The week spanning July 2nd through July 8th was easily the most impressive of the year, as OPS values above 1.000 were commonplace and even Deck McGuire had a dominant pitching performance. The hot sheet ranks the top six performances of the week, but another six players had weeks well deserving of recognition. Leading off the list is…
1. RHP Noah Syndergaard (LAN): 2-0, 11 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
Since mid-June, no one in the Blue Jays system has pitched better than Noah Syndergaard. Across his last five appearances – including two games this week – Syndergaard has allowed just 3 runs 25 innings, while striking out 29. He’s kept base runners to a minimum as well, with only 15 hits and 5 walks allowed. On July 8th he pitched 6 complete innings, which was a new career high for the big Texas right hander. After some early season inconsistency there was a lot of talk that Syndergaard had become overhyped and simply wasn’t as good as advertised, but the fact he’s been pitching at his best while finally getting stretched out with a starter’s workload speaks volumes about his true talent level. His switch from a curveball to a slider coincides with this incredible hot streak, and with such a powerful arm and 3/4 delivery the breaking ball does appear to suit him better. Syndergaard’s 80 strikeouts rank 5th in the Midwest League despite his inning total being between 15 and 35 lower than all the pitchers ahead and immediately behind him. He is a very real pitching prospect folks.
2. 2B Christian Lopes (BLU): 20 AB, .450/.476/.750 (1.226 OPS), 3 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB, 1/4 BB/K
Lopes ranks on the hot sheet for the second time in three weeks thanks to a continual display of impressive power for a middle infielder. A thin Bluefield schedule limited him to five games this week, but he took full advantage of his playing time with four multi-hit efforts, each of which included one extra base hit. He completely filled up the stat sheet, with the aforementioned doubles and home run being complemented by a walk and a pair of stolen bases, his first two of the year. With Hechavarria not long for the minor leagues and Dickie Thon struggling badly over the past two years, Lopes could soon be in the discussion for Toronto’s top middle infield prospect.
3. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (LAS): 27 AB, .407/.484/.704 (1.188 OPS), 0 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB, 4/5 BB/K
Anyone who is still simply attributing Hechavarria’s success to Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League is missing out on some legitimate and exciting development. Hechavarria played in seven games this week, and much like Christian Lopes down in Bluefield, he put up a nice variety of numbers across the board. His week was highlighted by his June 2nd game against Reno, as he went 3-for-5 with a pair of solo home runs. The season line is now up to .317/.367/.449, and while that obviously won’t translate to Toronto, it really doesn’t need to given his defensive proficiency. His .281/.326/.409 road slash line is probably a more accurate representation of his talent level at this point, and is a significant improvement upon the .687 OPS he produced last year in Double-A. If Hechavarria can generate a .700 OPS while hitting 9th in a major league lineup, he has boatloads of value.
4. LF Chris Hawkins (LAN): 28 AB, .464/.545/.607 (1.152 OPS), 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, 5/2 BB/K
Hawkins soared in April (.313 average, .767 OPS) and May (.327 average, .762 OPS), but completely fell apart in the month of June. He managed to hit only .160, and as a batting average dependent offensive player, his OPS plummeted to .437 for the month. After Jon Berti received a well deserved promotion to Dunedin, it appears as though Hawkins realized he need to shoulder the offensive load for the Lugnuts, as he came on extremely strong this week, including a pair of 4-for-4 games on the 6th and 8th. Hawkins produced a 174 ISO with Bluefield last season, and while the Midwest League is arguably the hardest place in all of minor league baseball to hit, his measly 76 ISO this season has been a gargantuan disappointment. It’s hard to argue his prospect stock has taken a bit of a hit this year.
5. C Yan Gomes (LAS): 23 AB, .304/.385/.739 (1.124 OPS), 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB, 3/3 BB/K
Gomes remains on fire as the trade deadline approaches, ranking on his second consecutive prospect hot sheet. He showed a lot of offensive diversification, with plenty of power, a trio of walks, and even a pair of stolen bases, tripling his season total. He’s actually hit better away from the friendly confines of Cashman Field, so prospective teams looking to find an offensive oriented catcher/third baseman can at least partially believe in the numbers he’s produced this year. If he remains within the organization, he could become a very valuable bench player for the Blue Jays. His catching background would allow the Blue Jays to play both Travis d’Arnaud and J.P. Arencibia in the lineup at the same time, acting as a viable alternative should one of them suffer an injury during game action.
6. 3B Kellen Sweeney (VAN): 19 AB, .316/.409/.737 (1.146 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB, 3/4 BB/K
The 2012 season has been a colossal disappointment for Sweeney, who I thought was poised for a breakout year after an injury riddled 2011. Sweeney opened the year with Single-A Lansing but was completely overmatched, hitting .179/.297/.207 in 43 games. The team pulled him back to extended spring training, where he worked at the complex until being assigned to Vancouver in mid-June. Sweeney started off just as poorly, with a .130/.311/.196 line in 14 June games, but has picked things up significantly here in July. His two home runs this week were his first since way back in August of 2010, and he’s continued to show his usual incredible plate discipline. I really hope this is a sign of things to come, as I’ve always felt Sweeney has far more talent than his statistics have suggested.