Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BTTN Top 10 Jays Prospects for 2011

It’s prospect season! And as a Blue Jays blogger, what better way to celebrate it than to share my opinions on Toronto’s farm system. Since Alex Anthopolous took over from JP Ricciardi, the system has seen a huge influx of talent, especially in the form of pitching.
Baseball America has taken notice and it is has been rumoured that they consider Toronto to have a top five farm system going into the 2011 season, as do many other scouting outlets.
But without further ado, here is BBTN’s Official Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects for 2011 list.

1. Kyle Drabek
Last year’s top Blue Jays prospect as well, Drabek took more steps forward in 2010, playing the full season in AA New Hampshire. Pitching to a 2.94 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, Drabek threw a total of 162.0 innings. The large number of innings means that if Drabek does indeed start 2010 in the big league rotation, there will not be much need for an innings cap later in the season as Brandon Morrow experienced in 2010, as a full workload of 200 innings is right in line with the Jays general guidelines regarding increasing the workload of pitchers. At this point, there’s no need to worry about his Tommy John surgery anymore, he’s moved on and has pitched enough since for it not to be a concern.
Most scouts do not consider Drabek to be of ace-material. He is very good at a lot of things but does not possess a nasty out-pitch and does not possess outstanding control or velocity (fastball tops out at 94 and is fairly straight). His 7.3 SO/9 and 3.8 BB/9 rates this year back up this sentiment; neither is too special and lead to a 1.94 SO/BB rate.
That said, Drabek still projects to be an above-average starter, and should put together a string of 3.40-3.80 FIP seasons in the middle of the rotation for years to come.
2. Brett Lawrie
Lawrie came over from Milwaukee recently as the sole player acquired in the Shaun Marcum swap. He was drafted a single pick (16th overall) before the Jays took David Cooper in the 2008 entry draft and legend has it that Toronto was prepared to take Lawrie had the Brewers not snapped him up first.
Now to Lawrie’s skills. Brett has very good bat speed and while that hasn’t yet translated into home runs, most scouts assume that he will develop solid 25+ home runs annually (36 doubles, 16 triples in AA in 2010). He also has solid base-running skills and can work a walk. It’s also important to note that Lawrie was the 2nd youngest full-time player in the entire AA Southern League last year, and he collected his .285/.346/.451 line against players much older than him (average SL age is about 24).
A converted catcher, he’s taken his lumps playing second base and lots of people within the industry believe that he’ll end up as a corner outfielder in the majors, but I think that much worse athletes have succeeded as infielders and with hard work could become an average second or third baseman.
3. Anthony Gose
The lone player that came over from Philadelphia via Houston in the Brett Wallace deadline sway, Gose may be the fastest player in the minor leagues. He’s stolen 121 bases in his last two minor league seasons (at A and low-A ball), and while he was probably thrown out more than his share of times (a shocking 52 times caught stealing in the last two years), I tend to think that it was the product of tons of pitchouts; with that speed, there’s no doubt teams were expecting him to take off every time he got on base.
To me, plate discipline is perhaps the most important trait of a hitter… to be a good batter you must work counts and take your walks. And Gose managed to put up a respectable .360 OBP in 27 games with Dunedin after the trade. Most scouts agree that he still has some holes in his swing and that with good instruction could become a .280 hitter (or better) at the major-league level. With 600 PA, a modest 60 of those walks, the .280 average adds up to a .380 on-base – a good rate for a leadoff hitter.
His defense, while still raw, has potential to be plus-plus in centerfield and might have the best outfield arm in the low-minors.
Gose is hardly a finished product however, he’s only 20 and isn’t likely to see the majors until 2013 at the earliest.
4. Deck McGuire
Toronto’s first round draft pick in 2010, McGuire is expected to rise through the ranks pretty quickly, maybe making the majors mid-2012. Some scouts don’t think he has ace-potential because he profiles as a strike-thrower with a slightly-above average fastball and strong out-pitches. His changeup is probably his best pitch and knowing that the Jays seem to have a formidable reputation of developing changeups, it could certainly become a true out-pitch and vault him to the next level, a la Ricky Romero.
He’ll probably start the year in Dunedin and could finish the season in AA New Hampshire.
5. Zach Stewart
Stewart is surely an interesting case, profiling as a reliever in college and with Cincinnati, but after acquiring him in the Scott Rolen trade, Toronto instantly set their sights on lengthening him out into a starter – which was met with encouraging results in 2010. Sure, his overall 3.63 ERA and 1.96 SO/BB don’t pop out, but down the stretch he was fantastic and Keith Law raved about him after seeing him pitch in the Eastern League playoffs.
It remains to be seen what the plan for 2011 regarding Stewart is, if he lights it up in Spring Training and the Jays still don’t have their fifth starter dilemma fully worked out, I could see him making the big leagues immediately. Otherwise, he would probably start the year in AA, as the Blue Jays seem hesitant to put top pitching prospects in AAA due to how batter-friendly the entire PCL is.
6. Travis D’Arnaud
D’Arnaud is the best defender of all of the Blue Jays top catching prospects, but like most defensive whizzes, he needs help at the dish. Most know him as the third wheel of the Roy Halladay trade, but he’s a legit prospect in his own right. The best case scenario for him would be a .270/.330/.450 line in the majors with great defense – maxing out at about a 4 WAR player. Worst case scenario, he’s Jose Molina with better overall defense, a backup that scratches out a somewhat lengthy career but never makes much money.
7. Carlos Perez
Perez probably has the highest overall upside of any of the Blue Jays many catching prospects, showing good defense, plate discipline and has power potential. He’s quite mobile for a catcher, only weighing in at 193 lbs. But, he’s the furthest away from the majors and hasn’t played above low-A Auburn. It’s likely that he begins 2011 in Dunedin and possible that he could finish the season in New Hampshire.
8. Aaron Sanchez
Sanchez was a 2010 supplemental draft pick out of high school by the Jays and really lit up rookie ball after signing, where he put up 1.42 ERA and 13.3 K/9 rate in 19.0 IP. Before the draft, he was highly coveted as one of the premier high school arms in the pool, yet slipped to 34th overall where the Jays were overjoyed to get a player of his caliber. People around the industry were thoroughly impressed with what he showed in professional limited action. His frame (6’4) and strong repertoire suggest he has that ‘ace’ potential tag that scouts rarely assign to prospects.
9. Adeiny Hechevarria
In April, Toronto officially signed Hechevarria to a 4 year, $10 million deal, the most money the Blue Jays have ever given to an international free agent. The deal also included a $4 million signing bonus which also registers as the largest in club history. However, while the results have been encouraging, it’s hard to say that his first year in North America was a success. Adeiny put up putrid numbers in Dunedin, yet the Jays still decided to promote him to AA, where he recorded a .665 OPS in 273 PA. Much like Travis D’Arnaud, Hechevarria is a great defender that needs tons of work at the plate, and is in serious need of some plate discipline. He’s a good baserunner and has potential to steal 30+ bases in a season. Hechevarria is almost certain to begin 2011 in AA New Hampshire, and I’ll bet that he will spend the entire year there, maybe even starting 2012 in New Hampshire as well.
10. Asher Wojciechowski
Wojciechowski was selected by Toronto 41st overall in the 2010 draft and could rise quickly through the minors. He could even see the majors by mid-2012 as he has already filled out his frame (6’4, 235) and is quite polished. Some scouts believe that he’s better suited as a reliever due to command issues; in that case his fastball could add a few ticks and top out at 96 or 97.

That’s it for now! Next week, BTTN plans to release its 11-20 list of the top Blue Jays prospects going into 2011.

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