After a dominant stretch towards the end of May, the Toronto’s minor league system cooled off substantially in the first full week of June. The law of averages took over, as the players who had been on a tear hitting over .400 in previous weeks found themselves batting in the low .200’s over the last seven days. On the plus side, the draft concluded last Wednesday, and with the signing deadline pushed up to mid-July (as opposed to mid-August in previous years), some of Toronto’s best draftees could soon be involved in their first professional games. Additionally, eight of my personal preseason top 30 prospects in the system will finally have their seasons get underway in short season ball, as the Vancouver, Bluefield, and Gulf Coast affiliates start playing real games next week.
1. 3B Kevin Ahrens (DUN): 17 AB, .471/.526/.882 (1.408 OPS), 1 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, 2/5 BB/K
I had a small glimmer of optimism with Ahrens after he performed fairly well in the Arizona Fall League last year. It’s predominantly a Double-A to Triple-A talent level, so I imagined his performance would create a Double-A assignment in 2012, especially given the lack of depth at that position. Instead, Toronto assigned him to Dunedin, where he’s opened the year for an astonishing four straight years. Now 23 years old, the door has all but closed on Ahrens’ major league future, but career-best weeks from former first round picks deserve mention. He has three home runs this season, all of which have come in the last eight days. This is Ahrens’ first placement on the Blue Jays prospect hot sheet –- and very likely his last –- but as someone who still fondly and naively remembers the Chipper Jones comparisons on draft day, it was nice to relish in his success, even if only for a couple of minutes.
2. C Travis d’Arnaud (LAS): 24 AB, .417/.440/.583 (1.023 OPS), 1 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, 1/7 BB/K
Travis d’Arnaud didn’t have a great week, which makes the 1000+ OPS that much more impressive. In six games, he totaled only two extra base hits and a single walk. Yet, thanks to 10 hits, his overall numbers look very good. The power numbers this season have, unsurprisingly, been otherworldly. His extra base hit percentage is up to 40% with an isolated power of 248. The only discernible problem with d’Arnaud’s year has been his plate discipline. While his 18.1% strikeout rate is the lowest it’s been since 2009, it’s still a little high for a 23-year-old elite prospect in Triple-A. His 7.4% walk rate is in a similar boat, as while it’s in the average range, elite prospects should be better than average.
3. LHP Sean Nolin (DUN): 1-0, 5.2 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Nolin has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2012 season. He had a solid professional debut with Lansing in 2011, but has taken his game to the next level this year. His latest impressive start on June 5th propelled his season record to 7-0, and Nolin has been a huge factor in Dunedin clinching the first half division title. With a 2.43 ERA and 1.15 WHIP through the first two-plus months of the season, one has to doubt he’s long for A-ball, as Nolin is quickly proving himself to be ready for the upper minors. With the Double-A Fisher Cats sitting dead last in the Eastern League, they could certainly use his talent.
4. 1B Mike McDade (NH): 22 AB, .273/.360/.545 (.905 OPS), 3 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB, 3/3 BB/K
Big Mac has been the lone bright spot on an otherwise thin New Hampshire offense. With the preseason promotions of d’Arnaud, Gose, Hechavarria, Sierra, and Gomes, and the season ending injury of A.J. Jimenez, there are really no other noteworthy prospects in the starting nine. Opposing pitchers appear to have taken note, as with 27 walks through only 59 games –- including three base on balls this week –- he’s on pace to shatter his previous career high of 33 back in 2008. Teams can simply work around McDade, as no one else in the lineup can do any significant kind of damage to them. I’d really like to see him get a chance at Las Vegas with a lineup of top prospects, but until Toronto can sort out the David Cooper/Adam Lind/Vladimir Guerrero mess, McDade appears stuck in New Hampshire.
5. RHP Javier Avendano (LAN): 1-0, 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 K
The Lansing long man snuck onto the second edition of the Blue Jays prospect hot sheet, and thanks to a thin group of performances from the system’s elite talent this week, he finds himself in the fifth spot again. Avendano appeared in three games and displayed some of his versatility, earning a win, a hold, and a save. He’s been a big strikeout guy this year, and his 11 strikeouts over six innings this week boosted his season total to 39 in 30.1 innings (11.57 K/9). With the Syndergaard/DeSclafani tandem often struggling to reach their seven or eight innings, Avendano has been a huge asset to the first place Lansing team this year.