Last week, while we were knee deep in Winter Meetings innuendo around here, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America released their Jays top prospects lists. There is a tonne of information in each package– far too much to go over in its entirety, which I wouldn’t do anyway since the majority of it is behind a paywall– so let’s try to boil it down to a few key takeaways I found most interesting.
There is, of course, the obvious stuff that we’re all likely aware of by now: BP’s Jason Parks loves Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez remains an elite prospect even after a season that took some of the shine off, Roberto Osuna is hard to evaluate due to his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, and the lower minors of the club’s system are stacked with arms.
Beyond that, here’s what I found most interesting:
There’s a reason Marcus Stroman can’t shake the too-short-to-start label
“Since 1960, just two righthanders 5-foot-9 or shorter (Tom Phoebus and Tom Gordon) have more than 30 career major league starts,” writes Clint Longenecker for Baseball America in their scouting report on Stroman, which… I mean… holy shit. Obviously part of that number is a function of opportunity, but it’s still pretty staggering.
If anyone can do it, though, Parks thinks its Stroman, explaining as much in his own scouting report at Baseball Prospectus:
Stroman might be even shorter than his listed height (5’9’’), and normally I would be the first person to put him into the reliever box—especially given the fact that he could be an elite closer in that role. But I think Stroman is a starter all the way, with more than enough strength and athleticism for the workload and a deep arsenal that he can command. He’s atypical and unorthodox, but Stroman is going to be an impact starter at the major-league level. The stuff is well above average, the delivery and arm work very well and should be able to handle a starter’s workload, and the aggressiveness and poise fit the mold of a frontline starter just as much as it does a late-innings arm. If you focus too much on the height you are going to miss on the realities of the overall profile. This is a starting pitcher.
Longenecker wasn’t negative in his outlook on Stroman, mind you– he was still BA’s number two prospect in the system– it’s just not quite so glowing, or confident that he’ll stick in the rotation.
What exactly is wrong with Aaron Sanchez?
In a word: not a whole lot. There’s still a huge ceiling there, by all accounts, and nitpicking him is really only done in the context of the question of whether he’s as good as Stroman, or whether he’ll be able to fulfill his potential as a front line starter. It’s not boom or bust, either, as Longenecker’s report explains, suggesting that “if he can’t show the control to start, he has the stuff to become a high-end closer.”
In BP’s debate piece on the Stroman-or-Sanchez question, however, Parks notes a key separator for him:
The command is a concern for some, as is the ballsack attribute; a few sources referred to him as soft. I’m leaning toward ranking Stroman higher on the list despite Sanchez’s ultimate ceiling. I think Stroman is a safer pick with at least comparable upside, and I’ve never heard a negative comment about Stroman’s fortitude on the mound. As silly as it might sound, I really value that characteristic in a pitcher. I want to see a strong mentality on the mound, somebody who likes to bring the game to the hitters and not the other way around. I’m not suggesting Sanchez is a passive arm; rather, the reports on Stroman’s approach are just better at this point in time.
Earlier in the piece his BP colleague, Chris King, explained that “Every time I saw Sanchez he nibbled until he faced another stud.” That may sound concerning, in context, but it was actually a compliment. “He seems to ramp it up when facing better competition,” King continued. “The sequence I saw when he faced Buxton in the FSL was downright filthy.”
Longenecker had an explanation for that sort of stuff as well, saying this in response to a question in the comments at the bottom of his non-paywall’d overview piece on the Jays system:
The primary driver behind the decision was Sanchez’s higher upside and the belief that his plus athleticism will allow him to make the adjustments necessary to reach that ceiling. He is still growing into his body and when things click, the improvements will likely be drastic. Although others have questioned his fortitude but we have heard positive reports from many inside and outside the organization about his drive and competitiveness. Its not the externally visible, extreme closeup on Papelbon’s face sort of drive and intensity, but he is a competitor and a diligent worker. By his nature, he is quiet but that should not be viewed for anything beyond simply his natural temperament. At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer and the debates are fun, as both players are valuable commodities with the potential to be difference makers at the major league level.
The stuff about making adjustments is an especially positive thing, in Longenercker’s view, as he sees further tweaking as a necessary part of the development path for Sanchez– and also sees the much talked-about shortening of his stride this season as just one component of that process. In his chat with readers at BA he explains:
Sanchez has had trouble throwing strikes, as his 2012 walk rate was 51 [percent] higher than league average. The organization believed that Sanchez was getting under the ball, causing him to miss up and armside too frequently. In an attempt to get him on top of the ball more and working downhill, Sanchez shortened his stride (because he was often late into foot strike, which caused him finishing up and arm side). By reducing the amount of time his stride leg was in the air, the variables were reduced. And he began to work over the ball more, getting more plane to the plate and throwing more strikes. His walk rate improved to 31 percent above league average. Many people have pointed out that he is more upright in his delivery and this is true because he used to tilt on his backside a little bit, but this has been reduced. That is where things stand presently, and he groundball rate was well above-average this year, demonstrating that he is working over the ball more and has at least plus fastball life. After getting more comfortable with this aspect of his delivery, Sanchez ideally should be able to increase his stride length to where it was before while maintaining that plane to the plate. So, expect further adjustments going forward.
Thing is, if you look at it over the course of the year, the changes don’t necessarily appear to have served their stated purpose: Sanchez walked 9.4% of the batters he faced in April and May, but from the time he returned from injury until the end of the season, that number jumped to 12.1%. Then again, as I noted in separate early-August pieces by way of Keith Law and Shi Davidi, he was trying to pitch through a blister. Remove three appearances near the time of those reports– including two very brief ones– and eight walks issued among thirty batters faced, and his rate goes right back to 9.4%.
The final word on the debate…
It comes from Parks on the latest Fringe Average podcast:
Well, I mean, we ranked him number one in that system based on the fact– I mean based on the theory– that he will be in the rotation, that he does have what it takes to be in the rotation. I talked to guys who scouted him as an amateur, I talked to guys who scouted him in the minors– I stay away from talking to the org. itself about players until after I’ve already constructed the list, because I don’t want to be influenced by them, and I don’t want any manipulation– but man, consensus is that he’s a starter. It’s not ideal, it’s not prototypical, obviously. But man, he’s short, but he’s not frail. He’s strong, and he’s a competitor in a major fucking way. He’s got balls. He’s got rig. And he’s got the arsenal. I mean, he’s got the cutter he started to bring out in the AFL; he’s got the big fastball; he’s got the slider that he can manipulate– it kind of looks like a hard curve ball at times because of the two plane movement instead just a pure slice; the changeup that’s got a lot of action to it. Man, and he knows what to do with it. And you look at that and you see a guy who’s listed at 5’9, but I think he’s smaller, and you say, “Well he’s a reliever, he’s an elite closer,” which is awesome– that’s an awesome floor to have. So I looked at it like, “OK, man, even if he is a closer, there’s very little risk there”– this guy’s gonna come in and throw B.B.s. And Aaron Sanchez, for all the sweet arm action that he has, for all the ceiling, for the fact that he can just throw in the mid-90s like its nothing, he’s not a complete pitcher. There’s more risk there. I’d definitely take Syndergaard over Sanchez– I think that Sanchez still has that crazy high ceiling, but there weren’t good reports on how he goes about with his pitchability, with his ability to repeat, to locate, to attack. I kind of soured on him a little bit. I still think he’s a top 35 type of prospect in baseball, but man, that decision to go with Stroman feels good now– I felt confident, and you keep going down that list: you’ve got Alberto Tirado, who’s a really loose armed kid, you’ve got Daniel Norris who has really taken a step forward and put that bad season behind him, you’ve got high ceiling position players like D.J. Davis and Franklin Barreto, you have more arms– there’s just arms for days. Jairo Labourt is a fuckin’ name and a fuckin’ arm– big lefty kid with stuff. Man, there’s just– you keep going lower and lower and lower in the system and all their short season affiliates and they’re just fucking stacked with high ceiling arms. That organization is fine.
Discrepancies on Nay, Lugo, Osuna, Davis, Tirado…
OK, calling these discrepancies is a little bit of a stretch. Dawel Lugo made the back end of the BA top ten but wasn’t mentioned in the BP piece, but the other three showed up on both lists — with Osuna as a “notable omission” for Parks, due to the Tommy John surgery– just in somewhat different places.
Parks and BP are just so enamoured– as he freely admits– with the club’s arms that the position players are taking a back seat by comparison to the BA list. Alberto Tirado is third on the Baseball Prospectus list, for example, but eighth for Baseball America– the exact reverse of the positions held by D.J. Davis on the lists.
On the pitching side, Parks explains:
Tirado is a beast in the making, with three pitches that could end as plus offerings. The delivery is inconsistent at present, and the body needs to add strength to hold stuff and log innings. Despite the iffy command at present, Tirado shows pitchability and aptitude, and with a slow and steady approach, has a good chance to develop into a top tier prospect in the coming years. His stock is going to soar when he shoves in full-season ball, and when the command starts to refine, look out. This is an impact prospect that could develop into an impact major-league starter.
Having him eighth, though, doesn’t mean that BA isn’t pretty much just as high on him, really. In their scouting report they too suggest the upside of a number two starter, and in his chat with readers, Longenecker explains that “He could have even been higher on this list and he could really jump if he can show the same stuff over extended innings at a full-season club, continues to improve his control and repeat his delivery. You cant dream too big on Tirado because the potential is immense.”
Davis, on the other hand, is still just so raw that I think the slight divergence is understandable. Parks notes that he has “a monster ceiling,” but still “a very long way to go on all sides of the ball.” Longenecker sees him the same way, he just evidently puts more value into the big upside.
Then there’s Mitch Nay, who ranked fourth for BA and was the second of three “prospects on the rise” for BP, placing him outside of the top 10.
“Nay has legit above-average projections on the hit/power tools, but several questions about his athleticism and ultimate defensive profile pushed him off the top 10,” Parks explains. “If you really like the bat, the defensive limitations won’t bother you much, but if he has to eventually move to first base, the bat needs to be a heavy player for him to have value.”
For BA, however, “he moves well enough to play right field,” and “with a large frame and strong build, the physical Nay has the potential to a middle-of-the-order hitter with power and on-base ability.”
In extended spring training, Nay raised his hitting load, got rid of his bat waggle and shortened his stride, shortening his swing path. He has bat speed and quick hands and makes hard contact to all fields. Scouts praise his contact ability, up-the-middle approach and ability to drive the ball to right field. He could be an above-average hitter to go with his 70-grade raw power. He has an advanced approach and should get on base at an above-average clip.
In his chat with readers, Longenecker also singles out Nay for praise when asked about prospects who get above average grades for makeup/character:
Mitch Nay is widely praised for his work ethic, intensity, love for the game and ability to take to instruction. Tom Robson, who improved as much as any Jay this year, really took to the organization’s instructions and has makeup that allow his tools to play up. Tangentially related, two years ago I was sitting with a Blue Jays crosschecker at an extended spring game and he was raving about Robson’s makeup. He called Robson “an All-American type of young man,” which speaks volumes about his makeup and is also funny because he is, in fact, Canadian. Labourt, who lost a lot of weight and became a fiercer competitor, also draws praise.
Labourt is, of course, Jairo Labourt– “a fuckin’ name and a fuckin’ arm”– who was tenth for BP, and just missed BA’s top ten– ranking twelfth, based on his placement on their list of the organization’s top players under 25, which, speaking of…
Anthony Gose and (to a lesser extent) Brett Lawrie continue to slip…
Maybe it’s only natural that prospect-focussed organizations like these would be more excited about actual prospects rather than guys who’ve actually reached the majors but have struggled somewhat to find their place there, but it’s interesting that both BA and BP included a list of the top players in the organization under the age of 25, and that Brett Lawrie was no longer the top listed talent on either of them. It’s not a whole lot of slippage, though– he ranked second for BP, behind Stroman, and third for BA, behind both Sanchez and then Stroman.
The case of Anthony Gose is even more striking– if understandable, thanks to his putrid .239/.316/.336 line at Buffalo. For BP he ranked sixth, with Sanchez, Tirado and Daniel Norris all now ahead of him, in addition to the top two. At BA he placed eighth, behind the aforementioned three, plus Drew Hutchison, Davis, Nay, and Franklin Barreto.
The love for Hutchison there I like– and I may go as far as to call his omission an oversight on BP’s part, though as the case of Osuna shows, they’re maybe not quite as cavalier about assuming guys will come back as good as new from Tommy John– but throwing Davis way up there when, if you’ll forgive the comp., you’ve got Gose slipping away after coming up with basically the same profile– raw, potential five-tool, speedy centre fielder with massive contact issues– is maybe a bit weird. Different players, I know, but… I guess it really does illustrate the power of the big dream. Gose is approaching “is what he is” fourth outfielder territory, while Davis hasn’t had nearly the kind of failure yet for us to stop dreaming on.
And the rest…
I’d be remiss if I finished up this piece with only having briefly mentioned– or not mentioned at all– some of the other many exciting prospects from the lists. Barreto, who I wrote about back in September, is one that jumps out, landing 5th (BA) and 7th (BP) despite not turning eighteen until the end of February.
There’s also Dan Norris, who BP already had at number four in the organization, after his terrific, turnaround second half, while at BA– where he was sixth– Longenecker tells us that he “could easily make a push into the top 3 if he can sustain his mechanical changes over a full season and shows he can repeat his delivery.” He could also end up teammates with Aaron Sanchez in New Hampshire at this point this year, though it looks like he’ll begin the year at high-A Dunedin in the Florida State league.
Then there are near-misses Chase DeJong and Clinton Hollon. DeJong, a 2012 second rounder, actually made BP’s list, ranking ninth because “several sources waxed poetic about Dejong’s arm action and arsenal projection, suggesting the
fastball velocity is going to arrive and take the 19-year-old arm to the next prospect level.”
Parks adds that “He has feel for craft, and the curveball already shows its plus potential. If he can take a step forward in full-season ball, Dejong has a chance to emerge as a top 101 prospect in the game. If the fastball starts to tick up, look out.”
He just missed on the BA list, but in his chat Longenecker explains, “He was in earlier cuts of the top 10 and was tough to move out. He is an exciting guy. The thumbnail report is that DeJong profiles to pitch with a plus fastball, plus curveball and his changeup could emerge as plus (as it has made considerable developmental strides). DeJong projects to also have plus control with a body that will hold up in the rotation.”
Hollon, 2013′s second-rounder, sounds mighty exciting as well. Naming him his top prospect on the rise (i.e. who didn’t make the top ten), Parks explains:
Athletic righty with big arm strength and feel for a deep arsenal, Hollon received several votes of confidence from scouts that encouraged me to include him in the top 10. He needs to stay healthy and stay on the field, but the profile is yet another impact rotation arm with projections in the two/three starter range. The Jays are growing these guys on trees in the lower minors.
By way of his chat, Longenecker evidently concurs:
Hollon, who has a ton of upside and was not far off from DeJong, could rise quickly on this list. Hollon is a plus athlete that can touch 95, 96 and sit in the low to mid-90s. His slider is plus and both his curveball and changeup have the potential to also be above-average offerings. With a deep arsenal, athleticism and pitchability, Hollon has the ceiling of at least a No. 3, with an outside shot at a No. 2. Of the guys outside the top 10 that could make a jump he is probably the guy.
It’s exciting stuff, all of it. And I’ve given just a taste– a healthy one, perhaps, but just a taste– of what’s contained within the excellent work of the guys at both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. There is an absolute tonne more, and all of it should make any Jays fan upset with silliness about how the club “traded all their prospects” last year see just how far from the truth those kind of statements are. I mean, sure, it’s about as far from the truth as most of these short-season guys are from reaching the Majors– HEYO!– but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole, whole lot to like here.
Now go and subscribe to both BA and BP and enjoy all the rest of the gold on these guys… y’know, at least until they get traded and we all start zeroing in on their warts!