Welcome to part two of our offseason prospects series. Today we’ll delve into corner infielders, which is really just a euphemism for third base. I changed the format around a little bit this week—instead of breaking the comments down into neat blocks, I decided to write a single paragraph on each of the players ranked below, incorporating components of the format we used last week. As a reminder, our schedule:
Nov. 29 – Catchers
Dec. 6 – Corner Infielders
Dec. 13 – Middle Infielders
Dec. 20 – Corner Outfielders
Dec. 27 – Center Fielders
Jan. 3 – Right-handed Starting Pitchers
Jan. 10 – Left-handed Starting Pitchers
Jan. 31 – Top 50 Overall: 26-50
Feb. 7 – Top 50 Overall: 1-25
State of the Organization – Corner Infield
Let’s just say it’s nice to have Brett Lawrie around. He may not have met expectations in his first full season, but he’s hardly at risk of being usurped by an emerging third base prospect any time soon. That isn’t to say that Toronto is devoid of interesting prospects at the hot corner, however. Matt Dean and Mitch Nay, two high-profile picks from the last two drafts, are both intriguing but they’re several years away from making any impact in the big leagues. The other three names on this list, all third basemen, all spent time in short-season leagues last summer.
In the upper levels, third base is covered largely by non-prospects (Mark Sobolewski, Mike McCoy, Chris Woodward, etc.). At Dunedin, former first-round pick Kevin Ahrens spent another summer manning the hot corner and showing no progress at the plate. At this point it’s safe to call him a bust, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jays pushed him to Double-A next year to see if that stimulates him.
Though this is technically a corner infield prospects list, you won’t see any first basemen mentioned below until you get to the sleeper (Seth Conner). At first, that doesn’t really appear to be a significant issue – after all, didn’t most major league first basemen convert from a more challenging defensive position?
Many did, but not most. Of the 30 players who received more than 300 plate appearances last year, at least half of which were earned while playing first base, 18 were primarily first basemen coming up through the minor leagues.
|1B (18)||Yonder Alonso, Brandon Belt, Ike Davis, Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Gonzalez, Eric Hosmer, Casey Kotchman, Bryan LaHair, Adam LaRoche, James Loney, Justin Morneau, Carlos Pena, Anthony Rizzo, Justin Smoak, Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto.|
|Other (12)||Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Corey Hart, Garrett Jones, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Albert Pujols, Mark Reynolds, Juan Rivera, Ty Wigginton.|
Toronto has options at the major-league level, ranging from Adam Lind to David Cooper to Jose Bautista, so there isn’t a sense of urgency to fill the position. Lind’s history and contract will earn him another shot at the job next year, and if he falters it’s likely that Cooper will take over. Cooper, a first-round pick in 2008, will never show the power expected of a traditional first baseman, but he does have value as a high-average doubles machine.
The farm system is populated with significantly-flawed organizational soldiers and it’s a stretch to put the “future major leaguer” tag on any of them. Kevin Patterson, Art Charles, and Balbino Fuenmeyer all possess above-average to plus power, but none have the requisite hit tools to translate that raw power into games at the highest levels. Of the three, Charles is the likeliest to find success at the upper levels, with plus bat speed and 70 raw power that sends balls a long way when he makes contact, but his six-foot-six frame creates lots of holes that his average hands aren’t able to plug on a consistent basis.
1. Matt Dean, 3b
Age: 20. Bats/Throws: Right/Right. Height/Weight: 6’3”/190 lbs.
Acquired: 13th round of the 2011 draft out of high school in Texas.
2012: .222/.282/.353, 8 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 60-12 K-BB in 182 PA (R/Bluefield).
Dean slipped to the 13th round of the 2011 draft due to perceived bonus demands and a strong commitment to Texas. Toronto signed him for an above-slot $737,500 bonus (supplemental first round money) and he made his professional debut in the Appalachian League last summer. A 7-for-12 stretch from July 26-28 lifted his line to .265/.327/.459, but 11 hits over the next month sunk his overall season numbers. Dean’s greatest attributes are above-average raw power and a strong, accurate arm. He isn’t particularly gifted at third base, but he has average range and soft, reliable hands. While he has good bat speed, there are some questions about how much consistent contact he’ll be able to make. He’s athletic and offers plenty of projection at the plate, which is what his ranking atop this list reflects. ETA: 2016.
2. Mitch Nay, 3b
Age: 19. Bats/Throws: Right/Right. Height/Weight: 6’3”/190 lbs.
Acquired: Supplemental first round of the 2012 draft out of high school in Arizona.
2012: Did not play – injured.
Nay signed quickly, but injured his right foot in early workouts and was unable to take the field in the Gulf Coast League. The former Arizona State recruit has a large frame that generates above-average power to all fields and the potential to be at least an average hitter. At third base, Nay owns a strong arm, but fringy footwork and range. He could profile in right field down the road, but he’ll be given the opportunity to stick at the hot corner. ETA: 2017.
3. Gabriel Cenas, 3b
Age: 19. Bats/Throws: Right/Right. Height/Weight: 6’1”/155 lbs.
Acquired: International free agent from Venezuela in 2010.
2012: .192/.271/.267, 7 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 46-13 K-BB in 192 PA (R/GCL Blue Jays).
Cenas’ performance serves as a good example of why stat-line scouting is a fool’s errand. He received a $700,000 bonus as an amateur out of Venezuela, but has hit only .196/.296/.258 in 260 professional plate appearances in the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer Leagues. He’s been overmatched at the plate, but there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future. He has a lot of room to grow, and as his body fills out he will begin driving the ball with more authority. When his body catches up to his skills, he could come on quickly. Despite his low batting averages, Cenas is an average or better hitter with above-average raw power. He squares the ball up with a short stroke and gets good loft. In the field, he has a strong arm, good feet, and solid actions that should keep him at third base. ETA: 2017.
4. Kellen Sweeney, 3b
Age: 21. Bats/Throws: Left/Right Height/Weight: 6’0”/180 lbs.
Acquired: Second round of the 2010 draft out of high school in Iowa.
2012: .229/.330/.367, 15 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 47-35 K-BB in 288 PA (A-/Vancouver); .179/.297/.207, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 30-23 K-BB in 165 PA (A/Lansing).
Sweeney missed most of 2011 with an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, but returned to action at Low-A Lansing last year. He struggled to hit and was demoted to extended spring training at the end of May before spending the summer at short-season Vancouver. Like Cenas, Sweeney’s numbers belie his tools – he’s an average or better hitter with some power upside and advanced pitch recognition skills. There are some who believe that his power will emerge once he learns to attack pitches early in the count. He has below-average speed but solid instincts on the base paths. He may not develop enough game power to stick at third base, but he has solid defensive chops and an above-average arm. Injuries have slowed his development, but he’ll have a chance to get back on track when he returns to Low-A Lansing to start the year. ETA: 2016.
5. Gustavo Pierre, 3b
Age: 21. Bats/Throws: Right/Right. Height/Weight: 6’2”/183 lbs.
Acquired: International free agent from Dominican Republic in 2008.
2012: .252/.302/.414, 14 2B, 8 3B, 5 HR, 79-16 K-BB in 303 PA (A/Lansing).
Pierre got off to a sluggish start in his second shot at the Midwest League, but rallied to hit .279/.321/.451 during the second half. He continued to struggle against left-handed pitching, hitting just .172/.238/.293 in 63 plate appearances. Recipient of a $700,000 bonus in 2008, Pierre has the tools to be an average or better hitter, but often chases breaking pitches out of the zone. There’s some power in his body, but he’ll have to tighten up his approach in order to tap into it. Pierre signed as a shortstop but spent all of 2012 at third base. He may not have the instincts to survive at the hot corner, so a move to second base or a corner outfield position could be in his future. Though his overall line wasn’t pretty, Pierre may be pushed to High-A Dunedin next year in order to give Sweeney regular time in Lansing. ETA: 2015.
Seth Conner, 1b – Conner split time between catcher and first base last summer, but lacks the arm to stick behind the plate. He has average raw power and some idea of what to do at the plate, but a slow bat may limit his offensive upside. Most see him as an organizational player.
Next Week: We’ll take a look at middle infield prospects, including Ryan Schimpf if he survives today’s Rule 5 draft.