Toronto Blue Jays: 7 Young Players Who Will Make Up Their Long-Term Core

Ben KashinContributor IIAugust 23, 2011

Toronto Blue Jays: 7 Young Players Who Will Make Up Their Long-Term Core

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    The Toronto Blue Jays are the sixth youngest team in all of baseball. Next year, expect them to crack the top-five. Of all the players already under contract for 2012, only two will be older than 30 (Jose Bautista and Rajai Davis). With a minor league system stocked with promising young players, expect the Blue Jays to keep getting younger for years to come; while players will obviously be getting older individually, they will be replaced with much younger players from within rather than veteran free agents.

    Alex Anthopoulos has accumulated a wealth of young talent since taking over as general manager in 2009. Toronto is stocked with players aged 22 and under who are developing rapidly and quickly working their way through the organization. With the way these players are progressing, the future of Blue Jays baseball is starting to take shape.

    Here are seven players, all aged 22 or younger, who will make up the future core of the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Honourable mention goes to Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, A.J. Jimenez, Carlos Perez, Jake Marisnick, Aaron Sanchez, and Asher Wojciechowski.

    All ages and stats current as of August 22, 2011.

SP Deck McGuire, 22

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    Aside from having a great baseball name, Deck McGuire is also one of the best young pitchers in the Blue Jays organization. McGuire was selected eleventh overall by Toronto in the 2010 Amateur Draft and is moving quickly through the minors. After appearing in 19 games in Dunedin (18 as a starter), McGuire was promoted to AA New Hampshire. He impressed in Dunedin with a 2.75 ERA in 104.2 innings with 102 strikeouts against 38 walks. His numbers have taken a bit of a dip since the promotion (4.82 ERA in three starts), but don't expect that to last as he gets comfortable in his new surroundings.

    McGuire has four quality pitches including a fastball that he throws consistently in the low-90's and a changeup that sits in the low-80's. He's an ultra-competitive guy who pitches to contact, and therefore is sometimes likened to Roy Halladay.

    While he may never live up to those comparisons, he should develop into a solid third or fourth starter with the potential of anchoring the Blue Jays rotation when all is said and done. He'll likely reach AAA Las Vegas by mid-season 2012 and could be in line for a September call-up that same year.

SP Drew Hutchison, 20

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    Drew Hutchison has been pitching well enough to crack Keith Law's Midseason Prospect Rankings. Since being called up from single-A Lansing to high-A Dunedin, Hutchinson has impressed scouts with his aggressiveness and command. In 11 games (10 starts) with Dunedin, he's compiled a 2.74 ERA with a very tidy 0.898 WHIP. He's also striking out a lot of batters with 66 punch-outs in 62.1 innings. His most high-profile victim is Alex Rodriguez, who struck out twice against Hutchison during his most recent rehab stint.

    While Hutchison's fastball has been clocked as high as 95mph, it typically sits around the 88-92mph range but with great downward movement. He's more of a "feel" pitcher than a guy who simply overpowers hitters. He has great command and a very high baseball IQ. While he needs to improve his cutter and/or slider, he still projects as a front-end of the rotation guy. Although he may still have the longest road ahead of him to the big leagues, he's also the youngest player on the list. He'll likely make his debut in September 2013.

SP Nestor Molina, 22 and Henderson Alvarez, 21

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    These two pitchers were grouped together because of their uncanny similarities. Both Molina and Alvarez are converted third basemen who hail from the poverty-stricken town of Valencia, Venezuela. Earlier this summer, John Lott of the National Post wrote a piece on their backgrounds, which is definitely worth checking out.

    The similarities between these two pitchers extends well beyond their upbringing though. Not only do they both work fast and control the game while inducing a lot of ground-outs, they also possess incredible command. In 119.1 innings between Dunedin and New Hampshire, Molina has walked a total of 15 batters—that's 1.1 every nine innings. Alvarez has been equally impressive (1.7 BB per nine innings in the minors), but he's also shown his control translates well to the big leagues.

    In three major league starts totalling 16.2 innings, Alvarez has walked only three batters. While he's yet to record his first major league win, he's pitched well enough so far to cement his spot in the Blue Jays rotation for the remainder of 2011. He also has a great chance of breaking camp in 2012 as Toronto's fourth or fifth starter.

    Molina, on the other hand, is pitching his way towards a September call-up, when he'll begin working towards a spot on the Jays pitching staff next season alongside Alvarez.

SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 22

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    While his defence is considered by many to already be major league ready, his bat has always left much to be desired—at least until he was called up to AAA Las Vegas. In his first ten games in the Pacific Coast League, Hecchavarria, is hitting .476 with an impressive 1.151 OBP.

    If he can keep this up he'll be on the fast-track to the big leagues which is good news for the Blue Jays, who signed the Cuban defector to a four-year $10-million major league contract in 2010.

    Once he is called up however, expect him to stay. When he was signed he was immediately placed in the 40-man roster. That means Toronto already burned through two of his three minor league options when he didn't make the big club out of spring training in 2010 and 2011.

    Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos told fans not to expect Hechavarria to make his major league debut until 2013, but if he keeps his hot bat going he may force Anthopoulos' hand. Although unlikely, a call-up this September is not out of the question.

C Travis d'Arnaud, 22

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    Much has been said about Toronto's plethora of young talent behind the plate. While J.P. Arencibia is impressing people with his raw power this season, he may be relegated to designated hitter duties in the future and that's because of Travis d'Arnaud.

    While he may never hit as many home runs as Arencibia, d'Arnaud should become a more well-rounded player than the incumbent. Already considered to be a better defensive backstop than Arencibia, d'Arnaud's bat also projects very well.

    Acquired alongside Kyle Drabek in the deal that sent Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies, d'Arnaud has spent all of 2011 in AA New Hampshire. In 103 games, he's hitting .319 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI. Despite having high a strikeout total (86), he's shown he can handle off-speed pitches.

    Even though fellow catching prospects Carlos Perez and A.J. Jimenez are hot on his trail and Arencibia is in front of him, d'Arnaud will likely rise above the rest. Look for him to make his debut at some point during the 2013 season.

3B Brett Lawrie, 21

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    Brett Lawrie made his major league debut on August 5, and immediately impressed. In 16 games with the Blue Jays, he's hitting .327 with three home runs, 10 RBI, and 33 total bases. While those numbers seem high, they should not come as a surprise. Lawrie was always expected to hit, it's the other parts of his game which were expected to take time to develop.

    After making the move from second to third base at the start of the season, Lawrie appeared lost at times in the field. With 16 errors in 68 AAA games and a .921 fielding percentage, the numbers aren't pretty, however, improvements are being made. Most of the those errors came early in the season when he was still learning the position.

    Now, in the majors, he's working with one of the best infield instructors baseball has to offer in Brian Butterfield. Lawrie has amazed Jays fans with his athletic ability and strong accurate arm in the field, making at least one "wow" play per game. He's working hard at improving his game defensively and it's paying off.

    The biggest knock against Lawrie during his time in the minors was always his attitude; he's been called arrogant and immature. In spring training, he told the media that he was "done with minor league baseball". A lot was read into that statement, but then Lawrie went on to hit .353 with a 1.076 OBP in AAA proving that he was right—he was in fact ready for the big leagues. His off-the-field conduct was also under the microscope when candid pictures of Lawrie surfaced. His maturity was questioned, however, he's been a model of professionalism ever since.

    Since his Jays debut, he's said and done all the right things. He handles poor calls from plate umpires extremely well for a player his age, and his television interviews depict a young man with considerable PR training.  He's doing everything asked of him and should continue to improve as a result. He's the most promising young player in the Blue Jays organization and will be a core player for many years to come.