While most scouts would have agreed was a pretty mediocre group of SP prospects for the Jays in 2009, that group has now been transformed through the draft and the addition of SP Kyle Drabek through trade. Any time you add a top 25 prospect in MLB to your SP prospect list, it’s been to get a good boost in value. The Jays have also done some pretty good work internally in developing pitchers on a consistent basis. I believe that after developing the likes of Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Marc Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, and Jesse Litsch so well and as quickly as they did makes the Jays system very effective at getting guys moving through the system and in getting their mechanics to play well at the MLB level. The top 4 on this list have outstanding potential that could seriously change the competitiveness of the Jays in the near future for the better. After these 4, the field levels but includes a very deep group of up-and-comers that could surprise many. Here are my top 5 for 2010:
1 – Kyle Drabek, 22 yrs old, 6’o” 185 lbs, drafted by Texas in the 1st round of the 2006 draft out of The Woodlands HS
The reason it took a while for people to notice Kyle’s potential is because he blew his elbow out very early in his pro career and needed TJ surgery. His fastball isn’t as nasty as the one thrown by Chad Jenkins, but it still has good life and sits at 88-93 MPH. His best pitch, by far, is his curve ball which really pounds the bottom of the strike zone and that BA reports rates 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He plays his position very well, has a bulldog mentality and a very high competitiveness level. Because of his early career injury and the strike out pitch he holds, as well as his commitment to getting an above average change up, scouts have all enhanced his potential – perhaps to the point that he is slightly over rated. Still, one has to give props where they’re due, and for Kyle to progress as much as he has even after TJ surgery and still at a young age makes it likely that he’ll fulfill the prediction of a #3 role at a minimum. Since he’s also the closes to the majors and has the best out pitch of all Jays prospects, I’ve rated him as the top SP prospect. If he struggles in AAA, however, it is still possible that he needs to get back to AA to refine his pitches a little more. The Jays are hoping that Kyle becomes a #2 at a minimum since he was one of the 2 big pieces in the Doc Halladay deal.
2 – Chad Jenkins, 22 yrs old, 6′4″ 235 lbs, drafted in 1st rd (20th overall) of the 2009 draft
The Jays really struck gold when they selected Chad 20th overall in the last amateur draft out of Kennesaw State College, where he had a 15/98 overall walk to k ratio over 92 IP. As Jays scout Jon Lalonde said “It was kind of a no-brainer for us” and Chad proved them right with his showing in Spring Training, where everyone who saw him throw came away impressed. Chad has top of the rotation potential and also has the build and easy delivery to be an innings eater for the Jays in years to come. The pitches Jenkins has in his repertoire include a 91-94 MPH fastball which he can dial up to 96, a wicked low to mid 80s Slider, and the ever-needed Change Up that usually allows for an easier transition to MLB for young pitchers. Some still think he’ll be a middle of the rotation guy in the mold of Joe Blanton, but I think his pitches play much higher than Joe’s do and that the development of an above average change up could make all of the difference in the world for Chad. Lots are simply making the observation based on body type, velocity, and location of his pitches. His price tag after the draft was $1.359 million and it seems like the Jays will get their money’s worth fairly soon judging by the reaction of his performances this spring. He’s likely to being the season in HiA Dunedin, alongside fellow SP prospect Henderson Alvarez, but he could end the season as high as AAA Las Vegas, easily making him a 2011 rotation candidate.
3 – Zach Stewart, 23 yrs old, 6’2″ 205 lbs, drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft by CIN
In my mind, Zach has the most potential to help the Jays out during the 2010 season, as he has the most refined stuff and has more experience than all other SP prospects the Jays have. There are still questions about whether he’ll be a SP or a RP, so until that question is answered and Zach proves his stuff in either role with required performances, we can’t rate him as high as I feel he should be. Let me be clear on this, Zazh has breezed through the minors with very little wavering as to his skills and his performance. In 2 seasons in the minors, he holds a 1.70 ERA and 1.238 whip, with 129 Ks in 138 IP, and only 46 walks to accompany those Ks. The key pitch for Stewart is a big time sinker that touches 95 MPH and is always in the bottom of the zone. In fact, he keeps the ball so low that it makes it nearly impossible to hit a HR off him. He’s allowed only 3 HRs in all of his minors time, and is the least likely of the Jays SP prospects to get himself into trouble by getting the ball up. He also uses a change up that needs a lot of work because he didn’t need it when coming up as a reliever, and a slider that can make some knees buckle when it’s on. He needs to refine it a little to be more consistent with it. Whatever the Jays decide is best for Stewart in 2010 and beyond, they need to pick a role and go with it for the long term. In either case he will be sure to make everyone happy they landed him in one of the most lop-sided deals of 2009 (Stewart, Roenicke, Encarnacion in return for Rolen). I have more faith that the Jays will start him out as a starter than a reliever, and can’t wait to see him pitch for the Jays when he is ready and needed. He is my favorite on this list to become a #1 starter at some point in his career based solely on the nastiness of his pitches.
4 – Henderson Alvarez, 19 yrs old, 6’0″ 190 lbs, Signed out of Venezuela by Rafael Moncada in 2006
It really didn’t seem like the Jays had much to develop with Henderson after the 2008 season. He had just pitched his second season for the Jays and had an ERA above 5.60 for the second straight season. But, he proved exactly why most kids at that age need to continue to get chances to prove themselves. Did he ever put it together in 2009, making most of MLB and fantasy leagues take notice of his potential and most agree to play the “wait to see what he does at higher levels” game. Still very young, Henderson can hit 94 MPH with his fastball when he wants, but it’s his change up that he relies on to get hitters out. It was rated as the best in the MWL and resulted in his transformation as a potentially viable starter. The work really begins now for Henderson. He needs work on his consistency because he has to hit his spots to be effective. His velocity isn’t the greatest during the majority of games, so he has a very small margin for error, but at his age, it’s still likely that he can add a few MPH to help him out as he moves up the ladder. He won’t be pushed, because the Jays have a glut of SP prospects ahead of him in the minors and because they also have some returning from injury, but also because he needs to develop his slider or curve ball to get him 3 pitches to work with. He’ll need this as he moves up because hitters become more adept at hitting a change up in the higher levels, which is also why some scouts remain skeptical that he’ll be anything more than a #4 pitcher. We’ll see, but at his age and with the vast improvements he’s already made, I wouldn’t put it past him to play at the #3 level, or even a #2 if he can develop more strength. His poise, low walk/K rate (19/92, which was lowest in the MWL), and the fact that he is very “teachable” makes him one of my favorite surprise pitchers in the Jays minors. He’ll likely begin 2010 in HiA Dunedin and should get more offensive support there and remain there for the majority of 2010.
5 – Brad Mills, 25 yrs old, 5′11″ 185 lbs, drafted by the Jays in the 22nd rd of the 2006 draft
I place Brad in the 5th spot not because I think his stuff will play in MLB, but because we’ve all been told that he has the potential to be an impact arm for the Jays and I have to respect the opinions of scouts who’ve seen him throw and believe his stuff works well enough. I just don’t think he’ll play with the Jays as a starter for any extended time and would have rather place him in my relief pitching rankings because his fastball doesn’t play well enough at 86-89 MPH. The 2009 season was definitely a tumultuous one for Brad is comparison to previous years. His ERA jumped from 1.95 overall in ’08 to over 4 in ’09, while his whip went from 1.10 to 1.399. Hitters in AAA definitely abused his fastball locations and I believe MLB hitters would do the same. I do believe the role for Mills will be one of long relief unless he develops a sinker to go along with his curve ball and great change up. Approaching 26, Brad will need to get effective quickly in ’10 if he wants to get another shot with the Jays.He’ll return to AAA to work on his pitches and we’ll see if he can put it together and make an appearance in 2010.
Overall, the Jays top 5 sits slightly above average in MLB in terms of its talent and potential. With the top 4 having top 2 potential, it gives the Jays a ton of options in the near future, especially in terms of trades. Had I chosen based solely on personal opinion, I would have placed one of Robert Bell or Luis Perez in the #5 spot. I believe both of these guys have more potential to become rotation help than Brad Mills does. Others who just missed the rankings include Reidier Gonzalez (no AAA time), Daniel Webb (need to see what he does after being drafted and paid over slot money), and Drew Hutchison who has a ton of potential after being drafted in the 2009 draft.
Low minors guys to keep an eye on in 2010 include Carlos Pina, Egan Smith, Dave Sever, and Joel Carreno.