Keith Law’s outstanding annual top prospect and system-ranking work for ESPN.com was released this week, and unlike most years, I didn’t exactly rush to breathlessly reveal as much of it as could stomach. That’s no knock on Law, of course, it’s just that this is a bit of a down year for Jays prospects relative to the rest of the league — at least in his estimation — and it’s not like I was going to be shouting “We’ve got the 24th ranked system!” (which, according to Law, we do) from the rooftops. We all understand why that is, so there’s not much need to rehash it.
Or, we all can understand it, if we’re interested in hearing out his perspective on why some of the big talent lottery tickets the Jays have in the low minors couldn’t push them up the rankings, the way it did with other evaluators — Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus, in particular, raved about what’s percolating up from the depths of the minors (and called it a top ten system). Fortunately, Law did elaborate on why the Jays rank where they do, on this week’s 2014-debut edition of his Behind The Dish podcast (with local boy made good, Adnan Virk, as his guest!).
I love Aaron Sanchez, I’ve got him 30th overall on the list, but he’s not going to be ready to help them this year. There’s one starting pitching prospect in the system, Marcus Stroman, who I think could come up and make a difference for the Blue Jays at the big league level this year. Most of what I like about their system, if you look at the rest of the top ten, it’s a lot of short season guys. Guys who, especially Latin American signings from 2009 and 2010, under Marco Paddy, who now actually works for the White Sox, but did a nice job getting a lot of talent — a lot of hard throwers and a lot of middle infield prospects — into the system.
Those guys are turning 18, 19 now. They’re starting to pop, but they’re a ways a way. I mean you’re dreaming — I’m dreaming on a lot of these guys. I see the ability, I see the promise. But then, when I try to do these rankings, one through thirty, or when I’m just evaluating individual prospects, one thing I keep in the back of my mind is, ‘Would you trade this guy for that guy?’ ‘Would you trade Toronto’s system for the Orioles’ system?’ ‘Would you trade one for the other?’ And with Toronto, they kept coming out on the short end of the stick, because the fact is, the industry does not value short season players; 18-year-olds who’ve been in the Gulf Coast League, or the Arizona Rookie League, or the Appy league. They don’t value them very highly. Those guys, if you see them included in a trade — Neftali Feliz was something like the fourth of fifth player in that Mark Teixeira trade. I mean, he turned out to be tremendous, but at the time of the deal, I think a lot of people didn’t really know who he was, and he was seen as sort of a sleeper — an odd inclusion in the trade. Those guys still don’t move very often, because they’re just not valued within the industry. So, I look at the Blue Jays and say, ‘Two or three years from now this could be pretty special, because of all those 18-year-olds we’re talking about,’ but right now, if I’m being honest about how the industry perceives these guys, even if scouts like them, they just have very little trade value. The value of those players as assets is really quite low.
I think that makes total sense, but I think the way Parks sees it makes sense too. And the thing is, if you expect that a few of the short season guys take big steps forward this year — examples: Charlie Caskey of the Vancouver Province spoke to Alex Anthopoulos last week about Mitch Nay (no higher than 14th for Law), who the GM seemed especially high on, along with Franklin Barreto, who Law has at 8th in the system, saying many now think he’ll stick at shortstop, and “he has a chance to be an impact guy with the bat” — and if the club does well with the ninth and eleventh picks in June’s draft (and actually signs the players), this has all the makings of just a temporary ebb.
It’s not like the Jays have had trouble producing talent. I know I said it didn’t need rehashing, but the club did have six of Law’s top 100 in their system a year ago — Syndergaard (24), Sanchez (30), d’Arnaud (36), Stroman (58), Marisnick (84), and Nicolino (93) — it’s just that all but two are now playing elsewhere. Still, the only AL clubs to place that many, or more, products of their system on the list were the Astros, Red Sox (seven each), and Twins (six), and those were the first, fifth, and second-ranked clubs, overall. Sure, it hurts that the Jays no longer have that talent — doesn’t hurt so much that they have Reyes, Buehrle, and Dickey, though — but that they identified these guys and helped nurture them to where they did (even despite Law’s still-existent knocks on the mechanical changes made by Sanchez), is — sorry — a very positive thing.
Shit, there’s even more evidence of the good job they’ve done identifying prospects, as Baseball America recently ranked the top college prospects the next draft, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth spots went to players drafted out of high school by the Jays, who ultimately chose instead to go to college. Tyler Beede is the obvious one, since he was a first rounder (who, it should be noted, got the Jays the compensation pick they used on Marcus Stroman, so probably best not to complain about Young Beedah), but Aaron Nola (22nd round, 2011) and Luke Weaver (19th round, 2011) also fall into that category, though less crazily so, seeing as they’re in line to make a whole lot more money this time around. Aaaaand Perfect Game has Phil Bickford as the early leader as the top pick for 2016.
So… yeah. Identification doesn’t seem to be an issue. It would just maybe be nice if they could keep a few more these guys.