Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 Prospects for 2015
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 2015 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. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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) Daniel Norris, LHP, Grade A-/Borderline A. Age 21, outstanding season in all respects, posted 2.53 ERA with 163/43 K/BB in 125 innings at three levels. He got killed in rookie ball two years ago but has made enormous progress, projects as number two starter at least.
2) Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Grade A-: Age 22, posted 3.95 ERA with 84/57 K/BB in 100 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 1.09 ERA with 27/9 K/BB in 33 major league innings. Assumption is that he is a starter long-term. He’s never had spectacular strikeout rates and his command can wobble, but he is an extreme ground ball pitcher and his stuff is among the best of all pitchers in his age group. I had him as an A- last year and can’t reduce that given the season he had.
3) Dalton Pompey, OF, Grade B/Borderline B+: Age 22, hit .317/.392/.469 with 43 steals in 441 at-bats at three levels, .231/.302/.436 in 39 at-bats in the majors. Impressive athlete and a new favorite for Blue Jays fans, stands out for defense, speed, on-base abilities, and improving power. You can make a good case for B+. . .but he's something of a trendy pick right now, although I don’t think he was a fluke overall and this may go to B+ once I slot him on the Top 50 list. He is a lot of fun to watch too.
4) Max Pentecost, C, Grade B: Age 21, first-round pick out of Kennesaw State, hit .324/.330/.419 in pro debut in short-season ball. Excellent athlete as catchers go, but was very impatient (two walks, 21 strikeouts) in his first look at pro pitching. Rehabbing from torn labrum, not a good thing for a catcher to have, but his defense is otherwise well-regarded. I want to see how his OBP holds up and if his arm is OK before putting a "+" on there.
5) Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, first-round pick out of East Carolina University, was seen as top five talent until he blew out his elbow, slipping to ninth. Above-average fastball, excellent curve, good change-up, number two starter based on pre-injury command and stuff but we’ll have to see what he comes back with.
6) Devon Travis, 2B, Grade B/Borderline B-: Age 23, acquired this winter from the Tigers, hit .298./.358/.460 in Double-A. Feel for the game compensates for so-so physical tools or at least it has so far. There are fewer doubters every year and it seems like he can be a regular, featuring good on-base skills, nice power for his size, and solid defensive work.
7) Miguel Castro, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B. Age 20, posted 2.68 ERA with 78/30 K/BB in 81 innings, just 50 hits, mostly in the Northwest League but finishing the season in High-A. Can hit 98-99, good change-up, breaking ball still in developmental stages. Another high-ceiling talent who could/should rank higher once he has a full season under his belt.
8) Richard Urena, SS, Grade B-: Age 18, signed for $725,000 in 2012, hit .318/.363/.433 with Bluefield in Appalachian League. Strong arm, good range at short, needs more polish but that is normal for his age. Should hit for average with a chance to develop some power, but strike zone could be a challenge at higher levels. Very high ceiling, a good season in 2015 will move him up the list. Higher ceiling than Devon Travis but much further away.
9) Dwight Smith, OF, Grade B-: Age 22, continues steady development, hit .284/.364/.453 with 12 homers, 15 steals, 58 walks, just 69 strikeouts in 472 at-bats in pro-pitching Florida State League. If power continues to increase he could avoid tweenerdom. Double-A transition will tell us a lot but I tend to like bloodline players and I always liked his dad as a player.
10) Matt Smoral, LHP, Grade B-: Age 20, posted 3.19 ERA with70/33 K/BB in 54 innings in short-season ball. Premium stuff from a 6-8 lefty, command still needs refinement and he has some issues with mechanical consistency, but upside is quite high.
11) Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline C+: Age 19, 2014 second round pick, posted 4.76 ERA with 25/10 K/BB in 23 innings in rookie ball. Good size at 6-3, 220, can hit mid-90s, good slider, needs to improve change-up and simply gain experience, could be fine workhorse starter and perhaps more.
12) Jairo Labourt, LHP, Grade C+/Borderline B-: Age 20, hit hard in Midwest League (6.43 ERA, 11/20 K/BB in 14 innings) due to command troubles but was better after moving down to Northwest League, 1.77 ERA with 82/37 K/BB in 71 innings, just 47 hits. May go up to B- with this one. Another live arm that needs more polish but offers upside.
13) Robert Osuna, RHP, Grade C+: Age 19, recovering from Tommy John surgery, posted 6.55 ERA with 30/8 K/BB in 22 innings, 28 hits in High-A. Good fastball and change-up, breaking stuff remains raw, needs to get stamina built back up. Could leap up the list with a healthy year.
14) Mitch Nay, 3B, Grade C+: Age 21 now, hit .285/.342/.389 with 34 doubles, 39 walks, 79 strikeouts in 473 at-bats in Low-A. Defense has improved. Makes ready contact, but home run power has not developed to this point. I still think it can but we’ll see. Florida State League will be a challenge. Midwest League observers were very mixed on him.
15) Alberto Tirado, RHP, Grade C+: Age 20, like Labourt he was poor at Lansing (6.30 ERA, 40/39 K/BB in 40 innings) but better at Vancouver (3.53 ERA, 36/28 K/BB in 36 innings). Plenty of stuff but still much more thrower than pitcher. Would not be a surprise to see him move to the bullpen eventually.
16) Matt Boyd, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, college-trained lefty destroyed High-A (1.39 ERA, 103/20 K/BB in 91 innings) but had problems in Double-A (6.96 ERA, but 44/13 K/BB in 43 innings). He needs to make adjustments but the ugly ERA at New Hampshire was misleadingly bad; the FIP was much better at just under 4.00, which isn’t great but is far from disastrous. Still has a shot at being a nice finesse lefty number four starter.
17) Dawel Lugo, SS, Grade C+: Age 19, bonus baby signed in ’12 for $1,300,000, hit .259/.286/.329 in the Midwest League. Good throwing arm, not horribly error-prone given his age but range may fit best at second or third base eventually. Said to have power potential but it hasn’t shown up in games yet and his plate discipline is rough.
18) Angel Perdomo, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, part of the Dominican pitching pipeline established by the Jays, posted 2.54 ERA with 57/21 K/BB in 46 innings in rookie ball, 36 hits. Interesting size at 6-6, 200, GCL observers report he can hit the mid-90s. Needs tighter command and more innings but has breakthrough potential.
19) A.J. Jimenez, C, Grade C+/Borderline C: Age 24, hit .249/.289/.351 between Double-A/Triple-A in 313 at-bats. Solid with the glove, but injury-prone and bat appears stagnant. Will likely have a long career as a reserve unless the bat blossoms, which is getting less likely with each passing year and each nagging injury.
20) Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Grade C+/Borderline C: Age 19, hit .305/.375/.438 with 26 walks, 37 strikeouts in 233 at-bats between Bluefield and Lansing. Massive difference of opinion about this guy: some observers love him for his power potential and solid sense of the strike zone, others hate his body (listed at 6-4, 220 but looks bulkier) and point to serious defensive limitations. Let’s see what he does with a full season.
OTHERS OF INTEREST: Anthony Alford, OF; Ryan Borucki, LHP; Jake Brentz, LHP; Andy Burns, UT; Adonys Cardona, RHP; Taylor Cole, RHP; D.J. Davis, OF; Matt Dean, 1B; Chase De Jong, RHP; Clinton Hollon, RHP; Grayson Huffman, LHP; Dan "Tek" Jansen presents: Dan "Tek" Jansen’s Baseball Squad 9, Lady Nocturne, a Dan "Tek" Jansen Adventure, C; Chase Mallard, RHP; Ryan McBroom, 1B; Rob Rasmussen, LHP; Tom Robson, RHP; Evan Smith, LHP; Ryan Tepera, RHP; Lane Thomas, OF; Nick Wells, LHP.
This is a good solid farm system.
The best news is strong depth in pitching. Daniel Norris has taken several huge steps forward and can be a top-of-the-rotation starter assuming he solidifies that progress. Aaron Sanchez’s stuff is even better than Norris’, although his pitches have so much movement that he doesn’t always know where they are going. You can draw scenarios where he becomes an ace, or a strong closer, or a guy who teases us forever. A healthy Jeff Hoffman could out-pitch both Sanchez and Norris, and there are a large number of live arms backing that trio up, including many products of their Latin American program.
There has been considerable injury attrition, but that’s why you get as many pitchers as you can. If you have five good pitching prospects, you’re doing well if one or two of them pan out.
The hitting isn’t as good as the pitching, which seems a common theme for many organizations right now, but it isn’t empty. The development of Dalton Pompey was the best news in 2014, the Ontario native doing a great job adding baseball skills to go with his athleticism and overall tool set. Max Pentecost could be one of the best hitters to come out of the entire 2014 draft class. Dwight Smith had a breakout season in the difficult Florida State League.
I love the trade with the Tigers for Devon Travis, who was blocked in Detroit but should get a clean opportunity here. Remember, the Jays are as tool-oriented as anyone and the fact that they like Travis should tell you something positive: he's not just a numbers guy. Keep a close eye on catching prospect Dan Jansen, who features a sound sense of the strike zone to go with power and workable defense.
An assortment of toolsy players dot rosters at all levels of the system. The heavy tool investments carry risk, as the serious struggles of D.J. Davis show for example. A great athlete is not automatically a good baseball player, and vice versa. But when it does work you get a find like Pompey. Former college football player Anthony Alford and 2014 draftee Lane Thomas hope to follow in Pompey’s footsteps.
Overall, this system isn’t perfect but it has a lot to offer.