What To Expect from Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects Part II

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What To Expect from Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects Part II
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Earlier in the week we took a look at ESPN's Keith Law's top five Blue Jays prospects. Today we'll have a look at the second half of Law's top 10 and what they need to do moving forward in 2011. As mentioned in the first half, this is purely a statistical analysis of each player and not a scouting/tools report. Again, that kind of information is essential to have, not knocking that type of analysis in the least, it's just not being provided here.

Checking in at No. 6 on Law's top 10 is the Jays' top and most promising shortstop prospect, the Cuban born Adeiny Hechavarria. The Jays signed him last spring to a four-year, $10 million contract and immediately added him to the 40-man roster. Hechavarria will be 22 when the minor league season gets underway in mid April.

A good number of players start their minor league careers as shortstops before switching off to other positions for defensive reasons. Hechavarria is in no danger of falling into that category, it's just the opposite with him in that his glove work will carry him up to the show. Law gives a glowing review of Hechavarria's defense from his footwork, hands, range and arm. His only complaint is his low throwing angle can put a spin on the ball that could be difficult for first basemen to handle. He still has plenty of time to correct that one and only apparent defensive issue.

Hitting is what troubled Hechavarria last year in his first pro season. The Blue Jays don't need him to turn into a force at the dish but another season or two in the minors is probably going to be needed for them to be comfortable with him hitting at the highest level. Hechavarria started off with high Single-A, Dunedin, where he had a .245 wOBA in just 41 games and 167 plate appearances.

That wound up being all the time he spent in Single-A as the Jays moved him up to Double-A at the end of June and left him there for the rest of the season. He hit quite a bit better after the move putting together a .300 wOBA in 61 games with the Fisher Cats.

Hechavarria didn't show much power at either stop with isolated power marks of .099 with Dunedin and .087 with New Hampshire. He also didn't walk much but didn't strike out a ton either at both stops. And after hitting .193 with Dunedin he hit .273 in New Hampshire.

For 2011 it's a safe bet that he'll start in Double-A again. The Jays don't need him to be a great hitter but something along the lines of hitting .280-.290 with a 6-8 percent walk rate and an ISO around .100 would be good enough improvement to send him off to Triple-A late in the year or the start of 2012.

Next up on the list is 18-year-old, Aaron Sanchez, a 6'4", right-handed pitcher drafted by the Jays with the 34th overall pick in last year's draft. There isn't much to discuss statistically with Sanchez as he logged just six innings in low Single-A and 19 in rookie ball. There's little to no use in looking over the numbers or trying to project anything for 2011. But if he's on Keith Law's radar, he should be on yours so keep an eye on what he does in 2011.

If the Jays system lacks one thing it is without a doubt legit center field prospects. Darin Mastroianni had a good season last year in Double-A but he's already 25 with no Triple-A at-bats to his name. In a move aimed squarely at addressing this issue, Alex Anthopoulos dealt the Jays top first base prospect, Brett Wallace, straight up for Anthony Gose at last season's trade deadline. The move was a surprise at the time—many thought Wallace was destined to replace Lyle Overbay at first for the Jays when the trade went down.

Anthopoulos considers Gose to be athletic enough to stick in center as he moves up the system and it might be another two or three years before he'll make the show to try and prove that Anthopoulos' move to get him was a good one. The first thing that jumps out statistically is his strikeout rate. He went down on strikes 25.7 percent of the time in 2010 between the Phillies and Jays' high Single-A teams. He did show some patience too, walking in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances.

Gose will be just 20 next year and he'd benefit from drawing the discrepancy in his walk and strikeout rates closer. He'd also benefit from improving his base-stealing ability. In 2009 he stole 76 bases with a 79 percent success rate. That dipped drastically in 2010, he still swiped 45 bases but with a greatly diminished 58 percent success rate.

He hasn't hit for much of an average yet, but after putting up a below-league-average ISO of .094 in 2009 his ISO jumped to .131 last year, a good cut above the league's average ISO of .109. The Jays could push him to Double-A to start 2011 but he's still so young the Jays should let him have stronger success in high A first and then move him up.

The ninth spot is held by the third catcher in Law's top 10, Carlos Perez, who impressed at the plate last season in his first season above rookie-level ball. Perez spent 2010 in low Single-A and only got to the plate 278 times but had some exciting results. He hit .298, walked 12.2 percent of the time and had a .140 ISO that all added up to a .390 wOBA. Not bad for a 19-year-old catcher.

Now, 278 plate appearances is still a small sample but it's a start. Perez also has impressive numbers throwing out baserunners nailing 49 percent of would-be base stealers in 2009 and 36 percent this past season.

Total Zone for catchers, which evaluates catchers only on their ability to control the running game, had him at plus-six runs saved in 2009. Perez also stole seven bases in 10 tries last year. His numbers are solid all the way around at the plate, behind the plate and on the bases so far. If he keeps it all up at a higher level next season he'll shoot up this list next offseason.

Law rounds out the top 10 with another 20-year-old, Henderson Alvarez, a right-handed starting pitcher. After skipping low A he had a successful 2009 in Single-A, and an equally impressive 2010 with high Single-A Dunedin. Alvarez displayed excellent control in both seasons walking only 1.38 batters per nine innings in '09 and 2.16 per nine in 2010.

He has yet to strike out batters in bunches, getting only 6.25 strikeouts per nine innings with Dunedin. He copes with that quite well with, you guessed it, excellent ground-ball rates. Alvarez generated 50 percent ground-ball rates in both '09 and '10 and did an excellent job suppressing the long ball as well.

Alvarez has shown enough to warrant starting 2011 in Double-A. Expect him to hit some growing pains as his walk rate may spike with the increase in the opposition's willingness to take a pitch or two at a higher level. The jump in talent from A ball to Double-A should also put a dent in his strikeout rates too. Naturally, he'll progress too but he may need close to two full seasons with New Hampshire before he can start to be considered ready to make the jump to Triple-A or Toronto.

The top seven Jays prospects made Law's top 100 prospect list—a number bested only by the Rays putting eight into the top 100. Having a player development system mentioned in the same breath as the Rays is no small achievement. The Rays have twice in three seasons propelled themselves past either the Yankees or Red Sox and into the playoffs on the strength of their player development. Alex Anthopoulos fully intends to do the same with Toronto but with a better chance to sustain what he builds because of the team's ability to support a much higher payroll than Tampa.

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