With the rosters for the two remaining short season teams – Bluefield and the Gulf Coast Blue Jays – being finalized this week, we can finally give the rosters some well deserved examination. The two rosters in question are loaded with prospects, which should make both teams very fun to follow.
Both teams will be divided into two articles; one for position players and the other for pitchers. It will be explained how each player became a member of the Blue Jays organization, as well as how they performed last year, whether with Toronto or otherwise. A lot of people are familiar with the Triple-A and Double-A rosters, but less so with the low level, short season teams. The goal behind the preview is to give Blue Jays fans a better idea of who is on the rosters, and who they should be keeping their eyes on. The Bluefield and Gulf Coast rosters are even more loaded than usual, as with the draft signing deadline being moved ahead over a month, a number of top draft picks will be playing when in previous years they’d still be sitting at home negotiating.
I will be examining the hitters for both clubs, while Jared will be writing about the pitching side of things. To get things started, here are the position players for the Rookie Class Bluefield Blue Jays.
Santiago Nessy (19 years old)
How he was acquired: Signed out of Venezuela as an international free agent in July 2009 for $750,000
How he fared in 2011: After spending the 2010 season in the Dominican Summer League, Nessy made his stateside debut in 2011 with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays. He hit extremely well, with a .306 batting average and .773 OPS in 35 games. He showed good pop (7 doubles, 3 home runs) and impressive plate discipline (8 walks, 29 strikeouts), something it often takes young latin players a few years to develop. Bluefield should be an interesting challenge for Nessy, as while the bat hasn’t been questioned, his defense has. He’ll be working with a predominantly English speaking pitching staff as well, which could provide additional challenges to the young Venezuelan.
2011 (GCL): 134 AB, .306/.347/.425 (.773 OPS), 7 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 0 SB, 8/29 BB/K
Hector Alvarez (21 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected by the Blue Jays (from the New York Mets) in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft in December 2011
How he fared in 2011: Like Nessy, the 2011 season was Alvarez’ first stateside, as he played with the Gulf Coast Mets after spending three years in the Venezuelan and Dominican summer leagues. Offense isn’t the calling card for Alvarez, as evident by his .229 average and .615 OPS in 2011 (his career highs in both categories came in 2010, at .249 and .692 respectively). With such a low ceiling as a prospect – with that term used loosely – it’s doubtful Alvarez will be stealing much playing time from Santiago Nessy, who the Blue Jays are hoping to develop into something special.
2011 (GCL): 83 AB, .229/.326/.289 (.615 OPS), 5 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB, 12/13 BB/K
Art Charles (21 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 20th round of the 2010 draft
How he fared in 2011: Charles spent the entire 2011 season with Bluefield, and performed well, which makes the lack of promotion at least a little surprising. In 250 at-bats (over 68 games), Charles produced an .819 OPS, fuelled by his extra base power – 18 doubles, 3 triples, 11 home runs. Additionally, his 61 RBI led the entire Appalachian League. The strikeout rate was a little concerning, and could be the reason why the Blue Jays chose to hold Charles back. If he gets off to a hot start though, he could find himself in Vancouver or Lansing very quickly.
2011 (BLU): 250 AB, .240/.351/.468 (.819 OPS), 18 2B, 3 3B, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 1 SB, 39/89 BB/K
Christian Lopes (19 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, signed for $800,000
How he fared in 2011: Because of the old CBA, many above slot signing bonuses were held back by the Commissioner’s office until the signing deadline in mid-August. Lopes fell into that category, as the $800,000 he received was much higher than slot for a 7th round pick. As such, he didn’t get into any game action. Despite being drafted as a shortstop, Lopes is a second baseman in the long run, as he has neither the range nor the arm for the left side of the infield. What made Lopes as high draft pick is his bat, as he has an advanced approach and solid power for a middle infielder.
Dickie Thon (20 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, signed for $1,500,000
How he fared in 2011: Thon fell into similar circumstances to Lopes, though a year earlier. His huge signing bonus eliminated the possibility of playing ball in his draft year, so he didn’t make his debut until 2011. The results were mixed, as while he showed plenty of athleticism and an excellent walk rate, he struggled to make contact or generate much power. It was later revealed he suffered a blood disorder in Spring Training as the result of a rare kidney disease that left him weak throughout the year, so the fact he managed to even play is pretty remarkable. Regardless, as a 20 year old still in rookie ball, Thon will need to stay healthy and hit well if he wants to advance and retain that top prospect shine.
2011 (GCL): 121 AB, .223/.369/.322 (.691 OPS), 3 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 6 SB, 23/44 BB/K
Matt Dean (19 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 13th round of the 2011 draft, signed for $737,500
How he fared in 2011: The Blue Jays made the 2011 draft count, as they went for a ton of expensive high upside high school players. The down side, of course, is that the players are unable to join an affiliate until the following year. Like Christian Lopes, Matt Dean will be making his professional debut, and will round out a top prospect laden Bluefield infield. He has plenty of offensive upside, and when I ranked him as my 13th best prospect in the system over the winter, I predicted a .290/.350/.480 slash line with 15 doubles and 10 home runs. We’ll have to see if he lives up to my lofty expectations.
Christian Frias (22 years old)
How he was acquired: Signed out of Puerto Rico as an international free agent in July 2010
How he fared in 2011: Considering his age, Frias had an extremely disappointing 2011 season in the Gulf Coast League. In 70 at-bats across 33 games, Frias hit only .143 with a .472 OPS. His 1 extra base hit was especially disappointing. While the 15 walks against 13 strikeouts is nice on first glance, one must remember he was facing pitchers primarily three to five years younger than him. Frias will serve as a backup infielder and utility man, as it would be hard to pull Lopes, Thon, or Dean from the lineup at his expense.
2011 (GCL): 70 AB, .143/.315/.157 (.472 OPS), 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, 15/13 BB/K
Chris Peters (23 years old)
How he was acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in June 2011
How he fared in 2011: An undrafted college senior from the University of Cincinnati, Peters was assigned to the Gulf Coast League after signing and performed quite well. His traits from college baseball carried over, as he showed a good plate approach and speed while lacking in the home run department. At 23 years old, Peters is nothing more than organizational depth, though the Blue Jays could be hoping his age and life experiences can give some perspective to this young roster.
2011 (GCL): 118 AB, .246/.321/.364 (.685 OPS), 5 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 3 SB, 14/26 BB/K
Jason Leblebijan (21 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 25th round of the 2012 draft
How he fared in 2011: Jason Leblebijan was drafted out of Bradley University in Missouri, where he was a three year starter at shortstop. His batting average dipped to a career worst .235 in 2012, but he showed some power, leading his team in doubles (16) and total extra base hits (24). He’s very athletic, as Leblebijan also played on the Bradley basketball team. Had he not signed with the Blue Jays, he would have join the Cape Cod League in an effort to boost his draft stock in 2013. With Bluefield, however, he’s expected to serve as a backup infielder.
Jacob Anderson (19 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the Supplemental 1st round of the 2011 draft, signed for $990,000
How he fared in 2011: As he agreed to a near-slot signing bonus, Anderson was able to get a couple weeks worth of games in with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays before the end of the season. In what little time he had, he played extremely well, with a 1.098 OPS. Anderson has a true five-tool profile, as he is capable of hitting for both power and average while playing a strong right field. Despite his height (6-foot-4), Anderson also has above average speed, and should prove to be an exceptional base stealer.
2011 (GCL): 37 AB, .405/.476/.622 (1.098 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, 4/8 BB/K
Dwight Smith Jr (19 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the Supplemental 1st round of the 2011 draft, signed for $800,000
How he fared in 2011: Smith didn’t get into game action in 2011, but his advanced bat should allow him to make the jump from high school baseball to the Appalachian League without too many difficulties. Smith has ideal bloodlines, as his father (Dwight Smith Sr) played major league baseball for eight years, highlighted by a 2nd place finish in the 1989 Rookie of the Year voting and a 1995 World Series title with Atlanta. Growing up around baseball has given Smith excellent instincts and a good knowledge of the game, allowing his tools to play up.
Eric Arce (20 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 27th round of the 2010 draft, signed for $100,000
How he fared in 2011: Arce has exceptional power given his 5-foot-9 build. Playing for the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in 2011, Arce led the league in home runs (14), walks (38), and OPS (1.058), while also placing in the top 10 in RBI, slugging percentage, on base percentage, runs, and total bases. He could play some left field for Bluefield, but it’s more likely he finds most of his playing time at designated hitter where he can focus on what he is – a power hitter. Arce received a number of awards for his breakout performance, including being named a Rookie Class All Star by Baseball America.
2011 (GCL and BLU): 172 AB, .267/.427/.587 (1.015 OPS), 7 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB, 40/52 BB/K
Nico Taylor (22 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 38th round of the 2011 draft
How he fared in 2011: As a junior out of Northwood University, Taylor signed early and was able to get his career underway. It paid off, as the 6-foot-4 outfielder got off to an excellent start and opened a lot of eyes. Playing in 30 games for the Gulf Coast Blue Jays, Taylor showed an impressive all around game, with contact, power, speed, and a mature plate approach. If previous numbers carry weight, Taylor should be one of the favorites for playing time in left field.
2011 (GCL): 91 AB, .319/.421/.505 (.926 OPS), 8 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB, 15/24 BB/K
Carlos Ramirez (21 years old)
How he was acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent in March 2009
How he fared in 2011: Ramirez returns to Bluefield after spending the entire 2011 season with the club. Despite playing in a career low 40 games, he set career highs in a number of categories including average (.232), slugging percentage (.384), and OPS (.685). With the center and right field positions locked down by Smith Jr and Anderson, Ramirez will fight for stuck fighting for playing time in left field and at designated hitter.
2011 (BLU): 112 AB, .232/.301/.384 (.685 OPS), 7 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB, 10/39 BB/K
Alex Azor (22 years old)
How he was acquired: Selected in the 10th round of the 2012 draft, signed for $1,000
How he fared in 2011: As a college senior with Navy, Azor hit a more than respectable.322/.419/.408. He was quoted as saying he would have signed for a hot dog, and unsurprisingly received the minimum bonus for a draft pick at $1,000. Azor is in a unique situation, as a Navy graduate he’s expected to serve in the military for five years, during which he will be unable to play for the organization – though it’s been said he’s seeking a 24 month program who student athletes instead. Even if his baseball career is short lived, Azor has “10th round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays” on his resume, which is something no one can ever take away from him.