The Arizona Fall League doesn’t officially start until October 9th, but the Blue Jays contributions have been finalized. After playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in 2011, the team will be collaborating with the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox to represent the Salt River Rafters here in 2012. The Blue Jays were required to send four pitchers and three position players, and we’ll get to the breakdown momentarily. In order to be eligible for the AFL, the player must have been at the Double-A or Triple-A level no later than August 15th. There are exceptions, as each organization is allowed to send up to two players from High-A, something the Blue Jays chose to take advantage this year.
In addition to the Blue Jays content, there are a few other prospects to keep an eye on with the Rafters. Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin of the Nationals are legitimate top prospects, as are Matt Davidson of the Diamondbacks and Trayce Thompson of the White Sox. However, as this is a Blue Jays website, the focus will rightfully be on Toronto’s contributions. Below is a breakdown of the seven players Toronto has chosen to send, as well as some expectations of the role they make play and the success they may or may not have.
RHP Deck McGuire (Double-A)
5-15, 144.0 IP, 162 H, 94 ER, 62 BB, 97 K, 5.88 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 6.06 K/9
Deck McGuire is both the least and most surprising amongst the Blue Jays contributions to the Arizona Fall League. On one hand, he had, from beginning to end, arguably the worst season of any pitcher in the minor league system this year. With that in mind, sending him to get some extra work in seems like a good opportunity to enter the offseason in a positive frame of mind. On the other hand, the Arizona Fall League is probably the least pitcher friendly environment in all of North American baseball. Not only is it played at high altitude in the southwestern US, but teams often send top hitting prospects on the cusp of a major league promotion there as a final dress rehearsal. Ergo, while sending McGuire to get extra work may seem like a good idea, the possibility of him getting absolutely shelled and taking a step backwards confidence-wise is very real. His flyball-heavy tendencies thus far in his minor league career don’t help my concerns either.
RHP John Stilson (High-A, Double-A)
5-4, 104.1 IP, 110 H, 45 ER, 8 HR, 42 BB, 91 K, 3.88 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7.85 K/9
Admittedly, seeing John Stilson assigned to the Salt River Rafters was a bit of a shock for me. He is coming off a fairly heavy workload in his first professional season, particularly considering the question marks surrounding a shoulder injury at the end of his college career. What this assignment tells me is that the Blue Jays plan to move forward with the relief role for Stilly, which, as I’ve voiced a number of times, I feel is the right course of action. In terms of both quality of stuff and career longevity, the bullpen is the logical choice. We won’t know for sure until games get underway and box scores start to pile up, but the team may be preparing him for a mid-2013 debut as a late inning fireman.
RHP Sam Dyson (High-A, Double-A)
4-2, 74.0 IP, 73 H, 25 ER, 3 HR, 20 BB, 38 K, 3.04 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 4.62 K/9
The Sam Dyson selection makes a whole lot of sense. He has a splash of major league experience (2 games), and very likely will be counted on to contribute at some point during the 2013 season. Those 74 innings were also the first of his career thanks to some injury difficulties in previous years, so any added work would have to be looked upon as a bonus for the 24 year old. Additionally, Dyson is not the type of arm you worry about in the Arizona Fall League for two reasons. First, his ceiling is, at best, a 7th or 8th inning reliever, and more likely the former. While you always care about the confidence level of a prospect, you’re more willing to take risks with the bullpen guy than the future top of the rotation starter. The second reason is his groundball tendencies, as he had a 3.09 GO/AO ratio between Dunedin and New Hampshire last season. Heavy sinkers are the best way to combat the thin air environment.
RHP Ryan Tepera (High-A, Double-A)
8-6, 95.1 IP, 109 H, 58 ER, 7 HR, 49 BB, 71 K, 5.48 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 6.70 K/9
With the Blue Jays required to send four pitchers to the Fall League, chances were high at least one of them was going to be an org guy. Ryan Tepera falls into that category this year. It’s nothing new, as last season the Blue Jays sent Wes Etheridge as their fourth pitcher, and in 2010, it was Matt Daly. Tepera was a 19th round pick by the Blue Jays back in 2009, and in his four years the highest level he has reached was Double-A here in 2012. The results have been subpar, and now 25, a major league future is beyond doubtful. Tepera’s role in the organization is to collect innings where needed and protect the valuable young arms from excessive workloads. He could be in a similar position with the Rafters as well.
CF Jake Marisnick (High-A, Double-A)
489 AB, .249/.321/.399 (.719 OPS), 29 2B, 10 3B, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 24 SB, 37/100 BB/K
Jake Marisnick is the only true elite talent the Blue Jays have chosen to send to Arizona this fall, and he likely has redemption on his mind after a subpar second half performance. After a promotion to Double-A, Marisnick’s numbers fell across the board. His contact rate sunk; as did his walk rate and power. The only positive from his second half numbers was a spike in stolen base numbers, but his bat skills are far more important to me than his athleticism at this point in his development. As I’ve mentioned, high elevation and low quality pitchers make the Arizona Fall League an ideal environment for hitters, and with Marisnick’s inherent talent, the 21 year old should be poised for a smashing performance. Anything less could be considered a serious disappointment.
SS Ryan Goins (Double-A)
546 AB, .289/.342/.403 (.745 OPS), 33 2B, 4 3B, 7 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB, 47/78 BB/K
With nine infielders on the roster, Ryan Goins is unlikely to see a ton of playing time. I expect Chris Owings will be the primary starter at shortstop for the Rafters, but Goins’ defensive versatility should allow him to squeak in some games at second base as well. The 24 year old doesn’t have the flashy tools, but he has a sound approach at the plate and can hold his own in the field. He’s not going to be a star and is unlikely to even be a steady regular, but Goins is the type of guy who would fit in extremely well as the 25th man on the roster for somebody. These at-bats could prove valuable, as with four years of minor league service under his belt as a former college draft pick, Ryan Goins should be Rule 5 eligible this winter.
OF Kevin Pillar (Single-A, High-A)
499 AB, .323/.374/.439 (.813 OPS), 28 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 91 RBI, 51 SB, 40/70 BB/K
Kevin Pillar is the only player on the list who didn’t play in Double-A this season, but at 23 years old, he’s in a similar age bracket to most. He got off to a great start with Lansing, hitting .322 with an .841 OPS in 86 games. That earned him a promotion to Dunedin, and while he hit .323 there, the secondary numbers dropped off dramatically. Pillar’s walk rate dropped from 9.3% to 2.8%, and his isolated power dropped 37 points as well. All told, his OPS slipped to .754 in 42 games. While the Arizona Fall League is thin on pitching prospects, there are plenty of crafty minor league veterans who could take advantage of Pillar’s underdeveloped game. As such, he’s been classified as a “taxi squad” roster player, meaning he can only be active on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Blue Jays appear to be setting Pillar up for more of a learning experience than a test.
I wouldn’t classify the list as underwhelming, but it’s missing a certain catcher whom I had both hoped and expected to see assigned. Travis d’Arnaud tore up his knee in late June, and at the time it was suggested he was looking at roughly an eight week recovery. That would have placed him at a late August or early September return, which isn’t particularly ideal for a prospect. The Triple-A season would be coming to a close, and it would be cruel to expect d’Arnaud to make his major league debut coming off a knee injury with no rehab assignment.
I can’t remember if it was ever said by General Manager Alex Anthopolous, but at the time it was widely speculated that d’Arnaud would finish his season in the Arizona Fall League, allowing him to recover some lost at-bats and better prepare himself for a possible starting assignment next spring. The fact he was held off the roster suggests two possible scenarios, neither of which makes me feel particularly good.
The first is that the knee injury has taken longer to recover from than initially expected. That would be extremely bad, as catchers are required to squat for brutally long periods of time every day, which is hard on the knees to say the least. It would also be yet another knock against d’Arnaud in the injury prone department, as in just the last few years he’s dealt with recurring back issues as well as a torn thumb ligament. Some level of durability is expected of catchers, and if this knee problem is lingering, one would have to seriously question d’Arnaud’s long term future behind the plate.
The second scenario is less worrisome but just as frustrating. By holding a healthy d’Arnaud out of the Arizona Fall League, the team would be all but handing the starting catcher job to J.P. Arencibia. While once could argue that d’Arnaud has done nothing at the major league level and shouldn’t simply be handed the starting job, one could also point out that Arencibia has a .272 on-base percentage in 229 career games. I was hoping to see a fair competition in spring training for the starting job, but if this is the accurate scenario, we appear headed for another Travis Snider / Eric Thames situation: a “competition” that is decided before it even starts.