The Jays’ system has some intriguing depth, especially in their young arms. There might now be a ton of immediate impact in this system, but there are more than a few names for fantasy owners to get familiar with.
Blue Jays Top 5 Fantasy Prospects
1. Travis d’Arnaud, C – The former Phillies catching prospect, d’Arnaud, has easily been the best prospect the Blue Jays received in return for Roy Halladay. He’s a much better defensive catcher than J.P. Arencibia, and will bypass him on the depth chart when he reaches the majors. D’Arnaud is an excellent hitting catcher that hit .311/.371/.542 with 21 home runs in 466 plate appearances at the Double-A level this past season. At his peak, he should eclipse 20 home runs a year, and pair it with a plus batting average. The part of his offensive game that could use the most work is his ability to draw walks, as he only walked 33 times (7.1 percent walk rate). As it stands, he is already one of the more desirable prospects to own in fantasy baseball leagues.
2. Jake Marisnick, OF – Marisnick is an outfield prospect that is loaded with tools. He needed to repeat Single-A in 2011 to bring those tools to the surface, but boy did he do just that. In 523 plate appearances he slashed .320/.392/.500, showing an aptitude for drawing walks (8.2 percent walk rate), sound contact skills (17.4 percent strikeout rate), solid pop (14 home runs, 48 extra base hits in all), and tremendous speed and base running skills (37 stolen bases with 8 caught stealing good for an 82.2 percent success rate). As he physically matures further, his home run output should grow. Marisnick has a few rungs on the minor league ladder ahead of him, so don’t expect to see him reach the majors for a few more years, but the tools are there for him to be well worth the wait.
3. Anthony Gose, OF – As exciting as Marisnick’s tools are, Gose’s surpass them. The biggest problem for him is that the tool that lags behind the other is his hit tool. Gose strikes out a bunch, 26.2 percent strikeout rate, and it could ultimately be his undoing. Fortunately, if he even becomes a passable hitter, his power and speed would make him a fantasy asset in the Drew Stubbs mold. One year after struggling to be efficient on the base paths, 58.4 percent stolen base success rate, he made huge strides upping that mark to 82.1 percent and stealing 69 bases. If he can make similar strides to his approach at the plate, Gose would sky rocket up prospect lists. After spending all of this season in Double-A, look for Gose to put up video game numbers in Triple-A playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
Charlie’s take: While I’m extremely concerned that Gose’s strikeout problems will make him a bust, I’m willing to give him a bit more time as the Blue Jays completely changed his swing once he arrived in their organization. Even if he never this for AVG, the upside for a 20/40 season makes him worth monitoring.
4. Daniel Norris, SP – I initially had Norris missing the cut on my top-5, namely because he didn’t have any pro experience, but with very little arm twisting Charlie was able to talk me into slotting him fourth. Don’t be fooled by Norris slipping to the second round in the 2011 amateur draft, he fell exclusively because of signing concerns and a strong commitment Clemson. He is a 6-foot-2 southpaw with stuff that few of his peers can match. He throws his fastball in the low-90s, but can touch 96 mph. Norris backs his premium heater with a change-up, curveball and slider that all project to be average or better pitches. The best of those secondary pitches is his change-up. Even though he was drafted out of the high school ranks, he has an advanced approach and is lauded for his makeup. There is no reason for the Blue Jays to rush him, so like Marisnick, Norris is a prospect that requires patience for a big payoff.
5. Justin Nicolino, SP – Nicolino is yet another left-handed starting pitching prospect with plus velocity on his fastball. That velocity is a few ticks behind Norris, and is the main reason his ceiling is a bit lower. Like Norris, his best secondary pitch is his change-up. That pitched tied up batters in Short Season ball, and helped him strike out better than a batter an inning (11.01 K/9). In addition to his fastball and change-up, he throws a developing curveball that he was able to tighten up this year. He controls all of his pitches well, and walked few hitters both in Short Season ball, and in Low-A (1.89 BB/9 and 2.08 BB/9 respectively). Nicolino only started three games in Low-A, so he could be sent there to start the year, or they could decide he’s ready for High-A. Regardless of the level he begins the year at, he isn’t likely to taste his first cup of coffee before 2014.
Top 5 for 2012
1. Travis d’Arnaud – Expect him to terrorize pitchers in Triple-A before getting a summer time promotion. Even after his promotion, he could be eased into action with the capable J.P. Arencibia on the parent club. Arencibia was a lefty-masher (.259/.310/.528 with a .269 ISO), making it possible that the Jays use the handedness of the opposing pitcher to determine when d’Arnaud gets rest. If d’Arnaud shows a steep learning curve, he’d have value in some leagues even if he starts just 65-70 percent of the Jays games upon promotion.
2. Drew Hutchison – In a number of organizations, Hutchison would be a top five prospect. He just missed the cut here, but is on the 2012 top five because of his advanced control and high level of success. Hutchison pitched at three levels, starting at Low-A and finishing at Double-A. He dominated the competition at all three stops striking out oodles of batters and walking few. Hutchison only made three starts in Double-A, so look for him to begin the year back there. However, if he continues to toy with hitters (12.6 K/9 and 1.20 BB/9, 1.20 ERA and matching FIP) it will be a brief stay. He is a right-handed pitcher, so his 88-93 mph fastball lacks the sexiness of a future number one or two starter projection. Hutchison makes up for a lack in premium velocity by sinking, cutting and locating the pitch well. He also throws a change-up and slider, with the change-up being the better pitch and the slider getting slurvy when it’s not at its best. One concern Baseball America voices in their scouting reports is his crossfire delivery that creates deception, but could prevent him from handling a starter’s workload and lead to a bullpen move in the future.
3. David Cooper - Cooper finds himself behind Adam Lind on the Blue Jays depth chart, but will at least begin the year on the active roster. A line drive stroke led to big batting averages in the low minors, but failed to translate to Double-A in almost 1,100 plate appearances over 2009 and 2010. That changed in 2011 when he moved up to Triple-A and hit .364. Cooper is a patient hitter that walked a lot in the minors, and didn’t strike out much. He lacks home run power, though, and his single season best was 20 in 2010. That lack of power means he’ll need to hit for a high average to have any value. In a best case scenario, Cooper finds himself getting regular at-bats replacing an ineffective, or hurt, Adam Lind at first base. Even in that scenario, he’d only have value in AL-only leagues and probably be on and off rosters throughout the year.
4. Deck McGuire - McGuire is a cut below the rest of the Blue Jays prospect arms, but isn’t a bad prospect in his own right. He was the club’s first round selection in 2010, but didn’t make his pro debut until this season. McGuire was drafted out of Georgia Tech, and as a college arm, was challenged by the Blue Jays with a High-A debut. He was up to the challenge, and reached Double-A over the summer. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by a back injury, but that injury isn’t considered serious. McGuire only made three starts, and one relief appearance, for New Hampshire, so expect him to return there to start the year. He’ll look to succeed in the upper minors, and eventually the majors, mixing a fastball that resides in the 88-92 range and can touch 94, a change-up, curveball and slider. All of his pitches should be average, but none stand out as plus. With that in mind, I don’t expect him to continue to strike out nearly a batter an inning as he climbs the professional ranks. He isn’t the most exciting prospect, but he could be a decent fantasy contributor if he develops as expected.
5. Chad Jenkins - Jenkins is the pitcher with the most upper minors experience featured in this article. He threw 100.1 innings in Double-A, and should begin the year in Triple-A. He has innings eater written all over him, taking a pitch to groundball contact approach. That approach allowed him to keep his walk total low, but didn’t result in many strikeouts. More valuable real life prospect than fantasy one, but there were slim pickings for the 2012 list.