The players having good years are continuing to excel, while the players having poor years are continuing to struggle. This has resulted in frequent visits to the hot sheet by some, while others – cough Jake Marisnick – haven’t been heard from in months. It speaks to the depth of the system that despite having literally zero contribution from the Triple-A club this month, the hot sheet has been able to move forward, with strong week after strong week. From August 20th through August 26th, here are the Blue Jays seven hottest prospects.
1. CF D.J. Davis (BLU): 29 AB, 9 H, .310/.394/.552 (.946 OPS), 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 SB, 3/7 BB/K
The Blue Jays number one pick in last June appears to have taken a real liking to Bluefield. Since being promoted up from the Gulf Coast League in mid-August, Davis has filled up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. This week was no different, as he reached base in each of his seven games, and reached at least twice in five of those seven. With his on-base percentage sitting at a lovely .394 for the week, his legs took over, as Davis racked up four more stolen bases, giving him a total of 24 in 55 games. That’s roughly a 70 stolen base pace over the course of a full season. That’s what scouts call 80 speed. The most pleasant part of Davis’ debut has been the power, as while few called him a slap hitter out of the draft, no one suggested a 148 ISO in year one either. Davis has done just that, with 18 extra base hits, including five home runs.
2. RHP Javier Avendano (VAN): 1-0, 9 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 15 K
Why is Javier Avendano still pitching in the Northwest League? His two starts this week continued a trend of dominance that dates back over a month. Since the 16th of July, Avendano has allowed just four earned runs in 47 innings – a 0.77 ERA. The peripherals have been just as strong, as he struck out 55 and walked just 13. He’s second in the league in ERA and WHIP, and first in strikeouts – twenty ahead of the second place pitcher, Victor Sanchez of the Mariners, who is a top prospect in his own right. Avendano has proven himself in both Lansing and Vancouver, and if I had some input on the minor league decision making, he would have been promoted to Dunedin a month ago. Avendano has been the Northwest League pitcher of the week for two weeks running, and given the numbers above, a third consecutive title is likely headed his way.
3. LHP Sean Nolin (NH): 0-0, 9 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 11 K
Last week’s hottest prospect slips to third place this week, due mostly to some shaky command in his August 25th start. Less important than the three walks was his pitch count, as Nolin threw 81 in just four innings, forcing the manager to pull him earlier than we all would have liked. This late in the minor league season, with nearly every pitcher nursing a bit of arm soreness, there was no reason to send him out for the fifth after four stressful innings. Even so, his August 20th start was more than enough to give him a high ranking, as he struck out eight Binghamton batters in five innings, allowing just one run on four hits. With the playoffs well out of reach, the Fisher Cats have just eight days left in their season. Nolin is probably looking at one more start, and at just 4.2 innings shy of 100 for the year, you know he’d love to reach the century mark.
4. 3B Kellen Sweeney (VAN): 25 AB, .320/.452/.400 (.852 OPS), 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 SB, 6/3 BB/K
Kellen Sweeney is having the best month of his young career, and is showing Blue Jays fans the talent that made him a second round pick back in the 2010 draft. Sweeney has continued to do what he does best, reaching base in 20 of 24 August games. It hasn’t just been walks, as he’s hit and even hit with some authority. Sweeney has 26 hits in those 24 games, 10 of which have gone for extra base hits. In total, his August slash line is up to .292/.388/.461, which is exceptional production from the hot corner. His overall Vancouver line has risen up to respectability, sitting at .232/.339/.382 through 63 games. A month ago, it was looking like Sweeney was going to fall off my top 30 prospect list altogether, but he’s done enough here in August to tread water and earn himself another look in 2013.
5. RHP John Stilson (NH): 0-0, 5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
All season I have been pushing the “John Stilson to the bullpen” card, and after a short stint on the disabled list earlier this month, the Blue Jays have finally responded. Stilson simply doesn’t have the mechanics or durability to pitch 200 innings year in and year out – the risk of shoulder aggravation is too great. The 2011 third round pick seems to have taken to the relief role quite well, as in his five total appearances (seven innings), Stilson has allowed just eight base runners and one run, while striking out nine. He even earned his first career save on August 17th – the first of many, I hope. While closing for Texas A&M his stuff played up extremely well, and if that has carried over to pro ball, the Blue Jays could have a very electric reliever on their hands.
6. LHP Justin Nicolino (LAN): 1-0, 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
Nicolino has appeared on five consecutive hot sheets, which speaks volumes about the type of season the left hander has had down in Lansing. I can’t say enough about the reliability of Nicolino, as since being moved exclusively to the rotation on June 11th, he’s pitched at least four innings in every game, and at least five in 12 of his last 13 starts. In the statistical age we currently live in, durability often gets overlooked, but there’s something to be said for a pitcher who can go out every fifth day and give your team a good chance to win. The fact Nicolino has found this consistency at just 20 years of age makes it that much more impressive. With another week left in the season, plus the playoffs, Nicolino could easily find himself approaching 130 innings before all is said and done. It’s not an insignificant jump (he had just 61 innings in 2011), but as he doesn’t throw max effort on every pitch, the Blue Jays obviously feel Nicolino has the type of arm that can handle such a workload without substantial risk.
7. 2B Christian Lopes (VAN): 24 AB, .375/.423/.417 (.840 OPS), 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB, 1/4 BB/K
Without a doubt, Christian Lopes has been the star hitter of short season ball in the Toronto organization. He skipped the Gulf Coast League and debuted with Bluefield, and after 49 exceptional games there, he received the promotion the Vancouver. Lopes hasn’t skipped a beat since setting foot on Canadian soil, as he has two or more hits in three of his five games for the club. Between the two levels, his overall season line is a well rounded .290/.347/.478. The Blue Jays may well have found their long term answer at second base, the problem is, at just 19 years old, Lopes is at least a few years away.
Honorable mention: Marcus Knecht (DUN)