So, 1/5 of the minor league season is now in the books, time for ye olde farm report and prospect review! (In anticipation of which I'm sure you have been dying)
In terms of format, what I'm not going to do is run down the BABIP or FIP stats or any of that jazz. IMO it's too small a sample, still, to draw much of an inference from that sort of thing (and I'm too lazy). Here are the top 10 performers overall for the 2011 season in the Blue Jays system. Hitters and pitchers listed separately.
1. Jake Marisnick - the most accomplished hitter in the minor league system so far is obviously Marisnick. While playing an excellent CF for lansing, he's leading the league in RBI and amon the league leaders in slash-line stats, total bases and stolen bases.
2. Brett Lawrie - It's always difficult to know just how much to temper your view of PCL stats, and it is true that Lawrie has a less than impressive K:BB ratio, still lawrie has yet to be caught stealing, he's hitting for good average and power, and other than the recently promoted Eric Hosmer and league-leading Anthony Rizzo, everyone who's hitting better than him is at least 2 years older than he is (of the 22 with better OPS numbers, 15 are 4 year or more older). Defensively, Lawrie made 6 errors, most of them having to do with poor throwing mechanics, by April 19, but only 1 since. The team thinks he can definitely handle the position.
3. Eric Thames - He's shown slightly less power than Lawrie, but has walked three times as often (a team-leading 15 times) which might ultimately be a better sign. On the other hand, he's struck out 22 times in 28 games (second only to Lawrie on the team) and he's over 3 years older than the 3B.
4. A.J. Jimenez - Of all the Jays highly-touted catching prospects, the offensive standout so far has been (somewhat surprisingly) Jimenez. Playing in Dunedin, in the Florida State League wherein breaking an .800 OPS is impressive, Jimenez has an .889 mark. He's shown solid power, a good OPS (albeit it's batting average driven) and still too many strikeouts.
5. Mike McDade - On the eve of his 22nd birthday, Big Mike continues to defy the expectations. Expected to be a slugger who's contact might not be that great, he's riding a hot streak (.405 in his last 10 games) which has pushed his average to .347 and his power has been mostly doubles to this point (though you shouldn't worry about the homers, they will be fine). Like Jimenez and Lawrie, his K:BB ratio is cause for caution however.
6. David Cooper - The (reportedly) low-ceiling 1B picked up this year where he left off in 2010. He's leading the PCL in doubles (despite having spent over a week in the majors) and has fewer strikeouts than anyone within sight of the offensive leader board (he has 7 walks against 6 strikeouts). The "poor man's Overbay" comparisons still apply, but you have to recognize the accomplishments of a man with a 1.055 OPS too.
7. Michael Crouse - much less heralded than his Lansing teammate, the man who patrols to the left of Marisnick is on his heels at the plate in most categories. The biggest difference in the two is BA (where Jake leads .330 to .235). Crouse is also said to be a skilled defender and he's been successful in 14 of 15 steal attempts. While a .235 BA isn't usually praiseworthy, Crouse has turned that into an .848 OPS so clearly he's doing some things right.
8. Justin Jackson - the one time slick Shortstop has, because of various factors, found himself playing all over the field this year, primarily in the outfield and at 2B. Offensively he's hit the stride he'd only shown glimpses of in the past. He strikeout rate is way down, his contact rate is dramatically better, and his slugging is up some though that's mainly driven by the increased contact. On the other hand, he's not running as much so far as he has in the past. Jackson's margin for error is slim though, he doesn't have the power for an outfield corner and there are several other CF options, so he has to take possession of 2B at some point or his ceiling will be in a utility role. Think maybe an Alex Cintron type of player.
9. Moises Sierra - shaking off the rust after having been limited to 20 games last season, Sierra is back to his previous levels, but he still needs to add some standout offensive results to go with his defensive accolades. He's thought to be a tools guy who will "figure it out" at some point, but injuries have slowed that progression.
10. Marcus Kenect - the third member of Lansing's top-notch outfield, Kenect has missed a few games due to injury, and hes 3 for 25 since coming off the DL so one has to wonder if there is a connection.
HM: Shout out to SS Jon Diaz. He's been called "John McDonald 2.0" which means he is a great fielder who can't hit at all. but through the wonders of the PCL he's somehow managed a .841 OPS so far, with more walks that K's. Have to tip my metaphorical cap to that just because it's so unusual for him.
1. Nestor Molina - The 22 year old Venezuelan RH is in his first year as a starter, having spent the previous three years working out of the bullpen. Molina serves as the perfect illustration of the way in which minor league starters can be prospects while relievers with similar results are viewed with skepticism. At this point Molina has a sterling 1.69 ERA while recording 26 K and only 3 BB in 26.2 innings of work.
2. Brad Mills - whatever anyone might think of Mills' ceiling as a major league pitcher, he certainly has figured out AAA so far. His ERA in six starts is 2.03 and that includes geting spanked hard in one of those. without that bad start his ERA would be 1.03 - and his supporting numbers are excellent as well.
3. Drew Hutchison - His numbers are skewed a bit by the impressive opening day start (7 IP, 1 BB 11 K no runs) but the 20 year old Lansing pitcher is definitely climbing the prospect chart.
4. Chad Jenkins - underestimated, perhaps, in the wake of sharing a rotation with more highly praised Deck McGuire to start the year, Jenkins has been just fine to start the year in Dunedin. His strikeout numbers could be better for a first rounder, but otherwise he's looked really good.
5. Deck McGuire - the difference between these two first ronders is one thing - Jenkins has allowed one homer and McGuire has allowed 4 big flies. Otherwise they are neck and neck.
6. Egan Smith - Hutch's LH Lansing rotation mate has allowed a bit too many hits, and struck out a bit too few to be compared to the more highly regarded Hutchison, but the results have been worthy of praise so far.
7. Zach Stewart - With Drabek in the majors, Stewart is the incumbent top-ranked pitching prospect. He might be gaining a reputation as a slow starter because he had issues last April and this year, while he's been much better than he was a year ago, he's not dominating as one might expect given he's repeating AA (through no fault of his own). He's dominated in 3 of his 6 starts, and escaped another without much damage despite being too hittable. but in his first start and his last, he struggled to resemble his prospect status. i epxct him to heat up with the weather.
8. Asher Wojciechowski - Was pounded in one start, but aces in the other four. Like McGuire, it's his first pro work and it's at Hi-A so some growing pains are to be expected.
9. Rieder Gonzalez - The strikeouts are low (18 in 32 IP) but the walks are even lower (2!!!) and Gonzalez, who sports a 1.38 ERA, is making his case to get back to AAA. Ultimately, the guy is short on talent to be a major league starter, but he might be putting himself back in consideration as a reliever in the majors (though maybe not in Toronto). He's 25 and in AA so that's worth noting, and he's 5'9" so he's never going to get a lot of respect. I consider him a fringe prospect at best.
10. Chad Beck - Beck is not, repeat not a prospect. He's the now 26 year old throw in organizational player the Jays got for David Eckstien. Unless he's learned a new pitch or some such which changed his outlook (about which I've heard nothing) this is a fluke. He's never pitched this well for this long before. Still, in the absence of other prospects lighting it up, you have to give props to a 2.42 ERA and a solidd K:BB ratio in his first 4 AA starts.
Honorable mention: It's simply too early, sample-size wise, for me to be giving props to relievers even well regarded ones, but given I ended the above list with two non-prospects I'll throw an HM to the following: Alan Farina (too many walks); Matt Wright (turns 24 today, has a 22:3 strikeout to walk ratio in Dunedin); Sean Nolin (12:1 in Lansing for the 21 yo 2010 draftee who may yet be starting); Steve Turnbull (good work but 24 in Lo-A so, yeah).
Finally, a nod of respect in the direction of Justin Verlander. Well done sir.