When do the Toronto Blue Jays’ prospects become capital?


Mitch Nay strikes a superman pose (image courtesy of Charlie Caskey)

The final piece of my personal prospect puzzle fell at the end of January when Keith Law of espn.com published his Blue Jays top ten while also giving us his organizational rankings.  The list is fairly standard, aside from one mild surprise.  What’s worth noting however (indeed, even making a post of it) is the explanation Law gives for ranking the Jays system in the lower quarter of the league.

First, the surprise.  Well, couple of points really.  Law is the only prospector to remain high on 2010 big-money international free agent signee ($2.8 million) Adonys Cardona.  There’s no doubting the 20-year-old Venezuelan’s raw stuff but two poor seasons, both blighted by arm issues, has seen some of the other high upside arms in the system pass him on most prospect depth charts.

Secondly, Law is the only writer who did not bump Roberto Osuna after his Tommy John surgery.  I don’t have an issue with this but by ranking the young right-hander so high you’re making two rather large assumptions.  That he’ll fully recover from the surgery – probable, but certainly not a guarantee – and that Osuna will put in the work necessary to ensure the rest of his body is ready to go.  I think some of the other writers question if that will happen, given the teenager’s already mature physique.

Organizationally, Law is not as high on the Jays as others, ranking them 24th.  On the flip side, Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus has Toronto at 13th with definite potential to move up quickly: “The Jays have some of the best young prospect depth in baseball, and as the short-season talent start to develop at the full-season level, the system as a whole should jump into the top 10, where they are likely to stay for a very long time.”

If honest, that is how I view the system but then again, I’m an eternal optimist.  Law takes a different tact in his rating, as he explained on his podcast, specifically regarding the Jays:

“I’m dreaming on a lot of these guys. I see the ability, I see the promise. But then, when I try to do these rankings, one through thirty, or when I’m just evaluating individual prospects, one thing I keep in the back of my mind is, ‘Would you trade this guy for that guy?’ ‘Would you trade Toronto’s system for the Orioles’ system?’ ‘Would you trade one for the other?’ And with Toronto, they kept coming out on the short end of the stick, because the fact is, the industry does not value short season players; 18-year-olds who’ve been in the Gulf Coast League, or the Arizona Rookie League, or the Appy league. They don’t value them very highly.”

And although I may want to disagree with him, my head says I can’t.  Quite simply, we are dreaming….a lot.  Aside from Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin none of the other Jays top prospects will see Toronto in 2014.  Aaron Sanchez should be there in 2015 but after that, there’s another gap.  Maybe Daniel Norris in 2016?  That is some high level speculating though.  Simply put, the Jays do not have a ton of impact prospects ready to make a major league contribution.

Looking at the individual names on Law’s top ten (well, 13 really, as he does name three more), numbers five through 12 have only played short season ball so, as per his assertion above, are not valued overly high.  Why not?  I’ve spoken to both coaches and players that all say the level of talent is no different between the Northwest and Midwest Leagues.  I think people just want to see these kids maintain success despite the rigours of a full 140 game season.  One where pitchers have more of an opportunity to adjust to hitters and vice versa.

So, assuming a year in Lansing provides the necessary value (which seemed to be the case for Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino) based on my 2014 predictions for those on Law’s list that played short season last year, who, theoretically, will be tradeable next off-season?

I’m sure people will quibble with some of my predictions, i.e. I’ve made my bed that Robson is going to be in Dunedin and intend to lie in it, but I don’t believe you could argue how many of the above will only be in short season leagues next year.

So, in one year, Law’s list has gone from 38% tradeable commodities to 85% (if you replace Stroman with someone who plays for Lansing or above in ’14, such as Mitch Nay).

The 2014 Lugs are certainly still a long way from Toronto but if you’re working on Law’s full season players = trade value parameters then the organization should easily jump from 24th to somewhere in the upper half.  Adding in names like Clinton Hollon, Miguel Castro, Matt Smoral, Jake Brentz, and Rowdy Tellez, guys who will play in Bluefield and Vancouver this year with a view towards Lansing in 2015 and you’re looking at a top 10 system once again.

Of course, with value comes the potential for movement and Jays management could very well decide to plug some of the holes (and there are a few) at the major league level by dealing from their prospect strength.

Personally, I’m going to bury my head in the sand and pretend that won’t happen preferring instead to dream on what will become.