Toronto Blue Jays: Top 5 Sleeper Prospects to Watch for in 2012

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IFebruary 18, 2012

If you haven't already heard the names of Travis D'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jake Marisnick, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, it's time to wake up and smell the roses.

Arguably the organization's top prospects, all of them will soon be making their debuts with the club down the road, some as early as this season if all things go right.

Anyway, this article isn't about the obvious, but rather the hidden or unnoticed.

The Jays' farm system ranks as high as second in all of the majors, just behind the likes of the Tampa Bay Rays or the San Diego Padres, in many rankings I've come across.

One thing that the Jays boast is simply great minor-league depth, something clubs around the majors wish they had.

The Jays currently are developing top-shelf talent in all of their minor-league venues, whether it's a starter, reliever or positional player.

Here's a quick peek at who I believe will be the top five Jays prospects to watch in 2012.

5. Kevin Ahrens, Third Base

Really, you say? Kevin Ahrens, the former 16th overall draft pick in the 2007 MLB first-year draft is a sleeper?

Just to re-assure you, yes, you read that correctly.

Ahrens was a risky pick back then coming out of high-school as a switch-hitting third baseman in the Chipper Jones mold.

Five years later, you can argue Ahrens probably would have benefited greatly from a year or two playing college ball instead heading straight to the pros.

After struggling in his first few years as a switch hitter, Ahrens abandoned his switch-hitting ways and is now firmly a right-handed hitter enjoying moderate success.

He finished out the 2011 season with the Dunedin Blue Jays fairly strong, finishing with a .243 average and an OPS of .723, which is around the major-league average.

However, it was his last 10 games in the Arizona Fall League, against some of baseball's best prospects, that made me really take a good look at him.

He has a .333 batting average, an on-base percentage over .360 and he's a grown man now at 23, the average age of all prospects at Double-A.

I expect an average in the .260 range, moderate power numbers in the 15-20 home-run range and solid defense out of Ahrens. He may not be a starter anymore for the Jays at third with the emergence of Brett Lawrie, but he could be a starter with another organization. Same could be said for Jays first base prospect David Cooper.

MLB Comparison: Danny Valencia

4. Christian Lopes, Second Base/Shortstop

Coming out of the 2011 draft as one of the higher rated prospects the Jays drafted, Lopes signed late with the ball club and failed to make an appearance in the Jays' minor-league system. Only Tyler Beede and Daniel Norris were ranked ahead of him.

Lopes doesn't wow you with his game, but he's a steady, solid middle infielder with a solid bat, a solid glove and a good arm.

Nothing really stands out, but all five tools you want out of a baseball player—speed, ability to defend, power, hitting for average and having a good arm—are all there for Lopes.

Lopes was ranked as one of the best prospects in California back when he was 13. He hit the ground running in high school, absolutely dominating pitchers in his freshman year. However, Lopes would struggle to ever reach his freshman stats, and scouts began to not show up as often.

Still though, I feel Lopes will be a solid prospect to watch out for.

Drawing comparisons to Royals shortstop prospect Christian Colon, taken fourth overall by the club, Lopes comes to the Jays organization at a much smaller cost, and is much younger than Colon. To me, Lopes screams sleeper right now for the Jays.

MLB Comparison: Aaron Hill

3. Michael Crouse, Centerfield

Crouse, my lone Canadian I've listed in this report, burst onto the scene as part of the Fantastic Four out in Lansing in the 2011 season. Along with fellow Canadian and outfielder Marcus Knecht, Crouse was joined by outfielders Jake Marisnick (the highest rated Jays outfielder in their system) and Markus Brisker, making up a dangerous outfield for the Lugnuts.

What really had me going was the steady progression of Crouse. In his first year with the Jays organization, he hit a cool .133 in 15 at-bats—two hits.

The next season in over 188 at-bats, Crouse hit a measly .218 with a .308 OBP with the GCL Jays.

With Lansing in 2010 and the GCL Jays, Crouse's average rose nearly 60 points to .277, and his OBP rose about the same to .365. His stay in Lansing was not very productive, though.

However, last season in his first full year with the Lugnuts in Lansing, Crouse exploded onto the scene. He had 14 home runs, over 60 RBI and 38 steals, and improved his average from .216 the previous stint in Lansing to over .261 with the Lugnuts the next season.

Crouse has all five tools needed to be star at the next level. Will consistency and confidence follow him as he ascends through the ranks of the Jays' farm system?

MLB Comparison: Chris Young

2. Jacob Anderson, First Base/Outfield

The highest player picked last season by the Jays to sign with the club, Anderson immediately made his presence felt with the Jays, as he absolutely destroyed the Gulf Coast League.

A high-ceiling player, and a player who was committed to Pepperdine, the alma mater of Eric Thames, Anderson was considered a difficult sign for the Jays.

Regardless of the cost, the Jays got a highly projectable, power-hitting first baseman or outfielder on their hands.

He has good speed for a kid his size and should grow into his 6'4" frame, which may still be growing.

In 2010, he won the Under Armour All-America Game Home-Run Derby at Wrigley Field in Chicago, so he has the ability to just crush baseballs.

Last season with the GCL Jays, he hit .405 in 37 at-bats, with two home runs and, more notably, a .476 OBP, something Moneyball believers are always on the hunt for—players who get on base.

MLB Comparison: Michael Morse with more speed

1. Adonys Cardona, Starting Pitcher

Quite possibly the best Jays prospect in terms of highest ceiling, Cardona is a young 18-year-old starting pitcher who is beginning to ascend through the Jays' farm system.

Hoping to follow in his countryman and idol Felix Hernandez's footsteps, Cardona would like to quickly go through the Jays' farm system to hopefully begin pitching by the time he turns 19 or 20.

That may be a bit too much to ask, but Cardona does have the overpowering stuff to possibly do it.

Blessed with a cannon for an arm, getting his fastball up to 95 MPH isn't a rare occurrence. Along with a hammer curve that is well above league average, Cardona already has two solid, major-league quality pitches—something he learned at the ripe age of 17. He could use some time perfecting his curveball location, though.

When he develops a slider and possibly a change-up or a splitter, Cardona could be one of the best the Jays have.

Cardona's next order of business is to bulk up, learn to throw his secondary pitches for strikes and, lastly, stretch him out, as the Jays have been very cautious not to overwork the youngster.

MLB Comparison: He'd like me to say Felix Hernandez, but I'll go with Kelvim Escobar.


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