The background: A few days ago, in response to the deluge of top 20 lists for the Royals and Mariners, I stated that I would do a list on-demand for a team that had not yet received a top 20 treatment in recent times. Humbled Fan asked for the Blue Jays, and seeing as I repeatedly crapped on Blue Jays fans for their mythical $16 million draft budget, I decided that I needed to make amends and do a good deed for them. Of course, this had a side effect: everybody and their mother then realized that nobody had done a Toronto Blue Jays top 20 prospects list, and as one of my role models in life once noted, boom goes the dynamite. So now, instead of treating you all to a bunch of awe-inspiring observations about a team that you haven't read about too much lately, you're getting a list of players that you've already read about like 5 times in the last few days. All I can say is that I'm going to be a man about it and ask you to blame Humbled Fan, which seems entirely reasonable and fair to me. That being said, part of being a man means that I have to live up to my word, so here's my list of the top 20 Blue Jays prospects going into the off-season, complete with comments and a couple of bonus dudes that I felt like writing about. Other people gave some better explanations of just who the players are (I bet you didn't know that Kyle Drabek throws hard, did you?), so I'll link you to TwosEyesForAnEye's list. It's a good post, but he handles his posts a bit differently than I do. I'll be upfront and note that I expect you to already know who I'm talking about, and my comments tend to focus on why I do/don't like Prospect X. As a final note before jumping in, I'll also note that I still don't know what's good for me and therefore I will take requests for ANOTHER team here, to be posted in a new post in several days' time. The criteria is the same as before - find me a team that hasn't been given the top 20 treatment here, I'll select one and I'll go to work.
General comments on the system: Certainly looking up, just a lot of uncertainty towards the bottom of the list, which is to be expected with a big draft haul. For the moment we don't have big sample sizes so for me, it's a matter of going off of guys who I liked going into the draft and some preliminary findings off of small sample sizes. Drabek is a perfectly legitimate No. 1 prospect, a good example of why you can't freak out too much over the numbers . . .sometimes prospects are just working on different things and it's good to see prospects who understand the big picture and focus on the process rather than the immediate results. You've got a nice blend of safety and upside towards the upper half of this system, with Perez and Sanchez being guys who could see big jumps in the overall prospecting scene next year. Then you've got some lottery tickets in Alvarez, Hechavarria, and Arencibia, players with above-average potential at the major league level but who are more likely to end up as fringe major leaguers or in reserve roles. The second half of the list is, as I said, kind of a crapshoot as we just don't have enough pro data to make strong conclusions; the important thing to me is that I got all the names of guys that I think have a shot at making some noise, in the order in which I like said guys. It's hard not to see this list looking very differently by this time next year; such is life when you inject a ton of amatuer talent in an otherwise relatively barren system. But if you'd like my personal favorite, I'll tell you right now that Griffin Murphy could make a huge jump in the next year.
Anyways. Time to get to the list!
1) Kyle Drabek, RHP - No complaining about this one; the stuff is well above-average and this kind of makeup always plays at the major league level. He has frontline starter potential, but even if he doesn't quite realize all of it he's going to stay relevant in the major leagues for a long time. In a system full of intriguing guys with questions, Drabek edges ahead of his competition to grab the top spot.
2) Deck McGuire, RHP - I'm not enamored of his upside and I'll admit to clearly preferring Alex Wimmers among 2010 draftees who lack truly killer stuff, but McGuire is a safe bet to make it to the major league team within the next couple of years and make a meaningful contribution. Relatively known quantities like this in a system make it much easier to build for future success.
3) Travis D'arnaud, C - I have to say that it really sucks that D'arnaud got hurt. If he had played a full season with good health, he could have easily been the No. 2 or even the No. 1 prospect in this system. He has the raw tools to be an excellent major league player, but there's a decent chance that he's "only" a solid regular, and I hate seeing minor league catchers missing significant time due to injury, as they already have enough crap to deal with. Still, before the injuries wore him down and finally out, he was showing signs of a major breakout. We'll see where he goes from here.
4) Zach Stewart, RHP - Baseball America aside, I like Stewart. Sinkerballers are to pitchers as catchers are to position players - they take longer to develop and improvements in their games don't always show up immediately in the numbers. It wouldn't shock me if Stewart pitched better in the majors next year (were the Jays so inclined) than he did this year in NH. I don't think he has elite level upside, but I think he'll provide a number of years of very respectable value in one capacity or another. If the Jays decide they like him more in the pen, that's just fine - his stuff would play even better there.
5) Anthony Gose, OF - Some may describe this as "aggressive", but I don't think this way at all, and I'll explain why. The raw tools are just plain awesome - it's rare that you get a player with this many plus grades, as Gose gets plus-if-not-better marks for defensive instincts, range, and speed. But the bat isn't too shabby either, as Gose showed a clear uptick in power production and drew more walks this year despite moving to the Florida State League. He's going to need some time to refine his overall approach and hopefully the Jays recognize that, but this is a player who is clearly moving in the right direction to be an above-average major league regular. All Star potential and a floor that's better than you might initially think, sign me up.
6) Jacob Marisnick, OF - He was super raw coming out of high school and looked great in the GCL this year, so he gets a pass for that forgettable Midwest League stint. The raw potential to be an impact major leaguer is here and he's made some major strides in the last year, but there's just a bit too much bust potential here still for me to go higher than this for the moment. Next year is especially important for Marisnick - he could become one of the better prospects in all of baeball, or he could be just barely holding on to a spot in the top 20 if he can't turn the tools into production in a full season league. He's below Gose for me because Gose has gotten the job done in full season ball and because Gose offers more with the glove.
7) Carlos Perez, C - This guy seems to be all the rage right now, and I've seen him as high as No. 2 in some rankings. I can respect that point of view, I just don't agree with it; this system is too good for a talented-but-still-unseasoned catcher in the short-season leagues to rate that highly. Full season leagues are an entirely different animal, especially so for a catcher who has to endure a much more rigorous schedule. I'm certainly excited about the upside here, and I think his ranking reflects that, but I'm not thinking twice about taking any of the guys ahead of Perez on this list before I take him.
8) Aaron Sanchez, RHP - I'll be totally upfront in saying that I love Aaron Sanchez. Some of you might not have him this high, but he's got the raw talent to be an excellent major league pitcher. Let's start off with a fastball that would already get a good major league grade, and add in a generous heaping of projection that could bump his fastball into the elite range. Then let's add a nice breaking ball into the equation, and we're talking about a big time power arm. He's a bit raw so the Jays would definitely benefit from a conservative track to let the command come along and to let projection take its natural course, but I'm high on Sanchez.
9) Eric Thames, OF - I like Thames but don't love him. In terms of raw production there's little to complain about, as he's hit extremely well as a pro, and I think the raw tools are there for that to continue forward. That being said, there's a couple of red flags for me: he's limited defensively, and he doesn't hit left-handed pitching very well. I'll also be interested to see how his average holds up at higher levels. I think he'll be a useful piece, but I'm not yet sure as to whether it will be as the new Raul Ibanez or as "just" a quality bench player. Players like Thames are among the trickiest for me to assess - on the one hand you want to recognize the value that a relatively safe bat like this can provide, but at the same time it's just not very wise to get too excited - after all, the reasonable upside estimate here is league average platoon left fielder.
10) Asher Wojciechowski, RHP - I am pretty skeptical that Woj is really a starter in the long-term, as I think his stuff just plays better as a late-inning relief type. Nonetheless, I would be completely okay with that, and I do think that he's raw enough to the point where having him start for a couple of years to develop his repertoire is a worthwhile venture. The fastball velocity is excellent and the breaking ball is good too, so there's clearly impact potential here, and I'll be very interested to see where his first full pro season will take him.
11) Henderson Alvarez, RHP - Alvarez is one of those players who confuses me. The raw stuff is quite good, but I'm always a bit concerned about "throwers" who don't miss bats in the lower minors. The majority of players in the low minors can't deal with consistent low-mid 90s fastballs backed up by even fringe secondaries, and when a pitcher gets hit like Alvarez did this year, concern is warranted. Still, he's a relatively inexperienced pitcher who has time to improve, and there's a degree of safety associated with him that players who rate below him in the Jays system don't quite have. And if nothing else, he's throwing strikes, and that's something you can build on even if the end result doesn't necessarily result in an ace.
12) Adeiny Hechavarria, SS - I have very mixed feelings about Hechavarria. Legitimate shortstops who project to the major league level are the rarest of commodities, and Hechavarria fits that profile. The problem is that I just don't buy the bat at all. While he is relatively inexperienced, he hasn't yet shown even the slightest trace of secondary skills that project to being an average starting player in the major leagues. He still has time to grow as a player, but right now I feel more comfortable projecting him as a utility player who may surprise. When we're talking about a player who has legitimate major league tools to play shortstop at this point of the list, that to me just emphasizes how strong this system is.
13) J.P. Arencibia, C - I'm sure this one will catch some flak, but I'm okay with that. No doubt Arencibia made progress this year as a player, but to me that just raised him from "AAAA player" to "most likely a respectable major league backup". Lost in his offensive explosion this year is that he did the bulk of his damage in a six week span, and while production is production, it just emphaizes the fact that Arencibia is an extremely streaky player. Guys like this drive teams nuts when they're slotted in as regulars. I think he's a major league player in the end, but I see him more as a guy who can play a few times a week as a quality backup at catcher and first base, with the raw power to take advantage of pitchers who make mistakes against a player they're not familiar with. That's a sneaky-good contributor in the making.
14) Griffin Murphy, LHP - I don't get why this guy doesn't get more love. High 80s fastball from the left side that touches 93 MPH? The makings of excellent command? Good secondaries? Room to fill out? Try all of the above. I thought he was a steal for the Jays, even if they had to wait a while to get him signed up. Maybe other people forgot about him due to the late sign, maybe people just built their lists off of other lists that they saw, I don't know. All I know is that Murphy's a guy to keep an eye on, and I didn't forget about him.
15) Brad Emaus, 2B/3B - I have no clue where this guy is going to play, but he brings a respectable bat with good secondary skills to the table. If he keeps hitting, he's going to earn himself a chance somewhere on a major league field. The upside isn't as pronounced as it is with many of the other players in this system because he's got to answer the question of where he's going to play on the field, but he gets credit where credit is due.
16) Noah Syndergaard, RHP - I tend to be a bit wary of preps who see a late jump in their stuff as the draft approaches, but the upside here is very attractive. I wouldn't put him ahead of Murphy because the raw stuff isn't that much better and Murphy has an actual three pitch mix and some polish, but Syndergaard is a good name to watch. If he can keep his velocity bump from last draft season and show off that breaker, he could certainly post some saber-friendly strikeout numbers. On the other hand, he's also rather risky for me, so I think this placement reflects both the good and the bad.
17) Chad Jenkins, RHP - I guess Jenkins has a higher floor than a number of the players on this list, but there's just nothing here that makes me think he's more than a fringy starter at the major league level. Having had college experience to put his stuff together, it was pretty disconcerting to see him get hit up so much this year, crappy defense or not. Maybe he plays up into a No. 4 starter, but considering we haven't even seen him against Double A competition yet even that is a gamble for me. Guys like this often see their peripherals go down the drain once they hit AA. For the moment, I'm going to take caution on a guy who isn't going to be missed if he doesn't make it and won't distinguish himself if he does. I think I'm being relatively kind in giving him this much slack, but I suppose he is only one year out of school.
18) Dickie Thon Jr., SS - He might not end up at shortstop, but even the possibility of playing there gets him some notice, and I'm a big fan of bloodlines and of Puerto Rican prospects (who always seem to be at least a tad undervalued). I can't put him any higher than this until we see how he really stacks up against the competition and until we have a better feel for where he's going to slot defensively, but the boy's got some tools and that's something we can work with.
19) Kellen Sweeney, 3B - I really like Sweeney's bat and it's great to see a kid from a cold weather background with such a good feel for the zone early in his career. The reason he's here is because I want to see more on his defense and power development. It's not lost on me that his brother showed a great early feel for hitting but with minimal later development, and I don't believe that Kellen will provide as much defensive value as Ryan. I'd expect Sweeney to rate a bit higher than this by this time next year, but until we see a bit more out of him, this is a fine position for him to come in at.
20) Drew Hutchison, RHP - Hutchison isn't a big upside guy, but guys who are skilled enough at throwing strikes and changing speeds to put up good looking numbers are worth a look, and they're worth a bit more than that when they're still inexperienced. He's going to have to add a bit more oomph and keep up the good work to project as any more than a mid-rotation starter, but he's earned my attention for all the right reasons so far.
20) Justin Nicolino, LHP - This guy is a project, but I'm favorable to a lefty with a feel for a changeup and a good chance of adding on at least a little velocity. Nicolino has been watched by scouts for a while now so there might be a little "buyer fatigue" on him, and if the Jays put him on a slow development track I think they might just have themselves a respectable southpaw option a few years down the road. Patience needed here. In a lot of ways, he's kind of similar to a LH version of Hutchison, save that Hutchison has some actual pro performance under his belt.
21) Marcus Knecht, OF - Project player who will be 3.5 months from turning 21 at the start of the season, and one with iffy defensive value at the bottom of the spectrum. The raw tools to be a solid everyday player are here, but guys like this are among my least favorite types of prospects - they're very risky, and even if you win the gamble, you still end up with a bat-only defensive liability.
The next slew of guys on would include OF Moises Sierra (needs to get healthy with bat in tow), 3B Christopher Hawkins (awesome tools, just a major project), C A.J. Jimenez (catchers with plate discipline this bad are persona non grata for me), and a variety of upper level fringy control artists who might eat some innings in the majors here and there.
So for those of you still reading, the overall list is:
- Kyle Drabek, RHP
- Deck McGuire, RHP
- Travis D'arnaud, C
- Zach Stewart, RHP
- Anthony Gose, OF
- Jacob Marisnick, OF
- Carlos Perez, C
- Aaron Sanchez, RHP
- Eric Thames, OF
- Asher Wojciechowski, RHP
- Henderson Alvarez, RHP
- Adeinys Hechavarria, SS
- J.P. Arencibia, C
- Griffin Murphy, LHP
- Brad Emaus, 2B/3B
- Noah Syndergaard, RHP
- Chad Jenkins, RHP
- Dickie Thon, Jr., SS
- Kellen Sweeney, 3B
- Drew Hutchinson, RHP
- Justin Nicolino, LHP
- Marcus Knecht, OF