Archive for the ‘Prospecting’ Category

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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stromanscreencap

In a new piece at ESPN.com (Insider only), Jim Bowden posits some trade scenarios that might land Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs, and surely thanks to all the rumours surrounding the Jays’ potential interest, he’s been certain to dream one up for us. He also concedes that “the Cubs won’t get top pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman in a Samardzija deal,” and yet still makes it almost seem unpalatable by the prospects that he does suggest the Jays could give up: Sean Nolin, Dan Norris, and Alberto Tirado.

Note: I said almost.

Of course, maybe that’s only seeming unpalatable in the wake of the Doug Fister trade– though it appears as though the world has come around, at least a little bit, on the notion that the Tigers must have really liked something about Robbie Ray (who Jason Parks– more on him later– says would rank as his number two prospect for Detroit), or… something.

Hey, but at least we can take a bit of consolation that the Jays maybe had a little coup themselves in the acquisition of Dioner Navarro, who looks maybe more today like a bargain than he did yesterday, now that word has broken of A.J. Pierzynski somehow making the Red Sox more hatable by signing there for just one year at the same $8-million price tag as we got Navarro for two, right?

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sanchezAFL1

The Arizona Fall League wrapped up over the weekend, with the Surprise Sagueros beating the Mesa Solar Sox for the title, while Cubs prospect Kris Bryant took home the league’s MVP award. For Jays fans, however, the main attraction (with apologies to the ridiculously fun Marcus Stroman) was Aaron Sanchez, and after a somewhat rocky start– notably including some sharp criticism from Keith Law, who continued to stand by his mechanical concerns in his Thursday chat at ESPN.com– the club’s top prospect finished up on a very high note.

No, the box score of his final AFL outing wasn’t his most impressive, but… that actually probably speaks to how impressive he’s been over the course of the last five weeks. He worked five innings on Thursday, bringing his AFL total to over 23, and his full-year total to almost 110. Over those innings he gave up six hits, two walks, and struck out three. His final strikeout and walk totals were 21 and 11, for a K/BB of 1.91, which is exactly in line with the rates he put up in Dunedin this year and Lansing last season. On a positive note, however, four of those walks came in his first five AFL innings, in which he also struck out just two. After that point he put up 19 Ks over 18.1 innings with “just” seven walks– a K/BB of 2.71 in a sample I could generously call “ridiculously tiny,” but that also maybe gives us a little hope.

His success, though, goes beyond stats– which is probably a good thing, given what little value we’d want to place on AFL stats anyway, especially in such small samples, and especially without context. For example, a comment left on our last Sanchez post came from a reader who says that he was in the ballpark for Sanchez’s last Fall League start (everything [sic]‘d):

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aaron-sanchez

As regular readers will surely be able to tell, this post began as a Daily Duce. There was just so much Aaron Sanchez stuff to go around, though, that I figured it would be a waste to combine what was really two posts, and devote a little more attention to the club’s top prospect, who pitched again last night in the Arizona Fall League (with some additional nuggets– like some Jays-related tidbits from last week’s KLawchat– thrown in for good measure). Apologies to those who really wanted to read about Gold Glove nominations, Fielding Bible awards, and an extended agreement with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats…

Aaron Sanchez had another good night in the AFL last night, though he did create a bit of a jam for himself in the fourth inning, which included trouble with high-end prospects Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, who singled and walked respectively. But there’s not a whole lot to dislike in the box score, apart from the three walks in 4.1 innings: just the one hit, no runs, and four strikeouts. Marcus Stroman gave up just a single hit in his one inning of work, as well.

“We’re out here with the best of the best and that’s where I want to be. You have to be on your game or something can go south real quick. It’s fun good to be out here with good competition and that’s where I want to be,” explained Sanchez, according to an MiLB.com recap of the outing, which took his AFL numbers to a sparkling 1.35 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP with ten strikeouts, and an ugly eight walks, in 13.1 innings.

A tweet from Eno Sarris of FanGraphs sends us towards the latest AFL Trackman, which shows us AFL leaders by various intriguing metrics, and includes the fact that Sanchez’s average fastball velocity is highest among starters in the league (though he hasn’t quite topped out the way some of the other prospects have), and that his slider rotation bodes very well for his ability to miss bats with it at the big league level.

Partly based on that kind of outstanding stuff, Sanchez– as well as Marcus Stroman– will be taking part in the AFL’s Fall Stars Game, which takes place on Saturday and will be streamed live on MLB.com.

The reports aren’t all entirely good, however, so don’t go forgetting about all the consternation of last week quite yet…

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