Q+A: Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects for 2012

(Oct 31/11)

In connection with the release of our 2012 Top 10 Prospect lists, we've been conducting a series of Q+A's with journalists and bloggers that cover each of the 30 MLB teams. Click here to see the index of Q+A's that we've published so far.

Today's Q+A is about the Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects for 2012 and was conducted with April Whitzman and Ryan Kinsey, the creators of JaysProspects.com.

First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and your website.

April: My name is April Whitzman; I am from Campbellton, New Brunswick (a place you have never heard of) and am currently living in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Those who know me on the East Coast know me as a dedicated student. (Granted, they have good reason). I am presently in my seventh year of university, having already completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English, and am months away from a Bachelor of Public Relations degree.

Interestingly, however, those who do not know me as a student know me through my Twitter alias and pen name of Alleycat17 and recognize me as being the Founder and Administrator of http://www.jaysprospects.com/; a site dedicated to the Toronto Blue Jays prospects.

Originally, the website started as a way for me to learn more about the prospects and at the same time become a vehicle to promote the Blue Jays prospects, as I felt it was strongly undervalued and not written about enough. Since this time, JaysProspects has gained a few writers and has slowly increased in popularity. What makes me the most happy regarding the website is having Blue Jays prospects thank us for our dedication in providing them with an outlet on having their voices heard. There is nothing better than that.

Ryan:  I've played competitive baseball for 10 or 11 years now, I am a pitcher/outfielder. This past year my baseball team won the Junior “B” Provincial Championship for Ontario.

I am the co-owner of JaysProspects.com, the site is a guide to keep people up to date on prospects throughout the minor leagues. As well as, we provide in depth analysis and opinions on the prospects.

Q: A lot of people were surprised when the Blue Jays promoted SS Adeiny Hechavarria to Triple-A towards the end of the 2011 season, taking him off an eventual championship winning Double-A New Hampshire team just a few weeks before the playoffs. As we all know, Hechavarria’s numbers improved drastically upon arriving in Las Vegas (PCL factor?). What’s your take on this situation and Hechavarria’s role with the Jays going forward?

April: Over the past two seasons Adeiny Hechavarria has been a .255 hitter with a .966 fielding percentage. However, he performed tremendously at the end of the season, when he spent his last 25 games in AAA, hitting .389 with six doubles, two triples, two homeruns and 11 RBI. While the increase in numbers can definitely be attributed to the PCL it also has everything to do with confidence. Prospects cannot wait to move up the ladder, especially at AA. Seeing the Blue Jays’ organization have confidence in him, he wanted to show them what he could do. Expect Hechavarria to spend the full season in AAA (unless injuries occur) and become a September 2012 call-up. If all goes well, he’ll be on the opening day roster in 2013. The question then will become… where will Yunel Escobar play?

Ryan:  I was one who supported the move promoting Hechavarria to Vegas because I thought it would be best for his development long-term. PCL factor or not, giving Hechavarria more confidence at the plate will pay huge dividends down the road. My take on his situation is this; he will stay in Vegas for the entire 2012 season barring any injuries to Escobar and will be a September call-up. He should get some at-bats in September to prove what he can do going forward to the 2013 season. I still believe that he is the shortstop of the future and in all likelihood in 2013 we will see Yunel at a new position or traded.

Q: OF Travis Snider has had a harder time cracking the Major League lineup than originally expected.  RHP Kyle Drabek had a dismal 2011 season after winning a job in the Opening Day rotation out of Spring Training. What do you think the future holds for each of these former top prospects?
April: In four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Travis Snider has hit .248, with his most recent season being his weakest, producing a .225 average in 49 games. His power has also diminished, hitting only 16 doubles and three homeruns. Because of this harsh reality, Snider was sent to Triple-A on multiple occasions this season. His batting average increased with the 51's, possibly with the help of the PCL factor, but again, by comparison, his power had decreased.

Watch Travis Snider bat against Seattle Mariners RHP Michael Pineda:

To be honest, the following season is do-or-die for the 23-year-old. In my personal opinion, I think (and I will get a lot of verbal abuse for this) that the Blue Jays organization should consider trading him this offseason due in part to their full outfield. I think Snider needs the change in scenery. Not that I want him to go, but a change of atmosphere was exactly what the doctor ordered for Yunel Escobar so in my opinion the trade will be beneficial for both teams involved and Snider himself.

In terms of Kyle Drabek, it’s all about the mental game. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 draft, it is evident that organizations had high expectations for the young kid from Texas. These expectations only increased upon being compared to Roy Halladay. Drabek needs to work on the mental game. He has high-calibre pitches but can’t seem to settle down as soon as he is off his game. If he doesn’t make the Blue Jays opening roster, I’d prefer seeing Drabek start in AA, get his confidence back as he dominated in AA in 2010 where he went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA and them get the call-up back to the Majors.

Ryan:  I am a firm believer in both Snider and Drabek. I think that they are still going to be a huge part of the future going forward, but the window of opportunity for them is tightening quickly. With all the starting pitching prospects fairing well and the new depth at outfield means they have to prove themselves this year. Snider has been decimated by injuries since his amazing September debut back in 2008 as a 21-year-old.

Drabek entered his first full year in the majors and struggled mightily but people have to remember he is only 24-years-old. Patience is the key for both players but I believe 2012 is their year.

Q: 1B David Cooper turned a lot of heads in 2011, after nearly being forgotten as a prospect coming into the season. In your eyes is Cooper more likely to be a valuable piece on the Blue Jays roster going forward, trade bait, or a quadruple A player? 
April: David Cooper dominated this year in Triple-A, hitting .364 with 51 doubles, nine homeruns and 96 RBI in 120 games. Additionally, his walk-to-strikeout rate was also strong for a first baseman, as he struck out 43 times but got the free pass 67 times. Those in the organization mention their apprehensiveness over his defense, but Cooper held his own in the PCL, where he maintained a .994 fielding percentage. Unfortunately, his stats were not comparable in the Majors this year where he hit .211 and his BB:K ratio plummeted, as he he walked just 7 times compared to his 14 strikeouts. If Cooper wants to become more than just a quadruple A player he will have to increase the power and slugging percentage, while lowering the strikeout totals. If he can do that, and replicate his Triple-A stats in the Majors, he will never be forgotten about again.

Ryan: I was one of those who had forgotten David Cooper as a prospect since he was drafted by the Blue Jays 17th overall in 2008. My opinion on Cooper hasn’t changed because of the year that he had, as it's important to remember the PCL factor. I believe the best MLB comparison for Cooper is former Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay, but weaker defensively. In my mind, he is a quadruple A player, no more, on this team but could be used as trade bait for a team looking for first-base depth. He could help get a reliever for the bullpen rebuild for 2012.

Q: Consider the Blue Jays haul of prep pitchers taken early in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. This time last year, everyone was raving about the selection of RHP Aaron Sanchez after his promising debut in the GCL and NYP leagues. This year, everyone is talking about LHP Justin Nicolino and RHP Noah Syndergaard after strong 2011 performances at the low levels. Which of these three young pitchers are you highest on going forward, and why?

April: You want me to make an assumption on which player, Nicolino or Syndergaard I feel better about going forward? Honestly? You are going to make me choose?!

Well, let’s start with Syndergaard. This year, with the Vancouver Canadians, Bleufield Blue Jays, and Lansing Lugnuts, the 19-year-old right-hander from Texas went 5-2 with an INCREDIBLE 1.83 ERA. In over 59 innings pitched, he allowed only 12 earned runs, only one of which was via the homerun. He also had an outstanding WHIP after walking only 18 while striking out 68. 

Moving on to Justin Nicolino, another 19-year-old, but this time is a left-hander from Florida. This year, with the Vancouver Canadians and the Lansing Lugnuts, Nicolino went 6-2 with a 1.33 ERA, allowing only nine earned runs (no homeruns) in 61 innings pitched.

They both have pretty incredible numbers. Syndergaard did an amazing interview for JaysProspects (which you can read here), but I’m slightly (emphasize slightly) favouring the left-handed Nicolino at this point.

Ryan: For me it’s a toss up between Syndergaard and Nicolino. I think these pitchers are more projectable then Sanchez. From what I've heard, Sanchez has had a tough time staying in his delivery. I believe Syndergaard and Nicolino have better stuff then Sanchez as well. If I had to pick out of the two for a starting pitcher I would pick Nicolino, Syndergaard would be a great late-inning bullpen guy if doesn't develop as a starting pitcher.

Q: Besides C Travis d’Arnaud and OF Anthony Gose, which hitting prospect left in the system are you most excited about for the 2012 season and why?

April: The hitting prospect I am most excited to see how he performs in 2012 is Jake Marisnick. The third round draft pick from the 2009 draft told me (here) at the end of his 2010 season that he was excited to see what the following season had in store for him and that he was dedicated to working on his speed and his average. So what did he do in 2011? Increased his batting average 100 points! (From .220 to .320) and hit 27 doubles,  six triples, 14 homeruns and successfully stole 37 bases. 

Ryan:  I’m most excited about outfielder Jake Marisnick. He really made a name for himself in the Midwest league this year for the Lansing Lugnuts. I had the luxury of getting to see him live and was extremely surprised at what I saw. He has tremendous bat speed and is one of the rare players that has legit 5-tool potential.


Q: The 2007 draft has already produced Major League talent for the Blue Jays as C J.P. Arencibia, LHP Brett Cecil, LHP Brad Mills and LHP Marc Rzepczynski have all made contributions to the big league club. However, 3B Kevin Ahrens and OF Justin Jackson have not developed as hoped, but both players finally showed signs of improvement in 2011. Which of these two players do you think has a better chance to succeed if pushed to Double-A New Hampshire in 2012, and why?

April: As you mentioned, both Justin Jackson and Kevin Ahrens showed considerable improvement in 2011. Ahrens, chosen 16th overall in the 2007 draft, spent the season with Dunedin hitting .242 with 24 doubles and a career high 54 RBI. He is currently playing in the AFL where he posted a .225 batting average through 12 games, with one homerun and eight RBI.

Conversely, Justin Jackson, the 45th overall pick from the same draft, was a strong member of both the Dunedin Blue Jays and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats where he posted a collective .249 average with 22 doubles, three triples, five homeruns, and 30 RBI. In the future, he’ll have to work to improve his strikeout rate, as he struck out 115 times in 100 games.

Jackson hitting an RBI double for Double-A New Hampshire:

Upon comparing the two players side-by-side I’d state that Jackson has the better chance of making the New Hampshire team in 2012. Not only because he has already played there, but also due to his versatility. In five season with the Blue Jays’ organization, he has spent most of his time playing SS but has also played 2B, LF, RF, CF, DH, and 3B. Ahrens, on the other hand, has only played 3B and SS.

My last reason for choosing Jackson is also because of what he stated in an interview with JaysProspects as he mentioned that his future plans are to “continue to improve in all aspects of the game of baseball and to take myself to the next level not only physically but mentally as well.” With an outlet like that - - how can you not choose him? (With that said, I still hope Ahrens makes it too!).

Ryan:  I believe that Justin Jackson has the better chance at succeeding of the two prospects. He has a lot more versatility then Ahrens and was introduced to the outfield this year. He bat is starting to come around and has always had good plate discipline.

Q: Besides LHP Daniel Norris, who signed for a $2 million bonus, which 2011 Blue Jays draft pick are you most excited about for next season and why?

April: There are so many incredible players that the Toronto Blue Jays signed from the 2011 draft. The players that first come to mind are pitchers Kevin Comer and Joseph Musgrove. Musgrove, wasted no time signing, eager to play professional ball and played in eight games in the GCL league where he posted a 0-1 record with a 4.57 ERA. In 21.2 innings pitched, Musgrove allowed only 17 hits, 11 earned runs, and one homerun. Additionally, another reason why I have faith in him is because he has a good head on his shoulders. 

When asked why he signed quickly and under-slot, the young pitcher told JaysProspects: “Money means very little to me. I wanted to be playing so I was going to sign whether it was $5,000 or $5,000,000. As long as I had enough money to get my parents out of debt I was happy. I will play in the Bigs one day and I will make my money then.” I also love his confidence!

Comer is another player that I have complete faith in. Scouts love his talent on the mound, a repertoire that includes a four-seam, 94 MPH fastball, his two-seam 90-91 MPH fastball, his 82-83 MPH changeup, and his 76-80 spike curveball, but he also has talent off the mound, as Comer admitted to me in a JaysProspects post, "to be honest, off the field, I must admit that my best skills are my moves on the dance floor." As a female, I'm always going to side with a male who knows how to dance!
Ryan: I am most excited about the Jays top draft signee outfielder Jacob Anderson. His combination of raw power and speed is rare. He is listed at 6’4 under 200lbs and should fill out as the years go on. I think that if they have an abundance of outfielders ready for prime time then he could shift to first-base.

Q: Toronto had a lot of breakout prospects in 2011. Who’s your sleeper prospect to watch in the Blue Jays system next year? Tell the readers a bit about him and why you feel he is the player to watch for a breakout.

April: Not sure whether or no either of us would consider my response a, ‘sleeper prospect’ but I cannot talk about prospects, without talking about one of my favourite prospects, Chris Hawkins. Hawkins became a favourite of mine after winning a competition where one had to predict what Hawkins would hit in his opening season. I never thought I’d be as happy as I was to see a prospect hit .255. Sure enough, a signed ball was mine! (See photo below).

Regardless, I became an even bigger fan in 2011 after he completely dominated with the Bluefield Blue Jays. He led his team in triples with six (third in the league) and runs scored with 49 (also third in the league) and hit .318 with  15 doubles, five homeruns, 52 RBI, and only made two errors in the outfield. He was Bluefield's winner of the R. Howard Webster Award after exemplifying excellence in leadership, work ethic, and overall statistics this season, but even more than that, has won my heart.

Ryan: Art Charles is my sleeper pick to watch out for next year. He is a big powerful first-baseman that stands 6’6 220lbs. He showed signs of the raw power he possesses and I think that will translate well going forward to 2012. He is a hard worker and is a great defensive first-baseman as well.

Photo: Prospect D2J - 2011 AFL
 Q: If you were the GM of the hypothetical team with the first pick in the 2011 draft, which prospect would you have drafted and why?

April: To be honest, I’d stick with Gerrit Cole – he can hit 100MPH and has proven he’s a solid pick. In addition, he turned down a contract with the Yankees in 2008 – any man that can do that is a solid player in my books!

Ryan: I would have picked Trevor Bauer first-overall, but Gerrit Cole would have been a close second. I believe Bauer, long-term, has more projectability than Cole and has a great work ethic. There isn’t really a glaring reason that makes me think that Cole is the wrong pick though.

 Q: Hypothetical question: If you could add one prospect to the Blue Jays system from any in the game outside of the big four right now (Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Matt Moore, Julio Teheran) who would it be and why?
April: The Blue Jays’ organization is full of high calibre pitchers, outfielders, and catchers. So upon eliminating those positions from the mix, I’d go after a star first basemen such as Freedie Freeman or Eric Hosmer. Although both have graduated and are no longer considered prospects at this point in the game, the Blue Jays in dire need of a high-calibre, power hitting, first baseman, and either of these two players would be a perfect fit.

Ryan: RHP Shelby Miller no doubt! In the 2009 draft he is the player that I wanted to see the Blue Jays draft but he went one pick earlier to the St. Louis Cardinals. His top of the rotation stuff, combined with excellent mound presence makes him a force on the mound.

Video: Miller pitching for the Palm Beach Cardinals (thanks to YouTube user baseballinstinct):