Thursday, 13 October 2011
2011 in Review: The Las Vegas 51's
Going to wrap this one up so that I can get on to the positional top prospect lists. Yes, there will be some awkward repetition between the two but whatchagonnado? i'll try to make those a little more projection heavy I guess.
On this team, I have to include a couple of guys who spent significant time in the majors because they also spent significant time with Las Vegas. it's difficult for me to say anything innovative about a guy you saw play a lot of games in Toronto but it seems fair to do it this way.
Let's dig in!
1. Brett Lawrie, 21, 3B, 6'0", 215
It's not an overstatement to say that there has been no more highly anticipated hitting prospect in the Jays farm system than Lawrie since at least the days when Carlos Delgado was in the minors. In fact, given the relative difference in where the team was in those days (early '90s) and the relative difference in how connected we all are now with what's happening on the farm, thanks to the internet, I'll go ahead and say he's MORE anticipated than Delgado or anyone else.
The fun thing is - he's quite probably worthy of every last bit of that hype. It's really kind of silly, after what he did in Toronto, to spend too much time gawking at the PCL stats but one thing you have to note is the relative balance in his splits. there was no weakness vs Left or Right handers, nothing different road and away to speak of, and so forth. His OPS would have led the league, had he posted qualifying at-bat totals, and BA called him the best prospect to play in the PCL this year.
2. Eric Thames, 24, LF, 6'1", 205
Not nearly as hyped As Lawrie, somewhat due to their relative ages but even beyond that, Thames posted almost exactly the same BA in Vegas as Lawrie, a higher OBP and a lower, but still very good, SLG. Had he qualified, his OPS would have been 5th in the PCL (if you count Lawrie). Thames has two areas that need work: his outfield defense which is improving but still not great, and his ability to hit LHP (he managed just a .637 OPS against lefties for the Blue Jays). I'm torn on Thames, because I love the guy. his enthusiasm and joy are almost as infectious as Lawrie's "wide open" personality, and i was hyping this guy from the day he was drafted as one to watch. But at the same time, I think ultimately Travis Snider is going to be the stud in LF for the Jays and I'm not sure how you accommodate both of them. At some point, one of these guys will either get hurt badly, fall apart completely, or get traded.
3. David Cooper, 24, 1B, 6'0" 200
Cooper is not, in the opinion of almost everyone including myself, the third best prospect on this list - but in credit to the results he got and the playing time he amassed, he's got to rank this high on a team-review list. Cooper led the PCL in hitting and OBP and doubles (and as we saw with Thames, the Vegas park tends to inflate doubles and slightly suppress homers (relative to the league). Yet he was not counted at all on BA's list of the 20 best prospects in the league. Cooper has earned a reputation as a guy with a pretty much league average ceiling as a hitter, and he's not a particularly good fielder (some would call him "bad"). He's going to have to fight that perception his whole career unless he does something to put himself on the next level. I anticipate a Dan Johnson like career.
4. Adam Loewen, 27, RF/1B, 6'6", 235
Sticking with the focus on what a player did for the 51's, you have to recognize Loewen. He was second only to Cooper in doubles over the whole league, his splits were good, and if you take away his slow start in April, his slash lines go to .317/.407/.532/.939 which would have been 10th in the league. YES he's much older than anyone else, but as has been repeatedly pointed out, he's a special case. He has less than 40 more minor league at-bats than 21 year old Lawrie. I don't know exactly how the Jays roster-construction will break down next year, but depending on potential departures, they could do a lot worse than having a bench got who can play an above average Rf and 1B and a competent CF on the bench.
5. Adeiny Hechavarria, 22, SS, 5'11", 180
Going against my normal policy here, as Hech accumulated over 4 times as many games played in AA as with Vegas. But his accomplishments in Vegas were certainly thrilling enough to justify this choice. in terms of actual prospect ceiling, only Lawrie on this list is clearly better and Hech looked like that kind of guy during his 25 game stay in the PCL. So good was he, in fact, that if you pro-rate his counting stats to the total that at-bats David Cooper had, he'd have over 30 more hits. Though, despite the misleading slugging percentage he was much more a singles guy. It's easy and simple to discount the huge difference in offense between AA (where his OPS was a meager .622) and his explosion in AA as due to the well known kindness of the PCL to hitters.
The problem with that was that Hech turned his offensive game around over two weeks BEFORE his promotion to Las Vegas. Beginning on July 27, when he went 7/11 in a double header day, Hech put up theses slash lines before his promotion: .375/.417/.518/.935 - which was remarkably unlike anything that had come before that date. One the one hand, you do have to be REALLY aware of the SSS caveat (just under 40 games in all) but on the other hand, for a guy struggling to stay over .600 to suddenly burst out with something so remarkably unlike his previous work tends to make you suspect that there was some underlying change in his approach, as opposed to a simple run of excellent luck. perhaps no hitter in the system will be more closely watched in 2012 as Jays-fans seek to get a read on what we really have here.
And on the mound...
1. Brad Mills, LHP, 26
Alas, poor Brad, ye doth outpitch every other starter in the PCL, then getteth thy hat handed to thee in the majors, whither shall ye advance? Not for the Blue Jays, in my estimation. Mills is probably, ultimately, a guy with a Dana Eveland ceiling. The only way he has a chance to beat the odds as a major leaguer is to get himself hence to a very pitcher friendly park like San Diego. And then he'll still be fringy. But hey, he did everything the 51's could have asked for and you have to tip your hat to that.
2. Kyle Drabek, RHP, 23
Technically a graduate of the farm system, having lost his rookie eligibility in the majors, Drabek's position on the depth chart put him in the position of being a minor leaguer next April unless he re-boosts his status in the spring. Drabek is a complete enigma in that the jays insisted he was making progress in Vegas despite the ugly numbers, while fans just couldn't see it - not in Vegas and not convincingly in September in Toronto (one hopeful appearance followed by a disastrous one). There's no way to predict if he's one of those rare guys who just completely lost it (as Rick Ankiel did) or if he will recover the form that made him one of the top SP prospects in baseball just one year ago.
3. Luis Perez, LHP, 26
Here's an interesting situation. A year ago, I mused at times that he was the sort of guy you could slide off the 40 man roster when you needed a spot. not that he was bad in my eyes or anything, but he was also not exactly setting off my "watch this guy!" alarms either. I had him at #77 on my master list over the winter and I was particularly concerned about the BB:K ratios in AA in 2010. But, as is usually the case, the professional evaluaters see things that don't come across on stat sheets. He made some stride in Vegas this year, particularly in improving his K rate back to previous levels, but the walk totals were still troubling.
When the Blue Jays recalled him and tossed him into the bullpen, my expectations were low. Again, I was wrong. On August 27, despite a couple of ugly run ins with the Red Sox, he had a 3.29 ERA over 31 appearances and 52.2 innings pitched. His K rate was high, his walk rate was manageable, and he'd earned the confidence of his manager. So much so that he'd been handed a spot in the rotation and had responded with 6 one-hit innings at Oakland on August 21.
But September opened with three consecutive very ugly appearances which skewed his final totals. Sixteen runs in 7.2 IP will do that to you. But make no mistake, even though his final ERA was up over 5, it in no way represents the vast majority of his work in the majors. If you are thinking I didn't say much about what he did in AAA, it's because if a pitcher can manage to be just average in the PCL you take that as a win. There's really nothing that jumps out at you about his record there that I've not mentioned.
Also, take passing note of... Danny Farquhar (24) who's a side-arming reliever that has some chance of being a useful major leaguer, and Ron Uviedo (24) who never makes anyone's prospect lists but who had solid ratios in a tough league.