Archive for the ‘Prospecting’ Category

pompeytampa

Ten names. I can’t be arsed to actually look it up, but I’m pretty sure it’s been a long, long time since the Toronto Blue Jays so forcefully took advantage of MLB’s rules allowing for the expansion of rosters on September first. And there are still more players that could theoretically been brought to the majors by the club, who might have had some utility as they hope to make a titanic last-ditch push to get back in the playoff race. Kyle Drabek. Steve Delabar, and Rob Rasmussen won’t be returning to the Jays — barring a change of heart from management, or perhaps an injury situation that forces them into action — nor will A.J. Jimenez, or — as was discussed in a post yesterday — Brett Lawrie.

And yet still the Jays have added a number of intriguing weapons that fans will be looking to get a taste of down the stretch.

Some of the moves are pretty basic: George Kottaras was added as the club’s third catcher, while Dan Johnson returns from injury to add another left-handed bat off the bench, while John Mayberry Jr. does the same from the right side. Sean Nolin, who has been on the 40-man roster since his call-up last year, understandably has finally rejoined the club. Brandon Morrow has been activated, likely to complete his Blue Jays swan song — that’s because, with a $10-million club option for next year that’s undoubtedly going to be declined, he’ll hit the free agent market over the winter, possibly looking exclusively for an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot that simply isn’t going to be available here — and, as expected, Ryan Goins and Anthony Gose have also returned to the club.

You could nitpick the decisions on some of the relievers, I suppose. Delabar, for example, is a power arm who may still have a future with the Jays and has put up some gaudy strikeout numbers with Buffalo. But he has also walked at least one batter in eight of his last eleven appearances, and at least one hit in five of his last six appearances, none of which lasted more than an inning.

The bigger story though, obviously, is the other names — Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, and Kendall Graveman — though it’s maybe not quite as big as the knee-jerk cynic would like you to believe.

Hearing the Sportsnet broadcast talk glowingly about the future we’ll be seeing on display this next month certainly raises the ol’ hackles, making it rather easy to feel that the rush to get this trio to the big leagues — and, more crucially, in terms of asset management, onto the 40-man roster — has as much to do with optics as baseball, and with selling hope at the end of a dismal August that has likely been a season-killer.

Not only that, but it might even seem more egregious — perhaps even like a flagrant misuse of some of the club’s key assets, forcing them to burn options too soon, to accrue service time too soon, and potentially creating related issues farther down the line. And I don’t think any of us needs to be reminded what a handcuff it can be to have a roster full of too many out-of-options players.

Yet I don’t think it’s really as big a deal as the negative-minded might want to make it out to be.

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alfordUSM2

Better get away from Oxford Town…

Who says the Jays don’t have money?

Apparently they have at least a little money, because according to a report from Hugh Kellenberger of Jackson, Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger, they offered some of it to 2012 draft pick Anthony Alford.

The Toronto Blue Jays wanted Anthony Alford’s undivided attention.

Alford finished up his third professional baseball season last month, and the Ole Miss athlete said the last day came with a surprise.

“The (general manager) came down and tried to talk to me,” Alford said. “He put some deals on the table and made it difficult on me.”

It was a five-year deal, Alford admitted.

Alford is a player we’ve watched for two tumultuous years, as he’s gone from a $750K bonus baby who slipped for to the fourth round due to signability concerns and concerns about his commitment to football, to a struggling quarterback at Southern Mississippi, to a student involved in an arrest drama involving a weapon, to player who transferred to Ole Miss and sat out all of 2013, then switched to defensive back, where he’s slated to play for the Rebels this college football season.

Not a lot of baseball talk in there, but there still is enough promise in him that he remains very much on our radar — so much promise, evidently, that the Jays were willing to make a long-term commitment (though presumably not for a tonne of money).

Marc Hulet wrote about Alford this summer for FanGraphs.

In an organization that has struggled to develop home-grown hitters, Alford is an intriguing commodity. The club has already committed a $750,000 bonus, a third-round draft slot (He was arguably a fringe-first-round talent with signability concerns) and conceded at least three years of development to the Mississippi native. Because he’s not a top-of-the-line NFL prospect, Toronto may still be able to sway him to turn his attentions to the diamond on a full-time basis but it will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

At this rate, he’ll continue to fall further and further behind his same-aged peers and he also risks serious injury while playing football. Not only that, he has only two more years of development after this season before the Jays have to decide whether or not to offer him an all-import 40-man roster spot to protect him from the advances of other organizations in the Rule 5 draft.

Despite the negatives, Hulet generally came away impressed with Alford, particularly because of some nice-looking numbers — albeit in very small sample sizes — that speak to his natural abilities, given that he’s spent so much of the last two years away from the diamond.

In Bluefield this year, Alford made just 35 plate appearances, striking out in 37.1% of those, but posting a .343 on-base, despite just a .207 batting average, thanks to five walks he took during that span. Up a level at Lansing he was even better, in an even smaller sample of 25 plate appearances. For the Lugnuts he posted a 126 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in a league where the average hitter is 2.5 years older. He did so not by walking, but with eight hits in those 25 PA, including a double, a home run, and four stolen bases (with no caught stealings) to boot.

Yeah, the samples are tiny, but obviously there is talent there. Unfortunately, Alford simply isn’t ready to give up football yet.

“Football was my first love and even if I made $100 million dollars down the road in baseball, I’d still regret not giving football a shot,” he told Kellenberger.

Seems crazy to me, but he surely knows himself better than I do. The Clarion-Ledger piece also suggests he could even see some time back at quarterback this year, could factor into Ole Miss’s return game, and could see significant snaps in the defensive backfield. So… there’s something there, too. Maybe he’ll prove himself a better prospect than most have given him credit for.

Or maybe he’ll simply slip farther behind his peers on the baseball field, and realize too late which sport he really could have made an impact in. Hopefully it works out, both for him and for the Jays. Hopefully he stays healthy through the football season, too.

Who Is Kendall Graveman?

graveman

S- S- S- St- Stoeten doesn’t believe in me?? Wunnhmpf…

Jays fans who always keep one eye on the minors — for non-prospects even, apparently! — sure have had one interesting case to look at in recent weeks: Kendall Graveman.

Superficially, there sure is a lot to like. After starting the year in Lansing, Graveman has moved up three levels, pitching in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and just now having arrived in Buffalo, and the results have looked pretty spectacular. Across all levels he has an ERA of 1.87 and a WHIP of 1.05. He’s held opponents to a .232/.274/.273 line.

In the last week Jays Journal has looked at his quick ascent, wondering what the rush is, and whether a cynical Alex Anthopoulos might be trying to make it appear to potential trade partners that he has more high-level prospects than he really does — which… I like this theory. Baseball Hot Corner, on the other hand, profiled him as an under-the-radar pitcher who could make some noise, which included some of my objections — not particularly subtle as they were over Twitter.

I don’t think it’s particularly clear either way what he is or will be. It never is with prospects, but I think it’s especially so in this case, since not a whole lot of evaluators writing on the web make the effort to check out guys in the low minors who were drafted in the 36th round as college juniors, then the eighth round as no-leverage seniors who accept $5,000 bonuses when the slot value for their pick is $150,000 — which is precisely Graveman’s story.

That story also makes him, at age 23, quite old to be considered a prospect in the Midwest League, where he made his first four starts of the year, posting an ERA of 0.34. In the Florida State League at Dunedin, where he made 16 starts and posted a 2.23 ERA, he was a shade below a league average for pitchers that’s inflated by rehab assignment and org. guys who still haven’t figured it out. In other words, what some — me, for example — might call the “real” prospects are guys like Dan Norris, pitching at age 21, or Roberto Osuna at 19.

On the other hand, Graveman has acquitted himself nicely in his starts above A-ball — all two of them — combining for 12 innings of 2.25 ERA, giving up eight hits, three earned, and two walks. And he was the top drafted pitcher on the 2013 Mississippi State team that went to the College World Series — which has to count for something… probably… right?

And we do have a pair of public sector eyes that have seen Graveman as a pro — Marc Hulet of FanGraphs, just over a year ago — and he actually saw the seeds of this coming (while in the same piece offering praise for Dalton Pompey!):

Graveman, 22, faced off against the 17-year-old Urias on Aug. 22. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of the Jays prospect. He showed a smooth, easy delivery and worked quickly. He also, perhaps more importantly, threw strikes. I saw him use three pitches: a fringe-average fastball, an inconsistent breaking ball and a solid changeup. The breaking ball was actually better than advertised and showed a nice 12-to-6 break at times from his three-quarter release point.

He could be a fast mover for the Jays and likely has the ceiling of a No. 4/5 starter or middle reliever.

See, now that sounds a whole lot more reasonable than dreams of sparkling ERAs continuing on forever! Especially since some of the underlying numbers don’t exactly scream someone who “could have an outside look of making the Jays next year,” as MLB Hot Corner’s Daniel Levitt wrote. From the excellent MLB Farm we see that his groundball rate on balls in play has been very good (60%), but his line drive rate of less than 10% isn’t exactly sustainable, nor is the one home run he’s given up on 104 flyballs. And it’s not like he’s showing a whole lot of swing-and-miss, even though he’s been advanced for the levels he’s pitched at — he was less than strikeout per nine at Lansing, and at Dunedin and beyond his K/9 rate has been below six.

If he can throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground, it’s not impossible for a pitcher to be able to have some kind of success at the highest level, I suppose, even with a fringe-average fastball. And I certainly haven’t seen him myself, or read enough about his stuff, his mechanics, his repertoire, or any of that to know whether or not anything has changed to give us more reason to believe the good and discount the bad. It’s possible. It would be great if it had. It’s just… I wouldn’t be so fast to swallow all that — certainly not as fast as the Jays have been with moving Graveman up the ladder.

Daniel-Norris

Dan Norris

Hey! Prospect stuff!

Remember prospect stuff?

Around here we used to get in a real lather any time that something like the mid-season top prospects lists from places like Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America — both of which released their mid-season 2014 lists yesterday. It’s not like that stuff became less important, it’s just with the depletion of the club’s upper minors with the trades of Noah Syndergaard (9th for BP, 19th for BA), Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, etc., and the shift in focus by the Jays from prospect-hoarding to turning farm pieces into big league roster players, it simply wasn’t of the same concern. And now… well…

As much as my knee-jerk reaction to the Jays’ recent might be to write things like “this is not the week I want to deal with morons insisting the Jays should be sellers” *COUGH* the prospect question becomes ever more interesting the more the Jays flail. Sadly, the club has floundered so badly — and has been hit by key injuries to Brett Lawrie and now Edwin Encarnacion, with guys like Adam Lind and Jose Bautista playing while ailing — that it is no longer outside of the realm of honest assessment to wonder about the wisdom of dealing away prospects to patch the holes on the club’s current roster.

I mean, I’d absolutely argue that the season is still eminently salvageable — and that’s not even a word anyone should be using, given the club’s still-excellent position in the standings with nearly half a season still to go — but there are certainly reasons to wonder about what a future would look like with the players being praised today on these lists.

For Baseball America it was Dan Norris and Dalton Pompey — and, perhaps surprisingly, not Aaron Sanchez — who made the grade.

Norris jumped from outside their pre-season top 100 into the 25th spot, ahead of Sanchez (previously 32nd), and ahead of guys like Kyle Zimmer (Royals), Alex Meyer (Twins), and Hunter Harvey (Orioles), slotting in just behind the injured Jameson Taillon. A “lefty with three potential plus pitches (fastball, slider, change) and an average curve,” is what they call him, which sure sounds good to me.

Pompey (47th) also jumped from outside the top 100, placing the 16th rounder ahead of first-round outfielders Stephen Piscotty (Cardinals) and Brandon Nimmo (Mets), as they write that the “toolsy center fielder’s bat has caught up to rest of his tools in a breakout start in the Florida State League.”

For Baseball Prospectus, Sanchez (29th) still reigns among Blue Jays, but it’s with a heavy dose of cold reality — as has been the norm of late. “It’s been a familiar tune for the right-handed starter this season: electric overall stuff clouded by concerns as to whether the fastball command is going to grow enough to lead to consistency at the highest level. Sanchez has moved a few spots, but given graduations to The Show his status has probably moved a bit backward. This arm tends to tease visions of a legit frontline arm with his stuff, but the clear-headed line of sight points to a mid-rotational starter,” writes Chris Mellen.

Mellen also provides the write-up for the ninth-ranked Syndergaard, FYI. Ugh.

Norris (33rd) is nipping at Sanchez’s heels for the top spot in the Jays’ system because of the “ a developmental step forward” he has taken over the last calendar year, which shows “no signs of slowing.”

There are intriguing pieces in the low minors, too, and ones that were just drafted (one, Roberto Osuna, just about to get back on the mound after last year’s Tommy John) — and, obviously, a pair of excellent arms already in the big leagues — that make it a still-intriguing collection of talent, but it’s the upper level talent that matters most. That’s where the Jays will likely be forced to trade from if they choose to make major upgrades for the 2014 season, but that’s also where the foundation — small a base as it may currently be — for the future may lie.

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sanchezST14

In this guest post from Kyle Matte, we’re treated to an historical review of the Jays’ top prospects, with the hope of divining some meaning from the fact that Aaron Sanchez now holds that spot. You can view some of the data Kyle discusses here in this Google Document. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Baseball America has been around for a very long time, having been founded by Canadian Allan Simpson way back in 1980. In 1983, it was purchased by the owner of the Durham Bulls minor league franchise, and moved to Durham, North Carolina. It was then, in 1983, that the publication began their organizational top ten prospect reports. While I don’t necessarily agree with their rankings or their methodology of the rankings itself (they rely greatly upon team sources for the organizational reports, whereas other publications, like Baseball Prospectus, primarily utilize sources from outside the organization, as well as their own eyes, to avoid bias), it speaks volumes that they have been churning out content every year since. It affords us a rare opportunity to have over thirty years of organizational prospect rankings to reflect on, and I’ve taken advantage of this information in an attempt to uncover what exactly it means to be the Toronto Blue Jays number one prospect, as Aaron Sanchez was named for 2014 this past December.

What has our overall success rate been with #1 prospects? What level of Major League production did those players generate over their careers? How have we fared with pitchers versus hitters? I was able to answer all of these questions and more, and before the end I’ll offer a glimpse into the career Aaron Sanchez might have, if he develops like the average number one Blue Jays prospect.

As mentioned above, the first Blue Jays organizational report was released in anticipation of the 1983 season, so that will be the starting point for this exercise. For an end point, I settled on 2009. It’s not arbitrary – as the rankings are released prior to the season, ending the analysis in 2009 would supply us with five years of data from which to analyze that final number one prospect. If you wished to stretch the list to 2010 to include Zach Stewart who is most assuredly a bust, I could see your justification, but I felt five years was the bare minimum from which to fairly judge a professional career.

These parameters offer us 27 years of top ten rankings, on which 18 different names appear at the top. Five prospects rank number one twice, while two players repeat at the top thrice (and man, did they ever have different careers). The split is skewed heavily towards positional players, as of the 18, only 3 are pitchers, interestingly, all of whom are right handed. The Blue Jays have never had a left-handed pitcher rank number one.

I investigated a variety of factors in hopes of best encapsulating a professional career within one line of a spreadsheet. I looked at the year in which they played their first full MLB season (a designation loosely based around a minimum of 300 plate appearances for hitters, 100 innings pitched for starting pitchers, and 30 innings pitched for relievers, though exceptions were made), how many years after their number one ranking they achieved that first full season – which I termed the “lag” – and how old they were in that season. Using the value figures calculated by Fangraphs, I inspected the WAR they created in their first, second, and third full MLB seasons separately, as well as cumulatively. In addition to their career WAR, I also designated each player’s peak years – where I felt they performed at their highest level – and looked at how much value they produced over that specified time period. Finally, using the first year of the peak window and their first full MLB season, I was able to determine how many seasons of development at the Major League level it took for the prospect to begin playing at their best.

Because of the inclusion of players whose careers are still on-going, some of the averaged numbers, namely the career WAR, are being artificially held down. For this reason, when it comes to projecting the completely hypothetical career for Aaron Sanchez in the latter half of this article, I’ll only use the WAR for players who have officially retired (and Vernon Wells, because, come on Vernon, it’s over).

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klawmoses

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!).

To wit:

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.

sanchezafl

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.

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