Toronto Blue Jays 2014 Top 15 Prospects
Welcome to the first edition of our Top 15 prospects lists, the Toronto Blue Jays. Why are we starting with them? Mainly because I know the players the best, coming from two Blue Jays blogs (our FanSided sister site Jays Journal and my own blog Blue Jays from Away).
If you’re planning on following along with Jays Journal’s Top 30 prospects, you’ll notice that our list here is not the same. I’m doing this for a reason. At Jays Journal, they like to keep the audience in suspense on who the prospects are so I won’t be giving away the big finale over there. I’m going to rely more on my own list which is based on getting out and seeing a lot of the players this season. In fact, I saw 12 of the Top 15 prospects in person at some point this summer.
With each list, we’ll also give you a handy-dandy guide to the team’s minor league system.
Triple-A: Buffalo Bisons (International League)
Double-A: New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Eastern League)
High-A: Dunedin Blue Jays (Florida State League)
Class-A: Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)
Short-Season A: Vancouver Canadians (Northwest League)
Advanced-Rookie: Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalachian League)
Complex-Rookie: GCL Blue Jays (Gulf Coast League)
And without further ado (drum roll, please)…
Mitch Nay – 3B
Date of Birth: September 20, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’3″/195 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (58th overall) of the 2012 draft
Analysis: For a player who spent his Age-19 season making his professional debut, Nay didn’t show any growing pains. Unable to play in his draft year due to a foot injury, Nay took to pro ball like he was born to it, tearing up the Appalachian League and leading the Bluefield Blue Jays to the playoffs. He shared a lead in home runs for the club with 6, hit .300 and had almost as many walks as strikeouts (25 walks, 35 strikeouts). In addition to seeing Nay hit monstrous home runs in both batting practice and a regular game, I also found out from talking to Bluefield play-by-play announcer Trey Wilson that Nay’s situational hitting was excellent; he was always finding ways to drive a run in or move a runner over. Nay has one of the best all-around bats in the system and if he can stay at third base, he can really move on up.
2014 Prognosis: 2014 should see Nay playing a full season for the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. He already stepped up against Short-Season A pitching in the playoffs for the Vancouver Canadians (earning the Northwest League playoff MVP award) and, if he continues to show the patience and plate control that he did in Rookie Ball, should have another good season.
Dawel Lugo – SS
Date of Birth: December 14, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’0″/188 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011; received a $1.3 million signing bonus
|2013||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk-A-||TOR||67||272||261||34||74||15||2||7||44||1||0||6||41||.284||.301||.437||.738|
Analysis: Lugo is part of a group of very young Latin American shortstops who are starting to make a lot of noise at the bottom levels of the Blue Jays’ system. Lugo is a strong young man with excellent hand-eye coordination who is solid in the field. He split the 2013 season between Bluefield (where I saw him) and Vancouver and displayed some excellent raw skills. His footwork at shortstop is good and he makes most of the routine plays (he’ll sometimes lose focus mentally) but his range is only adequate and he may end up moving at some point in the future. With the bat, Lugo already shows excellent raw power and uses the whole field. I saw him pull a home run over the left field wall and hit a triple off the top of the wall in right center over a five-game span. At this point, he may rely on his outstanding hand-eye coordination too much for the higher levels; he doesn’t walk nearly enough (a combined rate of just over 2% last year) but he also doesn’t strike out too much because he’s able to reach borderline pitches and at least foul them off.
2014 Prognosis: I foresee that Lugo will be part of a large group of talented young players moving up to the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts in 2014. I think that full-season ball will be a real test for a guy who relies on batting average to get on base. Either he will start to be more patient at the plate or the more mature pitchers will start to eat him up. Even if he suffers a setback, Lugo will only be 19 and there will be lots of time for him to develop.
Alberto Tirado – RHP
Date of Birth: December 10, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’1″/177 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011; received a $300,000 signing bonus
Analysis: Tirado had a fine season as an 18 year old pitching for the Bluefield Blue Jays (Advanced-Rookie). With a solid strikeout rate and the ability to limit his hits against, Tirado is showing that he’s ready to start moving up through the system. Throwing in the low-to-mid 90s with a plus-potential slider and a work-in-progress changeup, Tirado has the arsenal to be a starter. Coaches are praising his maturity and his ability to find his mechanics again when he loses them in the midst of a game. The biggest weakness for Tirado is his command and control. He walked 20 batters in 48 1/3 innings and I know the Blue Jays want to get him to hit his spots a little bit better.
2014 Prognosis: Like all of the other Bluefield Blue Jays mentioned, Tirado is likely headed for Lansing. With just under 50 innings in 2013, the Blue Jays will try to get that number up to about 80 for 2014 and are probably going to revive their piggy-backing tactics with the Lansing Lugnuts next year.
Franklin Barreto – SS
Date of Birth: February 27, 1996
Height/Weight: 5’9″/174 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of Venezuela in 2012; received a $1.45 million signing bonus
|2013||17||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk||TOR||59||252||228||34||63||21||7||4||26||10||6||15||56||.276||.343||.482||.825|
Analysis: Barreto’s bat is making scouts’ jaws drop in his first exposure to professional baseball. Just 17 years old, Barreto bypassed the Blue Jays’ complex in the Dominican Republic and started his pro career in Dunedin in the Gulf Coast League. Barreto made mincemeat out of the GCL, hitting .299/.368/.529 and racking up extra-base hits like they were skee-ball tickets. After a promotion to Bluefield, however, Barreto’s production tailed off and his inexperience started to show. Still, many scouts think that Barreto can hit well enough to jump to full-season ball already with his quick wrists and excellent power. His big weaknesses come with plate control and defense. Despite showing some improvement at shortstop, scouts think that his footwork is unsuited to infield play and will, eventually, move to center field where he can take advantage of his great speed. I’ve seen Barreto ranked much higher than #12 in the Blue Jays’ system in other prospect lists but, for me, he’s going to have to show me that he can hit at a level above the lowest ranks of Rookie Ball.
2014 Prognosis: My gut tells me that Barreto returns to Bluefield in 2014. That would put him on a similar trajectory as Dawel Lugo and will give him an extra year in short season ball to work on his defense and his sense of the strike zone. If he has a particularly strong Spring Training, I could see him starting even higher but even if he struggles, he will still be very highly considered as a prospect in the Jays’ system.
D.J. Davis – CF
Date of Birth: July 25, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’1″/180 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (17th overall) of the 2012 draft
Analysis: Davis is another one of the prospects that others are putting higher in their lists than I am. I’ve seen Davis play (and I’ve interviewed him) and I think that there’s loads of potential in this toolsy young outfielder. Davis only turned 19 this year and put up very similar numbers to his first professional season in 2012. This year, playing at the higher level of Rookie Ball in the Appalachian League, Davis put up an identical .741 OPS as he did in 2012 combined between three leagues. While the speedy outfielder showed that he can get on base at a decent clip, he also put on a much more impressive display of power in 2013, hitting eight doubles, seven triples and six home runs (tied for the team lead).
The two important deficient areas that Davis needs to work on are what keep him out of my top ten for this year. He led the team in strikeouts with 76 (representing a 29.5% strikeout rate) and he was caught stealing eight times in 21 attempts. That said, Davis is still very young and very raw and, with several center fielders ahead of him on the depth chart, he has lots of time to find his game.
2014 Prognosis: Davis will likely jump to full season ball despite being only 19 at the start of the 2014 season. Because of his young age and high strikeout totals, I don’t see the Blue Jays being aggressive with his progression through the system as they will be with someone like Nay. A full year of Class-A ball is probably in the cards.February 24, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher A.J. Jimenez (6) in the dugout during spring training against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Robson – RHP
Date of Birth: June 27, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’4″/200 lbs
Acquired: 4th round of the 2011 draft
|2013||20||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A–Rk||TOR||6||0||1.000||1.12||13||12||1||64.1||43||9||8||1||16||47||237||0.917||6.0||0.1||2.2||6.6||2.94|
Analysis: You may not have heard of Tom Robson yet but the 20 year old really jump-started his career in 2013. Additionally, injuries have played a big factor in his having only 11 innings under his belt before this season. Robson, from Ladner, British Columbia, started the season in Bluefield and really impressed everyone before getting a promotion to his home town, playing for the Short-Season A club Vancouver Canadians. Robson wasn’t quite as dominant in Vancouver but he was still pretty darned good, pitching in important games and limiting his WHIP to just 1.02. While his strikeout rate is good (20.8%), his ground ball rate is truly astounding. Robson is a ground ball machine who doesn’t fear the strike zone, limiting walks and generating 3.48 ground outs to every fly out over the 2013 season. His heavy sinker has been clocked in the low-90s and, combined with his developing offspeed stuff that can generate swings and misses, Robson is going to be boring his outfielders for years to come.
2014 Prognosis: With half a season in Short-Season A ball under his belt already, Robson will join a group of about 8-10 pitchers vying for innings in a piggyback scenario in Lansing next year. While some pitchers have had trouble making the jump from Vancouver to Lansing in the past, I think that Robson’s control, his “pitch-to-contact” mentality and his already good stuff will allow him to be successful.
Dalton Pompey – CF
Date of Birth: December 11, 1992
Height/Weight: 6’1″/190 lbs
Acquired: 16th round of the 2010 draft
Analysis: Pompey is another player who took very big strides in 2013. A rangy center fielder with speed to burn, Pompey showed a lot more polish than most people thought he had this year. While his entire season (his first in full-season ball) was very streaky for the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts, when he was hot, he was an unstoppable force at the plate and on the bases. When the whole thing came to a close, Pompey landed with a .261/.358/.394 slash line that translated into a 115 wRC+ rating (creating runs at a rate 15% better than the league average). When you consider that Pompey wasn’t healthy for at least a month of the year (playing through a broken toe) and he missed most of last year with a wrist injury, his quality performance at the plate is even more encouraging.
The biggest knock against Pompey is that he strikes out a bit too much (over 20% this season) but he also shows a lot of patience at the plate and has even started to show some power. He definitely finished the season strongly, having an OBP of .415 in his final month of the season and hitting four of his six home runs in the last week. He uses his track-star speed well both on the bases (stealing 38 bases in 48 attempts) and in the field where he won the Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove award for center field in 2013. Pompey has really started to put his tools together and can really move through the system in 2014 if he stays healthy.
2014 Prognosis: Pompey will start his assault on the upper levels of the minors in High-A Dunedin in 2014. Blue Jays outfield prospects have had trouble making the adjustment from Lansing to Dunedin in the past (think of Michael Crouse and Marcus Knecht) but I think that Pompey has bigger tools than either of them and has a very developed approach at the plate.
Chase DeJong – RHP
Date of Birth: December 29, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’4″/185 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2012 draft
Analysis: DeJong really sold me when I saw him throw this season in Bluefield. With very well-developed command, a fastball that sits in the low-90s, a devastating 12-6 curveball and an improving, plus-potential changeup, DeJong is starting to catch more and more scouts’ eyes. DeJong is one of the few Bluefield pitchers whose FIP was actually much lower than his ERA. A high .359 BABIP inflated some of his numbers in 2013, leading his 3.05 ERA to come down to a 1.90 FIP. The other big thing that stands out about DeJong’s numbers from 2013 is his K/BB ratio at 66/10 in just 56 innings. Seeing him firsthand, I can attest to the fact that Rookie Ball hitters had absolutely no chance against the 19 year old’s curveball.
2014 Prognosis: DeJong had a very brief postseason callup to the Vancouver Canadians and is on track to start 2014 in Lansing. While he might not have the most potential of the arms who will be there next season, DeJong is probably the most well rounded and is showing both pitchability and command to go with his very good stuff.
A.J. Jimenez – C
Date of Birth: May 1, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’/210 lbs
Acquired: 9th round of the 2008 draft
|2013||23||3 Teams||3 Lgs||AA-AAA-A+||TOR||67||283||261||33||75||19||0||4||38||1||3||18||42||.287||.332||.406||.738|
Analysis: Jimenez had his career stall a little bit after finally succumbing to the pain in his throwing elbow and having Tommy John surgery early in the 2012 season. Coming back in 2013, Jimenez showed off his potential both with his bat and with his glove despite losing some more time due to complications after the surgery. The 23 year old catcher is best known for his defense, throwing out more than 40% of runners trying to steal every year since 2009 (when he threw out 35%). He’s also started to get people to notice his bat which has definitely shown more promise as he’s risen through the minors. After breaking out and hitting .303 in High-A Dunedin in 2011, Jimenez had regressed a bit in 2012 before his injury when exposed to the better pitching in Double-A New Hampshire. Spending most of the season back in New Hampshire this year, the Puerto Rican hit a very solid .276/.327/.394 in his 223 Double-A plate appearances (with an additional 60 plate appearances combined between High-A Dunedin and Triple-A Buffalo). Jimenez is also starting show a bit more power which will help his cause when he reaches the major league level. While Jimenez’s ability to make contact is excellent and he is able to foul off many two-strike pitches, the young catcher is probably never going to walk very much.
2014 Prognosis: If, fingers crossed, Jimenez is healthy coming into to 2014, he’ll be catching every day in Triple-A Buffalo and will be the first catcher called up to the majors in case of injury (if the Blue Jays’ catching situation doesn’t change in the offseason). Jimenez is very close to the majors and probably would have earned a callup in September if he hadn’t had injury issues late in the season (that also nixed any chance of him playing in the Arizona Fall League). To me, it looks like his upside is that of a starting catcher who provides slightly less than league average offense but his floor is as a major league backup so there’s very little risk with Jimenez.
Andy Burns – 3B
Date of Birth: August 7, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’2″/190 lbs
Acquired: 11th round of the 2011 draft
|2013||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-A+||TOR||128||574||513||85||148||34||7||15||85||33||14||48||93||.288||.346||.470||.815|
Analysis: Burns started out the season as a deep sleeper and, after tearing up the Florida State League, he emerged as one of the more developed position-playing prospects in the system. A converted shortstop, Burns shows the potential to be a dynamic defensive player at third base. Watching him over three games early into his Double-A callup, I saw at least two spectacular plays that few other third basemen make. He has a strong arm and very good range and, at least defensively, reminds me of the Blue Jays’ current third bagger, Brett Lawrie. On the offensive side, nothing could stop Burns in Dunedin where he hit .327/.383/.524 in 64 games. He had an excellent strikeout to walk ratio and was one of the team’s leaders in both home runs and stolen bases despite only playing half a season with the club. He stumbed a bit out of the gate after his promotion in late June but recovered for a strong August in which he hit .287/.336/.461 with 11 extra-base hits out of his 33 hits for the month (and he also went three for five in his one game in September). Burns possesses one of the most complete sets of tools in the Blue Jays organization, especially for his level. He’s still integrating some mechanical adjustments made after he got to Double-A and held his own while frequently playing out of position in the Arizona Fall League.
2014 Prognosis: Burns will probably head back to Manchester, New Hampshire for another half-season of Double-A at bats before moving up to Triple-A Buffalo. He’s only been in the system for three seasons and 2013 was his first really good one so I think he’s still going to have to convince some who may doubt his major league potential.Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman against the West during the Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Norris – LHP
Date of Birth: April 25, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’2″/180 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2011 draft
|2013||20||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-A+||TOR||2||7||.222||3.97||24||23||90.2||85||46||40||6||46||100||4||11||1.445||8.4||0.6||4.6||9.9||2.17|
Analysis: Probably the only reason that I have Norris ranked behind Sean Nolin is that he’s probably about two years behind him in his development. Norris has greater upside and has better stuff but still hasn’t put everything together consistently enough to be a sure thing. While his stats look better in 2013 than they did in 2012 (I’ll let you head over to Baseball Reference to check them out), his slow start makes things look worse than they were. He took huge steps forward, even getting a late season promotion to Dunedin in High-A.
I saw Norris pitch one of his last starts for the Lansing Lugnuts (Class-A) and when he was focused and hitting the strike zone, he was very impressive. He throws his fastball with nice life in the 92-93 range and can hit 96 on occasion. He has an excellent slider and curveball and his changeup was the one pitch that surprised me with its quality. His mechanics have improved to the point where they’re much more consistent and if Norris continues to improve, he’ll land higher up on this list next year.
2014 Prognosis: The training wheels will likely be off Norris next year. He’ll start in Dunedin but could make it to Double-A New Hampshire by the end of the season if he shows the continued mechanical consistency and improved control.
Sean Nolin – LHP
Date of Birth: December 26, 1989
Height/Weight: 6’5″/235 lbs
Acquired: 6th round of the 2010 draft
|2013||23||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-AAA||TOR||9||4||.692||2.77||20||20||1||110.1||102||36||34||7||35||1||116||3||4||1.242||8.3||0.6||2.9||9.5||3.31|
Analysis: Nolin actually made his (uninspiring) MLB debut in 2013, getting shellacked by the Baltimore Orioles, giving up six runs in just one and a third innings. Not the most auspicious beginning but Nolin told me in an interview that he was using his taste of the majors as a learning experience to help him get back to stay. With the excellent numbers he posted in Double-A, Nolin got called up to Triple-A Buffalo and made three solid starts, despite being a little bit wild. Nolin profiles as a good #4 starter, throwing in the low-90s with both a four- and two-seam fastball, a curve, a slider and a changeup. His biggest asset is his pitchability which allows him to pitch to both sides of the plate and keep the ball down. Against minor league hitters, Nolin rarely gave up a home run (0.6 HR/9) and, his Triple-A stats notwithstanding, kept his walks under three per nine innings.
2014 Prognosis: Nolin has an outside shot of making the major league club but with a very crowded bullpen and the general consensus that Marcus Stroman is more polished and has more upside, Nolin likely begins the season in the rotation in Triple-A Buffalo to await his return to the majors. Nolin is one of the more likely prospects to be packaged in a deal to bring a major league player back to the Blue Jays.
Roberto Osuna – RHP
Date of Birth: February 7, 1995
Height/Weight: 6’2″, 230 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of Mexico in 2011; received a reported $1.5 million bonus.
Analysis: 18-year-old Roberto Osuna started 2013 with a bang, excelling in the Midwest League as the youngest player in the league (Dodgers prospect Julio Urias eclipsed that mark later in the year, joining the league as a 16 year old). After dominating short-season ball last year, the youngster hit some bad luck that can be seen in his 5.53 ERA but the peripheral numbers are still outstanding for Osuna. He throws in the mid-90s but it’s his changeup and his sense for pitching that really has him standing out. His season was derailed after an elbow injury eventually necessitated Tommy John surgery but the fact that he’s still so young (he’ll return in the second half of 2014 as a 19 year old) and is already well developed means that his overall progression won’t be slowed down much at all.
2014 Prognosis: He’ll probably start throwing off a mound right around extended spring training and could be back in league action by July or August. I can see Osuna making the jump to High-A Dunedin, mainly because the Blue Jays have their minor league and rehab facilities there so they’ll be able to keep a close eye on him while he eases back into game situations.
Marcus Stroman – RHP
Date of Birth: May 1, 1991
Height/Weight: 5’9″/ 185 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (22nd overall) of the 2012 draft.
Analysis: Starter or reliever? That’s the big question that faces scouts and writers when trying to evaluate Marcus Stroman. Coming out of college, most scouts believed that his good fastball and outstanding slider, combined with his short stature, would mean a back of the bullpen type of role for Stroman. After watching his first full pro season (minus the remainder of his 50-game suspension at the end of 2012 for a banned substance that was apparently in his nutritional supplement) many commentators are coming around to the starter camp. The Blue Jays had him work on a changeup that has made batters look silly and word is that he’s also throwing a cutter. Add that to a curveball, the good fastball and slider, he’s already got three or four major league quality pitches going for him.
The only knock on Stroman is really his size which doesn’t allow him to create as much of a downward plane on the ball as taller pitchers which will lead him to give up his share of home runs. Some questioned his ability to stay healthy but he seems to have a very free and easy arm motion that isn’t as effort-intensive as was previously thought.
2014 Prognosis: At the very least, Stroman will begin the season as a starter in a very good and deep pitching staff for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Odds are that he makes his major league debut in 2014 but whether it’s as a starter or in the bullpen will depend on the big league club’s needs.
Aaron Sanchez – RHP
Date of Birth: July 1, 1992
Height/Weight: 6’4″/190 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (34th overall) in the 2010 draft
Analysis: Ranked the #35 prospect by MLB.com before the 2013 season, Sanchez is almost certain to move up and is the consensus #1 prospect for the Blue Jays. He earned rave reviews pitching in the Arizona Fall League and scouts love the easy way he throws 96 mph consistently. His fastball has a lot of life and movement and he throws two premium secondary pitches, a curveball and a changeup. The biggest knock against Sanchez is that he’s been a little bit prone to injury and that his control needs to improve. I’ve been told that his lack of control comes from the tremendous amount of movement he gets on his pitches and when he figures that out, he could become an ace.
2014 Prognosis: Sanchez will start 2014 in Double-A New Hampshire and will be within striking distance of the big leagues if he can dominate. If he starts to show the command that has been eluding him to this point, he could be in Triple-A or the majors by September.