Toronto Blue Jays: Minor League Players to Keep an Eye on

Brad LeClairCorrespondent IMay 4, 2013

Toronto Blue Jays: Minor League Players to Keep an Eye on

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    The Toronto Blue Jays minor league system took a bit of a hit this winter, as GM Alex Anthopolous thought he sensed a good time for the Jays to sell the farm and go for the division.

    After a 10-21 record and 31 games into the season, the Jays own the third worst record in baseball.

    If anything, at least the Jays can reload their farm system with a top three pick.

    They lost top 100 prospects like Jake Marisnick, Adeiny Hechavarria (how nice would he be at short right now?) and Justin Nicolino in the Marlins trade for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

    However, the loss of Travis d'Arnaud, a potential 20 home run, 100 RBI, .285 plus batting average catcher, and Noah Syndergaard, a 6'6", lanky starter who has drawn comparisons to Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver, might be the worst part of the RA Dickey deal.

    So far, Dickey has been a dud in Toronto, giving up home runs in the Rogers Center like they're Halloween candy on Halloween night. His 5.36 ERA is the worst of any staff ace in baseball.

    Have no fear Jays fans, the farm system is performing well right now, and here are some players to keep an eye on in the Jays minor league system.

The Injured or Suspended Fishercats Pitchers

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    This list is fairly long, but it's filled with talent that has yet to play this season.

    Chad Jenkins, former first round pick of the Jays, hasn't pitched an inning this year because of a shoulder injury.

    Sean Nolin, who enjoyed a break-through year last year with Dunedin, has also not pitched yet for New Hampshire. Nolin went 10-0 last season with a 2.04 ERA, easily making it into the Jays top 15 prospects of last season.

    John Stilson, who endured plenty of injury concerns because of a violent delivery, has also not pitched this season due to arm troubles. Stilson's mechanics have been re-worked, however, he has lost a notch on his fastball. His go-to pitch is an above-average changeup. 

    Already sitting with a 92 mph fastball, if Stilson can develop a decent slider or curveball, he projects better as a late-inning reliever as opposed to a starter.

    Lastly, Marcus Stroman is keeping loose on the sidelines as he sits out his 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs (PED's). Stroman, a former first round pick of the Jays, already has the make-up to be a very successful late-inning reliever for the Jays.

    I expect about a month or so of action for Stroman in the minors. His name may be called up by July or August if the Jays continue to fall out of the race.

RHP Neil Wagner, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

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    At 28 years old, he's also another one of those journeymen minor league players.

    Wagner is a short reliever, who reminds many of former Jays reliever Jason Frasor, who is now with the Texas Rangers.

    Wagner features a 93-96 mph fastball, an 83-88 mph power slider and an 82-84 mph change-up with sink.

    The problem with Wagner is he pitches up in the zone and he would be prone to long home runs in the Rogers Center or elsewhere. It's the reason why he's not in the Majors today.

    If he could operate down in the zone more and pitch his secondary pitches consistently for strikes, Wagner could be a Tom Gordon type of late-inning reliever.

    Right now, Wagner is a project.

     

    2013 Numbers So Far:

    0-0, 1.64 ERA, 7 Saves, 11 IP, 6 H, 6 BB and 16 K.

Dunedin Blue Jays Middle Infield: Jon Berti (2B) and Andy Burns (SS)

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    These two guys are pretty quick players, but I expect only one of them to man the utility role for the Blue Jays if given the opportunity.

    Both aren't blessed with a ton of power, but they do have good bats.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    Burns

    .330 AVG, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 8 SB, .423 OBP and .957 OPS

    Berti

    .275 AVG, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 12 SB, .331 OBP and .679 OPS

RHP Ajay Meyer, Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays

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    Named the Midwest Reliever of the Year last season, Meyer has started out his Florida State League career much the same.

    He uses three pitches and throws all of them for strikes. His fastball isn't overpowering, sitting around 88 mph, but its effective. His slider and change-up are also MLB calibre pitches. He reminds me a lot of Aaron Loup from the right side, however, Meyer is much taller, standing a lanky 6'6". Another comparison may be Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    He throws nearly sidearm, so it's his deception that really gets to hitters. The sidearm action, along with hiding the ball well, makes his 88 mph fastball look nearly 10 mph quicker.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    3-0, 0.98 ERA, 1 Save, 18.1 IP, 12 H, 2 BB, 21 K and 0.76 WHIP

LF/RF Dwight Smith Jr., Single-A Lansing Lugnuts

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    Smith Jr. began the season on the DL, but after his return, he has been hot. In seven games and 24-at-bats, Smith has 8 hits, 1 homer and is hitting a cool .333. I expect those average numbers to drop a bit, but the upside with Smith is still there.

    Smith isn't blessed with a ton of speed or power, but his bat is his major calling card. Melky Cabrera is a legitimate comparison for Smith Jr., minus the PED's, hopefully.

    Keep an eye out for Smith Jr., as he could really shoot up the rankings as the season goes on.

RF Kevin Pillar, Double-A New Hampshire Fishercats

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    Kevin Pillar is a prospect that came out of nowhere last season. He stunned Jays scouts and rose up prospect ranking boards across America.

    Pillar is a guy with not a ton of power, but what he does have is a good bat, great speed and a good glove.

    He projects more as a fourth outfielder, but he could probably start on some bad teams.

    He draws comparisons to Rajai Davis, due to his lack of power and immense speed. But I think he could project more like a Shane Victorino type of outfielder if his batters eye continues to develop.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .319 AVG, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 10 SB, .372 OBP and .843 OPS

2B/SS Christian Lopes, Single-A Lansing Lugnuts

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    Drafted as a shortstop, Lopes projects more to be a second baseman because of his lack of range and weak arm. He's already made 6 errors this season, so defence could be a concern.

    His bat, however, doesn't look like there will be any concerns. He does strikeout enough, but he makes contact too and has a quick swing, which projects well to not striking out a ton in the majors.

    He reminds me a lot of Dustin Pedroia, as he has a low-base and crowds the plate. He uses the opposite field very well for a player his age, and he'll only get better. He went from No. 43 to No. 12 on the Jays Journal Top 50 prospects from 2012 to 2013.

    Lopes should be able to belt 10 to 15 home runs and hit around 30 to 40 doubles once he makes the big leagues. I expect him to be a pretty toolsy second baseman and possibly an all-star once or twice before his career is over.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .310 AVG, 1 HR, 15 RBI, .327 OBP and .710 OPS

C A.J. Jimenez, Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays

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    Jimenez has missed most of the season so far with an injury, but he is already the Jays' best catching prospect in the system.

    Sitting at 6'0", 210 pounds, Jimenez is short, but he's still powerful. He's got a short, quick swing that can develop plenty of power. He has a good eye at the plate and even has some speed, as he swiped 17 and 11 bases in two of the past three seasons hes had in the minors.

    He started quick out of the gate, going 1-for-4 and 2-for-5 in his first two games with the Blue Jays. I only expect him to stay there a short time and get promoted to the Fishercats once Josh Thole is eventually called up.

RF Moises Sierra, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

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    Sierra is another outfielder with a cannon for an arm. He doesn't have the range that Anthony Gose has, but he does have a pretty good bat.

    Sierra reminds me a lot of Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, which isn't a bad comparison at all.

    His power is on the outer third of the strike zone, and he often belts home runs opposite field, something the Jays' hitters could really take not of. Most of the Jays' hitters are strictly pull hitters, as J.P. Arencibia is the only player to hit an opposite field home run this year. I take that back, Brett Lawrie has hit two home runs opposite field as well.

    So far, the Bisons have led the International League as a team in batting, hitting a cool .285. Sadly, though, their success isn't giving any of the Jays' hitters confidence, as they have the worst average in the AL outside of the Houston Astros.

    As for Sierra, I don't feel like he has a spot on this roster unless the Jays deal Colby Rasmus and move Bautista to third. If that's the case and Gose moves to center, the Jays could really use his bat in their lineup. But until then, Sierra is trade bait for Anthopolous and the Blue Jays.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .358 AVG, 1 HR, 11 RBI, .404 OBP and .898 OPS

C Josh Thole, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

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    The Jays' back-up catching role seems to be a role on who will catch RA Dickey. Henry Blanco is the current back-up catcher, and to be honest, his bat his severely hurting the Jays' chances of scoring runs.

    Hitting .158 with a .200 on-base percentage, Blanco isn't there for his bat. He's there for his glove.

    The thing is, Arencibia is a right-handed hitter, and so is Blanco. You don't really show the opposition anything different. With Thole being a lefty, he offers another look to the opposing pitchers.

    The best part of Thole is also his strike zone awareness, much like Negrych's eye. He's struck out eight times this season and walked seven. Just a great K-BB ratio again for a Jays minor leaguer who should be in the big show.

    Thole would not only be an upgrade over Blanco, but adding another player with a good eye at the plate might help the Jays' hitters as a whole take more pitches and be more selective at the plate. That might be asking too much from one player to change the approach of an entire team, though.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .379 AVG, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .446 OBP and 1.037 OPS

2B Jim Negrych, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

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    Currently, Negrych leads the International League in hitting, hitting a cool .403—Ted Williams like numbers this early in the season.

    The best part of Negrych's game is his strike zone awareness, as he's walked more times than he has struck out (8/7). At the age of 28, he's not considered a prospect anymore, but he should easily be getting a promotion in the near future if things don't change 100 kilometers north on the QEW.

    As opposed to the Jays' roster, where strikeouts sell like hotcakes at 8:00 am on a Sunday morning, Negrych is the complete opposite. In the field, his glove is decent and has decent range.

    He's an upgrade already over Maicer Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki and Emilio Bonifacio at second, and to be honest, it surprises me that he isn't up already with the Jays.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .403 AVG, 3 HR, 9 RBI, .463 OBP and 1.129 OPS

RHP Joel Carreno, Double-A New Hampshire Fishercats

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    Carreno's major problem was finding a role with the Jays last season. He was the third starter last year and got spanked around Progressive Field in Cleveland. After that, he was sent to the pen.

    Already armed with an above-average slider, Carreno's major downfall has been his fastball command, as he's been known to give up a ton of flyballs.

    This season in New Hampshire, Carreno has been a revelation, striking out 24 batters in 13 innings and walking only two batters. Judging from where he was coming from, this stat is outstanding.

    Other than last season, his numbers in the minors have been above average across the board. After coming up as a starter, Carreno is now looking like a fine, late inning option for any MLB teams' bullpen.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    1-1, 0.68 ERA, 2 Saves, 13 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 24 K and 0.45 WHIP

CF Anthony Gose, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

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    Another name that baffles me that is not up right now with the Jays is Anthony Gose.

    With Jose Reyes hurt, I still don't know why the Jays don't move Jose Bautista to third, Brett Lawrie to second and move Gose into right field in a platoon role with Davis, at least until Reyes gets back.

    Gose brings so much to the table. He's a gold glove outfielder with a cannon for an arm. His speed on the base-paths is well-known, as he's stolen 15 bases in only 56 games with the Jays, despite only hitting .223. That is roughly 50 stolen bases that he would be on pace for if he had played a full season. Pretty good for a rookie I must say.

    Gose is having a down year to start with the Bisons, but he's starting to heat up. He's getting on base at a good clip, so expect his stolen bases numbers to increase as he's getting on base more.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    .255 AVG, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB, .364 OBP and .725 OPS

SP Roberto Osuna, Single-A Lansing Lugnuts

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    Osuna, the Jays' number two ranked prospect, has done little to disappoint so far this season with Lansing.

    Victimized a little bit by the long ball, Osuna's numbers are actually better than they appear. He owns a 0.85 WHIP, which if owned by a starter who pitches more than one inning and faces a lineup more than once, is pretty lethal.

    Osuna projects to be a middle of the rotation starter and could have an upside similar to that of Bartolo Colon back in his Cleveland days.

    I expect Osuna to sky-rocket through the Jays' system and possibly make it to the big leagues by late-2014 or 2015. Hopefully, he will still be in the system by then.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    1-2, 3.63 ERA, 22.1 IP, 15 H, 4 HR, 4 BB, 21 K and 0.85 WHIP.

SP Aaron Sanchez, Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays

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    "The Sanchize" is his nickname that is making it around the fanboards of the Blue Jays. Sanchez is the lone remaining member of the "big three" starters that pitched in Lansing last season.

    Gone are Noah Syndergaard (Mets) and Justin Nicolino (Marlins), as Sanchez has become the Jays' best pitching prospect.

    Sanchez has been dominant thus far in the minors, and I expect that to continue. I would not be surprised to see Sanchez promoted within the next month to the New Hampshire Fishercats because his stuff is just that good.

    Armed with a 95 to 98 mph fastball, Sanchez is whiffing batters in the Florida State League like they are going out of style. He projects like a Justin Verlander type of power pitching starter once he gets to the big show. Hopefully, for the Jays sake, they have struck gold with Sanchez.

     

    2013 Numbers:

    1-1, 3.02 ERA, 29.1 IP, 18 H, 9 BB, 28 K and 0.92 WHIP