So, having come to a reasonable consensus about who the best prospects are, where will they be playing in 2012? to answer that question we have to look at what players are still in the system from last year, who's been added, and which players earned promotions. In the case of actual prospects, the team resists the temptation to "push" a prospect (which is directly opposite to the strategy of the former administration) and instead allows a natural progression of levels to take place driven by no other factor than the player's readiness. on the other hand, non-prospect (organizational players or "OP") might be moved up and down as necessary to fill out a playable roster even if statistical performance does not suggest it.
In the first part of this series I'll look at the two highest level teams, AAA Las Vegas and AA New Hampshire. In order to do so I will assume the following 25 man roster for the Toronto Blue jays, and i will not assume the exit of any player from the organization:
Rotation: Romero, Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez, McGowan
Bullpen: Santos, Cordero, Oliver, Frasor, Janssen, Villianueva, Perez
Starters: Arencibia, Lind, Johnson, Escobar, Lawrie, Snider, Rasmus, Bautista, Encarnacion
Bench: Mathis, Vizquel, Davis, Francisco
It should be noted that Snider over Thames is my preference/prediction, but by no means a sure thing, and also that the first two starting pitchers in Las Vegas are legitimate candidates to make the major league roster but there are factors which led me to omit them in Toronto. injuries, which will certainly happen, certainly open doors.
that said, let's begin.
Las Vegas 51's
the Blue Jays have accumulated, as is their custom, an inordinate amount of minor league free agent pitchers, mostly relievers. for this preview I have selected what seem to me to be the most valuable assets to retain on the pitching staff. But I will also note the names of the other pitchers in camp who would either win a spot in Vegas or most likely be cut.
Jesse Litsch - crowded out of the bullpen by the acquisition of Cordero. given that he's the only RH candidate with an option, he figures to lose out. There's a not insignificant chance he could be traded but remember that on opening day in 2011 it did not appear that Casey Janssen had a role on the team but they kept him and injuries opened the way for him to obtain a choke-hold on a roster spot.
Kyle Drabek - ST wild-card, could force the jays to take him over Alvarez, could benefit from an injury to McGowan or someone else - no one really knows. it will be an interesting situation if the jays reach late march with six starters who deserve to get a spot in the rotation. I've a hunch that given Alvarez's youth and inexperience, and arsenal, the team might decide he would handle pitching in Vegas (mentally) better than Drabek and cast their lot here. this is, on the pitching staff, THE race to watch in ST.
Joel Carreno - Almost certainly when he pitches for the Jays long term it will be as a reliever, he's simply too far down the depth chart for it to be otherwise. But there's no real reason to not let him start in as long as he's in Vegas. Second in line (after Listch) to fill a bullpen need.
Chad Beck - Marginal guy as a potential starter, he got a lot of unexpected praise last year as a potential future reliever in Toronto. Crowded out (along with Carreno) buy all the imported talent, he's probably still on their radar. but like Carreno, his major league ticket is relief pitching. He starts here for the repetition, and because of the lack of ready options. both men have the flexibility of slipping into the pen when some of the AA guys start getting promoted if need be.
Aaron Laffey - Just an average mediocre guy. The Jays promised to bring him to ST as a starter, so logically, unless he has an out-clause if he doesn't make the major league team, he will start in Vegas.
Scott Richmond - if the Jays decide to work Beck in relief in preparation for potentially coming up to the majors, Richmond is in. If Laffey has an out clause, Richmond is in. Otherwise, he's on the bubble because he was really bad last year and his window is closing if not closed.
Danny Farquhar - nominally the incumbent closer, as he's the best prospect in this group, but sometimes minor league managers elect to use a journeyman veteran to close instead.
Trystan Magnuson - the only other guy in this group that might be fairly called a prospect, and both of these are fringy in that regard, they both would theoretically fall in line behind Litsch, Carreno, and Beck on the shuttle to Toronto.
Andrew Carpenter - He'll be just 26 when the season starts (the youngest of the import depth pitchers) and his 24 IP in the majors scattered over four seasons have been pretty ugly. But, the real story is that for all that time, until last year, the Phillies had worked him as a starter. in 2011, pitching the full season in relief for the first time, he posted a SO/BB ratio of 5.91 (well more than double his previous rate) and an ERA of 1.79. He could be a very nice find if he can translate some of that to the majors.
Jesse Chavez - the 28 year old RHP is an OP at this point. He's generally pitches fairly well in the minors, but he's had several opportunities to back that up in the majors and failed.
Jim Hoey - basically an OP, the 29 year old at least had impressive K rates until last year.
Jerry Gil - Like Santos, the 29 year old Gil was once a well regarded SS prospect who simply couldn't hit after his first try at AAA. Obviously it took time (a lot longer than it did for Santos) for him to gain some level of control (in his first full season as a reliever, 2009, he walked 77 in 97 Innings) but last year he seemed to turn a corner. consider him a sleeper.
Robert Coello - OP from the Red Sox organization but most recently with the Cubs. Has respectable numbers in the minors.
Other pitchers in camp: Nelson Figiroa, Stephen Marek, Tim Redding, Bill Murphy, Garret Mock, Miguel Castro
Catcher - Travis d'Arnaud - obviously the premium prospect here and the guy everyone will be watching. one prospect observer said he'll be "knocking down houses" in the PCL. Barring injury, the key position player on this team.
First Base - Mike McDade - Was slamming in the first half of 2011 in AA before a knee injury knocked his foundation out. This assumes that with a healthy knee he regains a high level of production. also, he's regarded as the better fielder than the guy who played here last year.
Second Base - Luis Valbuena - He's out of options so the Jays might lose him on waivers before he makes it here, but if he does, he has more upside than McCoy.
Shortstop - Adeiny Hechavarria - he's in a catch-22 for outside observers. if he hits well, people will simply say it's the effect of the league, if he doesn't really impress with the bat folks will be convinced that if you can't excel here you can't excel anywhere.
Third Base - Kevin Howard or Koby Clemens - the former is definitely an OP being in his 30s, the latter almost certainly is but is still young enough to harbor some illusion of major league time. Clemens has actually been a fairly good hitter climbing the ladder and he might push aside Howard for the AAA job - he hit about as well as Howard in his AAA stint last year and he's five years younger - but whatever marginal value he has exists as a 3B. If he can't play 3B every day he's filler. If Clemens loses out here, he'll be in AA, if Howard loses out he'll be cut.
Left Field - Eric Thames - could be Snider if I'm wrong about the major league outcome. if it's indeed Thames, we will be among the league leaders as a hitter but the team will be watching for defensive improvement.
Center Field - Anthony Gose - In my view, there's an excellent case for letting Gose return to AA for a couple of months, at least, if not half a season, to continue work on offensive adjustments in a "clean" environment. with Rasmus under control for 3 more seasons, the Jays can afford a slower track. But everything I've read suggests he's ticketed for AAA.
Right Field - Moises Sierra - Here's a guy who might take a big offensive leap from "okay with potential" to "look at him go!" by virtue of the friendly hitting environment. There's clearly another step left to be taken for his output to catch up with his tools, but the trick for the team will be sorting real progress from PCL illusion.
DH - David Cooper - Repeats the level only because he really has no place to go. DH instead of 1B because McDade is a better fielder at has at least something of a reputation to defend. Cooper might get marginally better with more reps but likely wont lose all that much by a year at DH. He's the player on this squad most likely to see a spring trade.
Bench - Brian Jeroloman, Chris Woodward, Brian Bochock, Mike McCoy, Danny Perales, Richardo Nanita - OP all except maybe Jeroloman who has a whisper of a chance at a Kevin Cash type career.
Supposing a batting order of - Gose/Hech/d'Arnaud/McDade/Cooper/Thames/Sierra/Clemens(Howard)/Valbuena that's actually a pretty impressive squad for the PCL and they should have considerable success.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Deck McGuire - listed first as he's older and more fully matured as a pitcher than the more-talented guy who follows him. if the Jays call a stop-gap guy from this group it might well be McGuire. Only had 3 regular season AA starts last year so a full season here is not at all out of the question.
Drew Hutchison - clearly the most highly regarded pitcher on this staff, if the jays call one of these guys for a long-term assignment it will probably be him. Alex has all but said Hutch is knocking on the door. Like McGuire, he only had 3 AA starts so there is no ticking clock.
Chad Jenkins - despite being a first rounder himself, Jenkins has piled up a lot of reviews which suggest a lower ceiling (back of the rotation, or bullpen) and thus he's overshadowed by the two men in front of him. He's an obvious trade candidate and might be better regarded against less impressive competition. A lot would have to go wrong elsewhere for him to make it to Toronto. however, he had 16 starts for the F'Cats last year and is an obvious candidate for a mid-season promotion to Vegas.
Asher Wojciechowski - spent the whole year in Dunedin last year, so there's a real chance he impresses enough in the spring to be added to the NH squad. almost certainly IF he's held back his stay in Dunedin will be short. He made some adjustments in May last year which were instigated by the staff but the results were disastrous. His ERA for May and June was 7.81 but that's not the end of the story. I'm unclear whether they told him to go back to what was working or if he finally found an adjustment that worked for them but over the rest of the season (after July 1) his ERA was 3.18 and the secondary stats support that. Logically that's enough good work to earn the promotion. If he has a good spring, particularly if Tepera doesn't, he's in AA. If for any reason he's not there on opening day he will be by June.
Ryan Tepera - Might not make this cut, but sources with the team say the Jays would like for him to claim it. Had mixed results in Dunedin last year and it's hard to imagine him being in a Blue jays uniform for more than a cup of coffee at best.
Yohan Pino - strictly an OP but he threw up an impressive 7.57 SO/BB ratio last season and stepped into the rotation when McGuire went down and dominated right through the playoffs. It's much more likely to have simply been a career year but he's worth having in your organization. If not in the rotation he'd be ahead of the OP listed below for a role in the pen based on what he did for them swinging into the rotation last year.
Randy Boone - recovering from Tommy John Surgery, may not be ready for opening day but if he were, he'd stand to either push Pino back to the pen or Tepera back to Dunedin. An OP at this point either way. Might "rehab" some in Dunedin where the competition is stiffer but he's too old to stay there all year.
Evan Crawford - A 25 year old LHP who was not only protected on the 40 man roster this year but who Anthopoulos has called by name as one to watch.
Matt Wright - The lefthander had a fine year at Dunedin last year and really ought to be in AA this year. I list him here out of respect for the excellent work he did in 2011, BUT a backlog of OP relief pitchers in the organization may create an issue. if I were in charge, folks like Willie Collazo would be ushered out the door and Wright would be in New Hampshire. But minor league journeymen serve other purposes besides providing innings or at bats, and who knows how the Jays view their roster construction. one things for sure, Wright has nothing left to prove in Dunedin.
Ron Uvideo - he's still just 25 and he just keeps hanging around but hes like a top-end OP more than a fringe prospect.
Boomer Potts - Missed all of 2011 with injury, likely nothing there to worry about, particularly since he'll spend a year getting back to speed and by then he will be 28 and in AA.
Wes Ethridge, Clint Everts, Bobby Korecky, Willie Collazo - all OPs
Alan Farina - legitimate prospect (as relievers go) but recovering from TJS most of the year so a
non-factor in 2012.
Catcher - AJ Jimenez - got a lot of good press this off-season but has huge shoes to fill for this team.
First Base - Jon Talley - Tally had a low batting average but solid power in Dunedin, which is regarded as a pitchers park and league, and some observers close to the organization feel the Jays want Talley to win the AA job. In the absence of tough competition the bar might be low for that. Tally (and possible competitor Sean Ochinko) have a catching background but with the catching depth in the organization there seems little reason to keep pushing them to stick there. Other legitimate possibilities include Sean Ochinko - described below - rule 5 selection Gabriel Jacabo, minor league free agent Koby Clemens (who is also a candidate at 3B in AAA as I've noted),
(A commenter rightly observes that Ochinko is a logical candidate at 3B as well (particularly if Clemens is assigned to AAA) and this possibility is closely tied to whether or not they challenge Jon Talley to win the AA job at 1B as some suspect is their plan. I have edited my views accordingly as the case was more logical than my original guess)
Second Base - Scott Campbell or Ryan Schimpf - I'm going to suspect they are both on the roster. how much time one or the other spends starting depends on whether Campbell can come back from serious injury that's derailed his career over the last couple of years. there was a time the Jays were trying him at 3B but I don't see that happening again. Schimpf is an OP and barring a miracle story, Campbell looks headed for that too.
Shortstop - Ryan Goins and Jon Diaz - again I divert from the usual starter/bench format here because the jays clearly highly regard Diaz as so very good with the glove it trumps his bad bat. I think Goins is the starter, but Diaz holds a John McDonald like role on this team. both seem like OP though either might well get a cup of coffee at some point.
Third Base - Sean Ochinko or Mark Sobolewski - I'm completely guessing here, but the multiple winner of the Webster Award would seem to have a bit more cred in the organization than his competitors for this job. Sobo is the incumbent but a .707 OPS last year was not the step forward the Jays were looking for.
Left Field - John Tolasino - once highly regarded by the team, he utterly failed to impress as the F'Cats left fielder in 2011 but there's no one knocking down the door to take it from him. He's an OP at this point and the Three Amigos are coming up behind.
Center Field - Justin Jackson - another complete guess, there's no one who's really worthy of it but Jackson can field the position and repeating Dunedin isn't doing anything for him. He started out hot in 2011 and raised hopes before pretty much going to pieces in June. About the only thing left to do is quit moving him around the diamond and plop him on one position every day and see how he does. one other option here is Keenen Bailli, a native of Cuba who joined the organization mid-season last year. He's only got 28 professional at bats but he's 27 so he's not an immature player. i don't know if his defense profiles in CF but it seems foolish to have a 27 year old in Dunedin, so one or the other of Tolisano or Jackson should logically get a challenge from him.
Right Field - Brad Glenn - Power hitting leader of the D-Jays offense in 2011, no real competition for this job.
Also in the mix for the outfield are Brad McElroy and Brain Van Kirk. The former has quality speed and the latter some pop, both were important offensive cogs in Dunedin, but both are 26 (that is, they were two years or more two old for that level) and are basically OP. If they beat out Tolisano and/or Jackson, you will know that those two's fast-fading claim to being prospects is fully extinguished.
DH - Some combination of Van Kirk, McElroy, or possibly Jacabo - there wont be a set guy here.
Bench - the only guy left that I haven't mentioned is reserve catcher (and sometimes 1B or DH) Yan Gomes. Who despite being buried on the depth hard has legitimate hitting power and decent defensive skills and deserves better. He's a real asset to the organization but no one deserves a change of scenery more.
Up next: Dunedin and Lansing.