Thursday, October 30, 2014

Catching the Cavalry


   The Australian Baseball League, according to a release on its website, is  "revolutionizing the way fans across Australia and around the globe will witness baseball Down Under," with live streaming of its games, and a youtube channel.

   Play in the ABL started yesterday, and continues until the league championship the first weekend of February.  The majority of its games area played from Thursday to Saturday.

   The Blue Jays have had a working agreement with the Canberra Cavalry for several years now, and the relationship has been quite successful.  The Jays send prospects who need additional playing time, and the Cavalry get a reasonably steady supply of players.

   This year, the Jays have sent perennial fan favourite (and former league MVP) catcher Jack Murphy, as well infielders LB Dantzler, Jon Berti,  and Christian Lopes.  Outfielder Anthony Alford, who decided to forego his college football career, has reported to Australia, and will get an opportunity to accelerate his development with the Cavalry.  

  Every one of the Cavalry's 48-game schedule will be televised, starting with their season opener on November 6th.  Canberra is 15 hours ahead of Toronto, so watching games live will mean some early morning wake up calls for Blue Jays fans.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's In the System: Middle Infield




       Other than on the mound, the Blue Jays greatest collection of prospects is up the middle and second base and shortstop. where the club has stockpiled a number of premium athletes, especially in the lower levels of the system, and has brought that group of players along one step at a time through the system.

   At the upper levels of the organization, there's really no one ready to succeed Jose Reyes at short, and second base may continue to be a soft spot in the lineup for several more years, unless the club goes outside the system to acquire a player.   Ryan Goins has spent the most time of any middle IF prospect with the big club, and while he plays major league defence at both spots, his bat is highly questionable, and his glove may not be enough to compensate for it.  Still etched vividly in our minds is a play Goins made at second that we witnessed first hand from behind the visitors dugout during Marcus Stroman's brilliant one-hit over seven innings gem in a July matinee against the Red Sox. Goins ranged far to his left on a sharply hit ball between first and second, and with the ball seemingly headed to right field for a base hit, Goins slid to corral the ball, and came up throwing to nip the runner at first.  The play showed all the hallmarks of an above-average defender:  anticipating and reacting to the ball, ranging far to get it (and not giving up on it), and making an agile, athletic slide to get the ball, while still coming up in a good throwing position, demonstrating good arm strength to make the throw to get the out.

    Jonathan Diaz came back to the Blue Jays after playing in the Red Sox system (and making his MLB debut) last year, but only a torrid final month of the season at Buffalo brought his average over the Mendoza Line.  Kevin Nolan and Ryan Schimpf (who played a multitude of positions, mostly at 2nd) played at Buffalo and New Hampshire this year, but are organizational depth players at this point.  Jon Berti has played reasonably well in the Arizona Fall League, as the club decides whether or not to place him on the 40 man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft in December, but the speedster (40 SB at New Hampshire) is a longshot to win a major league job, even with the apparent current opening.  The diminutive Jorge Flores, and Shane Opitz, who was limited to 32 minor league games (all below AA) this year due to injury, add more infield depth.

   As you progress down the organizational ladder, the quality of prospects starts to improve considerably.  Emilio Guerrero showed some promise at short last year both with the glove and the bat, but at 6'4" has possibly outgrown the position, as evidenced by the 20 games he played in the outfield for Dunedin this season.  And we keep hoping for signs of life from Christian Lopes' bat. Once one of the most highly rated youth players in the nation, Lopes has posted very pedestrian numbers at the plate over four minor league seasons.

   The Blue Jays spent over $7.5 million on international players in 2011, with Dawel Lugo coming away with $1.3 million of it.  Lugo played his first year of full season ball at Lansing this year, and struggled at the end of it.  Just the same, there is a bat there that may play one day (especially if he improves his pitch recognition and starts to draw more walks), but likely not at short.  The thinking among many scouts is that the strong-armed Lugo, who lacks the twitchy quickness that the Jays covet in a middle infielder, will ultimately wind up at third.  We saw Lugo on milb.tv games several times at different points of the season, and were actually pleasantly surprised by his defence.  His bat really tired as the season progressed, taking away from a hot mid-summer stretch that landed him on Baseball America's weekly Prospect Hot Sheet.
   Dickie Joe Thon was a 5th round pick in 2010, and while he has not produced at the plate as may have been hoped, he has posted solid, but somewhat unspectacular numbers.  After playing exclusively at short through his first three minor league seasons, Thon played 68 games at 2nd, 33 in Leftfield, and none at short this season, his first year of full season ball, at Lansing.
   David Harris and Jason Leblebijian are added depth players at Lansing, but we would love to see the latter make it to the majors, if only to hear how badly Buck Martinez might mangle his last name.

  Vancouver boasted not one, but by the end of the season, two of the top up the middle prospects in all of baseball in Franklin Barreto and Richard Urena.  At the tender age of 18, Barreto led the Northwest League in 5 offensive categories, was named the loop's MVP, and was Baseball America's Short Season Player of the Year.  Questions abounded about his defence before the season began, and while there is no doubt about his athleticism, Barreto did little to answer them.  His footwork can be awkward at times, and reports are that he doesn't quite have the arm strength to make those long throws to first from the hole.  The bat will absolutely play, however.  Barreto barrels up the ball and consistently hits it hard to all fields.  He will move up to full season play at Lansing next year, and is the best prospect in this organization not named Daniel Norris or Dalton Pompey.  Barreto's future may lie at second, or in centrefield.
    Urena, on the other hand, has been termed major league ready defensively, and while he acquitted himself well at the plate for Bluefield and Vancouver, he's not on the same level as Barreto with the bat.  Promoted to Vancouver in mid-August, Urena played mostly 2nd and 3rd for the C's, with the organization deciding to leave Barreto at short. Just the same, he is likely the Blue Jays shortstop of the future, and the organization will have an interesting decision on its hands next March, because Urena is likely headed to full season ball as well, and they may have to start working Barreto in at other spots on the diamond.  Urena, by the way, is all of one day older than Barreto.  It will be more than worth the 5 hour drive from Southern Ontario to Lansing to watch both play in 2015.
   Vancouver had a few other prospects up the middle who will be worth watching as they move up the ranks.  Tim Locastro was a 13th round pick in 2013 who played Division III ball, and while he may not have much projectability left, has hit well in two years of short season ball.  Locastro played 33 games at 2nd in Vancouver's crowded infield.  Gunnar Heidt, drafted in the 13th round after leading the College of Charleston to its second-ever NCAA Super Regional, took over 2nd from Locastro until Urena's arrival. While he was a shortstop in college, Heidt's toolkit appears to be best suited to second base.
 
   At the lowest level of the organization is 17 year old Yeltsin Gudino, who was very overmatched at the plate in his first year of stateside play in the GCL this past summer.  That the Jays thought enough of his skills and his maturity to have him skip the Dominican League, which is the usual step for Caribbean players to make, tells us that there is still plenty of room for growth in his bat, and that the organization thinks highly of him.  Deiferson Barreto played his first year of stateside ball as well, and manned 2nd for 51 games with the GCL Jays this summer.  Barreto showed enough with the bat that we would like to see what he can do at a higher level next year.
 
   And as we were preparing these rankings, we live tweeted an Arizona Fall League game where Blue Jays OF prospect Dwight Smith Jr started at 2nd.  The thinking is that Smith may not have the power necessary for a corner infield position, and his bat and defensive skills may be a good fit at second.  The AFL, of course, is a league where organizations tweak prospect's games, or look to add to their versatility (because we're all looking for the next Ben Zobrist), but we will see if he makes any further appearances there before the league wraps up play in a few weeks.

   This is a group which shows immense promise, although the earliest we might see one of them in the majors would be late 2016/early 2017 at the earliest.  It's also a group which might be useful in terms of trade fodder to strengthen the big club.

Our rankings:

1.  F. Barreto
2.  Urena
3.  Lugo
4.  Berti
5.  Thon
6.   Locastro
7.   Gudino
8.   Heidt
9.   D. Barreto
10.  Guerrero




Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's In the System: Corner Infield

  This is our second in a series of articles which examines the depths of prospects in the Blue Jays minor league system.

   This year, we've decided to combine first and third base for a couple of reasons.  For starters, as is much the case with many minor league organizations, first base is a bit of a black hole for prospects.  First base, generally speaking, is where you play when your bat is your most outstanding tool relative to the other aspects of your toolkit, and if you have any aspirations to making it to the big leagues, it needs to be overwhelming.  First base prospects can often be blocked by major leaguers whose bat keeps them there, but their glove limits their defensive prospects (see Encarnacion, Edwin), necessitating a move to first.  And when players are moved to first, it's often been from across the corner at third.

  First at Buffalo for the past two years has been a holding place for injury insurance replacement vets like Mauro Gomez and Dan Johnson, with Andy LaRoche and late-season acquisition Matt Hague across from them.  New Hampshire has also seen its fair share of minor league journeymen like Mike McDade.  The organization seemed to be grooming Andy Burns for a super-utility role last year, but he settled in at third for the Fisher Cats this year, and after a rough start finished with decent numbers.

  It's not until we reach the lower levels of the system that we begin to see some promise.  Mitch Nay did not show a great deal of power in the Midwest League, but neither did many of his Lugnuts teammates,  as Lansing was last in the league with 57 Home Runs.  Nay's 34 doubles may be more of an indication of future power, though.  At one point earlier this year, he was being termed the Blue Jays best position prospect, until the rise of Dalton Pompey. Across the diamond from Nay, Matt Dean had a solid season at the plate, and actually played decent defence at third in the limited opportunities we had to see him play following Nay's promotion to Dunedin.  B.C. native Justin Atkinson re-tooled his stance and approach at the plate, and had a decent year with the bat, and played 34 games at first.
 
   Rowdy Tellez may one day turn out to be the best of this group.  The Blue Jays counted their pennies by signing college seniors for meagre bonuses in rounds 4-10 in 2013 in order to dissuade Tellez from a college commitment, and he struggled until the final week of his pro debut season in the GCL, and then got off to another slow start at Bluefield this year, going 0-26 at one stretch.  The bat finally woke up, however, and Tellez skipped two levels in mid-August to finish the season with Lansing.  It will be interesting to see where the Blue Jays send Tellez next season - this may be a breakthrough year for him.  Despite his numbers this year, we've had to restrain ourselves in our praise of him because he still is far away, and his bat will have to more than compensate for his limited defensive abilities.  It's looking more and more that such may be the case, though.
   The Blue Jays have a pair of first basemen below that who have a number of similarities.  LB Dantzler was a 14th round pick out of South Carolina in 2013, while Ryan McBroom was taken in the 15th round this year out of West Virginia.  Dantzler had an outstanding pro debut season, taking home Northwest League MVP honours as he led Vancouver to their third straight league title, while McBroom put up similar numbers this year, as the C's just missed making it a four-peat.  Dantzler struggled at full season ball this year at both Lansing and Dunedin, and there's a feeling that he may have reached his ceiling, or is close to it.  It will be interesting to see if the same development occurs with McBroom, who in all likelihood will open the season with Lansing.
   Below full season ball, the Blue Jays have a mix of roster filler-type college draftees like Lydell Moseby, Alexis Maldonado and Ryan Metzler, and intriguing younger prospects like Lane Thomas, and Gabriel Cenas.
  Many players in short season ball play a variety of positions as the organization tries to get a fix on where their talents are best suited, and Thomas was no exception.  He split time at Bluefield between third, left, and centrefields, and he could be considered a prospect at both this position and the outfield.  Cenas signed for a huge bonus out of Venezuela in 2010, and has split time between both corner infield positions, but the power that was predicted for him has yet to materialize.
   Juan Kelly played 37 games at first for the GCL Jays, and was their player of the year.  It's hard to see the undersized 20 year old developing much in the way of power, however.
Our ranking:

1.  Mitch Nay
2.  Andy Burns
3.  Rowdy Tellez
4.  Lane Thomas
5.  LB Dantzler
6.  Matt Dean
7.  Ryan McBroom
8.  Justin Atkinson
9.  Gabriel Cenas
10. Juan Kelly

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What's In the System: Catchers


  This is the first of a number of surveys of the depth (or lack thereof) of prospects at several positions in the Blue Jays system.

   A year ago, we concluded that catching is probably one of the thinnest positions in the Blue Jays system.  The situation has improved slightly a year later, but outside of AJ Jimenez, there is no one on the immediate horizon who could fill a spot on a major league roster, Sean Ochinko's hot Arizona Fall League start notwithstanding.


     And with R.A. Dickey back for at least one more year, it seems likely that the athletic Jimenez will continue to be blocked at the major league level by Josh Thole.
    Jimenez battled arm and shoulder woes in his first full season after Tommy John surgery two years ago, and he was limited to 83 games between New Hampshire and Buffalo.  We've seen a fair bit of him in action behind the plate, and we like what we've seen.  He is quick to deftly block balls in the dirt, and is a good handler of pitches.  The question has always been if his bat will play in the majors.
    The Blue Jays drafted Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost with their second first round pick this year.  The bat-first, defence-second Pentecost had his own injury woes in his pro debut after a lengthy collegiate season, and was shut down in early August for rest and rehab in Florida after only 105 pro at bats.  It turns out Pentecost had a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and underwent surgery in early October. Recovery from full tear surgery takes 9 months, on average, putting Pentecost's return to the tools of ignorance somewhere in late spring, although like Jimenez last year, he may DH for a spell prior to that.
   There were concerns about Pentecost's defence in his limited run at Vancouver, but injuries and fatigue may have been a factor.  He loomed as a back end of our top 10 list prospect, but this certainly slows down his timetable and puts him back a bit.
   Derrick Chung was part of a strong core that propelled Dunedin to one of the best won-loss records in all of Organized Baseball at the start of June.  Finally settled in at catcher after playing a variety of positions in his first two years in the organization, Chung was lauded for his play on both sides of the ball in the Florida State League.  At 26, he was a bit old for the league even though he was learning a new position, and was promoted to AA at mid-season.  Chung's numbers with New Hampshire fell far short of the ones he posted at A+, although he finished strong.  Given his age, Chung has to be considered a borderline prospect at this point.
  Santiago Nessy at one point was considered a potential catcher of the future.  Injuries and inconsistency have marked his past two seasons, and he appeared in only 69 games between Lansing and Dunedin.  At 21 (he doesn't turn 22 until December), time is still somewhat on his side.
   Danny Jansen was having a solid second pro season at Bluefield when a knee injury ended his season in early August.  The 16th round 2013 pick was considered a steal by some, and should make his full season debut in 2015 if he's healthy.
   Matt Morgan was a well-regarded 4th round pick in June, but had monumental struggles at the plate in the GCL.
   Mike Reeves started the year sharing the catching duties with Chung at Dunedin, and was sent down to Lansing to get more playing time, and finished the year at Vancouver, taking over duties behind the plate for Pentecost.
  Jorge Saez has been praised for his leadership skills, but after a promotion from Lansing to Dunedin, showed that he may have reached his ceiling.
  Michael De La Cruz caught 43 games for Vancouver before the arrival of Pentecost, and at 21 has time to develop.
   Kevin Garcia posted some decent numbers after filling in for Jansen, but it's a small sample size for the June draftee.
   Ochinko, Jack Murphy, Pierce Rankin, and Aaron Munoz are org guys at this point.

Our ranking of the Blue Jays catchers:

1.  Jimenez
2.  Pentecost
3.  Jansen
4.  Nessy
5.  Chung
6.  Reeves
7.  Morgan
8.  Garcia 
9. Saez
10.  De La Cruz

 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Anthony Alford: Anatomy of a Decision


   We've written at length about now former two-sport star Anthony Alford, who shocked many with his decision to leave the highly-ranked Ole Miss football program, in favour of reviving his career as an outfielder with the Blue Jays.  To be honest, after listening to his comments about the move earlier this week and comparing them with what he told reporters in August, we're left with more questions than answers.

   We're not down on Alford at all.  Drafted by the Jays in 2012, he fell to the third round, after a storied high school career on both the gridiron and the diamond, due to his college football commitment.  He was, in the eyes of many, a first round pick in terms of talent.  Even though his pro baseball experience has been limited to a few weeks between football seasons every year, Alford has displayed his premium athleticism, and is easily the top athlete in the Jays organization.  Not to give anything away, but he's gone from being a marginal Top 10 Blue Jays prospect to a minimum of right in the middle of that prospect picture.

   Alford was involved in a campus incident in which a gun was drawn after a largely disappointing freshman season at Southern Mississippi, and he transferred to Ole Miss for the second semester.  He had to sit out his sophomore season due to NCAA transfer rules, and appeared set on picking up his football career where it left off when he turned down a contract extension from the Jays in early July.

   Watching this video from August, though,  it's hard to think that Alford was anything but committed to football (fast forward to the 2:21 mark):

"

   When someone says. "Football is my first love," and, "even if I made $100 million from baseball, I'd still regret not giving football a shot," it's a bit of a shock to see them give up on that dream about a month later.

   On the excellent YourVanCs podcast, hosts Greg Balloch and Charlie Caskey asked Alford about the sudden change of heart.  Alford said that he "really considered playing baseball full time," but he had "a lot going on at the time (he turned down Anthopolous' July offer)."  Alford admitted that "football just wasn't working out," for him, and that he wanted to give football one last shot after his redshirt year, and that he didn't want to have any regrets about not giving football a try.  He realizes now, though, "that baseball is my future."

  So, why did Alford give up so quickly and so easily on his football dreams ?
It's hard to say, but here's a list of possible factors:

-Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous came back to Alford with a deal that he simply could not turn down.  Was this, maybe, a bit of a negotiating ploy by Alford and his agent ?  Was Ole Miss being used as leverage ?  Maybe not, but there's no doubt that whatever terms AA presented his similarly-monogrammed counterpart were enhanced whenever the next offer was submitted, likely in terms of dollars, and probably with some guarantees about the timeline of his ascension to the 40-man roster.

-Things went south for Alford at Ole Miss in a hurry.  In early August, Head Coach Hugh Freeze said that although his prize recruit was learning a new position in the Rebs' defensive backfield, he wanted the athletic Alford on the field as much as possible.  To that end, he had Alford take snaps at quarterback in practice, and gave him time as a punt returner.  After convincing triumphs over lesser competition in the first two games of the season,  Alford saw less playing time against tougher opponents, and no longer spent time at QB in practices, and was replaced on the punt return team. Disgruntled, Alford perhaps  had his agent contact the Blue Jays to see if they could make a better offer.  With a slew of tough games coming up against SEC opposition, Alford decided the wiser move was to accept the Blue Jays' apparently upgraded terms.

-Because of violations that happened before Freeze's tenure, Ole Miss has come under the scrutiny of the NCAA for a number of possible violations.  If sanctions were imposed, Ole Miss would miss out on any bowl games, and Rebel players would not have a chance to showcase their talents before a national audience.  Admittedly, that may have factored little in Alford's decision, but it likely didn't help. Seeing the writing possibly being on the wall, Alford decided to take the safe money.

-Having turned 20 (and about to get married) when he initially rebuffed the Jays, Alford may have been overwhelmed and made a bad decision.  We have written previously about his difficult upbringing, and that he may not have been surrounded by people who could offer him proper guidance during his formative years.  In the space of just a couple of weeks this summer, he went from the GCL to Bluefield to Lansing, where Anthopolous "made it difficult," for Alford to say no. Far from home, and maybe lacking counsel, Alford acted on impulse, and turned the Jays down.

-Maybe, just maybe baseball was his first love all along.  When you grow up in Mississippi and you are the 2nd ranked senior QB recruit in the nation, the pressure to continue with football must be immense, to say the least.  Despite his relative rawness as a ballplayer, Alford does demonstrate some outstanding skills and instinct for the game, especially on the bases.  We thought Dalton Pompey was fast when he rocketed past us down the first base line at Buffalo in late August, but Alford may be faster.  He told Balloch and Caskey that his goal next summer is to break fellow Mississippian Billy Hamilton's minor league stolen base record.  Perhaps the diamond is where his heart was all along.


  In the end, it may have been a combination of all of the above factors that weighed into his ultimate decision.  It might be fair to ask if he will stick with it if his baseball career doesn't develop as quickly as he would like.  Of course, that door may not be shut, but his window for returning to football has all but closed.
   Then again, maybe Alford was feeling on the fence about football to begin with, and when things didn't work out for him, suddenly the grass was greener on the other side of that fence.  We asked Hugh Kellenberger, who covers Ole Miss football for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, if there were any indications that Alford might be contemplating a switch:

                    Not right before it happened, but you certainly got the impression in training
                    camp (when he talked to us about the Blue Jays) that they were going to make
                    it tough on him  to stay at Ole Miss.  Money talks, and the Blue Jays have it.


   Alford reported to the Jays Florida base in Dunedin to catch the last week of Instructs, and will be heading down under to play for the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Winter League, which should be a good opportunity for him to get some extra ABs and further refine his skills.  Alford said on the podcast that the caliber of competition there is about High A or AA, but we're a little doubtful about that - no disrespect to Jack Murphy, but if he can dominate that league and be an MVP, that estimate is a little on the high side.
   Next spring, Alford will likely be invited to the big league camp, and should either start at Lansing with a mid-season promotion to Dunedin, or he may start the season with the D-Jays.  Playing every day should rapidly accelerate his development and smooth the rough edges (pitch recognition, especially) in his game.
   Does this saga end here ?  Likely.  We're elated to see this premium athlete make the decision to switch full-time to baseball.  And once the Rogers Centre installs grass on the playing field, his knees will be thankful, too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jays Prospects in Arizona



   Play begins today in the Arizona Fall League, a "finishing school" of sorts where top prospects can show their organizations how they stack up against top competition.
   The Blue Jays have sent 8 players to play in the league, which takes place at MLB spring training sites in the Phoenix area.  Tickets, by the way, are a bargain - for $115, you can purchase a family pass, which includes admission for 6 to regular season games.  Play wraps up in mid-November.
   4 pitchers were sent to Arizona by the Jays to play for the Mesa Solar Sox.  Starter Roberto Osuna, who came back from Tommy John surgery in August, and showed his former velocity, but struggled with his command, leads the way.  With his advanced feel for pitching, this could be a huge opportunity for the righthander - the additional innings may be what he needs to refine his control, and could pay huge dividends for him next season.
   Joining Osuna in the Sox rotation will be lefthander Sean Noin, the forgotten man of the Blue Jays top 10 prospects.  Nolin matched Marcus Stroman strikeout for strikeout in 2013 at New Hampshire, but injuries limited him to 20 starts this year.  Nolin is in the southwest to make up for those missed innings.
   Blake McFarland and Arik Sikula will pitch out of Mesa's bullpen.  Both are power arms who must be placed on the 40 man roster this fall, or risk being lost in the Rule 5 draft.  In reality, there's little chance that will happen, but at 25, both players are facing closing windows of MLB opportunity.  Sikula was lights out in Dunedin's bullpen this year, with 34 saves, and 60 Ks in 43 innings.  McFarland pitched at both A+ and AA this year, and finished strong at New Hampshire, with 37 Ks in 35 innings.  As mid-minors bullpen guys, they don't have a lot of value, but with bullpen arms being more and more of a disposable nature at the big league level, it wouldn't be a shock to see one of them reach the majors.

    On the position side, the Toronto contingent will be led by OF Dalton Pompey, who started the year in Dunedin, and ended it in spectacular fashion in Toronto, with stops in New Hampshire and Buffalo along the way.  The GTA native blossomed in his fifth year of pro ball, and is a testament to both the acumen and patience of the Blue Jays player development department.  Pompey doesn't have a great deal to prove, but it will still be beneficial for him to face some high level pitching.  He will be leading off for Mesa today in their season opener.

   Joining Pompey are Catcher Sean Ochinko, and outfielder Dwight Smith, Jr.   Smith played in the shadow of his more illustrious teammates Pompey and Daniel Norris at Dunedin, and he put up respectable numbers in a pitcher's league without much support behind him in the lineup.  2B Jon Berti, who had a decent year at New Hampshire, rounds out the Blue Jay contingent.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blue Jays Dominate BA's Short Season Top Prospects List


    There quite simply is no publication that does a better job of keeping readers up to date about prospects and trends across college and minor league baseball than Baseball America.
   Even though the minor league season has drawn to a close, BA still keeps fans interested by publishing their Top 20 Prospects for every minor league, starting about mid-September.
   Since information for lower level prospects can be hard to find unless you're willing to go behind a pay wall, these lists are gold for a prospect hound.  We've mined some Blue Jays-related nuggets from the chats BA held after publishing their Top 20 Gulf Coast, Appalachian, and Northwest Leagues lists, featuring BA staffers Ben Badler, Clint Longenecker, and John Manuel, who are three of the best in the business.
  Some might think it's a bit lazy of us to just list these conversation snippets, but we would rather present them in full and then offer our comments about them.  And it saves you, dear reader, from having to go to BA's website and look them up for yourself.  Which you're more than welcome to do, of course.



Josh (Windsor, ONT): Beyond the four players that made the top 20, are there any sleeper prospects from the Bluefield club? Further, do the Jays have anything with Jesus Tinoco?
Clint Longenecker: Yes, the Blue Jays lower minor league teams always have talent, a tribute to their international and domestic scouting departments. Jesus Tinoco has a real chance to emerge with continue development, both physically and mentally. He has youth (19), a great body, the fastball (velo and life) as a foundation for his prospect status. He can really sink the baseball. His combination of fastball velocity and heavy sink reminded some of former Blue Jay farmhand Henderson Alvarez, who has the 7th highest GB rate among MLB starters. His changeup is presently his best secondary offering and his curveball shows 12-6 tilt at its best, though it is inconsistent. Tinoco will need to improve his lower half in his delivery because he often collapses his front leg and falls off to the first base side, causing him to not get on top of his pitches. But he has the raw materials to emerge. Keep your eye on Tinoco.

   We feel the same way about Tinoco.  He did not pitch as badly as his numbers would suggest this year.  We asked Bluefield Catcher Danny Jansen about Tinoco, who said he had, "Dominant stuff. He throws hard and when he got his sinker working, he was really hard to hit."
   His numbers (4.95 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, .270 BA) were obviously influenced by the times when he didn't have that sinker working.  Tinoco pitched 6 innings in 4 of his starts, which is a lengthy outing by lower minors standards, and gave up a total of only four earned runs over those starts, adding more credence to the notion that when he was on, he was really on.

   We should also point out that Jansen, who was having a great season (.283/.390/.484) before being sidelined with a knee injury in early August, was named the Appy's 16th best prospect, and may have been ranked higher if not for the injury.

   We admit to having overlooked Josh Almonte and his success at Bluefield this year,  mainly because it was his third season of rookie ball.  The organization may need to accelerate him next year to get a truer sense of what they have.
Gerry (Toronto): Josh Almonte had a breakout season, hitting over 300. Was he close to the list?
Clint Longenecker: Almonte absolutely had a case from a tools-based perspective. A late-round Northeast prep player, Almonte really blossomed this year after struggling to make contact in the GCL for 2 years. He has tools with his plus speed and arm, as well as above-average raw power he shows in batting practice. Although he hit .300 this year, Almonte’s line was propped up by an unsustainable BABIP (.413) that was among the highest in the league and unlikely to continue going forward. His breaking ball recognition will need to continue to improve. His upward trajectory is very encouraging and he will be one to monitor going forward.

Here are some thoughts about Lane Thomas, a 5th round pick in June, who was promoted from the GCL to the Appy League:
Ben (DC): How close did Lane Thomas come to making the list? Seems like he had a good yr in GCL for Blue Jays. Thanks.
Ben Badler: Another close call. He’s an explosive athlete with plus speed and squared up a lot of balls for hard contact, although the over-the-fence pop didn’t show up this year. He’s intriguing, and I still like Yeltsin Gudino and Freddy Rodriguez, even if their numbers didn’t do much to inspire confidence next year. They can’t all be Franklin Barreto.
Ben (DC): Any feedback on Lane Thomas from his brief time in Bluefield? Seems like he was a very interesting pick this year who did well this year. Did Rowdy Tellez come close? Thanks.
Clint Longenecker: Lane Thomas is an exciting player that the Bluefield staff praised. He got time at third base this summer, an interesting development because he has an above-average arm. He ran well but was not a true burner in center field, where he played most as an amateur. He plays the game hard and has natural aptitude for the game. He will likely see some time at Bluefield or Vancouver next summer, given the Blue Jays history with recent high school draftees, and will absolutely be someone who could factor onto the list.
   So, Thomas is a long way away, but there's a lot to be optimistic about.  Interesting how Badler said he has plus speed, but not enough to play CF, according to Longenecker.

 Tommy G (Milwaukee): I really liked Matt Smoral coming out of H.S. seemed to put it together this year for the first time. What kind of ceiling does he have if he puts it all together?
Clint Longenecker: He did. It was a strong year and he got innings, which is what he needed most this year. He could be a No. 2 starter if everything clicks because of his fastball-slider combo (because he can get out RHH with his slider) and very high strikeout rates. Like most prospects, however, the odds of him reaching that ceiling are low, so lets revise expectations because his control is unlikely to ever be good enough to be a No. 2. He would have to exceed expectations to do throw that many strikes, but old baseball adages are that lefties and tall pitchers develop late. He is a rarity who fits both of those descriptors. The key for him next year will be getting innings, again, and seeing how he holds up in full season ball.
   This is something we've been saying about Smoral for over a year.  We can't really close the book on his ability to reach his ceiling just yet for the reasons Longenecker outlined, and because he missed his senior year of high school, and may still be a bit behind on the developmental curve relative to his peers.
  About Smoral and Ryan Borucki, who were also rotation-mates in Vancouver, Jansen told us:
     Smoral and Borucki are both outstanding pitchers, they both have dominant stuff and can both control their pitches. They always bring confidence and compete everyday, which is the biggest reason I love catching them

   And things would not be complete with a Rowdy Tellez update:




  Feng (New York): I was wondering what the feedbacks were on Rowdy Tellez and Josh Almonte. Was a little surprised that Tellez didn't make the top 20.
Clint Longenecker: Almonte was covered. Tellez was a strong consideration for the list. He made strides with his hitting approach this year and its tough not be be intrigued by a potential power bat. Scouts wanted to see Tellez hit for more power in games this year (.131 ISO) but his long-term power projection is still there. He is capable of putting on a show in BP. He controlled the zone well in the Appy League. It was a good developmental season for Tellez, whose body looked good because of the hard work he put in.
   That, to us, is a surprisingly lukewarm assessment of Tellez.  The Blue Jays saw more, apparently, and skipped him over Vancouver for a few weeks of play at Lansing, where he demonstrated some of that power, putting up a .949 OPS in 49 PA's.  His excruciatingly slow start (he went through a 0-26 dry spell - although was hitting the ball hard, according to reports - and was hitting .103/.191/.121 in early July) likely didn't help him. 



  The crowning jewel to these lower level reports for Blue Jays fans had to be the Northwest League list and chat, featuring 5 Vancouver Canadians, led by Frankie Barreto, who BA earlier had named Short Season Player of the Year. Barreto followed that up by being named the best NWL prospect. 

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, John. Is it a safe assumption that Schwarber would have topped this list had he qualified? In addition, what was the consensus opinion of his skillset during his limited time in Boise?
John Manuel: He hit 4 HR in 5 games. One league manager Brian talked to said he was “Mickey Mantle against us,” and another said, “You will live with the passed balls if he hits like I think he’ll hit.” Weighing that against Barreto would have been a fun exercise. I can see arguments for both of them.

  Barreto no doubt benefited from having Ryan McBroom hit behind him in the C's lineup.  McBroom was one of those middle round picks that may not have high ceilings, but are a perfect fit for the Northwest League:


Jon (Florida): Do you have any info on Ryan Mcbroom 1b with Vancouver? Is he a prospect for the bluejays?
John Manuel: McBroom definitely had his supporters. He has present power, with a pretty aggressive approach that allowed him to succeed in his debut. He hit some long home runs that impressed managers as well as fans. He needs to shorten his swing some, and his bats-right, throws-left profile is worth mentioning because it’s fairly rare. He might have had a chance to try third base is he threw righthanded. Some managers knocked him as a below-average defender at first. L.B. Dantzler put up similar numbers in the league last year and wasn’t able to follow up this year. McBroom will see if he’s up to the challenge.

  We all know the position change is coming for Barreto, but everything he has shown this season suggests the bat will play:


Brian (Denver): Which #1 league prospect has a higher ceiling as a SS, Northwest league Franklin Barretto or Appalachian league Ozhaino Albies?
John Manuel: Albies sounds super exciting and more likely to be a shortstop, but Barretto for me because of the bat. He may not be a shortstop long-term, but that dude can hit. Barretto’s defense gets knocked by the managers we talked to, who obviously value reliability and making the routine play, but we have good reports on Barretto’s infield actions. He has a shot to stay in the infield if not at shortstop, so I’d go with him. Albies is 5-foot-7 and we have mixed reports on just how much offensive upside he has in terms of how much he’ll impact the baseball. No such questions exist for Barretto. Both exciting players though.
Feng (New York): Hi, I was wondering if Barreto is a top 100 player? And if he is, would anyone else from this league make it on the top 100 list?
John Manuel: I think he probably is, and he’s likely the only person from this Top 20 to merit such consideration. The other possibility may be Miguel Castro, who has the big arm and athleticism but whose secondary stuff is probably too raw for top 100 right now. He could have been No. 2 or No. 3. I thought Barretto was a clear No. 1, but 2-3-4 were tough for me and Brian to rank. They could have gone in any order really.
  Max Pentecost also fell off of our radar a little bit due to his abbreviated season.  And it looks like BA didn't get the greatest read on him, either:
Zach (San Diego): Why did Max Pentecost rank #8 in the paper thin Northwest League Top 20? And if you can tell us what's a reasonable ceiling and/or comp for this kid?
John Manuel: Managers and scouts in the league saw Pentecost catch all of six games. We were asking them to weigh in essentially on a DH. So we dinged him a bit for that, ranking him behind two potential starting corner bats who are younger than him. Baez and Cordero are much riskier bets for sure, so we could have ranked him higher. I thought the top 12 guys were a fairly clear top 12; after that, there was not much differentiation.

 Baseball Prospectus is one of BA's biggest competitors, at least on the web side of the publishing business.  BP has produced a couple of print compilations of their writers' best work, including an essay by Jason Parks entitled, "From the Buscones to the Big Leagues,"  in Extra Innings. For anyone who follows prospects, this treatise on the pros and cons of the international market, as well as the ups and downs international players often go through when they play stateside is must reading.
   In this piece, Parks takes us through the highs and lows of a fictional Dominican pitching prospect named Jose, who pitches for the equally fictional Greens over his first five pro seasons, and makes for really entertaining and informative reading.  We sometimes forget that the transition to a new country, culture, climate, and language can be huge for some players, and they understandably can take a step backwards in their development, especially in their first full season.  Such seems to be the case for Tirado, who started the year at Lansing, but was sent back to Extended Spring Training after he had difficulties repeating his delivery and finding the strike zone.
Steve (Vancouver): How come Alberto Tirado didn't make the list?
John Manuel: He just did not throw enough strikes. Managers knocked both his command and lack of secondary stuff, but he was one of the livelier arms in the league and is just 19. More than likely 2014 will be a bump in the road for him because the arm can be electric. But he’s clearly behind Labourt and Castro, who throw more strikes, have big arms and are bigger-bodied guys.
   And we finish with a question that we ourselves had after our first glance at the list:
Roy (Indiana): Why is Labourt ranked ahead of Castro? From what I've seen of both Castro seems more a finished pitcher but with more or less equally high ceilings.
John Manuel: Lefty vs. a righty, but I had those guys flipped several times. Just having a lefthander who can dominate often older competition essentially with one pitch, plus the fact that Labourt’s arm is pretty clean and works easy enough to believe he’ll command the ball better down the line, gave him the edge. Both those guys are exciting for having easy gas as starting pitchers, which separated them from the pack. Looking at the league overall, pitching prospects were probably the weakest spot. I’m not sure how many future big league rotation members will come from the NWL. If someone were taking odds, I would take zero and let you have the field, and I’d like my chances. Castro and Labourt obviously were the exceptions, as the only pitchers in the top 10.
   Catcher Mike Reeves, who played at three levels this year (but in reverse) caught both this year, and he acknowledged on the excellent "Your Van C's" podcast with Greg Balloch and Charlie Caskey that while Castro is the better prospect at this point, Labourt was the C's best pitcher this year.  That he didn't follow Castro up the ladder may be due to his earlier struggles at Lansing, and the organization may have wanted to let him stay where he was having some success.