This morning we continue with our prospect reviews with an examination of the Toronto Blue Jays system. Remember, this is the PRE-SEASON list. This is not a new list. These are pre-season rankings and grades. This is a general review of the 2014 season, not a detailed preview for 2015.
1) Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Grade A-: Age 22, 3.95 ERA with 84/57 K/BB in 100 innings between Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A New Hampshire, 3.13 GO/AO. In the majors, posted 1.19 ERA in bullpen with 25/7 K/BB in 30 innings, just 14 hits, 2.30 GO/AO. Looks outstanding in relief but could still start down the line.
2) Marcus Stroman, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Very successful major league debut at age 23, 3.77 ERA with 107/28 K/BB in 127 innings, 124 hits. Couldn’t have hoped for more.
3) Mitch Nay, 3B, Grade B: Age 21, hit .285/.342/.389 with 34 doubles, three homers, 39 walks, 79 strikeouts in 473 at-bats for Low-A Lansing in the Midwest League. Good batting average and OBP, but I expected more home run power. That may still come.
4) Daniel Norris, LHP, Grade B: Age 21, large step forward, combined 2.53 ERA with 164/43 K/BB in 125 innings between High-A, Double-A, Triple-A. Always has a good arm but mechanical refinements and improved command have made him one of the top southpaw prospects in baseball this year.
5) Sean Nolin, LHP, Grade B: Age 24, 3.50 ERA with 74/35 K/BB in 87 innings for Buffalo, 74 hits. Doesn’t have Norris’ ceiling but could still be a workable fourth starter or relief option.
6) Franklin Barreto, SS, Grade B-: Age 18, hit .311/.384/.481 with six homers, 26 walks, 64 strikeouts, 29 steals in 289 at-bats for Vancouver in the Northwest League. Large step forward for this toolsy player, up into B+ range.
7) D.J. Davis, OF, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Age 20, hit .213/.268/.316 with eight homers, 19 steals, 36 walks, 167 strikeouts in 494 at-bats for Lansing. All tools, no skills at this point. Was caught stealing 20 times.
8) Alberto Tirado, RHP, Grade C+: Age 19, ineffective in Low-A due to command troubles (6.30 ERA, 40/39 K/BB in 40 innings), somewhat better but still not great when sent down to Vancouver (3.53 ERA, 36/28 K/BB in 36 innings). No question about the stuff but raw.
9) Roberto Osuna, RHP, Grade C+: Age 19, recovering from Tommy John, posted 6.55 ERA with 30/9 K/BB in 22 innings for High-A Dunedin. Finished strong.
10) Dawel Lugo, SS, Grade C+: Age 19, hit .259/.286/.329 with four homers, 18 walks, 72 strikeouts in 474 at-bats for Lansing. Improved feel for the strike zone though still impatient, reports on tools are good.
11) Andy Burns, INF, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .255/.315/.430 with 32 doubles, 15 homers, 18 steals, 41 walks, 99 strikeouts in 495 at-bats for New Hampshire. Still a nice sleeper prospect.
12) Tom Robson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, 6.25 ERA with 22/18 K/BB in 32 innings for Lansing, blew out elbow, down for Tommy John.
13) John Stilson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, 3.18 ERA with 32/18 K/BB in 34 innings for Buffalo, on verge of major league trial but hurt his labrum and ended up with surgery.
14) A.J. Jimenez, C, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .249/.289/.351 with three homers, 19 walks, 52 strikeouts in 313 at-bats between Buffalo and New Hampshire. Unclear if he’ll hit enough to move beyond a reserve role.
15) Jairo Labourt, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, excellent season for Vancouver with 1.77 ERA, 82/37 K/BB in 71 innings, just 47 hits. Will need sharper control but promising.
16) Chase De Jong, RHP, Grade C+: Age 20, posted 4.82 ERA with 73/22 K/BB in 97 innings for Lansing, 113 hits, 12 homers. Disappointing season but still young.
17) Dwight Smith, OF, Grade C+: Age 21, hit .284/.363/.453 with 12 homers, 58 walks, 69 strikeouts in 472 at-bats for Dunedin, 15 steals. Overshadowed by emergence of Dalton Pompey (see below), but Smith had a fine season in his own right.
18) L.B. Dantzler, 1B, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .245/.328/.361 with six homers, 41 walks, 58 strikeouts in 335 at-bats between Lansing and Dunedin. Unable to duplicate ’13 success and at his age he can’t afford another mediocre year in this system.
19) Matt Boyd, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, outstanding at Dunedin (1.39 ERA, 103/20 K/BB in 91 innings, 65 hits) but found the going much rougher in Double-A (6.96 ERA, 44/13 K/BB in 43 innings, 55 hits). My guess is that he will adjust.
20) Richard Urena, SS, Grade C+: Age 18, strong showing at Bluefield in the Appalachian League, .318/.363/.433 in 217 at-bats. Very toolsy.
Although the major league club has hovered around .500, 2014 was a good year for the Blue Jays from a player development perspective. Rookie starter Marcus Stroman met or exceeded all expectations, while fellow top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez dominated out of the bullpen. Daniel Norris took a huge step forward, and 2013 draftee Kendall Graveman jumped from an eighth-round slot out of Mississippi State to the major leagues in one year. Big lefty Matt Smoral made good progress in short-season ball. The 2014 draft brings in right-handers Jeff Hoffman (who needs to recover from Tommy John) and Sean Reid-Foley, both capable of being above-average or better major league starters.
For all the good pitching news, there were many positives on the position side as well. Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey broke out with a .317/.392/.469 campaign with 43 steals and 52 walks at three levels, pushing himself to the top of the position player charts.
Dalton Pompey, photo by Jim McIsaac, Getty Images
The 2014 draft brings in advanced college catcher Max Pentecost, and results from the large group of recent Latin American signees were positive, with Franklin Barreto, Dawel Lugo, and shortstop Richard Urena all thriving at the lower levels.
The Blue Jays were ranked 15th pre-season. Their ranking entering 2015 will certainly rise, perhaps into the elite level given the positive development of the upside talents and a good infusion from the draft class.