Toronto Blue Jays: 5 Sleeper Prospects to Watch
Everyone knows about 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Deck McGuire, C Travis d'Arnaud, OF Anthony Gose and the rest of the Blue Jays top 10 prospects or so. However, today we'll take a look at five sleeper prospects in the organization that you should keep your eye on:
1. OF Marcus Knecht - Class-A Lansing Lugnuts
Knecht is a 21-year-old Toronto native, currently playing the outfield for the Blue Jays Class-A affiliate in Lansing, Michigan. He was Toronto's third round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Connors State Junior College.
Knecht flies under the radar in Lansing, with teammate Jake Marisnick receiving the most notoriety from prospect analysts. However, he is proving just as worthy as Marisnick after a late season promotion to Class-A Advanced in Dunedin, Florida.
Knecht came out of the gates mashing in April, to the tune of a .378/.451/.622 line with 2 HR and 10 RBI for a 1.073 OPS, and his numbers have remained strong throughout the season.
Currently batting .300 with 10 HR and 54 RBI in the season's first 82 games Knecht is delivering on his plus raw power and should be given a nice test when he arrives in the pitcher friendly Class-A Advanced Florida State League.
2. LHP Justin Nicolino - Class-A SS Vancouver Canadians
All the talk about the Blue Jays 2010 pitching draftees centered around first-round pick Deck McGuire, and supplemental picks Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Asher Wojciechowski.
There wasn't much talk about second-round pick Justin Nicolino, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher drafted out of high school from Orlando, Florida area.
Nicolino couldn't be much farther from home this season, pitching for the Blue Jays Class-A Short Season affiliate in Vancouver, British Columbia, but his statistics show just how comfortable he has been on the mound.
Through his first seven starts of his career, Nicolino is 5-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 47 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. He has held opposing batters to a .158 average and struck out more than four times as many batters as he has walked (47/10 K:BB ratio).
In four of the seven starts he has pitched absolute gems, allowing two base runners or less in each game, while allowing zero runs and racking up five, seven, nine and nine more strikeouts respectively.
He could make a late season debut with full season Lansing of the Midwest League, where he will likely spend the majority of the 2012 season.
3. RHP Adonys Cardona - GCL Blue Jays
Cardona is a 17-year-old Venezuelan right-hander who the Blue Jays signed as a 16-year-old when he was among the most sought after pitching prospects on the international free-agent market last summer.
Cardona made his pro debut this year with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays and made his first start exactly a month ago. In that game he faced off against another of the elite pitching prospects from the 2010 international free agent class, RHP Luis Heredia of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cardona out-dueled Heredia through three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four batters, leaving with a 2-0 lead. It has been the best start of his young career this far, and he has had trouble when pitching at the GCL Braves, but the sample size is still far too small to draw any real conclusions.
Pitching stateside at 17 years old is impressive enough, but a strong showing the rest of the way could earn him a spot on a Class-A roster next season. Stash him away for now, but he'll be an intriguing prospect to monitor going forward.
4. C A.J. Jimenez - Class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have some of the best young catching prospects in the game, which is why its understandable that A.J. Jimenez gets almost no attention from fans and prospect analysts. A ninth round selection back in the 2008 draft, Jimenez has reached Class-A Advanced Dunedin in his fourth professional season and is still just 21 years old.
He currently owns a .303/.351/.408 line through the first 72 games of the season. Those numbers are just slightly down from last season when he played in the Midwest League. When you consider that Dunedin plays in the Florida State League, a circuit known as a pitcher's league, it's an impressive accomplishment.
He could stand to improve his plate discipline, and thus far in the second half of the season it appears he is making an effort to do so, albeit at a slight loss of a few batting average points. He runs well for a catcher, evidenced by his 17 stolen bases last year and 10 thus far in 2011. He likely won't produce those kinds of numbers in the big leagues, but mobility is just an added bonus for any backstop.
5. RHP Nestor Molina - Class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays
Molina was nowhere near prospect radar prior to this season, where he has emerged as a member of the Dunedin Blue Jays rotation. He had worked primarily out of the bullpen before this season, but has flourished, posting a 9-3 record with a 2.51 ERA and 101 strikeouts in just 93.1 innings pitched.
Like Nicolino, Molina also pitched last night and threw five innings of no-hit ball before giving way to the bullpen. Molina has always had strong control, and has never averaged more than a base-hit per inning throughout his career.
This year he has walked just 11 batters, producing an outstanding K:BB ratio of more than 9:1, and his combined WHIP sits just below 1.00. It doesn't matter who you are or where you came from, those are impressive statistics.
Again, the Florida State League is considered a pitching heavy league, so the real test for Molina will be when he gets a shot to join the New Hampshire Fisher Cats rotation. There he will get the chance to test his stuff against more proven Double-A hitters. Hopefully he will get that opportunity before the season ends, so that he can get a taste of what it's like, so he can fully prepare himself for the challenge next season.
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