Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Three Blue Jays Make Baseball Prospectus' Top 101

The fine folks over at Baseball Prospectus released their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball yesterday, and for all the talk of the Blue Jays' decimated farm system (albeit mostly among the uninformed, irrationally negative set) they do fairly well. Three Jays cracked this year's list. Two of them will be no surprise, but the third is a new name that many fans will no doubt start paying more attention to due to his inclusion on lists like these.

I'm sure you've already guessed the first two nominees, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but right-hander Alberto Tirado has been getting more and more buzz this year, and made it onto the BP list at #76. He's still a long way off, and a lot could happen between now and us ever seeing him in the bigs, but if you follow the excellent work of Jason Parks at all his presence on the list shouldn't be a shock. The Professor is very high on the young Dominican and has been singing his praises for months now. 

Without lifting too much pay-walled material (go get a BP subscription!), let's take a closer look at the trio of Jays prospects and BP's scouting reports on them. 

#27 - Marcus Stroman

Last year's rank: N/A

3.30 ERA   111.2 IP   3.20 FIP   28.1 K%   5.9 BB% with Double-A New Hampshire
3.09 ERA   11.2 IP     1.74 FIP   28.3 K%   6.5 BB% in the Arizona Fall League

Leading the way for Blue Jays prospects and making his personal debut on the BP Top 101 is none other than the diminutive Marcus Stroman. That he's ranked ahead of Sanchez on this particular list shouldn't be a huge surprise if you follow @ProfessorParks on Twitter or caught the BP Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects list. Still, that Parks is so high on his starting potential, to the point that he's leap frogged Sanchez on BP's list, should be taken as a testament to the excellent 2013 season Stroman had with Double-A New Hampshire.

After finishing a fifty-game suspension to start the season, he proceeded to strike out a bunch of guys without walking very many, which is always a promising combination and jives with his "plus command profile". He's projected to show four plus pitches, a fastball that sits in the mid 90s,  a slider referred to as a "true wipeout pitch", a changeup with "excellent action and deception from fastball", as well as a cutter in the 91-93 range with "nasty and late glove-side slice".

His ETA is 2014, and I don't think it would be surprising to see him competing hard for the fifth starter gig right out of Spring Training. By all accounts he's ready for the big leagues, with the only question being whether that will be in the starting rotation or the bullpen. The fact that he still has all his options means he's unlikely to break camp with the team unless he wins a starting spot or there's some trade action, since the Jays' bullpen is already a bit crowded with out-of-options arms. That being said, if he can avoid his occasional tendency to let his fastball flatten out and become hittable, he probably has as strong a chance of breaking camp in the fifth starter's role as anyone else on the team. With his major league ready stuff his arm would pretty much have to fall off to keep us from seeing him in some capacity this season.

Money quote: "He's atypical and unorthodox, but Stroman is going to be an impact starter at the major-league level."

#31 - Aaron Sanchez

Last year's rank: #32

3.34 ERA   86.1 IP   3.63 FIP   20.8 K%   11.1 BB% at High-A Dunedin

1.16 ERA   23.1 IP   3.07 FIP   23.9 K%   12.5 BB% in the Arizona Fall League

Not far behind Stroman, and up a spot from last year, sits Aaron Sanchez, once the consensus pick for the Blue Jays' top pitching prospect. Again, that Parks has Stroman ranked higher should be read as a testament to Stroman's 2013 success rather than an indictment of Sanchez, but there are some who have expressed concern with Sanchez's development and mechanical changes this year. Keith Law in particular has pointed to Sanchez's shortened stride and more upright delivery as a red flag for both injury and the control problems that have followed him at each of his minor league stops.

Parks doesn't seem quite as concerned, and praises him by saying "he has some of the best arm action you'll ever see". However, he does mention that "he can get stiff and upright in the delivery" and "struggle to stay over the ball" causing his stuff to flatten out at times. Still, the fastball "just explode[s] out of his hand" and routinely works in the mid-90s, while his hard curve and changeup both show plus potential.

Money quote: Parks is more reserved in his projection of Sanchez, saying "If you are optimistic about his command and refinement of the secondary stuff, Sanchez is a legit frontline no. 2 starter, but there is still a sizeable gap between the present and future."

#76 - Alberto Tirado

Last year's rank: N/A

1.68 ERA   48.1 IP   3.39 FIP   21.3 K%   9.7 BB% at rookie level Bluefield

Also making his Top 101 debut this year is 19 year-old Dominican right-hander Alberto Tirado. Parks points to his loose, easy arm action, a plus fastball that works in the 91-95 range with late arm-side movement, a plus changeup that is "advanced for his age", and a slider with plus potential as reasons he is so high on Tirado. 

In order to live up to his mid-top of the rotation potential though, he'll have to add some mass to his thin frame and improve the consistency of his mechanics and release point. His present command is below average, but the stuff is there if he can harness it and gain enough strength to shoulder a starter's workload. 

Parks expects his prospect stock to start rising quickly if he can continue his success when he enters full-season ball, so he should definitely be one to watch in the coming years. However, with a projected ETA of 2017 he won't be of much help to the current Blue Jays in the way Stroman and Sanchez might. A lot can go wrong between now and then, but in the meantime he should be a fun one to dream on. 

Money quote: Parks is so generous in his praise of Tirado that it was hard to choose just one. I'll let you decide between "Tirado is a beast in the making" or "This is an impact prospect that could develop into an impact major-league starter." 

The Takeaway

Tirado's inclusion on a list like this is a nice bit of validation for those of us who have been urging patience with regards to the Jays' farm system. The disappointment of 2013 has led to a fair amount of idiotic hysteria about Anthopoulos having "gutted" the system without it leading to better results at the major league level. While it's true that the Marlins and Dickey trades took a pretty sizable chunk out of their upper-minors talent, the low-minors remained strong. There's still impact talent there, but it's a lot further away than it was which impacts the overall rating of their farm system. If all goes according to plan, some of that talent will be knocking on the door when some of the Blue Jays' bigger contracts to aging veterans are coming off the books. 

Barring any trades, expect to see more and more Blue Jays prospects getting mentioned in these kinds of conversations as they progress through the minors. In fact, Jason Parks has mentioned he'll be putting out an article about players he expects to make waves this season, either moving up the Top 101 or breaking onto it next year. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a Blue Jay or two mentioned given the high praise he had for their young players in his Top 10 prospects list, as well as in a recent Blue Jays Plus podcast that I suggest you listen to if you've been feeling antsy about the Jays' system.

They aren't the Twins or the Astros, but neither is the sky falling the way a whole lot of Chicken Littles out there would like you to believe. Tirado is just on the front edge of the next prospect wave, and as long as Anthopoulos can resist the temptation to drain that talent pool in pursuit of short-term success there is plenty of reason for optimism when it comes to the Jays' farm system. All we need is a little patience.

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