Last season the discussion about the Blue Jays top prospects list was “Stroman or Sanchez” with Aaron Sanchez generally getting the nod over the more major-league-ready Marcus Stroman. Both made an impact with the big league club although Stroman’s ability to join the Jays’ starting rotation earned him more kudos.
Sanchez knocked on the big league door too, distinguishing himself with about 30 terrific innings out of the bullpen and yet, he seems to have lost ground in the prospect wars (maintaining his eligibility for 2015). This season, the discussion is whether Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris is the team’s top prospect and so far, I’m seeing more buzz for Norris than Sanchez.
Joining the chorus of voices advocating for Daniel Norris is John Sickels who, at Minor League Ball, released his Blue Jays Top 20 Prospects the other day. Now, one of the two reasons that I really enjoy reading Sickels’s Top Prospects lists (and particularly for the Blue Jays) is that my opinions tend to line up a bit better with Sickels that with other prospect writers because I’m not as crazy about “pure tools” players. Sickels is much more interested in how players adjust to better competition before assigning them high grades. The second reason is that he releases a Top 20 list, giving many more prospects some mention than Top 10 or Top 15 lists elsewhere. Go read his list and come back so you have the context for my own comments.
On to the discussion of things that I really like about his list (and maybe even things I don’t like).
Sickels’ Top 5 consists of the same players that you’re going to see in just about every Top Prospects list for the Blue Jays: Norris, Sanchez, Dalton Pompey, Max Pentecost and Jeff Hoffman. (Baseball America published their list before Franklin Barreto was traded and the ordering is different but without Barreto, Pentecost moves up to #5.) I haven’t seen a name other than Sanchez or Norris at the top of a list and Hoffman ranges from #3 to #5 while Pentecost is usually #4 or #5. MLB.com has Roberto Osuna at #5 and Max Pentecost at #6.
The first indication of Sickels’ desire to see more than just tools is that Devon Travis makes the Top 10. Travis is exactly the kind of guy that Sickels likes: someone who has excellent results in the higher minor leagues (in Travis’s case, Double-A) without having eye-popping tools. Travis actually ranks quite highly on the Minor League Ball list, at #6. I actually like this ranking. I think players like Travis usually make for solid major leaguers and the fact that he’s hit at ever minor league level up to Double-A is indicative of something. Again, I’ll take a guy who has torn up the league at every level he’s been at over a guy who has struggled but has tools to drool over any day. Basically the difference between tools guys and non-tools guys is that with the tools guys, you’re waiting for him to “figure it out” while with the non-tools guys, you’re waiting for him to hit his ceiling. Many scouts think that Travis’s ceiling is as a major leaguer and it looks like he’s already figured hitting out (as much as he can at the levels he’s been tested at).
A new name coming on many lists this year is right-handed pitcher Miguel Castro who clocks in at #7 for Sickels. Castro has an elite or near-elite arm and really has emerged, making it all the way from the Dominican Summer League to High-A Dunedin in two years. Sickels isn’t the only prospect analyst to rank Castro at #7 (Baseball Prospectus has him there too) and the biggest question is whether his third pitch (the slider) will develop enough to make him a starter in the long term. I have my own questions about his endurance so a year in full-season ball (likely with an innings-limit around 125) will tell us a lot.
Sickels’ ranking of Dwight Smith at #9 is another indication of how he likes guys who have performed. While Smith hasn’t done it at as high a level as Devon Travis, Smith was one of the club’s best overall hitters in 2014, continuing his excellent season even after Dalton Pompey was promoted above him. Smith is similar to Travis in that neither is particularly tall but both have a lot of strength in their smaller frames. Smith also has a knack for hitting that can’t really be taught despite a tool package that doesn’t necessarily line up with what is expected in a major league player at his position (corner outfield). The Blue Jays have been toying with having Smith play second base but with Jon Berti and Travis ahead of him in the organization, I think Smith will stay in the outfield.
The group of prospects between 11 and 15 on Sickels’ list are an interesting bunch because some are generally ranked higher and some lower on other lists. Sean Reid-Foley had his first year in pro ball out of high school last year and has been ranked as high as #9 on other lists. For me, I’m waiting and seeing but the initial reports are good. He has a starter’s body and motion, good velocity and a solid slider. He’ll need to develop his changeup and/or curve but he has lots of time. The #11 ranking by Sickels indicates his youth and inexperience.
Jairo Labourt (#12) and Alberto Tirado (#15) are ranked very low by Sickels. Both are in Baseball Prospectus’s Top 10 despite rough seasons. Labourt recovered from a poor start very well with Vancouver (after being demoted from Lansing) while Tirado never really got into a groove as a starter but flashed potential as a reliever in Vancouver. In my eyes, I still have big questions about both players. We have seen pitchers dominate in Vancouver before only to flame out at higher levels (Javier Avendano) and, while both of these guys have a stronger pedigree, neither have had success above the short-season level.
Most prospect writers rank Roberto Osuna much higher than the #13 that Sickels give him. Osuna still is only 19 years old and has a ton of potential in a fastball that can reach 97+ mph and a very mature approach. I think Sickels is being overly cautious here and while Osuna has fallen out of favour a little bit (and has been passed by newer, sexier prospects like Jeff Hoffman), I think he’s still a Top 10 guy with huge upside if he can recover fully from TJ surgery.
Mitch Nay ranks at #14, again, downplaying his potential. Many people are really high on Nay in a system that really lacks a lot of good offensive talent. Nay wasn’t able to really capitalize on his power in games, hitting only three home runs the whole year but I can attest to the power that he has yet to unlock. Nay is also one of the best pure hitters I’ve seen in the organization; he doesn’t strike out much and can really put the ball in play when he needs to. Nay could have a big season if he figures out how to hit the same kind of bombs in the game as he does in BP.
The bottom of Sickels’ list is my favourite part. This is where you get some of the sleepers and some of the guys who aren’t getting the love on other lists. At #16, Sickels has Matt Boyd who dominated High-A but struggled a bit at Double-A although he points out that Boyd’s FIP of 4.00 in Double-A isn’t as bad as some people might think. Talking to Jim Czajkowski, the pitching coach in Double-A New Hampshire last year, I learned that Boyd was being overly cautious with Double-A hitters who also weren’t swinging at pitches that he would be able to get High-A hitters out on. Boyd could very well come back with strong year in Double-A and put himself back on the map.
At #17 was Dawel Lugo (who turns 20 today!), a shortstop who is still very young despite having been in the system for a long time. His youth and lack of strike zone discipline made things very tough for him last year (while he struck out only 14.5% of the time, he only walked 3.6% of the time) and he’ll need to get on base more often than his .286 OBP allowed.
#18 was Angel Perdomo, a really under-the-radar Dominican who pitched in the GCL in 2014. At 20, he’s getting to be a little old for the league and, despite his reported ability to throw in the mid-90s, will need to hit full-season ball in 2015 in order to really start moving through the organization.
A.J. Jimenez has really slipped. From being the “catcher of the future,” Jimenez is now a guy who scouts are wondering about. His bat hasn’t shown up with enough authority to really convince people that he’ll be able to hit at the big league level. That’s a pretty heavy indictment considering that his defense is probably good enough right now. He’ll need a very good season with the bat in Triple-A in 2015 in order to regain that shine.
Finally, #20 was Rowdy Tellez who is showing that his reputation as a high-school slugger is not misplaced. He had a very good season with the bat after a slow start and has shown that he’s got a similar sense on the field to Mitch Nay. He knows how to get the job done, driving in runners and getting on base, flashing his tremendous power while not being locked into the pull side.
All in all, Sickels puts together an interesting list that is usually a little different than some of the other prospect writers. I’m almost a little sick of seeing the same five names at the top of the list (although they all deserve the distinction) and I’m glad that Sickels offers a fresh perspective when you get in the #5-#20 range. What do you think of his list?
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