Toronto Blue Jays Top 15 Prospects (Updated) by Marc Hulet November 16, 2012 I published the Jays Top 15 prospect list just over a week ago but it already undergoes a transformation thanks to the (still unconfirmed) blockbuster trade between Toronto and the Miami Marlins. Justin Nicolino (5th), Jake Marisnick (6th), and Adeiny Hechavarria (10th) slide off the list and head to Florida while Anthony DeSclafani, another member of the trade, was in the 16-22 range and could very well make the Marlins’ upcoming Top 15. #1 Travis D’Arnaud (C) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 23 303 93 21 16 19 59 1 .333 .380 .595 .415 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: AAA Acquired: Trade (2009) Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB The young catcher entered 2012 as the Jays’ top prospect and he did nothing to change the lofty status, although a knee injury ended his season prematurely in June. Had he not been injured d’Arnaud likely would have made his big league debut when MLB incumbent J.P. Arencibia suffered a fracture in his hand. d’Arnaud has the potential to be both an above-average hitter and fielder. One talent evaluator said the prospect was likely ready for the big leagues but stressed his value was behind plate and that it wasn’t overly likely that he would see time at other positions in an effort to get his bat into the lineup. Despite Arencibia’s offensive challenges the organization remains committed to him as the starter behind the plate because of the trust he’s built up with the pitching staff. The organization also recently re-signed backup Jeff Mathis to a two-year contract extension (plus an option) suggesting that d’Arnaud could become trade bait as the organization is openly working to improve the big league club – especially the pitching staff. When I saw d’Arnaud play I was a little surprised by his lack of energy on the field – both on offense and defense. With that said, he showed good athleticism sliding to his right to block a wild pitch and also while fielding a ball out in front of home plate. If he’s still in the organization in April of 2013, d’Arnaud will head back to triple-A at the new affiliation in Buffalo and will look to continue polishing his game while awaiting a big-league opening. Additional Notes After four-plus years writing about prospects from a first hand perspective, Travis D’Arnaud is still the best all-around catching prospect I’ve seen in person. If he can produce like Ryan Doumit (.275/.320/.461) with league average defense behind the plate, he’s a definite upgrade over incumbent JP Arencibia who could be flipped to fill a need elsewhere. (Mike Newman) #2 Aaron Sanchez (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 20 25 18 90.1 64 3 9.66 5.08 2.49 3.41 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: A Acquired: 2010 draft (34th overall) Projected 2013 Level: A+ Sanchez, the 34th overall pick of the 2010 amateur draft, spent the majority of 2012 pitching in low-A ball at the age of just 19. Despite his youth, he overpowered the older competition with a strikeout rate of 9.66 K/9 and just 64 hits allowed in 90.1 innings. Healthy all season, Sanchez’s innings were limited by Toronto’s development plan that relies on tandem starters in the lower levels of the system. The right-hander has elite stuff, including a fastball that can hit the upper 90s, but his command and control are currently below average. One talent evaluator asked about Sanchez, though, wasn’t worried because his pitches have so much natural movement to them and he’s still learning to harness his pitches after his fastball jumped a full grade between 2011 and ’12. The evaluator said the California native could still be a very good pitcher even if his command/control doesn’t improve, suggesting he could be an average big leaguer pitcher with 40 control and a potential star with 50 control. The same evaluator said Sanchez’s solid delivery and arm action should help him harness the ball better as he grows as a pitcher and gains more experience. He also said the young pitcher could end up with three plus pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup). Additional Notes In conversations with scouts at the ballpark, no prospect generated more buzz than right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Player comps included Matt Garza on the low end and Justin Verlander, “if everything broke just right.” Another scout mentioned he was shocked he lasted so long in the 2010 draft after seeing him pitch in person. (Mike Newman) #3 Noah Syndergaard (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 19 27 19 103.2 80 3 10.59 2.69 2.60 2.21 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: A Acquired: 2010 draft (38th overall) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA Syndergaard has come a long way since being considered a “signability pick” during the 2010 draft. A late bloomer in high school, the tall Texan’s velocity now sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and can touch triple-digits. He also possesses above-average control for both his age and experience level. The issue with the right-hander, though, is his secondary stuff. Both his curveball and changeup currently grade out as below average and questions remain about their future potential. A talent evaluator asked about Syndergaard’s secondary stuff commented, “The curveball has come a long, long way… it is, at times, average,” He also stated that the young pitcher is toying with a slider and referred the changeup as “OK.” If the secondary pitches don’t improve then Syndergaard could develop into a shut-down, high-leverage reliever who could dominate on the strength of his ground-ball-inducing fastball. When I saw him pitch in May it looked like he was getting out in front of the curveball and dragging his arm behind him – making it almost impossible for him to throw it for strikes. He also was not doing a good job of holding base runners. The tall Texan should move up to Dunedin in 2013. Additional Notes One scout I spoke to commented Syndergaard’s fastball had the potential to be “Mat Latos Good.” And while that’s high praise, his secondary offerings lagged significantly behind earning a high leverage reliever projection from this particular contact. The number three ranking is deserved if one believes Syngergaard develops into a mid-rotation starter. If not, then Osuna, Nicolino and Norris should be higher than the big right-hander. (Mike Newman) #4 Roberto Osuna (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 16 12 9 43.2 32 2 10.10 3.09 2.27 2.79 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R+/A- Acquired: 2011 international FA Projected 2013 Level: A/A+ Osuna rose up the depth charts more than any other prospect in the Jays system in 2012 and the organization now considers him as valuable as fellow young hurlers Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino. The teenaged Mexican hurler burst onto the prospect landscape when he struck out 13 batters and allowed just one hit in 5.0 innings of work during his debut in the Northwest League in late July. He’s a big, strong 17-year-old who spent part of 2011 pitching in the Mexican League against players capable of playing at the double-A and triple-A level. Osuna’s fastball gained a full grade between signing in 2011 and opening the ’12 season. He regularly sat 93-95 mph with his fastball after previously scraping 90. One talent evaluator saw him hit 96-97 mph with Nicolino’s pitchability. “He’s absolutely legit,” was the comment given. Watching Osuna pitch reminds me of a young Bartolo Colon, a former Montreal Expos pitcher. When I saw him, Osuna struck out nine batters in 5.0 innings in the Northwest League finals, and allowed just two hits. He worked quickly, showed good command and is mature beyond his years. He seemed to favor the curveball to the changeup but I felt the latter pitch was better on that night. Osuna will likely move up to the Midwest League in 2013 – although he’ll be just 18 – but will be on the same restrictive innings program that the young starting pitching staff in Lansing was on in 2012. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter. #5 D.J. Davis (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 19 266 57 10 5 27 70 25 .250 .355 .386 .356 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R/R+/A- Acquired: 2012 draft (17th overall) Projected 2013 Level: A-/A The Jays’ 2012 first round draft pick, Davis is an electric young player with pure 80 speed that helps him both in center field and on the base paths. He played at three different levels during his pro debut, topping out at the college-aged Northwest League with Vancouver. Although most scouting reports fixate on the speed, a front office representative told me that Davis’ bat could become a plus tool with time: “It’s a simple swing and it’s quick… the power is the one tool that maybe gets overlooked with D.J. He’s got very strong hands and will show you raw power.” I personally saw him play at the end of the year in the Northwest League and his speed was exciting. He almost legged out a one-bouncer to the third baseman, who played the ball perfectly. Davis showed a well-balanced stance at the plate and has a simple load. He does tend to rely on his quick hands too much in his swing, though, and could stand to incorporate his lower half more consistently. After receiving some playoff experience with Vancouver, Davis is set to open 2013 in full-season ball with low-A Lansing. Consider current Jays outfielder Rajai Davis to be the floor for D.J.. #6 Daniel Norris (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 19 13 12 42.2 58 4 9.07 3.80 8.44 3.81 Opening Day Age: 2012 Level: R+/A- Acquired: 2011 draft (2nd round) Projected 2013 Level: A When the Jays organization lost out on signing its 2011 first round draft pick it freed up some cash to sign Norris, who was considered by some to be the superior prep pitching prospect anyway. He didn’t pitch after signing and made his pro debut in 2012 in advanced-rookie ball. His numbers may look bad on the surface – a 7.97 ERA and 44 hits allowed in 35.0 innings – but he allowed a BABIP of .367 and had a FIP of 3.80. His strikeout rate was also outstanding at 9.77 K/9 and his control rate was average at 3.34 BB/9. Norris was moved up to Vancouver at the end of the season and made two final starts. One talent evaluator liked what he saw from Norris this past season: “I saw Norris twice this year and he was excellent both times… I think the big inning got him a few times and I see the high ERA as more of a product of bad luck than lack of quality pitching (or) stuff.” The southpaw has some work to do on ironing out and repeating his delivery but his changeup made huge strides during the year and projects as a plus pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90s but can tough 94-95 mph when needed. With a strong spring Norris could move up to low-A Lansing. #7 Sean Nolin (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 22 20 18 101.1 81 7 9.59 2.40 2.04 2.91 Opening Day Age: 23 2012 Level: A+/AA Acquired: 2010 draft (6th round) Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA One of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season was the emergence of Nolin. As one front office person stated, “I haven’t seen him on any top prospect lists yet, but he should be.” The southpaw missed some time due to injury but he blew through high-A ball with a 2.19 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 86.1 innings. Nolin, 22, also made three starts in double-A. He has a big, strong pitcher’s frame and could develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter depending on the development of his secondary stuff. He’s very aggressive with his fastball that sits in the low 90s and it can touch 93-94 mph. His curveball has a shot at developing into a plus pitch but his changeup was referred to by the evaluator as “a work in progress.” It was also suggested that, if the repertoire cannot be improved upon, Nolin could be a successful “power lefty coming out of the ‘pen.” He should return to the starting rotation at the double-A level in 2013 and, if he can stay healthy, he could reach the majors by the end of the year. #8 A.J. Jimenez (C) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 112 27 4 2 5 13 2 .260 .297 .375 .304 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2008 draft (9th round) Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA Travis d’Arnaud is easily the best catching prospect in the system but Jimenez also has a chance to be an everyday big league backstop. The Puerto Rico native was considered a Top 3 round talent in the 2008 draft but slid to the ninth round due to concerns over an elbow injury. He played through the issue until his elbow finally gave way in 2012, resulting in Tommy John surgery after just 27 double-A games. Jimenez should be ready to return to double-A at the beginning of 2013 but he may have to DH until his elbow is fully rehabbed, likely in May or June. I watched Jimenez play shortly before his injury and he was utilizing a wide, well-balanced stance at the plate. His approach was clearly designed to generate line drives, rather than over-the-fence power and he was relying heavily on his hands. He was stabbing a bit at the ball and needed to stay back more. Known as a very good defensive catcher – with a strong, accurate arm – Jimenez was a little lazy with his receiving in this game. With no runners on base, he was setting up very late and didn’t give a target with his glove; he allowed the pocket of his glove to point down to the ground, rather than out to the pitcher as a target. On the plus side, he was very quiet behind the plate and gave the umpire a great look at the ball. #9 Marcus Stroman (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 15 0 19.1 16 1 10.71 4.19 3.26 2.89 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: A-/AA Acquired: 2012 draft (22nd overall) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA Stroman would have placed a little higher on this list had he not tested positive for a performance enhancing drug, resulting in a 50-game suspension that will significantly cut into his 2013 season. The first round draft pick out of Duke University in 2012, Stroman is an undersized right-hander whose future big league role is still undetermined by the organization. He has a compact delivery but there is some effort to it. He has relatively long legs and they’re clearly quite strong. When I saw him pitch early in his pro career he was dropping his elbow a bit, causing command and control issues. When he’s going well Stroman shows a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and also utilizes a promising slider that could have a future 65-70 grade. When I saw him pitch Stroman showed some impressive fastballs with explosive arm side run. However, I struggle to envision the right-hander as a big league starter. He has the potential to develop into a high-leverage reliever and should open his 2013 season in late May at the high-A level and could move quickly if he shows more consistency with his delivery. #10 Santiago Nessy (C) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 19 203 43 9 9 16 54 0 .236 .305 .434 .334 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: R+/A- Acquired: 2009 international FA Projected 2013 Level: A Nessy was a big ticket international signing back in 2009 but has moved slowly (by design) and spent the past three years in short-season ball. He played the majority of 2012 in advanced-rookie ball but received a late-season promotion to the Northwest League to experience playoff baseball with Vancouver, although he was over-matched in six regular season games and sat on the bench during the post-season. Nessy’s greatest asset as an offensive player is his raw power and he could hit 20+ home runs in the majors with regular playing time. However, high strikeout rates will limit his ability to hit for average – which sounds a lot like current Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia – but Nessy has better plate discipline – although it’s far from perfect and his pitch selection needs work. The catching prospect has made huge strides on his defensive game, thanks in part to the work he’s done with former big leaguer, and current minor league manager, Sal Fasano. Although Nessy has a large frame, much like Fasano did, a talent evaluator told me the prospect is very flexible and can provide pitchers with extremely low targets and an above-average arm. He was referred to as a “legit catcher” and his ability to speak English well (along with Spanish) gives him added value. #11 Matt Smoral Opening Day Age: 19 2012 Level: INJ Acquired: 2012 draft (50th overall) Projected 2013 Level: R+ Despite the new amateur draft budget limitations in 2012 the organization managed its money extremely well and came away with some players that other teams deemed unsignable under the new rules. Smoral was one of those players and he turned his back on a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina thanks to a $2 million signing bonus. The teenager did not play after inking his contract due to a foot injury that was suffered prior to the draft – and caused him to slide to the 50th overall pick. The lefty stands 6’7” but has good body control for his age and experience level. His fastball sits in the 89-94 mph range and he also shows a promising slider. His changeup remains a work-in-progress. Said one front office person familiar with Smoral, “I love how the ball comes out of his hand. I believe he can be explosive when he reaches his ceiling… He has a chance to be a power fastball/slider combo guy.” The organization was hoping to have him on the mound for the fall instructional league but was going to be very cautious. He should open 2013 in extended spring training before heading to rookie or advanced-rookie ball. #12 Alberto Tirado (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 17 14 14 48.0 32 0 7.31 3.19 2.63 2.89 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R/R+ Acquired: 2011 international FA Projected 2013 Level: R+/A- Tirado was acquired during the same signing period as fellow Jays prospects Wuilmer Becerra, Dawel Lugo, Jesus Gonzalez, Jairo Labourt and Manny Cordova – and received the smallest signing bonus – but he could end up being the best prospect out of the bunch. After seeing his fastball range from 87-91 mph when he signed, Tirado has now seen his velocity jump to 93-95 mph. He also has a curveball, changeup and slider, which the talent evaluator I spoke with rated as his second-best pitch. I was told that the organization lowered the prospect’s arm slot from three-quarter to low-three-quarter and it added depth to the power slider. Tirado skipped over the Dominican Summer League and came to North America to play as a 17 year old, which speaks to how highly the organization views him as a prospect. With that said, he’ll be handled cautiously and will likely open 2013 in extended spring training before returning to the Appalachian League or, possibly, the Northwest League. He’s a long way from realizing his full potential and his lack of size is the biggest detractor from his ultimate value. #13 John Stilson (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 30 22 104.1 110 8 7.85 3.62 3.88 3.78 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: A+/AA Acquired: 2011 draft (3rd round) Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA Stilson was a potential first round pick out of Texas A&M before injuries scared teams away and he fell into Toronto’s lap in the third round of the 2011 amateur draft. The organization gambled half a million dollars after doctors reviewed his medical history and felt his shoulder could be rehabbed and surgery avoided. Stilson’s shoulder was not an issue in his pro debut in 2012 and he pitched a total of 104.1 innings. After beginning the year as a starter, the Texas native finished the year in the bullpen to ease his innings total and that will likely be his future big league role due to the health concerns and his full-effort delivery. Stilson’s fastball works in the low 90s and can hit the mid-90s. He also flashes a plus changeup. His breaking ball has the chance to be average. A contact I spoke with feels that the right-hander will excel in any role that he’s given. “I love Stilson’s competitive fire. He’s a winner,” the talent evaluator said. “He’s got good stuff and goes right after guys.” After pitching 50 innings at double-A in 2012, he should return to that level to open the 2013 season but he could reach both triple-A and the majors by the end of the season. If he reaches his ceiling, Stilson could be a high-leverage reliever with closer potential. #14 Kevin Pillar (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 23 620 184 29 7 43 83 59 .328 .378 .439 .373 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: A/A+ Acquired: 2011 draft (32nd round) Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA Pillar is one of those players that doesn’t have any plus tools but he gets the most out of his abilities. In fact, his hit tool may be the only above-average tool that he possesses. A 32nd round draft pick from 2011, Pillar has made the most of his opportunity after flying under a lot of radars. In college, Pillar was known most for his defense but a talent evaluator I spoke with gave a 50 grade on the outfielder’s defensive abilities. He also gave the same grade for the speed tool even though the California native stole 51 bases in 60 attempts last season, mostly due to savvy base running. “He’s one of those prospects that grows on you,” the contact said. “He’s a good baseball player… that can barrel up balls and steal bases even though he’s an average runner… And he’s a great team guy.” I personally like to give a Reed Johnson comp for Pillar. The outfield prospect hit .323 between two A-ball levels last season and drove in 91 runs despite having just modest gap power and not being considered a run producer. Assigned to the Arizona Fall League, Pillar was hitting .407 with eight steals in his first 13 games. In a game I personally witnessed during the season,he hit a no-doubt grand slam into the center-field stands on a1-1 pitch while utilizing a low-maintenance stroke that was short and quick to the ball. Because of his strong season and outstanding fall performance, he should open 2013 in double-A and could see some major league action before the year is out — especially now that the depth in front of him has thinned with the recent trade of fellow prospect Jake Marisnick to the Miami Marlins. #15 Christian Lopes (2B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 19 246 62 17 4 17 40 6 .278 .339 .462 .362 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: R+/A- Acquired: 2011 draft (7th round) Projected 2013 Level: A Although four years younger, Lopes is similar to Pillar in the sense that he doesn’t have a tool that screams “plus” but he does a little bit of everything and should hit well for a second baseman. The young prospect did not play after signing in 2011 but he reached short-season A-ball with Vancouver at the end of ’12. Lopes had an above-average offensive reason in advanced rookie ball with a 127 wRC+ and he showed more power than expected with a .204 isolated slugging rate. He also controlled the strike zone well for a young player and showed decent defensive skills at second base despite a fringe-average arm, average hands and average range. A contact I spoke with said he wasn’t surprised with the success Lopes had last year. “He’s confident, he can hit and he’s a baseball rate,” the talent evaluator said. “Coming into the spring of 2011 we felt he was one of the top high school bats (available in the draft). I think he can be an everyday second baseman with offensive abilities.” When I saw Lopes play I noted his low, squat stance that gave him a solid base at the plate. He has an open stance and stands close to the plate, which causes me to question his ability to handle pitches on the inner half of the strike zone. With that said, he showed a quick bat and his swing was short to the ball. Toronto likes to be cautious with its prep draftees but Lopes should be ready for full-season ball in 2013 after just one year of short-season action. He still needs a fair bit of polish but the prospect could be ready for the majors around 2016.