Down On The Farm: Toronto Blue Jays

Posted on 01 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

The Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to have one of the best mixes of major league talent and minor league reinforcements in the wings coming into this season. However, their lower levels have been unable to keep the big league squad equipped with enough talent to keep up with the rash of injuries the team has suffered. Has the system faltered? Were the prospects over-hyped? Or was it just a matter of system rankings valuing long-term upside over near-term impact? It turns out it was the latter, with the system still appearing strong but with most of the impact prospects still a ways from contributing.

Hi, I’m new here. Just called up from the Minors, you might say. Please give me a few games to find my rhythm at the plate.

I’ll be doing a weekly feature called Down On The Farm that will look at a different team’s minor league system each time out. I start today with the Blue Jays.

Pre-Season Rank: #3 (ESPN), #2 (Baseball Prospectus), #5 (Baseball America)

The Top 5
1. Travis d’Arnaud
Overall Ranks: #6 (ESPN), #16 (BP), #17 (BA)
d’Arnaud was the consensus top Jays’ prospect heading into the season and was expected to debut sometime at the end of this season. The timing would have been perfect for a late-July call-up when J.P. Arencibia went down to a hand injury, but alas d’Arnaud was, himself, on the disabled list for the second time this year. Injuries have limited him to just 303 plate appearances, taking some of the shine off an otherwise promising season. While the PCL tends to inflate numbers, d’Arnaud’s .333/.380/.595 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) holds up well compared to league average. In fact, his wRC+ is 145, indicating he has performed 45% better than the league average even for the ultimate hitter-friendly league. If d’Arnaud can manage to stay healthy, he’s still likely a borderline All Star catcher for years to come. With that said, the Jays have to be concerned that their top prospect is now in his sixth year and has only once cracked 500 plate appearances in a season.

2. Jake Marisnick
Overall Ranks: #47 (ESPN), #28 (BP), #67 (BA)
Marisnick is hyped as a five-tool player, but starting the year in A-ball meant he was a prospect to wait on rather than get excited about. He put up above-average numbers in Dunedin and earned a recent promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. Although at first glance a Single-A .263/.349/.451 slash line is not that impressive, the run environment of the league is such that it adds up to a wRC+ of 126. Thus, an age-21 promotion to Double-A should be considered cause for excitement, although his fall from ESPN’s updated top-50 prospects at mid-season shows this is not unanimous. He’s struggled to an 82 wRC+ in 100 plate appearances at Double-A but has another month to prove himself before the season is out, and starting 2013 at New Hampshire at age-22 would do no harm to his status.

3. Anthony Gose
Overall Ranks: #59 (ESPN), #68 (BP), #39 (BA)
Gose has had a disastrous first two weeks in the Majors but the recent trades of Travis Snider and Eric Thames show that the Blue Jays believe Gose will be ready for 2013. At just 21 he has a lot of time to fix his flaws, but the fact that he managed just a .517 OPS against lefties in the PCL has to be looked at as a big concern. With that said, Gose’s glove and baserunning can already play at the Major League level, and he’d be a fantasy play because of the wheels immediately. Gose’s troublesome strikeout rate made a big improvement during his time at Triple-A, down from 26.2% in 2011 at Double-A to 21.5% in 2012. Some seem to have soured on Gose because of concern for his hit tool, but if his discipline can continue to improve his speed should carry him to an above-average BABIP and strong stolen base totals for fantasy owners.

4. Daniel Norris
Overall Ranks: NR (ESPN), #84 (BP), #91 (BA)
After sliding to the second round due to signability concerns, the Jays locked Norris up but did not get him into minor league action until just recently when the Appalachian League opened for the season. At Rookie Ball Bluefield, the 19-year old lefty has struggled a bit but with strong peripheral numbers backing up his performance. In seven outings, Norris has struck out 9.24 batters per-9 while walking just 3.55, helping him to a 3.87 FIP despite his 4.97 ERA. Norris is some time from being on the fantasy radar, but he’s a power lefty who has unlimited upside if he can refine his secondary offerings.

5. Noah Syndergaard
Overall Ranks: NR (ESPN), #93 (BP), NR (BA)
Synergaard was drafted as a 17-year old out of high school and signed quickly, making this his third season of professional ball at just 19. After brief stints at three different levels last year, Syndergaard has settled in at Low-A Lansing and was part of the Jays’ odd experiment of piggybacking their Class-A starters. It has proven successful for Syndergaard, who sports a 2.90 ERA, a 2.27 FIP, a robust 11.12 K/9 and an impressive 2.78 BB/9. Add it all up and the big 6’5” power righty can expect a bump to High-A Dunedin to start 2013, with Double-A New Hampshire not out of the question if his success continues.

Additions and Subtractions
Out: The Jays dealt several low-ceiling prospects to the Astros in a 10-player deal in mid-July, but none of the players were highly regarded on pre-season lists. Righties Asher Wojciechowski and Joe Musgrove and catcher Carlos Perez were all ranked outside of the system’s top-10 and were generally low on the depth chart. Wojciechowski was largely hittable at High-A Dunedin despite strong command ratios (3.5 K:BB), and Houston has placed him at Double-A Corpus Christi for a greater challenge. Musgrove had just started a second year of Rookie Ball and has yet to appear for a Houston affiliate. Perez was repeating Low-A Lansing at age-21 after sturggling last year, but again Houston has opted to challenge their new charge with a promotion, in this case to High-A Lancaster.

In: The Jays have not acquired any prospects via trade but were thought to have one of the higher-upside drafts in 2012, gaming the new system and selecting highly-signable college seniors to allow for greater money to be spent on earlier picks. First round picks Marcus Stroman and D.J. Davis have both already begun playing, with Stroman expected to be moved from Rookie Ball Vancouver shortly to try and have him MLB-ready for 2013. It will be interesting to see whether the Jays’ upside laden draft class improves the rankings, or if sacrificing quantity for quality ends up hurting them in the eyes of scouts.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Las Vegas
It is difficult to take any PCL stats without a giant grain of salt due to the hitter-friendly environment, and as such the Jays generally keep their better pitching prospects at lower levels. The Vegas team mostly consists of organizational depth players, especially now that Adam Lind, Snider, Gose, Thames, and Moises Sierra have all moved on to Toronto or other clubs. Adieny Hechevarria is the most interesting name at the level, an alleged all-glove Cuban shortstop who has either shown an improved hit tool or really taken advantage of the environment depending on who you ask, on his way to a .310/.359/.424 slash line with a 104 wRC+.

Double-A New Hampshire
The Fisher Cats were supposed to be the source of pitching depth should the big league club need it this year, but starters Deck McGuire (5.78 ERA, just 75 Ks in 113 IP) and Chad Jenkins (4.96 ERA, just 57 Ks in 114 IP) have both fallen well short of expectations for the year. On the position player side, the free-swinging, non-prospect trio of Mike McDade, Mark Sobolewski, and Brad Glenn have all provided pop with barely above-average wOBAs, though Sobolewski earned a promotion to Triple-A recently. Catcher A.J. Jimenez has struggled a good deal at the plate and has missed significant time.

High-A Dunedin
Kevin Pillar did not appear on any prospect lists I saw this pre-season, but a stellar performance at Lansing earned him a bump to Dunedin, although quite late at age-23 since he was drafted as a collegiate player. Pillar is a speedy outfielder who has improved his walk rate, but with no track record it is still too early to get excited. On the mound, 22-year old Sean Nolin has put up a strikeout per inning on his way to a 2.27 ERA. John Stilson had also put up strong numbers before recently getting the bump to New Hampshire, where he has struggled so far.

Low-A Lansing
Lansing is the crown jewel of the Jays’ farm system and contains most of the high-ceiling arms, including a handful of names that almost made the top-5 above. In addition to Syndergaard, the Lugnuts boast a rotation that includes command-master Justin Nicolino (age 20, 2.52 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 9.07 K/9, 1.41 BB/9), the wild but dominant Aaron Sanchez (age 20, 2.36 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 9.90 K/9, 5.19 BB/9), control artist Anthony DeSclafani (age 22, 3.16 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 6.32 K/9, 1.73 BB/9), and smoke-and-mirrors dealer Marcus Walden (age 23, 3.11 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 5.05 K/9, 3.29 BB/9). While Lansing is the team to watch if you are a pitching prospect enthusiast, Chris Hawkins is the only hitting prospect of note, and at age-20 he has struggled to a .697 OPS.

Rookie Ball Vancouver
17-year old Roberto Osuna almost broke the internet last week with a 13-K performance in just five innings, leading to hyperbolic quotes from teammates and coaches alike. His next start will come over the weekend and will have all eyes on the Mexican teenager who has allowed just four earned runs in 29 innings across two levels this summer.

So while it appears that fans of the Toronto Blue Jays may have jumped the gun on proclaiming the farm system ready to supplement the major league roster in 2012, it is still a system that boasts a good deal of high-end talent, especially on the mound. Pending any offseason deals, the Jays should see their wave of strong arms start to move up together, filling the pipeline to the majors within the next few years. In the interim, there are a few interesting bats en route and enough mid-level prospects to provide trading chips to bring in immediate help.

I’m new here, so come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Michael Holloway Says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I disagree with your premise. The Jays were a .500 in Spring training before the first starter went down; were a .500 team before the first rash of injuries in May and a .500 team now after several key batters have gone.

  2. Blake Murphy Says:

    Thanks for the response Michael – while the record holds up month to month (12-11, 15-13, 13-14, 11-14), my point still holds as the reinforcements haven’t come from the farm system as expected.

    On the pitching side, the team has turned to veterans Villaneuva and Laffey to replace Morrow and Hutchison/Drabek, and dealt for J.A. Happ as Cecil-insurance. The starting depth that was supposed to be apparent has either been lost to injury itself (Hutch, Drabek) or proved themselves unready (Jenkins, McGuire).

    At the plate, they’ve actually been steadier in terms of injuries, and it was really just d’Arnaud’s inability (injury) to replace Arencibia, so perhaps I should have been more specific to pitching in stating my premise.

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