Rookie League Teams – Looking Through the Stats


In my recent Piggy Backing in Lansing piece, I referenced John Sickels prospect top 20 list which, if you take into account his comment on how tough of a grader he is, is quite exciting.  Prospects 2 through 6 are all graded at B and above.  When you look at his grade explanation, ‘Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers.  Some will develop into stars, some will not.’  Given the fact that three of the the six will begin the year in A ball or below, there is a very good chance they will graded higher in 2014.

Here’s the rub though.  All those prospects are pitchers.  Where are the bats?  Recent drafts have seen Alex Anthopolous’ and the rest of the Jays scouting staff focused on great athletes.  The theory being, to win the American League East, you need outstanding players at every position.  Or to use the Baseball Reference WAR explanation, you need 5+ All Stars, rather than 2+ Regulars.  So, by drafting/signing all of these high upside kids, you give yourself a better chance of developing all-stars.  Of course, the flip side of the coin says you also have a far better chance of these kids never becoming baseball players.

Sickels touches on this in his article, stating that the emphasis on tools has so far yielded ‘a collection of premium athletes who have raw and/or doubtful baseball skills.’  Going on to list a few names, Matt Dean/Jacob Anderson/Dwight Smith JR included, that have been major disappointments.

I’ve written this before, but the disappointment that was 2012 wasn’t just limited to the big club.  With the bulk of the Jays high end talent signings/draftees of the last couple of years high school age or below the prevailing consensus pre-season was that both the GCL Blue Jays and Bluefield Blue Jays were loaded with top tier prospects.  When you look at fangraphs, however, aside from a few names here and there, it is hard to take much positive from this past season.

Even if you subscribe to the theory that advanced metrics such as wOBA and wRC+ aren’t great evaluating tools for these levels,

Doesn’t make for pretty reading as no Jays in the top 20

given the context, it still makes poor reading when compared against their peers.  Looking at the league leaders in Fangraphs it is hard to find to find a Blue Jay anywhere on the first page, no matter what statistical category you choose to sort by.  For instance, I used four, wOBA, wRC+, OPS, and ISO.  For the Gulf Coast League, all four of those categories produced one qualified Blue Jay.  D.J. Davis.  In the Appalachian League, things improve by 100% in that you see two names popping up.  Seth Connor and Christian Lopes.  Mildly depressing, when you see teams such as the Yankees and Braves placing five or six names in each.

This inability of the projectable draftees/signings to actually produce will hurt the Jays system in some eyes.  In 2011 Toronto had the 4th best system according to Baseball America, dropping a place to 5th in 2012.  I think the exciting pitching prospects in the Jays organization will barely keep them in the top 10 but the poor year from the hitters will see a further slide down the rankings.

So far, this off-season, the phrase du jour when reading about Jays positional prospects is to ‘look through the stats’.  Of course, like telling the person your are breaking up with, ‘it’s not you it’s me’, this is simply to make us feel better.  That being said, I do see some value in picking through scrapheap to unearth something worth holding on to.  And in the next couple of weeks, that’s what we’ll look to do.

I am going to refer to colleague Kyle’s excellent positional primers done this past June for both Bluefield and the GCL Jays.  Kyle broke down both short season teams opening day rosters, with what the players had done in 2011 and what we may expect in 2012.  I’m going to look at what was accomplished in 2012 and what we can/hope to expect in 2013.  This will serve as a bridge until next April when long season minor league teams are announced and June when the short season teams are revealed.

This will be done in conjunction with my 2012 draft class series and although there may be a bit of overlap I’ll endeavor to keep it to a minimum.

First up, either this week or next, depending on my Christmas season intake, will be the GCL Jays.