We kick off our series of team prospect rankings with the Toronto Blue Jays. No organization in baseball is going through as much upheaval as is the team north of the border. With back-to-back fourth place finishes, a 17-year playoff drought, some of baseballs’ worst contracts at the big league level (can you say “Vernon Wells”), and a draft record that has the best of the last three drafts being a pitcher that has yet to throw a professional pitch, a catcher with a 25% strikeout rate, a secondbaseman with a ceiling of being below league average and a thirdbaseman with a 3-season OPS of .648, there is no need to explain why the front office is going through a complete overhaul. Yet the real problem is that it will take years before the Jays will be able to overcome the devastation heaped upon it by J.P. Ricciardi and Dick Scott, as the minor league system has only low-ceiling players at the upper levels, and guys with way too many question marks at the lower levels. Choosing a top prospect in this system was the most difficult endeavor we have had in years—not because of competition for it, but because of the dearth of top tier talent available. Not a single player in the system would merit Top 3 consideration in any other organization—not Top 5 in most. There are likely more 2009 draftees in the Top 30 of our Blue Jay list than in any other, not because their 2009 draft was so good—as it wasn’t, but because we can at least hope the players from the 2009 draft reach their potential, as they haven’t had a chance to disappoint with their performance, as of yet. With that note of optimism we present the 2009 Blue Jays’ prospect list.
1) Chad Jenkins, RHP –
While somewhat the de facto choice for the top spot, Jenkins does have significant upside and a high-floor. In fact, his 2009 College Performance score was the 3rd best (behind Strasburg and Leake) in the 2009 draft class and we had him rated as the 17th best player available in the draft. Jenkins entered the 2009 College season as Kyle Heckathorn’s sidekick for Kennesaw State, but clearly outpitched him all season long, eventually garnering Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year honors. The Jays selected him with the 20th pick of the draft, and signed him just before the deadline to a $1.4MM deal, the Jays’ only signing among their first four picks. Jenkins has the body of mid-rotation innings eater. His fastball sits in the low90s, and can be dialed up a few notches when called for. Jenkins also possesses good feel for his plus slider and average change. While his control improved during his junior season, Jenkins has had a tendency, in the past, to over throw his fastball and get a bit wild at times. We expect the Jays to start him in the FSL, and he could become one of the workhorses of the rotation by mid-2011.
Grade B2) Zach Stewart, RHP (2009 Performance Scores - Dominance 53; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 70)
One thing that has been constant for the enigmatic Stewart is change. He pitched for three schools in three years in college, and now has pitched for five clubs in two minor league seasons. Acquired in what had to be Ricciardi’s best move of 2009—the Scott Rolen deal, Stewart put together a breakout season in 2009, posting a 1.89 ERA, a 1.305 WHIP, with a 93:32 K:BB ratio at four different stops. Both in college and thus far in the Minors, Stewart has bounced between both rotation and bullpen. His slider is likely his best pitch, but he doesn’t appear to have the same effectiveness with it in the rotation as he does in the bullpen. The problem is that he also doesn’t seem to have the quality dominant out pitch to succeed in a late inning role. While the Jays are likely to keep him in the rotation at AAA next season, and he does have the upside of a middle to back of the rotation starter, we fear his eventual role in the Majors will be in middle relief. It speaks volumes as to the state of the system, that a low-ceiling/high-floor college right-hander is the #2 prospect.
3) J.P. Arencibia, C (2009 – Power 70; FBR 21; Discipline 33; Speed 31)
Let’s be clear, we aren’t huge Arencibia fans, but it appears a virtual certainty that Arencibia will begin seeing full-time ABs behind the plate in Toronto at some point in 2010. In a system devoid of significant talent, that alone garners him the #3 spot. Arencibia’s power is for real, and his backstop defense is adequate for the position. His problem is his plate approach that has him frequently starting with an 0-1 count, as pitchers have picked up on his propensity to swing at any first pitch near the zone. This has seen his strikeout rate go from 17.8% to 20.4% to 23.2% as he has moved up each level in the Minors. This has been a problem since his days at Tennessee. We promise that he won’t have Major League success unless this changes. We aren’t saying that he can’t be successful, just that he won’t be unless he makes significant changes. Nonetheless, Arencibia has one thing going for him that many prospects never get—opportunity. 2010 will be a critical year to see what he can do with it.
4) Moises Sierra, RF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 50; First Base Rate 61; Discipline67; Speed 67)
Sierra/Chavez, Chavez/Sierra, flip a coin as to who comes in at #4. Chavez has more power, Sierra makes more contact with slightly better speed. In either case, they are two of the higer-upside prospects in the system. We lean toward Sierra, mainly because he is only four months older and has been playing at higher levels and our concerns about Chavez’s plate discipline. Sierra possesses high ceiling offensive skills, he posted above league average numbers as a 20yo in Hi-A, and absolutely first rate defensive skills, as he has one of the Minor League’s best arms. With new management in place for the Jays, look for them to do less pushing, than they have in the past, of their high-ceiling prospects. For that reason expect Sierra to spend the entire 2010 season in AA, and don’t expect to see him in Toronto before the second-half of 2011.
5) Johermyn Chavez, RF (2009 – Power 76; FBR 48; Discipline 37; Speed 52)
The possessor of an Andre Dawson-esque physique, Chavez had the breakout year in 2009 that the Jays had been predicting since the signed him out of Venezuela as a 16yo in 2005. After hitting a total of 13 HRs over his first three seasons, His 21 HRs in 2009 were second in the MWL, and he did that as a 20yo. While Chavez lacks the range to be a CF, his range and arm fit nicely in RF. A classic ‘boom or bust’ prospect, we are rather bullish on Chavez at this point. He will need to refine his ‘free-swing’ approach (25% strikeout rate), if he is to experience success as he move up the ladder. After spending the last two seasons in Lansing, look for Chavez to spend a full-season in the FSL in 2010.
6) Henderson Alvarez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 74; HRrate 50; Control 75)
Alvarez posted an eye-opening, ‘breakout’, display as a 19yo in the MWL, with a 3.47 ERA, a 1.126 WHIP, and an amazing 92:19 K:BB ratio. He uses an arsenal that has the potential for three plus pitches, highlighted by what many considered the best Change in the MWL. The other positive is that there is significant late-life to most of his offerings. The downside is that despite quality ‘stuff’, opposing batters still batted .251 against him, and he only fanned 6.7 batters per 9IP—not the type of numbers you expect to see from players that will be successful at higher levels. Alvarez should spend the 2010 season in the FSL, where if he is able to improve upon his ability to ‘miss’ bats, he could very well jump to the top of this list next season.
7) John Tolisano, 2B (2009 – Power 68; FBR 43; Discipline 58; Speed 42)
I am not sure how many times a player that appears to have an upside of a Tony Graffanino type player ends up ranked in an organizational Top 10, but that appears to be the case with Tolisano. That’s not a knock on Tolisano, nor Graffanino, as Graffanino put together a very nice 13 year career where he averaged about 250 ABs a season with a .730 OPS. We can envision a scrappy, utility, type player that doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, nor anything terribly wrong. After spending the entire season as a 20yo in the FSL, one would expect (especially under the old regime) to see Tolisano in AA in 2010. We’d like to see what happens offensively, if he gets another 200 ABs at Hi-A first.
8) Kevin Ahrens, 3B (2009 – Power 41; FBR 41; Discipline 56; Speed 34)
The obvious question is how a player with over 1000 Minor League ABs, and a .648 OPS finds his way on to any Top 10 list? The easy answer is to play in the 2009 Blue Jay organization. The more difficult answer is to believe that no player has suffered more at the hands of J.P. Ricciardi and Dick Scott, than has Ahrens. After the Jays made Travis Snider the 14th pick in 2006, they moved him through the system at an unbelievable rate, having the 20yo Snider playing at 4 different levels in 2008—finishing in the Major Leagues. Because of the success of Snider, this became their approach to high school player development—accelerate, accelerate, accelerate! When they made Ahrens the 16th pick in 2007, they had him start the 2008 season in the MWL as an 18yo, and despite no real performance success there, he opened up the 2009 season in the FSL as a 19yo. The negatives on Ahrens are that he is a below average runner, and his bat speed may never be more than average. But the positives remain that he was regarded as the best prep hitter in the State of Texas coming into the 2007 draft—with proven wood bat success, solid defensive skills, and a swing that is void of any real mechanical flaws. Despite being considerably younger than the league, his Park Neutral Performance scores last season, were only just below League average. There is still every reason to believe that Ahrens is a better hitter than he has demonstrated thus far, and for that reason we are willing to give him one more season to right the ship. Fortunately, with the change in management, it looks like it will come in a repeat of the FSL in 2010.
9) Tim Collins, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 28; HRrate 49; Control 38)
Sometimes ‘diminutive’ just doesn’t do the case justice. Such it is with the 5’7, 155lb Collins. If we just considered performance, Collins would be considered one of the best left-handed relief prospects in the minors, after posting a 2.91 ERA, a 1.216 WHIP and a 116:35 K:BB rate in 2009. But alas, blowing away FSL hitters just isn’t the same as experiencing success against Major League hitters, and Collins already showed that making ‘Level’ jumps won’t be easy after a late season move to AA. Make no mistake, only 20yo, Collins has had tremendous success in two Minor League seasons, fanning more than 13 batters per 9IP. But Collins fastball isn’t overpowering, he has bouts of control issues, and his curve is his only other pitch. When you add to that the tendency to get his K’s ‘up’, conventional wisdom dictates that he is likely to have problems as he progresses. It will be interesting to see how a return trip to the ESL in 2010 goes. If he continues to experience similar success at that level, we will likely have a different type of write-up next year—but we’re not betting on that happening.
10) Tyler Pastornicky, SS (2009 – Power 27; FBR 67; Discipline 76; Speed 80)
A 5th round pick in 2008, Pastornicky entered 2009 as a solid defensive middle infielder, with blazing speed. Like Ahrens above, he was pushed, playing full-season ball as a 19yo in the MWL, and even making a brief appearance in the FSL—despite no real performance success. The difference between the two is that while Ahrens was supposed to be a cornerstone player, Pastornicky has never been expected to be much more than a utility infield type. Look for Pastornicky and Ahrens to form the left side of the infield in the FSL in 2010.
Grade B -
11) Jake Marisnick, RF –
12) Brad Mills, LHP (2009 – Dominance 59; Stamina 74; HRrate 48; Control 43)
Drafted by the Jays in the 4th round of 2007, Mills blew thru 3 levels in his first full season, and reached Toronto for a brief time this past season. While his results have been promising, his ‘raw stuff’ is less than inspiring. Mills relies more on deception than power, and it remains to be seen how well his fringe-average fastball that he often leaves ‘up’, a fringy change, and an average curve will play against Big League hitters. While he scores high on the ‘certainty’ factor, he has to be classified as a ‘low-ceiling’, ‘crafty’ lefty who isn’t likely to be much more than back of the rotation fodder.
13) David Cooper, 1B (2009 – Power 34; FBR 67; Discipline 55; Speed 51)
We had Cooper as a late first round pick, prior to the 2008 draft, so we weren’t terribly surprised when the Jays took him at #17. He actually performed better than we expected in his 2008 debut, but fell back into line with his 2009 performance. Cooper is a contact hitting 1Bmen, with line drive power to all fields and good strike zone management skills. Unfortunately his defense is poor—even for 1B, and we don’t expect him to hit for enough power to make a successful go at it in the Big Leagues. With a ceiling as a low-power DH, or platoon first baseman, it isn’t a good combination—despite the rather high ‘certainty’ quotient.
14) Gustavo Pierre, SS (2009 – Power 73; FBR 23; Discipline 42; Speed 58)
After signing for $700,000, the second highest amount ever given to an International signee by the Blue Jays, as a 16yo out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Pierre underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t make his debut until this summer in the GCL, where he held his own. The Jays like his overall power potential and athleticism. While he likely has the glove and arm to play SS, the conventional wisdom is that he will likely outgrow the position, precipitating a move to the OF—as there are questions about his arm strength for 3B. There is a lot to like in the package, but it is all projection at this point. He won’t turn 18yo until the end of the year, so it is expected that the Jays will keep him in extended Spring Training before sending him to the NYP at mid-year.
15) Eric Thames, LF (2009 – Power 65; FBR 63; Discipline 54; Speed 34)
While we have only a minimal track record to back it up, the feeling here is that if Thames could stay healthy, he’d put up some of the best offensive numbers in the system. His 2008 College Performance score ranked 5th in the NCAA among draft eligible hitters. In his 2009 professional debut, he would have likely led the FSL in OPS had he had enough PAs to qualify. The downside is that he possesses only gap power and limited defensive skills. Perhaps the biggest negative is that he missed the last month of his 2008 college season with a hip-flexor injury and didn’t make his debut until this year where he then missed six weeks in the middle of this season. When healthy he has a nearly flawless swing, good contact skills, and excellent strike zone management skills. Unfortunately, with a lack of true power, he will have trouble sticking with a Big League club as a LF/1B/DH type. It would be of little surprise to us to see Thames post big offensive numbers in the ESL in 2010.
You can find an explanation of our grades here http://baseballnumbers-diamondfutures.blogspot.com/2009/11/diamond-futures-annual-prospect.html and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here http://baseballnumbers-diamondfutures.blogspot.com/2009/06/do-it-yourself-understanding.html. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.