job "if a contract could be worked out" but obviously money isn't going to stop Anthopoulos from getting his guy. I more rather think that if there are negotiations going on, they have to do with the makeup of the coaching staff.

One has to believe that the Jays will go to considerable lengths to keep Butterfield on the major league staff (and away from Baltimore) if possible and that startsw by having Farrell invested in retaining him. It's worth noting that Butterfield has flatly stated he'd like to stay in Toronto whether or not he's promoted and, in my opinion, it's a mistake to simply assume if Farrell gets the job then Butter departs.

Also, it seems logical to think that retaining Bruce Walton would be a priority.

Still, while I'm not yet prepared to just ASSUME that Farrell is in, it is certainly going to be an upset at this point if he's not.

Finally, Mike Wilner made an excellent point: Alex Anthopoulos highly prizes discretion and keeping things close to the vest. If he is as successful in that regard in this act as he has been on previous occasions, then the guy who's hired is more likely to be the guy you never saw coming.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How will he manage?

There have been many machinations in the 4 weeks since I listed what appeared at the time to be a comprehensive list of potential candidates for the Jays managing chair. Before updating the newcomers to that discussion, let me review the list in brief (those known to still be active possibilities are bolded):

1. Brian Butterfield - still a candidate, reportedly a finalist.
2. Fredi Gonzalez - as expected, hired by the Braves.
3. Eric Wedge - hired in Seattle.
4. Tim Wallach - denied permission by the Dodgers in some flaky back-room shinanigans.
5. Ryne Sandberg - finished second in race for Cubs job, hungry to manage in the majors.
6. Dave Martinez - crossed off AA's list.
7. Nick Leyva - not publically ruled out.
8. Don Baylor - word was tweeted today that he's out, and unhappy. No details yet.
9. Rob Thomson - same report as one concerning Martinez - apparently eliminated.
10. Pat Listach - never confirmed to have interviewed here.
11. Don Wakamatsu - was said to be in line for an interview but one hasn't been confirmed.
12. Juan Samuel - was said to be in line for an interview but one hasn't been confirmed.
13. Luis Rivera - reportedly ruled out, may still be promoted within the system.
14. Sal Fasano - ditto.
15. Bobby Valentine - interviewed, not considered to be a candidate.
16. Joey Cora - was said to be in line for an interview but one hasn't been confirmed.
17. Alan Trammel - hasn't been mentioned as a candidate for ANY opening.
18. Willie Randolph - no report that he's been seriously considered here.
19. Bob Melvin - considered front runner for Brewers, not a serious candidate for Jays.
20. Bob Brenly - only ever mentioned for Cubs job, which he declined interest in.

New names!

As you surely know by now, Sandy Alomar Jr. has come out of nowhere to be a strong contender. Bob Elliot tweeted tonight that he had a "day long interview" today. Mike Wilner recalls that Anthopoulos told him on-air that the team might feel the need to grab a guy who was a "potential star" even if he were raw and not ready yet - observed that perhaps Alomar was the man of whom he was thinking.
My take is that even if the Jays ultimately decide to go elsewhere they will try to grab Alomar for a coaching position in the Jays organization. IF the Jays go with Alomar, look for an aging baseball guru (Nick Leyva at a bare minimum) to come on board as the bench coach to hold Alomar's hand. Be thinking of such old-timers who have connections to the Jays or the current front office crew.

Another relatively hot name is Red Sox bench coach DeMario Hale (who's work as a minor league manager in that system is highly regarded) - he's said to have had multiple interviews. Two other Sox coaches have been mentioned, but 3B coach Tim Bogar has been ruled out and pitching coach John Farrell has had at least one confirmed interview according to Elliot.

Two members of the Padres organization saw there name come up. Rick Renteria is apparently still on the list, though he's been penciled in as the padres bench coach for 2011. The other name was minor league manager Randy Ready about whom little has been said lately and appears now to have just been speculation.

Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke continues the RR theme - he's also Josh's uncle, if I'm not mistaken.

Two men still involved in he playoffs - Rangers hitting coach (and former Rockies manager) Clint Hurdle has been mentioned as a possibility, along with Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin though both are apparently cases of journalistic speculation more than more reliable reports.

A reasonable approximation of the short list would be Butterfield, Alomar, Hale and possibly latecomer Sandberg in the first rank, with Renteria, Roenicke, and possibly (depending on how much credit you give Griffin's speculation) Mackanin still on the radar.

Hale has the pedigree - read his bio at Wkipedia if you want the details - and the judgment of Terry Francona and the Red Sox executives has to be respected.

Butterfield has the long-time association with the team and the familiarity with the player personnel. If he didn't get the job, retaining him on the new man's stuff would be a very wise move.

Alomar has, perhaps (based on the level of interest) the "rising star" magic that might perhaps convince AA to make a very dramatic move.

Sandberg has the high profile of a Hall-of-Fame player and a solid coaching resume to support it.

I'm gonna have to defer to the Boy Genius on this one I think.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

2010 Positional Review: Third Base

There's an interesting mix at this position, one which has been weak for some time now in recent Jays history. The Jays have not developed a reasonably good 3B from their own system in almost 20 years (since the advent of Ed Sprague). none of these guys might be that guy either, but there's at least some interesting and comment worthy things going on.

1. Brad Emaus (25) - More and more I hear stuff from Jeff Blair that turns out not to be the case and which makes me skeptical of other stuff he reports that doesn't seem to make sense. One such item is that the Jays are not very high on Emaus. I find that pretty difficult to accept. If he were a butcher defensively, we'd be well aware of it by now (One can easily think of several current Jays minor leaguers for whom it's well known they need work with the glove) and he is obviously not a slouch at the plate.
Emaus struggled for a couple of very bad months in the first half of 2009, and in the rest of his career he's done nothing but find his way on base. A .380 OBP in Dunedin in 2008, and a combined .397 at two stops in 2010 both attest to his skills in that regard. He posted 31 walks against 18 strikeouts in AA before being promoted and he walked 50 more times in AAA. He's not a burner but he's an efficient base stealer (13 in 15 attempts in 2010), he's not a slugger but he's got reasonable power (seems likely to hit 32-40 doubles and 12-15 homers in the majors). He's also apparently a serviceable 2B as well as playing 3B (reports are scarce as to how good he is at one relative to the other).
At a bare minimum he's Jeff Keppinger with more power. Don't be surprised if he's one of those guys who comes in below the radar (like Casey McGehee) who pretty much forces his team to give him a role.

2. Kevin Ahrens (22) - All but written off by outside observers by mid-season, Ahrens revived his prospect status a bit in the second half. One must admit that the sample size in play here is very limited, but given the results, and the notable specific change in approach (the team decided to end his switch-hitting days) and his pedigree, I'm willing to believe in him at least one more off-season. He'll be playing again in Dunedin (after spending most of 2010 in Lansing) and, as I noted last week regarding his good friend Justin Jackson, this is actually just about the time a 22 year old drafted out of high school OUGHT to be playing his first full year in Hi-A ball. That said, he doesn't really have any more time to spare, he needs to put himself on the map in 2011 or his opportunities will be seriously limited.

3. Kellen Sweeney (19) - Sweeney (the younger brother of Oakland's Ryan) signed late after being drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft and the results are such a small sample as to be indicative of nothing. Sweeney is said to be a good runner, a good defender and have a good hitting eye with projectable power. Baseball America rated him one of the 20 best prospects in the GCL which is pretty high praise given how little he actually got to play in 2010. My guess is there's a reasonable possibility the Jays will give him a chance to play in Lansing before the 2011 season is over.

4. Chris Hawkins (19) - one month older than Sweeney, and drafted one round behind him, Hawkins joined Sweeney on that BA top 20 list. Hawkins signed earlier than his draft-mate and got almost 3 times as many games in the GCL. The major difference in their production is that each drew 15 walks - Sweeney in 16 games and Hawkins in 46. Based on that, my guess is that the former is somewhat more advanced than the latter, and will be the one playing at the higher level when opening day arrives.

5. Mark Sobolewski (24) - Returning to Lansing to open the season after a less-than-mediocre season there in 2009, Sobo contributed impressive results for 40+ games before being promoted to Dunedin (skipping over the younger - and struggling at that point - Ahrens). while in Hi-A he was not bad, but not great. within the context of the normal offensive level of the league, it wasn't a BAD performance, but for a player his age he needs to draw noticeably more walks if he's going to really get any attention. Ideally, he needs to make the AA team in the spring to avoid a conflict for playing time in Dunedin.

Also pay attention to Gabriel Cenas, a 17 year old (as of today, in fact) Venezuelan signed the same day the Blue Jays signed Adonis Cardona. the team gave him $700,000 which is pretty impressive but only 1/4 what Cardona got (and Cardona was considered a middle-first-round talent) so make your calculations accordingly. In any case, he's surely 5-6 years away.
Another player people will ask questions about if he's not listed is Shawn Bowman who spent the year with the Jays' AA New Hampshire squad. While Bowman did exhibit impressive power in may and June, he tailed off considerably as the summer wore on and, overlooked by most, he's gonna be a minor league free agent (If I have my information correct).

Greetings and Salutations

Just a quick note to direct y'alls attention to the new Blog in the Jaysosphere - one with rookie of the year potential based on early work - The 5th Starter. I'm already impressed by what i see and have only one quibble: if you didn't know it was called The 5th Starter you wouldn't be able to tell from the massive Old-School Jays logo at the top of the page. someone needs to get creative and design a banner that let's the visitor know where they are (meaning no disrespect to the old-school!)

Check it out!
(That was not a request)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rosterbation: part the Second

Following up on last weeks post, here's my take (pre-potential-acquisitions) on the pitching.

I had planed to make this two separate posts but we all know there's only role in the starting staff to discuss, and that's the "fifth" starter job so I won't waste space on the established four. There are a number of nominal candidates for the job but they fall in two distinct tiers:

top tier:
Shawn Hill, Marc Rzepczyinski, Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart
second tier:
Brad Mills, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond, Bobby Ray
(albeit, some might quibble with Hill making the top tier and Richmond not)

Taking the second group first: I'm assuming the Litsch will be hampered enough by his health to take away whatever shot he had at overcoming the more talented group; Richmond's absence from Toronto in September suggests he's fallen down the depth chart (and his splits suggest he might better find his role in relief if he remains in the organization); it seems clear Ray is destined for the 'pen and that's been an assumption for a while; that leaves Mills who might be left standing if spring broke in his favor but seems likely to either be part of a trade or be positioned to earn his stripes by proving himself out of the bullpen. Some think he might be a reasonable (and much cheaper) facsimile of what Tallet gave the Jays (prior to 2010).

In the top tier, my first assumption is that Stewart simply needs to build up his endurance more. He's a candidate here only in the sense that he is very good and if others were hurt or take a step back, he has the talent to force his way up the chart. But ideally, he ought to go to AAA and just build up his IP total. Zep is the hardest call because he has shown enough talent that he could come into camp and simply force his way into the role but he could also play a significant role in relief (it's not insane to think they might let him close if no closer is imported). Of the four, he's the most likely guy to break camp in the major league 'pen and that inadvertently lessens his chances to be the fifth starter.

The two main candidates are Drabek and Hill. Ultimately, barring injury or some remarkable circumstance, Drabek is going to be the guy in this job - but even though he has the ability to break camp here, the Jays may easily conclude that they are not bound to force that situation because of Hill. The casual fan might not remember just how well regarded Hill was before the series of injuries which kept him from maximizing his results. Rehabbing and recovering through the Jays' system this year, he seemed to still have considerable ability (although one always has to temper their enthusiasm when a recuperating major leaguer dominates kids 5 years or more younger than he). If Hill comes to Spring Training with the skills that once had scouts enthusiastic about him, the team would have the luxury of going a bit slower with Drabek.

I could easily envision a situation where Drabek, even off a strong spring, would get a short stint in AAA while Hill filled in the major league rotation long enough to build up some trade value (assuming no one is injured, of course). At the extreme, Drabek might spend the whole first half in the minors. Of course, Hill does have a fragile track record, and injuries in general are a fact of life. And it's possible that the team feels that there is more value in Drabek breaking camp in the majors than there is in any alternative which prevents it.

For the sake of future discussions about the makeup of the bullpen and the minor league teams, I'm going to go with the ASSUMPTION that Hill is in the first position, and that barring injury he'll open the season there and the other pitchers will begin in other places.

Turning to the bullpen, one has to first acknowledge the three potential free agents. Scott Downs is clearly gone. If the Jays forgo the associated draft pics and break the bank to re-sign Downs, then everything I'm about to say here is pretty much void. Jason Frasor is essentially gone. An argument can be made that Frasor's type A status will lead him to accept arbitration, and while that can't be ruled out, it actually just makes it likely that Frasor will sign on with a team that's already spent their first round pick on some other Type A free agent (for instance, the Angels sign Crawford, then sign Frasor) or even by a team with a protected pick. It's his one chance to cash in and accepting arbitration would seem to be a last-resort.

Kevin Gregg is a more complex issue because of the options the Jays hold on him. My guess is that a survey of available options and the needs around the league will prompt Anthopoulos to let him walk. There's a decent possibility that the Jays could sign an outside the organization closer (more material for a future blog) but I'm going to approach this question as if we are stuck with internal options.

the candidates, then, for the Blue Jays bullpen in 2011 are as follows:

LHP: David Purcey, Jesse Carlson, Brian Tallet, Marc Rzepczyinski, Brad Mills, Rommie Lewis
RHP: Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, Josh Roenicke, Taylor Buchholz, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Richmond, Bobby Ray, Dirk Hayhurst
(there's some possibility that a AA reliever could jump to the majors but for now we'll lay that aside)

Let's acknowledge up front - Jeremy Accardo will, barring a surprising deal, almost certainly be non-tendered and one has to assume a similar fate for Brian Tallet. Laying those aside leaves 12 candidates for seven roles. the major question of course being who will close.

I'd assume the closer candidates are Purcey (based on pedigree), Camp (based on effectiveness), Roenicke (based on scouting reports of "stuff") and possibly Buchholz as a dark horse. There's a nonzero chance that they might surprise us and give Zep a chance at that role too, but there's been not so much as a whisper about it from the press. I would add to this conversation the observation that before his injury, Casey Janssen finished 21 games, collected 6 saves and had a very low ERA. His supporting stats were much better this year than they were in 2007, and it's not inconceivable he could be a candidate as well - it's at least as realistic as Camp getting the job.

By the way, Stewart has been described as able to close in the majors right now but the Jays have shown no sign of wavering from developing him as a starter (the previously mentioned Bob Elliot report has been denied).

There really is no way to guess who would win out there but I'm going to suggest that just being a closer candidate is a good sign you make the team at least. For simplicity of discussion, I'm going to call the presumptive closer as Purcey based on nothing but his first-round history. You shouldn't assume that's a product of serious analysis.

So if Purcey is in Gregg's role, who's in Downs and Frasor's? I'm going to just go ahead and state flatly that Janssen can give you everything Frasor can. I don't think that question is even a worry. Downs is a much tougher question. Carlson was as good as Downs' typical work in his rookie year, but hasn't been since. He MIGHT regain that form but you shouldn't assume so. Zep might be very good as a set-up lefty, as might Mills but again, we're dealing in the unknown here.

Camp, of course, can't really be asked for any more than he did - if he simply maintains that's enough. If you get more that is a bonus. The pressure is perhaps greater on Josh Roenicke than anyone else. the Jays need him to step up and exhibit the control in the majors that he featured in AAA. One would have to assume there's something mental going on here, as his control was good enough coming up through the minors that it shouldn't be this big an issue now.

The other wild card is Buchholz. In 2008, while pitching for the Rockies, Buchholz was VERY good. He'd been a starter in the minors (well regarded enough to be the #50 prospect in the country according to Baseball America prior to the 2004 season). He'll be far enough removed from TJ surgery by the spring that he should be able to see if he can refine his control back to previous levels. It's almost impossible to say what, exactly, the Jays might get from Buchholz but unless they import morethan one FA reliever, you have to like his chances of making important contributions.

So here's my gut feeling about how that group of 12 shakes out at the beginning of ST:

Closer - Purcey (initially, at least)
Set up - Camp, Roenicke and Carlson (Carlson being on a fairly short leash)
Middle - Janssen, Buchholz and Zep
Long - Mills or Richmond or Ray
Fringe guys - Hayhurst, Lewis

But this is the most fluid group on the team. there's not that much that separates the best guy in this group from the worst(aside from the fringe guys). I wouldn't be shocked if any one of six different guys there broke camp as the closer.

I also wouldn't be shocked if the Jays imported a potential closer and someone for Downs' LH set up role, via trade or free agency. But that's for another day.

One final point: Cito Gaston, and others I'm sure, have (or would) argued that the Jays MUST sign or tradefor more veteran relievers rather than face the future with these guys. I've already ranted about that idea and won't repeat myself here except to say that if the jays are to assume any of these guys have a role to play in their future, 2011 is THE year to put them out there and let them grow into the sort of pitcher who can fill those important roles. Take a guy like Roenicke. If you look at his stuff and think "this guy can be an important pitcher for us when we are contending" then you HAVE to let him learn and grow "in the fire" at some point, and 2011 is that point. Same for several other of these guys. If 2011 were a year when we were pulling out the stops to contend, then yeah, spend some money here. But it's not. So lets grow the pen like we grew the rotation in 2010.

(Note: I've not forgotten McGowan, I simply assume he can't come to camp and do well enough to break camp with the team, even if healthy)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

2010 Positional Review: Middle Infield

I'm gonna make a small modification this year on this one. The depth at second base just seems awfully light to dedicate a whole weekly post to that position. Plus, perhaps more importantly, the excess shortstop depth is the pool from which potential future second basemen usually are drawn.

So first, the Second Basemen:

1. John Tolisano (22) - A second round choice in the (then) vaunted mega-class of 2007, Tolisano was allowed to repeat Hi-A dunedin this season with, as usual for him, mixed results. Tolisano progressed well month over month through the first half of the season, but an injury in early July ended his season just when he seemed to have accumulated significant momentum (albeit he had only 3 hits in his last 25 AB). In June he had an .881 OPS which is even more noticeable given the difficulty of the league for hitters. On the whole season, he improved his OBP and SLG over his 2009 rates, but only marginally so. On the other hand, his K rate went way up. Also, when the D-Jays' infield got overcrowded, Tolisano found himself spending some time in the OF as well as at 3B. He probably has to be challeneged with AA next season and it will be a key season for him to establish that he still has some promise.

2. Scott Campbell (26) - It tells you something about the depth of natural second basemen in the system that a guy who missed the whole season with injury (after having a variety of less serious injuries the year before) is arguably the #2 prospect at the position. Campbell is now two seasons removed from his breakout season and he's coming off (hopefully) a serious hip injury. I can't find any details about the extensiveness of the injury but hip injuries have killed careers so it's a matter of concern. But IF HEALTHY he still has the chance to reclaim the hitting ability he showed in 2008. Of course, for a man who was already defensively challeneged, a hip injury can't be helpful.

3. Ryan Schimpf (23) - the 2009 fifth rounder was just OK at Lansing, he got a late season taste of Dunedin and didn't adjust well. He has pretty good speed and is said to be "gritty" but that's more likely to make him a minor league hometown favorite than a potential major leaguer.

4. Brandon Mims (18) - A ninth round pick in 2010, the switch-hitting Mims got all of 2 professional at bats. Mims is said to be an outstanding defender, less is know by us amateurs about his hitting ability. He was reported to be a "signability" draft so expectations should be tempered.

5. Andy Fermin (21) - Let's be realistic here - Fermin (son of Felix) was a 32nd round pick in 2010, the odds that he even reaches the high minors, let alone the majors, are long against him. But he pounded GCL pitching (for only seven games) until he forced a promotion to Auburn where he held onto a pretty good OBP. His ranking is, again, a function of lack of depth, not promise.

Also note that some consider Brad Emaus (whom I will cover next week in the Third Base list) to be a potential second baseman and if he were ranked, he'd be an easy #1 on this list.

And the Shortstops . . .

1. Adeiny Hechavarria (22) - The Cuban bonus baby will turn 22 in mid-April 2011, and that is an age not uncommon in Hi-A ball and characteristic of the better AA prospects. Despite being somewhat raw, his natural tools make him an easy choice for one of the Blue Jays' very best prospects. After spending six forgettable weeks of 2010 in Dunedin, he was promoted to AA where he logged just over two months of play with noticeably better results. The Jays believed, rightly it seems, that Hechavarria would progress better under the management of Hispanic manager Luis Rivera. While he did make progress, the Jays can afford, with the acquisition in July of Yunel Escobar, to give the younger Cuban plenty of time. It won't hurt at all for him to return to AA to start the season and let his development dictate the promotion schedule. however, if you see the Jays promote Rivera to the manager's position in Las Vegas (which is open) then it's quite possible Adeiny will follow him there in the spring.

2. DJ Thon (19) - No, I don't know if anyone else calls hm DJ but hey, it's my blog and I can try to start a trend if I want. His given name is "Dicke Joe" and that's pretty much an open invitation. One assumes you can't be the sort of Jays fan who reads this site and not know he's the son of longtime Astros SS Dicke Thon and almost invariably, when a scout is asked about his ceiling the scout replies "pretty much like his dad, before the beaning." That is a solid, productive, but no0t star-level major league shortstop - probably something a lot like what we got from Marco Scutaro in 2009. Thon is said to be raw, though, and the Jays can afford to take their time with him. you shouldn't be surprised to see him spend five full seasons in the minors.

3. Gustavo Pierre (19) - Only six weeks younger than Thon, the bonus-baby Dominican has 424 professional at bats, but is still very much a raw project. Pierre draws raves for his tools and projectability (though suggestions he might grow into third base are not rare) but the statistical results are not impressive yet. He's still very much a person to be judged on the trained eye of scouts rather than results. Despite ordinary results at Auburn, there's a pretty decent chance that the Jays advance him to Lansing to start the season, though beyond that his movement will be earned. Like Thon, he's still a long way away.

4. Justin Jackson (22) - another once-anticipated member of the class of 2007, Jackson was my personal favorite from that class and I've taken longer to lose my enthusiasm for him than almost anyone, but he's not helping me. When the Jays activated Hechavarria, the crowding in the infield at Dunedin eventually resulted in Jackson being bumped back to Lansing which, to be fair, was the level a player his age probably should have been playing at. The former minor league team consistently over-promoted Jackson and while he has flaws of his own, they may have ruined him.
Consider that Jackson got a mere 42 professional games (in which he hit .187) before he was pushed to Lansing. In Lansing he hit .238 and was promoted to Dunedin in 2009 anyway. Though it was an injury marred year, there was little chance that even a healthy Jackson was going to do well there. A smarter plan might have been to return Jackson to the GCL in 2008 and let him EARN a promotion - to AUBURN. Let him spend all of 2008 at Auburn and then send him to Lansing in 2009 and don't promote him again until he has proven he's ready - spending 2 years in Lansing isn't the end of any real prospects career. Thus handled, Jackson would have reached Dunedin for the first time in 2010 at best, and would have been far more ready for it. At this point, Jackson stands on the cusp of what is pretty much a make-or-break season in which he has to demonstrate he can correct the flaws in his offensive game.

Also, watch Ryan Goins. While buried among ore talented guys at short, if I'd listed him at 2B he would have looked a lot better.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Rosterbation - Part the First

There is so very much to say here that I'll have to fight hard against the temptation to make a ginormous post out of this. instead I hope to sort it out into a series of posts. also, I'll avoid wasting precious words on introductory fluff.

As we look ahead at the oncoming winter, and the potential for improving this roster, there is a lot to consider.

First, there's the goal - ideally you want to add about 10 wins without sacrificing the future in order to be in the thick of the playoff race. You have to ask yourself, how many of those wins can I get out of the current roster? Hill and Lind will likely rebound, Bautista will obviously slack off some, there will be somewhat of a downgrade at catcher and there might be a balancing upgrade at shorstop. Who's going to be on the roster, how do the plug into the lineup, etc.

Second, where will the improvements from outside the organization come in? AA said today many things but among them was a fairly strong implication that trades were his prefered method, as opposed to free agency. However, trades are notoriously hard to forcast. What we can do is look first at the free agent options, then compare them to what we have in hand, and rule out those (almost all of them) who simply don't represent a substantial upgrade. Then you can look around the league, ruling out players who are obviously not available, and get a sense of which potentially available players match up with the team's needs. The FA evaluation is pretty easy, the trade market analysis is for another day.

Third, while the team is not limited in funds, Alex will no doubt adheres to what he feels is a proper evaluation for each player. It's not enough that, for instance, Edwin Encarnacion have a potential role on the 2011 squad, it's also whether or not his potential contribution justifies the marginal cost over the next best option for that place on the roster.

Finally, there's roster construction. That is, there are roles to be played in the batting order and you have to have puzzle pieces that fit together into a productive offense. One need look no further than the reality of how lack of on-base skills diluted the effect of all the slugging on the 2010 squad in terms of scoring runs. One needs a balanced team.

Looking then, at the hitting positions, let's be clear about a few things: due to obvious talent and/or contract issues, the following players WILL be in the Jays 2011 starting lineup (barring injury): Escobar, Snider, Wells, Lind, Hill, Bautista (with the small but not completely non-existent chance Bautista is dealt). In addition, one other position (catcher) will be filled in a relatively defined manner - so there are essentially two slots in the starting lineup which are "in play" and at least one of those needs to be a lead-off type hitter.

As we examine how the pieces go together, we need to keep in mind that the key offensive improvement that the team is (rightly) seeking is a better on-base percentage.

This is pretty simple, either JP Arencibia will be the starter, with a back-up (who may or may not be Jose Molina) or John Buck will be retained and Arencibia will be "worked in." The latter seems unlikely because Buck would be a fool not to persue a multi-year deal, and the Jays would be foolish to give him one UNLESS they think there's a productive trade to be made by shipping Arencibia. In any case, none of these players provide any prospect of a high OB number, nor do any potential free agents. JPA, at best, will be just what Buck was in 2010. That's the ceiling of what can be expected here, and it's reasonable to suspect he won't do that in his first year so there's likely to be a net loss in WAR from this position.

Will be Yunel Escobar. Period. the most obvious call on the squad. He's got decent OB skills, thugh the results were down in 2010. His career mark, even with the down year, is .364 and he's been as high as .385 so he's an ideal #2 and not a bad choice at all for lead-off (but if he leads off then one of the two variables would need to be a good #2).

Center field
Vernon Wells. Say what you want about his immovable contract, he was also the most offensively productive CF in the AL in 2010 as well. His OBP was .331 which is right in line with his career mark. that's not awful, it's not great, and it's not gonna change much.

Everything else is a mix & match dance of movable parts.

Second Base
Aaron Hill, unless he moves to 3B. One of the nuggets we got from Anthopoulos today was that Hill had said he'd move if it made team building easier and that is HUGE in terms of flexibility. if Hill were to stick to second, then (i'll go into depth on this in a sec) Bautista likely fits best at 3B and your potential 1/2 hitter is very likely gonna have to be an outfielder. and two outfield spots are spoken for. Take for example, the potential trade availability of Kelly Johnson. Johnson had a .370 OBP in his bounce-back 2010 year. He has decent speed and good power. Escobar leading off and Johnson in the 2-hole is a good start. while it is true that Johnson can play left, it's still a good illustration of how having 2B in play helps. Rickie Weeks is another name to consider.

Third Base
If Hill stays at 2B, then the likelihood that Jose Bautista plays third for the 2011 Jays increases greatly. Edwin Encarnacion is still in house (and don't be TOO quick to assume he gets non-tendered) but Alex admitted today his defense was still disappointing (albeit improved) and it would be a less-than-great winter if EE wasn't pushed out of that role before spring. He does, however, factor into the decisions at 1B and DH.
The reason Bautista slots at 3B despite having a lot of value in RF is because of the dearth of potential upgrades at 3B. The only Free Agent who is worth considering is Adrian Beltre, and you have to note that the last time he had a great offensive season was in a previous contract year. The potential for regression there is strong. if you look at the top performers at 3B by OPS, no one who's higher than .340 (except Beltre) is remotely available.
That means if you import a 3B, it's going to come down to a ready-prospect (I'm not aware that any exists) or a reclamation project (site-favorite Alex Gordon leaps instantly to mind). I'd LOVE to see the Jays throw together a package for Gordon and former Jay-prospect Tim Collins, but even I have to admit that it's a lot bigger gamble than going after Johnson.

Right Field
You'd think this was a prime slot for an import, but unless the Jays want to throw big money at Jayson Werth (and they don't) it's difficult to see how they do better here than either Bautista or Travis Snider. Despite the opinion of the outgoing manager, the more respected defensive metrics liked Snider this year. While most of his innings came in left, it's not an insane proposition to trust him with RF for a few years. if Bautista is at 3B, snider will almost certainly be in RF unless the Jays can pull of a surprise trade.

Left Field
If the chips fall such that Hill is at 3B, and Bautista is in RF, this will be Snider. if they fall the other way, then LF is very much in play. it might be Adam Lind, though the presumption is he'll either be at 1B or DH, but more likely it will be that 1/2 hitter we need (if it's not a second baseman). It could still be Fred Lewis, though the Jays don't like his defense and his mouth might punch his ticket out of town.
If you look at free agency, there's really only one guy you covet here and that's Carl Crawford. and while no one could object to adding Crawford to the lineup, the odds that the Jays will go to war with Boston and LA to land him SEEM to be long. laying Crawford aside, there's no FA (without an option) that obviously fits the bill here. If you turn your eyes to potential trades, there are over 30 players (albeit many of them unavailable) among outfielders who have an OPS of at least .340 - a daunting list.
If you cull that list by looking for guys with top of the order speed, those who are not having aberrational seasons, those who are actually potentially available, and those who are controllable for a few years (AA is not gonna give up prospects for a guy he's going to lose in a year or two) you can narrow that down a good bit. One guy who jumps out is Coco Crisp. The A's hold an option on him and one assumes it will be picked up, given that he stole 32 bases in only 75 games. But his best OBP numbers were only ever in the low .340's so you are giving up something there. Still, if the option is declined he's worth a look.
A next revision of that first list would be players who had a noticeably better OBP than Fred Lewis, stole more, had better slugging, and better defense. Now we're down to a bare handful of guys and none of them any more inspiring than Crisp. of course, here again you can gamble on a project, the most notable potential being found in BJ Upton, but the odds of TB trading him just as they are losing Crawford seem small.

First Base
Presumably Adam Lind, assuming the jays saw enough rough potential to figure that a full Spring Training at first will make him a serviceable major league first baseman. there'salso the option of bringing back Lyle Overbay. Among free agent 1B, the only guys with solid potential to be an upgrade here are Paul Konerko and Lance Berkman (if you think 2010 was a fluke). No one else on the list is a lock to out-hit Overbay. And neither guy is all that young at 35. There's also Aubry Huff at 34, but he's been up and down over his career as much as Vernon Wells and that makes for a questionable investment. There is, of course, Adam Dunn who sucks at 1B and has a stubborn refusal to DH to count against him, and he won't be cheap. The biggest potential trade target is Prince Fielder but there's the whole question of whether you can sign him, being a Boras client he's almost certain to demand a fantastic sum to skip the Free Agent market.
In short, there are too many options here to reasonably sort through, but each of them individually seem to be unlikely moves for various reasons. That observation made, there are more options for an upgrade here that there are anywhere else.

Designated Hitter

Could be Lind, could be Lewis, but if you had to put together a starting line-up from in-house options right now, this is probably Edwin Encarnacion. don't laugh too fast, EE's totals pro-rate to 32 homers and almost 80 RBI and that in a season with at least one stretch bad enough to get him DFAed. Encarnacion is in what should be his prime, posted his best career slugging percentage, and had an OBP over .350 in his first two full major league seasons. If he could recapture that ability to make contact, he'd give the Jays about the same value Vlad Guerrero gave Texas this year. Whether or not he does that, if the Jays add a middle-of-the-order stick this winter, that addition should be obviously better than what EE can do because he's the one who will lose his job.

To recap, here's the lineup you'd have to make, IMO, with the available players under control:

C - Arencibia
1B - Lind
2B - Hill
SS - Escobar
3B - Bautista
LF - Lewis
CF - Wells
RF - Snider
DH - Encarnacion

If you add a top of the order guy, Lewis loses out, if you add a middle of the order guy, EE loses out - those are the guys who set the minimum standard a new acquisition has to beat. there are enough movable parts to ensure everyone else here (caveat re catching noted) will be in the line-up next spring barring a shocking trade.

while the one thing I have learned in the past year is to not even TRY to anticipate what Anthopoulos will actually do, here are some obvious potential plays:

1. Go after Kelly Johnson or Ricke Weeks and move Hill and the subsequent dominoes fall.
2. go after Alex Gordon (and try to snag Collins but that's just a fetish of mine) on a "buy-low" gamble and see if you can straighten him out his bat (and glove).
3. add a slugging 1B DH, even if it's expensive, if you believe that player can be productive for 3-5 years. Adam Dunn perhaps being the best free agent bet there if you can live with his glove at 1B or sell him on DHing. Another factorIi haven't yet mentioned here is position changes, such as going after Dan Uggla and moving him to 1B.

That's not to dismiss several other guys who have been mentioned as possibly available (I know lots of folks like to lust after Matt Kemp, for instance) but that list, too, is for a future post. Bottom line, the job on offense is to asses what you have in Encarnacion and Lewis, and then figure out if you can do better than either or both.

Final thought - don't be totally shocked by the idea that there is considerable additional WAR in the lineup listed above. while Bautista will go down for sure and JPA almost certainly won't immediately replicate buck, Hill Escobar, and Lind will certainly rebound, Snider stands to take a potentially big leap forward, and Lewis and EE would add value just by playing every day, and Edwin at least has the potential to add value via OBP. Also, if EE is the everyday DH you'll not suffer the negative WAR he accumulated at 3B. I intend a future post to look into this calculation in more depth but my hunch is you could pick up at lest a few of those 10 wins right there.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

2010 Positional Review: First Base

One game to go in the major league season, the Jays have (finally) justified my pre-season prediction (I said 83 wins) and I've calmed a bit since ranting over Cito (again) last night, so lets get to it:

1. David Cooper (24) - On July 1, one could have made a very good case for just closing the Cooper file and stamping the outside "Bust" and moving on. Sure, it would have been too early given that, at that point, he only had a little over 2 seasons worth of at-bats, but all of those at bats which had occurred above A-ball were most uninspiring. His slash lines, in 751 AA at bats was a most modest .242/.335/.390/.725 with no hint of better work to come. His impressive half season in 2008 noted but perhaps dismissed as an aberration.

Since then, things have changed. In 220 at bats since that mid-season date, those slash lines are .309/.387/.505/.892 and while one has to be aware of sample size considerations, if Cooper has made some sort of mechanical adjustment to produce this result then there's cause for optimism in those numbers. Watch for stories over the winter that might explain the sudden turnaround, and perhaps more telling, watch whether his spring training work convinces the Jays he's ready for AAA.

2. Michael McDade (21) - The 6'1', 260 pound McDade, who turns 22 early in May, was the most prolific young slugger in the FSL. He led the circuit in homers and was first in slugging among players not considered too old for the league. There is, however, work still to do. McDade struck out 141 times in 128 games, and put up 5.2 K's per walk. Also, his season was the inverse of Cooper's. A massive May propeled him to an impressive first half (.869 OPS) but after the break, his OPS was a much more modest .676 (albeit in a league where offensive expectations are diminished) and it's not unreasonable to ask if, at his weight, he didn't wear down over the course of the season.

3. K.C. Hobson (20) - Butch Hobson's son was steady in the GCL this year, and a bit slow on the transition to low-A Lansing (though he finished well) but he's well regarded. He was considered a bit of a steal with the 6th round pick in 2009, and he made Baseball America's GCL Top 20 Prospects List (along with three of his teammates) at #14. In the shallow pool of Blue Jays 1B prospects, that's enough to rank him third on this list, and he might be a breakout candidate for 2011.

4. Lance Durham (23) - while old for the level at 22, Leon "Bull" Durham's son led the Auburn club in OPS, and he was one of the top dozen or so hitters in the circuit. While he has some pop and struck out more than once a game, it's worth noting that his OBP was .371, over 110 points higher than his BA. the way the distribution of 1B fall in the system next year (Cooper to AAA perhaps, McDade to AA, and Hobson back to Lansing) the obvious opportunity is there for the Jays to test Durham by skipping him up to Dunedin. If they do, we'll presumably know a lot more about what his skills are this time next year.

5. Balbino Fuenmayor (21) - no real reason to consider the former bonus baby a prospect at this point. He's never gotten the hitting skills polished enough to succeed and even though he's still young, he seldom even shows intriguing flashes anymore. I only mention him because of the press he got when signing, and because I hate for any list to not have at least five names.

There are no "others to watch" among actual 1B in the Jays' system (if there were, Balbino wouldn't be at #5) but you might be aware that excess players from other positions might end up at 1B. Adam Loewen is b all reports a fine OF but if crowding forces him to a new position, you gotta like a 6'5" target to throw to at 1B. If Keven Aherns late season resurgence is real, you might see other 3B in the system including Shawn Bowman and Mark Sobolewski eventually migrate across the diamond, but that's some time off yet.

I suppose, given his underwhelming defensive reports, one ought mention Eric Thames in this conversation as well. Finally, extra catchers who have offensive upside might end up playing 1B. Jon Talley was often found at DH so he's a candidate (although he didn't light up the scoreboard either) and versatile Sean Ochinko has a pretty good chance.

Futile Rant #...whatever

I KNOW I shouldn't bother. I KNOW it's not only beating a dead horse, and tilting at windmills, and concerns the opinion of a man who's two games from being out the door but STILL, I can't help it. This stuff just pisses me the hell off.

The great and wise Cito took it upon himself to comment on the 2011 bullpen situation as recorded by Jordan Bastian here.

Gaston says, in the article, that the Jays are in real need of signing veterans for next year's pen because they don't have anyone but "kids" and the "kids" can't be asked to pitch under the pressure of the AL East. Of all the undiluted BS which he's caressed us with this year, this might take the cake.

One of the things he bemoans is that the young starters "go out there and pitch their heart out" - by what logic do we decide that the AL East is not too hard for a 22 or 23 year old Ricky Romero or Brett Cecil or, hell, even a Jesse Litsch for 6 or 7 innings. BUT it's far too hard for 1 inning of work for a 27 year old Josh Roenicke, a 28 year old David Purcey, or a 29 year old Jesse Carlson?

These are KIDS?
(Casey Janssen and Taylor Buchholz are both 28 as well, and that's not even bringing up Shawn Camp)

Now, if you want to argue that these guys don't have the TALENT to pitch in this division, fine - but that has fuck-all to do with their age. Two years ago, then 27 year old Jesse Carlson, with no major league experience, absolutely destroyed the AL East. So did 25 year old Brandon League. In 2007, then 25 year old Casey Janssen was virtually untouchable. and 25 year old Jeremy Accrdo stepped out of obscurity and was one of the best closers in the league.

Cito said, of the closer job "If he's (Gregg) not here, we don't have one. Do you see one? I don't see one."

Who saw Accardo as the 2007 closer in September 2006? Even if we'd known Ryan couldn't answer the bell. Nobody.

Do I KNOW that Purcey or Roenicke or, heck, even Buchholz, will have the composure to close in 2011? Hell know. But I know from what the scouts say that both Purcey and Roenicke have the stuff too. And that's to say nothing of Zach Stewart.

But I'm not even trying to defend these guys specifically. the point is that (a) young guys step up and pitch impressively in this division all the time; (b) that there is no difference in a young pitcher throwing one inning late in the game than a young pitcher throwing 6 early in the game; and (c) that a lot of these guys are NOT young and NOT inexperienced.

Consider - Jason Frasor departs, Casey Janssen remains. Janssen's stats this year are virtually identical to Frasor's, and he has late game experience from three seasons back. There is NO reason Janssen can't replicate Frasor's work, at a bare minimum. Shawn Camp pitched BETTER than Gregg did.

Downs will be tough to replace, no doubt - he's one of the best at what he does - but what was he when we acquired him?!

Frankly, he was Brad Mills. Nobody could have been sure in 2005 that he would even survive on this team, let alone turn into one of the very best late-inning lefties of the decade.

Let's say the Jays keep Gregg on his option, just to lay aside all the alleged intangiblness of the closer role. Here's a projected pen for 2011, without any signings:

Closer - Gregg
Set up - Camp or Janssen and Carlson or Purcey
middle - Camp or Janssen and Carlson or Purcey
long relief/ spot start - Roenicke and Zep or Mills

If we assume that Hill is in the rotation and Drabek is in Vegas (along with Stewart) that still leaves Buchholz (DON'T obverlook this guy) Richmond, Listch, Accardo and Tallet (both likely non-tendered) Hayhurst, McGowan (if recovered) as overflow.

Of those 12 candidates for the pen, only Listch, Zep, and Mills will be less than 28. and 8 have 2 years or more major league experience.

Cito might as well have come out and said "get more guys cause these guys suck."

Most aggravating of all was this gem:

"I think you've got to have some out there," Gaston said, "some that have been in the war, been in the battle for when you go up against teams like Minnesota or teams like the Yankees, Tampa, Boston. Late in the ballgame, those guys have got to be able to come in and do that job.

"Not to say those kids are not going to be able to do it, but there's going to be a lot of pressure on them. Maybe gradually they can move into that role, but for next year you're going to have to have some veterans out there, I believe."

Gradually? Gradually move in? What has Janssen been doing when healthy the past 4 years? what has Purcey been doing? what has Carlson been doing? They have been, under Cito, the back of the pen guys instead of frontline. ok, cool, gradually they have been readied and now it's time for them to inherit the frontline jobs - if not, just say "these guys suck" and we'll argue about that.

Meanwhile, Zep or Mills or Roenicke slide into those less crucial roles that Purcey and janssen were in and , ya know, EASE INTO IT. But you know what stands in the way of that?


How the HELL do you "ease" "young" pitchers into increasingly high leverage roles if you KEEP blocking them with the Tanyon Sturtze's and Kerry Lightenberg's of the world (someone remind me how THAT worked out for us again? no, wait, don't)

In any case, dear sweet beloved Cito - next year is not the go-for-it year! Get with the damned plan. if you ever want Purcey or Roenicke or whoever to be the guy who can handle a late inning game against Boston in 2012 or 2013 or 2014 when you ARE trying to go for it, by your own reasoning those guys need to be out there learning how to do that in 2011.

Geez-almighty-Lousie that man turns my crank.

(Note for clarity, I'm NOT saying it's necessarily a bad idea to find a nice bargain vet guy to add to the mix. Having more depth is fine. But in my opinion, if we add someone, other than a closer, it ought to be a guy who will have to come in here and TAKE the set-up job from the in-house guy, not a guy who's the presumptive favorite because he's past 30)

Friday, 1 October 2010

Going Out and Coming In

I actually had a brief Requiem for Cito written out last night, but lost it and was too pissed to recreate it so, here we go again.

For all my past and ongoing criticism of Cito, all that is days away from being nothing but post-mortem. Yes, I'm bugged that even today he's saying that he somehow owes it to Marcum and Romero to play Buck (but apparently, he owed it to Hill to give him Mike McCoy tonight) but why bother, ya know?

So this week was the week for the feel-good emotionalism about how special he is and what he meant to the franchise and ya know what? I'm good with that. You cannot listen to so very many former players (albeit, not all) line up and tell you how massively classy the man is and not believe it. Other associates in the game, friends, coaches, etc, confirm that description. I have to say that if you ask me to choose between a guy who makes all the right strategical moves and is an ass everyone hates, or a guy who is beloved and called "pure class" who occasionally provokes a "WTF?" moment - I gotta go with the latter. Easily.

No manager is perfect, none ever will be. The best of them have bad seasons and all of them fail in the eyes of armchair managers. And no matter how strong those late-80's and early 90's teams were, not just anyone could have managed those teams to a championship (not saying Cito is the only one but there's still skill involved). Whatever else he got wrong (ask me sometime about Olerud's exit), he has credit coming and I think it's a goodness that he went out through the front door this time, instead of having his '97 exit being his send off.

Just don't go yakking about the hall of fame, m'kay?

Now, on the business of finding the next manager, Alex is, of course, always the Artful Dodger in terms of giving up any info. He was little different in the interview with Bob McCowan today. however, if you dilligently parse it, you might glean that the vauge rumors that he has his list down to 8 or 9 are probably more true than false, with the caveat that someone who gets fired might be a late entrant.

Sifting through the sparse rumors, one can perhaps piece together who might be on that list. I'm gonna give you a dozen guesses here.

Nick Leyva and Brian Butterfield, Don Baylor, Tim Wallach, Ryne Sandberg, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Don Wakamatsu, Rob Thompson, Randy Ready, Dave Martinez, Juan Samuel.

I'd be willing to wager, even with AA's legendary stealth, that most if not all of his 8 or 9 guys are among those dozen. I've been saying since last year that I considered Butterfield to be the front runner, just because it made so very much sense to hire a guy who was intimately familiar with the players here. But lately I have a growing hunch, occasionally fuled by a rumor such as the one reported today by Bob Nightengale (albeit, I do not consider him an oracle of truth in rumor mongering) but mostly just in terms of listening to AA describe what he wants and sussing out who seems to fit that model.

At this point, if I had to make a prediction, I'd have to guess Wallach - and I'd hope fervently that he was open to and presuaded to keep Butter and Walton, at least, on his staff. (and I'd spend enough on Butter to keep him out of Showalter's grasp)