The Second Annual Kevin Pillar Sleeper Prospect List


Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With spring training now in full swing and the crack staff at Jays Journal flying through our top 30 prospect list, I thought it was high time I a) contributed something and b) did some prospect work myself.  And after the success of last year‘s Kevin Pillar Sleeper Prospect List, what better way to get me back in the groove than taking a look at who may be this season’s sleepers.

Before we begin, let’s do a quick recap of both last year’s list, with a tiny review and grade, and the rules for this particular exercise:

Catcher: Seth Conner – poor season, may have slipped into organizational filler territory – Loss

First Base: Art Charles – traded to the Phillies, struggled in Low-A – Loss

Second Base: Ryan Schimpf – regressed after returning to New Hampshire. Org Filler. – Loss

Shortstop: Andy Burns – breakout season, crushed in Dunedin, after slow start in N.H. finished strong – Win

Third Base: Gustavo Perinan – didn’t play in 2013, still listed as active with org. Injury? – Incomplete

Left: Nico Taylor – Released, despite decent numbers in Bluefield, could have been other factors – Loss

Center: Dalton Pompey – battled injuries in Lansing but still won Minor League gold glove for center field.  Looking for monster 2014 from the Ontario native. – Win

Right: Nick Baligod – solid campaign in Dunedin, albeit with no power, not great for corner outfielder – Loss

The ground rules (with one added since last year):

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, nondrafted 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.

4) I won’t repeat any of the names from last year’s list, as, once they made it last year, they are no longer sleepers, but famous.

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 going to use the blended stats for the season:

Catcher: Mike Reeves – 21st Round 2013 Draft – 2013 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .275/.374/.321 – An on base machine who often hit leadoff for the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Reeves followed up his senior season .417 OBP with a .374 mark while winning a Northwest League title with the Vancouver Canadians. After a meteoric start to his pro career, the grind of catching over 100 games between college and the pros caught up to him and his numbers took a dive in August. With a full off-season to recuperate and an entire spring training working with Jays’ coaches, look for  more gap power in 2014, possibly with Dunedin.

What can we expect? A strong defensive catcher, with a good arm and the ability to get on base.  Lack of power is an issue, but aforementioned skills should see a smooth progression through the system.

Toronto Blue Jays first base propsect L.B. Dantzler during the College World Series. Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

First Base: L.B. Dantzler– 14th Round 2013 Draft – 2013 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .302/.385/.504 – An advanced college bat who took a big leap in the power department during his senior season.  Dantzler continued his strong play through to Vancouver where he led the Northwest League in doubles and was second in OPS.  Those numbers saw him named league MVP.  The lefty swinging first basemen has an excellent approach at the plate, looking to drive the ball early in the count, before opening up the entire field when he has two strikes.  He has a wide base at the dish, keeping his hands low pre-load.  In a lot of ways, his swing reminds you of Jeff Bagwell.  Having played 3rd base for much of his college career, L.B. is an adequate defender at first, one that won’t hurt you all that much.

What can we expect? Similar to Reeves, a full off-season and time to work with Jays coaches should iron out the odd wrinkle in his swing.  There’s a chance he skips Lansing and starts 2014 in Dunedin.  A big year there could see him shoot up the organizational depth chart.

Second Base: Timothy Locastro – 13th Round 2013 Draft – 2013 Season Stats – Bluefield Blue Jays .283/.367/.384 – I chose Locastro off the back of an interview I did with his Blufield teammate Shane Dawson.  Dawson raved about what New York native brought to the field each day and how hard he worked.  And as this is a sleeper list, it won’t always be the most talented who surprise but often those that work the hardest.  That isn’t to say the Ithaca College shortstop turned pro 2nd basemen didn’t have a good year.  A 1.08 BB/K rate and .367 OBP are solid.  And his eight extra base hits (including three triples) and 12 of 14 stolen bases hint at a nice blend of power and speed.  Defensively I’m a bit in the dark but will take the easy road out and assume a former shortstop is going to make a decent second basemen.

What can we expect? Turning 22 in July, Locastro will be right in Vancouver’s wheelhouse and should start the Northwest League season as the Canadians second basemen, possibly providing a steadying influence up the middle with young uber-prospect Franklin Barreto to his right.

Shortstop: Richard Urena – IFA 2012 – 2013 Season Stats – DSL/GCL Jays .300/.383/.404 – Like Dalton Pompey last year, calling Urena a ‘sleeper’ prospect is a bit dicey, especially considering I did the write up for Jays Journal which has him ranked 28th in our Top Prospect Lists.  Still, as he is the third and probably least talked about, of the three Latin American shortstop prospects in the lower levels, I think I can get away with it.

Although there may be questions about Dawel Lugo and Franklin Barreto’s (the two shortstops ahead of him) chances of sticking at short, from what I have read, there should be no issue for Urena.  At 6’1″ 170 pounds, the Dominican native has the body, athleticism, glove, footwork and arm strength to develop into an above average defender.  At the plate, he has a smooth swing, keeping the bat through the contact zone for a long time.  His 2013 batting average may be inflated by a high BABIP, but his .104 ISO shows he is not just slapping the ball.  The 10.6% walk rate points to a decent eye as well.

What can we expect? With the defense projecting to be plus, all eyes will focus on Urena’s bat.  If he can continue making contact at a decent rate, walk in the 12-14% range, and maintain an ISO above .100 then there is no doubt he’ll be a sleeper no more come 2015.

Third Base: Deiferson Barreto – IFA 2012 – 2013 Season Stats – DSL Blue Jays .300/.404/.383 – This guy has a lot of negatives.  He’s now done two years in the Dominican without making it stateside.  We ‘think’ he is Franklin’s older brother and potentially was signed just to ensure that younger brother did the same thing. And he made 84% of his appearances at 2nd base last year so isn’t really a 3rd basemen.  Who else have I got though?  At least Barreto put up some decent numbers and was a 3rd basemen at some stage.  Am guessing he’ll wash out of the system by 2016 though.

What can we expect? Nothing.  We have Brett Lawrie entrenched and a top 100 prospect (Mitch Nay) on the way.  Got to be happy with that.

Right Field: Carlos Ramirez – IFA 2009 – 2013 Season Stats – Lansing Lugnuts .228/.297/.375 – A five year pro that can’t get on base at least three of ten times doesn’t really scream sleeper prospect but when you speak to coaches in the Jays system (I spoke to two of them) they all seem to point towards Ramirez’ loud, raw tools.  I saw him in 2012 when he was with Vancouver and there is no doubting his arm.  He has a cannon, as shown by his eight assists in Lansing last year.  At the plate though, I thought he was a mess.  With a hitch in his load that left him vulnerable to anything away and an inability to engage his hips, which left him lacking in the power department.  Still, who am I to argue with the coaches?

What can we expect? Not much, but like 3rd base and one of the following, the choices in right are pretty thin.

Blue Jays outfield prospect Chaz Frank playing for UNC. Credit: Liz Condo-USA TODAY SportsCenter Field: Chaz Frank – 20th Round 2013 Draft – 2013 Season Stats – Vancouver Canadians .282/.412/.365 – Another 2013 college draftee that will benefit from a full off-season. Frank’s North Carolina Tar Heels made it the semi-finals of the NCAA college world series before succumbing to eventual champion UCLA.  After a short break he was in Vancouver where he continued to get on base at a high rate, with a .412 OBP, supplemented by an excellent 16.2% walk rate.  If he can cut down on the strikeouts, Chaz could turn into a very useful leadoff hitter in the system.  Defensively he has a flair for the dramatic, making numerous spectacular catches in the spacious Nat Bailey stadium outfield.

What can we expect? With little power and an average arm, I think we’re looking at an eventual 4th outfielder who can get on base and steal another one when needed.

Left Field:  – Jonathan Davis – 15th Round 2013 Draft – 2013 Stats – Bluefield Blue Jays .238/.346/.415 – I have to admit, I went to external sources for this one after racking my feeble brain to no avail.  My Jays Journal colleague Jay Blue suggested Davis saying he has a mature approach at the plate and good speed despite only stealing four of six bases in ’13.  There is also the suggestion, a theme throughout this list, that after a long college season, Davis battled through some injuries and fatigue in his first pro go around.  A full off-season before the 2014 season should give us a much better idea what to expect afterwards.

What can we expect? Another strong defensive outfielder with speed on both sides of the ball.  He’ll need to get himself on base more to take advantage of that speed in order to move his way up the ladder.

There we have it, the Second Annual Kevin Pillar Sleeper Prospect List is in the books. I hope to do better than the two for nine I hit last year but with 2013 being a pretty poor year developmentally for prospects (especially position) I had to rely heavily on 2013 draftees.  I’m reasonably confident in Reeves, Dantzler, and Urena. Beyond that it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

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.