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January 19, 2011

Future Shock

Toronto Blue Jays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: Plenty of recent picks and trades have transformed the system into one of baseball's deepest.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Kyle Drabek, RHP
2. J.P. Arencibia, C

Four-Star Prospects
3. Brett Lawrie, 2B
Three-Star Prospects
4. Travis d'Arnaud, C
5. Deck McGuire, RHP
6. Carlos Perez, C
7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
8. Zach Stewart, RHP
9. Anthony Gose, CF
10. Aaron Sanchez, RHP
11. Asher Wojciechowski, RHP

Nine More:
12. Eric Thames, OF: As of now, this spot might be low, because he could be solid, everyday corner outfielder.
13. Dickie Joe Thon, SS: This $1.5 million fifth-rounder has the tools to rank higher, but he needs more polish.
14. Adonis Cardona, RHP: The Venezuelan teen got a $2.8 million bonus, but he's raw, but he also has an absolutely huge arm.
15. Noah Syndergaard, RHP: A teenage righty with length and projection, Snydergaard needs to tighten up his secondary stuff.
16. Henderson Alvarez, RHP: Scouts love his stuff, yet wonder why the results rarely match.
17. Jake Marisnick, OF: A tremendous athlete, but he's far away from being a tremendous baseball player.
18. Griffin Murphy, LHP: He possesses a good fastball, better curve, and--like many young Jays pitchers--tons of projection.
19. Kellen Sweeney, 3B: The younger brother of Ryan has the same pretty swing from the left side of the plate.
20. Chad Jenkins, RHP: This 2009 first-round pick had a so-so full-season debut, but looks like future innings-eater.

1. Kyle Drabek, RHP
DOB
: 12/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2006, The Woodlands HS (TX)
2010 Stats: 2.94 ERA (162.0-126-68-132) at Double-A (27 G); 4.76 ERA (17.0-18-5-12) at MLB (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Curve/changeup

Year in Review: The top prize received back from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay deal limited Eastern League hitters to a .215 batting average, and looked like he belonged during his brief big-league debut.
The Good: Drabek's combination of elite athleticism, plus velocity, and one of the best breaking balls in the prospect world gives him All-Star potential. He throws an 89-93 mph two-seamer that he can cut or sink, and can dial his four-seamer up to 97 when he rears back for something extra. His over-the-top hard curveball is a plus-plus monster with plenty of bite, and he generates as many strikeouts with it as the fastball. Previous questions about his makeup are no longer discussed, as he came out of Tommy John surgery with considerably more maturity and an outstanding work ethic.
The Bad: Drabek has greatly improved his changeup, and while it projects as an average pitch in time, it isn't quite there yet. His command and control waver from above average to below, depending on the outing.
Ephemera: Drabek was the highest drafted player ever out of The Woodland until last June, when Jameson Taillon was the second overall selection by the Pirates.
Perfect World Projection: He would be an All-Star starter.
Fantasy Impact: While he won't compete for strikeout titles, he'll certainly contribute in every category.
Path to the Big Leagues: Drabek was expected to compete for a big-league rotation job this spring, but the Shaun Marcum trade makes his path that much easier. Barring a disastrous spring, he'll open the year with Toronto.
ETA: 2011

2. J.P. Arencibia, C
DOB
: 1/5/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2007, University of Tennessee
2010 Stats: .301/.359/.626 at Triple-A (104 G); .143/.189/.343 at MLB (11 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: The organization's 2007 first-round pick had the biggest breakout in the organization, competing for the minor-league home-run title before earning a big-league call-up.
The Good: Arencibia is the rare catcher who doubles as a run producer. He has well above-average power with plenty of strength and leverage, and he proved that his Triple-A showing was more than just a product of Las Vegas by slugging .677 on the road. Beyond boasting a strong arm, he's more athletic than most catchers.
The Bad: While Arencibia has all of the tools to be a good defender, he isn't one yet, as his receiving skills can get sloppy, and his arm strength is mitigated by a slow release. He needs to develop a more patient approach, as big-league pitchers were able to take advantage of his aggressiveness with breaking balls away.
Ephemera: In just 23 June games for Triple-A Las Vegas, Arencibia amassed 80 total bases by hitting 38-for-95 (.400) with 12 doubles and 10 home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an offense-oriented catcher with 20 home runs annually.
Fantasy Impact: Catchers with power are always valuable.
Path to the Big Leagues: Arenciba will compete with Jose Molina in the spring for the everyday big-league job, and is favored to win the majority of at-bats when all's said and done.
ETA: 2011

3. Brett Lawrie, 2B
DOB
: 1/18/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/213
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2006, Brookswood Secondary (Canada)
2010 Stats: .285/.346/.451 at Double-A (135 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: The top prospect in the Brewers system had a good year at Double-A before heading to his home country in the Shaun Marcum deal.
The Good: Lawrie has the tools to be a star. He's an excellent pure hitter with plenty of strength. While he hit just eight home runs in 2010, his total of 52 doubles and triples shows that there is plenty of juice in his bat, and that's while he's still learning how to drive balls. He's a tick above-average runner and has excellent instincts on the basepaths.
The Bad: Lawrie's defense is an issue, as he's a well below-average second baseman with little feel for the position. He has long had a reputation as a player who spends far more time in the batting cage than in fielding drills. He will likely need to move to an outfield corner, where he still profiles well. Beyond his lackadaisical defense, there are other makeup concerns; he has a tendency to sulk following bad at-bats, his overall effort has been questioned by multiple scouts, and he turned down an Arizona Fall League assignment.
Ephemera: The 16th overall pick in the draft has already produced a trio of 300 home-run hitters (Shawn Green, Lance Berkman, Lance Parrish). Nick Swisher (192) has a shot at becoming a fourth.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a 20/20 corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: His combination of average, power, and speed make him even more valuable than in real life.
Path to the Big Leagues: Maybe the Blue Jays hope that the chance to play in Canada will help turn Lawrie's attitude around, as the talent is certainly there. He'll begin the year in Triple-A, and should be in the big leagues by next year.
ETA: 2012

4. Travis d'Arnaud, C
DOB
: 2/10/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2007, Lakewood HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .259/.315/.411 at High-A (71 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/speed

Year in Review: Another high-ceiling prospect who came over from Philadelphia in the Halladay trade, d'Arnaud showed plenty of potential in his first season with the Blue Jays, but was ultimately waylaid by back issues.
The Good: d'Arnaud has the ability to be above average both offensively and defensively for a catcher. He's a promising hitter with average-to-plus raw power who could hit sixth in a big-league lineup. Like Arencibia, he's strong-armed and more athletic than most catchers, and is already at least an average defender, with the potential to become even more than that.
The Bad: So far, d'Arnaud needs to improve his pitch recognition; he still has problems with good breaking balls. A slow release prevents him from taking full advantage of his throwing ability. Scouts are concerned about the back issues that hampered him in 2010, as catchers plus back issues never add up to good things.
Ephemera: Though d'Arnaud is one of 10 catchers ever drafted out of Lakewood High School, only Mike Fitzgerald reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an average to above-average everyday big-league catcher.
Fantasy Impact: It will be good, as long as we're also saying “for a catcher.”
Path to the Big Leagues: The Blue Jays' catching corps are crowded, and d'Arnaud will likely be forced to Double-A in 2011 despite having a bit of a lost 2010.
ETA: 2013.

5. Deck McGuire, RHP
DOB
: 6/23/89
Height/Weight: 6-6/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Georgia Tech
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Changeup/fastball

Year in Review: The Yellow Jackets' ace stayed toward the top of draft boards all spring, and finally landed at 11th overall. He signed for $2 million.
The Good: McGuire's greatest strength is the lack of a weakness; he has four pitches that grade average or above. He pounds the strike zone with an 89-92 mph fastball that runs up to 94. He also has two breaking balls: an above-average low-80s slider, and a mid-70s looping curveball that's a much more average offering. His changeup is a true plus pitch with plenty of depth and fade, and he has a clean delivery to go with an unflappable mound presence.
The Bad: Scouts wonder about McGuire's ceiling, as he depends on command, changing speeds, and eye angles as opposed to blowing hitters away. He had some tough starts down the stretch last spring, and he needs all of his offerings to work to be effective.
Ephemera: McGuire was a multi-sport star at Deep Run High School in Virginia, graduating as the school's all-time leader not only in wins and strikeouts, but also in home runs and RBI while doubling as an all-conference quarterback for the football team.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a dependable, consistent third or fourth starter.
Fantasy Impact: Dependable and consistent are not the sexiest words when it comes to fantasy baseball.
Path to the Big Leagues: McGuire was seen by many as the most polished starter in the 2010 draft, and he should move quickly. He'll likely begin his pro career at High-A Dunedin and move up to Double-A once the weather warms up in New Hampshire.
ETA: Late 2012

6. Carlos Perez, C
DOB
: 10/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/193
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2008, Venezuela
2010 Stats: .298/.396/.438 at Short-season (66 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/power

Year in Review: The Venezuelan catcherwas among the New York-Penn League's most impressive players while also consistently being among the youngest players on the field.
The Good: Offensively, Perez is very polished for his age. He has an excellent approach for such a young player and rarely swings at bad pitches. He has a quick, quiet swing, and shows the ability to sting balls into the gap, and projects for double-digit home-run power down the road. He has a plus arm and, like many Jays catchers, is highly athletic for the position.
The Bad: There are debates about Perez's power potential, as he's not an impressive physical specimen, and his swing lacks loft and backspin. He's still rough around the edges defensively. He also needs to clean up his footwork behind the plate and improve his game management skills.
Ephemera: While Perez hit .373/.478/.518 at home and just .232/.319/.368 on the road for Auburn in 2010, both of his home runs came in away games.
Perfect World Projection: He would be an everyday catcher with good defense, on-base skills, and a modicum of power.
Fantasy Impact: It's likely going to be less than his real-world value.
Path to the Big Leagues: Perez will make his full-season debut in 2011 at Low-A Lansing.
ETA: 2014

7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
DOB: 4/15/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Cuba, 2010
2010 Stats: .193/.217/.292 at High-A (41 G); .273/.305/.360 at Double-A (61 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Glove/bat

Year in Review: The high-profile Cuban signee wowed scouts with his defensive prowess, but left questions about his bat unanswered.
The Good: Hechavarria is one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. With outstanding instincts, plus range to both sides, soft hands, and a well above-average arm, he's capable of making highlight-worthy plays on a nightly basis. He got off to a slow start with the bat, but made progress throughout the year by focusing on contact and using all fields.
The Bad: Hechavarria's value lies primarily in his glove. Even with his .273 batting average at Double-A, he lacks the power or patience to have enough value for anywhere but the bottom of a big-league lineup. He is aggressive to the point of looking anxious at the plate, and he's also prone to chasing balls both down and away.
Ephemera: Hechavarria went just .130 (6-for-46) when leading off an inning for Double-A New Hampshire, but hit .304 in all other at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a plus-plus defender with just enough bat to play every day.
Fantasy Impact: There have to be some leagues, somewhere, where defense counts, no?
Path to the Big Leagues: Hechavarria will likely return to Double-A in 2011, but he could be lined up for a big-league look come September.
ETA: 2012

8. Zach Stewart, RHP
DOB
: 9/28/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2008, Texas Tech
2010 Stats: 3.63 (136.1-131-54-106) at Double-A (26 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: A right-hander with starting and relief experience, Stewart remained in the Double-A rotation all year, and responded with a good-not-great season.
The Good: Stewart is a pure power arm with a 91-95 mph heavy fastball and a nasty slider that features heavy two-plane break. Any worries about his ability to handle starting were erased in 2010, as he maintained his stuff deep into games and late into the season. 
The Bad: Despite Stewart's stuff, he has rarely dominated, with a career mark of 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His fastball can get straight, and he has a tendency to get around on his slider and flatten the pitch out. He's making progress with his changeup, but it remains a below-average pitch. With his fastball/slider profile, many scouts still think he'd be more effective as a potential set-up reliever.
Ephemera: No pitcher drafted 84th overall has more then 30 major-league wins and a winning record.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a fourth starter or power reliever.
Fantasy Impact: It's limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Stewart will certainly remain a starter for now and begin the year at Triple-A.
ETA: 2012

9. Anthony Gose, CF
DOB
: 8/10/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2008, Bellflower HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .263/.325/.385 at High-A with Philadelphia (103 G); .255/.360/.426 at High-A with Toronto (27 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/hit

Year in Review: Gose went from the Phillies to the Astros to the Blue Jays in the course of day. He continued to wow scouts with his tools, but he left them frustrated by his lack of progress.
The Good: Despite his statistical struggles, Gose has the best tools of any position player in the system. He's a burner with true plus-plus speed, which gives him outstanding range in center field to go with an equally outstanding arm that has racked up 29 outfield assists in the last two years. He has the bat speed and strength to develop 12-18 home-run power, and he showed an improved approach in 2010.
The Bad: Gose is still far more of an athlete than a baseball player, as his game was described by one scout as “lacking any control.” He was caught stealing in 32 of his 77 attempts, and a jump into power led to bad habits at the plate. He needs to realize that his future lies as a speed player with some power, as opposed to vice-versa, as he strikes out far too often for a potential top-of-the-order type.
Ephemera: Only five players in the Florida State League had more stolen bases than Gose did times caught stealing (32).
Perfect World Projection: Gose still offers plenty to project, with an ultimate ceiling of turning into a lefty-only version of former Toronto center fielder Devon White.
Fantasy Impact: Stolen bases are always worth something.
Path to the Big Leagues: While the next logical step for Gose would be Double-A, he'll need to prove that he's ready for such an assignment this spring.
ETA: 2013

10. Aaron Sanchez, RHP
DOB
: 7/1/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, Barstow HS (CA)
2010 Stats: 1.42 ERA (19.0-19-12-28) at Rookie (8 G); 4.50 ERA (6.0-4-5-9) at Short-season (2 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: Among the top right-handers in California, Sanchez dominated in a small desert town and fell just short of the first round as the 34th overall pick.
The Good: The Blue Jays loaded up on projectable teenage arms in 2010, and Sanchez has as much to dream on as any of them. Long-levered with an ultra-quick arm, he has a low-90s fastball than can touch 95 mph, and scouts think that number will become more consistent as he fills out. He gets tight spin on a classic looping curveball and already shows some understanding of a changeup.
The Bad: More than anything, Sanchez just needs innings, and while his secondary pitches show flashes of promise, they're also highly inconsistent. He can get out of whack mechanically and lose the strike zone at times. He's very thin and showed signs of tiring late in the spring, so his ability to handle a starter's workload could become a question.
Ephemera: A small desert town in San Bernardino County, Barstow is also the hometown of Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Barnett and alternative music legend Stan Ridgeway.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average starter.
Fantasy Impact: He's 18 years old and he has pitched 25 professional innings, so slow down there, Sparky.
Path to the Big Leagues: Sanchez is polished enough to handle a full-season assignment at Low-A Lansing in 2011, and has the potential to be much higher on this list a year from now.
ETA: 2014

11. Asher Wojciechowski, RHP
DOB
: 12/21/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/235
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, The Citadel
2010 Stats: 0.75 ERA (12.0-6-4-11) at Short-season (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: A big right-hander at a small school who was expected to go in the first round, Wojciechowski instead fell to the 41st overall selection.
The Good: Wojciechowski had some of the best velocity in the draft, sitting consistently at 93-96 mph and maintaining his velocity deep into games thanks to a classic power pitcher's frame and a clean delivery. His low-80s slider features good late break and gives him a second quality offering.
The Bad: Wojciechowski's changeup lags well behind his other two pitches, and it'll be focused on in his development if he is to remain a starter. He could blow away lesser college hitters on his fastball alone, so he needs to learn the intricacies of the game like location and sequencing.
Ephemera: Former Cardinal Britt Reames, a 17th-round pick in 1995, is the only pitcher drafted out of The Citadel to earn a big-league victory.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a mid-rotation starter or power reliever.
Fantasy Impact: He should rack up strikeouts.
Path to the Big Leagues: Wojciechowski will begin 2011 in the High-A Dunedin rotation.
ETA: As a starter, 2013; as a reliever, possibly sooner.

The Sleeper: Yet another catcher in a system filled with them, Puerto Rico product A.J. Jimenez hit .305/.347/.435 at Low-A Lansing in 2010 and showcased a line-drive bat and the best arm in the Midwest League, gunning down 53 percent of opposing basestealers.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Kyle Drabek, RHP
2. Travis Snider, OF
3. J.P. Arencibia. C
4. Brett Lawrie, 2B
5. Brett Cecil, LHP
6. Travis d'Arnaud, C
7. Deck McGuire, RHP
8. Carlos Perez, C
9. Mark Rzepczynski, RHP
10. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

Despite ranking him second, I still have plenty of faith in Snider, but I also see Drabek as having a better chance at turning into a star at this point. Cecil is a solid fourth-starter option, but there is not much room for improvement, while Rzepczynski is the same thing, but change that 'four' to 'five.'

Summary: The Blue Jays have amassed a wealth of talent at the minor-league level, and now it comes down to execution on the development side. Things still need to go nearly perfectly for them to compete in the nightmarish American League East.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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