I would like to take the time to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and I would like to thank everyone who comes to peruse my prospect lists. For this list in particular, I would like to thank Dave Gershman of Beyond the Boxscore and Penn League Report for his assistance and expertise of the Jays system.
If there was a team other than the Nationals that people should jump on the bandwagon for, it’s the Toronto Blue Jays. They play in a ridiculously tough division, but they have tons of talent in the majors and in the minors. 2011 was a tough year for the Blue Jays as they finished 4th again, but they promoted several promising prospects, including Brett Lawrie. Lawrie looks like an upper-echelon hitter, and he should do well pairing with Jose Bautista. JP Arencibia did Arencibia things by hitting for power but otherwise getting out, which isn’t terrible for a catcher. Eric Thames also made a fairly successful transition to the majors and might be a nice corner outfielder. Even Henderson Alvarez came up and performed well. The only thing that went wrong (in perhaps the entire system) was Kyle Drabek devolving, but there’s belief that he can rebound as his stuff didn’t disappear, just the command.
In the minors, things went along pretty swimmingly as well. Travis d’Arnaud and Jake Marisnick seemed to put everything together to have huge seasons, and the Blue Jays now have two more impact prospects to add to the fold, though Marisnick is a bit farther away. Anthony Gose also took a nice step forward, and while there are still concerns about the bat, there are fewer and it looks like he’ll be a solid big-leaguer at worst. Those three make up a strong top part of the system.
And unlike many other systems, there’s tons of depth behind them, but it’s all in A-ball. That being said, Drew Hutchison and Nestor Molina had excellent seasons, and Deck McGuire pretty much performed about as planned. A little farther down, Toronto’s glut of picks in the 2010 draft all seemed to perform well and even quite a bit above expectations, but none of them spent significant time in even Low-A, meaning they still have a long way to go to prove themselves. If that isn’t enough, the Blue Jays continued to add significant talent in the draft with guys like Daniel Norris and Kevin Comer.
It’s a pretty good time to be a Blue Jays fan, and while the team may not win the division next year, the future looks plenty bright. Besides Drabek’s loss of control and first-round Tyler Beede choosing to go to Vanderbilt (I’ll never understand why a kid who wants to play professional baseball turns down millions of dollars to go to college and chance ruining his arm), the Blue Jays made out like bandits. Turning this talent into a winning team and in that division will be tough, but there are few teams set up to do it like the Jays. And one more thing, I want a uniform!
Travis d’Arnaud C
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 23/AAA
Projection: 5+ WAR
I go back-and-forth on Devin Mesoraco and d’Arnaud as the best catching prospect in baseball, but that’s why I like tiers better than straight lists (I don’t have to decide). D’Arnaud was a toolsy player that hadn’t quite put it together, though he had never been “bad”, but he really put it together in 2011. With an average to above-average hit tool and above-average power, his approach finally let those tools become hitting skills, and he really took off. Behind the plate, his receiving and footwork need some work, though he’s fine as is, and he has a plus arm to nail baserunners. Essentially, he’s an excellent all-around catcher, and those are very rare finds, indeed.
Jake Marisnick CF
Age/Level: 21/High-A or AA
Projection: 4+ WAR
Prior to being drafted, Marisnick was a five-toolish player with concerns about the bat, but with a huge 2011, he has started to put those to rest. Hitting for average and power with a much improved approach, scouts are absolutely drooling over the young man who also added 37 stolen bases in 45 attempts. To go along with the offense, he’s above-average on defense with an above-average arm and range, and he should remain in center, though with Gose he might have to shift to a corner. I went back-and-forth on which tier to put him in, but with such a massive step forward when scouts had already been drooling over the tools, I set him here, though he’ll need to prove himself at higher levels.
Anthony Gose CF
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Gose took quite a step forward this season, and while there had been serious concerns about the bat, those concerns were largely muted, though his bat doesn’t have the upside of Marisnick. Gose still strikes out too much, but he added a better approach and some power (I will say he could stand to be less “slappy” at the plate, but he does it partly to use his speed) to his repertoire, which give him some secondary skills to help what will probably be a low batting average. What makes Gose special, however, is his defense, which should be plus due his plus to plus-plus speed and a plus arm. On his defense alone, he could probably be a decent regular, and with some added offensive value, he’s a very valuable major-leaguer.
Drew Hutchison SP
Another guy I tossed and turned on. Hutchison comes right at you with a low-90s fastball with heavy sink, though it’s not quite a Brandon Webb sinker, and a plus change, and he’s even improved his slider to an average pitch. He absolutely throttled two levels of A-ball as he had high strikeout numbers and low walk and home run totals, the last due to the heaviness of the sinker and change, and with an excellent delivery, he should be able to maintain his above-average control. The reason I hold him back somewhat is that having a plus change allows you to dominate A-ball because few hitters have seen good ones, and as these pitchers move up, they tend to get hit harder. Hutchison’s ratios are awesome, and a follow-up season in AA and even part of it in AAA would really push him up the lists.
Nestor Molina SP
Talking about Molina might cause a bit of controversy among scouts. Some see the low-90s fastball along with a solid split, change, and cutter/slider, and they think big things. Others see a lack of a plus pitch and a pitcher who will get hit in the upper levels, despite good control. Here are some things not up for debate – he throws tons of strikes and he’s produced, which should count for something. Despite the excellent control (1.1 BB/9 over 130 innings last season), his delivery requires some effort, and he doesn’t seem to have much projection left. That being said, it’s hard to argue with his results, which have been outstanding and in only his third year of full-time pitching.
Deck McGuire SP
McGuire seems to be another player who fits the “isn’t quite what we expected” category that tends to get more hate than he deserves. Drafted 11th overall, McGuire is not an ace, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a good major-league starter. With control of four average to above-average pitches, McGuire should fit into the middle of a rotation. The main concerns about McGuire center around what people believed his main strengths were coming into the season – his slider and his control. McGuire’s slider was considered a swing-and-miss pitch before the draft, but it was closer to a tick above average this season. And his control wavered occasionally, though his mechanics are pretty good with the exception of cutting himself off at the end of his delivery. A command/control guy, his status wavers as he hits the upper minors.
Noah Syndergaard SP
Here begins the high-school-draftee-with-tons-of-potential-but-little-experience portion of the list. Syndergaard has a big arm with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and while the initial knock on him was his lack of consistency on his secondary pitches, Syndergaard made strides improving his curveball and change-up. What makes scouts even happier is that his control was very good due to a pretty simple, though stiff, delivery. All that he needs now to rocket up lists is a full season of abusing hitters, which I have little doubt that he can do.
Justin Nicolino SP
Out of all the 2010 draftees, Nicolino might be the gem of them all by the time things are done. Currently, his fastball is in the 89-91 range, but he has plenty of room to fill out and add some velocity. Along with the fastball, he already has a solid curve and change that can still improve. Nicolino performed well in his short-season debut due to his above-average control, but like many of the Blue Jays top pitching prospects, he doesn’t have much experience. What makes Nicolino harder to project is that you can see room for projection here, and it would really help him if he did fill out.
Daniel Norris SP
Age/Level: 19/Rookie Ball or Low-A
One of the recent draftees that had the widest variance on when he could be picked, Norris has plenty of talent, but scouts varied on what they saw as well as heard differing things on his signability. The Blue Jays went ahead and took him in the 2nd round for $2 million. Norris throws in the low-90s, but he’s been clocked as high as 96, which scouts hope he can do more of as he gains more strength. He adds a solid curve and change, but he visibly slows down as he throws them, which he’ll need to fix. Watching his delivery, he’s very controlled throwing his secondary pitches, but he falls off to the third base side when he throws his fastball due to the added effort. The Blue Jays are usually conservative with their young pitchers, so Norris will likely start his journey next summer.
Aaron Sanchez SP
Another 2010 supplemental pick along with Syndergaard, Sanchez has plenty of potential and projection with long levers and a very lean frame. The only problem with that is that Sanchez has a bit of a problem with controlling those long levers and finding a consistent arm slot, causing his control to really waver at times. The plus side is that he already throws in the low-90s and could be a bit better by the time he reaches the majors. In addition to the fastball, Sanchez features a good curveball and a change that will need substantial improvement. He has plenty of time ,though, and there’s plenty to like.
Biggest Question – Patience
The Blue Jays have a ton of talent in the minors, but as you can see, a lot of it is in the lower minors. That isn’t a bad thing, especially considering the potential of many of them, but they will require patience. The Blue Jays are in a fairly difficult position, however, as they are a young team on the rise in the toughest division in baseball, and they’ll be tempted to shuttle some of things guys along quickly to get them to the majors and contribute. That may not be the best thing for these prospects, though, and the Blue Jays will have to make sure they move players along at the right pace. There’s no reason to believe they won’t, but temptation will be strong.