Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Grade A-: Outstanding stuff, still has some command issues to work through, but A-ball hitters were generally helpless against his power sinker when he wasn’t walking them too often. I think he will need at least a year in the high minors and maybe two but if it all pans out he’s a number two starter.
2) Marcus Stroman, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Not really concerned about the height "issue" given his combination of stuff and command. At worst he’ll have a great career as a reliever and at best he’s a number two starter.
3) Mitch Nay, 3B, Grade B: Aggressive grade for rookie ball player but I believe in this bat. Good power potential, has some pure hitting skills, controls the zone reasonably and avoids strikeouts. Needs more defensive polish but bat can be special.
4) Daniel Norris, LHP, Grade B: I had him as a B- a year ago despite a rough ’12 season, so a more effective ’13 moves him up a notch. Chance to be a four-pitch starter if his command continues to sharpen.
5) Sean Nolin, LHP, Grade B: Aside from his bad spot start in the majors, he had another strong year. I had him as a Grade B pre-season and he pitched well enough in Double-A/Triple-A to maintain that. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Sanchez, Stroman, or Norris, but he’s deceptive enough to be a major league starter, at least a #4.
6) Franklin Barreto, SS, Grade B-: High-ceiling player with great tools, big-bonus pedigree ($1,450,000) and resultant hype, played very well in Gulf Coast League (.299/.368/.529) but overmatched after moving up to Appy League (.204/.259/.333). He’s only 17 so that is not damning at his point, but it does indicate risk. Would rank ahead of Nolin on pure upside alone but I want to see how adjustment goes at higher levels. With skill growth he could be at the top of this list next year.
7) D.J. Davis, OF, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Like Barreto, Davis is very toolsy featuring speed and raw power, but there are still questions about his bat after a .240/.323/.418 line with 76 strikeouts in 225 at-bats in Appy League. Most scouts like him better than Nay due to superior athleticism, but for me, Nay is a better bet as a hitter.
From this point on, you can throw most of these guys into a hat and come up with a logical ranking. With the huge amount of Grade C+ in this system, it is a matter of taste.
8) Alberto Tirado, RHP, Grade C+: Up to 96-98 MPH in rookie ball although erratic secondary pitches and some command issues kept his strikeout rate below one-per-inning despite the velocity. Scouts say he can become a number two or three starter but he’ll need patient development. Like Barreto and several others, he could vault up the grade rankings with a strong ’14.
9) Roberto Osuna, RHP, Grade C+: Tough to rank since he will miss most or all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery and recovery isn’t automatic for everyone. Good command of fastball/slider/changeup arsenal impressed Midwest League sources before he got hurt.
10) Dawel Lugo, SS, Grade C+: First-class tools on par with Barreto’s I think, but I can’t get behind six walks in 270 plate appearances in short-season ball. Young enough at age 19 to develop of course, but I want performance proof on this one.
11) Andy Burns, INF, Grade C+: Sleeper prospect who woke up, hitting .288/.346/.470 with 15 homers, 33 steals between High-A and Double-A, has always had decent tools but did a better job using them last year. Seems ideally-suited for utility job and has a better bat than most bench guys. For short-term fantasy purposes he would rank higher than this.
12) Tom Robson, RHP, Grade C+: I don’t know that he’ll rank as high on other lists, but like I said, a matter of taste. Robson has a strong sinker and changeup, throws strikes, and posted a 1.12 ERA with a 3.48 GO/AO in short-season ball. He needs better breaking stuff but I like the basics to build on here.
13) John Stilson, RHP, Grade C+: Looks like he’s ready for a full major league bullpen trial. Should be a solid relief asset and might get a shot at closing down the line.
14) A.J. Jimenez, C, Grade C+: Defense should keep him around for a long time. Line drive hitter with mediocre on-base skills. Can he develop more power?
15) Jairo Labourt, LHP, Grade C+: Fine campaign in Appalachian League (1.92 ERA, 45/14 K/BB in 52 innings) due to impressive sinker. Secondary pitches generate mixed reports, but he throws strikes and has a chance to breakout.
16) Chase DeJong, RHP, Grade C+: Another solid performer at Bluefield, 3.05 ERA with 66/10 K/BB in 56 innings with low-90s fastball and good curve. And another breakout candidate; the Jays should have a really intriguing rotation in Low-A this year.
17) Dwight Smith, OF, Grade C+: Line drive hitter still reminds me of his dad, and he hit like him last year against right-handers (.310/.386/.426) in Low-A. However he needs to figure out lefties (.196/.297/.258) to be more than a fourth outfielder.
18) L.B. Dantzler, 1B, Grade C+: Sort of a Cardinals-style pick here, a 14th round college hitter from a major program (South Carolina) with a polished bat and performance record but limited physical tools. Crushed Northwest League pitching (.302/.385/.504) and impressed some scouts doing it, giving hope that he can repeat at higher levels.
19) Matt Boyd, LHP, Grade C+: Pitching-equivalent of Dantzler, although Boyd had better pre-draft cachet with scouts and went in the sixth round from Oregon State. Polished, throws strikes, good pro debut (2.63 ERA, 23/4 K/BB in 24 innings), could advance rapidly as fourth/fifth starter type.
20) Richard Urena, SS, Grade C+: 2012 signee from Dominican is a long way off but performed well in DSL and GCL (.300/.383/.404) and could catch up with Barreto and Lugo quickly. Very tough to rank but I thought I would highlight him as someone to watch. You could easily slot the other C+ guys here instead.
OTHER GRADE C+: Matt Dean, 1B; Clinton Hollon, RHP; Rowdy Tellez, 1B
OTHERS: Jake Brentz, LHP; Adonys Cardona, RHP; Miguel Castro, RHP; Shane Dawson, LHP; Matt Dermody, LHP; Jeremy Gabryszwski, RHP; Ryan Goins, UT; Christian Lopes, 2B; Deck McGuire, RHP; Santiago Nessy, C: Kevin Pillar, OF; Dalton Pompey, OF; Rob "The Eternal" Rasmussen, LHP; Matt Smoral, LHP.
This is a tough system to get a handle on. The top names are straightforward enough, although I probably rank Nolin more aggressively than most. I had him ranked fourth last year and he certainly performed well enough to hold steady. The problem here comes when you get into the C+ guys: you could rank the players in the teens in just about any order you like with firm logic behind it.
The Blue Jays have collected quite a few high-ceiling arms, with Sanchez and Stroman obviously standing out at the top. Tirado, Osuna, DeJong, Robeson, Labourt. . .lots of lively A-ball rotation arms there. There will be attrition of course and most of these guys have enough questions that need to be answered to merit some grading caution until we see them under larger workloads. That should happen this year. It would have been nice to sign Phil Bickford, but the organization does not want for depth among right-handed pitching.
From my point of view, the hitting is thinner than the pitching. I am a big advocate for Nay who I see as a huge breakout candidate. While I respect the athleticism and tools gathered in the form of Davis, Barreto, Lugo, Urena, Pompey, and others, most of them are too far away and/or too raw for me to be fully confident in at this time.
2014 will be very, very interesting for this organization, as this wave of live arms and tools faces sterner tests in full-season ball. Which players develop the skills to make the tools work? A year from now, you could be looking at a system filled with Grade B or better prospects, or you could be looking at a bunch of disappointments. It will probably be somewhere in between of course.
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