The Toronto Blue Jays must decide within the next few weeks whether to make a final push for a playoff spot or focus on the future. While they are still reportedly evaluating potential additions for a second half run, the organization spent a large part of their minor league capital over the off-season, and will have to decide how much more they want to dip into that pool to make a run at a wild card spot.
The Jays began the 2012 season with one of the strongest minor league systems in Major League Baseball. After the trade deadline deals and winter flurries, though, the system fell to the middle of the pack. The depth helped to ensure there are still interesting players in the system but the majority of intriguing prospects are high-risk, high-reward guys that are in A-ball or Rookie ball. The big league club has already suffered from a lack of depth at the upper levels of the system by relying on players such Munenori Kawasaki (a solid backup but a stretch as a starting shortstop), Andy LaRoche, Chien-Ming Wang, Ramon Ortiz, Thad Weber, Mickey Storey, Justin Germano, Edgar Gonzalez, and the list goes on and on.
The Jays system has been depleted somewhat, but it isn’t barren. For interest’s sake, let’s look at some players still in the system that could be part of the team’s future, or could be used to make a short-term upgrade in pursuit of a 2013 playoff push.
D.J. Davis, OF (Rookie ball): The 17th overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft, Davis is an electric athlete but he’s raw, as witnessed by his need to spend two seasons in short-season ball, and his high strikeout rates. On the plus side, he has more pop in his bat than the typical speedster.
Anthony Gose, OF (Triple-A): Trading Gose at this point would be a terrible idea as the speedy outfielder’s value is currently in the toilet due to poor numbers and a benching due to questionable efforts on the field.
A.J. Jimenez, C (Double-A): Jimenez has the potential to develop into a solid but unspectacular big league catcher. He’s shown the ability to hit for a solid average but he possesses little to no power. He’s a strong defensive catcher but is currently spending time as both a catcher and a designated hitter while recovering from Tommy John surgery. As a result, his trade value is down.
Dawel Lugo, SS (Rookie ball): A top July 2 international signee from 2011, Lugo is an extremely aggressive hitter but he’s held his own in North America over the past two seasons even though he just turned 18 this past December.
Mitch Nay, 3B (Rookie ball): Nay caught the Jays’ attention at an Arizona high school in 2012 and they nabbed him with the 58th overall selection. The infielder hurt himself shortly after signing his first pro contract and didn’t start his career until this June when the short-season leagues got underway. The time off didn’t cause any rust and he came out swinging with 19 hits in his first 15 games.
Santiago Nessy, C (Low-A): Toronto has already traded away one top-shelf catching prospect in the past 12 months (Travis d’Arnaud) but still has solid catching depth in the system with the likes of Jimenez and Nessy.
Sean Nolin, LHP (Double-A): Although he has a modest ceiling as a potential No. 3 or 4 starter, Nolin is one of the few upper-lever arms that could be attractive to another club — but trading him would also significantly compromise the Jays’ upper-level depth.
Daniel Norris, LHP (Low-A): Norris has very little trade value at this point despite being handed $2 million to forgo a scholarship to Clemson University. After posting a 9.58 ERA in April, Norris managed to bring his number down to 5.80 before he got hurt. A team who scouted and liked Norris in high school may look to him as a buy-low option.
Kevin Pillar, OF (Triple-A): Pillar is the prospect that Toronto should be trying to build a deal around. The outfielder’s value has never been higher and he’s split the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A. Since reaching the upper lever, he’s been on fire with 25 hits in 18 games, including 14 extra base hits. Pillar can hit for a solid average but his tools are average across the board and his lack of prototypical power that teams look for from a corner outfielder and he modest range in center field could prevent him from playing there on a consistent basis at the big league level. Pillar’s ceiling seems similar to former Jay and current Brave Reed Johnson.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP (High-A): The top pitching prospect in the system, Sanchez’s season was interrupted by a shoulder injury that cost him almost a month. He’s looked OK since returning but it would be hard to justify parting ways with him for a rent-a-player.
Matt Smoral, LHP (Rookie ball): Signed to an above-slot draft deal in 2012, Smoral did not pitch until this season due to a variety of ailments. The teenaged southpaw has made just two pro appearances and is extremely raw but has an immense ceiling.
John Stilson, RHP (Triple-A): Stilson has a checkered medical past, which is one of the reasons why he’s been moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. He’s reached Triple-A in just his second pro season and flashes the potential for two plus pitches but his command and control have both been hit or miss.
Marcus Stroman, RHP (Double-A): Like with Nolin, a trade of the 2012 first-rounder would hurt the depth and Stroman possesses a higher ceiling — assuming he can in fact stick as a starter. Other teams may have a difference of perception when it comes to Stroman’s overall value given his small stature and questions about his ability to hold up to a starter’s workload. The right-hander would be worth more on the trade market if he stood 6’2” or 6’4”.
Alberto Tirado, RHP (Rookie ball): Tirado is a hard-throwing, but raw, teenager hurler who came over from the Dominican Republic in 2012. He’s the type of arm that you can really dream on.