Zwelling on Blue Jays: Farm still prosperous

Anthony Gose put on a dazzling display in his debut with the Buffalo Bisons.
December 21, 2012, 5:10 PM

The trick is not getting too invested.

When it comes to prospects — more so in baseball than any other sport, it seems — it’s easy to load your favourite team’s future hopes and ambitions of wild success square on the shoulders of some 18-year-old kid you’ve never seen play. It’s easy to expect far too much. Especially when the team you root for is not particularly good.

But as soon as you step out of rational, empirical and reasoned analysis of a young baseball player and into the realm of expecting said ballplayer to ride into town someday on a horse named potential and solve every problem your team has, you’re sunk.

Because the most likely outcome of that player’s development is one of the following: he will never be an everyday player in the major leagues, he will be traded to another organization, or he will be mildly underwhelming once he does reach the bigs, when measured against the unattainable expectations you set for him. Not every prospect is going to be Mike Trout. Remember that.

Anthopoulos has moved several of his best prospects this off-season, including Travis d’Arnaud, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard. But three years of meticulous scouting, draft-pick hoarding, and aggressive international signings have given him more than enough resources to make those kinds of moves and still have some capital remaining. The system isn’t as strong as it was two months ago, but there are still some talented young players on the way.

Baseball America’s Top 10 Blue Jays Prospects (ahead of 2012 season)
1. Travis d’Arnaud, C Traded to New York Mets
2. Jake Marisnick, of Traded to Miami Marlins
3. Noah Syndergaard, rhp Traded to New York Mets
4. Aaron Sanchez, rhp Single-A: Lansing Lugnuts
5. Justin Nicolino, lhp Traded to Miami Marlins
6. Roberto Osuna, rhp Single-A: Vancouver Canadians
7.Marcus Stroman, rhp Single-A Eastern League
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, ss Traded to Miami Marlins
9. D.J. Davis, of Single-A: Vancouver Canadians
10. John Stilson, rhp Double-A Eastern League

So it is with this in mind that we look to the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league system — or what’s left of it after a string of future-potential-for-current-production trades over the last six months by GM Alex Anthopoulos — and assess some of the more intriguing prospects.

There is a trio of recent first-round picks — Marcus Stroman, Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire — who you could see in the majors at some point this season.

Stroman, a right-hander out of Duke University, is a very developed prospect and was advancing quickly through the system last season until he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for at stimulant in August. That suspension will bleed into 2013, but once he is eligible to return, it’s thought that he won’t need much more seasoning. He throws his fastball in the mid-90s and scouts are in love with his slider. What’s left to decide is whether he will start or relieve.

Jenkins already made his Blue Jays debut in 2012 — something that may not have happened had the team’s pitching staff not fallen apart mid-season — pitching serviceably in 13 appearances. Barring significant improvements to his repertoire (good fastball, alright slider, so-so changeup) his future could be in the bullpen.

That may also be a landing spot for McGuire who was discouraging last year — his second at Double-A New Hampshire — allowing 94 earned runs in just 144 innings. At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, many thought McGuire could be a workhorse innings-eater at the back end of a major league rotation. But he turns 24 in June and will have to make big strides in 2013 if he has intentions of challenging for a spot on the Blue Jays’ suddenly-strong major league staff.

Like Jenkins, speedy outfielder Anthony Gose also made his major league debut in 2012, suffering through a painful learning curve — in his first 28 games he hit .183 and struck out 36 times — before showing notable improvement in September. He hit .262 with just 23 strikeouts in 28 games that month.

Admittedly, September stats can be a bit skewed considering many teams are well out of the race and fielding lineups laced with Triple-A players. But most who saw Gose in that final month recognized the tantalizing potential that attracted Anthopoulos to him in the first place. He will likely begin 2013 with Triple-A Buffalo but could be the first outfielder called up in the event of an injury in the big leagues.

The club also has a number of pitching prospects on the horizon who could contribute in two or three year’s time. Aaron Sanchez is easily the best of the bunch, despite being years away from the majors. Just 20-years old, Sanchez allowed 64 hits and 25 earned runs in 90.1 innings of Single-A ball last season, putting up a tremendous 9.7 K/9 in the process.

Roberto Osuna is even younger than Sanchez — he’ll be 18 in February — but has been rapidly climbing the organizational depth chart since he struck out 13 batters in a five-inning, one-hit debut at Low-A in July. He mixes his mid-90s fastball with a curveball and changeup, and has displayed command beyond his years.

Left-handers Sean Nolin, Daniel Norris and Matt Smoral make up a decent second-tier of pitching potential. Turning 23 on Boxing Day, Nolin is the oldest of the bunch and didn’t garner much attention until he put up an impressive 2.19 ERA and 9.4 K/9 in 86.1 innings at high-A last season. If he can replicate that success at Double-A in 2013, he could be fast-tracked to the majors.

Norris, 19, struggled mightily in his first season of pro ball last year but still struck out 43 batters in 42.2 innings and showed impressive improvement to his changeup.

Smoral couldn’t make his professional debut last season due to a right foot injury that significantly hurt his draft stock. The Blue Jays got him with the 50th pick of the draft, which could be a steal if the 6-foot-8, 18-year old reaches his potential.

Alberto Tirado, a lanky right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is another name to watch. He wasn’t thought of as much of a prospect when he signed but impressed scouts last year with a fastball in the low-90s that he mixed with a curveball, slider and changeup.

The exceptionally-fast D.J. Davis is likely the best position player in the system after the trade of Travis d’Arnaud. The 18-year-old’s speed is a sure thing but how his bat develops over the three-to-four years between now and his major league debut will tell the story of how useful he can be. Scouts will tell you his power is under-rated and could develop as he gains more experience.

And finally, in a category all by himself, is Anthony Alford who is talented, exciting, frustrating and downright baffling all at once.

Alford’s last seven months went something like this: drafted in the third round by the Blue Jays, signed to a high-six-figure bonus by the team on the condition that he was permitted to play college football, quarterback of the 0-12 Southern Miss Golden Eagles, arrested and charged with aggravated assault after an on-campus altercation that reportedly involved firearms, and released from his scholarship at Southern Miss at his request.

Quite a year.

By all accounts, the 18-year-old Alford could utilize his tremendous natural athletic ability on the baseball diamond to become a quality outfielder with great speed and decent power. But unless he fully commits to the game, you may never see him in a Blue Jays uniform.

And those, more or less, are the names you should know and follow during the 2013 season. You may even see some of them playing at Rogers Centre before October.

But remember to look at these players not as the team’s eventual 2016 lineup but as assets. They are venture capital. Some of them may play for the Blue Jays someday. Many of them won’t. A few could play for other organizations. And some may never reach the majors at all.

It’s always best not to get too invested. Unless you enjoy disappointment.

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