2014 Top 10 Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays

This Top 10 (+5) list is the weakest collection of prospects that Toronto has had in the minors for quite a while now. Most of the talent is in A-ball or Rookie ball with a noticeable lack of depth at the upper levels, thanks to the 2012-13 trades that were supposed to turn the Jays into a winning club. On a positive note, there are quite a few players — including many who failed to make the list — that have the raw skills necessary to improve significantly in the coming year.


#1 Aaron Sanchez | 65/A+ (P)

20 28 26 109.2 74 4 7.88 4.19 2.87 3.51

The Year in Review: Sanchez, who didn’t turn 21 until July 1, made 22 appearances (20 starts) in High-A ball. He pitched just 86.1 innings after missing about a month with a shoulder injury. When he was on the mound and able to find the strike zone, he overpowered hitters with 75 strikeouts and a well-above-average ground-ball rate. Sanchez was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after the season to catch up on the innings he missed while on the sidelines. He allowed just 11 hits and struck out 21 in 23.1 innings but also walked 11.

The Scouting Report: Sanchez, a California native, has the best stuff in the Jays’ system. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he backs it up with a plus curveball. He doesn’t use his changeup a ton but the right-hander throws it with deceptive arm speed and it flashes good fade. Tall and lean, Sanchez’s delivery was tweaked in 2013 and — as ESPN prospect evaluator Keith Law pointed out — the prospect now lands on a stiff front leg with little follow through. The delivery makes it more difficult for the young hurler to get the ball down in the lower half of the zone on a consistent basis.

The Year Ahead: The strong fall showing should allow Sanchez to open 2014 in Double-A. If he can add the necessary polish, Sanchez could reach the Majors by the end of the season. However, he probably isn’t ready to realize his ceiling and will likely struggle with his inconsistencies at the big league level. Toronto is in the market for established starting pitching and Sanchez is the organization’s best trading chip.

The Career Outlook: Sanchez has the makings of a No. 1 or 2 starter, if his command and control both improve. However, I have concerns over his ability to stay healthy in the long term, and he’s already had shoulder issues pop up.


#2 Marcus Stroman | 60/AA (P)

22 29 20 123.1 107 13 10.36 2.19 3.28 3.07

The Year in Review: Despite an inauspicious 42-game delay to the 2013 season from a failed drug test (He served the first eight games of the suspension at the end of ’12), Stroman made 20 Double-A starts and struck out 129 batters in 111.2 innings of work. He then made up for the lost development time by appearing in nine games in the Arizona Fall League where he added another 13 strikeouts and just three walks in 11.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: It’s fairly safe to assume that any scouting report you read about Stroman is going to start by mentioning his height. He stands just 5’9” and there are few, if any, starting pitchers that have succeeded over a long period of time in the big leagues. With that said, the Duke University alum has done a nice job of staying on top of the ball to date. He also displays solid athleticism on the mound and that helps him repeat his delivery. Stroman’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, cutter, slider and changeup.

The Year Ahead: Stroman has an outside chance at winning a roster spot to begin the 2014 season but he doesn’t need to be on the 40-man roster yet and Toronto has quite a few players that are out of minor league options. He’ll likely open the year in Triple-A but could reach the Majors in the second half of the season, should the need arise.

The Career Outlook: Toronto is going to give Stroman every opportunity to succeed as a starter but it’s hard to envision him holding up to 200+ innings for an extended period of time. Former starter-turned-reliever Tom Gordon, who also stood about 5’9” and pitched parts of 21 seasons in the Majors, is perhaps a good comp for Stroman.


#3 Mitch Nay | 60/SS (3B)

19 258 69 11 6 25 35 0 .300 .364 .426 .368

The Year in Review: After failing to appear in a game in 2012 after turning pro, thanks to an injury suffered shortly after signing his contract, Nay was held back in extended spring training in 2013 before being assigned to the Advanced-Rookie Appalachian League. The young third baseman hit .300 while flashing some pop and striking out just 35 times in 64 games.

The Scouting Report: Nay, 20, has been more advanced at the plate than expected. He showed a strong understanding of the strike zone in 2013 while making improvements with his pitch recognition. He does a nice job of getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He hit more than .300 and showed flashes of his above-average power potential. In the field, Nay shows above-average arm strength but his range may never be better than average and he needs to polish his actions.

The Year Ahead: Toronto has developed into a rather conservative club when it comes to player development and likes to have many of its prep draftees spend at least two seasons in short-season ball. Nay will likely move up to the Low-A Midwest League in 2014. He’ll most likely spend the full season at that level while looking to continue his development path at the plate and in the field.

The Career Outlook: Nay could eventually challenge Stroman for the title of best draftee from the Jays’ 2012 class despite being the fourth player selected by the organization. He’s not going to offer a ton of defensive value but his bat could turn out to be pretty special. The Arizona native could eventually settle into the middle of the Jays’ lineup, assuming he’s not used as trade bait while the front office takes a second stab at building a playoff-caliber club.


#4 Daniel Norris | 60/A+ (P)

20 24 23 90.2 85 6 9.93 4.57 3.97 3.51

The Year in Review: It was a tale of two halves for Norris in 2013. The Twitter darling was brutal in the first half while battling command and control issues. Something clicked for the Tennessee native in the second half and he was downright unhittable at times. In 23 appearances in Low-A ball, he struck out 99 batters in 85.2 innings and earned one late-season start in High-A ball.

The Scouting Report: When he can command his pitches, Norris has some of the best stuff in the system from the left side. He flashes above-average fastball velocity in the low-to-mid 90s and he has a potentially-plus curveball. The changeup could also develop into an average-or-better offering for him. Because he has above-average athleticism, the expectation is that Norris will be able to overcome his deficiencies given enough time and innings to fully develop.

The Year Ahead: Norris will return to the Florida State League to begin the 2014 season. The warmer weather could help him get off to a quicker start to the year. If he shows improved command and control, it could allow the organization an opportunity to expedite Norris’ development. If all goes well, he could make a handful of starts at the Double-A level in the second half of the year.

The Career Outlook: Norris probably won’t ever show enough command and control to develop into a true No. 1 starter but he has the stuff to become a solid No. 2 or 3 starter at the big league level. His strong makeup should help him squeeze out every ounce of available skill.


#5 Roberto Osuna | 60/A- (P)

17 10 10 42.1 39 6 10.84 2.34 5.53 3.55

The Year in Review: Osuna would have ranked higher on this list based on his natural talent alone but the 18-year-old hurler’s season came to a screeching halt when he hurt his elbow in April. He spent the month of May rehabbing the injury while the organization tried to avoid Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound to make another five starts in June and early July before the front office finally shut him down for good. He finally underwent surgery for the torn elbow ligament but the delay in the procedure means he’s a write-off for all of 2014.

The Scouting Report: Prior to the injury, Osuna was considered advanced for is age. He displayed both above-average command and control. His fastball worked in the low-to-mid 90s and he showed an above-average changeup. The breaking ball was the least-developed offering in his repertoire and the time off certainly won’t do him any favors.

The Year Ahead: Osuna will likely spend the entire 2014 season rehabbing his elbow at the spring training complex in Florida. He’s not likely to see official game action until the 2015 season but age is on his side. He’ll have to work hard during his time off to ensure his larger frame doesn’t get out of hand.

The Career Outlook: Osuna has just 10 games of experience above short-season ball and he’s still a teenager so it’s difficult to predict his future, especially given the injury. He has the raw ability — assuming it bounces all the way back — to be a No. 2 starter at the big league level.


#6 Alberto Tirado | 55/R (P)

18 12 8 48.1 41 1 8.19 3.72 1.68 3.39

The Year in Review: Tirado, a Dominican native, is just 18 years old but he made older hitters in the Appalachian League look foolish at times while posting a 1.68 ERA in 12 appearances. He struck out 44 batters and walked 20 in 48.1 innings of work.

The Scouting Report: Tirado’s name is becoming known quite well in and around the Jays organization but it hasn’t leaked out into the mainstream… just yet. The right-hander does a decent job of commanding his low-to-mid-90s fastball and he induces a lot of ground-ball outs. His second best offering is a changeup and his breaking ball is showing signs of improving. Tirado struggled against southpaw hitters in 2013 (LHHs batted .290, RHHs hit .200) and he needs to do a better job of commanding the inner half of the strike zone against them.

The Year Ahead: Tirado will be just 19 years old in 2014 but he could open the season in full-season ball in the Midwest League. As mentioned earlier, Toronto is fairly conservative with its prospects so there’s a chance the young hurler will be held back in extended spring training, at least until the weather warms up.

The Career Outlook: Assuming his smallish frame holds up, Tirado has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter at the big league level. There’s also a chance that he could end up as a high-leverage reliever if his repertoire fails to fully develop.


#7 A.J. Jimenez | 50/AA (C)

23 283 75 19 4 18 42 1 .287 .332 .406 .336

The Year in Review: It was a frustrating season for Jimenez who worked his way back after having Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in 2012. After appearing in just 27 games the year before, the catcher managed to play 67 games in 2013 while battling through elbow soreness. Even so, he reached Triple-A for eight games after spending most of the season at the Double-A level. Jimenez, 23, was supposed to catch up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League but the continued elbow issues wiped out that plan.

The Scouting Report: Jimenez is a defense-first catcher who has strong receiving skills, good blocking abilities and has a reputation for controlling the running game, when healthy. At the plate, the Puerto Rican utilizes a line-drive swing and could hit his fair share of doubles in the Majors but he’ll likely never be a power hitter due to the lack of loft generated by his swing. Jimenez, 23, is an aggressive hitter but he makes consistent contact. Formerly an outfielder in his amateur days, he once had above-average speed for a catcher but his lower half has thickened up and he’s slowed down.

The Year Ahead: If his elbow is sound, Jimenez should be the starter catcher at the Triple-A level. The starting catching assignment in Toronto is currently in a state of flux with incumbent J.P. Arencibia on the bubble and free agent acquisition Dioner Navarro coming in after a career year.

The Career Outlook: Jimenez has a chance to be a second-division everyday backstop in the Majors because the offensive bar is set pretty low for catchers. His defense alone could make him a valuable asset to a big league club, if only as a platoon or back-up player… again, assuming his elbow doesn’t force a move to another position, which would pretty much be a death sentence for his big league dreams.


#8 D.J. Davis | 55/R (OF)

20 258 54 8 6 26 76 13 .240 .323 .418 .340

The Year in Review: Davis’ second professional season wasn’t much better than his first. He spent the entire year in the Appalachian League but hit just .240 and struck out 76 times in 58 games. He displayed good pop (21 of his 54 hits went for extra bases) for a player who’s known for his speed.

The Scouting Report: Davis just oozes tools, which is how he ended up going 17th overall in the 2012 amateur draft. Unfortunately, he’s still quite raw with the bat, which is why he repeated short-season ball this past season and had modest results. Davis needs to improve his pitch recognition and also become more selective at the plate. The Mississippi native has enough power at the plate that it gets in his head and takes away from what his focus should be: getting on base and utilizing his legs. He stole just 13 bases in 21 attempts in 2013 despite plus speed.

The Year Ahead: It would be a huge blow to Davis’ development if he were to return to extended spring training for a third season — especially as a former first round pick given how unheard of that move would be. Unfortunately, he may struggle during his first taste of full-season ball unless he makes a lot of adjustments to his approach between now and April.

The Career Outlook: Davis is your classic boom-or-bust first round draft pick. He has the potential to be an all-star player based on both his offensive and defensive skills but he could also wash out before he reaches Triple-A.


#9 Matt Smoral | 55/R (P)

19 15 5 25.2 22 1 9.47 9.12 7.01 5.81

The Year in Review: Generally speaking, it wasn’t a great development year for prospects in the Jays system and Smoral is another example of that fact. The tall lefty posted a 7.01 ERA in 15 appearances in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He walked 26 batters to go along with 27 strikeouts in 25.2 innings of work. The good news is that he induced a ton of ground balls and allowed just one home run.

The Scouting Report: Command and control are two major areas of concerns with Smoral. The good news is that very tall pitchers — this prospect checks in at 6-8, 220 pounds — typically take much longer to develop and get their delivery under control. Injuries robbed Smoral of valuable development time both as an amateur and in 2012 after turning pro. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he flashes an above-average slider. His nascent changeup needs a lot of work.

The Year Ahead: Smoral, 19, will almost certainly be held back in extended spring training. His biggest need is to find the plate on a consistent basis while also discovering a way to repeat his delivery. If he shows some improvements in extended spring training and during his assignment to rookie ball in June, Smoral may be given a late-season taste of the Midwest League to prepare him for the big jump in 2015.

The Career Outlook: Smoral has all the ingredients to develop into a front-line starter. If he can’t develop his changeup in a timely fashion, he could end up as a high-leverage reliever.


#10 Sean Nolin | 50/MLB (P)

23 1.1 0.00 6.75 30.0 % 40.50 15.05 9.40 -0.4 -0.1

The Year in Review: Coming off of his eye-opening 2012 season, Nolin was assigned to Double-A ball but his season didn’t get started until early May due to a lingering injury. Despite that, Toronto curiously added him to the 40-man roster in late May for one big league start in which he was bounced around by the Baltimore Orioles. He was then returned to the minors (burning one of his three minor league options) and spent much of the year in Double-A. Nolin received three late-season starts in Triple-A but was noticeably absent from the September big league call-ups.

The Scouting Report: Nolin could develop into a solid No. 4 starter with the ability to chew up a ton of innings. The southpaw has good control but is still working to establish consistent fastball command. His heater ranges from the high-80s to the low-90s. His repertoire also includes an above-average changeup and two breaking balls (curveball, slider). Standing 6-5, Nolin needs to do a better job of leveraging his height to create a downward plane on the ball in an effort to work down in the strike zone on a more consistent basis.

The Year Ahead: There are a number of young pitchers currently vying for open spots in the starting rotation — including more experienced guys like Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek — and Toronto is actively seeking one or two veteran starters, so Nolin will almost certainly open 2014 in Triple-A. He’ll need a strong start to the year to help differentiate himself from the masses.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned above, the native of New York state has a chance to be a reliable back-of-the-rotation workhorse, and players of that description are harder to come by than you might think — especially ones that throw left-handed. He might be attractive to another organization as a nearly-ready, southpaw hurler should trade discussions turn into something concrete this off-season.

The Next Five:

11. Franklin Barreto, SS: Signed for more than a $1 million out of Venezuela in 2012, Barreto is an ultra-talented shortstop who spent the 2013 season playing in rookie ball at the age of 17. Just 5’9”, he generates good raw power (currently gap strength) because of his strong wrists, forearms and bat speed. Barreto has an advanced approach at the plate for his age and makes solid contact despite a somewhat aggressive approach. He’s a stretch defensively at shortstop and should eventually end up in the outfield. Of the players ranked 11-15, he’s the most likely to zoom up this prospect list in 2014 and find his way to the front of the pack.

12. Kevin Pillar, OF: Pillar is a player I’ve often likened to former Jays outfielder Reed Johnson because they can both do a little bit of everything but lack standout tools. The prospect had a stellar 2013 season in the minors by hitting more than .300 with 39 doubles and 23 steals in a combined 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A but he struggled in the Majors. Pillar’s ceiling is probably that of a platoon or fourth outfielder but he could luck into a few seasons worth of regular playing time similar to Johnson.

13. Dalton Pompey, OF: Pompey, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario, has been a personal favorite of mine since his first pro season. He doesn’t turn 21 until December and already has four seasons of pro ball under his belt. Pompey projects to develop into an outstanding defensive outfielder, he has the speed to steal 20-30 bases and he shows flashes of developing into an average or better hitter with gap power. He’ll move up to High-A ball in 2014 and could see Double-A before the year is out.

14. Tom Robson, RHP: A British Columbia native, Robson has seen his fastball velocity spike upward since turning pro in 2011. It now sits comfortably in the low 90s. The Canadian flashes a potentially-plus changeup but his breaking ball needs further development. He has a big, strong pitchers frame and should eventually develop into a middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater. He could receive his first taste of full-season baseball in 2014 by he opening up the year in the Midwest League at the age of 20.

15. Jairo Labourt, LHP: There were quite a few names that were considered for this final spot given how close together, talent wise, the young players are in the lower levels of the Jays system. Labourt won the honors for his ability to induce both strikeouts and ground-ball outs while showing above-average velocity from the left side of the mound. If his secondary stuff develops, he could be a beast.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.