Tonight, Alex Anthopoulos embarks upon his first MLB Entry Draft since taking the reins as the Blue Jays’ general manager in the off-season. The team owns four of the first 41 selections and nine picks among the first three rounds, and have to make an impact following a disastrous 2009 draft in which they failed to sign three of their first four draftees, including James Paxton (37th over-all) and Jake Eliopoulos (68th over-all).
The pressure’s certainly on, but that isn’t to say that the cupboard is completely empty when it comes to prospects in the Jays’ farm system. Let’s have a look at how the team depth chart shakes down beyond the majors and who is waiting in the wings to one day join the blue birds.
The old baseball axiom of “you can never have too much pitching” is proven true when you consider that three of the Blue Jays’ last four first round selections have been pitchers. And that doesn’t even include prized prospect Kyle Drabek, who was acquired from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade. The trouble is, growing pains seem to be rampant and none of these young arms are knocking down the doors en route to the majors.
Drabek seems to have gotten on track after a slow start at AA New Hampshire, where he owns a 7-4 record with a 3.22 ERA. He leads all Eastern leaguers in strikeouts, but has allowed nearly one hit for each inning pitched this season. More concerning for the Jays is the status of Chad Jenkins, the hefty 2009 first-rounder (20th over-all), who is battling inconsistency and getting hit hard by righties at Class A Lansing.
Among the team’s other starters in waiting, Brad Mills and Robert Ray find themselves closing in on major league duty, Zach Stewart has yet to make the jump and has been only average at New Hampshire, Reidier Gonzalez looks promising but is still a ways away and Lance Broadway may be a lost cause as he continues to battle control problems while approaching his 27th birthday. Don’t be surprised to see Toronto go heavy on pitching with their early picks.
The Jays’ closer of the future might just be a good ol’ Canadian boy, as Vancouver-born Trystan Magnuson has been nearly unhittable out of the bullpen for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season. Magnuson, a 6’7” righty who was a sandwich pick of the Jays (56th over-all) in the 2007 draft, owns a 1-0 record with three saves while compiling a 0.83 ERA through 31.1 innings of work.
Zach Jackson, meanwhile, is thriving in his conversion to the bullpen during his second go-round with the Blue Jays. A 2004 Jays’ draftee, Jackson was dealt to Milwaukee in the Lyle Overbay trade but was reacquired by Anthopoulos in the off-season. As the de facto set-up man for a rotation of closers (currently veteran Sean Henn) with the Las Vegas 51’s, he has put together a 1-1 record and a 3.93 ERA.
It’s hard to argue that the backstop isn’t the organization’s strongest position in terms of depth and high level potential amongst the prospects. It’s a nice problem to have when J.P. Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman and Travis d’Arnaud are all playing well at the sport’s toughest position and looking to break through to the majors.
Despite a low batting average, Arencibia appears the closest to being ready for major league duty, with nine home runs and 27 RBI this season at Las Vegas. He could get a look with the big club come September, especially if the Jays can find a trade market for John Buck or Jose Molina.
At AA New Hampshire, Jeroloman is getting on base in nearly have his at-bats, as he owns an Eastern League-leading .457 on-base percentage. He is the most dangerous hitter on the division-leading Fisher Cats. And yet d’Arnaud, another asset from the Halladay trade, might be the best of the three, combining Jeroloman’s ability to get on base (.346 OBP) with Arencibia’s power (five homers and 24 RBI).
After pushing his way through the low-level minors with a fantastic 2008 season, it appears that 2008 first-rounder David Cooper has hit a wall. The first baseman has followed up a so-so 2009 campaign with a disappointing start to 2010, which is particularly disconcerting when you consider the lack of organizational depth at the position. He’s only 23 years old, but he’s entering what could be the ‘make-it-or-break-it’ stage of his development.
On the other hand, Brett Wallace (yes, another nugget unearthed from the Halladay trade … sort of) has lived up to all expectations as a member of the 51’s. Wallace, who was acquired after Anthopoulos picked up Phillies prospect Michael Taylor and flipped him to Oakland, has hit for power (11 home runs) and gotten on base (.335 OBP), suggesting that he might be ready for a call-up sooner rather than later.
Yes, it’s exciting that the Jays were able to secure a sought-after Cuban prospect and yes, handing a four-year, $10 million deal to a 20-year old (he has since turned 21) will raise eyebrows, but I’m just not seeing any reason to get worked up over Adeiny Hechavarria yet. He could very well turn out to be the second coming of Omar Vizquel, but simply hasn’t shown much yet (.228 average).
A middle infielder that has shown a thing or two? How about Justin Jackson, a defence-first shortstop prospect who can also hit a little. Neither he nor Brad Emaus have lit up the minors, but they benefit from being solid, steady players who happen to serve a position of need for the Jays.
Critics who questioned the Wallace-for-Taylor trade pointed to Taylor’s higher ceiling (for the record, he’s hitting just .231) and the Jays’ dearth of high end outfield prospects. Since the trade, the Jays haven’t exactly disproven the latter point.
The team’s best current options in the outfield are Jake Marsinick and the fantastically-named Moises Sierra, neither of whom is all that close to major league duty. Marsinick is a speedy, athletic centrefielder who needs to add strength and improve his bat speed, while Sierra is an extremely raw rightfielder who has drawn comparisons to Raul Mondesi.
They could both pan out, but it isn’t a position where Anthopoulos can sit back and wait for these guys to come along. Granted, the depth chart at each position could look very different after tonight’s draft.
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Written by Ben Fisher