Kyle Drabek (pictured), along with catcher JP Arrencibia, are the two full time prospect graduates for the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays.
By no means fringe players, both are expected to be major contributers for Toronto not only this year, but for the next decade. Along the way a 2011 American League Rookie of the Year award is not out of the question.
However, for a franchise forced to compete against the Godzilla and Mothra of baseball every season in the AL Beast, a continuous pipeline of young cheap talent ready to contribute is paramount to the Blue Jays success.
So, who are among the next wave of prospects to graduate and when is this expected to happen?
Age: 21 years old. Height: 6′0″ 213 lbs
Born: January 18, 1990 in Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School: Brookswood Secondary School
College: Signed a letter of intent with Arizona State University
Drafted By: The Milwaukee Brewers in the 1st round (16th overall) of the 2008 amateur entry draft
Brett Lawrie, savior of the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays.
Prophetic or Hyperbolic?
Regardless, the one thing not up for debate is the extensive talent of this young Canadian infielder. Originally drafted 16th overall in 2008 by the Milwaukee Brewers (one pick before the Jays took David Cooper), Lawrie was traded to Toronto this past offseason for Shaun Marcum.
Blessed with raw, right handed power, Lawrie has drawn numerous comparisons to Dan Uggla. Last year in AA, he finished up with a .285 batting average, 8 homeruns, 63 RBIs, 90 runs, 36 doubles, 16 triples and 30 stolen bases in 135 games. He also struck out 118 times.
The high K rate and low homerun numbers tell me is that his bat is not quite ready. When you include yet another position change as he's being shifted from 2nd to 3rd base (he was drafted as a catcher), Brett is best served with some time in AAA.
However, with a hot start and dedication to defense and pitch selection, we could be seeing him in Toronto very soon.
Predicted Arrival: Post All-Star Break.
What is this thing in my hands?
Age: 22 years old. Height: 5’11″ 180 lbs
Born: April 15th 1989, in Santiago de Cuba
Bats Right Throws Right
Cuban League Team: Santiago de Cuba
Signed: as an international free agent for $10 million ($4 million bonus, $0.5 million in 2010, $2 million in 2011, $1.75 million in 2012, and $1.75 million in 2013. Signed by Marco Paddy
The irony of this photo is that Adeiny is brandishing a weapon that he has no idea how to use.
The first foreign signing by GM Alex Anthopolous, Cuban native Adeiny Hechavarria is a light hitting, slick fielding shortstop.
The hype machine surrounding this young man has been churning out rhetoric at a frenetic pace. The comparisons to former Blue Jay great (and this author's favorite player of all time) Tony Fernandez are both obvious and ridiculous.
Sure, both are Latin American shortstops but beyond that is where the two part company. Fernandez was an All-Star with .288 career BA with 2276 hits to go along with other-worldy defense. In fact, during the 1980's Fernandez was arguably on par with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith as defensive shortstops.
Adeiny Hechavarria, right now, looks more like a Manny Lee type. Dependable defense with no stick. I'll cut him some slack as the culture shock of moving from Cuba to the US, with no dependable translator in place for him, could very well have impacted his performance. However, he has such a long way to go with his bat that it will be a while until he gets a sniff of clean Canadian air.
Predicted Arrival: 2012 September call up.
Note: Hechavarria is also a prime candidate to be traded now that the Jays have Yunel Escobar at short and Dickie Joe Thon in the system.
Age: 21 years old. Height: 6′6″ 235 lbs
Born: June 23, 1989 in Richmond, Virginia
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School: Deep Run H.S.
College: Georgia Tech
Drafted By: The Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round (11th overall) of the 2010 amateur entry draft
Signed: August 17th, 2010 for a bonus of $2 million
Although Deck McGuire may not have been the sexiest pick of the 2010 draft, his poise, makeup and outstanding command of three quality pitches gives him a great shot at being a long time pro.
At 6'6", 235 McGuire is a big kid with a condor's wing span. His fastball tops out at 94 and doesn't have much movement but his best pitches are an almost MLB ready changeup and a very heavy slider that comes in hard in the high 80's.
It's his mastery of the off speed and braking pitches, along with pinpoint control, that has this young man on the fast track to Toronto. After getting a taste in Spring Training he will most likely begin his career in high A Dunedin.
Predicted Arrival: 2012 injury call-up with rotation spot to start 2013.
Age: 22 years old. Height: 6'2" 195lbs
Born: February 10th 1989, in Long Beach California
Bats Right Throws Right
High School Team: Lakewood HS California
College: Had a commitment to the Pepperdine Waves before signing with the Phillies
Signed: for $832,500 by Tim Kissner (Phillies)
The 'other' guy Toronto received in the Roy Halladay trade (along with Kyle Drabek and Brett Wallace), Travis D'Arnaud has been impressing scouts and fans alike since his arrival.
From day 1, D'Arnaud immediately became Toronto's top catching prospect from a defensive standpoint. So far in his minor league career he only has 22 errors behind the plate in 2044 defensive chances along with a .989 fielding percentage overall and a .996 fielding percentage in 2010 despite having back issues.
What really has everyone excited is his developing ability with the bat. So much so that he has been ranked #46 on Baseball America's 2011 prospect list.
However, Toronto is blessed with embarrassment of riches behind the plate with J.P. Arencibia now in Toronto and Carlos Perez biting at his heels in low A ball.
Nonetheless, if Arencibia's defense doesn't play in Toronto and/or Adam Lind has yet another disappointing season then I see J.P. shifting over to First Base.
D'Arnaud is the real deal and could easily develop in to a Kurt Suzuki or A.J. Pierzynski type.
Projected Arrival: 2011 September call up.
Age: 24 years old. Height: 6’2″ 205 lbs
Born: September 28th, 1986 in Wichita Falls, Texas
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School Team: Holliday HS, in Holliday Texas
College: Texas Tech
Drafted: by the Reds in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft
The jewel of the Scott Rolen trade to the Reds in 2009, Zach Stewart was initially thought of as a future MLB closer. However, his role was never truly defined and he received little feedback from then GM J.P. Ricciardi and Jays management.
After Alex Anthopolous took over as GM, he proceeded on a campaign to outline goals and expectations for everyone in the organization. Even going so far to ask certain players in limbo, like Stewart, what they saw their future contributions to be.
This was a pleasant turn of events for many in the organization, particularly Stewart, and a total sea change in overall philosophy from the previous regime.
Blessed with a hard, biting slider that has broken more than a few ankles, Stewart also has a fastball that tops off at 96 mph with good late movement. However, its his lack of a reliable changeup (a must for any Blue Jay pitcher in Alex Anthopolous' organization) that has kept him from graduating.
After getting beat up in the first half of 2010 while pitching for the AA New Hampshire FisherCats, Jays management stuck with Stewart and he responded with a stellar second half. By the end of the season he was second only to Kyle Drabek in every major pitching stat with an 8-3 record and a 3.63 ERA to go along with 106 K's in 136.1 innings.
Incidentally, that represented the lowest K/9 rate of Stewart's career. The main difference this time was his development of an adequate changeup that he worked his tail off to master. He's no longer relying on his ability to miss bats as he becomes a more mature, complete pitcher.
2011 will be the defining season for Zach Stewart's career. Can he develop in to a top starter like Brandon Morrow (who's career trajectory he eerily resembles) or will he return to the pen?
Regardless, Zach Stewart will be a major league pitcher.
Projected Arrival: 2011 September call-up. Permanent member of Jays staff by 2012.
Age: 20 years old. Height: 6′1″ 190 lbs
Born: August 10, 1990 in Bellflower, California
Bats: Left Throws: Left
High School: Bellflower H.S.
Drafted By: The Philadelphia Phillies in the 2nd round (51st overall) of the 2008 amateur entry draft and signed for $772,000
Anthony Gose was the position player we really wanted in the Halladay deal, not Michael Taylor.
In a complicated series of deals, The Doc was traded to the Phillies for Kyle Drabek, Travis D'Arnaud and Michael Taylor. Taylor was then immediately sent to Okland for Brett Wallace and just as Jays fans were getting excited at the idea of him replacing Lyle Overbay at first base, Wallace was dealt to Houston for Anthony Gose - who was traded there from Philadelphia in exchange for Roy Oswalt.
To quote Alex Anthopolous:
“He was part of the Halladay talks in the winter. We were unsuccessful in acquiring him there. We inquired about him again in Spring Training and we’re unsuccessful in acquiring him there. Even during the season [we inquired about him],” Anthopoulos said.
“It’s a premium position, and an athletic center fielder with outstanding competitiveness, makeup, leadership skills. He’s someone who’s in a tough league at a young age, but really a guy who is a game changer.”
“All of our scouts came back and raved about him. From a consensus standpoint, every one of our scouts thought this was going to be an above-average, All-Star-caliber center fielder. We don’t have too many reports that are unanimous that way.”
As a former High School pitcher with a 96 mph fastball, Anthony Gose has a plus-plus arm from the outfield as his 30 assists in two seasons illustrate. However, if Gose is to become an All-Star as AA feels he can be, he'll need to work on his offense because once he gets on base, he's deadly. Over two levels of rookie ball in 2009 and 2010, Gose stole an eye popping 121 bases.
It will take a few years, but the sky is the limit with this kid.
Projected Arrival: 2012 September call up.
Age: 18 years old. Height: 6′4″ 190 lbs
Born: July 1, 1992 in Barstow, California
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School: Barstow H.S.
Drafted By: The Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round (34th overall) of the 2010 amateur entry draft
Signed: June 15th, 2010 for $775,000
Potential is a difficult entity to quantify, even for professional scouts. With pre-draft rankings running the gamut from Keith Law's 15 to Baseball America's 59, there was very little consensus.
However, after a strong showing at the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego, where Bryce Harper was his battery mate, and a senior high school season that ended with a 7-0 record along with a 0.73 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 57.2, the buzz on Sanchez grew.
Nonetheless, doubts still remained as his slight frame scared a few teams as did his letter of intent he signed with the University of Oregon.
As a result he fell to the 34th pick and right in to the waiting arms of GM Alex Anthopolous. Because Toronto just drafted the polished Deck McGuire and has a system stocked with ready to near ready arms, Toronto was looking for a high ceiling developmental prospect like Aaron Sanchez.
After signing immediately, Sanchez was sent to rookie ball to get some much needed experience against other top 18 and 19 year old prospects. He was shut down after 25 innings to prevent injury, but not after shredding the GCL and low A with a 2.15 ERA and a ridiculous 13.3 K/9.
Make no mistake, Aaron Sanchez is a deep prospect who could take as long as six years to reach the majors. However, he will be worth the wait as he has a shot to become an all-time Blue Jay great.
But don't take my word for it: No more an authority than long time Toronto pitching coach Mel Queen was quoted on a FAN 590 radio interview stating that Sanchez was better than formal pupil Chris Carpenter was at that age.
Projected Arrival: after a 2014 September call up, he wins a rotation spot out of spring training in 2015
Age: 24 years old. Height: 6’0″ 205 lbs
Born: November 10th, 1986 in Santa Clara, California
Bats: Left Throws: Right
High School Team: Bellarmine Prep
College: Pepperdine University
Drafted By: The Toronto Blue Jays in the 7th round (219th overall) of the 2008 amateur entry draft and signed $150,000
The Yankees actually selected Thames in the 39th round of the 2007 draft but he decided it was in his best interest to return to school. Smart move because he followed up a .320 season where he hit zero home runs and 44 RBI's with a 2008 campaign that ended .407/13/59 in just 49 games played.
Toronto was thrilled to see Thames still on the board in the 7th and quickly snapped him up and signed him shortly after.
However, Eric had a rough start to his pro career as he battled injuries and inconsistency. Nonetheless, Toronto saw enough in him to promote Thames to AA New Hampshire to start the 2010 season.
He responded by hitting .288/27/104 and more importantly, stayed healthy all year. Detractors point to his high K rate as indicative of limited potential as a pro but you absolutely cannot deny this young man's power. Eric Thames is a professional hitter and reminds me of a David Dellucci type. A 4th outfielder and pinch hitter with dangerous power.
Projected Arrival: 2011 September call-up. Fourth outfielder in 2012.
Age: 20 years old. Height: 6′0″ 193 lbs
Born: October 27, 1990 in Valencia, Venezuela
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School: N/A
Signed By: The Toronto Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent in 2008
This list would not be complete without the final member of Toronto's Holy Trinity of Catching Prospects.
Carlos Eduardo Perez is our deepest backstop prospect and according to a growing number of experts, our best.
What immediately stood out for Toronto scouts when they signed him was his maturity, poise and athleticism behind the plate. If anything those traits have been strengthened after seeing what he can do in in the GCL and low A.
However, its his immense potential with the bat that has Blue Jays management giddy. Although Perez has hit a measly 3 home runs in 572 at bats over two plus seasons, what jumps off the stat sheet is .299 BA with a .412 OBP and 91 RBI's.
If Perez can knock in 91 runs when 149 of his 171 hits are nothing but singles, imagine what this young man can do once his power develops.
Here's what Auburn Doubledays Skipper Gary Cathcart had to say about Perez:
“He catches, he throws, he blocks balls very well. He’s got a major league approach to hitting, he hits the ball to all fields, and he has very good speed for a catcher. Unlike most catchers that are below-average to well below-average, he’s got tremendous instincts on the bases, reads balls in the dirt really well, he’s aggressive first to third, makes the turn well at all bases. He does everything naturally.”
A Carlos Perez - Aaron Sanchez battery by 2015 is a tantalizing fantasy.
Projected Arrival: 2013 September call-up