Possible Blue Jays’ Minor League Surprises

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As we get closer and closer to pitchers and catchers reporting for their first workouts of the 2014 season, fans may be cautiously looking forward to seeing how this year’s Toronto Blue Jays squad will fair. So far, the Jays remain pretty much intact. It is the same squad that had its walls come tumbling down and went 74-88 to finish buried last in the AL East. Because of the debacle that was 2013, the approaching season does not look so promising. I am reminded of the lyrics from Bastille’s “Pompeii”:

 

” But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

 

Fans don’t need to close their eyes all that tightly to get this ominous feeling. Assuming, they do not sign one of those big free agents they’ve been linked to (Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, et al), the Jays will enter the 2014 with a lot of question marks, particularly with regards to the rotation. Like in the past, the positive spinners will point to injuries, etc. being an issue.  But injuries happen. The question is, when they do who will step in? It is worth a look to see if there are any pleasant surprises awaiting Jays fans just in case the injury volcano erupts again.

 

In an effort to be an optimist, perhaps a look at the Jays’ minor league systems for potential impact players is the place to start. We’ve heard a lot about the potential impact from players like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and to a lesser extent Roberto Osuna, Sean Nolin and Daniel Norris. Perhaps we keep hearing about them to get us used to the idea in case no free agent pitcher actually comes. So, I’m going to look past all of the above “easy choices” to find the candidates and winner for Pleasant Surprise of 2014. What? It could be a thing.*

 

After trolling Baseball Reference, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and other sources of opinion wisdom, I have listed a few names below that fans may not have heard of, but do give reason for excitement. I tried to find a mix of ‘under the radar’-ish position players and pitchers. I end with my pick for Pleasant Surprise of 2014.

 

 

Honourable Mentions:

Anthony Alford-

Lansing Lugnuts (A Full)

ETA: 2017

Position: OF

Age: 19, DOB: 07/20/1994

Bats: R, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 193

Drafted: 2012, 3rd (112) – TOR

He didn’t make the cut as he was a player the Jays somehow managed to sign even though he is playing football for Southern Miss. Apparently, he has a lot of talent with speed and power. I’m just not so sure that in this day and age a two sport player will progress like the rest of these studs. It might take longer for him to make noise, if at all.

 

Adonys Cardona-

GCL Blue Jays (ROK)

ETA: 2017

Position: RHP

Age: 20, DOB: 01/16/1994

Bats: R, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 170

Signed: July 5, 2010 – TOR

 

His 10.5 K/9 are eye catching. But with a breaking ball that doesn’t compliment it, I’m not convinced that he will be drawing headlines this season. An ERA of 6.75 is almost more eye catching than his K/9.

 

NOMINEES

Christian Lopes-

Lansing Lugnuts (A Full)

ETA: 2016

Position: SS/2B

Age: 21, DOB: 10/01/1992

Bats: R, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 185

Drafted: 2011, 7th (229) – TOR

I got very excited when I found a second baseman among the Blue Jays’ prospect list at #12.  He appears to be a middle infielder who has the footwork better suited for second and may be a good offensive addition. Unfortunately, his numbers have regressed over the last couple of years as he has moved from Vancouver’ rookie team to Lansing’s A squad. Hopefully, with the right adjustments, he can reverse this. Considering the big league club’s only option is Ryan Goins, it mightn’t hurt to have an option knocking on the door. Although, at this point Lopes may just be pulling into the driveway.  Who knows if he’ll even make it to the door. After all, being another Ryan Goins isn’t enough to make Alex Anthopoulos answer the door anyway.

 

Dalton Pompey-

Lansing Lugnuts (A Full)

ETA: 2016

Position: OF

Age: 21, DOB: 12/11/1992

Bats: S, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 170

Drafted: 2010, 16th (486) – TOR

Twitter: @DaltonPompey

Man, I do love a speedster. I’d rather watch a triple than a HR. And this guy looks to be another one. Plus, he’s CANADIAN! For me, the strikeouts are a bit high. Hopefully, with some seasoning this can be addressed. But, I’d take the stolen bases any day. Pompey does not appear on any of Baseball America’s lists for Jays top anything. Yet, the Blue Jays’ prospect list has him at #15. Their scouting report says he could be an above average defender, but won’t bring much power. I’m not so sure speed is enough in this case. I’d take DJ Davis over Pompey, as you’ll see.

 

Alberto Tirado-

Bluefield Blue Jays (ROK)

ETA: 2017

Position: RHP

Age: 19, DOB: 12/10/1994

Bats: R, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 177

Signed: Aug. 30, 2011 – TOR

Has been profiled by Michael Wray at Jays Journal. With a fastball than can touch 96mph down in the zone, I’m really excited to follow this guy. His numbers from Bluefield are impressive. What stands out to me is the 3.7 walks per 9 innings (a bit high) versus 8.2 strikeouts (that’s better)! According to the Blue Jays’ prospect list, his curveball is more like a slider. But, his slider is supposed to be very good and his changeup is even better. If he can figure out all 4, and add some bulk to his frame, he might be on a faster track than Wray’s prediction of 2017. He mightn’t take the Roger’s Centre mound in 2014, but he could generate a lot of buzz like Stroman has.

 

 

RUNNER UP

DJ Davis-

Bluefield Blue Jays (ROK)

ETA: 2016

Position: OF

Age: 19, DOB: 07/25/1994

Bats: L, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 180

Drafted: 2012, 1st (17) – TOR

According to the Blue Jays’ prospect list Davis (their #7 prospect) is a speedster that is developing his power. He’s being compared to Michael Bourn with the potential for more pop. Turning 20 at the end of July, Davis has plenty of time to grow into the role of a leadoff hitter. In 2013 with the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Rookie League, he had more triples (7) than HR (6). Homers may be sexy, but who doesn’t like to watch a triple? Baseball America (who has him as the Jays’ #3 prospect) says one knock against him is his strikeout total. As well, he looks to improve on his base running being that he was only successful in 62% of his attempts. The upside for Davis is his speed, plus defence and potential power. And, he is a lefty bat to boot! Considering the uncertain future of Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose‘s seeming inability to figure out how to stick in the big leagues, I will be keeping track of Davis this year. I’d expect that he is probably 2-3 years away unless he can figure his contact rate out quicker. Personally, I am really hoping he can! I’m excited to see him in a Jays uniform.

 

 

WINNER

AJ Jimenez-

Toronto Blue Jays

ETA: 2014

Position: C

Age: 23, DOB: 05/01/1990

Bats: R, Throws: R

Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 210

Drafted: 2008, 9th (279) – TOR

Twitter: @Ajjim31

I know, I’m not really shining up my crystal ball out on my limb for this award, but I guess I’d be silly if I didn’t look at the possible “Catcher of the Future”. It feels like we’ve been hearing about AJ Jimenez for a long time. And, depending on what happens at the big league level, his time may finally be approaching. The Jays have not really set themselves up in the long term at the catcher position and have parted with JP Arencibia without blinking (although some would suggest it took too long), so perhaps they are expecting big things from AJ. He ranks #9 on Blue Jays’ prospect list while he doesn’t even crack the top ten with Baseball America. Jimenez is a defense first catcher, which would be a nice change around these parts. In 2011, Baseball America ranked him as the best defensive catcher in the Jays system. The whole system! Three. Seasons. Ago! He did have Tommy John surgery in May 2012, which the Jays will hope he has completely recovered from since he has thrown out 43% of base stealers in his young career. From the looks of things, he can handle the bat well enough to not make us miss JP’s bombs. I didn’t really enjoy the bombs all that much anyway since they were sandwiched in with a bunch of ugly K’s. This doesn’t appear to be a big problem with AJ when you look at his totals to this point. In fact a line of .283/.324/.396 make me forget that other guy. It is reasonable to expect that Jimenez has the best chance of making some noise this year. A catcher who can call a game, block balls, throw runners out AND hit would be a pleasant surprise for Toronto Blue Jays fans. Since the other candidates mentioned above are at least two or three years away from The Show, my money is on AJ Jimenez as the player from this list to receive the Pleasant Surprise 2014 award. I’m sure it’ll look good on his mantle next to a signed glove from JP Arencibia.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

*Profile details from Blue Jays Prospect List

Topics: AJ Jimenez, D.J. Davis, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • bob l.

    agreed! i had a chance to talk briefly with aj in harrisburg last year . not only is he a solid player but he is a good guy with an electric smile that the fans will grow to love as a jay. another guy i really like is alan farina. yes, he might be a bit old to be considered a top prospect, but he is 2 years removed from tj surgery and has an arm that would be beneficial to the pen in the near future.

    • http://jaysfromthecouch.blogspot.ca/ Shaun Doyle

      It is funny how Jays fans fall in love with a flashy smile.

      • bob l.

        like joe carter or carlos delgado.

        • http://jaysfromthecouch.blogspot.ca/ Shaun Doyle

          Yeah, and they were kinda good, too.

  • Quincy-Sam

    One guy who does not seem to be talked about at all this off season is
    Kevin Pillar. With Melky’s return, he’s not considered part of the 25
    man roster and barely mentioned when people talk about the Jays
    prospects. Ranked #20 and considered a 4th outfielder by Michael Ray of
    Jays Journal.

    Despite his stats while with the Jays and winter
    ball, his quick rise through the system shouldn’t be overlooked.
    Personally I think he will be maybe the biggest surprise simply because
    many posters don’t seem to be paying any attention to him. I liked what
    I saw of him while with the Jays and have him ahead of both Gose and
    Sierra as far as being ready to be an everyday player, but needs time in
    Buffalo. He needs to play everyday and not be a bench player to
    improve. His defense was surprisingly good with the Jays. His
    offensive numbers may not have been notable, but the guy barely played
    AAA before being promoted.

    Since this article is about pleasant
    surprises, I’ll venture a guess that he will not only be an everyday
    player by 2015, but hit over .300. Don’t forget he was a 32nd round
    draft pick in 2011 and made the Jays in 2013. He has been a huge
    surprise, and hopefully will continue to do so.

    • http://jaysfromthecouch.blogspot.ca/ Shaun Doyle

      Good points. I quite like Pillar. I would love to see him work on his bat. I stated in my profile of Buffalo Bisons’ coaching staff that it would be awesome if Pillar could force the Jays into a difficult position. Melky has one more season (assuming he makes it past the Trade Deadline), so it’ll be interesting to see how LF plays out. If Pillar can push the Jays, it might be easier for them to dispense of Melky and his contract mid-summer.

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