Pillar batting for the Dunedin Blue Jays (Image courtesy battersbox.ca)

The First Annual Kevin Pillar Sleeper Prospect List


Like the rest of you, I’ve been avidly reading colleague Kyle’s breakdown of the top thirty prospects in the Blue Jays organization.  And, I’m guessing, like most Jays fans it’s been hard to stay positive about the future of a lot of the positional prospects after some pretty poor 2012 seasons.

Looking at Kyle’s list thus far (his latest article being #18 Jacob Anderson), bearing in mind, it has been truncated somewhat by various trades made this off-season, of the three non-pitchers who made the Jays Journal 2012 top prospect list, all have dropped rather precipitously after disappointing campaigns, and we’re not even including those that have dropped out of the top thirty.  Of the four new entrees, one has been traded, and it is hard to get excited about the other three as they were either limited by injury or ineffectiveness.

In fact, aside from some of the desert enhanced numbers put up in Las Vegas, when you look through the rest of the farm it is hard to come up with any hitting top prospects who truly had great years.  But before we get too depressed or commenters hammer me with semantics on how we should disregard stats in the lower leagues, I will admit that there are plenty of players who had nice seasons and did progress as, or even more, than expected.  Names like D.J. Davis and Christian Lopes come to mind.

Unfortunately Jays Journal didn’t complete their top 50 from 2012, so it is hard to gauge exactly what those players did last year, but if I was to take a wild guess, no highly ranked positional player had a monster year (aside from former Jay farmhand Travis D’Arnaud, but again, Vegas played a part and injury cut short his season anyway).  It just goes to show you how difficult it is to predict the future of kids.

(As an aside, as a future post, I may look at Jays Journal’s 2011 top 50 to see how we did.)

One name that did emerge this past season, after not having seen the light of day on any 2012 Blue Jay top prospect list was Kevin Pillar.  After being drafted in the 32nd round of 2011 out of Cal State University, Pillar wouldn’t have been on many people’s radars despite putting up an .911 OPS and 139 wRC+ in sixty games with Bluefield.

After tearing up the Midwest League through the first half of the season in 2012, Pillar was promoted to Dunedin and people started to take notice.  In Dunedin, the OBP and power numbers dropped a bit, but Kevin still showed excellent plate discipline posting a 9.6% K rate and stole sixteen bases at an 85% success rate.  So, after not receiving any pop in 2012, Pillar is now starting to make most Jays prospects list despite the ‘lack of any plus tools’ as per this piece over at Fangraphs.

So, after a rather verbose intro, it is my intention to introduce the first annual Kevin Pillar Sleeper Positional Prospect list.  A bit of a long-winded title….

Let’s lay down a few ground rules before proceeding:

1) I’m going to come up with a player per position (except a pitcher) which is difficult, especially in the lower levels where positions are often quite fluid.  Shortstops become second basemen, third basemen become corner outfielders, etc

2) I live in Vancouver and attend quite a few Canadians games so there may be a slight C’s bias to the lineup, apologies, is easier to like a player you have seen over one where you are just looking at numbers on a screen.

3) The idea of this list is to come up with a few names that were maybe drafted late, unsigned free agents, etc.  Not guys that were given the big bonus and had high expectations right from the get go.  The hope is we are unearthing diamonds that beat the odds and make the bigs despite their lower draft status.  Not necessarily stars, but able to make the transition from organizational filler to potential major league players.

So without further ado, the list (just a quick note on last year’s stats, if there was time spent between two/three levels I’m including the stats of the level with most plate appearances):

Catcher:  Seth Conner – 2012 Season Stats – Bluefield Blue Jays .296/.421./423 – A 41st round pick in 2010, a pick that no longer exists with the fourty round max format, Conner has definitely made a good impression in his first two seasons of pro ball.  After hitting four home runs for the DSL Blue Jays in ’11 with an ISO of .144, Seth spent the bulk of 2012 with Bluefield where he put up similar power numbers.  More impressively though, his on base % rose to a very impressive .421, fuelled by a high (for his age) 13.4% walk rate.  And, for what it’s worth, he was fourth in the Appalachian league in the more advanced wOBA and wRC+ metrics.  Positionally, Seth was a third basemen in high school and split time between 3rd and 1st in 2011.  In 2012 he was switched to catcher where he played just under half of his starts, still putting in quite a bit of time at first.  Toronto is thin at both positions prospect wise so he may continue to split time going forward, first in Vancouver, then maybe Lansing by the end of next summer.

What can we expect?  Possibly a Yan Gomes like player with plenty of flexibility defensively but who can get on base more consistently.

First Base:  Art Charles – 2012 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .236/.310/.496 -  Arriving at my first Vancouver homer pick, Art clearly has numerous holes in his swing, but if you saw some of the home runs he hit, you would be inclined to dream as well. A 20th round pick in 2010, Charles was probably surprised to begin 2012 in Bluefield after putting up some very good numbers there in ’11.  In 31 games to begin 2012, Art mashed Appalachian league pitching to a tune of an 1.040 OPS with an ISO of .341.  A mid-season promotion to Vancouver saw Art struggle somewhat as his walk rate dropped from 26.8% to 9.2%.  A pretty staggering drop.  When you factor in his K rate actually jumped from 26.8% to 28.9% it isn’t hard to conclude that the older pitchers in the Northwest League started to figure Art out.

Ah, but the home runs.  Charles finished two off the team lead despite having less than half the at bats.  It wasn’t just the amount either, but the fact that most of his ding dongs were moon shots, not often seen at the Nat.

What can we expect?  I’d love to say a power hitting lefty first basemen in the Jim Thome mode, but that would be dreaming a bit too big I expect.  A big bat off the bench that can DH, pinch hit, and play the occasional game at first?

Second Base:  Ryan Schimpf – 2012 Season Stats – Dunedin Blue Jays .266/.353/.479 – Schimpf makes this list due to his advanced age.  Schimpf will be 25 at the start of the 2013 season which would normally push someone from prospect to org filler.  But, after having put up some decent numbers in Dunedin in first two thirds of the season, including a team leading 14 home runs, Ryan was promoted to New Hampshire where he tore it up for 33 games.  At the higher level, Schimpf put up an OPS of .979 and a .430 wOBA while hitting another eight home runs in only 111 at bats.  That makes twenty two for the season, not bad for an undersized second basemen.  Unfortunately, for this particular list, once called to New Hampshire, Ryan didn’t play much second base.  John Tolisano blocked him, so after spending the bulk of his minor league career at second, Schimpf spent most of his AA time at either third or in left.  Again, versatility does count for something, and most reports I’ve read of Ryan aren’t all that glowing with praise for his defensive ability in the infield.

What can we expect? A high character Mike McCoy like bench player who can fill in at numerous positions, can provide a bit of pop, and will be a good fit in the clubhouse.

Shortstop:  Andy Burns – 2012 Season Stats – Lansing Lugnuts .248/.351/.464 – An 11th round pick in 2011, Burns makes the list due to his power potential.  A bigger shortstop, listed at 6’2″ 190, Andy hit nine home runs last year with an ISO of .216.  He also swiped fifteen bases at an impressive 88% clip, showing a potentially nice power/speed combination.  All of that was done in only 78 games.  Again, finding info on injuries for minor league players in the Jays system is impossible, so won’t presume as to why he only got into just over half the games.  He could stand cutting down on his strike outs, but if he maintains his slugging percentage in the notoriously unfriendly Florida State League, then people will start to take more notice.

What can we expect?  With the left side of Toronto’s infield locked up for the forseeable future, Burns’ future may lie at second base, where he did get into 15 games for Lansing in ’12.  A power hitting middle infield with defensive flexibility, I’d take that.

Third Base: Gustavo Perinan – 2012 Season Stats – DSL Blue Jays .287/.401/.352 – This one is a stretch as the Jays system seems to be split at the position between highly drafted guys who have struggled (Kevin Ahrens, Matt Dean, Kellen Sweeney) and guys that are surely just org filler (everybody else).  So, I’m going to throw the proverbial against the wall and go with one of the younger guys.  Gustavo split time at third with Deiferson Barreto and both put up similar-ish counting stats.  Perinan gets the nod though as 13.6% walk rate makes for a better BB/K ratio and higher on base percentage.  Neither put up much in the power department but both are seventeen, so there is time to develop that tool.

On the defensive side, of the ball, Perinan did commit eight errors for a .877 fielding percentage but again, I’ll give him a pass due to his age and the fact I have nobody else.

What can we expect?  I really have no idea, let’s just hope Brett Lawrie is the third basemen for the next ten years.

Right Field:  Nick Baligod – 2012 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .259/.374/.354 – I almost broke my own self-imposed rule and put Baligod’s Lansing stats in as they improved in every slash category once he was promoted.  The most impressive being the 80 point increase in slugging percentage.  A 40th rounder who is 25 already, Nick would definitely be considered a sleeper prospect, if not org filler by most.  But, after the aforementioned positive showing in Lansing a Dunedin assignment will be his in 2013.  Provided he gets off to a good start, we may see him in New Hampshire at some point, in which case comparisons with Pillar may not be so far fetched.

What can we expect? Again, this would be a stretch, but if further improvements are made and the power numbers increase, a fourth outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold may be possible.

Center Field: Dalton Pompey – 2012 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .294/.442/.441 – Pompey is probably straddling the line between sleeper and genuine prospect having made colleague Kyle’s top 30.  However, as his 2012 was fragmented by a broken hamate bone in his wrist, we didn’t get to see what could have been after a great start with the C’s so his status will remain sleeper until after his first taste of full season ball in 2013.  Another later round pick from 2010 (16th round) Pompey has proven to be an exciting blend of speed and power.  While he may never hit a ton of home runs, he is an extra base machine with gap power and plus speed.  His speed also makes him a constant threat on the base paths and allows him to cover a lot of range in center.  In fact, with both Pompey and D.J. Davis slated for the Lansing outfield in 2013, it will be very interesting to see who sees the most time in the middle.  Any combination will be exciting for Jays fans.

What can we expect?  A four tool center fielder?  One who will hit for average, power (although not quite a 30 home run guy), can run, and play defense.  Anthony Gose with a bit more pop.  All for his home town team.

Left Field: Nico Taylor – 2012 Stats – Bluefield Blue Jays .268/.324/.354 – I really wanted to give this one to Matt Newman who more represents the Kevin Pillar ideal, and who played very well for the Canadians down the stretch, but he’s 24 now.  Unless he tears it up in both Lansing and Dunedin next season we’ll have to consign him to the org filler list.  Marcus Knecht also got some consideration based on his passport and fact he couldn’t possibly have another season as bad as 2012, but then again, maybe he can.  And Knecht was a 3rd rounder, and on most top 30s last year, so not really a ‘sleeper’ although, will be org filler if 2013 mimics this past season. Nico it is.  The problem with Taylor is that despite putting up impressive power numbers in college, that has not translated to pro ball, where he only managed an .085 ISO in 2012.  He’s about to turn 23 so, even with his lean frame, there’s not a ton of projection there.  A Vancouver assignment in 2013 will go a ways to giving us a better read on Taylor, but with the Lansing outfield pretty busy, he may find his path blocked for the forseeable future.  He’ll need to do something pretty special to get noticed.

What can we expect? Not really sure to be honest, hopefully he finds his power stroke next season which will go a long way to determining how far up the ladder he’ll climb.

There we have it, the First Annual Kevin Pillar Sleeper Prospect List is in the books.  We’ll re-visit sporadically throughout the minor league season to see how the eight are faring and what, if any, presumptions we can make.

 

 

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