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:
NAME/AGE - Lev - OBP - SLG - SB
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?)