Archive | Organizational Outlook

A Whole New Ball Game

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A Whole New Ball Game

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

Minor League Baseball in the Chicagoland area is nearing the start of the 2013 season. That can only mean that summer is approaching in the Windy City. However, wait a few minutes and that weather can change. In Illinois there are ten Minor League ball clubs representing different levels and leagues.


A change for one minor league club, the Kane County Cougars, was a note worthy move here in Chicago. This past offseason the Cougars seemingly long overdue became an affiliation of the Chicago Cubs. The Kane County program has been around since 1991 and has been affiliated with four Major League clubs before finally becoming apart of the Cubs organization in early 2013.

Kane County is a Class A minor league team that is apart of the Midwest League. They are located in Geneva, Illinois about 35 miles west of Chicago. The Cougars are perennially among the league leaders in attendance throughout the Midwest League. They also have made 13 post season appearances in their 22 year history.

Minor League clubs are directly affiliated with a major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). The major league team may enter into a two or four year term with the minor league club. At the end of the term the two sides may renew a new term or the minor league team will be available to except a new PDC from a different organization. This year, the Cubs signed a two year PDC with the Cougars.

Major League organizations may decide their minor league affiliations for a number of reasons. They could be for geographic reasons, scouting, or organizational strategies. Attending Cougar games, it was always a common question asked as to why they were never apart of either Chicago professional team

In the past, Kane County has had major league talent step between the lines out in Geneva. Alumni members include: Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Andre Either, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, and Misty May’s husband Matt Treanor. Pitchers include: Andrew Bailey, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Houston Street, Ryan Dempster, and Trevor Cahill.

When Theo Epstein was brought on as President of the Chicago Cubs in 2011, one goal was to have an affiliated program in the backyard. The close proximity will be beneficial for many reasons. It will help with scouting and player development, call ups will be closer, and fans will now have access to the future prospects just a short drive away.

Fan interested will be more involved now being able to follow the future talent of the professional ball club. Currently, three of the top 10 Cubs prospects wear Cougar uniforms: Opening night starter Pierce Johnson, and infielders Dan Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario. For once, the Cubs have note worthy minor league talent and some of it will be showcased just a short drive away from the lights of Waveland and Sheffield.

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Down On The Farm: Kansas City Royals

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Down On The Farm: Kansas City Royals

Posted on 29 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Wil Myers hits the ball very far, very often. As one of the most complete minor league hitters in baseball, it is almost astonishing that he is yet to crack the line-up of the Royals. He is one of the most exciting, major-league ready talents still yet to accrue service time, a major boon for the system. However, the system’s top arms have either struggled or been hurt, and a farm system that was once the envy of the league now has some question marks. The consensus pre-season top-5 system of the Kansas City Royals is today’s focus on Down On The Farm.

My apologies for no DOTF or Sabermetric Mining piece last week. I was driving from Kitchener, ON to Vancouver, BC and then settling in to a new place.

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

The Top 5
1. Wil Myers
Overall Ranks: #13 (ESPN), #19 (BP), #28 (BA)
As mentioned, Myers hits the ball very far, very often. The converted catcher has played the outfield this year to try and preserve his body in the long run, and reports show him as a good corner outfielder with a strong arm, though he likely won’t continue to play center field for long. Still, it is the bat that has people buzzing, and with good reason – Myers has clubbed 35 homers across two levels in 128 games this year. He first astonished onlookers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas with 13 taters and a ridiculous .388 isolated power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average) in 35 games, earning a promotion to Triple-A Omaha at just 21. 93 games and 22 homers later, with an ISO of .247 and a wRC+ of 133. Myers should have earned a September call up with this performance, and at the very latest will probably start the season for the Royals next year, an enticing idea for Royals fans and fantasy owners alike.

2. Bubba Starling
Overall Ranks: #15 (ESPN), #27 (BP), #24 (BA)
The converted quarterback is all athleticism and tools at this point, but even just getting him to sign after the 2011 draft was a huge boon for the system. He is still just 20, but the fact that a late signing and an early injury pushed his career start date back to late June of this year, at Rookie Ball, is of some concern. Basically, Starling lost a full year of development right away. Luckily, it does not appear to have set him back too much, as he has posted a 144 wRC+ for Burlington. The 30.3% strikeout rate is a concern but not uncommon for young, inexperienced players, and his 12.3% walk rate indicates there is potential for plate discipline. Starling is a few years away from making a major league impact, but this type of ultra-high-upside player always reflects well on a team and system.

3. Cheslor Cuthbert
Overall Ranks: #43 (ESPN), #83 (BP), #84 (BA)
Along with having one of the oddest first names out there, the 19-year old third base prospect also has an enviable resume for his age and an advanced approach for his point on the development curve. With that said, the promotion this year to High-A Wilmington has been a challenge, seeing Cuthbert’s wRC+ fall to an ugly mark of 72. With just an .081 ISO and a sub-.300 OBP, the Royals are likely concerned at the performance dip compared to a successful 2011 at Low-A. Still, Cuthbert doesn’t strike out too much (15.7% K-rate, 19% last year), walks enough (7.0% walk rate, 10.5% last year), and may have just been advanced too quickly for the hit tool to catch up with the approach. Cuthbert will likely repeat at Wilmington for a part of next year, putting him off the major league radar for another two seasons at least.

4. Mike Montgomery
Overall Ranks: #52 (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #23 (BA)
Montgomery is an imposing 6’5” lefty who has been on the prospect map for several seasons now. Drafted back in 2008, Montgomery has had a slow climb through the Royals system, but is failing to find success at the Triple-A level for the second year in a row, this time as a 23-year old. Last season, Montgomery struggled to a 5.32 ERA and 4.30 FIP over 150 innings, and this year it has been more of the same with a 5.69 ERA and a 4.95 FIP over 91 frames. It got so bad that Montgomery was actually demoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in hopes of regaining some semblance of his command. Unfortunately, he is yet to find success there as well. There is obviously still time for a 23-year old lefty with two plus-pitches (fastball and changeup) to find the missing piece, likely a third reliable pitch, but the Royals have to be getting concerned that a former top prospect will need a third attempt at Triple-A next year.

5. Jake Odorizzi
Overall Ranks: #71 (ESPN), #47 (BP), #68 (BA)
Omaha has had one success on the mound, at least, with 22-year old righty Odorizzi posting a 3.08 ERA over 102 innings after earning the mid-season promotion from Double-A. While the surface ERA is fine, Odorizzi has not carried his impressive strikeout rate at Double-A (11.13 K/9) to Triple-A (7.21), causing his FIP to inflate to 4.21. Still, the team should be happy with his development, especially the fact that he uses four pitches reliably. One of those offerings needs to evolve into an out pitch to predict success at the major league level, but he could probably fill in at the back of a rotation right now. Look for him to crack the majors at some point in 2013, though he is unlikely to be fantasy relevant right away.

Additions and Subtractions
The Royals made just a single deal during the season, cashing in on their Jonathan Broxton gamble by acquiring a pair of players from Cincinnati in Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Sulbaran has struggled at Double-A since coming over and will likely have to repeat the level as a 23-year old next season, while Joseph is a LOOGY in training at Triple-A. The Royals grabbed righty Kyle Zimmer fifth overall in the draft this summer, and he’s an exciting prospect to watch next year, as he has already been moved to Low-A and had success through six starts.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Omaha – Along with Montgomery and Odorizzi, Omaha is also home to 25-year old Ryan Verdugo, a lefty who has had success with a 3.37 ERA but was the recipient of six earned runs over 1.2 innings in his July major league debut. 24-year old Nate Adcock has struggled to a 4.86 ERA but held his own in a brief audition as a swing-man earlier in the year. Finally, 23-year old lefty Will Smith had a good half-season starting before earning a promotion, though he has struggled mightily for Kansas City. Beyond Myers, Johnny Giavotella is having success, though he has flopped in the majors twice now.

Double-A Northwest Arkansas – Yordano Ventura earned a promotion in mid-July but has struggled, though it was not unexpected for the 21-year old who relies primarily on his heater. For some reason, 24-year old lefty Chris Dwyer got promoted to Omaha despite a 5.25 ERA at this level, though sadly that made him one of the better candidates. Michael Mariot was converted to starting partway through the year and has had success with a 3.40 ERA over 113 innings, though he’s only struck out 81. Justin Marks, a 24-year old lefty, has posted a 3.80 ERA through 17 starts, making him the de facto ace of the staff. At the plate, Myers’ promotion left the cupboard pretty bare, so it is no real surprise that the Naturals are a shameful 19-43 in the second half. Shortstop Christian Colon posted a .364 OBP over 73 games, enough to get him promoted to Omaha, but he offers very little at the plate beyond the OBP.

High-A Wilmington – Wilmington has been the part-time home of several strong pitchers this year, including one with perhaps the best name in baseball. Jason Adam is 6-12 but has a 3.61 ERA and has shown great command with a 3.5:1 K:BB ratio. Sugar Ray Marimon posted a 2.12 ERA over 68 innings before earning the bump to Double-A, where he has posted a 3.97 ERA over 10 starts. Matt Ridings is too old for this level at 24, but has a tidy 2.26 ERA and less than two walks per nine. 23-year old Andy Ferguson has climbed the ladder quickly, with Wilmington being his third stop, and he has struck out 53 over 56 innings with a 3.34 ERA so far. Finally, Elisaul Pimentel got dropped from Double-A at mid-season, but has been strong since with nearly a strikeout per inning and an ERA of 3.00. A few hitters have performed well for the Blue Rocks, but most are too old for the level to get excited.

Low-A Kane County – A young trio of arms have led the way, with Edwin Carl (23-years old, 1.92 ERA, promoted to Wilmington), Angel Baez (21, 3.17 ERA, 83 K in 76 IP), and Kyle Smith (19, 3.00 ERA, 72 K in 57 IP) all impressing. None of the hitters have been amazing, with nary an 11-homer bat or a .300 average on the team, but just about everyone has been solid, helping the team to a .500 mark.

The Royals system has strong depth, especially on the mound, and it is scattered nicely across all levels. While there have not been many stand-out performers aside from Myers, he alone is reason to look favourably on the system. John Lamb, when recovered, adds another high-end arm to the mix, along with top pick Zimmer. The Royals can expect to be a top-10 system again next year, though with the shine coming off a few pitching prospects and a few players graduating to the majors, a top-5 system is not a certainty.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Billy Hamilton could be the most fantasy newsworthy prospect in all of minor league baseball, but do the Cincinnati Reds have much else in the pipeline to support the major league squad? If I am giving full disclosure, Hamilton was the reason the Reds were selected as this week’s Down On The Farm topic. He might break the 20-80 scouting scale for speed and even if he has a Dee Gordon-like OBP, he will be fantasy relevant upon his arrival. Of course, he projects as a better hitter than Gordon, so consider that his ultimate downside. But beyond Hamilton, the system ranked in the middle of the pack in the preseason and graduated three of its better prospects, potentially leaving the cupboards barren.

Pre-Season Rank: #19 (ESPN), #18 (Baseball Prospectus), #16 (Baseball America)

The Top 5

1. Billy Hamilton
Overall Ranks: #64 (ESPN), #22 (BP), #48 (BA)
In retrospect, writing about Hamilton may have been a mistake. You see, I will file this piece on Tuesday night, but by Wednesday morning the stats I am about to provide will likely be obsolete. That’s because Hamilton seems to steal two or three bags a night these days, continuing his quest to break the all-time minor league stolen base record. That mark, set by Vince Coleman in a 1983 season where he missed a month due to a broken hand, is 145. Hamilton presently sits at 139 through 113 games, making it all but a certainty he will set the new standard for prolific minor league base stealing. Obviously for fantasy players, he will be a must-add when he arrives in the majors, possibly as soon as September as an expanded-roster pinch runner. He probably needs a season at Triple-A for final seasoning, but this is not your typical Juan Pierre style speedster, as Hamilton gets on base at a prolific rate as well. In fact, he walked 12.8% of the time in 82 A-ball games and has since walked 17.2% of the time in 31 Double-A games. He has also struck out less than 20% of the time at both levels, posted an OBP better than .400 at both levels, and had wRC+s of 148 and 154, respectively. As a 21-year old, Hamilton is too advanced for Double-A both at the plate and on the bases. Zack Cozart has been nice for the Reds, but the clock is ticking for him at short.

2. Devin Mesoraco
Overall Ranks: #8 (ESPN), #24 (BP), #16 (BA)
Mesoraco is the most prominent of the Reds prospects to graduate to the majors this year, something Reds fans were understandably excited about. Unfortunately, Mesoraco has struggled in his first full season, posting a .218/.297/.367 slash line, a wRC+ of just 71, and negative values in both fielding and baserunning. There is obvious upside for the 24-year old backstop, and catcher is a position with a steep learning curve, but he has yet to show enough to warrant surpassing incumbent Ryan Hannigan for the starter’s role. He was thought to have All-Star potential before the season and was a fantasy sleeper, so there may be a post-hype case to be made in 2013 if he can show some improvements down the stretch for the Reds.

3. Zack Cozart
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #75 (BA)
The apparent incumbent at short until Hamilton is ready, Cozart has shown little with the stick for the Reds this year. Fortunately for the team, though, he has rated out as a plus defensively and on the bases, scrounging together a 1.9 WAR despite being a negative at the dish. Cozart rarely walks and has a curiously low BABIP for a high-contact speedster (.274), giving him a terrible .289 OBP. The 14.5% infield fly rate shows that he is making a lot of mistakes at the plate, and his pitch values basically indicate he can only hit a fastball. At age 27, there probably isn’t a tonne of untapped potential here, but there is always real-life value in defensively capable players with speed.

4. Daniel Corcino
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
Corcino gets a lot of comparisons to current Red Johnny Cueto, primarily because of his diminutive size at 5’11”, 165lbs (Cueto is 5’10” but 220 lbs). Still, the slight stature has not held Corcino back from steadily moving through the Reds’ system, making the jump from Low-A to Double-A this year with acceptable results. His strikeout rate declined and his walk rate increased, leading his FIP to jump from 2.80 to 3.78, but at age 21 he could reasonably be expected to struggle at this level. Instead, Corcino has shown he can handle a full workload for the second straight season and is likely on the path to Triple-A Louisville for 2013. If he can refine his breaking pitches to go with a 95MPH fastball and a plus change-up, he should be able to get the K-rate back up around 9K/9IP, somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 levels. As with all small pitchers, the “likely reliever” tag has been given to Corcino, but that is a few seasons premature right now.

5. Robert Stephenson
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
The Reds are challenging their 2011 1st round pick to move through the system quickly, already promoting the 19-year old to low-A ball. He did not really leave them much choice, I suppose, after seven dominant starts at the Rookie Ball level, where he had nearly 11K/9 and a 2.52 FIP. In his four starts since the promotion, he has struggled to go deep with just 4.5 IP/start, but he has also had success with a 3.37 FIP and 10K/9. As with a lot of high school arms, Stephenson has a big fastball but his secondary pitches are still under construction. The franchise could opt to push him all the way to High-A to start 2013, and success there would have to put him on the radar as a top prospect.

Additions and Subtractions
The Reds’ big move came in the offseason, sending out multiple high-end prospects for Mat Latos, a move you have to commend the Reds for making as they sit in first in the NL Central with Latos playing a big role. The Reds did not make waves at the draft and were not regarded as big winners or losers, making it difficult to assess in the short term. They also added two non-prospects in smaller deals, picking up reliever J.J. Hoover for Juan Francisco and starter Todd Redmond for Paul Janish. Both players have performed well for Triple-A Louisville, with Hoover now being a useful arm in the Reds’ bullpen.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Louisville – Yet another shortstop, Didi Gregorious, was prematurely elevated to Triple-A to make way for Hamilton but has performed well since arriving with a .776 OPS. Unfortunately, slugging first base prospect Neftali Soto has not been as successful, posting a .719 OPS thanks to an awful .311 OBP. At age-23 and coming off a 30-homer season, Soto will have another chance at the level before any worry sets in. The pitching staff has been entirely unspectacular, with Redmond being the only real bright spot. After the promotions of Mesoraco, Hoover, Cozart, and Todd Frazier, the pipeline of major league talent is pretty thin at the top level.

Double-A Pensacola – What is a Blue Wahoo? Sorry, I have no idea. Luckily, though, a few of them are worth checking out, and Pensacola is the best stop for Reds’ prospects. Hamilton and Corcino have been discussed in detail, but 21-year old outfielder Ryan LaMarre has also impressed, stealing 27 bases and sporting a .367 OBP, albeit with little in the way of power. 22-year old lefty Anthony Cingrani has also been worth a watch, sporting a ridiculous 1.94 ERA since his promotion from Bakersfield. Cingrani is striking out over a batter per inning while allowing opponents just a .196 average off of him. Triple-A could be in the cards for next season, and he will likely be a top-100 prospect to start next year.

High-A Bakersfield – When Hamilton left, Theo Bowe apparently decided to take up his mantle, and the speedy 22-year old outfielder has stolen 45 bases in 77 games with a .412 OBP. Unfortunately, he has also been caught 24 times. Donald Lutz, a 23-year old first baseman, hit 17 home runs in 63 games and earned a promotion to Pensacola, where he has struggled a great deal. 23-year old outfielder Steve Selsty has homered 12 times in just 49 games for a 1.052 OPS, but at that age and level he needs to dominate to catch up to his peers. On the mound, 23-year old Chad Rogers earned a promotion after sporting a 3.13 ERA with a K:BB ratio better than 3:1, and he has had two great starts for Pensacola since. 25-year old Josh Smith has also been impressive with a 3.73 ERA and over a strikeout per inning, but he is far too old for this level and needs to show more dominance to get on the radar.

Low-A Dayton – 19-year old prospect Yorman Rodriguez had a trial at Bakersfield but now finds himself back in Dayton, where a .296 OBP is holding him back from utilizing his ample tools. 22-year old shortstop Ryan Wright just received a promotion of his own after posting a .767 OPS through 100 games for Dayton. 19-year old pitching prospect Robert Stephenson just received a bump from Rookie Ball and has performed well in three of his four starts since the promotion. The level also has a few other interesting arms, but none of them are exceptional or performing above expectations at this point.

Whether it is an organizational philosophy or just conincidence, the fact that most of the Reds’ top-performing minor leaguers are old for their level is a bit troubling. With that said, there is some depth to the system, and they have two high-end talents in Hamiltion and Cingrani. While they did not do anything to restock the system after the Latos deal, a win-now edict tends to leave you a bit thin in the prospect pipeline. The Reds will likely rank in the early-20s on next year’s lists, but with the added benefit of owning the most exciting prospect in all of minor league baseball.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Down On The Farm: San Diego Padres

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Down On The Farm: San Diego Padres

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

It certainly must be exciting to be a San Diego Padres fan right now. While the team is struggling in its current incarnation, the organization ranked very highly on every preseason farm system list, and the big league squad is starting to see those returns now with the arrival of a pair of top prospects in The Show. Today, Down On The Farm looks at the Padres’ system in order to determine if their depth-over-upside approach should still have them ranked on the top of such lists.

Pre-Season Rank: #1 (ESPN), #1 (Baseball Prospectus), #3 (Baseball America)

The Top 4
1. Rymer Liriano
Overall Ranks: #40 (ESPN), #52 (BP), #49 (BA)
A season after struggling in the High-A Cal League, Liriano, still young for the league, impressed with a 112 wRC+, earning a promotion to Double-A San Antonio. He has continued to perform just above the league average at the plate, with a 105 wRC+ and a slash line of .256/.328/.405 showing some improved patience and pop. He strikes out far too often (22.0% in A+, 27.6% in AA) at this point, but at just 21 has plenty of time to improve. A partial repeat at Double-A is likely for 2013, but he could be on the fantasy radar as a three-category player as early as 2014, with a fourth emerging if the power develops further.

2. Yasmani Grandal
Overall Ranks: #65 (ESPN), #38 (BP), #53 (BA)
Grandal was one of the key pieces in the Mat Latos trade, and his recent promotion to San Diego is cause for excitement for the fanbase. After starting the year by dominating at Triple-A Tucson with a gaudy .330/.438/.515 slash line and a 147 wRC+, the 23-year old proved himself Major League ready. Upon getting the call, Grandal became the first player in history to homer from both sides of the plate for his first career hits in the same game, and also became just the seventh player since 1900 to homer for his first three MLB hits. In the six weeks since, the 6’2″ catcher has a .312/.349/.597 slash line for a 159 wRC+ and is leaving little doubt that his powerful frame and strong discipline are here to stay, making him a 2013 draft candidate for deeper or multi-catcher leagues.

3. Yonder Alonso
Overall Ranks: #69 (ESPN), #86 (BP), #33 (BA)
Alonso was another asset acquired in the Latos deal, and the Padres thought enough of him as a first base prospect that they dealt stud in the making Anthony Rizzo to open up the position for the future. Alonso has spent the entire season with the big league club and performed admirably as a rookie, working a 107 wRC+ while showing good discipline and fielding. With that said, Alonso lacks the ideal pop for the position and is quite a hindrance on the basepaths, so the Padres have to hope there is more development in the 25-year old’s bat to eventually make him anything more than a league-average first baseman.

4. Casey Kelly
Overall Ranks: #32 (ESPN), #78 (BP), #76 (BA)
Once a highly-touted two sport, hitting-and-pitching prospect, Kelly has taken a bit longer than hoped to move through the system, but was valued enough to be a key piece, along with Rizzo, in the Adrian Gonzalez trade from 2010. After a pretty good season at Double-A San Antonio in 2011, Kelly started just two games at Tucson before succumbing to elbow inflammation and only recently started pitching again at Rookie Ball. Currently 22, Kelly will not be too old for Triple-A next season, but the Padres will likely give him a look in spring training to see how he has developed without much of a minor league season. The injury likely pushed his MLB timeline back a full year.

Additions and Subtractions
All of the Padres’ key moves came in the offseason and were reflected in the preseason rankings. Top draft pick Max Fried is expected to rank high on the prospect lists for 2013. The Padres also had three supplemental round picks, all of whom signed, potentially giving the system some higher ceiling players to go with their impressive depth. Opting to extend Huston Street and Carlos Quentin rather than deal them for prospects probably does not hurt the farm much, given the market for such players now that they will not return a draft pick if they are not retained.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Tucson – Beyond graduating Grandal and strikeout-machine Brad Boxberger, Tucson has also been home to star prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 23-year old power hitting third baseman with a .954 OPS since his early promotion from Double-A. Matt Clark is a bit old at 25 but has 22 home runs and an .897 OPS although it is his second year at the level. The pitching staff is basically devoid of strong stats due to the PCL hitting environment, but reliever Cory Burns has emerged as a future relief arm with 77 strikeouts in 65 innings and a 2.63 ERA.

Double-A San Antonio – The first base tandem of Cody Decker and Nathan Freiman are both too old for the level but have combined for 45 home runs and big OPSs, while 21-year old second baseman Jonathan Galvez has impressed with a .330 AVG and .873 OPS. 21-year old outfielder Reymond Fuentes has the legs for the Majors with 28 steals in 34 attempts, but his .299 OBP has a long way to go before he’s on the MLB radar. The pitching staff was expected to be the gem of the system, but Robbie Erlin threw just 33 innings before injury derailed his season, while top-10 prospect Keyvius Sampson has struggled to a 5.31 ERA thanks to 52 walks in 103.1 innings. Andrew Werner, a non-prospect, was the best of the bunch with a 3.23 ERA before a recent promotion to Tucson.

High-A Lake Elsinore – Catcher Tommy Medica has been a stud this year, with a 1.003 OPS across 68 games but at 24 should be expected to out-perform his peers at this level. Meanwhile, shortstop Casey McElroy and second baseman Justin Miller have also been short-season kings, with Miller especially impressing with 10 home runs, 14 steals and a .408 OBP in 266 at bats, although curiously neither performed well at Fort Wayne earlier in the year. Top prospect Cory Spangenberg has disappointed in his time with the Storm, hitting just a single home run and producing a .693 OPS, but he is still just 21. Donn Roach has been an ace for the team, posting a 1.94 ERA across 13 starts with two different teams, and he was recently given the bump to San Antonio for a greater challenge at just 21.

Low-A Fort Wayne – The TinCaps have been successful despite a pretty mediocre offense, leading one to look towards the staff for stars. However, catching prospect Austin Hedges has been above league average at age 20 with a .261/.322/.430 slash line. Dominican outfield prospect Yeison Ascencio has followed up a strong Arizona League season with a team-best .849 OPS, and with just 29 strikeouts in 260 at bats he may be ready for a more challenging level. Stud prospect Joseph Ross, like Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin before him, succumbed to injury early in the year and is only now making his way back, leaving the staff to be lead by the impressive trio of Frank Garces (22, 2.41 ERA, 95:45 K:BB in 101 innings), Matthew Wisler (19, 2.68 ERA, 89:26 K:BB in 94 innings), and Adys Portillo (20, 1.87 ERA, 81:45 K:BB in 91 innings, recently promoted). Wisler, in particular, is exciting as a teenager with excellent command ratios.

It is difficult to not like the Padres system. They have enough depth and talent at each level to paint the picture of a steady pipeline in place, while their prospect types vary enough that they can play an attractive trade partner for just about anyone. The one concern the franchise likely has is the loss of a development year for three of their top arms, but while the pitching may be delayed in getting to the majors, a strong draft has kept the system stocked and primed for another #1 ranking next season.

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

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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.

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