Friday, November 16, 2012

Prospects! Part 2: Las Vegas 51s

Almost there: C Travis d'Arnaud, CF Anthony Gose

Borderliners: 1B David Cooper, OF Moises Sierra

Under the Radar: 1B Mike McDade

Gone, Baby, Gone: SS Adeiny Hechevarria

Summary: Yes, there are no pitchers even to be discussed among the top prospects that played for the 51s last season.* Vegas = death to pitchers and the Jays kept anyone even close to a prospect away last season, preferring to promote to the big club rather than send them to Vegas.  Fortunately, that situation will be rectified in 2013 as the Jays' affiliations have changed to a much more convenient home in Buffalo.  Frankly, the best numbers that were posted by Las Vegas 51s in 2012 were by guys who spent significant portions of their season in the major leagues.  Top OPSs: Adam Lind (1.112), Travis Snider (1.021), Travis d'Arnaud (.975), Yan Gomes (.938), Eric Thames (.935), and David Cooper (.935).  The next player on the list with more than 200 ABs in Vegas?  Moises Sierra.  So basically, anyone who performed will in Vegas was either major leaguer/Quad-A Player (31-year-old minor league veteran Ricardo Nanita was also close to that leader board) or a top prospect.  Gose and Hechevarria weren't among the sluggers in Vegas, but did post respectable numbers, that, again, tell us very little and it's much more useful to look at their performances in their extended major league call ups last season.
Photo credit: Unknown

Travis d'Arnaud (by all measures, the Jays' top prospect in 2012**) was pulling a J.P. Arencibia by posting league MVP type numbers in the first half of the season before suffering a knee injury in June.  D'Arnaud was hitting .333 with 16 HRs and an OPS of .975.  We saw a precipitous drop in batting average from Arencibia when he made the jump to the majors, so it's very difficult to predict what may happen with d'Arnaud.  However, most scouts feels that d'Arnaud has the potential to hit for a better average than Arencibia (perhaps without quite as much power) and is a better defensive catcher.  This off-season will definitely be interesting for the Jays' catchers.  Bloggers have suggested that the Jays could trade one of d'Arnaud or Arencibia as part of a deal to add quality starting pitching this off-season (particularly with John Buck coming to the Jays in The Trade).  Frankly, I'm excited to see what d'Arnaud can do at a major league level, but he may end up getting dealt, mainly because he has more value than Arencibia. 
Photo credit: Unknown

A subject of a good chunk of one of my previous posts, Anthony Gose*** also showed significantly inflated numbers in Vegas.  In AAA, he hit .286/.366/.419 with 21 2B, 10 3B, 5 HR, 34 SB and 101 strikeouts in 420 at bats.  What is interesting is that both Gose more-or-less maintained the spacing between his batting average and on-base percentage when he made the jump to the majors.  Gose's job should be to get on base, and he was able to do so in AAA at a very good rate.  Gose is considered to be ready for the majors defensively.  He has outstanding range, great instincts and an arm that is way beyond what a centerfielder is even hoped to have.  He may return to AAA in 2013, this time playing in a more challenging hitting environment in Buffalo before returning to Toronto, most likely at some point next season.
Photo: Steve Spatafore

David Cooper is a player that really isn't considered a prospect anymore, but has done nothing but hit at every level in the minors and even showed some maturity and pop in the majors last season as a replacement for Adam Lind.  Cooper really has nothing left to prove in AAA, hitting .314/.395/.540 in 2012.   Last season, he returned to the majors as a much more patient and confident hitter, hitting .300 in 140 ABs with 15 extra-base hits.  The only concern with Cooper is the fact that he only took 4 walks in the majors and struck out 22 times, whereas, he actually walked more than he struck out in AAA (37 BB, 34 K).  If Cooper can show the plate discipline that he's shown throughout his minor league career, he could be a very productive major league player (assuming his 2012 stats were not aberrant ).  The big question with Cooper is that scouts don't think that he can hit for enough power as a first baseman to be truly valuable at the big league level, and the Blue Jays just don't have anywhere to put him, with Adam Lind and his (most likely) immovable contract in front of him as a left-handed hitting first baseman and Edwin Encarnacion breaking out in 2012 and with the organization toying with thoughts of having Travis d'Arnaud play first base if J.P. Arencibia is still around.  Cooper is pretty much the odd man out.
Moises Sierra earned some playing time in Toronto for the injured Jose Bautista after the trades of Travis Snider and Eric Thames.  In 2012, his first AAA season, the 24 year old put up very respectable numbers, but not as PCL-inflated as you might have thought coming off the strong AA season he had last year.  The knock against Sierra is that he's a free-swinger, which showed up in his big league debut.  Sierra struck out in 28% of his plate appearances, well above the league average, and put together an OPS of only .648.  Basically, while Sierra was succeeding in AAA (.289/.360/.472), he had a rough first-exposure to ML pitching in his 147 ABs with the Jays.  The big question with Sierra is whether he's hit his ceiling or not.  He is known to be pretty good defensively and has a cannon of an arm, so he can be useful as a defensive replacement off the bench for a major league team.  He will, in all likelihood, start 2013 in Buffalo and work on his offensive game.
Photo: Dave Schofield

23 year old Mike McDade's biggest problem is that he plays 1B.  On the Jays' depth charts, he's behind Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Travis d'Arnaud, and David Cooper.  But McDade is a hitter who has been hitting for average and power since 2009 in A ball.  He has also started to address his issues with striking out too much, and not walking enough (taking more walks in 100 fewer at bats in AA in 2012 than in 2011, but strikeout numbers were still high).  While he needs some maturing, the organization will have issues as to where to put him.  If David Cooper returns to AAA in 2013, then the Jays will have McDade and Cooper splitting time at 1B while the other most likely DHs.  McDade already repeated AA for most of 2012 because of the logjam at his position and has nothing left to prove there as is evidenced by his all-star selections in 2011 and 2012.
* The only pitcher that could even be considered a prospect is Chad Beck who struggled mightily in his time with the big club and was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Jays tried to pass him through waivers. 
**I will normally include rankings  from's top 20 list of Blue Jays prospects, compiled by Jonathan Mayo.  There are many other such measures - Baseball America, Fangraphs, John Sickels's Minor League Ball rankings are but three examples.

*** By many measures, Gose is no longer considered a prospect due to his accumulation of too many major league at-bats in 2012.  He exceeded the limit to be considered for rookie eligibility by about 30 at-bats.

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