Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sifting for Gold

I had anticipated that as Spring Training got rolling there would be more to comment on from the Jays but it seems that every micro-story (Snider adjusts swing, Ruiz loses weight, et al) is easily and thoroughly parsed by a multitude of other blogs and unless I find myself in abject disagreement on some point, I'm loath to re-address a story thoroughly examined by others.

Still, every couple of weeks one has to say SOME thing. Of all the news of note I've seen lately, the thing that most catches my imagination is the Jays reported interest (according to Jordan Bastian) in Adeiny Hechevarria.

The flashy fielding Cuban SS, who turns 22 in about a month, has been described thusly:

an 'offensive-minded' shortstop in the Cal Ripken mode: a high-average hitter with above-average power. At the plate, his spray chart looks a little more like Ichiro Suzuki: he has a knack for finding infield holes and hitting behind runners. He'll command a high signing bonus and start in the minor leagues, with 2012 or 2013 looking like a possible MLB arrival date.

That's an impressive description. As much as I'm still a reasonably enthusiastic fan of Justin Jackson, I think the Jays HAVE to be top bidder here. AA has been quoted as saying they've tried offering huge packages for other teams young star shortstops, and they obviously had a lot of cash on hand to offer to Chapman. Even though there are other teams interested, I'm thinking we go all-in on a guy like this. He'd instantly become one of the top 3 or 4 prospects in the organization and probably slot in at New Hampshire with an eye on reaching the bigs by 2012. Of course, prospects often don't live up to their hype - particularly Cuban prospects. But such is the dirth of available high upside young SS talent, I think this is a place where you roll the dice and put your best effort into winning this bid.

Other random one-liner(ish) thoughts -

  • Bautista is the lead-off hitter is gonna make a LOT of outs v. RHPs this year. My greatest reservation about this team is that Joey Gathright was the best they could do to attempt to remedy that;
  • I'm very optimistic, perhaps too much so, about the starting rotation;
  • It's really hard to not get wrapped up in the possibility McGowan is all the way back. Someone (can't remember who) reminds us Janssen looked really good at this point last year as well;
  • I would worry more about Clarance planning on leaving Hil hitting second if there was a reasonable alternative in that spot. As good as Overbay's OBP is (vs RHP) he's really a as problematic in that role as Hill;
  • A few reports are out suggesting that JP Arencibia had LASIK eye surgery last fall. I'm all a-twitter to see if he steps up offensively this year as a result;
  • I'm already looking forward to July with anticipation that the Jays will shuffle off as many spare older players as possible to get guys like Wallace and JPA into the lineup;
  • I'm calmly enthused about Snider's touched up swing. If he steps up and Wells and Encarnacion rebound, the offense will be pretty impressive 2-7;
Hopefully there will be an unusual story coming along in the next fey days or weeks that will provoke something other than a chorus of "me too" remarks out of the blogosphere.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Revised Top Prospect Rankings

Maybe it's safe to do this now, with less than 10 days remaining before pitchers and catchers report. I'm not going to make a big production out of this wilth all the bells and whistles, I'm just going to run down the list. The changes reflect both the trades that have been made since the original list, and new information which would affect my opinion.

I'm going to rank a whopping 50 guys. As usual I disclaim this by saying no team actually has 50 "prospects," rather these are more precisely a few prospects and a lot of guys who could become prospects. but I'm trying to mention everyone in the system (with the possible exception of the DSL which is hard to evaluate for a lot of reasons) that you might be excited about sometime in the future, or at least might be considered a possibility to actually pull on a big league uniform at some point, however briefly.
It's worth noting that there are several players who are not "established" in the majors but who have too many appearances there to be ranked as prospects. These players would certainly strengthen the following list if they were still eligible. Among them most noteably, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and of course Travis Snider.

On top of that, I'll mention a few more guys at the end who could arguably have been on the list.
(Age as of April 1, 2010)

1. Kyle Drabek / RHSP / 22 - Some recent lists put Wallace first, but in my opinion, the big question mark on Drabek was said to be some maturity/attitude issues and the latest reports say that's no longer an issue. Ever the optimist, I'm sticking with the thesis that he has a chance to be a good #1 pitcher.
2. Brett Wallace / 1B / 23 - I would be more sympathetic to the idea of ranking him first if there was a real shot he'd stick at third base, but the Jays management has been very clear that's not the plan. Still, I like Wallace as the sort of hitter Nick Johnson was at his peak.
3. Henderson Alverez / RHSP / 19 - The kid turns 20 in mid-April, and he's impressed a lot of people. I like his growth curve, I like his performance at such a young age, I love his control, and Dunedin (and the FSL in general, where he'll play this year) is traditionally kind to pitchers. I think I'm the only one who has him this high, but he's for real, in my opinon.
4. Zach Stewart / RHSP / 23 - For all the talk that he'd be a stud reliever, the Jays seem (rightfully) committed to seeing things through in building up his endurance to start. there's a lot to like about Stewart and a lot of folks had him #1 before the Halladay deal. He'll pitch at AAA this year but temper expectations about him making a big impact in Toronto this year because his innings will be capped at 140 or so this year in all likelihood.
5. JP Arencibia / C / 24 - All prospect watchers know JPA had a rough year last year, but I may be the only one who keeps pointing out he was rushed to AAA and should have started (at least) 2009 in AA. In addition, Tony LaCava implied in a recent interview that Arencibia's (since resolved) kidney issues might have contributed and also revealed that JP has had Lasik eye surgery in the off-season which often works wonders (See Denard Span for a recent example).
6. Travis d'Arnaud / C / 21 - A couple of steps further back than Arencibia, he's said to be a more complete player. One wouldn't be doing a strange thing to flip the two in the rankings. I have a hunch he'll see a bit more development in power and might be one of the more productive catchers in the game at some point. I wonder if, should both these guys turn out well, the Jays might not think about shifting one of them to 3B in a few years.
7. Chad Jenkins / RHSP / 22 - Hasn't thrown a professional pitch yet, but one always hopes their #1 pick is a top 10 prospect. Jenkins has a lot of good reviews, most projecting him as a workhorse type #2 or #3 guy. Possibly he could start out in Dunedin this year.
8. Jake Marisnick / CF / 19 - The proverbial "five tool" guy, Marisnick was considered something of a steal in the 4th round this last year. Like Jenkins, he hasn't done a thing in pro-ball yet, but there seems to be a very good "vibe" around him. LaCava says the Jays will be more cautious with moving high school prospects than they have been so you are probably looking at a four year wait, more or less, to see Marisnick play for the Jays. Unless he forces the issue as Snider did.
9. Mosies Sierra / RF / 21 - Still waiting on the power to develop, but in a lot of ways this guy looks like he could be another Alex Rios, though hopefully without the more frustrating qualities.
10. Justin Jackson / SS / 21 - a lot of people have all but given up on the 2007 high school crop, but Jays management feels the group was rushed. I agree. Sierra is the same age and he took a big step forward by repeating Lo-A ball instead of being pushed to Dunedin with Jackson and his classmates. On top of that, Jackson has had left shoulder issues going back to 2008 which were hopefully resolved by surgery last season. It's because of the injury that I give Jackson a mulligan while dropping the others, but it would be a mistake to give up on any of the three.

11. Carlos Perez / C / 19 - Jays can afford to take it slow with impressive kid.
12. Brad Mills / LHSP / 25 - lost in the numbers game, but don't count him out.
13. Josh Roenicke / RHRP / 27 - late convert to pitching, don't let age fool you.
14. Gustovo Pierre / SS / 18 - very raw, massive potential, may grow out of SS.
15. David Cooper / 1B / 23 - Even if he gets it together, Wallace clouds his future.
16. Eric Thames / LF/ 23 - all he does is hit and get hurt.
17. Brian Dopirak / 1B / 26 - Like Cooper, Wallace creates a problem for him.
18. Robert Bell / RHSP / 24 - I rank him higher than anyone but I think he deserves it.
19. Brad Emaus / 2B / 24 - ranking down some from last year but not down on him.
20. Scott Campbell / 2B / 25 - lost a year to injuries and bad ideas, still a great bat IMO.

21. Kevin Ahrens / 3B / 21 - this is the year for him to step up if he's going to.
22. Tim Collins / LHRP / 20 - I think he's really good but it's difficult to rank relievers highly.
23. Danny Farquhar / RHRP / 23 - interesting skill set, solid results.
24. Tyler Pastornicky / SS / 20 - a lot to like but I don't see the ceiling some do yet.
25. Darin Mastorianni / CF / 24 - Podsednick skill set, Johnson's "scrappiness"?
26. Adam Loewen / LF / 26 - flashes of promise last year, needs to start putting it together.
27. John Tolisano / 2B / 21 - Defense said to be improving, needs to take a step.
28. Bobby Ray / RHSP / 26 - probably crowded out of rotation, could be solid reliever.
29. Andrew Liebel / RHSP / 24 - Hasn't impressed me much yet.
30. Luis Perez / LHSP / 25 - Depth chart not on his side, bullpen or trade in his future.

31. KC Hobson / 1B / 19 - could be a big mover on next year's list.
32. Jose Vargas / LHSP / 19 - Rocked the DSL in 2009, need to see what he can do in the States.
33. Sean Ochinko / C / 22 - will stick with him behind the plate for now, maybe 3B in the future.
34. Brian Jeroloman / C / 25 - definate step back in 2009, needs to regroup.
35. Ryan Goins / SS / 22 - High floor, low ceiling guy.
36. Yan Gomes / C / 22 - could really climb by this time next year.
37. Ryan Schimpf / 2B / 22 - looks like a fringy guy to me.
38. Kenny Rodriguez / RHSP / 25 - yet to step up, depth works against him.
39. Robert Sobolewski / 3B / 23 - real ordinary year from a guy thought to be a steal.
40. Trystan Magnuson / RHRP/ 24 - might top out as a AAAA type shuttle rider.

41. Mike McDade / 1B / 21 - intriguing bat, worrisome waistline.
42. Antonio Jimminez / C / 19 - Six catchers in front of him, needs to show something.
43. Kyle Ginley / RHSP / 23 - can he stay healthy?
44. Egan Smith / LHSP / 21 - impresive debut, needs to be challenged at Lansing maybe.
45. Chuck Huggins / LHSP / 23 - one of those guys who might not look so good at higher levels.
46. Daniel Webb / RHSP / 19 - possible sleeper, no pro appearances yet.
47. Balbino Fuenmayor / 3B / 20 - needs to start finding a bit of plate discipline.
48. Joel Cerrano / RHP / 23 - depth makes him a potential reliever, marginal guy though.
49. Devy Estrada / RHP / 17 - DSL is hard to read but his stats were impressive.
50. Reider Gonzalez / RHP / 24 - pretty decent numbers but I don't get the impression he'll make it.

Other names you might see on next years list: Wellinton Ramirez, Kenny Wilson, Marcus Brisker, Eric Eiland, Brad McElroy, Lance Durham.

Also, let me mention Kyle Phillips. He's not strictly a prospect, but he might step up and surprise this year. the thing is, if he does that well he won't be eligible for next years list. but to be clear, I don't think he's going to be an impact guy - just that he might be better than we think.

So, there ya go - all the names you need to know for the Jays system this year. Forgive any typos, this took 2 hours to write and I'm not proofing it any more.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In a Fantasy World

I am prone, during the dog days of winter, to let my imagination run towards what I would do if I was making the decisions about the upcoming season (you might have noticed this tendency, or even have it yourself). I'm calling this a fantasy world based on the fact that in some cases i don't know what it would take to make the fantasy come true.

Well, not entirely a fantasy world - in a fantasy world Hanley Ramirez would be our shortstop on opening day but the point is, within the context of what we have in hand and what might reasonably be done with it without going totally around the bend from reality

So, I'm going to take a pass on the pitching because there are just TOO many moving parts there. I'm not in a position to say whether McGowan comes back healthy, whether Morrow continues to improve his control, whether Zep looks better than Cecil in Spring or vice versa...almost any scenario there would be of interest to me. but on the hitting side, there's still a lot of players who don't enthuse me, so I can project a lot of potential moves.

Here's my ideal starting lineup and how I get there:

1. Damon - LF: last best hope for a competent lead-off hitter
2. Hill - 2B: needs to be hitting sixth, but no one else really fits here
3. Lind - 1B: Comfortable and no reason to move him down.
4. Delgado - DH: one sure way to keep Wells out of the spot
5. Wells - CF: maybe a bit less pressure? usually hits better when lower than #4
6. Snider - RF: run him out there and trust him
7. Encarnacion - 3B: natural place for him, hope he bounces back
8. Buck - c: no other place for him
9. Gonzalez - SS: he has to hit sometime, hiding him at nine is all you can do.

The thinking here is that while we all know Wells doesn't belong in CF, the jays are not ready to give up on that yet, plus, i am not sure that we lose more runs with Wells defending in CF than we do with Bautista as the full time lead off guy - it would be hard to believe. So Damon is the one remaining solution to the #1 spot.

I've dispatched Overbay, not because I hate him as many do, but because I'd rather have Delgado and because I hate being constrained to make up for Lyle's weakness vs LHP. I admit there are few options for dealing him - perhaps the marlins can prove they are not hording money by taking him on? Probably the biggest pipe dream here is that such a deal is out there.

Lind at 1B belies Anthopoulos' assertion that Wallace will be a 1B but even if it's only for one year (id Delgado is only here for one) Lind can muddle through and Wallace can get over-ripe in AAA. Alternately, you can take a bit longer to give up on him at 3B by playing him there in Vegas. If he succeeds as a 3B, then you can deal EE in July (if he's a success this year) or non-tender him in the fall (if he's mediocre) or outright ditch him (if he's bad) when you think Wallace is ready. If, on the other hand, you are committed to Wallace at 1B, there's still no reason that deals or injuries can't open a second-half door for him if need be. It wouldn't be be the WORST thing in the world if he was in AAA all year (in fact, that's what would happen if Overbay isn't dealt).

The money you save on Overbay, if you moved the whole deal, might very well pay for Damon and Delgado. If you had to include a reliever to Florida to get them to take Overbay, then so much the more balance for the costs.

What does all this mean in the real world? Not a damn thing really. Just wanted to have it written down.