Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays offseason 2011’

Perhaps I am a bit of a contrarian but I am not as high as most experts are on the overall strength of the Toronto Blue Jays current batch of prospects.  The system is probably in the best shape it has been in quite some time and Alex Anthopoulos has done a masterful job of restocking a cupboard of prospects that was once considered a laughing stock.

But I am just not that convinced that it will ultimately produce any potential star players and there isn’t one guy that I feel is a must have, outside of Brett Lawrie.  The list is deep, which is good and I hope if a potential young cost controlled player becomes available (like a Justin Upton) the Jays wouldn’t hesitate in cleaning out the system a bit to fetch a nice asset.

But depth doesn’t excite me, and after the top two (Brett Lawrie and Kyle Drabek) the list really goes downhill in my opinion.  Even the top two names that have far and away the most potential of the group can leave bit of a sour taste in your mouth.  It’s not to say that any prospect out there is a sure thing, but there are a lot of other teams who have a more exciting basket of potential impact players.

The Yankees have Jesus Montero knocking on the team’s door, and further down their list have extremely promising arms like Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman.  Not to mention a young catcher named Gary Sanchez who would likely rank 2nd or 3rd on the Jays list.  I just don’t see a Jeremy Hellickson, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Santana, Mike Stanton, Starlin Castro or Domonic Brown type in this group.

Top Blue Jays Prospects 2011:

#1 INF Brett Lawrie

Brett Lawrie is a naturally gifted athlete who just happens to play baseball, and play it well.  The kid has moxie and tools that rate off the charts with his hit tool rating the best.  Currently a line drive gap power hitting machine a lot of those doubles should eventually turn into long flies and Lawrie could be a high 20s HRs type of player.

Drafted as a catcher by the Milwaukee Brewers, he was quickly switched to second base at his request and the biggest question mark surrounding Lawrie isn’t if he can hit enough it is where is he going to play on the diamond?  Most feel a corner outfield spot will be his eventual landing spot and the kid does come with a few warts.

 Lawrie while highly touted has shown immaturity and is on his second organization before reaching the ‘AA’ level.  He refused an assignment to the Arizona Fall League this year and decided he would prefer to be a second basemen as opposed to attempting to play catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers.  The reviews are mixed if Lawrie can handle a middle infield role and he has already been shifted to third base to ensure a speedy road to the major league level.

The kid is young, only just turning 21 in January/2011 and judging any of his behaviour without thinking of how I acted at the same age would be short-sighted so I am willing to let bygones be just that.  However, playing a corner infield spot means his bat is going to have to be that much more impactful and power is the hardest skill to project and normally last attribute to arrive.  He is cocky, confident and seemingly brash and I like that, posting a .361 wOBA as a 20-year old in AA might do that for you. 

Brett Lawrie won’t be an average ballplayer if he makes it I think he makes it big and if he doesn’t I don’t see him even in baseball in five years.  I am expecting an impactful, solid offensive career for the kid and I think he is the Toronto Blue Jays best hitting prospect to come along in years.  He is our top prospect as a potential top or middle of the order hitter who can play every day, hopefully at a premium position like the keystone corner.

#2 SP Kyle Drabek

Second on the list is Kyle Drabek who for me is one of the most underwhelming “top” pitching prospects in baseball.  Don’t get me wrong I think he could still develop into a solid #2/3 starter but the talk of a potential ace is a bit of a reach based on the numbers he has been putting up in the minor leagues.  In particular the mediocre to poor minor league strikeout numbers are disturbing.

Of course not everybody can be Stephen Strasburg or Clayton Kershaw coming through the system in terms of strikeout numbers but it is a great way to gauge the pitcher’s overall stuff and how they project in terms of future major league success.  I hope for the Jays sake Drabek proves me wrong but he is certainly not taking a typical path to stardom.  Besides 61.2 IPs in ‘High A’ ball (as a 22 year old in 2009) where his K/9 was 10.8 the overall minor league resume is lacking.

Kyle Drabek Age Level IP K/9 BB/9 FIP
2009 22 AA 96.1 7.1 2.9 3.83
2010 23 AA 162.0 7.4 3.9 3.87

 

I am sure some pitchers have gone on to solid careers with mediocre minor league strikeout numbers but the probability isn’t great and the number of examples isn’t plentiful.  For a right handed starter to succeed without high strikeout numbers he would need to have extreme groundball tendencies and play in front of a solid defence.  Drabek has improved in this regard as his groundball ratios have improved over the past two seasons. 

A must inclusion for Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade, Drabek is being counted on to develop into a big time inning eating starting pitcher.  I was holding out hope that the Philadelphia Phillies would have panicked and offered their top prospect in toolsy outfielder Domonic Brown and it is a bit worriesome that Drabek’s name was being thrown around more than a few times for such a highly touted prospect. 

If Drabek were a lefty  I’d be more optimistic but at this point I see a solid #3 starter who will give us innings, a 6 K/9, 2.5 K/BB and a FIP in the low to mid 4.00s – very solid but not ‘ace’ like.  Alex Anthopoulos did well to ensure Drabek was included in the deal that sent the best pitcher in baseball out of Toronto and the future is still very bright for the son of Doug Drabek. 

Kyle Drabek possesses a very solid fastball and can hit the mid 90s on a regular basis so there is room for improvement going forward if the secondary stuff can improve and help him miss more bats.  This is a guy who could end up making me and this scouting report look very foolish with only a few tweaks and subtle improvements.  After all, he already went through TJ surgery so we should cut him a bit of slack I suppose.

Well, those are the two best in the system and after that I feel it drops off dramatically.  Here is the best of the rest as we rank 3-10.

#3 SP Deck McGuire

Drafted out of Georgia Tech in the recent 2010 MLB Amateur draft the consensus around the world of scouting is that McGuire was an excellent selection who possesses a crafty 4-pitch arsenal that projects to be a workhorse type mid-rotation guy.  I think the ceiling here is a poor man’s Matt Garza.  A solid, exciting name but a guy who has never even thrown one professional inning yet he ranks near the top of almost all of the most respected Blue Jays prospect rankings.

#4 C Carlos Perez

The Jays currently have a plethora of solid young catching prospects and I feel the 20-year old Venezuelan Perez has the most upside of all of them.  A potential 10-12 HR guy who can play strong defence and is a strong athlete.  Has shown solid patience in his young career at the plate and he could profile as a solid mid to bottom of the order hitter with a bit of pop.

#5 SP Zach Stewart

Acquired in the Scott Rolen trade from the Cincinnati Reds Zach Stewart’s stock dropped a bit in 2010 as his K/9 plummeted to only 7.0 in 136 ‘AA’ innings as he posted the worst FIP of his career at 4.18.  Stewart will turn 25 years old this summer and the time for him to arrive is now, another guy who likely wouldn’t crack many teams’ top ten lists.  There has been talk he is best suited for a late inning relief role also but I think the Jays will exhaust all possibilities of becoming a starter before that happens.

#6 CF Anthony Gose

I am higher on Anthony Gose than probably any other evaluator so far this offseason but I don’t understand the trepidations with Gose who at worst will provide gold glove calibre defence at a premium position and steal a few bases.  However if the bat develops into even slightly below league average we are talking about a potential 5.0 WAR player who is still only 21-years old who just posted a .363 wOBA in 113 PAs for the Jays ‘AA’ team.

Gose athleticism ranks off the charts and the only question mark with him is the plate discipline and overall bat tool.  Acquired for 1B Brett Wallace I’m rolling with him and I like this type of talent, very toolsy.

#7 C Travis D’Arnaud

Probably the most complete all-around game of the Jays catching prospects, D’Arnaud has the potential to develop into a plus defender who would only need an average bat to provide decent value to his club.  I think he should develop into a useful hitter but a guy who will always bat near the bottom of the lineup but he is still only 22-years old and has time to continue his development.

#8 C J.P. Arencibia

This guy ranks all over the place on various lists, as high as #3 on Marc Hulet’s Fangraphs ranking while down to 8th on Baseball America’s.  I feel the general consensus regarding Arencibia is ‘meh’ and I feel the same way.  Already turned 25 years old Arencibia had virtually fallen off the prospect map after a horrible 2009 where he posted a 236/284/444 slash line in 500 ‘AAA’ PAs.

When the team moved to the little league park in Las Vegas his numbers subsequently jumped with them.  I am not buying it and I don’t think he ever hits enough to justify the worst facet of his game, and that is game calling and defensive skills.  Terrible plate discipline, bad defense and one park/league infused season justifies ranking him so low.

There are others to be at least mindful of but they are either still too young or just drafted to give them a meaningful scouting report or ranking.  Among them are:

 OF Jake Marisnick – toolsy, big ceiling, big risk.

SP Asher Wojciechowski – between him and scrabble the Jays are doing their best to empty ink cartridges.  Strong upside from the College right hander.

SP Aaron Sanchez – strong high school righty, just drafted in 2010.

SS Adeiny Hechavarria – suspect bat tool but legit glove.

OF Eric Thames – the bat is exciting.

SP Chad Jenkins – stock fell a bit with pedestrian K-rate in advanced ‘A’ ball.

SP Adonis Cardona – top 16-year old Venezuelan signing in 2010, years away.

The Jays system has depth again and the Alex Anthopoulos plan and era are in the early stages so I fully expect given him competency that the Blue Jays farm system and draft excellence will continue to be at the very forefront of the plan.  Even in 2-3 years a lot of the names will start to look more exciting as they reach higher minor league levels and the system starts to hopefully do its job and churn out big league regulars.

Right now though I feel the system is solid but a tad on the overrated side.

Alex Anthopoulos is a shrewd baseball man, plain and simple.  The Blue Jays recently added Miguel Olivo for a player to be named later and will immediately buy out Olivo for a cool half million.  Why would the Blue Jays make such a move you might ask?  The reasoning is simple, yet brilliant – to have the potential to acquire a valuable compensation pick in the upcoming MLB amateur draft.

You see in the draconian MLB compensation system a team can offer a player arbitration and gain a draft pick (anywhere from a first round to an early second round pick) if the player rejects the arbitration offer in the hopes of landing a more lucrative (and longer term) contract.  According to Victor Wang’s research from 2009, a 1st round pick is worth about $5.2 million, a supplemental pick around $2.6 million and a second round compensatory pick worth $0.8 million.

The Jays hope that all of their potential arbitration eligible players (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, John Buck, Kevin Gregg, and Miguel Olivo) will not only turn down the arbitration offer but also net them a draft pick in the process.  A calculated risk, read Jack Moore’s excellent piece at Fangraphs for more on this move and the Blue Jays motives for such a move.  The 2011 draft is supposed to be absolutely loaded with great talent and promises to be (on paper) one of the deeper drafts in recent memory and ideally the Jays (if things go to plan) could end up with eight picks in the top fifty – huge.

I wanted to dive into the Blue Jays winter plans a little deeper and come up with what I thought would be the absolutely ideal offseason for the team.  First, the chances of all of these moves coming to fruition are pretty slim and we aren’t sure what type of budget increase AA intends to try and push to the suits at Rogers Corp or if he even feels the Jays are close enough to contention to make it worth his while. 

But let’s assume the Jays were legit in 2010 and really aren’t all that far from being a true contender in the AL East.  With the New York Yankees suddenly looking older and vulnerable (though still deep pocketed), the Boston Red Sox seemingly stuck in neutral and the Tampa Bay Rays potentially losing Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and (rumoured) Matt Garza – the time for the Jays to strike could be and maybe should be now. 

Coming off an unexpected (for the most part) 85-win campaign the Blue Jays head into 2011 clearly a team on the rise and I contend had they played in any other division in baseball would likely have made the playoffs.  With that, what moves do I feel the team should make if the budget allowed, let’s take a look at one realistic, one hopeful and one long shot potential offseason move.

1)      Re-sign reliever Scott Downs.  Reliable, tough on lefties and a guy who doesn’t break in pressure situations Downs has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past three seasons.  His FIP during the past three seasons have been phenomenal (3.39, 3.33 & 3.03) and he likely could be signed to a fairly team friendly contract if the team strikes early.

2)       Take a run at free agent 3B Adrian Beltre.  Beltre would give us instant improvement in infield defense and make our pitching staff that much more effective while providing a solid power bat in the middle of the order.  He is an intense gamer who plays hard every at-bat and every inning in the field – a throwback.  He will likely see a drop in batting average (.331 BABIP in 2010) and he doesn’t have much patience (6.9% career BB rate) but the combination of his power bat, slick glove while also presumably weakening the rival Red Sox make him a valuable commodity for the Jays.  He could command upwards of 4-5 years on a deal that would pay him 14-16 million annually, maybe more, so he comes with a price tag.

3)      Trade for Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke.  Before you laugh this one off hear me out, Greinke is not a New York/Boston big baseball market kind of guy and rumours circulate the team and player both want a potential trade to happen and I say why not Toronto?

We have a near perfect environment for a guy like Greinke (who battled depression and anxiety issues in the past) with a young, improving group of players and ownership’s supposed commitment to fielding a competitive team, no matter the cost.  More importantly we have the young pieces to get a potential deal done should the opportunity present itself.

An offer centred on Travis Snider with the potential of adding guys like Zach Stewart, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, Deck McGuire and a host of other intriguing names in the finally viable Blue Jays farm system would at the very least get the Jays “in the mix”.  And though the competition for the services of a young and talented arm like Zack Greinke will be fierce and the price very steep I wouldn’t count out the Blue Jays as a potential suitor like most of the baseball pundits, sites and publications – it could happen.

Well that is my ideal offseason and if coupled with a few other minor moves to solidify the bullpen and our bench could go a very long way in turning the Jays not only into a contender but a potential favourite in one of the harder divisions in sports.  It might be a pipedream but I think reality is the Jays are becoming closer to a team that could be fighting for division titles and have championship aspirations in the not too distant future.

UPDATE: My Maple Leafs content and pieces can now be found at the best Toronto Maple Leaf site on the net, visit it now!  Maple Leafs Hot Stove

Food for thought? Will the Jays kick tires on acquiring Prince Fielder?

Check out the new Toronto Blue Jays blog AL Eastbound & Down!

I was reading a piece at Fangraphs regarding Prince Fielder and his imminent departure from the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason given the impasse between management and Fielder’s agent, the vaunted Scott Boras.  Rumours peg the asking price for Fielder’s next contract between 120-150 million over 6-8 years and I am not going to argue that a defensively challenged overweight first basemen is worth that type of long term investment because very clearly he is not and even more clear is the Jays would never be able to sign a player to that type of contract.

My argument today is that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays should at the very least inquire into the asking price (from the Brewers) to bring in the powerful left handed hitting home run machine for the 2011 season.  I am not sure what the cost would be but one would have to assume it would likely be fairly high and it could ultimately cost the team their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek.  Although everybody is extremely high on this kid I think this could be a move worth considering.

Consider me a contrarian in the valuation of Drabek but I am not a huge buyer of his stock and I think his value will never be higher coming off a successful (at first glance) minor league season.  The 23 year old posted a 2.94 ERA in 162 ‘AA’ innings in 2010 allowing 126 hits, walking 68 and striking out 132 while improving his ground ball tendencies slightly.  Like I said, at first glance it appears to be one heck of a season for a kid his age.

But glancing beyond the shiny ERA there are some red flags underneath the surface in terms of future success, at least for me.  Drabek posted a pedestrian 7.3 K/9 (for a top rated pitching prospect) while his BB/9 rose to nearly 4 walks per nine (3.78 BB/9) giving him a mediocre 1.9 K/BB.  Drabek was slightly aided by a low BABIP (.260) and his FIP was a more telling number of his actual season, coming in at a respectable but not spectacular 3.87. 

Now you would have to be a fool to think he is even close to a finished product and chances are he will improve, and could possibly improve a lot but at this point I don’t feel the peripherals match the expectations or scream ‘future star’.  Not that every pitcher requires a strikeout an inning to be successful (think Halladay, Roy) but the minor league strikeout numbers for a young pitcher are normally one of the indicators of future success in the big leagues and I think the jury is out on Drabek developing into a true number one or two starter.

Another reason I wouldn’t be too hesitant if Milwaukee were warm to this type of deal is the Jays would be dealing 100% from a point of strength as they are currently fairly loaded with a plethora of major league ready arms under the age of 28.  Their current rotation is among the best in the game with Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whoever they decide to slot in at the number five spot.  There is a chance Drabek never develops into the type of big league starter who is capable of usurping one of the top 4-5 starters the Jays currently possess and the more he is exposed at the big league level without a lot of success the more his overall value takes a dive.

Another motivation for a move like this is Prince Fielder would instantly give the Jays there first legit power threat at 1B since Carlos Delgado left town, no offense to Lyle Overbay but he is barely a league average bat at this point in his career.  Fielder will be entering his 27 year old season (historically one of a hitter’s best overall years career wise) and even with a slightly off year (for his standards) Prince has still been a beast in 2010.  Currently slashing 267/403/486 with 32 HRs, 80 RBI and a cool 106 BBs, Fielder has still managed a .388 wOBA and .218 ISO.  For those curious Lyle Overbay in 2010 currently has a .335 wOBA.

Fielder’s career slash line is impressive to say the least at 281/385/538, to go with a career .258 ISO and .389 wOBA.  Fielder has patience (career 12.9 BB %), power and could help energize a city that is slowly starting to come around on the young and promising Blue Jays.  I liken this situation to what Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s did when they traded for outfielder Matt Holliday at the beginning of 2009. 

The A’s hoped Holliday would be the answer for a moribund offense and place them squarely in contention in the AL West, however when it didn’t quite work that way, they flipped him again to St. Louis to recoup some of their losses in prospects (unfortunately they dealt Carlos Gonzalez to acquire him) though they could have just let Holliday (like the Jays could with Fielder) play out the season and leave in the winter and receive two highly valuable compensation draft picks for the next Amateur draft.

The A’s got unlucky that they dealt a big package of Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith and Holliday’s value took a hit (only due to playing in one of the worse offensive environment’s in baseball) but I have no doubt that Fielder would flourish at the Roger’s Centre in an improving and powerful Jays line-up.   I am not sure what the price would be but if it is only the cost of a player who is not a guarantee (say a Kyle Drabek) and a couple additional fringe prospects I might be intrigued.

Worst case scenario Fielder doesn’t put the Jays over the top in the AL East in 2011 and Kyle Drabek develops into an ace starter, seems unlikely but nothing in baseball is guaranteed.  However, the Jays would at least be able to start over with the two strong draft picks or attempt to flip Fielder to a contending team looking for a 2 month rental and regaining some of the lost youth and prospects it took to acquire the Prince.

On the flip side the potential upside to having one of the top young 1B/DH in your line-up for 162 games and rolling into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park with another powerful left handed slugger is truly appealing.  Renting Prince Fielder for 2011 could be a win-win for the Toronto Blue Jays and I wonder if it has sparked any curiosity or interest within the Blue Jays brain trust and the wonder kid Alex Anthopoulos?

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The Jays would still need to address a longer term solution at third base (preferably not E5) although it doesn’t appear they have any real in-house candidates (Jose Bautista should remain in the outfield) and as much as I would love to see Adrian Beltre bring his magic glove and trusty bat (and strange quirk of killing any man who dares touch the top of his head!) the competition for his services will likely be fierce and I see the Boston Red Sox doing everything in their power to retain him.