April 12, 2012
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Toronto Blue Jays
Prospect #1: C Travis d'Arnaud
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: With lofty praise comes lofty expectations, and in the case of d’Arnaud, I’m afraid a really good player is being miscast as a really great player. I think d’Arnaud is going to hit in the high-minors, probably not to the level of 2011, but he’s going to hit. He has a good swing that is short to the ball, and he generates good bat speed. He shows legit pop and can lift a ball over the fence, although he’s a better contact oriented gap-to-gap hitter than a sellout-for-power type. At the highest level, I don’t see d’Arnaud as a .300 hitter with 25+ home run potential; rather, I see an above-average stick for the position, but more of a .270 hitter with 25+ doubles and 10+ home runs. I think the swing and the setup can be exploited by pitchers who have location ability and sequence, and since I’ve only seen d’Arnaud crush fringy stuff, I can’t speak to how he will handle top-shelf velocity. It’s a small nitpick, but it’s the difference between a solid major league regular and a perennial all-star. What could go wrong is built into the expectations placed on the player, with the high-end ceilings making letdown and failure almost inescapable. If you think d’Arnaud is a balanced, all-around high-five/low-six type of catcher, he’s probably going to make you happy by playing good defense, hitting for a respectable average, and showing good pop for the position. If you are expecting a Gold Glove-quality defensive player with batting champ credentials and 25+ home run pop, you might be in for disappointment. If d’Arnaud had that suggested potential, he would be considered a top tier prospect in the entire minors, someone who could stand next to the Trouts of the world as a future 7 player. The scouts who put him in that class are either onto something and ahead of the curve, or they are on something and should share with the rest of the class.
Prospect #2: LHP Justin Nicolino
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: The only major knock on Nicolino is that his fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch, sitting in the upper-80s at times. He has shown the ability to reach back and touch the mid-90s, but he usually works in the average velocity range and relies on his changeup to enforce his presence. The kid can really pitch, and that shouldn’t be a knock on him, but what could go wrong is that the fastball continues to work in the average range and Nicolino becomes overly reliant on his changeup, which could lead to struggles after multiple viewings. The good news is that the fastball has some sneaky qualities, which will keep hitters honest and allow for the secondary pitches to miss bats. As long as Nicolino can keep bat speed on the fastball and hit his spots early in counts, lower-level bats won’t be able to solve his mystery. 2012 is going to be a huge year for the young southpaw, so this is just a minor critique, but one to watch as he climbs the professional ladder. If the fastball grows in size and stature, Nicolino could be something special. If it stays the same, he will need to maintain sharp command to remain ahead of the pack at the upper levels.
Prospect #3: OF Jake Marisnick
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: The majority of the reports I received on Marisnick were extremely positive, with more superlatives offered than with any other player in the Blue Jays system. But a few concerns were voiced, mostly centered around the ceiling of the bat itself, and if the ability to hit for average will stay with him as he advances. The consensus puts Marisnick’s future hit tool in the 6 range, with a nice compact stroke and hard contact ability from a balanced foundation. However, a few reports saw something different with the swing; one report in particular wasn’t overly impressed with the bat speed and questioned whether he will be able to jump on upper-level fastballs as well as he jumped on low-level fastballs. Bat speed is often hard to evaluate, but you know it when you see it, and most people I spoke with didn’t question Marisnick’s bat speed; in fact, some championed it when describing the hit tool. Different eyes will see different outcomes, which is the best part about scouting and evaluation, so in order to present the best possible report, it’s important to mention all sides. We might have to wait until Marisnick hits Double-A before we can determine if the bat speed shown in the Midwest League can compete with the arms in the Eastern League, but if you are looking for a majority opinion, most observers think the Jays have a legit major league force on their hands, a player with more than enough bat speed to excel in the minors.
Prospect #4: OF Anthony Gose
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Simply put, the hit tool we’ve witnessed and evaluated in the past turns out to be the same hit tool we witness and evaluate in 2012, making Gose one of the biggest "what if" types in recent memory. The defensive skill set will make him a major leaguer, but the bat can put a ribbon on his star package, and it’s the bat that just doesn’t look the part. Gose’s swing has length, and he struggles to shorten up and make contact. His pitch recognition skills have been questioned, and he struggles to make adjustments with the bat. With his speed, a short, compact, hard contact swing would give him some batting average potential and allow his massive defensive skill set to play every day. As it stands now, Gose would struggle to hit .220 at the major league level, especially against pitchers who attacked him inside with velocity and/or quality breaking balls, which he struggles to adjust his bat plane/path against. Without the hit tool, the power will struggle; without that dimension to his offensive game, Gose becomes an all-glove/speed type and thus becomes a bench player. I have a tendency to fall in love with the dream that tools create, and with Gose, I keep holding on to the hope that the hit tool takes a step forward and the star can rise up. It’s not a likely outcome.
Prospect #5: RHP Noah Syndergaard
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: It took several calls to finally find someone with a legit complaint about the young Texan, and that complaint was about the nuance and touch of his game. Syndergaard throws hard and it works, but this scout found his overall feel for pitching to be a little clumsy. "His changeup is way too firm and will lose movement, his curve morphs into a hard slurve that lacks punch, and he doesn’t go up and down with his fastball like he could." This type of approach can still lead to promising results at the A-ball level, but eventually throwers need to evolve into pitchers. Some already see Syndergaard as a prospect that has started to make that transformation, but this is where struggles might occur during the 2012 season. In order to improve and gain feel for pitches like the changeup, you have to throw a lot of changeups, and when you throw a lot of fringy pitches, you can get exploited. It takes time to develop a "feel" pitch, and it’s not uncommon to see statistical setbacks along the way. I still think Syndergaard’s fastball is good enough to keep him on the rise, but in order to develop the secondary stuff sometimes you have to suffer for the cause. I think Syndergaard could develop into a monster, and the glowing reports I’ve received on him support such a projection.