Thursday, October 27, 2011
2011 Positional Review: Outfielders
So, long past time (if you consider my usual schedule) we commence the prospect positional reviews, beginning this year with the outfielders. Same caveats as always apply: rankings can shift at any time, and closely ranked players are pure judgement calls. If player A is #7 and B is #17, that's noteworthy...but if Player B is #8, don't get too worked up about that.
(age is playing age in 2012)
1. Anthony Gose (21) - The speed demon who has become for all intents and purposes the third player in the Halladay deal has by most accounts become even more impressive as a prospect than he was a year ago. His batting average for the AA season was less than you'd like to see, even if it is a mediocre stat. But he balanced that with a solid walk rate which resulted in a respectable .349 OBP. It's easy to imagine adding, say, 30 points to that without much difficulty which puts him in the neighborhood you want your lead-off hitter to be. In addition, 70 steals in 85 attempts was a result bettered by only one other player in the minors. He had plenty of homers for a top-of-the-order guy, but a flukishly low number of doubles for a player with his speed. That would imply that the slugging might creep up a bit too, but the counter-argument is that the homer total might not be repeatable. He was ranked the third best prospect in the Eastern league behind mega-prospect Bryce Harper and team-mate Travis d'Arnaud.
Gose was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after the season and he's been among the better hitters in that league, producing a stat line that's much better than his solid AA numbers. But that's mostly power driven and in a league that favors hitting so it likely doesn't refelcet a realistic expectation for anyywhere other than Vegas. Many Jays fans are advocates of the idea of fast-tracking Gose to the majors, but I'm not. Given the crowding in the Blue Jays outfield (mainly in the need to sort out the Snider/Thames competition) it would be a bit of a squandering of assets to throw Gose into that too soon. While I expect him to be assigned to AA Las Vegas, if I were making the decisions (I say looking in from the outside) I'd send him back to New Hampshire for the first couple of months of the season with instructions to work on making better contact. When that progress satisfied me, I'd put him on a targeted schedule of June-ish for a promotion to Vegas, and that with an idea of having him spend a year and a half in AAA. With Rasmus in CF in Toronto, there's no need at all to push Gose as fast as possible.
1. (tie) Jake Marisnick (21) - I simply can't find a solid argument to pick one of these guys over the other. Marisnick is almost nine months younger than Gose, and played two levels lower. his stat line is considerably better in most respects, as one would assume given the difference in levels - each doing about what the other might be expected to do if they swapped places. The only reason they are in the relative positions they are is due to the time of year of his birthday, he's in his third year in the minors, while Jake is in his second - and also in that the Phillies were a bit more aggressive promoting him. If you compare their age 19 season, the stat lines are eerily similar.
In terms of his on field results in 2011, it's really hard to find anything you might have liked to have seen and didn't. His OBP was just shy of .400, his power just short of .500, he got better as the season went on (he had a .983 OPS in August), he had a solid platoon split, and like Gose he displayed excellent speed, basestealing efficiency, and sterling defense. Marisnick was rated the #3 prospect in the league by Baseball America, but in the chat on the list it was said that you could make a case for him for #1. He's certain to lead the Dunedin squad in 2012 and, as much as I'd love to see him come fast, the same logic applies to him as to Gose. Take it slow, don't force a competition before you have to, and look for Jake to arrive in 2015. At which point, if Gose works out as expected, Marisnick will be the cause for a discussion about where Jose Bautista moves in order to open up RF. I can imagine that Bautista might well be the regular DH assuming things go well for the kids.
3. Marcus Knecht (21) - Knecht is seven weeks older than Gose, and he's not the physical specimen either of the two men in front of him is. Nor the man next behind him for that matter. He just simply hits the ball. He has solid power, good plate discipline, and while he's been pushed to left he's there more because of the skill of his teammates than any lack of defensive ability on his part. As long as he keeps hitting at this pace he'll keep playing alongside Marisnick through the system.
4. Michael Crouse (21) - The third member of Lansing league-best outfield, Crouse is the guy who came to the game most raw. A Canadian kid like Knecht, he's also the most imposing physical specimen in this group (in the photo above, he's second from the right, Knecht is the shorter one on the right. Marisnick is second from the left). While the three men above him were early round draftees, Crouse didn't go until the 16th round and right now that's looking like a steal for the Blue Jays. A close look at Crouse's year shows him on par with, if not better than, Marisnick in pretty much every regard except contact. Marisnick only struck out 91 times, Crouse's rate projected to the same # of at bats (he missed much of August) work out to over 130. Conversely, Marisnick had almost 40 more singles than Crouse would have had. Crouse played RF and I've seen nothing negative discussed regarding his defense. Expect that he, like Knecht, will keep that "Three Amigos" outfield together until and unless one of them falters.
5. Chris Hawkins (20) - Hawkins was a third round pick in the 2010 draft and he signed early enough to get significant playing time that year. the results were not bad, but perfectly competent for a high school prospect. Drafted as a 3B, he settled into LF this year for the Bluefield squad and improved his work across the board, increasing his OPS by almost 200 points. Reports have been uniformly positive and jays fans would be justified in assuming he's worthy of being included in discussions of "the future."
6. Moises Sierra (23) - Sierra has been quietly polishing his skill set, having his best year in 2011 after losing most of 2010 to injury. Like Gose, he dramatically increased his HR power while showing unusually few doubles (a pattern?). Unlike Gose, while showing good speed he was a highly unpolished baserunner. Hew is, of course, possessed of a RF arm of which stories are told in song and verse. Sierra has a ways to go yet, before he projects to be anything other than an ordinary major league player (which, given the talent the jays posses doesn't bode well unless he's traded) but the tools are there.
7. Adam Loewen (28) - By now you surely know the story, it's not like I myself haven't told it 20 times, but I'll say it again: yes he's going to be 28 next year, but he still has less than 1350 professional at bats (by contrast, Gose has 1774) so we still haven't likely firmly grasped Loewen's ceiling. He's a quite good RF and 1B, a competent CF and inexperienced but surely capable in LF. if the Jays find a way to get Mark Teahen off the 2012 roster, there's a solid opportunity for Loewen to stick with the club given the value of that kind of diversity. What kind of hitter he ultimately ends up being is anyone's guess, but other than Rick Ankiel, there hasn't really been a story like this before so there's no precedent. I, for one, think there's still a decent chance he ends up too good a hitter to be a reserve, and the jays will be quite fortunate to have him there for depth (kinda like the Phillies enjoy the blessing of Ben Francisco coming off their bench) for the next few years. Assuming they don't let him slip away on waivers.
Worth noting: there are a few new Blue Jays, added via the 2011 draft and international free agent signings which can't fairly be ranked but you need to know about:
Jake Anderson - long lanky RF was a beast in a very small GCL sample
Dwight Smith Jr - didn't get on the field in 2011, expected to be a CF at least initially
Wilmer Baccara - 16 year old Latin SS signed in this summer, projected to be a CF in pro ball.
Jesus Gonzalez - another 16 year old highly regarded Latin american free agent signing.
Other outfielders in the minors who might pop up on the radar for whatever reason: Darin Mastroianni, Brad Glenn, Kevin Pillar, Kenen Bailli, Dalton Pompey, Eric Acre
Next Up: Infielders