BTTN Top 20 Blue Jays Prospects for 2011

This post is an agglomeration of both the Top 10 and Top 11-20 posts.

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.

11. J.P. Arencibia, C
Many readers have piped in to say that leaving Arencibia off our top ten must have been a mistake, but it wasn’t, I just can’t see him becoming an impact player at the big leagues. He just doesn’t have enough plate discipline and won’t hit for a high enough average to allow his on-base percentage to be adequate. He’ll probably still be good enough to warrant a starting role on some teams, but with Toronto’s multitude of high-upside catcher prospects, don’t expect him to be on the team in 2014.

12. Jake Marisnick, CF
Marisnick was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, and 2010 was met with mixed results. After tearing up rookie ball (.373 OBP, .459 SLG, 14/1 SB/CS), he was promoted to Lansing where he dropped to a .298 OBP and .339 SLG. But, his walk rate remained solid (7.1%) and his defense remained excellent.
Marisnick is still only 19, so expect him to start the year in Lansing and perhaps earn a call-up to Dunedin if he plays well.
13. Chad Jenkins, SP
It’s hard to get too excited about Toronto’s 2009 first-round draft pick, Chad Jenkins. In his first pro season, split between Lansing and Dunedin, he only managed to strike out 6.7 per 9 IP, although his walk totals were low as well (2.0 BB/9). Jenkins was drafted with the assumption that he’d ascend through the minors quickly, yet he’s 23 and still hasn’t had a sniff of AA.
He’s probably not going to see the majors until 2012, if he ever does.
14. Adonis Cardona, SP
Overshadowed by the monstrous contract the Blue Jays gave to fellow international free agent Adeiny Hechavarria, Cardona was given $2.8 million in July. Most refer to him as the best pitcher to come out of Venezuela this year, and I’ve surely gotten excited over him. Cardona, only 17, apparently touches 94 with his fastball and has tons of room to add velocity as he ages.
15. Eric Thames, OF
Some call Thames a fringy prospect because he’s already 24 and likely isn’t going to get much better. While I must in part agree, it’s hard to look past the fact that he OPS’d .896 in AA with 27 home runs in only 496 at-bats, while showing solid plate discipline (8.73 BB%). He’ll never be a 4 WAR player, but I see no reason that he can’t be a positive player in the big leagues.
The minor league equivalency calculator shows that if Thames would have spent 2010 in the majors, he would have batted .242/.307/.413. Now, that’s not very good especially considering the position (corner OF) he plays, but with a bit of improvement, Thames could be a solid fourth outfielder good enough to warrant 300 at-bats.
16. Henderson Alvarez, SP
Any way you slice it, Henderson Alvarez had a disappointing 2010. Spending the whole year in Dunedin as a 20-year old, Alvarez could only manage 6.2 SO/9 while seeing his walk, hit, and home run totals rise sharply.
The Blue Jays plans for him in 2011 has yet to be announced, but don’t be surprised if he spends all of 2011 and 2012 in New Hampshire with an ETA of 2013.
17. Moises Sierra, OF
Sierra’s value and prospect status took a big hit in 2010 as he spent most of the season nursing multiple injuries and was only able to play in 20 games – and none above high-A Dunedin. Thus, Sierra couldn’t improve on his breakout 2009, in which he hit .292/.360/.399 split between Dunedin and eight games in New Hampshire.
He’s 22, so 2011 is now-or-never time for Moises. Hopefully he can, after starting in Dunedin, get a call-up to New Hampshire in May and hit the cover off the ball there. Speed and on-base skills are his strength, so his ultimate upside is to be the Blue Jays everyday right-fielder and two-hole hitter. If he realizes his full potential, expect Sierra to earn a September call-up in 2012 and start the 2013 season with the big-league club.
18. David Cooper, 1B
Cooper is the Blue Jays No. 1 draft pick from 2008, yet he hasn’t played quite like it and is a longshot from realizing his original potential. His overall numbers from 2010 in New Hampshire aren’t bad (.257/.327/.442 in 498 at-bats) and sure, he could still be a nice bench piece in the future or even scratch out a Lyle Overbay-like career. But the huge upside isn’t there anymore and in the AL East it’s necessary to have a .900+ OPS guy at first base to be a contender.
19. Dickie Thon, SS
Dickie Thon was the team’s 5th round draft pick in 2010 and was given a $1.5 million signing bonus, proof that Rogers is willing to go over-slot to acquire top talent in the draft. Thon is the son of the former all-star shortstop of the same name. He has good tools but it very raw and could be as many as 5 or 6 years away from the majors. He’s a solid defender with good speed (25 SB?), has potential for a .300+ average, but needs to work on his pitch recognition.
20. Marcus Knecht, OF
Marcus Knecht was Toronto’s third-round draft pick in the 2010 draft and is… Canadian! Knecht grew up in the GTA, and played well in Auburn after signing. His best tool is power, and could potentially be a .280 hitter in the majors. Knecht has above-average speed and seems to be a good kid – attitude won’t be a problem, something that gets overlooked often. ETA: 2013.