In the past I've tried various creative formats to write up top prospect posts, hoping to distinguish my opinions from the plethora of other lists out there, many of which are offered by those far more qualified to express their views. But ultimately, someone else is always going to have a better resume, more stats, a first hand view, or something. Me, ll I've got is having read all those articles that I could and tried to synthesize them into an informed opinion flavored with intuition and maybe seasoned with a tiny pinch of wishcasting. Also, I love my extra long lists, I'll limit myself to 30 for the extended comments though, as the post will already be massive.
Obligatory disclaimer: far more of these will fail than succeed. I mentioned sixty names in 2011, 27 of those have at least appeared in a major league game (7 actual plus contributors, another 6-7 still with upside) and 4 others still well regarded prospects. Anyway, here's my Top 40 countdown:
[player (age as of 6/30/15) position - level]
*level reflects projected 2015 level
40. Dan Jansen (20) - C - Vancouver - New to catching, but has natural aptitude
39. Evan Smith (19) - LHP - Bluefield - 6'5" lefty, not injured. Waiting on an opening in packed Vancouver rotation.
38. Chase Mallard (23) - RHP - Lansing - great results, a bit old for the level. We'll see.
37. Juan Meza (16) - RHP - GCL - Jays' international top signing in 2014.
36. Yeltsin Gudino (17) - SS - GCL - '13 IFA struggled in first North American action, still great upside
35. Rob Rasmussen (26) - LHP - Buffalo - seemed to take a step up after move to 'pen, if Cecil closes he could break camp with Jays
34. Adonys Cardona (21) RHP - Lansing - I still believe. But he has to stay healthy to have a shot.
33. Andy Burns (24) 3B - Buffalo - stumbled after late start last year, but from May 30 on he went .286/.332/.502/.834
32. Tom Robson (22) RHP - Vancouver - won't be ready to break camp in April after TJ last spring.
31. Jake Brentz (20) LHP - Bluefield - only dropped due to signability
30. Jesus Tinoco (20) RHP - Bluefield - His fastball has been described as reminiscent of Henderson Alvarez's for the combination of impressive velocity and groundball-inducing sink. However, his mechanics are still quite raw and his control is a long way from where it will have to be for him to advance.
29. Taylor Cole (25) RHP - NH - Still the best story in the system, Cole has climbed back to the point where he's fully on the radar. Cole, you will recall, gave up all athletics for 2 years to preform a tour as a Mormon missionary. He came back lighter, due to lost muscle mass, and with a fringy fastball. The Blue Jays took him in the 26th round of the 2011 draft. Three years later, with some help from the weighted-ball program, his plus fastball is back and his pitching savvy is nicely developed, as evidenced by his leading the minors in strikeouts. While he's old for the level and the list, the two years off can't be discounted. Cole may very well challenge for AAA if an opening arises.
28. Matt Boyd (24) LHP - NH - Like Cole, it can be argued he's too old for this list, but he was so very dominate at Dunedin in his first full pro season that he can't be ignored. Still, if he's as good as that implies, he'll be banging on the door of AAA by mid-season.
27. Clint Hollon (20) RHP - Bluefield - Missed all of 2014 after TJ surgery, so he only has 17.1 innings of pro experience. His tiny sample in the GCL after being taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft was exceptional, but his future is closely tied to whether the organization can clean up the mechanical issues that many suspect let to the injury, while not losing effectiveness.
26. John Stilson (24) RHP - Buffalo - by now you now the pedigree (first round talent before labrum surgery) and caveat (had to have a second labrum surgery last August). If healthy he'd have been squarely in the mix for the late inning jobs this spring. He's been throwing for almost three weeks now, but may not be fully recovered by opening day. Even if he is, probably looking at a couple months at least to re-establish his command in AAA
25. Nick Wells (19) LHP - Bluefield - He's a 6'5" and a lefty so that's a start. The Jays took him in the 3rd round in '14 so he's a legit prospect. But we don't have much more experience to judge. Coming into the draft he was reported to have a high ceiling but also to be somewhat raw. He already possess an impressive curve and a solid fastball. Refinement of a seldom used change will be key to developing to his potential.
24. Chase DeJong (21) RHP - Lansing - Coming off a dominate performance in Bluefield in 2013, the Jays jumped him to full season play at Lansing but they may have been too aggressive. DeJong had a wildly inconsistent season in '14. No doubt he'll repeat the level and try to get his grove back.
23. AJ Jimenez (25) C - Buffalo - He's ready, and then some, defensively. He'll probably never hit enough to start regularly but can likely be better than Thole has been for the Jays. His only problem is two veterans in front of him.
22. DJ Davis (20) CF - Lansing - on raw physical tools, he belongs in the top 10 of the system, but "raw" is a word that really doesn't capture the gap between his physical abilities and his baseball skills. Depending on how much he closes that gap, he could be spectacular - or a total flame-out.
21. Alberto Tirado (20) RHP - Lansing - Like many young live-armed Latin pitchers, his control still needs a lot of work, but the tools are very promising. He pitched mostly out of the 'pen last year but the Jays still see him primarily as a starter. If he shows good command in ST he might break camp with Lansing (as he did last year) or may hold back in extended for a month to avoid the cold.
20. Lane Thomas (19) (3B/2B/CF) -Vancouver - Drafted as a SS, he played CF in his first pro season but word now is that the Jays will play him at 3B in '15, which some in the organization consider his best suited position. He could also end up at 2B eventually. These moves are not because he lacks talent but because he has so much. Short might be too much for him but he looks to be a plus defender wherever else he might settle. And signs suggest his batwill play. Could be one of the breakout players in the system next year.
19. Ryan Borucki (21) LHP - Vancouver - some may overlook after e was drafted in the 15th round and then missed all of 2013, but he was dominate in '14 and is one to watch. He's walked NINE and struck out 62 in 63 pro innings. And he's a lefty. And he's 6'4". Got your attention yet?
18. Dwight Smith Jr. (22) LF/2B? - NH - Spent his entire pro career so far in the outfield, but the word last fall was that he'd begin the process of learning 2B in the AFL. He doesn't really show the arm for CF, nor the power typically expected for left. However, the acquisition of Devon Travis may have changed the plans. Another factor is that there's only one OF in the system that projects as belonging in AA other than Smith. Spring well decide much. One thing he's shown, his bat is ready for AA.
17. Dewal Lugo (20) SS - Lansing - He's not over-matched at SS, but give his size and below-average first-step quickness, some scouts figure him for a move to 3B (which, if Urena develops, becomes an easier decision). Offensively, he has good hitting instincts and above-average raw power, but he's yet to completely tap in to either. He ran out of gas last year and had an awful August which depressed his stat line, but even before that he wasn't on fire. Of all the talented prospects in the system, this is the one I'm most willing to trade.
16. Mat Dean (22) 3B/1B - Dunedin - This guy was one of my favorites from the day he was drafted. He's a very god hitter who's beginning to find his power potential. When his doubles start going over the fence, he'll jump up the list. He's at 1B because of Mitch Nay, but likely could still be a solid 3B and either of them might make the majors in the outfield depending on the available opening. He's not at first because of any lack of athleticism.
15. Jario Labourt (21) LHP - Lansing - The big (6'4") Dominican lefty has been remarkably under-the-radar given the upside he possesses. He shows a live fastball with good natural movement and a developing change but he's going to need to find a solid off-speed offering to remain a starter at the upper levels. Still, two pitches thrown well is enough to be an important reliever at a minimum.
14. Rowdy Tellez (20) 1B - Lansing - Like Dean, this is a guy I had a crush on from the day he was drafted. I remember when the Blue Jays drafted Kris Bryant out of high school and failed to sign him - only to watch him go at the top of the draft a few years later. I'm not going to predict Rowdy will end up being the best prospect in baseball but I do think that there's a sense in which the situations parallel. Tellez only fell out of the upper rounds on signability and is, in my view, one of the players most likely to explode this year.
13. Matt Smoral (21) LHP - Lansing - The advancement to full season ball is aggressive and will need to be justified in spring training, but there's a bit of a logjam for the Vancouver staff and that will work in his favor if he seizes the moment. He posted impressive ratios in Bluefield but the control still needs a lot of work. They can afford to advance him slowly.
12. Devon Travis (24) 2B - Buffalo - after a massive 2013 (.936 OPS over two level of A ball), he started a bit slow in 2014 thanks to an oblique injury that cost him a month of playing time and saw him only 5/39 on the morning of May 26. His line for the rest of the season was .317/.379/.496/.875 so we can assume his bat plays. Opinions are mixed about his glove, but if the Jays don't make an acquisition, there's every chance he has the job in Toronto by June.
11. Richard Urena (19) SS - Vancouver - He's a good-to-excellent fielder, a high-contact hitter without over-the-fence power. He displays a good eye at the plate, especially given that young Latin players often are free swingers. With Baretto out of the system, he has a much clearer path to the major league job.
10. Mitch Nay (21) 3B - Dunedin - there are a lot of similarities between Nay and Dean. Both have plus hit tools and big raw power that has yet to push some of the prolific doubles over the fence. Nay is apparently better regarded as a defensive 3B, though between fringy range and Josh Donaldson, he might not play their in the majors unless traded. Scouts are sold on his power bat either way.
9. Anthony Alford (20) CF - Lansing - if he impresses in ST, he may very well break camp with Dunedin so that both he and Davis can play CF everyday. On the other hand, the two are great friends and the organization may decide he'll be good for the younger player's development. In any case, Alford s arguably the most fascinating player in the Blue Jays' minor league system. It's difficult to quantify just how good he can be until he gets sufficient reps. Despite a couple of 5 or 6 games slumps, he's shown very well for a player with so little pro experience in Australia this winter, particularly in the crucial skill (which Davis lacks) of pate discipline.
8. Sean Reid-Foley (19) RHP - Bluefield - Ranks solidly with the Blue Jays other recent HS starter picks. He has four solid pitches with a fastball that sits in the low nineties. He has a repeatable delivery and controls both sides of the plate. With his polish, he could move quickly. I predict he'll get at least a cup of coffee in Lansing in late August.
7. Miguel Castro (20) RHP - Dunedin - That's a slightly aggressive placement, but Alex is already name-dropping him as a guy who could come fast, and for good reason. The big (6'5") righty has gotten stronger and can now run his FB into the high 90's. Like Labourt, he has a change up that serves as an effective second pitch but hasn't yet mastered a quality off-speed offering. The Jays can continue to work on that, or decide that with the available SP depth they can move him into relief where he will likely dominate. If they do, he could be the second half-boost that Sanchez was last year.
6. Max Pentacost (22) C -Vancouver - Said to need refinement on defense, but he's already regarded as one of the best catching prospects in the game. There was talk before the Martin signing that he'd move fast through the system, now they can afford a much more leisurely pace. Still, ideally he'd be up in time to learn from Martin towards the end of the latter's contract.
5. Jeff Hoffman (22) RHP -Vancouver - But for his 2014 surgery, he might have debuted in Lansing and will likely arrive there by mid-season. If fully recovered he's regarded by many as the highest ceiling pitcher in the Blue Jays' system. Already he features a plus-plus fastball, a monster curve and a solid improving change.
4. Dalton Pompey (22) CF -Toronto - some fear he's not ready to be the everyday CF in Toronto. I'm not one of them. There were no hint last year as he blazed through the system that he had serious holes in his game. That's not to say he's a finished product, but he has a firm foundation and thrives on being challenged. Often overlooked is his tremendous speed and base-running skills. Him hitting just in front of (or eventually behind) Jose Reyes should be a helluva lot of fun to watch.
3. Roberto Osuna (20) RHP -Dunedin - No need to revisit the track record n this guy, he's been on my radar from the jump. Even having lost a year to TJ, he's till going to be among the youngest players in the upper majors. There's a lot of speculation he'll open in AA but I'm inclined to think he may get 4-6 weeks in Dunedin until things warm up in the Northeast. But I agree he'll be in NH by mid-season.
1b. Daniel Norris (22) LHP - Buffalo - OTOH, there's a slightly better argument for Norris consolidating his gains at AAA while he waits for a clear opening in Toronto. Not that he showed any weaknesses sprinting through the system last year. In fact, most people chose him in the contest with Sanchez for the #1 spot. I copped out a bit by essentially declaring a tie, but there's really very little to serve as a tie-breaker. The major argument in Norris' favor is that he showed excellent command and control in '14, something Sanchez still can have trouble with.
1a. Aaron Sanchez (22) RHP - Toronto - I gave him the tiniest of edges here for one reason - the remaining possibility the Jays will decide to let him close in '15. The fact that he's had major league success already gives him the edge, in my mind, but it's impossible to predict which will ultimately have a better career. You already know everything you need to know about Sanchez, but remember: if you are ever feeling down about the Jays, think about a Jays rotation which will include the best five of Hoffman, Sanchez, Norris, Stroman, Osuna, Hutchison, and Castro to say nothing of the talent a bit further away.
And there are still other names worth mentioning (don't scoff, I once ranked Yan Gomes #42, Pompey #59, Ryan Goins #78) so here is a sampling:
Ryan Tepera, Christian Lopes, Sean Ochinko, Derrick Chung, Ryan McBroom, Patrick Murphy, Roemon Fields, Matt Morgan, Freddy Rodriguez, Yefry Del Rosario, Grayson Huffman, Chase Welbrock, Gunner Heidt, Daniel Lietz, Eziquel Carrera, Bake McFarland...you get the idea.