Minors : : General
Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Top Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Dave Schofield

General Manager:  Alex Anthopoulos
Farm Director:  Charlie Wilson
Scouting Director:  Andrew Tinnish

AAA:  Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast League) 71-73
AA:  New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Eastern League) 77-65
Hi A:  Dunedin Blue Jays (Florida State League) 79-61
Low A:  Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League) 77-60
Short Season:  Vancouver Canadians (Northwest League) 39-37
Rookie Adv.:  Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalachian League) 40-28
Rookie:  GCL Blue Jays (Gulf Coast League) 27-32
Dominican:  DSL Blue Jays (Dominican Summer League) 20-49

System Overview

A native of Montreal, Quebec, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has been a welcome addition to the Blue Jays franchise since assuming his current role late in 2009. After the team's payroll swelled to just under $100 million in 2008 under the guidance of the team's previous GM, J.P. Ricciardi, Anthopoulos' first order of business was to pare that payroll.

Anthopoulos made some very savvy moves on the trade market to accomplish that goal. Roy Halladay, Shawn Marcum, Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez, Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Edwin Jackson and Aaron Hill have all been dealt in recent years, netting the organization key components of the team moving forward. The players he received in return include Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, Brandon Morrow, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus.

Getting a solid return for Halladay was no easy trick, who was rumored to be available the years prior to Ricciardi's departure, while moving Wells and his salary for anything of value was particularly impressive, as he was still owed $86 million through 2014 at the time he was dealt to the Angels early in 2011.

It didn't take long for Anthopoulos to accomplish his first goal, as the payroll in 2011 was down to just over $70 million, and the team has remained competitive by going 81-81 last year after posting a 85-77 record in 2010.

The players added as listed above complement a strong base of homegrown talent already in place, including Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez. The two-time defending home run leader Jose Bautista also remains after signing an extension at this time last year that keeps him in Toronto through 2015.

A new emphasis was also placed on the team's internal scouting and overall player procurement, quickly recognizing that they weren't going to beat the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East by trying to keep up with their free spending ways.

Because of that, the Blue Jays have assembled the largest amateur scouting staff in all of baseball, with over 40 area scouts on staff. Each of those scouts has a smaller region to cover than how almost every other team breaks down regions, doing so to allow their talent evaluators to focus on a smaller area and the respective talent pool.

The franchise now looks and feels completely different than it did three to four years ago, and the team appears to be getting serious about putting pressure on the perennial AL East favorites by making a few cosmetic moves this offseason to improve their bullpen.

After the Mets decided the Jays 2011 bullpen was better than their own by signing both Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, the Blue Jays countered those moves by signing Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver on the free agent market. They also traded pitching prospect Nestor Molina to the White Sox for closer Sergio Santos, giving them three formidable new arms to contend with late in games.

Due to the free agent departures the Blue Jays will receive two compensation picks in the supplemental first round. Having extra, early picks is something the team is becoming used to, and they have aggressively drafted players using a large signing budget to get most of them in the fold. They will also receive an additional first-round pick, the 22nd overall selection, after they were unable to sign Tyler Beede by the deadline last August despite making an aggressive attempt to lure him away from Vanderbilt.

With five extra picks in the sandwich and second rounds, the Blue Jays still spent roughly $9 million on their picks in the top 10 rounds in 2011, and spent roughly another $2 million on all of their other picks. This replicated what they had done the previous year dollar-for-dollar almost exactly. Despite a new CBA that introduces stricter rules on what teams will be able to spend on picks starting in 2012, as of right now the team is projected to have a draft pool right around that $9 million mark.

And while the Rangers outbid everyone else for Yu Darvish in the posting process, the Blue Jays were considered one of the favorite teams to sign the dynamic Japanese hurler heading into this offseason.

The team has remained active in Latin America, as Venezuelan right-hander Henderson Alvarez is expected to assume a much larger role on the team in 2012 after posting a 3.53 ERA in 10 starts in 2011. While the top prospect list as detailed below is entirely made up of players the team has either drafted or traded for in recent years, Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, Dominican right-handed pitcher Joel Carreno and Venezuelans Adonys Cardona (RHP) and Carlos Perez (catcher) are among the more notable international additions that just missed the cut.

2011 Draft

Anthopoulos has been particularly savvy during his stead as the team's GM given his ability to gain additional picks via free agent compensation, doing so last year by letting complementary players such as Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, John Buck and Miguel Olivo (who never even played for the Blue Jays) depart on the open market.

Those players garnered the Blue Jays four sandwich picks and an additional second rounder, and while some teams may have opted to go on the cheap, or at least stuck to slot, to get so many picks signed, that hasn't been the case for Toronto each of the last two years.

While the team's first pick was used to select Tyler Beede, who honored his commitment to Vanderbilt and is already one of the favorites to be among those selected with the first three to five overall selections in 2014, they made an aggressive push to sign him, reportedly offering him a bonus in excess of $2 million.

They made up for that pick by taking fireballling left-hander Daniel Norris with one of their second-round selections, who based on talent easily could have been taken with the team's first-round pick. Norris has yet to make his professional debut, but his ability to run his fastball to the mid-90s while also throwing a power curveball makes him a candidate to sit atop the team's top prospect list a year from now.

The Blue Jays were able to pry one Vanderbilt commit away, using $1.65 million to sign supplemental first-rounder Kevin Comer. A tall, projectable right-handed pitcher, Comer can also run his fastball up to the mid-90s with a power breaking ball of his own.

They used another one of their sandwich picks on yet another big-bodied prep righty with a power repertoire, Joe Musgrove, who enjoyed a big spring that put him in the conversation for the early rounds.

Second rounder Jeremy Gabryszwski, fourth rounder Tom Robson and eighth rounder Mark Biggs continued the team's theme of drafting big-bodied right-handed pitchers with power arsenals. Sixth rounder Anthony DeSclafani has a similar big-bodied power profile, the team's second of two collegians taken in the top 10 rounds, and he is expected to be developed as a starter, as least initially, after pitching mostly out of the bullpen for the pitching rich Florida Gators.

The first of the team's college draftees came in the form of Texas A&M's John Stilson, who was expected to go in the first round of the draft before an arm injury shut him down late in the spring for precautionary measures. The Blue Jays added him in the third, and his profile is similar to that of the other pitchers detailed already.

Their other two supplemental first-round selections were spent on a pair of sweet swinging outfielders, Jacob Anderson and Dwight Smith. Both project best on an outfield corner, although Anderson has also shown a slick glove playing first base. Smith is the son of the former big leaguer of the same name, and has a similar profile with a sweet left-handed swing and overall approach, and continually showed the ability to hit high level pitching at numerous prominent national showcase and tournament events during his high school career.

Three more promising hitters were given money way above their projected slot value, and adds more reason to believe this draft class has the chance to be special a few years down the road. Former PG/Aflac All-American infielders Christian Lopes (seventh round), Andy Burns (11th)and Matt Dean (13th
) signed for a combined $1.58 million, and are the icing on the cake of what should be an impressive wave of talent in the lower levels of the system.

Top 10 Prospects

1. C Travis d'Arnaud
- Baseball-reference player profile

Taken in the supplemental first round of the 2007 draft, d'Arnaud enjoyed a successful first full professional season split between the New York-Penn and South Atlantic Leagues in 2008 when he hit .305/.367/.464 in 64 games. He wasn't nearly as productive the next two seasons, returning to Low A in 2009 and moving up to the Florida State League in 2010 after being acquired by the Blue Jays in the package received in return for perennial staff ace Roy Halladay.

Last season the pieces came back together for d'Arnaud, posting numbers similar to 2008 by hittig .311/.371/.542 at the AA level on his way to being named the Eastern League's Most Valuable Player while also leading the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to the league's Championship.

D'Arnuad's offensive prowess is what makes him stand out, with the ability to hit in the middle of a big league lineup with good bat speed and exciting power potential. He shows good quickness behind the plate, and a solid arm and release with natural leadership skills. He has thrown out 24-percent of opposing baserunners during his minor league career, one area he will need to continue to improve upon, but his bat should make up for any perceived deficiencies he has behind the plate.

It won't take long for d'Arnaud to join his brother Chase, who made his debut last year with the Pirates, in the big leagues, as it will likely occur late in 2012 once he's had a chance to fine tune his game at the AAA level.

2. OF Jake Marisnick- Baseball-reference player profile

The 2011 season marked Marisnick's first full season as a professional after being drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft and opening 2010 with the Blue Jays' affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. He enjoyed a big year at the plate playing in the Midwest League, showing off his well-rounded offensive skills by hitting .320 with 14 home runs and 37 stolen bases.

At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds Marisnick is an impressive athletic specimen, although there is some concern that he will slow down as he continues to add strength to his frame, which could prompt a move from centerfield to right. His arm strength is also considered a plus tool, giving him the ability to profile well at either position should the need arise.

While he did manage to get on base at a good clip (.392) there is still a need for him to work the count a little better than how he has to this point. He will move up to the Hi A level in 2012 and could spend the entire year with Dunedin. If he continues to hit as well as he did last year, there's a chance he could see AA by the end of the season, and could be making a case for regular playing time in the big leagues as early as 2014.

3. RHP Drew Hutchison- Baseball-reference player profile

Hutchison's ceiling isn't as great as the other pitchers profiled on this list, but he proved just how polished he is last year by advancing across three levels in 2011, finishing the season at AA. His sinking fastball sits in the low 90s, and complements that pitch well with a slider and a nice fading changeup. His command of all three pitches and his advanced knowledge of how to use his three-pitch repertoire over the course of an entire game led to a 14-5, 2.53 ERA season in which he struck out 171 and allowed only 35 walks and 120 hits in 149 innings of work.

He also has shown easy, repeatable mechanics with good athleticism on the mound. His 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame should allow him to add more muscle to sustain the rigors of pitching deep into games over the course of a long season more effectively, although that didn't appear to be a problem for him last year.

He made only three starts for the Jays' New Hampshire affiliate, and will begin the 2012 season back at that level, hoping to become a realistic option for the Blue Jays rotation at some point in 2013.

4. OF Anthony Gose- Baseball-reference player profile

Almost immediately after the Astros acquired Gose from the Phillies as part of a package in exchange for Roy Oswalt before the trade deadline in 2010, they flipped him to the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace.

Based on pure athletic talent, Gose could challenge d'Arnaud for the No. 1 spot on this list, as he has three plus tools in his defense, arm strength and game-changing speed. That speed led to 70 stolen bases in 85 attempts last year, and gives him exciting potential as a dynamic leadoff threat.

His bat falls a little short when it comes to polish, although he continues to progress as he moves closer to the big leagues. He hit 16 home runs and slugged .415 spending the entire 2011 season with d'Arnaud at the AA level. He hit only .253, and struck out 154 times in 509 at-bats, but also walked 62 times, a notable improvement over his walk rate in 2010 (45 in 512).

While he's not as sure of a thing, Gose is just as much the Blue Jays' centerfielder of the future as d'Arnaud is behind the plate, and both will advance to the AAA level to open 2012. Since Gose has a lot more to prove, it wouldn't be surprising to see him spend more than one full season at AAA.

5. LHP Daniel Norris- Baseball-reference player profile

Both Gose and Norris have arguably the highest upsides of any players in the Blue Jays system. That promising potential gave Norris a first round grade well before last June's draft, with the ability to run his fastball up to 96-98 on occasion, routinely touching the mid-90s while sitting at 90-93. He also throws a big, hard-breaking slow curveball when he's snapping it off as well as he can, and he throws a harder version of his breaking ball that has more of a slider type break. Norris also keeps a changeup in his back pocket.

As the 2011 draft approached, reported bonus aspirations in excess of $3 million clouded Norris' signability. The Blue Jays already proved they were willing to take a chance on similar players including Tyler Beede and Kevin Comer, and were able to add Norris into their system as a second round pick for $2 million.

A good overall athlete, he has a clean and easy delivery with electric arm speed. He also swings the bat pretty well from the left side if he gets an opportunity to hit during his career. While it is possible that career could begin in the Midwest League, he likely will begin the year in extended spring training before making his pro debut at one of the team's advanced rookie/short season affiliates.

6. RHP Noah Syndergaard- Baseball-reference player profile

Yet another member of a promising 2010 draft class, Syndergaard has a true power profile both physically (6-foot-5, 200-pounds) and as evidenced by his mid-90s fastball that flirts with triple digits on occasion. He also throws a hard curveball and a developing changeup.

He uses his size well to throw down to hitters, with long limbs that allow him to get good extension as part of his delivery, giving his fastball a little extra zip out of the hand. He's a good overall athlete, and showed pretty good control last summer when he pitched well across three levels in the lower minor leagues, posting a 1.99 ERA in 72 innings.

Syndergaard should open the 2012 season back at Lansing of the Midwest League, where he made a pair of starts to close out 2011.

7. RHP Deck McGuire- Baseball-reference player profile

After tossing 112 innings during the spring of 2010 for Georgia Tech, the Blue Jays were in no hurry for McGuire to sign as the 11th overall pick in the draft that same year. That season followed his sensational sophomore campaign in which he was named the ACC Pitcher of the Year.

At 6-foot-6, 220-pounds, McGuire has very good size and has repeatedly showed the ability to carry his velocity deep into games. Despite that size he isn't a power pitcher, relying more on changing speeds and hitting his spots than blowing batters away. His four-pitch repertoire and ability to manage the strike zone still leads to plenty of punchouts, as he retired 124 hitters via strike last season in 125 innings during his pro debut.

He throws a slider, curveball and change in addition to his upper-80s to low-90s fastball that can approach the mid-90s on occasion. After finishing last year at AA, he is projected to begin 2012 this year as well, and could be bumped up to AAA by midseason, and possibly to Toronto by the end of the year, if his success continues.

8. LHP Justin Nicolino
- Baseball-reference player profile

Like McGuire, Nicolino signed too late as the team's second round pick in 2010 to make an appearance that year.  He made the most of his professional debut last season by posting a 1.03 ERA in the Northwest League prior to a late season callup to the Midwest League, where he continued to enjoy success in three starts.

Not only does Nicolino miss bats, but he also shows exceptional control. In 61 innings last summer, he allowed only 39 base hits and 13 walks while striking out 73, quickly making a name for himself among the better left-handed pitchers in the minor leagues. Similar to Drew Hutchison, Nicolino relies more on control and changing speeds to record outs, moving the ball around the zone, particularly impressive for a 19-year old. That polish may allow him to move quickly, and his tall, lean build may allow him to add a few more ticks to his upper-80s to low-90s fastball as he matures physically.

9. OF Dwight Smith - Baseball-reference player profile

When you consider Smith's polish and overall feel for the game, it's not surprising to learn that his father of the same name enjoyed an eight year big-league career, mostly with the Cubs. Their profiles are similar, with similar statures and compact left-handed swings.

The younger Smith has more present strength, with his best attribute being his ability to drive pitches where they're thrown up the middle and the other way with consistent, hard contact. He can also pull balls, and has been known to knock the ball out of the ballpark even if he has more of a gap-to-gap approach. He's more quick than he is fast, but his instincts are evident on the basepaths and on defense.

The biggest question Smith faces moving forward surrounds whether he has enough speed to player centerfield or enough power to profile on an outfielder corner, making him a classic 'tweener. He could begin his pro career in the Midwest League given his advanced skills.

10. C A.J. Jimenez- Baseball-reference player profile

Puerto Rican catcher A.J. Jimenez has progressed nicely since the Blue Jays took him in the ninth round of the 2008 draft. He hit .305 at Low A Lansing two years ago and .303 at Hi A Dunedin last season. He's a contact first hitter that doesn't walk as much as he could, but he also doesn't strike out at an alarming rate either. He also hasn't shown much power, but also has played at two levels that aren't particularly favorable to hitters.

Where Jimenez has really shined has been on defense, with good quickness and footwork behind the plate to go along with a very strong, accurate throwing arm and a quick release. He has gunned down 42-percent of would-be base-stealers over his first four seasons, and will remain one step behind top prospect Travis d'Arnaud advancing to AA to open 2012.

Others in the conversation:OF Jacob Anderson, RHP Adonys Cardona, OF Christopher Hawkins, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Asher Wojciechowski.

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