|Original Published Date: December 9, 2014|
The Blue Jays minor league system took a big step forward in 2014 led by Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey. Both ended the season in Toronto and should have a chance to break camp with the big club in 2015. While both have impact talent, it might take a year or two before it starts to translate at the highest level.
Aaron Sanchez also saw time in Toronto and showed his dominating stuff in the bullpen. His below average control even played better, but that was more likely a factor of a small sample size as opposed to mechanical adjustments.
Further away, but also a player that took a step up, is Dwight Smith. While he doesn’t have the secondary skills of Pompey, he can really hit and could move quickly. Finally, many of the Blue Jays high-priced, high ceiling Latin players, including Franklin Barreto (traded to the Athletics), Richard Urena, and Dawel Lugo are starting to perform well and could rise in prospect lists by the end of the upcoming season.
The wildcard in the system is Jeff Hoffman. If he were healthy, you can make an argument that he is the best prospect in the system. However, after having Tommy John reconstructive surgery, he has been risk-adjusted and slides in at number four.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #1 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2014|
The journey of Daniel Norris is yet another reason to reiterate one of my pitching axioms – never give up on an ultra-athletic pitcher who can touch the mid-90’s with his fastball. Let me add a second axiom – particularly when that pitcher is a lefty!
Norris had a terrific year that started in Dunedin and ended in Toronto with the 6-foot-2 lefty pitching 6.2 innings in a September call up. The key to his success was simply – better control. Through 133.1 innings in 2012 and 2013, Norris walked 4.32 per nine. His release point was all over the place with many 4.0 IP, 3BB stat lines to prove the point. That turned around this past year as Norris became more direct to the plate and the results were stark. In 124.2 innings, he walked just over three per nine. Throw in a strikeout rate of nearly 12 per nine and that will get you a ticket to the big leagues.
The arsenal has a chance to be special with a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH with plenty of 4’s and 5’s when he needs it. The fastball plays up a grade as he gets nice downward plane and a lot of late movement given his long stride and extension to the plate. His secondary pitches can miss a ton of bats. He has a double-barrel slider/change-up combination that jump up on hitters, partially because of the movement he gets but also through his deceptive delivery. Both grade out to be above-average if not future plus offerings. He also throws a show me curve ball that over time could be an extremely useful pitch.
Norris is still relatively new to pitching as he was a two-sport athlete in high school. It could take a couple more years for him to throw consistent strikes but once he does, he not only has top-of-the-rotation potential, but also the chance to be the best left-hander in the game.
Fantasy Impact: While you still have to dream a little, Norris could be a very special pitcher with the ability for huge strikeouts and much better than league average ratios. Given the depth of the Blue Jays system, the offense is likely to be extremely strong and therefore, wins could be in Mr. Norris future as well. If you rode the lows of the early years of Norris in a Dynasty League, congratulations. It still could take a year or two for him to post better than league average statistics, but provided he stays healthy, he could be an ace.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: First Div.
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
If you’re reading in order, Dalton Pompey’s journey through the minors in 2014 was almost identical to that of Daniel Norris. In fact, at every stop (Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors), Norris got their about a week before Pompey. As with Norris, the results were exceptional, putting Pompey squarely on the list of the elite prospects in the game.
The elements of his breakout were evident in 2013. The plus speed that produced 38 stolen bases out of 48 attempts really stuck out. That foot speed also played exceptionally well in the outfield as it enhanced Pompey’s excellent route running ability and gives him a ceiling of a gold glove defender. Finally was his plate discipline – 63 walks in 437 at-bats in Low-A.
So, why didn’t Dalton Pompey make our Top 10 last year? .
The true answer is I missed. I was fixated on the 106 strikeouts and the sub .400 slugging percentage and just didn’t think he warranted inclusion. But, players improve and Pompey did. He stopped chasing pitches out the strike zone, got stronger and blew-up.
Pompey has the ceiling of a first division starter – an elite center fielder who could become one of the game’s best leadoff hitter. He has plate discipline, contactability, and speed. The three elements you want in a player batting leadoff. He’s also able to drive the ball and could easily slug .425 to .450 with 10 to 12 home runs as he continues to mature.
The Blue Jays clearly are pushing him as they need to make decisions about some of their major league free agents. Is he ready to contribute in 2015? Defensively I believe he is but his offensive game still needs work. That said, don’t be surprised if he is the starting center fielder on April 1st in Toronto.
Fantasy Impact: If you like stolen bases, runs, solid batting average and on-base percentages, then Pompey is your guy. His upside is a top 75 fantasy player if not top 50. I think the healthy 2007 through 2010 of Shane Victorino could be a very realistic stat line in a few years for Pompey. I’ll save you the research time; that’s a $25 dollar player.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: Closer|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 200||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Drafted as the 34th overall pick in the 2010 first year player draft, Aaron Sanchez has elite stuff; the kind of arsenal that makes you say – “front of the rotation”. If that’s true, then why is he listed number three in the Blue Jays organizational Top 10. Are Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey really that good? Well…yeah…they are really that good, but Sanchez delivery and lack of control is worrisome. His 33 innings as a reliever in a late season call up to Toronto might have hinted at the role long-term for him.
First, the arsenal is crazy good. His fastball is a plus offering that sits 92-95 MPH with plenty of 6’s and 7’s. It looks like he uses a four-seam grip but the offering has lots of arm-side run and sink and has many of the characteristic of a two-seamer. His also throws a firm 79-82 MPH curve ball that he also throws down in the zone. The pitch can be a real knee buckler that left many major leaguers shaking their head. As with his fastball and curveball, he throws his change-up hard – sitting 88-90 MPH. It’s behind the other two pitches but could eventually grade out as a solid-average offering.
Sanchez also gets great downward plane that he combines with the ability to throw all of his pitches low in the zone. The result: a ton of ground balls. In 356.1 innings in the minor leagues, his ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio (G/F) was 3.43. Even in his 33 innings in the majors, his G/F ratio was 3.27.
The problem that Sanchez has yet to solve is his ability to throw consistent strikes. While his walk rate in the majors was encouraging (2.45 per nine), his 4.82 walk per nine rate over his minor league career shows the real problem; and it didn’t improve in his 100 innings across Double and Triple-A before his call up. In those 100 innings, Sanchez walked 57.
In looking at the delivery, it’s actually ok; although he’s a bit of short-strider that should actually help his control. It looks like the problem is more in the action that he gets on his pitches. There’s so much movement that it’s just hard to control. This is common of sinker ballers but it can also be fixed.
Fantasy Impact: The Blue Jays will continue to push Sanchez as a starter but if they decide he can help the big league club as a reliever or possibly a closer in 2015, then it could stick (see Trevor Rosenthal). For fantasy owners, Sanchez as a closer is more valuable now than a starter who can’t throw strikes. If he does start off as a middle reliever and an owner dumps him, grab him as there is too much upside for him to ride the waiver wire.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
You have to admire the “no guts, no glory” drafting approach that the Blue Jays consistently take in each June’s draft. They focus on high upside players, usually high schooler that can become impact players. Candidly this strategy has yet to show a profit but with names like Sanchez and Norris about ready to contribute in a meaningful way in the big leagues, we are about to find out if the strategy did indeed work.
In 2014, the Blue Jays once again drafted a risky, high upside pick in East Carolina’s Friday night starter, Jeff Hoffman. The risk is that Hoffman was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in May and had Tommy John Surgery shortly afterwards and had a big bandage on his arm with the Jays selected him with the number nine pick. Yelp…no guts, no glory.
Prior to the injury, Hoffman was in the discussion for the number one overall pick in the draft. He has two plus pitches in his arsenal; a fastball that sits 92-95 MPH and a double-plus curve ball that was already a weapon in college. He showed good control in college, walking 2.87 per nine but as with most young pitchers, had trouble commanding all of his pitches. However, given his nasty stuff, it did not hurt him too much.
Assuming he comes back fully healthy, Hoffman could pitch 20 to 30 innings in 2015 as the Jays ease him back into pitching. I’m assuming most of that will be in the GCL and the Northwest League. He could split time between Low and High-A in 2016 before the Jays fully take the training wheels off in 2017.
Fantasy Impact: Hoffman is a tough call in Dynasty League drafts. If you have a deep minor league roster, you want him on your team. That said, remember, it could be 2017/2018 before Hoffman sees the big leagues and there is always the risk that the arsenal will not return or that the surgery will not take.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 180||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Another high upside first round draft pick (actually, supplemental first round) is outfielder Dwight Smith. While he was overshadowed by Dalton Pompey while they were both in Dunedin, Smith has a very nice complete game and offensively is not that far behind Pompey.
What Smith can do really well is hit. While he uses an unusual high and pronounced leg kick, the swing is short, compact and with really strong hands, he’s able to stay inside the ball and hit to all fields with authority. He does have very good bat speed and while he’ll likely never have plus power, I believe he can build upon his 12 home runs that he hit in the Florida State League and eventually hit 15 to 18.
The plate discipline and contact rates are both impressive. In 120 games, he had a 68K/58BB strikeout-to-walk ratio and with any BABIP help, he could easily be a .300 hitter at the highest level. To finish the package, Smith also has average speed and should be able to continue to contribute low double-digit stolen bases.
One concern with Smith is where he will play. He doesn’t have the speed to be a plus center fielder but likely doesn’t have the power to profile in a corner. While he won’t push Dalton Pompey out of center, guys who can hit usually find their way into a major league lineup and I believe Smith will be one of those players. Whether it’s with the Blue Jays or not is another story.
Fantasy Impact: Dwight Smith is flying under the radar in most Dynasty Leagues, primarily because of his lack of secondary skills. However, I’ll take a guy who can be a 15/15 player, bat .300 and score plenty of runs on my team. That’s a very nice fourth or fifth outfielder
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
Having two picks in the first 15, particularly in a deep draft is clearly an opportunity to lift a team’s farm system with impact players. While the Blue Jays went aggressive with the selection of Jeff Hoffman, they went more conservatively by picking college catcher Max Pentecost in the 2014 first year player draft.
Pentecost’s first two years at Kennesaw State were fairly pedestrian as he showed little power but he always showed an ability to make contact with excellent plate patience. However, in his junior year, the power arrived as Pentecost posted a .627 slugging percentage with nine home runs. That was the last element that teams were looking for and it’s what drove the Blue Jays to paying him nearly a $3 million dollar signing bonus.
While developing power is important for Pentecost and the Blue Jays, he has a great swing that is actually built more for contact. When he does hit for power, he dips his shoulder and pulls the ball. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he should grow into more strength which should allow the over-the-fence power to emerge. Once that develops, a .270 average with 12 to 18 home runs ceiling could emerge.
Defensively, Pentecost has the ceiling of an above average defender. He’s athletic with excellent lateral movement with an above average arm. He also shows significant leadership ability when calling games; constantly talking to his pitcher and keeping the infield on it’s toes.
Fantasy Impact: Pentecost should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues with at least 150 minor league players. With the upside of a .270/.340/.440 and 12 to 18 home runs, the upside is a solid fantasy contributor at a position that many times you are just trying to roster a player that won’t hurt you. Pentecost should start the 2015 season in Lansing with a chance to see Dunedin by the end of the year.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
Dawel Lugo was one of the Blue Jays big international free agent signings in 2011. Taking advantage of the last year without financial restrictions, the Jays gave Lugo a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus and moved him state-side in 2012.
Lugo can really hit with a quick right-handed stroke that should eventually allow him to hit for at least average power. While his 85% contact rate was indeed impressive, it came with 18 walks in 117 games. While you would like to see more plate patience, if he can make nearly 90% contact, a poor walk rate works. In other words, if you can make contact with natural hand-eye coordination, you might as well swing. It works for Jose Altuve.
Lugo should start the 2015 season in Dunedin with a chance to see Double-A by the end of the season. Eventually his power will tick-up, but it might not be until 2016. The size, bat speed, and hand-eye coordination are all there, he just needs to grow into his strength.
Dynasty League: Lugo should be owned in Dynasty Leagues with 200 minor leaguers. While you still have to dream on the upside, he can really hit and the power and in-game production should follow. The upside is a .280 hitter with 20 home runs and a handful of stolen bases.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2018|
After going with two college players in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Blue Jays went back to their comfort zone and drafted high school right-hander Sean Reid-Foley in the second round. At 6-foot-3, Reid-Foley has the size you want in a pitcher but at 220 pounds, lacks significant physical projectability. In other words, don’t expect a lot of velocity improvement on his 91-93 MPH fastball.
Foley is currently a two-pitch pitcher with a quality fastball that can hit the mid-90’s but generally sits 91-93 MPH and a sharp two-plane slider. The Blue Jays have been working with him on a changeup and by all accounts, he has the athleticism and arm slot to place a 50 future grade on the pitch.
The Jays should challenge Reid-Foley to a full-season assignment in Lansing to start the 2015 season. As has been the norm over the past few years, it’s likely that he’ll pitch the entire season in Low-A before the Jays turn him lose in 2016. The focus on his development year will likely be fastball command and working on his changeup. Because of that, don’t be surprised if his stat lines are somewhat pedestrian. Remember, the lower minor leagues in particular are about development.
Fantasy Impact: Reid-Foley has the size and stuff that screams mid-rotation innings-eater. His arsenal is solid but not plus and I think this will ultimately limit his strikeouts to six to seven per nine. If you roster 300 to 400 minor leaguers in a Dynasty League, Reid-Foley is a nice gamble.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: #5 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
At 16-years-old, Roberto Osuna was acquired by the Blue Jays in 2011 for a $1.5 million dollar signing bonus. His 2012 professional debut was impressive with a memorable game on July 28th where he struck out 13 in 5.1 innings.
2013 started off promising for the 18-year-old Mexican as he posted a 31K/4BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in four April starts. However in his last start, he left his outing early complaining of elbow discomfort. He was later diagnosed with a partial tear in his UCL and was prescribed rest. Osuna returned to the mound on July 9th and looked great but things started to fall apart shortly afterwards and in late July he succumbed to Tommy John reconstructive surgery and was lost for the remainder of the year. It was yet another reminder of the fragility of pitchers.
The Jays brought Osuna back slowly this year, limiting his pitch count for each start. He also spent time in the Arizona Fall League where I had a chance to see him. His fastball hit 94 but generally sat 90-93 MPH but was not fooling anybody as he got hit hard. His changeup looked good but his slurvy breaking pitch was all over the place. As Osuna continues to develop arm strength, I expect his fastball to move up a grade but unless he gets more wiggle on the pitch and develops a better breaking pitch, his ceiling for me is a back of the rotation arm.
Fantasy Impact: Osuna is still rostered on a lot of Dynasty teams based on the results he posted two years ago. There’s clearly talent there but the stuff for me says a number five starter and therefore, I’m only recommending Osuna in AL-Only formats.
10. D.J. Davis (OF)
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: 2nd-Div.
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
It was not a very good season for D.J. Davis, the speedster out of the great state of Mississippi. He batted .213 in 494 at-bats and struck out an alarming 167 times. If that wasn’t scary enough, blessed with 80 grade speed, he stole 19 bases but got thrown out 20 times. That’s not a misprint, that 19 up and 20 down. Like I said, it was not a good year.
While Davis does have alluring tools, the concern coming out of high school was the maturity of the hit tool and the difference between present state and future state. It appears that there is quite a difference, accentuated by a 67% contact rate. The biggest issue is his ability to recognize spin and that goes to the lack of facing quality high school pitching as an amateur. However, he does have bat speed and enough leverage that if he can ever make enough contact, there is likely average power in the profile.
Fantasy Impact: 80 grade speed is the most plentiful in the minor leagues but what has always made Davis alluring was the 12 to 15 home runs that he could also park. However, he has a lot of work to do with this hit tool and if you want to drop Davis and look for speed somewhere else, I’m absolutely fine with that.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
As with many of our emerging prospects, Richard Urena has the present talent to be a Top five prospect in the Blue Jays organization. Urena was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $725,000 and was quickly moved state-side. He has plus hand-eye coordination with a quick compact swing that is more contact-oriented than leverage-oriented. While he’s 6-foot-1, the body type does not project him to put on weight and therefore, he’ll likely have 40-grade power at best. Defensively, his glove has a chance to be plus as he merges nice quickness with above-average arm strength.
For fantasy players, Urena profiles as a below-average player as he’s more of a defensive-first player with limited secondary tools (speed and power). While he’s very young and therefore it’s difficult to project his ceiling, I would guess that it’s high single-digit home runs and stolen bases with a .280 batting average.