Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Toronto Blue Jays

With 16 systems down, I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

Houston Astros | Minnesota Twins | Seattle Mariners | Baltimore Orioles

Kansas City Royals | Chicago Cubs | San Diego Padres | Pittsburgh Pirates

Colorado Rockies | Cleveland Indians | Chicago White Sox | Detroit Tigers

Oakland Athletics | Los Angeles Angels | Tampa Bay Rays | New York Yankees

The next 4 organizations I plan on writing up are the Boston Red Sox, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a combination post on the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, so if there are specific prospects you'd like to hear about, please post in the comments and I'll see what I can find about them.


Overview

The Toronto Blue Jays have amassed one of the deepest systems in all of baseball since the hiring of GM Alex Anthopoulos. There are a few prospects at the higher levels, but the true depth of the system is in the lower levels of the minor leagues. Overall, there are a number of prospects that are on the way toward Toronto, so much so that some may be held back so that others can advance more quickly.

2011 Graduates

J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez, Eric Thames

Ready in 2012

Travis d'Arnaud

Acquired in the Roy Halladay trade, d'Arnaud really emerged after a posting .311/.371/.542 batting line with 21 home runs and 78 RBI at AA New Hampshire last year. Here's what John Sickels had to say about d'Arnaud as a part of his top 20 Blue Jays prospect list:

He would be an A- or maybe even an A if he was more effective at throwing out runners and struck out less often, but he can really hit and is still a superior prospect even with those weaknesses.

Overall, it is difficult to find catchers who will provide above-average offense wile also being likely to stay behind the plate long-term. The Blue Jays have the luxury of keeping him in AAA until they feel he is ready, but long-term J.P. Arencibia is extremely unlikely to block him. He'll likely be up before the end of the 2012 season, and up to stay for the 2013 season.

Joel Carreno

A 25 year old right handed pitcher, Carreno took quite a while to get to the Majors. He spent most of 2011 at AA, and earned a callup by the end of the season. John Sickels wrote about him for his "Prospect of the Day" series, and gave this scouting report:

As you can see, Carreno has been solid at every level, posting excellent K/IP ratios in particular. Nevertheless, despite his performances he hasn't shown up highly on that many prospect lists. His best pitch is a plus breaking ball; it is so good that he actually uses it too much. The pitch is generally described as a slider by scouts, although pitch f/x identifies it as showing separation between a slider and curveball. There's nothing wrong with his fastball, a 91-94 MPH pitch with some movement, but he needs to show more confidence in it and has trouble commanding it at times. He has an adequate changeup, but for the most part the fastball/slider combination is his mainstay. His walk rate spiked in Double-A, but in the majors he's thrown strikes.

It sounds like he is more likely to end up in the bullpen long-term, which would cause a severe drop in his fantasy value. Given that the team has acquired Sergio Santos and have him under contract for the next 5 seasons, he seems unlikely to jump into the mix for saves anytime soon. Hopefully the team will continue to look at him as a starter, but he'll need to show that his 2011 performance was no fluke.

Could Be Ready by 2014

Anthony Gose

Acquired from the Astros for Brett Wallace (who had Gose for less than a few hours), the Blue Jays found an extremely raw player who had a lot of tools but a performance level that didn't match those tools. He really exploded onto the scene in 2011, posting a .253/.349/.415 line with 16 home runs and a crazy 76 stolen bases. The reviews on Gose's defense seem to be pretty consistent that he can stay in center field long term. Here's what Keith Law had to say about Gose when he saw him in the Arizona Fall League:

Gose is a 70 runner with a 70 arm (although the one game throw I saw was more of a 60, if you want to nit-pick) who should have plenty of range for centerfield, so the offensive baseline for him to be an average everyday player in the majors is pretty low. He still has a lot of improvements ahead of him to become a star but I am very optimistic about him reaching that.

The strikeouts concern me a bit, but as long as he hits at least .250 he should provide excellent value across the other 4 categories. Kevin Goldstein was asked for a comp for Gose in his most recent chat, and mentioned Devon White. Fantasy owners would be pretty excited to get a .270, 15 HR, 30 SB outfielder. He'll likely be in AAA for 2012, but I think he'll be starting in Toronto by no later than midseason 2013. He could force his way up sooner than that, but the team has a solid enough outfield to allow them to be patient with Gose.

Jake Marisnick

Gose isn't the only high-level outfield prospect in the Blue Jays' system. Marisnick was drafted by the Jays back in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, but did not play a full season until 2011. He spent all season in the Midwest League, posting an excellent .320/.392/.486 line with 14 home runs, 77 RBI, and 37 stolen bases. There has been a pretty healthy debate going around on the internet as to whether Marisnick or Gose is the better prospect, and Baseball Instinct had Marisnick at #21 overall and higher than Gose in their rankings. Here's some of the profile they gave about him:

Marisnick has the ability to be a special player. He has an all around game that doesn’t come together often and he’s quietly maturing in the Jays system without much of the baseball community noticing how talented he is. His upside is a 30/30 RF in his prime. His downside is somewhere around a 4th OF with above average speed and 20 HR power as a platoon player. But the odd part is that he actually been better against right-handers although he’s hit well against both lefties and righties. So I don’t see him as a platoon player. I think the everyday player is there in this player profile.

The general consensus seems to be that while Gose has a higher ceiling, Marisnick is a lot more polished of a prospect with a much higher floor than Gose. Marisnick is a bit further away, as he hasn't played above Low-A yet. Realistically, I would anticipate him playing in High-A in 2012, which could put him on track to be in the bigs sometime late in 2014.

Deck McGuire

McGuire was drafted out of Georgia Tech with the Jay's top pick in the 2010 draft, and has moved quickly through their system. He was sent to High-A to start his career in 2011, and finished with a solid 21 innings in AA at the end of the year. The general consensus with McGuire seems to be that he has less upside than some of the other pitchers taken in that draft by the Jays, but could be ready very soon. Dave Gershman posted a brief scouting report over at Beyond the Box Score, and here's an excerpt:

McGuire doesn't throw that hard, but his velocity lasts until the later innings. Although I still think (along with others) that he was a slight overdraft, I can envision McGuire being a solid 4th or 5th starter for the Jays.

McGuire has posted solid strikeout numbers thus far, albeit with a slightly elevated walk rate. He seems to me like once is he in the Majors, he would be an average fantasy starting pitcher: in standard 10-team leagues he would be someone to stream, with the potential to be a 5th or 6th starter. He'll start 2012 back at AA, but it would not surprise me if he was in Toronto before 2013.

Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until At Least 2015)

Justin Nicolino

Nicolino was drafted in the 2nd round back in 2010 by the Jays, and signed for an over-slot bonus instead of attending college. He did not debut until 2011, and was sent to the short-season Northwest League. He was dominant in 9 starts and 3 relief appearances, striking out 64 batters and walking just 11 in 52 IP. He was promoted in time to make 3 starts with the Jays' Low-A affiliate in Lansing, and struck out 9 batters in 8 2/3 IP. Dave Gershman posted a brief scouting report over at Beyond the Box Score, and had this to say about Nicolino:

He's more of a finesse guy than a power guy, but he still manages to throw a fastball that touches the mid-90's at times. Nicolino repeats his delivery and throws strikes. Additionally, he's able to mix his pitches and control the zone with his fastball and curve, even when behind in the count.

Overall, Nicolino probably does not have the same ceiling as some of the other pitchers in the system. That said, I think he is already showing potential to be a Major League starter. There seems to be a lot of polish in his game already, despite his young age. It seems that whether or not he will reach his ceiling will be determined on his ability to effectively develop three pitches of a solid quality (Baseball America said in the Prospect Handbook that "his curveball is his third pitch, yet could become an average offering"). He'll likely start the season in Low-A, but the Jays could push him and send him to High-A before too long. If he is able to develop that third pitch and maintain his command, I could see him being a top 40 starting pitcher some seasons, with the potential to move higher at his peak.

Noah Syndergaard

A supplemental 1st round pick in 2010, Syndergaard only threw 13 innings that year. He pitched across 3 levels in 2011, finishing in the low-A Midwest League. Here's a bit of what the guys over at Baseball Instinct had to say about Syndergaard as a part of the top prospects list:

Synderggard has a power pitcher’s frame, and mindset. He has advanced command of a fastball for his age that sits at 92-94mph, touching 97mph. His curveball is promising, while his changeup needs more work.

Syndergaard looks like another high ceiling arm and his performance thus far has been solid, even if it is only in 72 total innings. He won't turn 20 until late August, but could be in High-A by then. I prefer him slightly over Nicolino, if only because I think his ceiling is just a bit higher than Nicolino's. He remains a long way from being in the Majors, as he seems to me unlikely to be in Toronto before 2015. There's a lot of upside here from him at this point, and a great season this year could vault him very high up onto prospect lists for 2013.

Daniel Norris

Norris was actually the 5th player taken by the Blue Jays in the 2011 draft, but he may be the best prospect out of the bunch of them. Drafted out of a high school in Tennessee, Norris fell due to signability concerns, but the Blue Jays gave him a $2 million signing bonus to get him. Despite not making his debut yet as a professional, he has been getting rave reviews from a number of prospect experts. Here's a bit of what Kevin Goldstein had to say when he ranked him as the top pitching prospect in the Blue Jays' organization this year:

Norris is an ultra-athletic left-hander with broad shoulders, excellent arm action, and a fastball that already sits at 92-95 mph. He has a feel for how to spin a breaking ball, and unlike many high school products, he knows how to throw a changeup.

Norris will turn 19 this April, but given that the organization has so many excellent arms at the lower levels, I think he could start out in a short-season league, or potentially even a Rookie League if they want to start him out slow. Long term, it sounds like he could be an excellent starting pitcher, and it seems like he has more polish than your standard high school draftee. He won't likely be in the Majors until at least 2015, but it sounds like he is worth keeping an eye on in dynasty leagues.

Some Other Names to Know About

The Blue Jays system is extremely deep right now, and there are a number of prospects that should probably be on the radar for deeper dynasty leagues. Here's a few of them:

Aaron Sanchez - A 1st round pick in the 2010 draft, Sanchez was drafted out of a California high school, Sanchez signed quickly and debuted in 2010. However, the performance thus far has been a bit poor, especially with regard to control (4.3 BB/9 in 54+ IP across Rookie and Short-Season Low-A). He won't turn 20 until July, but he's a bit further behind some of the other pitchers from his draft class right now.

Drew Hutchison - A 15th round pick in the 2009 draft, Hutchison has advanced very quickly, reaching AA last year for 3 starts. He posted excellent strikeout numbers across three levels in 2011, and could be moving up to Toronto before the end of the season if all goes well.

Adonys Cardona - A right-handed pitcher signed out of Venezuela, Cardona made his stateside debut last season in the Gulf Coast League. He was only 17 years old, but posted excellent strikeout numbers and a K/BB rate of almost 3. As with all international signees, he's a LONG way from being useful to the Blue Jays, but I think he could see time in 2012 in one of the short-season leagues.

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