I know I should not have been surprised by this, but when I got to the Blue Jays list I still had this lingering excitement over getting ready to rank a system loaded with high-ceiling talent. The Jays still have tons of talent in their system, but the ranking was nearly as fun after so many players had been dealt away in trades with the Mets, Marlins and Astros. Players that I like but don’t love, were suddenly in the mix for the top five on this list, and that was a very weird feeling given my initial expectations. In the end, there is still plenty of talent to go around in this system and there were players that I liked that were ultimately left off the list.
1. Aaron Sanchez – RHP (Last Year’s Rank: 7)
Sanchez is the type of pitching prospect I fall in love with and have a hard time letting go. He has a long, lean and projectable body with solid present strength and he has already made gains in that department as a pro. His fastball can be a complete monster at times, earning plus-plus grades and having the potential to completely overpower hitters. He shows occasional feel for both a curveball and change-up that have at least above-average potential, giving a full complement of strong pitches. It’s a sexy profile that just needs a control and command element added to it, and then he could max out as a serious number two starter.
2. Roberto Osuna – RHP (NR)
Signed out of Mexico in 2011, Osuna burst on the scene in 2012 with dominating performances at both Bluefield and Vancouver. He has a thicker build that lacks projection, but his present strength is very good. His fastball consistently pumps in the 92-93 mph range and he can find 95-96 mph when he needs a little extra. His curveball has average potential and his change-up could be a weapon with added consistency and control over the pitch. Not surprising given his youth, Osuna struggles with command. The extreme inconsistency of everything but his fastball makes Osuna a dicey proposition, but he has the build and raw arsenal to project as a mid-rotation workhorse.
3. DJ Davis – OF (NR)
Davis’ set of tools is nothing short of tantalizing. He is an extremely impressive athlete with a live, fast-twitch body, good natural strength and speed to burn. When I scouted him last fall, I never saw a home-to-first time out of the 80-grade range. His instincts need improvement on the bases but he could steal 40-50 bases (or more) at the big league level. Davis is a decent hitter for his age but he needs to improve his pitch recognition and it is doubtful he ever has much more than gap power. With a good approach at the plate, he could fit at the top of a lineup. He has the defensive profile to fit in center field, making him a potential up-the-middle impact player.
4. Daniel Norris – LHP (8)
Norris had tremendous difficulty in the Appy League last summer, but that doesn’t mean his prospect star has faded in the lease. A lefty that can run it up to 94-95 mph when he needs it, Norris’ fastball should consistently rate in the plus range long term. His curveball and change-up both have some promise but lack any kind of consistency, thanks in large part to a delivery that also lacks consistency. Every part of Norris’ game is raw and it could take a very long time for his tools to manifest as a quality starting pitcher, but if they do he could a quality mid-rotation arm.
5. Marcus Stroman – RHP (NR)
Though he will miss time at the start of the season thanks to a 50-game suspension, Stroman should still move quickly through the system. Small in height, Stroman has a thick chest and plenty of strength in his body, allowing him to pump fastballs as high as 97-98 mph in short bursts. Both his slider and cutter can be plus pitches but their similarity gets him in trouble in longer outings, leading most scouts to project him in a relief role. In that capacity, he could race to the big leagues in 2013 and should max out as a quality setup reliever.
6. Sean Nolin – LHP (NR)
I struggle with pitchers like Nolin. They have a lot going for them but lack that “wow factor.” Nolin’s fastball can sit in the low-90s and touch higher on occasion. His change-up is a true plus pitch that he loves to throw to both lefties and righties. I like both his curveball and slider but neither pitch is a true bat-misser and that hurts his overall projection for me. In the end, I think he hogs innings and keeps the team in the game as a quality number four starter, but lacks the finishing touch to project higher.
7. Franklin Barreto – SS/OF (NR)
My first exposure to Barreto last fall was flat out inspiring. He is an impressive baseball player with a bright, bright future ahead of him. He has an uncanny knack for making hard contact to all fields and he projects to hit for both average and plenty of pop. Few scouts think he can stick at shortstop long term – his actions just don’t fit the part – but his speed should play in center field, allowing him to maintain strong defensive value. I don’t expect Barreto to breeze through the minor leagues, but he will be worth the wait for fans.
8. Matt Smoral – LHP (NR)
Drafted in the first round last year, Smoral was a bit of an enigma entering the draft thanks to a broken foot that sidelined him most of the year. At 6-foot-8, 220 pounds there is a lot that scouts can dream on with Smoral, and his fastball already sits in the low-90s and could consistently sit in the mid-90s by the time he reaches maturity. Smoral is very raw but shows good feel for a slider that could be a second plus (or better) pitch. It’s difficult to come to grips with Smoral’s true ceiling, but he has the look of a number three starter well down the line.
9. Chase DeJong – RHP (NR)
Another piece of the Blue Jays impressive 2012 draft crop, DeJong lacks the ceiling of some of the other arms on this list, but he still projects for three pitches in the average to plus range and has the body to be a quality, durable arm. DeJong’s fastball has the most projection in his arsenal, projecting to bump up from 90-91 mph to the 93-94 range in time. His curveball and change-up have their moments but need work to reach their average projection.
10. Santiago Nessy – C (NR)
It happens every year, I find a catcher with defensive chops and power in his bat and I can’t help but run him up the rankings somewhere. I’m doing it with Nessy this time around. His raw tools behind the plate are intriguing and the scouts I spoke with were almost universal in their belief that he will stick behind the dish. His offensive approach needs work but when he connects, he has the ability to drive the ball with authority.
11. Alberto Tirado – RHP (NR)
My genetic affinity for tools and raw stuff keeps urging me to push Tirado further up this list. Somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do that just yet. It’s hard not to like it when a teenager shows plus projection with three pitches and some hints of pitchability, but I keep shying away because of just how raw and how far away Tirado remains. His potential is considerable and there are scouts that suggested his ceiling rests in the number two starter range, but I need to see more before I’m jumping in with both feet.
12. Deck McGuire – RHP (6)
McGuire will never be able to shake the fact that he was selected in the top half of the first round. That’s unfortunate for him because he has big-league potential but will always be viewed as a disappointment. With a wealth of solid-average pitches, McGuire can mix and match enough to get outs and keep his team in the game. He doesn’t have a go-to pitch and he needs to improve his ability to locate. When he gets to the big leagues, he could carve out a nice niche as a fifth starter.
13. Dawel Lugo – SS (NR)
Signed for a hefty $1.3 million in 2011, Lugo’s bat intrigues scouts more than his glove. He has a natural feel for contact and doesn’t shy away from swinging early in counts. He has easy power to all fields and I put a plus tag on his thump during instructs last year. While it is hard to envision him at shortstop because of his below-average range, Lugo has the bat to profile at third base and he could start flying up prospect lists with a strong showing in 2013.
14. Tyler Gonzales – RHP (NR)
Even though many scouts I spoke to believe Gonzales reaches the big leagues as a reliever, I just couldn’t refrain from keeping him on this list. His fastball can get into the 94-95 mph range and I had reports of him reaching as high as 98 mph, though that comes with serious effort. His slider is absolutely filthy and could be a plus-plus pitch at its peak. While Gonzales presently lacks feel for command or a change-up, he hasn’t shied away from trying to develop those attributes. There is a slim chance he sticks in the rotation, but even if he doesn’t, he has the stuff to close games.
15. John Stilson – RHP (NR)
During his debut season, Stilson not only showed impressive raw stuff but perhaps more importantly, he stayed healthy, putting to rest many fears over the health of his shoulder. Stilson’s fastball and change-up are both plus pitches that can miss bats. In short stints, his fastball can play up in the 94-95 mph range, leading some scouts to wonder how dominating he could be in short relief. While he throws a hybrid breaking ball, it lacks the punch of his other two pitches and has only fringe-average potential. Scouts are mixed on whether Stilson should stick to starting or move to the bullpen full time. After seeing him extensively last year, I side with those that believe he should settle into the bullpen where he could dominate in a setup role.