Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects for 2012

(Oct 31/11)

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects for 2012

1. C Travis d'Arnaud

A key piece to the Roy Halladay trade, d'Arnaud captured the 2011 Eastern League MVP award. He finished the season hitting .311 with 21 HR and a .914 OPS for Double-A New Hampshire. The only problem for d'Arnaud is that Blue Jays C J.P. Arencibia had a fantastic rookie year, and is entrenched as the team's current starting backstop.

That leaves the door open for d'Arnaud to spend the majority of the 2012 season with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51's. He'll look to continue his success at the plate and further his development behind it, but it will be interesting to see if any of Toronto's top pitching prospects join him in Las Vegas.

The team has generally avoided assigning it's top young pitchers there, but their desire for d'Arnaud to continue building working relationships with the team's top young pitchers could alter those plans next season.

2. OF Anthony Gose

Long coveted by Blue Jays management, Anthony Gose was finally acquired in the wake of the Roy Oswalt trade. The Jays flipped 1B Brett Wallace to Houston after the Astros acquired Gose in the package from the Phillies. Gose's best teal is his plus plus speed, which he used to lead the minor league in stolen bases in 2009 while still in the Phillies organization.

Gose spent his first full season in the Blue Jays organization playing for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where he batted .253/.349/.415 with 16 home runs, 59 RBI, 70 stolen bases, seven triples and 87 runs scored in 137 games. The statistics are a good indicator of Gose's true five-tool potential, as he has the ability to impact the game in many ways. By all accounts, his hit tool is probably the least polished of all of his skills, and he's still likely a year or two away from contributing in Toronto. However, with his incredible speed and his knack for getting on base, Gose should be a top of the order threat that the Blue Jays lineup has been lacking for a long time.

(read about prospects #3-#10 after the break)
3. OF Jake Marisnick

here were questions about Marisnick's bat coming out of high school, and they likely caused him to slip to the third round of the draft. The Blue Jays just might have a steal on their hands, as Marisnick was outstanding with the bat all year long in his first full professional season. He tore up the Midwest League and was recently named the league's 3rd best prospect by Baseball America. With Lansing, Marisnick was part of a very talented outfield trio, that also included Marcus Knecht and Michael Crouse, and helped lead the team to the league playoffs. All three players should move up to Class-A Advanced Dunedin in 2012, but there's no doubt that Marisnick is the key player to keep an eye on at this point.

4. LHP Daniel Norris

The club whiffed on signing RHP Tyler Beede, their first round selection in this past June's draft. However, they came away very pleased with the signing of the left-handed Norris, who was considered one of the top prep pitchers available, especially among southpaws.

Norris features a low 90's fastball that he can pump up to about 96 MPH, a solid changeup and an improving curveball. Like most high school pitchers, his arsenal needs more polish but scouts rave about his makeup on the mound. Norris is the most talented lefty the Jays have selected since taking Ricky Romero early in the 2005 draft.

It will be interesting to see where Norris is assigned to begin his pro career, and whether or not he will be pitching at the same level as some of the team's top young pitchers, Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard in 2012.

5. RHP Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard really put himself on the map with an outstanding 2011 season, as he posted fantastic numbers across three levels. He pitched so well that he was promoted to Class-A Lansing in time to join their rotation for the 2011 Midwest League playoffs. His combined line of 5-2, with a 1.83 ERA and 1.09 WHIP is very impressive and indicates the kind of potential the towering righty has. He struck out 68 batters while walking just 18 and surrendering just one lone home run on the season.

He throws a fastball that can reach the mid-90's, and his best off speed pitch is his curveball, which he used effectively in high school to rack up tons of strikeouts. It's important to keep in mind that he was drafted out of high school in Texas and may not ascend the minor league ranks at the same pace he showed in 2011. Either way, the Blue Jays have yet another talented young pitcher on their hands.

-- READ OUR Q+A with creators April Whitzman and Ryan Kinsey here --

 6. RHP Drew Hutchison

Hutchison was probably the organization's best breakout prospect. Travis d'Arnaud had a great season, but we already knew about him. Justin Nicolino put up outstanding numbers, but it was in short-season play. Hutchison began the year as an after thought on the team's depth charts, pitching for the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts. He pitched so well that he was promoted to Class-A Advanced Dunedin, and then even on to Double-A New Hampshire towards the end of the season.

His scouting reports aren't as impressive as his stats were this season. Hutchison throws his fastball in the low 90's, but has a slider and a changeup that are two promising off speed pitches. He gets the best out of repertoire as he knows how to mix his pitches and can throw consistent strikes with all of them. If he's able to maintain his success in 2012, Hutchison could be one of the first pitching prospects from this list to arrive in Toronto.

7. LHP Justin Nicolino
Nicolino was a supplemental round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and signed too late to play, which kept him from generating any kind of buzz last season. All that changed in a hurry in 2011 though as he completely dominated the Class-A Short Season Northwest League, earning Baseball America's honour as the league's top prospect in 2011. Nicolino made 12 starts, pitching in 15 games for the Vancouver Canadians, going 5-1 with a sparkling 1.03 ERA and 0.75 WHIP across 52.1 innings pitched. He surrendered just 39 hits, while allowing 13 free passes, but struck out 72 batters.

Promoted to Class-A Lansing in late August, Nicolino made three starts going 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, so it's evident that things might not be quite as easy as he made them look in the Northwest League. Either way he gained valuable experience as a member of the Lugnuts playoff rotation. He was also paired up on the Lugnuts roster with RHP Noah Syndergaard, another of the Jays top young pitching prospects, and one he should spend a lot of time playing on the same team with next season.

Currently, Nicolino throws his fastball consistently in the low 90's and his changeup is a better pitch than his curveball at this point. As he grows up and fills out, he'll likely add some velocity to the fastball, potentially giving the lefty a good pitch to use to set up his changeup, which should be a very effective weapon.

8. RHP Deck McGuire

The team's top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, McGuire performed very well during his first full professional season, reaching Double-A by the end of the year. He went 7-4 with a 2.75 ERA with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Class-A Advanced Florida State League, and 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA playing for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Double-A Eastern League. In total he made 21 starts and logged 125.1 innings. He struck out 124 batters while walking just 45, and posted a .232 opponents batting average. He also pitched for the Fisher Cats team in the playoffs as they captured the Eastern League Championship.

McGuire will undoubtedly return to New Hampshire to start the 2012 season. If not for developmental reasons, than definitely because the Blue Jays avoid sending pitching prospects to Las Vegas at nearly all costs. He will pair with RHP Chad Jenkins to form a strong rotation that should also include the likes of RHP Drew Hutchison and RHP Nestor Molina, a group that should provide Toronto with a stable of arms capable of contributing at the big league level should any holes arise due to injury. It will be interesting to see in McGuire, or perhaps 2011 draftee LHP Daniel Norris, is the team's top pitching prospect a year from now.

9. RHP Aaron Sanchez

Sanchez had an incredible pro debut after signing in 2010, posting a very impressive 13.3 K/9 rate in a limited sample size. The same story can`t be told for his 2011 season, as he struggled repeating his delivery early on in the season, which led to disappoint results. However, he improved as the season went on and still struck out more than a batter per inning, recording 56 K's in 54.1 innings across stints with Bluefield and Vancouver. It appears that Sanchez is a bit more raw than Nicolino and Syndergaard at this point, but they form a talented trio of high school pitchers taken in the 2010 draft that should be very interesting to follow in 2012.

10. SS Adeiny Hechavarria

Hechavarria was a huge signing for the Jays, re-enforcing the team`s commitment to being a leading player in the Latin American market, something that was so crucial to their success in the early 90`s.  His glove is his best asset, as scouts rave that he could play above average defense at shortstop in the Major Leagues right now, however, his bat has been a different story. He struggled to adjust early in 2010, putting up meagre numbers with the bat playing for the Class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays. Despite his .193/.217/.292 line through 41 games with the D-Jays, Hechavarria was promoted to Double-A, joining the New Hampshire Fisher Cats midseason. Interestingly, his numbers improved after his promotion and he hit .273/.305/.360 the rest of the year.

In a return to New Hampshire for the 2011 season, Hechavarria stole 19 bases, and increased his power production, putting up 34 extra-base hits. However, he saw his slash line decrease to just .235/.275/.347, but was surprisingly still promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas with the Double-A team about a month away from beginning a successful playoff run.

Here's where the funny thing happened. Hechavarria's bat suddenly came to life, raking at a .389/.431/.537 clip over 25 games with the 51's, marking the seconod time his production increased after a midseason promotion to a higher level. Many will point to the so called "PCL factor", alluding that Hechavarria's succcess was aided by playing in one of the most extreme hitter friendly circuits in the minor leagues. Regardless, the young Cuban shortstop flashed the kind of potential the Jays saw in him when they inked him to a $10 million bonus. For the season, he stole 20 bases, and piled up 44 extra-base hits, all while playing his top notch defense at shortstop. The 2012 season should bring answers, as we'll see if Hechavarria continues to progress on the offensive side of the ball, or whether his late season surge was really just a PCL mirage.

More Notable Toronto Blue Jays Prospects (No Order): RHP Chad Jenkins, 1B David Cooper, C Carlos Perez, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, OF Moises Sierra, RHP Joel Carreno, 1B Mike McDade, C A.J. Jimenez, OF Marcus Knecht, OF Michael Crouse, OR Markus Brisker, OF Jacob Anderson, RHP Kevin Comer, LHP Griffin Murphy, 3B Kellen Sweeney, RHP John Stilson, RHP Thomas Robson, RHP Adonys Cardona

What's your take on this Top 10 prospect list? What do you think of the rankings? Is there a player that missed the cut that you feel should have been on the list? Tell us in the comment section below.