The weekly prospect hot sheet over at Baseball America has been one of my favorite reads for a long time. As they make sure to mention, it’s not a rearrangement of their top 100 prospects, it’s simply a glimpse at who around baseball has been tearing up the last seven days. I started a Blue Jays prospect hot sheet over at my old blog late last year, and felt it would be a nice thing to carry over to Jays Journal for this season. Below are the system’s top five performers (amongst legitimate prospects) for the first week-plus of games, from April 5-15. The second and all subsequent hot sheets will be limited to seven days, with statistics from Monday through Sunday being counted.
1. RHP Joel Carreno (LAS): 1-0, 5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
It’s very difficult for any pitcher to place first on a hot sheet with only one start, and even more so early in the year when pitches and innings are heavily restricted. Despite this, Carreno takes the crown as the hottest Blue Jays prospect in the first 10 days of the season. Beyond simply the statistics – which are mighty impressive for anyone – Carreno earns the No. 1 spot thanks to the environment and circumstances in which he pitched this week. As everyone is well aware, Carreno made the start for the Blue Jays third game of the year against Cleveland, and for all intents and purposes, performed admirably. After the game, he was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas. While this was apparently “the plan all along”, no one made Carreno aware of it, and for obvious reasons he was heartbroken upon hearing the news. Carreno didn’t sulk, however, instead turning in perhaps the best start of his entire minor league career. What is most impressive about the start is that he made it for Las Vegas. Through the first 11 games, the staff has a 6.33 team ERA, ranking 15th out of the 16 Pacific Coast League teams. In that environment, five shutout innings suddenly becomes that much more impressive.
2. RF Justin Jackson (NH): 30 AB, .400/.455/.567 (1.021 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SB, 3/5 BB/K
It’s been an up and down career for the 2007 first round pick. Once heralded as the shortstop of the future thanks to an excellent glove and a promising bat, Jackson has since been moved down the defensive spectrum while seeing his offensive potential continue to go unfulfilled. While the sample size is extremely small at only 9 games, Jackson has gotten off to a tremendous start in 2012. His game has been very well rounded, as evidenced by his four extra base hits, four stolen bases, and three walks to only five strikeouts. In total, he has reached base in seven of the nine games he has played in. Now 23 years old, he’ll need to sustain this hot start if he wants to have a future as a major league utility man, as he’s not far from being overtaken by younger and more talented prospects.
3. LHP Sean Nolin (DUN): 2-0, 11.2 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K
Nolin has made two starts already this season, but the second start alone would have earned him a spot on the first Blue Jays hot sheet of the year. Nolin opened the year with six shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out two. For an encore, he took his dominance to another level. Nolin pitched five and two-thirds innings on April 12th, allowing only three base runners (all hits) and striking out an astounding eleven batters. Just for good measure, he induced six groundouts against only one fly out. Between the two starts, Nolin is up to nearly 12 innings of shutout ball. If his goal was to draw some attention to himself in a rotation that includes top prospects Asher Wojciechowski and John Stilson, it’s certainly working.
4. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (LAS): 42 AB, .381/.409/.500 (.909 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, 2/11 BB/K
After struggling for nearly two full years between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, Hechavarria received a late-season promotion to Las Vegas in 2011. He hit the cover off the ball, to the tune of a .968 OPS and 10 extra base hits in only 108 at-bats. Many people, myself included, were quick to point to both small sample size and the Vegas effect. To the surprise of most, Hechavarria has picked up where he left off, and it might be time to seriously consider the possibility that he’s finally taken a step forward offensively. Hechavarria is the only middle infield prospect in Toronto’s upper minors, so the fact he’s finally showing a pulse at the plate is a very good sign for the club.
5. C Carlos Perez (LAN): 33 AB, .303/.378/.455 (.833 OPS), 3 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 1 SB, 4/7 BB/K
The final spot on the hot sheet came down to Perez and his Lansing teammate, outfielder Chris Hawkins. While Hawkins had the better offensive week, I chose to give the nod to Perez due to the adversity he faced entering the season. After playing like a man possessed in his three years of short season ball, Perez failed to live up to expectations in his full season debut in 2011. His performance declined significantly, and his playing time in the second half followed suit. Now, in his second year with the Lugnuts, Perez has to prove last season was the fluke, not the three years prior. His first week-plus of the 2012 season was very reminiscent of his previous success, and for many players, a hot start is all you need to regain lost confidence and go on a lengthy tear.
Travis Snider Watch: 38 AB, .421/.476/.763 (1.239 OPS), 4 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 0 SB, 4/6 BB/K
As long as he’s a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, you will find me steadfast in the corner of Travis Snider. A fact that some fans may too easily forget is that, while the system is in much better shape now than it has been in a decade, Travis Snider is still the best single prospect we’ve had since Roy Halladay was a minor leaguer. He was rushed to the major leagues as a 20 year old in September 2008, and has become a frequent flyer between Toronto and Las Vegas since. In the three years since his debut, he has accumulated 726 major league at-bats and 522 minor league at-bats – not exactly a recipe for success for an elite prospect.
I won’t argue he’s been extremely streaky when with Toronto, but that’s to be expected with young players – he’s still only 24 – particularly when their managers appear to derive pleasure from jerking them in and out of the lineup. What can be said with certainty, however, is that Snider will never be able to make the necessary adaptations to big league calibre pitchers while marooned in Triple-A. He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, as evident by his insane start to the 2012 season. Snider should have been the Opening Day starter in left field, but another week of dominance combined with continued lackluster play by Eric Thames could result in a swap of roles far sooner than most expected.