With the news earlier this week that Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos would return to the helm in 2015, a debate has been re-ignited among fans and media regarding his tenure. While rebuilding a barren farm system beneath a veteran MLB roster, Anthopoulos has done a superb job at beginning to stock the shelves once again, but can the current Blue Jays positional prospects rise up to carry Toronto in the coming seasons? Is the top-heavy MLB roster indicative of a top-heavy organization? If so, the Blue Jays could find themselves in the dreaded area located between rebuild and retool.
The Blue Jays have seen their pitching prospect pool grow into a great strength in 2014, with Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman living up to the hype and arms such as Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman greatly improving their stock. Anthopoulos also added high-ceiling arms in Jeff Hoffman and Sean Reid-Foley in the 2014 Draft, who will join a group of plus-potential arms that includes Roberto Osuna in the lower levels of the Blue Jays system.
Expectations for these pitching prospects should be very cautious, but still greatly optimistic. Baseball prospects are a masterclass on “if”, as careers are derailed daily due to performance and physical issues. Blue Jays fans know this all too well, unfortunately: let’s look at some former Top 100 Prospects as ranked by Baseball America.
2005: Ricky Romero #87
2011: Anthony Gose #39
This list of Hall of Famers once deemed the “future” in Toronto do not suggest that the Blue Jays pitching prospects are overrated or in any way due for failure. Instead, this indicates that some of them likely are. From a pool of 10 prospects that a Major League team sees as MLB contributors, it should be considered a great success to have 5 of them reach their expected potentials. Thankfully for Blue Jays fans, Alex Anthopoulos has prepared the Toronto system to have many high-potential arms that should produce several above-average MLB starters over the next few seasons alone.
The issue here arrises, however, at the plate. The Blue Jays positional prospect pool is not a strength, as the farm system has only produced fringe-level MLB players such as Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose, and Ryan Goins during Anthopoulos’ time as GM. There are several exciting prospects coming through the system, but Toronto is left to hope that they all reach their full potential due to the lack of prospect depth.
Dalton Pompey has become the hot name positionally for the Blue Jays, and was promoted to AAA Buffalo earlier this week where he will finish out the season. A blazing fast centre-fielder with plus defence, Pompey has come to life at the plate this season and even displayed flashes of power, giving Blue Jays fans disappointed in Anthony Gose a reason to believe in love again.
Franklin Barreto is another name on the rise within the Blue Jays system. The 18 year old SS is slashing an incredible .316 / .389 / .500 in Single-A Vancouver, and has already inspired talk of being the eventual heir to the aging Jose Reyes a few years down the road. Another name to keep an eye on is 1B Rowdy Tellez, who is the closest thing the Blue Jays have to a power bat in their prospect ranks. Tellez was recently promoted to High-A Lansing after going on a tear in Bluefield, but the 19 year old still has miles to go before replacing one of the Blue Jays elite home run bats.
Much like Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays have hoped for the best health and results at the MLB level at times this season, they are similarly forced to put a lot of hope into a small group of positional prospects. The imbalance between pitching and positional prospects could eventually lead to Anthopoulos needing to make a deal in the future to fill the holes that will be left by current veterans on the Jays.
The Blue Jays 2015 payroll will see $22M going to Jose Reyes, $19M to Mark Buehrle, $14M to Jose Bautista, $12M to R.A. Dickey and $10M to Edwin Encarnacion (steal!). For these five veterans, all aged 32 or older in 2015, Anthopoulos will be shelling out $77M dollars, which is approximately equal to or higher than the entire payroll of six Major League teams in 2014 (SD, TB, CLE, PIT, HOU, MIA). The kicker? Two of those teams are closer to a playoff spot than Toronto right now, and two more are only a couple games removed.
Whether it be due to age, performance, or salary, the top-heavy Blue Jays roster will need to see changes over the next 2-3 seasons. With a pitching staff that seems poised to be good going on great, Alex Anthopoulos’ success may be measured by how effectively he merges these generations of hitters to produces a productive lineup. The Blue Jays have long been plagued by having 1-2 holes in an otherwise strong lineup that opposing pitchers can work around quite easily. This is another issue of being top-heavy in Toronto. Sure, it could be cured with a Free Agent plug-in or trade, but the Blue Jays are long overdue to feature a home-grown hitter.
After becoming a “contender” but failing to contend late into the season with inspiring baseball (well, so far), Anthopoulos would have a very difficult time selling any sort of rebuild-style move to the Toronto fan-base. A retool, however, may be necessary. Alex Anthopoulos must bolster the Blue Jays pool of positional talent so that when the current Blue Jays either ride or stumble off into the sunset, the Blue Jays playoff hopes can live on in new, home-grown hands.