One of the weaknesses of Top Prospect lists is that there has to be some limit to who is considered a prospect, which ends up excluding young guys who are not veterans, but also not prospects. Additionally, you don't get a chance to comment on guys who are in some unusual circumstance.
Glaringly, there's little chance to say "watch this guy" when "this guy" is not widely considered a "top prospect." So the idea behind the "names to know" list is to have more flexibility that a standard prospect ranking.
The last time I made such a list, I made it for 2011 in the fall of 2010. I'm pretty pleased with the top of the list - through #19 I was in good shape. But over the next 19 I managed to praise Bad Emaus, Darin Mastroianni, Gus Pierre, and Griffin Murphy, as well as nod in the direction of several other low-ceiling guys. In the final third, I was clever/lucky enough to take note of Luis Perez, Justin Nicolino, Mike Crouse, Chris Hawkins, Yan Gomes, and Nestor Molina.
The list was almost entirely prospects or near-prospects, as I was treating it more as a different sort of "top prospect" list. Looking back at my description on that list, I was basically just excusing the idea that I could call as many as 60 players "prospects" when really, thinking you have even 20 future major league regulars in your system is wildly optimistic (notwithstanding, the trick is to know WHICH 20).
That was a bit of fail on my part as it ends up being awfully redundant. This one will be a bit wider in focus. These are the top guys I will be watching this year to see something big happen. that includes major leaguers, real top prospects, and other minor leaguers who might come out of nowhere (as Molina did last year).
The order here is an approximation of how interested I am in the outcome, more so than a ranking of who are the best players.
1. Dustin McGowan - Call me childishly naive if you want, I believe in this fairy tale. I'm so hungry for the storybook magic that I am prepared to set myself up for the crushing disappointment which will ensue if his shoulder blows up again. If he stays healthy, he could be among the 10 or so best starters in the AL, he really is THAT good. It's all a matter of how quickly his feel comes back (command and control) and how many innings he can throw.
2. Brandon Morrow - This time last year, I said Morrow could easily be a Cy Young candidate. I stand by that assessment and any year now, you will see it happen. If things go well for both these guys, Ricky Romero - without any regression - could find himself the third best guy in the rotation . . .
3. Henderson Alvarez - . . . and by 2013, maybe 4th. Alvarez, barring injury, is going to take his place among the best pitchers the Blue jays have ever developed. The only question besides injury is how rapidly that curve develops and whether there are any back-steps along the way. with health and good performance, there's a chance that those 4 guys will settle in as the core rotation for the next 3-4 years, not unlike the heyday of the Maddox-Braves or the Hudson-Athletics. Young bucks in the minors not even factored in.
4. Colby Rasmus - So much turns around how well this kid finds his groove again. The Jays will have a good offense even if he flops again, but it would be so much better if he didn't, plus the projection going forward has fewer question marks if he gets good again. If he's only mediocre, the uncomfortable questions of how and when Anthony Gose is integrated into the big leagues become problematic in terms of looking ahead at the construction of the team in upcoming years.
5. Brett Lawrie - I've drunk the kool-aid. I won't be bitterly disappointed if he's not at least on the fringes of the MVP race this year and every year, but I'd be more than a little surprised. if he doesn't get hurt, a decade from now we will be pretty confident he's the best baseball player the Blue Jays have ever developed (don't quibble me about whether or not they "developed" him - I use that word for players who's first major league appearance was in a Blue Jays uniform)
6. Kyle Drabek - mainly what i'm watching here is (a) how he handles being on the outside looking in if McGowan pushes him back to the minors; and (b) will he be good enough (and Cecil shaky enough) to force his way into the rotation. I'm also watching to see if he becomes the 5th guy in a quintet that is so very good that there's no way to squeeze a Hutchison or whomever into the majors.
7. Adeiny Hechavarria - I know i know, the whole business of everyone assuming that any apparent offensive improvement can be written off as the PCL effect will constantly be hanging over every discussion. I'll be watching every corner to see what the scouting says because so far, they are saying he's taken an important leap in his hitting ability.
8. Travis Snider - I love Eric Thames and do not want to see him fail, but if he doesn't Snider is really up against the roster math barring injury. I intensely dislike that and I'm watching for him to (a) destroy AAA pitching in order to force the question; and (b) mentally handle the situation in the meantime.
9. Aaron Sanchez - Can he step up and join Syndergaard and Nicolino in posting results consistent with what the scouts are seeing? In that draft he was my irrational favorite and I'm real interested in seeing if his command improves this year.
10. Jake Marisnick - Some think he could be the Jays top prospect a year from now and maybe even climb into the top 20 or so in all the minor leagues. maybe my favorite position player prospect in the system, I'm a sucker for hearing observers praise him and i expect there will be a ton of that this summer.
11. Mike Crouse - Everyone knows about Jake Marisnick, Crouse is the sleeper. But in terms of raw physical ability, there's still some room for a ton of projection, and he stayed in the same neighborhood with Jake most of last year before some nagging August injuries.
12. Adonys Cardona - Another pitcher who has a big place in my heart, particularly having read some comments on how well he did in 2011. This is a guy who MIGHT put his name on everyone's lips by this time next year.
13. Carlos Perez - the team still loves him, despite an off year in his first go at full-season ball. they believe the Latin prospect had difficulty adjusting to the cold in Lansing and never got on track. He'll try again at that level to start the season.
14. Chris Hawkins - will he explode at Lansing this year the way Marisnick did last year? some think it's possible.
15. Chad Jenkins - not really one of my favorite prospects overall, but I'm pretty curious as to whether the improvements noted in ST are for real. If they are, the AA rotation could be insane.
16. DJ Thon - finally healthy, will he take some time to get rolling or step up and put himself solidly on the map?
17. John Stilson - really want to see him healthy, if he is then he'll be one of the guys we will be excited about six months from now.
18. Anthony Gose - Go-go Gose will always be fascinating because of his wheels, what I'll be interested in is whether he improves the hit-tool as much as the team seems to expect he will. I'd love to have seen that play out by starting the year with 8-10 weeks in AA, both because i like it as a true test of his potential improvement, and because with both he and d'Arnaud, I'd like to see the Jays slow their progression to give the positional conflict more time to play out.
19. JP Arencibia - I could say, in this spot, that I'm watching d'Arnaud (and I will be of course) but Travis seems to be more a guy who's on a specific steady growth curve in terms of skills I can't see from this distance. I have no doubt he will be knocking down fences in Vegas. My curiosity is to what extent, if any, will JP be able to defy the presumption that he's the lesser hitter of the two and he's destined to be pushed aside eventually. Particularly in light of how tight he is with Lawrie.
20. Roberto Osuna - will the push him to the GCL? If so, it will be something to watch to see how he handles the older players. A guy who pitched in the Mexican league and held his own at 15 is certainly a guy to watch.
21. Marcus Kencht - I can't not mention the third part of the Three Amigos outfield which moves up to Dunedin this year. some observers think he's the best pure hitter of the three.
22. Asher Wojciechowski - I admit it, I'm not as sentimental about him as i am about some of the other SP prospects, and have a very strong hunch he ends up as a power-reliever. But I am interested to see if his second-half recovery last year is an indication of what can be expected in 2012 and beyond.
23. Matt Dean - my favorite position player pick in the 2011 draft, and a guy I was irrationally exuberant about signing, i expect Dean to follow the path blazed by Hawkins and Marisnick before him and step up big to justify his signing bonus.
24. Christian Lopes - another pick I really like, but my expectations for him are a bit more realistic. Not that I won't be keeping a close check on him.
25. Jake Anderson - not a guy who was "my pick" after the draft, but his very small sample in the GCL last year got my attention and i'll be watching to see if perhaps I'd underestimated the guy.
26. Dwight Smith, Jr - I was underwhelmed with this pick, but I've seen some really nice reports on him over the winter. I'm happy to be proven wrong.
27. KC Hobson - last year was a big disappointment for a guy I had pegged as a sleeper. Really needs to rebound this year.
28. Kelen Sweeney - how well will he bounce back from a year lost to injury?
29. Evan Crawford - is he really as good as we've heard this spring? Anthopoulos raved, and Anthony Gose called him the best pitcher in the (loaded!) system. that's enough to make me look closely and then some.
30. Brett Cecil - I'm actually not that interested in him as a starter. He seems at this point more to be filler than future; but if - when - the Jays concede they have five better candidates for the rotation, I'm more than a little intrigued by the idea of moving him back to relief and seeing if he recovers the velocity he showed in college, or, like Darren Oliver and Scott downs, learns how to become a crucial late-inning lefty after a mediocre stab at starting. He might be traded at some point, but I can envision a future where he's a key cog in the Jays' pen. I find it hard to imagine one where he's a key starter for them.
31. Tyler Ybarra - if there's an under-the-radar guy who might explode as Molina did last year, Ybarra might be that guy.
32. Moises Sierra - time to turn tools into results, and difficult to evaluate (for an outsider like me) at Vegas. I'd rather they had held him back at AA for a half-season more.
33. Yan Gomes - how much time will the Jays devote to teaching him 3B in order to increase his flexibility as a potential major league reserve player?
34. Sean Ochinko - his ceiling is as a bench guy, at best - maybe something like what Eric Hinske turned out to be, albeit from the other side of the plate. I'm only curious if he re-establishes himself after an off year.
35. Gus Pierre - being converted to 3B, as has long been expected. Can the raw young man separate the process of learning a new defensive position from his hitting process? the appearance last year, looking in from the outside, was that his horrible defense affected his growth as a hitter.
36. David Cooper - is there any way he can convince rival scouts that he's a valuable asset to acquire for a team needing a first baseman?
37. Ericdavis Marquez - the guy with the most unusual name in baseball blew up large in the DSL last summer, I'll be watching to see if he can carry that success up the ladder, which is something many sleeper guys fail to do.
38. Kevin Pillar - low round pick, no pedigree, the sort of guy who dominates in the short seasons and is exposed at higher levels - but I always keep one eye out for the exception to that rule.
39. Chino Vega - Short season illusion from the little guy, or something going on there?
40. Jerry Gil - will this shortstop-to-pitcher conversion result in a quality player too?