Sean Nolin (RIGHT) poses with his Dunedin teammate, infielder Kevin Nolan, in June (Eddie Michels, Toronto Sun)

Blue Jays Prospect Hot Sheet: Week Seventeen

Finally back on the regular seven day timeframe for the hot sheet, the performances improved substantially this week. The lower levels of the minor leagues have continued to carry the system, as the Triple-A roster is paper thin and struggles have been aplenty for the once dominant Fisher Cats of New Hampshire. For the week spanning August 13th through 19th, here are the Blue Jays seven hottest prospects.

1. LHP Sean Nolin (DUN): 0-0, 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K

This week’s hottest prospect earned himself a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire thanks to a season long hot streak that culminated in his dominant performance on the 14th of August against Brevard County. The 6-foot-5 left hander struck out 10 batters in five innings, allowing four hits and zero walks. A pair of runs crossed the plate, but both were unearned due to some shoddy High-A defense behind him. An early June injury sidelined Nolin for the better part of two months, but his overall season numbers of a 2.19 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.38 K/9 across 86.1 innings is highly impressive. When combined with his breakout numbers in the Midwest League back in 2011, we have a very real prospect on our hands. Nolin doesn’t have the stuff to be a top, or even middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues, but he’s establishing himself as a durable pitcher with a solid #4/5 starter ceiling.

2. 3B Gustavo Pierre (LAN): 20 AB, .450/.500/.700 (1.200 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, 2/6 BB/K

Pierre opened the season in extended spring training, but after Kellen Sweeney struggled mightily for the Lugnuts over the first two months, Pierre received the bump to Lansing and has progressively improved as the year wore on. In the months he’s received significant playing time, his OPS has increased from .544 in June, to .769 in July, to finally .952 here in August. The 20 year olds overall season line has risen to .260/.317/.414, a vast improvement over the .187/.244/.262 he produced for Lansing in the first half of 2011. Originally a shortstop, historically bad defensive numbers forced a move to third base, where, while still extremely raw, he appears to have settled in. The offensive tools have always been prevalent; harnessing them has always been the problem. After two consecutive years of poor showings, he’s finally displaying the ability that made him a top IFA in 2008.

3. LHP Griffin Murphy (BLU): 0-0, 6.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K

There is no hotter pitcher in minor league baseball over the past month. Dating back to July 11th, Murphy has pitched 25 innings, and has allowed a total of zero earned runs. Over his last 10 appearances, his ERA is 0.00. In those innings he’s allowed just nine hits and eight walks, while striking out 30. The dominance was exemplified last night, as in his first start for Bluefield – taking the place of recently departed Kevin Comer – he pitched 4.1 innings, allowed zero runs on one hit, and struck out seven. The biggest detractor against Murphy is his age, as the left hander is 21 years old and will turn 22 before next season begins. When I named him the 27th best prospect in the system over the winter, I hoped for a Vancouver or Lansing assignment to accelerate his development and put him on a more ideal timeline. That didn’t happen, and given his numbers, rookie-class Bluefield obviously wasn’t challenging enough. The season is running out of games, but a promotion to Lansing for the playoff run could do wonders for his future with the club.

4. C Santiago Nessy (BLU): 20 AB, .350/.435/.650 (1.085 OPS), 0 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB, 3/6 BB/K

With Carlos Perez now a member of the Houston Astros, a void has been created in the low minors for a top catching prospect. Nessy appears to have filled that spot, as after I named him a sleeper prospect entering the year, he’s gone on to produce a .252/.318/.458 slash line for Bluefield. For a catcher, that’s exceptional production. Power has been the calling card for the young Venezuelan, which isn’t particularly surprising given his 6-foot-2, 230 lbs frame. As a highlight of that tool, Nessy hit a home run in four consecutive games between August 11th and August 16th. His eight home runs are first on the team, while his eight doubles are tied for second. The catcher won’t turn 20 until December, and is looking at a Single-A Lansing assignment next year if everything goes to plan. Losing Perez hurts, but Nessy has established himself as a solid replacement in the system.

5. 1B Art Charles (VAN): 21 AB, .333/.440/.714 (1.154 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, 4/5 BB/K

Power continues to be the defining tool of Art Charles, as even a promotion to the wider dimensions of the Northwest League parks have been unable to contain him. His ISO with the Canadians sits at 245, which is exceptional even for a first baseman. The biggest drop in performance since his promotion has been his walk rate, as entering this week he had just four base-on-balls in 16 games after walking 33 times in 31 games for Bluefield. Charles resolved that problem this week, as in addition to his usual power (two doubles, two home runs), he walked four times while striking out just five times. With the graduation of David Cooper and the low ceiling of Mike McDade, one could argue that Art Charles is now the top first base prospect in the system; though that’s more an indictment of the positional depth than it is a complement to Charles.

6. LHP Justin Nicolino (LAN): 1-0, 5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K

Aaron Sanchez has cooled off and been injured. Noah Syndergaard has struggled to find innings as he approaches his season limit. Meanwhile, Justin Nicolino keeps on rolling. His start this week was his eighth consecutive outing of five-or-more innings. His 109.1 innings this year are tied with Anthony DeSclafani for first on the team, while his WHIP is tied for first among starters. His six strikeouts against Fort Wayne on the 17th gave him 107 total punchouts on the year, which moved him into the team lead. I have mentioned before that Nicolino’s ceiling is obviously below that of Sanchez and Syndergaard, but his performance this season has proven that his floor is easily the highest, as he’s become the most durable and reliable of the trio.

7. RHP Danny Barnes (DUN): 0-0, 3 SV, 4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

I stretched the list to seven this week solely so I could include Danny Barnes. The Princeton grad (yes, the same Princeton that Carlton Banks attended on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) has been a dominant reliever since the Blue Jays made him a 35th round pick in the 2010 draft. He transitioned into the closer role for Dunedin this year, and has excelled to the tune of a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 11.02 K/9 in his 49 innings. Barnes made four appearances this week, in which he didn’t allow a run and earned three saves. His 32 saves on the year are first in the Florida State League by a mile, as the second place reliever, Chris Rearick of the Tampa organization, has just 20. As a four year college senior he’s always been a bit old for the level he’s pitched at, but Barnes absolutely has a middle relief or setup-type ceiling.

Honorable mention: Javier Avendano (VAN), OF Kevin Pillar (DUN)

Tags: Art Charles Danny Barnes Griffin Murphy Gustavo Pierre Justin Nicolino Santiago Nessy Sean Nolin

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