The Las Vegas 51s went 5-2 this week, so it should come as a surprise to no one they had five of the top six hottest players in the eighth edition of the Blue Jays prospect hot sheet. Unlike previous years, the Triple-A roster is loaded with (positional) prospects, which has led to it being the flagship minor league club in the first half of the 2012 season. It’s not like their offense needs it, but the team also just acquired possible future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. Yikes. The draft is today and short season leagues will open in a couple of weeks, so the lower levels of the system are about to receive a well needed shot in the arm of talent. From May 28th through June 3rd, here are the system’s hottest prospects.
1. RF Moises Sierra (LAS): 25 AB, .560/.577/1.160 (1.737 OPS), 3 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 1/2 BB/K
A couple of weeks ago, Travis d’Arnaud went on a tear, batting .500 in 20 at-bats, and smashing four home runs. At the time, I said -– with confidence –- that no other Blue Jays player would have a better week over the rest of the season. Well, it took Moises Sierra only 14 days to make me look like an idiot, as his 1.737 OPS this week bested d’Arnaud’s 1.724 OPS, taking over the title of most dominant performance of the year. He had multiple hits in five of his six games played, but the driving force behind his number one ranking was his June 1st performance against Tuscon. Sierra went 3-for-5, with each hit going for a home run, and tallying five RBI. Just for good measure, on the very next day, he went 4-for-4 with another two extra base hits (1 double, 1 home run). The performance has drawn the attention of the front office, with Alex Anthopolous stating in a recent interview that Sierra could be the next call-up from Las Vegas, even ahead of the aforementioned Vlad the Impaler.
2. 3B Yan Gomes (LAS): 27 AB, .370/.393/.852 (1.245 OPS), 7 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, 1/6 BB/K
Gomes got a cup of coffee with the major league club earlier this month, and more than held his own. The .227 batting average wasn’t exactly beautiful, but he swung the bat with authority, and didn’t look overmatched with big league pitch sequencing — all while he was playing a defensive position he was new to (third base), on a surface he’d never played on (field turf). Not a bad debut. Since his demotion, he’s picked up where he left off, and comes in as the second hottest prospect in the system. Gomes had 10 hits this week, and an incredible nine of them went for extra bases –- good for a crazy 482 ISO. Along with Sierra, Gomes should be in contention for the call-up when the Blue Jays finally conclude their ridiculous 8 man bullpen experiment, as his defensive versatility (3B, 1B, C) and offensive spark is something the team desperately needs right now.
3. CF Anthony Gose (LAS): 32 AB, .375/.429/.531 (.960 OPS), 1 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 4 SB, 3/9 BB/K
Anthony Gose has become a bit of a mainstay on the prospect hot sheet, as after a horrible April he got his season on track in a big way during the month of May. The .364/.431/.554 batting line is impressive enough, but it’s even better when you look at how he got there. Gose struck out only 23 times in 29 May games, after striking out 33 times in 24 April games. For someone with legitimate contact concerns, that’s an excellent sign. The power still hasn’t shown up, as after slugging 16 bombs for New Hampshire in 2011, Gose is on pace for only seven this season. That would be less shocking if he were in the International League, but the Pacific Coast League is very conducive to power, as his 51s teammates have regularly shown. Regardless, the improvements with the bat far outweigh any decrease in power, and while a promotion before September doesn’t appear to be in the cards, Gose is making himself a strong case for a starting spot in Toronto’s 2013 Opening Day outfield.
4. RHP John Stilson (DUN): 2-0, 10 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
Toronto selected Stilson in the third round of the 2011 draft, a first round talent who fell because of a significant shoulder injury. He’s come back from that injury strong, and is having a very nice professional debut. Stilson hasn’t been overpowering, but for someone recovering from a significant injury after bouncing between the rotation and bullpen in college, his results are more than acceptable. His success this week can actually be traced back as far as mid-May, as Stilson has now pitched five innings in four consecutive games. Across those 20 innings he’s allowed only 22 base runners and 7 earned runs while striking out 18. I still fear for his long term health as long as he’s in the rotation, and feel he’s better –- and more valuable –- in the bullpen. I understand the reason he’s starting though, as in 2012 alone he’ll pitch two or three seasons worth of relief innings, and for pitcher development, innings and building arm strength are very important.
5. C Travis d’Arnaud (LAS): 26 AB, .346/.393/.538 (.931 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, 2/5 BB/K
Travis d’Arnaud’s two week reign as the system’s hottest prospect is over, but he still finds a spot on the list, coming in at number five. He has continued to hit the ball extremely well, but he wasn’t going to hit four home runs per week forever. That type of production is unsustainable. With Jesus Montero, Yasmani Grandal and Devin Mesoraco all playing in the major leagues, d’Arnaud is the best catching prospect still in the minors. It’s not close, either. If d’Arnaud were on nearly any other team, he would have usurped the starting catcher by now, but Toronto has held steadfast with J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia’s bat hasn’t taken the step forward many had hoped –- particularly in the area of plate discipline –- but his work with the young pitchers and within the clubhouse isn’t something that can be brushed aside. d’Arnaud has reportedly been taking reps at first base recently, and while that won’t be a long term move, it could give the team the short term flexibility to see how d’Arnaud’s bat plays in Toronto without forcing either catcher into a bench role.