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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quick Hit 2: Electric Boogaloo

Despite everything you have heard me say about the Jays adding a domestic FA starting pitcher, i'm very much in favor of making a play for Roy Oswalt if for whatever reason we don't get Darvish. He's old enough that a short contract (no more that 3 years) will work, yet good enough to be worth the risk. Yes he had injury issues this year, but the Jays are well suited to patch over any absence he might have left in him. He brings legitimate Ace-level credibility and when healthy he's a 200 IP horse.

The flip side is that Oswalt is from Mississippi (not very far from me, actually) and it's possible he's one of those folks that will simply not consider playing in Canada. Would be pretty cool if Alex could get Doc to say some kind things about T.O. - eh?


Quick hit: Farrell and Boston

You might not know this about me, but I'm a Star Trek geek, and also a bigger fan than you might guess of (sometimes obscure) pop-culture references.

there's a scene in Star Trek III which reminds me of the current mini-stir over the idea of Farrell to Boston as their next manager.

On the surface, while I like Farrell fine, and thought he got better as the season progressed, and while I'm really impressed with his openness to self analysis (unlike a certain other manager I recall who thought he never erred if you listen to his public remarks) I do recognize that there's a limit to how many extra wins a manager gets you and would be willing to be overpaid by another team if they wanted him bad enough. I do have an issue with the idea we wouldn't ask for compensation but I'll leave that thought for another time and place.

Anyway - the big problem here is the massive condescension of the Red Sox and the media that presume that any fool who could leave Toronto for Boston would obviously do so. THAT contempt changes the equation for me.

In the movie, there's a scene in which the Klingon captain (played by the wonderful Christopher Lloyd) has the drop on Kirk and the rest of the good guys. Kirk asks the Klingon to "let the boy go" and the Klingon replies "NO!" and Kirk asks "why not? He means nothing to you" and the Klingon replies "Because you wish it!!!"

That's my message to Boston - the simple fact that you, of all teams, want him is enough for me to say "NO!" I don't need a more complicated reason than that.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the Cards

No, not even a sideways reference to the St. Louis Cardinals. Rather, a variation on the old "crystal ball" meme. Before I get into the minor league positional reviews ramping up to the top prospect lists, I want to pause for a brief post to look at the major league squad as we go forward into the winter before Alex starts screwing with the roster. Most of this is stuff you can figure out for yourself and on those points I will be brief, but I do want to be "on the record" as it were. Yes, if you don't know, I tend to be an optimist. My philosophy is if there is a REASON for caution I can document, then be cautious. But absent such a reason - how good do I think this guy is? What is reasonably possible to expect from him?

Sure, it's possible ANY player could all of a sudden suck for no apparent reason (the Jays know that better than maybe anyone) but you can't look ahead and just assume that will happen - at least i can't. i look at a guy and see what he CAN do and assume he just might.

Offense/Defense

The Blue Jays are set with:

RF - Jose Bautista. Really needs no elaboration. The most i could speculate about here is what's in store for a position shift in the out years of his contract when (if) the great minor league outfield prospects start crowding the roster. I wonder if Bautista would be content to become a DH when he's 35, 36?

CF - Colby Rasmus: Yes. Set. If you are worried about CF you simply fall in that category of fan who is constitutionally incapable of being optimistic about the Jays future. YES it was a difficult transition and a difficult year. But look at 2010 and give your head a shake.

3B - Brett Lawrie: Anything I could say here would understate how excited I am about Lawrie. I'm every bit as confident in him over the next 3-4 years as i am about Bautista, maybe more.

SS - Yunel Escobar: If/when Hech forces the situation Esco will almost certainly become the 2B, but until then Escobar is going to consistently be in the to 3-4 SS in the AL IMO  That's a good place to be, given how difficult it is to find even an average SS in the majors.

C - JP Arencibia: Yes, Travis d'Arnaud might come take his job in a year or two, or make it possible to trade JP, but for now he's the guy. He's going to hit, most likely, 25-30 homers which is rare for a catcher, and his BA will come up some (say the .240-.260 range) and the OBP will tick up to reflect that and maybe another walk or two. I'm thinking something like .310/.470/.780 or thereabouts. If that disappoints you, look around the league. there's likely always going to be 2 or 3 "name" guys who hit better, but he's going to be fine. and when you look at what's coming, the Jays are likely to be cool behind the plate for the rest of the decade.

Uncertainty but not need:

LF - Travis Snider v. Eric Thames: Technically, Adam Loewen and Raji Davis are in the mix too, but it's going to take a couple of big piles of failure from Snider and Thames for BOTH to lose the job. There's certainly enough options that there will be no need for an acquisition here. Personally, I still think Snider is a considerably more talented guy (and I love love love Thames) and it really bugs me that we can't find a way to put both in the lineup long term without one of them DHing. But I can't really guarantee Snider will find the sweet spot he never found in 2011. There's also some possibility one of them would be included in a trade of a premium opportunity presents itself.

DH - Edwin Encarnacion v. Eric Thames: Technically you can include the other LF candidates here, but both Davis and Snider are better fielders than Thames and Loewen almost certainly is. The Jays obviously seem to believe that EE still has a real breakout season in him, and he might. I'm find with watching to see  if it develops in 2012. BUT, I simply don't have the emotional investment in Eddie that I do in Snider and Thames (or even Loewen really). There's a part of me that would like to see Thames end up with this job eventually. Thames will, I think, be a better overall hitter than he was this year - something in the low .800s for an OPS I'm guessing, but he strikes me as the most obvious risk for a sophomore slump this coming season too. Or, more precisely, have an adjustment period sometime in the first half that drags down his overall line at the end of the year (not unlike the pattern of Encarnacion's offense in 2011).

Potential acquisitions:

2B - ???: Kelly Johnson is a free agent, who stands to bring back a compensation draft pick if he leaves, but he's also the clear class of the free agent class. I have NO idea if the jays liked him enough to forgo the pick in order to bring him back. if they don't, I'd expect a trade. One guy to keep your eye out for - Gordon Beckham. Alex is said to like him a lot and he fits the profile. of course, if the White Sox decide to shed some expensive guys and go younger he's not the kind of guy they will want to give up on.

1B - Adam Lind? - I'm not sure on this one. In a post-season interview, Alex spoke in pretty optimistic terms about Lind despite his horrendous second half (actually more than the second half, he was very bad from June 18 - 2 weeks after he came off the DL - through the end of the season). AA expressed confidence that Lind's back issues (i.e. core strength and conditioning issues) and that coming in better physically prepared to play 1B next year he'll return to being an elite hitter, and stay there over the course of the season. I'm inclined to take him at his word, with the caveat that obviously if something special presents itself - a guy who's clearly a better bet to be much better.
There's another factor here - the Reds have said they are not moving Joey Votto....right now. The actual best time for them to deal him is next winter (or this summer if there's a great match-up). it might be very well true that Alex is willing to let Lind take one more go rather than acquire someone else who would get underfoot when he takes a run at Votto a year from now (and i'm convinced if Votto is on the market the Jays will pull out the stops unless Lind advances into MVP territory).  i know fans who are in "go for it NOW!" mode won't like to hear that but i expect it's the plan.

Bench - Bring back John McDonald. doesn't matter if you want it, it will happen; pick up a reserve catcher, my nomination is Ramon Castro; sort out if you have room to carry both Raji Davis and Adam Loewen in the majors and, if not, how can you not lose Loewen on waivers.

Pitching

Starters
1. Rickey Romero - Nothing much needs to be said here.look at guys like Price and Lester and so forth - he's right there with them. I'm not sure he has MUCH room to step up to another level but this leve lis just fine.
2. Dustin McGowan - YES, he could fall apart at any moment and it's a blessing that the Jays have so many good guys so close that if McGowan goes down in June we have good options. But if I'm the manager and McGowan makes it through ST healthy and effective, he's my #2 and as long as he remains healthy you are going to be really impressed.
3. Brandon Morrow - The day is coming. I don't know specifically what year it will be, or even if it will be in a Jays uniform, but Morrow WILL be a Cy contender sometime in the next, say, 3-4 years.barring major injury. Bet on it.
4. Henderson Alvarez - it's true he's quite young, and there's every historical reason to steal yourself for the likelihood of regression particularly in 2012. I'm prepared for that, but at the same time, he had  EIGHT walks in 63 IP. it was as good a rookie debut as the Blue Jays have seen in...a really long time.
5. Brett Cecil - Cecil is not a bad pitcher, he'd be a perfectly reasonable option as most team's #5 if he only get marginally better. but there are other, better guys coming, and ultimately if Cecil breaks camp in the rotation he will simply be a placeholder. I think it's not unreasonable to think it's possible Cecil will end up in the Zep role by mid-season.
6. Kyle Drabek - he might have simply caught Ankiel Disease and there's nothing for it. I can't find a strong indicator either way. but it's POSSIBLE he will recapture what made him special and if he does, he's the guy who pushes Cecil to the 'pen.
7. other internal options include almost the entire AA rotation (and Alex said specifically all of them might play in the bigs at some point in 2012) of Jenkins, McGuire, Hutchison, and Molina. Beyond that, Luis Perez  showed impressive possibilities in his first start and Carlos Villianueva preformed admirably when called upon, there's still Jesse Listch and Joel Carreno also has started throughout his minor league career and would likely be at least competent. that takes you to as many as 14 pitchers deep. The market for FA starters is far too weak for the Jays to be shopping there, and with all due respect to professional opinions such as John Farrell's - the Blue Jays do not need to add a free agent starting pitcher this off season EXCEPT one possible exception:

Yu Darvish. The more i hear, the more convinced I am that if Darvish pitches in MLB in 2012, it will be as a Blue Jay. The fit between the type of player and type of acquisition he is, and the opportunity for a transformative player to be added to the Jays' current group is astonishingly obvious. I can't imagine that Alex would see this as the one moment when you open up the vault and do what you have to do. All the more so because it's worth a tidy sum to you to be sure he's NOT pitching in NY, or Boston, or Texas or LA. The only way the Blue Jays don't win this battle is if their scouts tell them that Darvish would be an ordinary guy in the majors.

If they don't get Darvish, the only way a starter is added is via trade, and that only if he can boost another high ceiling guy like Morrow. All this said - IMO a rotation of Romero/Darvish/McGowan/Morrow/Alvarez takes a back seat to no other rotation in the majors (assuming health).

Bullpen
Closer - entirely unpredictable. Alex has spoken in terms of needing a "real" closer, terms that do not seem to conform to a lot of his other ideas concerning value of particular roles. So even though a guy like Villianeuva or Janssen might actually make a perfectly respectable 9th inning guy, don't expect that to happen. On the other hand, I think we'd all be stunned if he through a pile of money at an "established" guy like Papelbon or Rodriguez. My guess, and my prediction, is that he will compromise in the middle between the 8 figure guys and the stop-gap types (like Rauch) and take a strong run at Joe Nathan. He struggled early recovering from TJ surgery that cost him all of 2010, but from June 28 through the end of the season he was his old dominating self and he would look absolutely golden as the Blue Jays 9th inning man.

Otherwise...
I won't attempt to predict roles with certainty, but in general terms. I will also assume for the sake of this discussion that Darvish or someone else does push Brett Cecil out of the rotation, if they don't, there's a good chance that Alex will bring in someone from outside the organization to shore up the set-up options.

As far as I can see, these guys are a lock to be in the 'pen in April 2012: Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villianeuva and Brett Cecil (assuming none of them are acting as a stop-gap starter). Beyond that, Luis Perez is strongly likely to be there and Joel Carreno has a better than even chance.

With a closer, that's seven guys. But the depth beyond that is not so strong. Chad Beck got a lot of praise late in the year but is largely untested, Alan Farina will miss effectively the whole season after Tommy John surgery, Dan Farquhar is just ok, and Brad Mills was horrible in the majors. There's also Jesse Carlson if he can recover from shoulder woes (far from a sure thing). s it seems likely that Alex, even if he doesn't maneuver for a sure thing guy for the late innings, will seek to add 3 or 4 competitive guys who would give depth and competition, particularly for the younger guys. It'd be nice to have Tyler Buchholz back, eh?

One other thing here - it's possible Jon Rauch might accept arbitration. I sincerely hope he does not.

So, in summation, my look into the future (a mixture of prediction and desire) goes like this:

Get Darvish
Sign Joe Nathan
Be ready if Votto goes on the market (unlikely)
Do something about 2B, damned if I know what
Tidy up the bench, and add some serviceable depth to the bullpen.

Do that, and stay healthy, and you have the makings of a contender. Remember this, the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays won 66 games. the 2008 squad won 97. The leap Toronto needs to make is only half that large, and it WILL happen. It might not happen in 2012, and it might be five games at a time over three years instead of 15 all at once - but it's coming. and 90% of what it takes to make it happen is already in the organization.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

2011 in Review: The Las Vegas 51's

[last in the series]

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.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

2011 in Review: New Hampshire FisherCats

Getting right to the chase tonight:

1. Travis d'Arnaud, 22, C, 6'2" 195
I won't be the first to observe, with this writing, that Travis d'Arnaud, while certainly a coveted player, was clearly the "third man" among the three prospects the jays ultimately obtained from the Phillies for Roy Halladay.. It's been reliably reported that the Jays have had their eye on d'Arnaud all along, penciling him in as their third draft choice (and #38 overall) in the 2007 draft before the Phillies took him at #37. In 2008, in his first full season, d'Arnaud impressed scouts while playing in the Phillies system with stats that, looking back, ought to look very familiar to Blue Jays' prospect hounds. let me show you something kinda neat. Here are two players, refereed to as A & B - one of course is obviously d'Arnaud. Both players played some or all of their age 19 season in short-season ball.

A: .305/.367/.464/.831; 239 AB, 18 doubles, 1 triple, 6 homers, 23 walks, 39 strikeouts
B: .298/.396/.438/.834; 235 AB, 11 doubles, 8 triples, 2 homers, 34 walks, 41 strikeouts

Both players then advanced to to full season low-A ball in their age 20 season:

A: .255/.319/.419/.738; 482 AB, 38 doubles, 1 triple, 13 HR, 41 walks, 75 strikeouts
B: .256/.320/.355/.675; 383 AB, 17 doubles, 6 triples, 3 homers, 37 walks, 74 strikeouts

The valley was a bit lower for the second guy, particularly in terms of power production, but still - that's kinda spooky, no? Make a note - the second guy is Carlos Perez, don't forget about him. Anyway, moving on.
Travis suffered another setback in 2010 when, after a very hot start, he had issues with his back that sidelined him for over a month, the reoccurred later and shortened his season. overall he only played in about half the team's games that year. That provoked a lot of question, including for me, about how he'd hold up over a full season behind the plate. This year he put those fears to rest and made himself into one of the 3 or 4 best catching prospects in baseball, one of the very best prospects in his league, and one of the very best in the Jays loaded system.

2. Anthony Gose, 22, CF, 6'1" 190
(played most of season at 21)
In the Baseball America report on the best prospects in the Eastern League, mega-prospect (and #1 draft pick) Bryce Harper was #1, as you might expect. Number two? d'Arnaud. Number three? You guessed it, one Anthony Gose. Perhaps the biggest challenge for me as I seek to rank the Jays prospects this fall is Gose v. Marisnick. I have to report that I don't think there is a definitive "right answer" on that question. and you all know how much I droll over Marisnick. Gose is another product of the Halladay trade, albeit via a much more circuitous route. Gose was the player the Jays negotiated for until the last minute as the second player they wanted (after the Phillies had taken Dom Brown off the table) and it was only with reluctance that they took Michael Taylor instead (and that only after having ensured they could flip him to Oakland for Brett Wallace.
When the Phillies later included Gose in the deal which would net them Roy Oswalt from the Astros, Alex Anthopoulos didn't take time to refresh his cup of coffee before picking up the phone to convince the Astros to take Wallace for Gose.. Alex has been quoted as saying that special players at up the middle positions are very hard to obtain, which is why he went hard after Gose. The young man certainly did his part in 2011 to confirm that view. Gose still needs to refine the hit tool a bit more, and his power progress is not complete (one assumes the Jays prefer him to have SOME pop in his bat) but his walk rate was excellent (particularly for a guy who struck out over 150 times) and he stole an incredible 70 bases (against only 15 CS) which was second only to Cincinnati's "Flash" Hamilton. (yes, I just made that nickname up - just go with it ok?).

Some have speculated Gose could be in a Jays uniform by late next summer, but I'll make the argument that the Jays will go slow with him because they have no less than four players they need to sort out in LF next year, two of them you guys who still have upside that needs exploring. Colby Rasmus will be a fixture in CF as well. Barring injury, I'm going to suggest that Gose might well return to NH for most of the first half of the year and get a mid-season promotion to AAA - and quite possibly begin 2013 there as well and wait for events to unfold in his favor. Another year and a half to see what comes of Rasmus and snider (and to a lesser extent Thames) will give them a much better basis for deciding how the go forward in this embarrassment of riches (made the more-so by the fact that Marisnick will, even taking one level at a time, be only a year or so behind him.

3. Moises Sierra, 22, RF, 6'0" 225
Sierra was signed out of the Dominican in 2005, and was a guy with tools who was still in need of a ton of refinement over the first three seasons. in 2009 he took his first significant step forward, boosting his BA over 40 points, and his OBP over 60 points from the previous season. After finishing the season hot he appeared poised to really break out in 2010, before a series of injuries devastated that season. In 2011, he came back healthy and consolidated those gains while adding in a decent helping of previously-missing power. Still, make no mistake, Sierra still has some noticeable rough edges. He's got the best OF arm, possibly, in all of professional baseball but he's not rated a great defender overall (though he's got the tools to be); he's very quick, but not a skilled base-stealer (16 steals, 14 times caught); the batting average could still tick upwards a bit. He was second on the team in homers (to d'Arnaud) but he faded in July and August so stamina might have been an issue coming off a lost season. if he plays well in Vegas (assuming he's not traded) then he adds another name to the crowded OF situation in the Spring of 2013.

4. Mike McDade, 22, 1B, 6'1 260
McDade is no one's idea of svelte,  but he earned a reputation as an excellent fielder for the league champion FisherCat squad. and early in the year it looked as if McDade might just be defying those who pointed to his bad body and putting himself on the prospect map. During the first half of the season he had an .880 OPS and 14 homers (in 88 games). After the break, his production crashed. He hit only 2 homers (in 37 games) and posted a .561 OPS over that stretch. That's some massive regression. The mitigating factor here is that reports suggest he played the entire second half with a bum knee (I know I don't know why he didn't get it treated either) and there's a reasonable possibility they knee is what killed his offense. If the first half effort was a treue representation, then seeing how hoe lights up Vegas should be a treat next year.

5. Yan Gomes,  24, C, 6'2" 215
Overlooked in a system which had, until JPA graduated, no less than 4 excellent catching prospects, Yan Gomes just kept plugging along doing what he does. The Brazilian turned Tennessee Vol (he took over from JP as the starting catcher for the Volunteers) started slow, and was forced by the presence of d'Arnaud to get more at-bats than he would otherwise have liked playing 1B and DH. Still, the 2009 (10th round) draft pick picked it up and by the end of the year was rivaling McDade in production.  Consider this comparison of counting stats, if you pro-rate Gomes to the same number of at bats as McDade:

McDade: 484 AB - 136 H - 37 doubles - 16 homers - 74 RBI - 28 BB - 104 K
Gomes: 484 AB - 121 H - 32 doubles - 23 homers - 89 RBI - 44 BB, 132 K

Gomes, in my opinion, has a shot to be a fairly decent reserve catcher in the big leagues some day.


and on the mound...

1. Henderson Alvarez, RHP, 21
Alvarez served notice on the AL so effectively this season that i frankly am not sure how many words I need to bother with here.  But what you need to know, if you don't, is that Alvarez has impeccable control, is a ground-ball machine, works very quickly and has a ton of confidence. At the moment he has two excellent pitches and his third one is still a work in progress, but he's gotten such great results with the two that if the third is never more than a show-me pitch then he will still be fine. don't, however, expect him to ever get up into the 8 or 9 K:9 ratio neighborhood. He probably could if he wanted to, but he's taken a page from Doc and he realizes that a quick ground ball out conserves pitches and allows him to go deeper into games. It's exciting to contemplate the idea that he's done with the minor leagues.

2. Joel Carreno, RHP, 24
Another pitcher who had no problem with the AL, though in his case in the bullpen, Carreno has battled the perception he wasn't this good his whole career (in contrast to Alvarez who's been on our radar for years). He's been a starter his entire career before coming to Toronto but it's been the common perception that if he reached the majors it would be as a reliever.   He's been a remarkably consistent high-strikeout pitcher, who did have an uptick in walks in 2011, but counterbalanced that with a noticeable drop in hits per nine so that his WHIP was perfectly in line with the previous three seasons. His major league sample of 11 innings is far too small to read anything into, but there's no reason to think given his career in the minors that he can't at least be a solid reliever.

3. Chad Jenkins, RHP, 23
The Blue Jays' first round pick in 2009 (20th overall), Jenkins has been plagued by skepticism from prospect  watchers pretty much from draft day onward. It's not that he's a BAD pitcher, it's just that he consistently gives the impression of having a relatively low ceiling. Fans tend to expect their first rounders to be better than 4-5 starters, so he's battling the perception of having been over-drafted, and also it doesn't help that other pitchers are blowing past him on the prospect charts. Jenkins, too, is a ground-ball pitcher with less than eye-popping strikeout numbers, and it would be unfair to praise that quality in other pitchers without recognizing that it can be an effective style if executed well. Another concern is his weight. It's been observed that he doesn't seem to be a big fan of conditioning, and when you combine that with the fact that he ran out of gas in both 2010 and 2011 (his ERA over his last 5.11, whereas his ERA in AA on August 11 was 3.81) it's hard to discount the possibility that it's affecting him.

4. Chad Beck, RHP, 26
There is perhaps no more unlikely guy to appear on any of these lists than Chad Beck. Beck was the organizational filler guy we got from Arizona for David Eckstien. It's true they had had their eye on him, having drafted him in the 43rd round of the 2004 draft (and failed to sign him) but expectations had to have been low. His numbers in the D'Backs chain were not anything to disrespect, but he spent his first year for the Jays as a 24 year old starter in Lansing and was not very good at all.  Pitching mostly in relief the next year in Dunedin, he was considerably better - but he was 25 in A ball so no one much noticed. This year, people did. No less an unofficial scout than Pete Rose told Alex personally that Beck could do well in the majors. Apparently he's refined his offerings in the last year or so and a lot of Jays people are impressed with him enough to consider him a candidate for the 2012 bullpen in Toronto.


Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 in Review: Dunedin Blue Jays

One of the tricky things about a series like this is that the talent distribution over the organization was not even - it never is. The other tough thing is the players who appeared on multiple teams, which happened particularly among pitchers in the Blue Jays system. In this case, the five best pitchers to make an appearance in Dunedin all had a noticeable number of starts in New Hampshire. The temptation is to mention each player at the highest level they attained, but three of those pitchers didn’t reach double figures in starts at AA and really are more appropriately discussed here.

It also helps that the NH list is crowded and this one is, really, kinda thin without Drew Hutchison, Nestor Molina, and Deck McGuire. Read on.

1. AJ Jimenez, 21, C, 5'11" 200
Jimenez did not, in fact, have the best stat line in Dunedin, but there are circumstances. Clearly he’s the best prospect among hitters on the team. There’s really not even anyone else who deserves to be in that conversation. Second, he’s three years younger than the only other guy who would even make you hesitate, and third, he’s a skilled catcher besides the offense he provides. He makes very good contact, has respectable doubles power (which is thought to still have room for growth)runs well for a catcher, and doesn’t strike out too much (for the age and level). 

2. Brad Glenn, 24, OF, 6'2", 220
Glenn is at least a year too old for Hi-A ball. But he led the league in home runs - in fact he wasn’t really challenged as he jumped out to an early lead - and that’s not nothing. I’ve not see any glowing reports on his defense but he spent a decent amount of time in RF which s a sign he’s not a liability. His BB/K ratio is nothing to get you excited either. On the surface, he seems to be one of those guys that you are going to be really skeptical can handle the step up to AA, but he might surprise us.

3. Sean Ochinko, 23, C/3B/1B, 5'11", 205
Ochinko was the Webster Award winner for Lansing in 2010, and while it’s always been assumed that long term he won’t catch in the majors - that kind of respect for a guy who’s still listed as a catcher was something worth noting. In 2011 he got off to a very cold start in April and early may and, for what it’s worth, collected an unusually low BABiP. Over the balance of the season he recovered his previous power rates, and then some. But his contact rate was still below what he’d had in previous years. Ochinko, as long as the versatility remains viable, might end up being a useful major league player - I’d say he has a better shot at that than Glenn does. But his margin for error is just as slim.

Other names you might be wondering about: 2B Ryan Schimpf (came out of the gate, after an injury, on fire but faded badly after the break), Ofs Brian Van Kirk and Brad McElroy (both were very valuable to the D-Jays, the former with power and the latter with speed, but both were 25 so don’t expect anything)

and on the mound...

1. Drew Hutchson, RHP, 21
2011 was actually his age 20 season, his birthday was August 22, so the context of his achievements is that much more impressive. The 6'2" (and rail thin) Hutch moved from Lansing right through to New Hampshire this season with hardly a hiccup. He got off his game just a bit in late April, made a bit of adjustment in his approach, and never looked back. He racked up more than a K per IP at each level, displayed impeccable control (4.89 K/BB) and got better the longer the season went on and the higher the level he was challenged at. He was thought to have been a hard-to-sign gamble in the `15th round of the 2009 draft, and he surely got some of the money that Jake Eliopoulos and James Paxton didn’t want. That seems to be turning out pretty well, as Hutch is inarguably a Top 5 prospect in the Blue Jays loaded system. He also rocks impressive facial hair too (see photo), if that's your thing.

2. Nestor Molina, RHP, 22
As good as Hutchison was, it’s remarkable that he wasn’t the slam dunk obvious choice for #1 on this list. The tiebreaker comes down to Molina being a couple of years older, but with his backstory, the age difference becomes less relevant. Molina was a no-hit infielder who was converted to the mound in the Dominican league in 2008 and took to it immediately. Over three seasons he accumulated about 160 IP, almost all of them in relief. In that period, he struck out 129 and walked only 30. The real challenge came in 2011 when he was shifted to starting and that in his first season at Hi-A ball.  Talk about picking up the gauntlet! In 18 starts in Dunedin and 5 in AA, Molina completely dominated hitters in a fashion even the most optimistic scout could not have foreseen. His BB/K ratio was over NINE to one. He walked a mere 2 in 22 innings at AA. Given his history, it’s difficult to just go ahead and pencil him in for unbroken success in the future (particularly in that he was on his way to doubling his career IP in 2011 and a lot of pitchers have to regroup (if not succumb to injury) the following year (this concern applies somewhat to Hutch as well) but you can’t not be extremely excited about the results.

3. Deck McGuire, RHP, 22
How’d you like to be Deck McGuire? First round pick, scouted as the guy who was not only an above average pitcher but A guy who’d move fast through the system. He’s possessed with a big (6'6') classic pitcher’s body and multiple quality pitches. He started his first professional season at Hi-A Dunedin and delivered perfectly praise-worthy results over 18 starts, before being promoted to AA where he was shut down by a mild injury after 4 appearances that were not embarrassing at all. And yet for all that, you can only be called the third best pitching prospect on the team. Hutch and Molina were so very good that it’s hard for McGuire to generate any excitement But in a lot of years past, he’d be on everyone’s lips when it came time to talk Jays prospects. Given his college experience and polish, it’s not impossible that if the Jays are in a tight spot early in the year he might be the first to arrive. Don’t overlook him.

Don’t sleep on: Asher Wojciechowski. He fell off a cliff in May and June (some reports suggest he fell in love with his fastball) but recovered nicely in the second half. Might move slower than one anticipated but there’s still a lot to like there.